Cesare's Cabinet

Almost Never Disclaimers & Chapter Index

Laid Up.

Twilight blued out the world as Stuart headed up the walk to the Tylers' front door. The kitchen window was a square of friendly yellow in the gathering night. Stuart shifted the stack of books in his arms and rapped at the door, then tried the knob-- it was unlocked, of course-- and opened it.

"Mrs. Tyler? Hazel?" he corrected himself quickly.

"Is that Stuart? Come on in, love," she beckoned with soapy hands from the sink.

"Hiya. You should lock your door," he said. "Leave it like that, you never know what might get in."

"Cheeky!" she uttered, catching his grin, and dried off her hands.

"I brought Vince's books and homework," he went on somewhat unnecessarily, hefting the pile of paper in his hands.

"Bless you," she said, with a peck on his cheek, "just put them on the table for now I s'pose."

"I can take them up to his room. It's no bother."

"No, you can't," Hazel said firmly. "You'll catch his flu, and if you're both knackered who's going to bring the homework round?"

"It'll be all right. My mother sent me for a flu jab as soon as I told her Vince was ill."

"Oh yeah? Which arm?" she asked.

"You're not going to punch me in the arm to make sure, are you?" Stuart gave her his most winning smile. "I'll drop the lot."

She narrowed her eyes at him; Hazel didn't miss much. "I warn you, you don't want this bug he's got. You may think it's fun staying out of school, but he's been sleeping half the day and turning inside out half the night, and now that he's getting better, he's stuck in bed and bored out of his wits. I had to move the telly up there for him, he can't even take the stairs."

"I don't want to get sick," Stuart said patiently.

Another suspicious look. "Which arm?" she asked again.


Hazel came around and pulled up his left shirt sleeve, moving Stuart nearer to the kitchen light to have a look at the small bruise and pinprick on his bicep. "All right, you," she mock-growled at him. "Just for a little while. He's worn out, poor love. I think he's past the worst of it, though. At least now he can eat." She marched to the stairs and shouted up, "Vince! Stuart's here with your school things!"

He was tearing up past her before she'd closed her mouth.

The door swung open at the slightest push; Stuart unloaded the tottering stack of books at once, shoving them on top of the bookcase, and whirled around.

"You look like hell," he said.

"I know," Vince sighed. Sitting up against an avalanche of mismatched pillows, he was pale and bloodless, shadows like bruises under his wide blue eyes. "At least I missed the algebra test. Was it hard?"

"Not too bad," Stuart answered. "Got an A."

"Of course you did," Vince said. "Don't suppose you remember any of the questions."

"Yeah-- they were right out of the book, so I marked them up for you."

"Fantastic!" Vince brightened. "Hey, how did you get up here anyway? I thought I was quarantined."

"Mum made me get a flu jab. Your mum-- she doesn't miss a trick! She made me show her my arm and everything! Anyway, it's okay, I won't catch it. We finished with Great Expectations and now we're doing Lord of the Flies in English--"

"Master, the planet has a standard Earth-type atmosphere," said a shrill metallic voice on the telly, piercing through the general murmurs that had been in the background all along.

Stuart cast a disdainful look over his shoulder. Sure enough, the cranky old VCR was spinning one of his friend's endless supply of videotapes; Tom Baker stalked across the screen, ridiculously long scarf trailing on the ground after him. "Oh, for fuck's sake, Vince."

"What? I'm sick!" Vince answered defensively.

"What's that got to do with anything?"

"It makes me feel better," he sulked. "Takes my mind off it, okay? So shut your face."

"Yeah, but Doctor Who? Vince, you're sixteen. This shite is for kids."

"You should know."

"Two more months," Stuart said. "What's so great about sixteen anyway?"

"You'll know when you get there," Vince said portentously, then he smiled slyly. "For one thing, you can shag legally."

Stuart snorted. "You can shag birds legally," he pointed out. "That's not doing us any good."

Vince colored a little and looked down. They'd known about each other for years now, almost from the moment they'd met at school. Clinched it when they started to fool around a bit together-- that had been only a couple of months after they'd started chumming around.

It hadn't been much, just feeling each other up. Hazel had come home and the sound of the door had sent Vince into a panic before Stuart had even so much as unzipped. They'd kept a wary distance for a few days after that, but who else could they talk to? Vince had come back around eventually. He'd been skittish and painfully nervous and kept Stuart at arm's length for weeks, but he'd come around, that was the thing.

"Anyway, I'm not letting that stop me," Stuart said, finally getting to the real reason he was here. "Guess what I did last night? Remember that blond guy we saw at the newstand?"

"Oh my God!" Vince marvelled. "You didn't!" Stuart just grinned until Vince amended, "Of course you did. Jesus. Clear off the chair, sit down, tell me everything--"

Stuart glanced at the wooden folding chair heaped with videotapes and shook his head. "Not likely. Had a hard enough time sitting all day at school. Wound up fidgeting around like a lunatic. They all must've thought I'd got fleas."

Vince gaped at him. "No," he said.

Stuart nodded slowly, smiling a mile wide.

"Did it hurt?"


"Was it worth it?"

"Fuck yeah," he said. "Shift over, I'll tell you all about it."

Quickly binning a handful of tissues and cough drop wrappers, Vince moved himself and his mountain of blankets over to make room on the bed for Stuart, who draped himself on his side extravagantly.

"What'd you say to him?" Vince asked once they were settled.

"Nothing much. Just sidled up next to him at the newstand and looked at him over the top of a magazine until he gave me the eye, yeah? He folded up his paper and left, and just before he turned the corner he turned around and looked right at me. So I followed him--"

"How'd you know he wasn't just angry with you, like?"

"I just knew. You do, don't you? I mean, you just know."

"God, I don't know," Vince said. "I would've been scared to death."

Stuart shrugged, but the admission pleased him terribly. Vince was always so impressed when he told his stories. Getting his reaction was almost as good as having the adventure in the first place. Vince had a wide-eyed, awed way of looking at Stuart that made him feel invincible; dangerous and sexy and brave. Had done from the first time they'd started talking about this stuff, when Stuart had shared his first story about climbing into the shower with his P.E. teacher, twelve years old, all his clothes still on.

"So I followed him out, right," Stuart resumed. "And he looks back at me, then he ducks into this alley, so I follow of course. And there we are, sizing each other up. Then all of a sudden we're just snogging right there."

"Oh my God. No!"

"Yeah! And we're all over each other, and he's just really really nice, you wouldn't believe. And I'm ready to go for it right then, you know, like always before, just like a wank, or suck him off, though really I was kinda hoping he'd do me first because I was so far gone already. All of a sudden he pulls back and he tells me he doesn't have any classes today-- like I care! God!-- and we could go back to his."

"He's at uni then?"

"I guess, yeah. Who cares?"

"Jesus, did you even ask his name?"

Stuart sighed, irked; the question threw off the flow of the story. "It was like Anthony or something. Do you want to hear this or what?"

"All right, go on then. You went back to his..."

"It was a sty," Stuart recalled. "Really pitiful. All this old beat-up furniture, mismatched, stuffing coming out of the couch. When we get our place, you and me, I'm telling you, we're getting all nice things. None of that boot sale junk. Everyone buys that garbage and puts it about saying they'll get new stuff when they get the money, but then it just sits and sits. My family's had the same shot armchair from Grandad for ages."

Vince's eyebrows went up. "What're we supposed to use for furniture to start out with then?" he asked. "Are we just gonna stand around for the first year or so?"

"Don't need much to start with," Stuart contended. "A couch, a bed--"

"Two beds," Vince corrected.

Stuart rolled his eyes. "We'll get a foldout couch or a futon or that. I'll have the living room to sleep and all, I don't mind."

"I dunno. It probably ought to be the other way round. 'Cause I like to watch telly 'til late, and I wouldn't want to keep you up."

Flinging himself back and stretching, Stuart said, "Whichever. Maybe we'll be able to manage a place with our own rooms for each of us. Two bedrooms can't be that much more than one. God, it's going to be so brilliant. You'll see. If we're going halves on rent, we'll be able to afford to deck the place out in no time. It'll be a shag palace. I won't even have a bed, I'll just have wall-to-wall mattresses in my room."

Vince laughed. "We can get in one of those huge projection-screen televisions and put in rows of seats. Have people over, it'll be like making out at the cinema, only no worries about getting caught."

"Worrying about getting caught's half the fun!"

"You're mad! I can't believe you went home with the newstand bloke. What happened next?"

"God, yeah!" Stuart threw himself back into the story. "So I'm standing there in the living room of this rundown flat, and I'm just thinking, if he tries to get me onto that couch with this great bloody rip in it and the innards spilling out all over the place, I'm just turning round and going home..."

"You're such a snob..."

"Shut your face. Luckily he wasn't quite that stupid, we went to his room, and it wasn't half bad. So we start getting to it again, and it's just fantastic. Like I wouldn't put him all the way up there with the bloke from the Y, that's still been the best, but it was really good. He had this way of like curling his tongue or something, and he got right up in there--"

"God, stop, you're killing me," Vince pleaded, shifting uncomfortably.

"I thought the flu had you all weak and useless," Stuart teased. "Thought it was safe to give you details."

"Not that weak. Christ. So how did he ask you, or did he just like-- start in, or what?"

"He got out a condom," Stuart said. "Tore it open, then kind of stopped and asked if that was okay, and I said yeah, and he put it on and started messing with some KY. Oh, hey, here's one for your encyclopaedia: it takes a lot of that stuff to get through a shag."

"It might've been just 'cause it was your first time."

"Yeah, but he was the one kept going for more, and he didn't know that."

"He didn't? Stuart! You should've told him!"

"Why, so he could get panicked about it and start asking how old I am? Fuck that! Anyway, what would I say: 'It's my first time, be gentle', like some girl in a bloody romance novel? You did all that reading-- nobody ever died from taking it up the arse, did they?"

"Not as such," Vince said, "but all sorts can go wrong. You can wind up with an embolism or a ruptured colon if you're not careful. You could be on a catheter for your whole life! Some of the things I read-- God, I don't know if I'd be able to do it."

"What're you gonna do, stick to nothing but wanks and blowjobs your whole life? Smashing-- that'll make you really popular with the blokes."

Vince glared sullenly at the telly for a moment, then shook off his ire and turned back to Stuart, asking hesitantly, "So what'd it feel like?"

"Awful, at first; it just felt like taking a shit or something," Stuart answered bluntly. "Wasn't sexy at all. It was really exciting to be finally doing it, you know, not just groping, just fooling around-- really fucking. But it didn't feel good when he started. It hurt a bit. Then he like takes me in hand, right, and says to relax, and he's got me up again, he's working me, and that feels amazing, so I don't notice so much how it feels to have him in me. And then he starts pumping, and God, it's all in that, like that movement, that's just everything."

He sucked in a deep breath, remembering. "When it started to feel a bit rough again he'd swipe some more lube around and it got better. It was so fantastic. When I got off I thought I was gonna die it felt so fucking good. And I never felt this before-- you know how when you come, it's like all your muscles are going off-- right, well it's like that there too, it was like I was squeezing him without even trying, and he made a noise like he'd been shot, he came so hard. It was brilliant. God, if I hadn't had a wank like right before I came over, I'd be dying now just thinking about it."

"Yeah," Vince muttered, red fever blotches burning high on his cheeks. "Me too, if I wasn't already half gone from the flu. How bad is it today? Just sore?"

"Yeah... well... there was some blood," he admitted.

"Fuck! How much?"

"Not a lot. Swiped one of Marie's pads just in case, but it was just a blotch, practically nothing really."

"Oh my God, imagine having to explain that to your mum."

"Well, I won't have to, will I? I thought of that," Stuart said testily. "You could probably tell your mum, though. It's not even like she's a mother at all."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Vince demanded, getting his back up automatically. Stuart just regarded him levelly until Vince calmed and filled in with, "What, like she's more like a big sister or something?"

"I wouldn't insult your mum like that. She's a damn sight better to have around than Marie," Stuart snorted. "It's more like she's your friend, you know?"

"I used to pretend she was my sister," Vince said, fixing his gaze on the television screen. "Like she was just pretending to be my mum because our real parents were in hiding or something. And when they came back it would be really great, because she wouldn't have to pretend anymore. We could just have a laugh together and she wouldn't have to worry about everything all the time because our parents would take care of stuff."

"What kind of stuff?" Stuart asked.

"I don't know. Bills and that. You know. Grown-up stuff."

Stuart tilted his head back, slitting his eyes at the ceiling. He felt tired, suddenly, like telling the tale had spent all his energy. He hadn't got much sleep the night before; he'd been too wound up, trying to hang on to the excitement, the feeling that everything had changed, and planning how he was going to share the story with Vince.

He rolled onto his side again, curling up a little, and rested his forehead against Vince's shoulder. "Everything seems different now," he said. "But not as much as I thought. I feel kind of different, that's all, but it's not like suddenly it all makes sense and everything falls into place. It's just like, yeah, now I've had an actual shag. So I know what all the fuss is about. So what? It doesn't mean anything really."

"Well, maybe you should've built up to it more," Vince suggested. "Should've at least got his name. As it stands you're gonna be an old man saying, 'Yeah, I'll never forget my first time, shagging that bloke, what's-his-face'."

"That'll be a real shame when I'm telling the story to my grandkids," Stuart replied sarcastically.

"You know what I mean."

Stuart listened to the slow thick sound of Vince's congested breathing, and the babble of dialogue from the telly, and the floors downstairs creaking as Hazel moved around.

"This is my favorite part," Vince said.

Stuart cocked his head just enough to see the telly out of the corner of his eye.

"Psst. The TARDIS is a type 40 time machine," said the Doctor on the screen.

"Is it?" a woman's voice replied.

"Psst." A long pause. "You are incredible."

"Incredible? Me?" the woman asked, pleased. "I suppose I am. I never really thought about it before."

"She said that to him before, see. That line about being incredible, and that's what he answered. Then he says it back, it's touching, like. I guess you have to see the whole thing. Anyway. They got married," Vince said. "In real life. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward. You can just see it, can't you? You can see they're stuck on each other."

The Doctor and the girl escaped from some guards and began running through a fake-looking baroque castle set. Stuart closed his eyes again.

"It was Anthony Carnahan," he said. "His name. I looked at his mail."

"You going to see him again?"


Vince wriggled his shoulder, nudging Stuart's head a bit. "Even with a flu shot, you're pushing it, getting this close. You're gonna catch it."

"I don't care. How d'you feel now?"

"Not that bad. Just really tired. It was wretched for the first coupla days though."

"You've still got a fever." Stuart lifted one hand and held it a couple of inches above Vince's chest. "I can feel it coming off you, you're like an open stove."

"I'm always like that," Vince said. "Mum says I'm a human space heater."

"You'll be fine, you know. It'll be good. Just, when you try it, your first time," Stuart said, "make sure you pick somebody older who knows what they're doing."

Vince hesitated, then said, "Yeah. That's probably best."

"Definitely," Stuart yawned, falling into a blur of warmth and far-off sound.

"The boy is the first of the Chosen Ones... his mind is strong, clear, but malleable... yes, and such a handsome child..."

"Stuart. Oi, Stuart," Vince was saying.


"Phone rang. I bet that's your mum."

Stuart peered blearily at the telly. A round-faced teenage boy was standing glassy-eyed, as though hypnotised, while three pale adults lurked nearby. "You will be one of us," they hissed.

"I don't guess I can stay over, since you're sick," he grumbled.

"No. Wish you could," Vince said wistfully.

"Yeah. Oh well. Think you'll be back to school Monday?"

"Hope so."

"Bet you never thought you'd be missing school," he chuckled.

"Well. Not school as such," Vince said awkwardly.

Stuart grinned, standing up. "There's always Doctor Who."

"Piss off."

"Stuart!" Hazel yelled up the stairs, then began stomping up. "Your mother called! You're late for dinner!"

"Right, thanks Hazel, I'm just coming down," he answered with a shout.

"See you Monday," Vince said as Stuart left.


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