Written for: Killa
Author's website: http://www.trickster.org/speranza/
Author's livejournal: http://www.livejournal.com/users/cesperanza/
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The room was upside down. He could imagine himself walking across the ceiling, sliding down the eaves, leaping over the chrome lighting fixtures. His flat had been transformed into a wonderland, an alien gymnasium, where strange creatures with three or more arms—
—did bizarre exercises to stretch muscles that—
—muscles that defied the knowledge of human biologists. Strange, alien love muscles...and there, his hanging wine glasses looked like a field of crystal tulips, straining upward toward the sun. Fantastic...
"Stuart, come on..."
His sofa was like some gigantic padded moth, hovering nervously on the ceiling. His refrigerator crouched in one corner like a terrified elephant. He could see everything that had been glued to the underside of his desk. Fuck, were those his keys...?
"Say something, for fuck's sake."
His entire world was upside down. He wasn't the tiniest bit surprised; he had expected no less. He'd seen all the movies with Vince on random Saturday afternoons—They Ate My Brain. The Creatures From Outer Space. They Came From Beyond. When the aliens came, they made you one of them, and you went tottering up the ramp, wide-eyed, in your ugly silver jumpsuit. All aboard for Planet Monogamy.
He should have been scared. Even terrified. (All are bored on Planet Monogamy.) But he didn't feel scared. Not even of the fashions.
Take me with you, he thought. Save me.
"Right—I'm going," Vince said, and lifted the warm weight of his head off Stuart's abdomen.
Stuart lifted his own head from where it was hanging off the side of the bed. "Fuck off, I'm happy." He got only a glimpse of Vince's shocked expression, but it was hard to hold his head in this position. He supposed he should start doing crunches or something. "I'm happy, Vince." As he watched, Vince's shock transformed into a gigantic, not-quite-human smile.
To Serve Man, he thought. It's a cookbook!
Then Stuart Alan Jones let his head fall back and laughed up at the ceiling.
Vince grabbed him by the shirt and shoved him back against the sofa, one knee hard between his legs. Vince's mouth was wet, hot—Christ, who could have imagined that Vince had it in him? Vince's hands were roaming over his head, pulling his hair, tugging his jumper up over his shoulders—what jumper was this? Fuck, it was the burgundy knit—good jumper, that!—and Vince was having it right off him.
Vince grinned at him and slowly traced his tongue up Stuart's stomach. Christ, Vince. He had known how good this would be. All the energy he had spent not knowing it, unknowing it. Years of his youth had burned away with the effort. So much easier not to think about it.
"Lift up," Vince said breathlessly. "Lift your hips."
Stuart lifted his hips so that Vince could tug his jeans off, and then Vince fell between his legs. He felt the first, hot touch of Vince's mouth—a kiss. Fuck, Vince was pressing gentle kisses to his cock, and Stuart understood that, because he was nervous, too. His stomach was all knotted, and his thigh was twitching with nerves, right where—
Stuart gasped and lifted his head off the back of the sofa. Vince had buried his warm face against Stuart's jittering right thigh. Stuart steeled himself—this was no time to be afraid; not now—and dropped a hand into Vince's hair. So fucking soft, and when Vince raised his head to look at him, his eyes were huge, and beautiful, and terrified.
Stuart touched Vince's face until he smiled, then grabbed him by the shoulders and yanked him up to his mouth. There was very little in life, he'd found, that couldn't be improved by the judicious application of tongue. Vince whimpered into his mouth, and Stuart pushed him to his feet and drove him backwards toward the bed. His hands greedily bypassed Vince's shirt—fuck the shirt, it was the blue one; he'd always hated it—and groped in Vince's jeans instead.
Hard, hard, blissfully hard—blood at last. He squeezed, and Great Fucking Christ, it wasn't as if he'd hadn't seen Vince naked before, cause he'd only seen Vince naked about ten thousand times, but he hadn't known what Vince was packing. Vince's cock was the Great Fucking Mystery of Manchester, wannit?—its secrets known only to a not-so-select few. And it wasn't as if he'd really wanted to know—Vince's cock was the Grand Prize behind Door Number Three. All right—Door Number Three Thousand, but he'd had time on his hands.
Now he had this in his hands—and really, not bad at all. Vince surprised him by jerking him around, flinging him down, and falling on top of him. Stuart laughed as they collapsed in a tangle of arms and legs at the foot of the bed, and then Vince stopped him laughing by grabbing his face and kissing him so hotly he thought his hair would catch fire. Blimey.
Vince let go of him and sat up, still straddling him, to pull his shirt off. Lovely smooth body...so familiar and yet entirely new to him. Vince looked down at him, chest heaving, eyes bright with excitement. "Fuck, I'm frightened," Vince said, and then giggled a little. "Revise that to terrified, full stop."
"I'm not," Stuart said, and he wasn't; not anymore. This was the easy part, the good part—the fucking. He was back on his own turf, back in control. He understood the psychology of sex, as well as the physics. Here, he knew exactly what to do to make things happen.
Eight ball in the corner pocket.
"Of course I did it for you," he told Vince. "I'd do anything for you, you tosser, even if you're not the cleverest bloke ever to—"
"I'm clever!" Vince protested, sitting back and crossing his arms, erection jutting out in front of him. "Clever enough to—"
"Oh yeah—sure you are! It's taken you fifteen bloody years to figure out what perfect strangers knew in ten seconds."
"What, that you're mad?" Vince inquired politely.
Stuart ran his hand slowly up the outside of Vince's leg. "Yeah. That exactly."
He waited, then, for Vince's brain to catch up. In exactly five, four, three, two...
"Y'did it for..." Vince's voice trailed away, but his eyes were hot again, and a quick glance down at his erection showed that they'd lost little ground there. Vince bent down swiftly, bracing his hands on either side of Stuart's head, to kiss him; Stuart grabbed his head tightly, almost roughly, and yanked it down so they were nose to nose.
"Fuck me," Stuart said. "Now," and maybe there were some things Vince didn't need to be told twice. Vince pushed one of Stuart's legs up and back, resting his weight on it; near-professional technique from someone who hadn't had a shag since midsummer. Stuart closed his eyes and inhaled slowly, deeply, as Vince lubed him up with eager fingers. Not bad, not bad, though he could probably teach Vince a thing or two about—
He felt more than heard Vince's sharp gasp of anticipation and instantly opened his eyes; this was it, this was it, fifteen years of—fifteen fucking years of—all the men he'd ever wanted and had and discarded and it all came down to this.
Stuart Jones would not, he would not close his fucking eyes, and he could see that Vince was trying hard to do the same, even as he sank down, even as he slid in, even as the shuddering overtook his body and tears leaked out of his—
Vince squeezed his eyes shut as his cock slid the rest of the way home, sending agonized shivers of pleasure up Stuart's body. Shudders that twat couldn't even see.
Coward. Coward. Fucking look at me!—This is it!
And then, as if he'd heard him, as if they still shared the mental telepathy they'd had as teenagers, Vince opened his eyes, took a deep breath, and fucked him until he was upside down and hanging off the mattress.
He thought it was safer not to say anything more until Vince had calmed down a bit. He wanted a beer, but one look at Vince's face changed his mind. Instead, he sat down on the sofa, laced his fingers, and waited.
He put on what he thought was his most sincere expression, and then, after some consideration, made his face more sincere still.
Vince slammed his keys down on the desk, and started pacing across the loft. Stuart tried not to watch him too closely; he didn't want Vince thinking he was obsessed or anything. So instead, he forced himself to sit back on the sofa, cross his legs, stare up at the ceiling.
Plan B, then. Vince was probably organizing his thoughts; he got so flustered whenever he was pissed off. Stuart could almost write the speech himself, he'd heard it so many times.
You're such a fucking wanker, Stuart... You just do these things, and who's got to pick up the pieces? Me, that's who. I've got people depending on me, and who have I got to depend on? You, you daft bugger—and then you go and do something like this...
When Vince finally stormed up in front of the sofa, Stuart simply lowered his head and looked at him expectantly. Here it came: You're such a fucking wanker, Stuart—
"You could have told me," Vince said. He sounded scared, but he was meeting Stuart's eyes—and suddenly Stuart's heart was pounding in triple time, like he'd taken really bad meth or something. Christ, this couldn't be happening. Not today. Vince Tyler could not be choosing today to— "You should have told me. Christ, what've we been playing at?"
Stuart quickly rehearsed the words in his mind before saying them. They sounded pretty good. "Playing? Don't know what you mean."
Vince shook his head slowly as a smile spread across his face. "You fucking wanker!"
While this was an oddly cheerful delivery of the speech, Stuart was nonetheless grateful to be back on familiar territory. "Fuck off," he said, relieved.
Vince surprised him with another sharp left. "You did it for me, that. And don't you say different. Mind you, you're not going to say anything. Nothing that's true, anyway. Because you're a lying liar who lies."
Stuart narrowed his eyes. "Lays," he said, and smiled briefly.
"Lies. Lays." Vince actually had the temerity to roll his eyes. "I can see where's you'd get them confused. All the same to you, innit? You're still a world champion fibber."
Right. Plan C. Whinging. "Oh, all right—have a go at me, then," Stuart moaned. "Everyone have a go at Stuart. It's the bloody national pastime. In fact, there's a queue; I can fit you in at half past twelve on Thursday—"
Vince was suddenly on top of him, one knee on the sofa, hands grabbing his shirt. Despite himself, Stuart suddenly felt a surge of lust so strong that—he giggled. Holy crap.
Vince shook him a little and said, "You did it for me. Tell the truth."
Stuart tilted his chin up; Christ, he was hard already. "No."
"No, you didn't do it for me?" Vince asked. "Or, no, you won't tell me the truth?"
"Both," Stuart said; his face hurt from grinning.
But then Vince made the final, game-winning move. "You love me," he said, and that knocked the grin off Stuart's face. Vince was watching him intently, and now his eyes were widening slowly, making him look like a cartoon boy out of a fucking manga.
Stuart had always imagined that when it came to this point, there would be speeches, pontifications, declarations, denials. Instead, he found he didn't have to say a word—Vince was reading it all, everything, right off his face. Fuck.
"Oh. My. God. You love me," Vince repeated, sounding as incredulous as only Vince could sound. "No—it's more than that. You're actually in love with me. Aren't you?" Vince asked, and tugged at his shirt. "Aren't you? Aren't you?"
Stuart thought that if Vince said "Aren't you?" one more time, he might go mental. He tried to make this perfectly clear in his next facial expression.
But Vince wasn't having any. "Fuck off, Laurence Olivier. You're in love with me, so just say it."
Plan D. Total and complete capitulation. "Of course I am. Twat."
It was very dark outside, especially after the bright lights in the station. Vince had fetched the Jeep, and it looked all right—he'd figured the kids would have had at it by now. Stuart extended his hand for the keys, but Vince just walked past him to the driver's door.
Right. Fine. He was in the doghouse, but that was all right; at least he knew his role in the drama. Yip! Not a bad part, either, when all was said and done—and he was grateful for anything that kept Vince's mind focused on him and off bloody Richard Wakefield.
He got into the Jeep, ignoring the sideways glance from Vince that meant, Put your belt on. He left his belt unlatched, and stared out the window into the rolling Manchester night.
He thought he just might have got away with it. And he would have if it weren't for those crazy kids, he thought, and stifled a smile. Still, they might really believe that it was kids who'd done it—for a lark, just havin' a laff, mate. It wasn't a very complicated bomb: a battery, a 2 litre plastic bottle, a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide. Could come right from dad's garage or mum's kitchen cabinet. And he'd been careful—they wouldn't be finding any of Stuart Jones' fingerprints on that lot. He looked down and rubbed meditatively at a black smear on his thumb.
Still. He didn't have much room left to maneuver; he supposed that they were building quite a file on him. Playing dim had worked like a charm, of course, but this was the third time he'd been "asked to help the police with their enquiries." Then again, there was the discrimination issue—"Bleedin' ponce," he'd heard the staff sergeant mutter to the desk clerk—and he supposed that in hindsight he owed quite a lot to Nathan's dad.
The first report in his file? Nathan's dad smashing up the Jeep of "that queer what fucked my son." Oh, not in so many words, of course; the neighbours had been quite English about it. But the story had come through all the same, and now the police would have to read the file in light of that first report. Entirely plausible, then, that he was the victim here.
His solicitor would see to everything in the morning, he supposed.
All would be well as long as nobody made the connection between Stuart Jones and Richard Wakefield. Wakefield himself wouldn't be able to connect his legs to his arse, so that was all right. They'd never find the kids in the alley, so they'd never tell.
Vince knew. Stuart shot a glance across the cab; Vince was driving steadily, seriously—not a man to goof off at the wheel was our Vince.
The question was—did Vince know what he knew?
Oh, Vince knew Stuart Alan Jones was a cunt, that was for certain. Vince knew he'd been dragged out of his house and his nothing life to fetch said cunt from the police station in the middle of the night. And Vince knew—
"You owe me five hundred quid," Vince said. "I'm not made of money, you know."
"I'll give you a thousand," Stuart promised. "Pay for your services, like—"
Vince took his eyes off the road to glare at him. "Up. Yours. You. Cunt."
This was good; this was good to precisely the extent to which Vince wasn't paying any mind to Richard Wakefield. And he knew just how to play this scene. "Oh, come on—it isn't as if you were doing anything important," Stuart said, sliding back in his seat and crossing one leg, rangily, over the other. "Raise a little bail, midnight visit to the police station—bit of excitement, innit? Something to tell Mr. Ingrams at work."
Vince's pale, smooth skin had slowly gone a deep, blotchy red—Christ, he was really in for it this time, wasn't he? Well, that was all right. He could take it. And better to keep Vince's mind on other things. "It's fucking arson, Stuart, do you understand?" Vince yelled. "They could have you for that. Ten years or more! Prison, for fuck's sake!"
Stuart smirked. "At least the men would be different," he said, and Vince's hands tightened on the wheel.
The officer in charge was big and beefy and hadn't a queer bone in his body; he probably thought that music began and ended with Frank Fucking Sinatra. The desk clerk had possibilities, though, so Stuart put on his best smile, and tilted his head, and showed him a wink when Constable Big and Beefy wasn't looking.
The desk clerk smiled back nervously, and went to have a word with the Inspector.
Ten minutes later, Stuart found himself comfortably ensconced in an interrogation room, a cup of coffee at his elbow. "We don't have any biscotti," the desk clerk said apologetically, "but if you want, there are biscuits in the—"
"That'll be all, Constable."
Stuart looked up; two men and one woman were clustered in the doorway. The men were wearing suits; Stuart pegged them as detectives. The woman was wearing a long knit skirt, a wool sweater, and eyeglasses on a cord around her neck; Stuart pegged her as a lesbian.
"Mr. Jones, I'm Detective Inspector James Hutchinson and this is Detective Sergeant John Turner. That there is Special Officer Brenda Davis from the Anti-Bias Division of the Community Safety Unit."
"Mr. Jones, you were at 2 Bentham Terrace tonight within minutes of a bomb going off."
"Yeah. Scared the shit out of me," Stuart said, and that had been true; the bomb had ended up being much more powerful than he expected.
"Have you any explanation for your presence at that site at that time?"
Stuart explained that he'd been out drinking on Canal Street and had pulled over to take a piss.
"You drive a black Jeep?"
Stuart reckoned as he did.
"Which was parked..." Detective Inspector Hutchinson consulted his clipboard; blimey, oldest trick in the book. "According to the officer at the scene, your vehicle was parked two streets away, on St. John's Road, is that right?"
Stuart reckoned as it was.
"Can you explain that?"
Stuart reckoned that he didn't much like pissing in public and had wandered up the alley in search of a bit more privacy.
At this, Special Officer Davis leaned forward. "Canal Street," she said. "Had you been out at the clubs? Babylon? The Showers? The Union?"
In the end, of course, they had it out of him. Stuart told them about the bloke he'd picked up at Babylon—no, he didn't know his name—and how he'd planned to take him home except that suddenly hadn't seemed like the smartest of ideas. (Special Officer Davis nodded smugly at his judicious decision; her community outreach effort was apparently having an effect.) So he'd pulled over on St. John's Road and suggested they take a bit of a walk, like.
"And we were having it off, actually, when the bomb went. People say the earth moves," Stuart added, turning his special smile on Detective Sergeant Turner, whose eyes had gone wide, "but I personally didn't think he was much of a shag."
Detective Sergeant Turner swallowed visibly, and Stuart snapped his attention to Officer Davis, she of the home team. "He bolted, of course, and I ran too, in the other direction. Straight into the arms of the law, so to speak. I thought he was arresting me for public indecency." Special Officer Davis nodded sympathetically; she'd probably gotten high marks in all her "sensitivity training" courses. "But I had nothing to do with any explosion," he added, being sure to look suitably shocked at the mere suggestion.
Detective Sergeant Turner leaned forward. "Did you see anyone else in the vicinity?"
Good lad. "Yeah—there were some kids there," and that was true enough; there had been some local kids, mucking about. He was careful to describe kids like none on God's earth—red hair, dark eyes, heavy-set, six feet tall, with a mole that looked like the ManUnited crest.
Turner and Davis were nodding and scribbling notes. "Mr. Jones, thank you for your—"
Detective Inspector Hutchinson wasn't so easily persuaded. "But Mr. Jones," he interrupted, "you were recently questioned in connection with a car bombing, yes?" Turner and Davis looked up sharply, even nervously. Hutchinson made another great show of consulting the papers in front of him. Wanker. "A Mrs. Perry of Newcastle Road?"
"Yes, but there was nothing to it, was there?" Stuart said calmly. "Malicious slander. As your own investigation proves." He slowly spun his styrofoam coffee cup and chose his next words with some care. "Mrs. Perry's son is a friend of mine. A special friend," he explained, with a glance at Detective Turner. "She doesn't much like me, I'm afraid." His mouth twisted into a smile. "She doesn't much like her son, either."
He had Turner and Davis back, anyway. But Hutchinson still wasn't swayed. "But Mr. Jones," he added in his smug, now-let's-all-be-reasonable-about-this tone of voice, "didn't you drive your Jeep through a shop window about a year ago? Nearly killing a salesman?"
A one-second blink and he knew what do. He laughed, and saw, to his delight, that Turner and Davis were smiling reflexively. Laugh and the world laughs with you. "Oh, yeah, well—I did that," Stuart said, grinning broadly. "The man called me a poofter. I mean, the accelerator stuck," he amended instantly, and winked at Turner.
The door opened and the desk clerk stuck his head in. "Mr. Jones. There's a Mr. Tyler here to see you."
"Thank you," Stuart said, and then stood up, as if he'd just been taking a meeting. "Is there anything else?"
Hutchinson stood up. "Not so fast, mate. I'm charging you," and Turner and Davis audibly groaned. Just scare tactics, then. No way this was going to the Crown; Hutchinson hadn't a shred of bloody evidence. Just a big dick contest—and Stuart Alan Jones had never been afraid of those. "I'm charging you on suspicion of arson," Hutchinson said.
They took him past Vince in handcuffs, and Stuart waved with both hands. Ha-cha-cha. Vince had that horrified, deer-in-the-headlights look that he always got whenever Stuart was in danger, but Vince would never split on him to the police.
Now if that fucking desk clerk would only keep his mouth shut. Stuart strained his ears as they took him to be fingerprinted. "...that'll be five hundred pounds, Mr. Tyler," the desk clerk was saying. "Cash or bond."
Thumb. Index. Middle.
"He didn't do it," Vince said, nervously riffling through his wallet. "Whatever it was. Whatever it was, he didn't do it. What's the charge?"
"Arson," the desk clerk replied.
"Arson?" Vince repeated incredulously.
"Mm-hmm. Blew up a Jaguar."
"A—" If he hadn't been listening for it, would he have heard Vince's hesitation? No, probably not, and within seconds, Vince was back on his game. "A Jaguar, eh? Well, he didn't do it. Wouldn't. He's a bit of a car aficionado, is Stuart. He'd never destroy such a beautiful automobile. He wouldn't destroy anything at all. He's a pacifist," Vince said weakly, finally rambling to a stop.
Ring. Pinky. Stuart smiled down at the inkpad.
He could just make out the kids at the end of the alley. Horsing about, it looked like. Well, get ready, kids, Stuart thought, rubbing his gloved hands together and then blowing on them. It was fucking cold tonight, but just as well really. Explained the gloves.
Stuart looked down at his watch, then up again at 2 Bentham Terrace—or more precisely, at the detached garage off to the side of the house. Smug bastard had left the side door unlocked; probably thought he didn't have to worry about crime in a posh neighbourhood like this.
When the bomb went, it was louder and much more fantastic than even Stuart had expected, and he found himself laughing aloud with the sheer bloody joy of it. The ground beneath his feet shook, and then the night sky lit up orange. The kids down the alley shrieked with pleasure, or maybe terror. The garage was blazing, now—the wood was probably as dry as all get-out. So fucking beautiful...and Stuart lifted his hands, grinning, and pretended to warm them in the bright firelight.
Lights were coming on in neighbouring houses, now. People in dressing gowns were stumbling into their driveways to see what was going on. Time for all good boys to be in their beds.
He turned and ran straight into the big and beefy arms of a police constable.
"Not so fast, lad," Sgt. Big and Beefy said. "Live around here, do you?"
"Excuse me," Stuart said, in his sweetest, most polite voice, "but can you point me to Mr. Richard Wakefield?" The bloke smiled and directed him to the long carved oak bar, where Wakefield was holding court with a group of sycophantic middle-management types.
Stuart nicked a pair of wire-rimmed glasses from the pocket of a passing executive, put them on, and went to join the conversation. It took him fewer than thirty seconds to get the context—blokes from Marketing, talking shop. It was amazing, Stuart thought, taking a sip of his third gin and tonic, how they all talked the same shit no matter what firm it was.
Wakefield gestured expansively with his cigar. "We're not reaching the DINKies, is the problem," he said, and Stuart's mind instantly translated: Double Income No Kids. "We've got the stay-at-home mums, and the single lads on a budget, but we're not targeting the real affluence of Manchester—"
"Industrialists?" asked a young management type in a double-breasted suit.
"Poofters," Wakefield replied, and everyone laughed. "Of course, we're damned lucky to have Canal Street," he mused, taking a sip of his scotch. "Attracts 'em like flies to shit. Live fast, die young, buy everything—that's their motto. But we don't reach them. They don't shop with us."
Stuart didn't look up from his gin and tonic; he'd found it was much more difficult to identify someone's face if they didn't make eye contact with you. "Why not promote some of them, then?" he murmured. "Get the pink perspective in upper management—"
He'd been on the verge of bringing Vince's name into the conversation when he felt the others stiffen around him. Something'd gone wrong, and he quickly looked up into Wakefield's red, fat face. "Queers are all well and good on the shop floor," Wakefield said. "Public face of the company and all that, good to seem on board with diversity. You can't have them in the boardroom, though. They're a bloody embarrassment," Wakefield said, and then he was grabbing Stuart's arm, and turning him around, and pointing him toward the buffet table.
"See that one there," Wakefield said, and blimey, but his breath was foul. Stuart stared, blinking—but all he could see was Vince, standing out from the crowd like a real person against an oil painting. And then he realized that it was actually Vince that Wakefield was talking about. "Fucking poof brought his boyfriend here, can you believe it? To the firm's annual dinner! My clerk told me—can you imagine the balls?"
Stuart froze, feeling Wakefield's hand on his arm like a pincer.
"It's just not professional. I'm as tolerant as the next bloke, but does this look like Canal Street to you? Does it?" Wakefield gestured expansively around the Oak Room.
"No," Stuart said softly. "No, it doesn't."
Another fellow took this as his opportunity to suck up. "It's not professional, is it? Bringing your sex life into the office—"
"That's it. That's it exactly," Wakefield said, turning his approving attention onto the bloke. "I'd say the same if a normal man brought a whore to the party. Doesn't do, does it? Looks bad. Unprofessional, as you say...."
The conversation moved on, then, to the possibility of instituting a dress code at corporate headquarters. Women were wearing trousers to the office, which apparently heralded the decline of Western Civilization. Stuart took the opportunity to melt away.
He made a quick stop in the men's toilets before rejoining Vince, bending over the marble basin to splash cold water on his face and run his fingers through his hair. Bastards. Those fucking bastards. He lifted his head and saw water dripping off the tip of his nose.
He smiled at himself in the mirror.
He left the men's room, pulled out his mobile phone, and rang Sandra. Two minutes later, he was being put through to Mr. Wakefield's clerk. Stuart scanned the room intensely as he listened to the phone ring—and there, there was a youngish fellow, over by a huge potted plant, fumbling in his jacket for a mobile.
"Hello!" Stuart said, imitating the bright, twee voice of upper management, "sorry to bother you, but Mr. Wakefield said I should ring you. This is Alfred Jones of Durham and Durham, and Mr. Wakefield's asked me to send him a prospectus over Christmas." He listened. "No, to his home address," he amended. "Yes, that's right," he said, and pulled a pen from his breast pocket. "2 Bentham Terrace," he repeated, writing it down on the cuff of his dress shirt. "Right, ta very much," Stuart Jones said, and snapped his phone shut.
"God, I'm so nervous," Vince said, and yeah, he was practically jittering in the queue for the buffet. "Just look at all this. Fancy, innit? Open bar. Canapes, and little shrimp things, and ooh, look, there's a carving station. I think that's prime rib, that."
Stuart sighed and handed Vince a large white plate. The spread was boring, the food corporate, but he wasn't going to tell Vince that. The open bar was a nice touch, though; at least he could get properly pissed.
"My first firm Christmas party," Vince said. "My chance to see how the other half lives. Oh my God, I think that's John Ainsworth!" Vince tugged on Stuart's sleeve. "He's a senior manager—he's a genius, they say. And look—there—that's Lois Nottingham, she's head buyer. I'd love to have her job—"
Stuart yanked his arm back. "I'm blinded by the light of local celebrity."
"Hush up. God, I wonder if Richard Wakefield's here," Vince said, straightening up and looking this way and that with all the subtlety of a meercat on speed. "He's head of my division, and I've never seen him, can you believe it? Seen his car, though—a white Jaguar, just like John Lennon."
"Lennon had a Rolls," Stuart said, and downed the rest of his second gin and tonic.
"Perhaps I can get a word in, shake his hand, like." Vince shoved his plate of prime rib at Stuart, who nearly upended it on his white dress shirt; he was already carrying his own plate. "Do I look all right?" Vince asked, fidgeting with his already-straight tie. "Neat and clean? They say it's never too late to make a first impression. No, wait, that's not it," Vince said, frowning. "'You've got just one chance to make your first impression.' Or maybe it's, 'There's no second chance to make a first impression'—"
Stuart shoved the plates onto the buffet table. "You look fantastic," he said, and meant it; he'd loaned Vince one of his best suits, and Vince looked fuckin' gorgeous—all the better for not having the slightest clue about it. "Dead good looking, swear to God."
"You never get a second chance. You only get one chance. There's no chance—fuck, I can't remember which it is!" Vince now looked totally distraught. "I'll never convince Wakefield that I'm corporate management material! He's probably got it embroidered on a sampler or something—"
Stuart took Vince's face between his hands and kissed him. "Buck up," he said, "there's a good boy. Have a drink or something."
Vince looked at him bemusedly, hair sticking up on the back of his head. "All right," he agreed.
"I'm not coming with you," Stuart said, mobile clamped to his ear. "And that's final."
"Come on, you've got to," Vince whined. "It says Vincent Tyler and Guest."
"There's no law that says—"
"It's my first one, Stuart! My first corporate bash! I won't know anyone—"
"So introduce yourself," Stuart said, dodging round a pothole. "Make new friends. That's all these things are good for, Vince. Networking."
"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Vince yelled into his ear.
Despite himself, Stuart smiled. "Not that kind of networking, you twat."
"See?" Vince crowed triumphantly. "What would I do without you?"
"Act like a twat?" Stuart suggested.
"Come on, it's free food."
"It's crap food," Stuart objected.
"You don't know that. Besides," Vince said, and now he was openly pleading, "I'll be dead nervous!"
"Take a Valium."
"But I want to share this with someone!"
"For God's sake, listen to yourself!" Vince yelled. "You're raving!"
"All right, don't bring Hazel," Stuart said, grinning. "I'll come, I'll come," and the truth was, he wouldn't miss it for the world.
His heart was thudding with fear—Christ, he was going to die, and if he didn't die, his mother was going to kill him. The pain was sharp beyond belief, so strong that he couldn't lift his head off the concrete. Christ, it hurt—probably a bloody concussion. Stuart wasn't entirely sure what a concussion was, but he knew Paul O'Malley had fallen down the stairs and cracked his head open, and they'd said he'd had a concussion.
It was the sound of the fight that got him moving. Fighting the dizziness, he forced his eyes open and lifted his head off the ground. A wave of nausea hit him, rocked him, shot through him—but holy fuck, Vince was taking them on, Vince was taking them all on.
His palms scraped concrete as he pushed himself up, off the pavement, and stood, tottering on his battered trainers. Sweat was dripping into his eyes, and he swiped an unsteady hand across his forehead. It came away red, and another wave of nausea smashed into him. That was blood. His mother would kill him—or worse yet, his mother would never let him see Vince again. The cow was already up on her high horse about how the Tylers "weren't their kind of people"—but that just showed what she knew.
Vince was exactly his sort of person. He and Vince were just the same.
He lurched forward, stumbling toward where Vince was shrieking and pounding the holy fuck out of Jimmy and Kevin and Terry. Christ, look at him go...arms windmilling like a maniac. It wasn't the smoothest fighting Stuart had ever seen, not at all cool like you saw in films or on the television, but by God, it was getting the job done, wasn't it? John was already backing away down the road, and Kevin and Terry looked frightened—and well they should, because Vince looked unstoppable, like he was going to fucking kill them all dead.
Even as he watched, Vince leapt onto Kevin's back and started strangling him with an arm across his throat. Kevin had maybe three stone on Vince, so it sort of looked like a string-bean attacking a potato, but Kevin was stumbling around blindly with Vince clinging to him. It was Terry who ended it, though—Terry who looked up and saw Stuart shuffling up the street toward them. His face went white and frightened, and Stuart realized that he must look like one of the zombies from Night of the Living Dead.
"Come on," Terry yelled. "Let's get out of here!"
Stuart bent to pick up a rock, and for a moment, he was blinded by dizziness. He fought it, though, straightened up, and began to weigh the rock in his hand. Fucking bastards.
Terry's eyes widened, and then he turned and ran after John down the road. Roaring like a bear, Kevin shoved Vince away and took off after them. Grunting with effort, Stuart heaved the rock at them.
It went maybe six feet. Fuck, he threw like a girl.
His knees buckled and he sat down hard on the curb. The world went momentarily white. When he came back to himself, Vince was there, arms around him, trying to haul him up by the armpits. Vince was flushed and panting, and his lip was split. A bright red trickle of blood painted the corner of his mouth, and Stuart had the sudden, bone-deep urge to kiss it away.
"Are you all right?" Vince asked breathlessly. "You were unconscious! They knocked you out cold, they—" Vince was still tugging, and Stuart slid an arm around Vince's sweat-flushed neck. Warm. "—nearly killed you, ohmigod, maybe you should go to hospital?"
"I'm all right. Really I am."
Vince heaved again, and Stuart draped his other arm around Vince's neck. This wasn't very helpful but it felt fucking fantastic. Grunting, Vince hauled him to his feet, and for a moment, Stuart swayed for real. But Vince had him, and Stuart kept an arm slung around Vince's shoulders as they walked slowly up the road.
"We'll go to my house," Vince said, after a moment. "Hazel won't split on us."
"Don't tell her I was unconscious, all right?" Stuart warned. "Promise?"
"All right. Promise."
Hazel took one look at them, sighed, and went straight for the hydrogen peroxide and the bandages. "This is going to sting, Stuart, so be brave, all right?" Hazel said, and pressed a spongeful of acid to his temple. Fuck, that hurt! "So what happened to you boys?"
Vince was sitting in the chair opposite with a bag of ice pressed to his lip. When he spoke, his voice sounded slurred due to his numb lips. "Kevin and Terry and them lot said that Stuart and me was fairies," Vince said, and to Stuart's relief, he left out the part where Kevin Murphy had thrown a rock at him and knocked him cold. Lucky shot, that was.
"Well, that's going to happen, dears. Better get used to it." Hazel sighed and shook her head. "I hoped you kicked their heads in for them, Stuart."
"I didn't," Stuart said. "Vince did."
Hazel's eyebrows flew up in surprise. "Vince did? Our Vince?"
"Yeah, he was brilliant," Stuart said, and it felt like his heart was going to burst just from the telling of it. "You had to see him, Hazel. A left and a right and a left!—he jumped on Kevin Murphy's back!"
Vince looked embarrassed, and scratched at the side of his neck. "I did, didn't I?"
"You did, yeah. You really did."
When Hazel was finished with him, he looked like something from The Mummy, or a mental patient —gauze wrapped round and round his head. Fuckin' cool. "Okay, boys," she said, getting up, "go watch some telly in the lounge. We've had enough excitement for one day, I think. Stuart," she added, and Stuart stopped in the doorway to the kitchen and turned round, "I'm going to ring your mum, tell her you'll be spending the night with us. You don't want her seeing that mess until it's healed up a bit. You'll scare the bejesus out of her."
Stuart felt a wash of gratitude, and a stab of envy. "Thanks, Hazel."
Vince was on his knees on the carpet in front of the television, cycling through the four channels. "Gardening," he moaned. "Football." Vince turned the knob once again as Stuart sat down on the carpet. Thank God, this looked like a sci-fi film, and they watched it in silence, each of them wanting to be the first to recognize it.
Vince beat him by mere seconds. "Forbidden Planet, 1955, directed by Robert Wise and starring Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Nielsen, and Robbie the Robot." Vince looked over his shoulder at Stuart excitedly. "You'll love this."
It wasn't a Robert Wise film. Wise had done The Day The Earth Stood Still in 1951, and Fred Wilcox had directed Forbidden Planet in 1956, not 1955. Still, close enough.
"I don't mind," Stuart said, and stretched out on the carpet.
So they sprawled there and watched Dr. Morbius and Robbie The Robot fight the Krell, and after a while, Stuart put his head in Vince's lap, and Vince stroked his hair almost absently. He closed his eyes after a while, feeling gentle fingers on his face and listening to Robbie's alien beeps and whirs.