Cesare's Cabinet

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This story takes place immediately before series two of Queer as Folk and contains spoilers for the episodes.

Magic Words.

By the time Stuart arrived at the Rembrandt, a crowd of them were around a table by the first-floor bar: Vince, Alex, Dane, Tod, Hazel, and Bernie. Even as he came in the door he could hear the roar of mingled laughter from the lot of them, but as he approached, Vince spotted him, ducked his head, and said something; all heads turned in his direction, Hazel waved and cried, "Hiya!" and there was another wave of laughter that subsided when he pulled up a seat next to Vince.

There was a slight pause that went on for just an instant too long before Vince said, "You took your time."

"Went to see Alfred," he said. "I'm not looking to sit around here all night anyway. Let's dance or something."

"There's a good one," Dane snickered, then imitated Stuart: "Let's dance or something."

The rest of them laughed again; Vince looked mildly guilty, and catching Stuart's slitted eyes, he grabbed his hand.

"All right then," he said, "c'mon, they're all pissed anyway."

"What were you talking about when I came over?" Stuart asked once they were away from the table. "You shut up in a hurry when you saw me coming."

"Nothing, it was nothing," Vince said unconvincingly.

"You're the worst liar on earth," Stuart declared. "You'd better tell me."

"Alexander was just wondering what it is you say to your shags to get them following you around like they do," Vince shrugged.


"So, he and Dane were guessing what it might be. Going through a bunch of corny lines, trying to do them with your accent. They were just having a laugh, that's all."

"Bollocks. What you're really saying is, they were making fun of me behind my back and you, supposed to be my best friend in the world, you were sitting there laughing with them instead of sticking up for me."

"Stuart, it wasn't like that, honestly," Vince placated. "It's just taking the piss. You can't blame them for being curious, I mean, we all wonder what it is you say."

"Oh yeah?" Stuart smiled to himself, irritation fading. "You only had to ask. I'll tell you, I don't mind."

Vince raised his eyebrows. "All right, let's hear it then."

"Not yet," Stuart said. "I'm getting a drink. Go on out. I'll come find you."

He went to the bar for a g&t, tossed it back fast and joined the crowd on the dance floor. When he finally spotted Vince he allowed himself a deep breath and then threw back his shoulders, prowling across the room, locked and loaded.

Vince saw him, tossed his head in acknowledgement and carried on dancing. He'd found a good spot on the floor, at the edge of the spotlights, not too bright and not too crowded. He never seemed to mind dancing alone. Stuart hated dancing alone.

With irritation he noticed some sexy young thing in a sleeveless shirt, shaved head, eyeing Vince with evident interest. Stuart spared a hard glance to warn him off. This was dicey enough without having to contend with some blundering rival. The bloke gave Stuart a good looking-over too, hardly fazed by the glare, then turned away.

Stuart stopped where he was, still a bit off from Vince, and waited, balanced on his toes like a boxer, putting on his most inscrutable black Irish stare. It took Vince a ludicrous amount of time to work it out; he gave Stuart a curious look, tried to work his way toward him, and looked confused and slightly put off when Stuart moved just out of range, circling his friend but refusing to join him. Then Vince recognized that Stuart was in hunting mode, and actually looked over his shoulder to try to spot who Stuart was going after, the sad bastard. Finally, finally Vince twigged; it looked as though he started physically at the realisation. Stuart let a slow grin dawn on his face at last, and moved in.

"Hiya," he said, falling into rhythm with Vince, though he wasn't so much dancing as writhing inventively, showing off.

"Hiya..." his friend replied uneasily.

"I'm Stuart," he said.

Vince relaxed a little at that, catching on; he even smiled a bit. "Right," he said. "Vince."

"Been watching you dancing," Stuart said.

"Really," Vince replied, noncommital, amused.

"Yeah. Saw you at Babylon last Saturday, on that podium, dancing like a twat. You were completely mental. I've been thinking about that all week." He waited a beat. "Thinking about the way you move."

Vince paused, blinking. Last Saturday, that'd been the night he'd dumped Cameron; it was Stuart he'd been with on that podium, the both of them dancing like madmen, not caring how stupid they looked. The song ended, and as a new tune began he faltered, "Uhm..."

Smoothly Stuart interposed with, "Shall we stop for a drink?"

"Yeah, all right."

Stuart took the opportunity to wind his arm through Vince's, guiding him to a table on the far side of the club, away from the possibility of being seen by Alex or Dane or Hazel. He didn't fancy an audience for this particular performance.

He tilted his head at an inviting angle as they perched on stools at a tiny table. "What would you like?" he said suggestively.

Vince obviously wasn't sure whether he was supposed to play like he was falling for all this, or pretend he wasn't bothered. "On second thought, I probably shouldn't," he said. "I'm getting near my limit."

Stuart lowered his eyes a little, giving Vince the benefit of his long dark lashes, his smile going just a bit shy for a calculated moment. "Night's still young..."

"I had a head start, I guess," Vince chuckled weakly.

"Oh?" He leveled a measured, speculative look at his friend. "Are you about ready to bugger out of here? Cos I was thinking about that myself."

He gave it a moment, lowered his voice, husky and enticing. "We could go to dinner. Go somewhere else, quieter, maybe, for a drink. Back to yours, back to mine..." He pinned his friend with the full force of his purest, most direct and lustful gaze. "Anything you'd like."

Vince couldn't have looked more surprised if Stuart had slapped him upside the head with a fish, he was that flummoxed.

Then he forced a laugh. "I get the idea," he said. "It doesn't matter what you say to them, yeah? You could be reciting the alphabet. It's not what you say, it's how you say it."

"Say to who?" Stuart asked.

"Stuart," Vince said reprovingly.

"Vince," Stuart answered in exactly the same tone. He judged his friend's body language with a weather eye and backed off just a tinch, leaning back in his own chair, letting the game go. "How's work?"

Vince smiled edgily. "It's all right. Bit of a trial for the first couple of days, but it all blew over a lot faster than I thought it might." His smile grew a little more genuine. "Got to talking with this bloke from wages, Simon Carter. Nice guy. One foot in the closet, but he was asking about the clubs and stuff."

"You should've invited him out for a drink," Stuart said automatically.

"Nah. I'm letting it go for a little while, you know, after the mess I got myself into with Cameron."

"I'm not saying you should do that again," said Stuart with distaste.

"Last thing I need," Vince went on, preoccupied, "some kind of office romance."

"Jesus, there's your problem right there," Stuart said. "I say take him for a drink, you're already set to pick out china patterns with the poor bastard."

Vince shrugged, gave a slight smirk. "Well, I'm not getting any younger."

"You're thirty. You're not dead."

"Keep telling yourself that. Six more weeks..."

"Shut your face."

"It's not so bad, thirty," Vince carried on. "Applesauce. Sponge baths. House slippers. Adult disposable undergarments. They've got pills now for arthritis. You'll be fine."

"Fuck off!"

Vince frowned at him mildly. "Kidding. Jesus. It's really not that big a deal, you know."

"What the fuck would you know?" Stuart asked with all due rancor.

"More than you, since I'm already there," Vince answered implacably.

"Such a swot," Stuart muttered. Off to the left he spotted the bloke with the shaved head again. Still lingering around, shooting looks their way; what was he like? Determined, apparently.

Stuart considered him, looked him over, then shifted his attention back to Vince. "Suits you though, old age. Came out at work and everything. That's something."

"Long overdue, I know, don't start--"

"I'm not saying that. I'm saying, it's brilliant, Vince," Stuart told him, annoyed but stepping down on it as much as he could. "It's a sort of an occasion, isn't it? Seems like we ought to commemorate it. Do something special."

"Yeah?" Vince studied him and broke into a smile. "Like what?"

Stuart held down his grin, threw his gaze significantly at the shaved head bloke.

Vince swiveled, copped a look, turned back to Stuart with a slight shrug, resigned. "Very nice. See you tomorrow."

"He's got an eye on you."

"He hasn't. It's you he's after."

"He was watching while you were dancing on your own."

"Oh come on. He wasn't." Vince furrowed his brow suspiciously. "You're not trying to set me up, are you? God. Don't do me any favors."

"I wouldn't have to. Look how he's hanging around."

"He's looking at you."

"He's looking at us," Stuart said. "So come on then. We'll take him back to mine."

"Excuse me?" Vince asked, playing up his surprise to try to hide it. "I think I missed something here--"

"Yeah, you did," Stuart told him with conviction. "I said, something special. Like... to celebrate the end of your sad bastardhood. Start of something new." He stood. "Just be a second."

He didn't give Vince another chance to play dumb, just headed for the shaved head bloke, flashing his trusty smile.

"Hiya," the bloke said, looking smug as Stuart approached.

"Couldn't help but notice you lurking about," Stuart said. "Seeing as how you were practically tap dancing on the table."

That took the piss out of him a little. He angled his head, crossed his arms, gave just the slightest pout. "I've not got you worried, have I?" He glanced at Vince with a snarky little grin.

"Not in a million years," Stuart laughed outright. "But I admire your persistence. I'd hate for you to have wasted all this time hanging around for nothing."

"What'd you have in mind?"

"We were just heading back to mine," Stuart said.

"Oh, and am I invited?"

Stuart looked him over appreciatively. "I wouldn't object if you wanted to tag along."

They traded conspiratorial grins.

"All right then," the bloke said.

He led the bloke over to the table, watching Vince's eyes flick dubiously from one to the other. "I'm Stuart," he told the third man, "and this is Vince."

"Ryan," the bloke said, nodding at Vince.

"Hiya," Vince said. He still looked like he was waiting for the punchline, but Stuart could see him beginning to thaw just a bit, and took that as a good sign.

"Excellent," he said, stepping in. He soothed his hand over Vince's cheek and kissed him.

After a second of pure freefall, Vince's hand came up and pressed Stuart's firmly, and Vince leaned into the kiss so ferociously that Stuart, despite everything, was a bit staggered.

Maybe more than a bit, at that.

Vince broke away quickly, hand falling away, and gave a fast unconvincing laugh, his eyes focusing somewhere in the vicinity of Stuart's left shoulder. "All right," he said.

Stuart leaned over, slipped an arm around Ryan's waist, and snogged him, just to make sure things got to an equitable start. Ryan gave it back quite capably, his fingertips moving down Stuart's neck to rest in the V of his shirt, tapping the button lightly.

When he drew back Ryan smiled with anticipation. "Hope you live close."

"Very close," Stuart said, directing his own sharpened grin towards Vince, and reached to clasp his hand. "We'll be there in no time. Let's go."


Next Story: Bouquet.

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