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Cesare's Cabinet

Almost Never Disclaimers & Chapter Index

This story takes place during series one of Queer as Folk and contains spoilers for most of the episodes.

Simple Gifts.

"I don't have much time," Cameron said, "I'm meeting him for dinner at eight."

"Won't take long," Stuart answered, summoning him in with a peremptory wave of his hand.

"All right, so it's big," Cameron looked around the flat.

"Hm, that's what they all say," Stuart smirked.

"But it's a bit of a chore to find the place," Cameron went on, refusing to be baited. "My house is on a corner, it's easy to get to, and I've got plenty of room. I can clear out the whole downstairs, it'll be as big as this."

"This is just the lounge," Stuart told him. "There's a dining room, and the bedroom's nearly this big as well. I'm opening up the whole flat."

"Yeah, but... look, this much space is just ridiculous," Cameron said. "How many people do you expect to have?"

"Forty or fifty," Stuart answered, "probably more."

"Oh, come on," Cameron said.

"He's got loads of friends, and all of them are fond of free drinks. Add in all the people Hazel will bring, plus my friends; most of them know him as well. So, easily that many, really," Stuart said. "And you can invite a few more, if you like. As you can see," he made a showman's gesture indicating the enormous, beautifully appointed room, "there's plenty of space."

"I was thinking this might be a good chance for Vince and I to meet each another's friends," Cameron said, resorting to honesty with a trace of exasperation. "Not just an excuse to round up all of Canal Street for a house party."

"Fine, invite whoever you like," Stuart said, arranging himself artfully on the settee. "I'm having a bar set up there, and a DJ station in the corner, and I'll be moving this stuff into more of a circular grouping and adding in more chairs..."

"You've got it all planned out, clearly," Cameron sat on the arm of the opposite chair and crossed his arms, looking unimpressed.

"I've had ages to think about it," Stuart reminded him sweetly. "The hardest part'll be during the day on Saturday. I'll make up some story about having to go into work or something. You're going to have to keep him busy all day so he doesn't come round investigating and suss it out."

"I think I can probably manage that," Cameron said, his voice heavy with sarcasm.

Stuart grinned cheekily at him, and, why not, batted his eyes at him for good measure, making sure to exaggerate the gesture just to wind him up. "I'm sure," he said.

"Fine, then," said Cameron, "seems like we're done here."

"Aren't you going to try to pick my brain for ideas for the perfect gift?" Stuart asked. "Isn't that traditionally the way it goes, the boyfriend asks the best friend for advice?"

"Somehow I don't think you'd be much help," Cameron said sardonically.

Stuart smiled. It didn't matter what Cameron got for Vince, it was never going to stand up to what Stuart was giving him. Cameron might 'really like' Vince, but Stuart had been thinking about this forever, going through loads of Doctor Who, trying to find just the right thing for such a huge occasion.

He'd considered buying a police box and having it done up appropriately, but he'd realised it would be too big. Literally-- those call boxes were quite tall. It probably wouldn't even fit in Vince's saltbox flat, and worse, its size would call attention to the cost, and then Vince would get bunched up about how much Stuart had paid for it.

It had to be something less conspicuous, less obvious. Something so unlikely that it wouldn't seem like a bought-and-paid-for present at all: it had to seem more like magic.

Eventually he'd picked the perfect thing. The more he thought about it the more pleased he was, and though it'd been nine kinds of hell getting hold of it, just picturing the look on Vince's face made it more than worth it.

Cameron was watching him; Stuart realised he'd probably been grinning at the thought, and he quickly wiped the smile off his face.

"I've already picked out the presents." Cameron paused and then pushed on, "The main thing is, I need to know where I can park on the street."

"There's not usually any spaces open out front on a Saturday night," Stuart told him. "What's wrong with the carport? If you're bringing something big, it's easier to get things into the lift from there than from the front." He laughed shortly, "Unless you actually bought him a car."

Cameron didn't answer; he only smiled the tiniest bit.

"Christ, did you buy him a car?" Stuart asked incredulously.

He just kept smiling like the sphinx; just as enigmatic and, Stuart thought spitefully, nearly as old.

"Let's not spoil the surprise," Cameron said.

Stuart exhaled slowly, torn. Largely he wanted to say something sharp that'd cut that smug little smile off Cameron's face. But it kept nagging at him, Cameron's words the other night.

He's worth the chance. He deserves the chance, doesn't he?

He split the difference and said, "He's not going to let you buy him a fucking car. You spend that much, he's going to panic. Have you seen him panic yet? It isn't pretty. He starts chattering like mad and it's impossible to shut him up. Not that he shuts up much as a rule."

"I thought about that," Cameron said. "It's not so much. A Mini. It's secondhand, it only cost around four hundred. Anyway. We've been talking, I think we're working out the money issue."

Fuck, score one for Cameron. Sixteen years and Stuart had never come close to figuring out how to get round Vince's pride when it came to money. "I'll park the Jeep on the street," he allowed. "Someone can go down and move it out of the way during the party, and you can move the Mini into that spot. Christ. A car," Stuart said grudgingly. "That's serious."

"I am serious," Cameron said. His eyes were fixed on Stuart, dark and hard to read.

"Yeah, I spotted that," Stuart muttered.

Cameron continued to study him impassively. "I don't suppose you thought about what I said at all."

Stuart shrugged and stood up. "'Course not," he said. "What the fuck do I care?"

The older man nodded slowly, his mouth drawing up in a brief frown. He stood as well, pushing his hands into the pockets of his coat. "What'd you get him?" he asked as though he just couldn't help himself.

"I'm putting together the party. He won't expect anything else," Stuart answered obliquely.

"Right, of course."

Stuart's jaw clenched tight as he saw Cameron out. It was all going just how he'd planned, but Cameron could throw the whole thing off so easily. If he'd just get fed up with all this and walk out on Vince, or even if he'd just insist on holding the party at his house, then Stuart could forget the whole scheme with Rosalie...

...but then he'd just have to come up with something else. Vince had this coming, Stuart reminded himself, half in anger, half regret.

He deserves the chance, doesn't he?

He did. Vince deserved sixteen years of chances, but chances for what? If Stuart could've answered that, he might not have given up. But he couldn't, and if he'd been hoping Vince would come up with something, he'd been sorely disappointed on that count. Vince had never even tried.

After all, what did Vince know about love really-- Vince, who'd fearfully pushed away every dark and powerful feeling he'd ever had in his life. What the fuck did Vince know about passion, about emotions so vast nothing could contain them, too tangled and sprawling to acknowledge, so much bigger inside than they appeared from the outside; too big for words.

Vince would clearly much rather hide out and live in his own imagination rather than confront anything as difficult as that, hunkering down in his shabby little flat walled in with videotapes, like some frightened animal tucked away in its warren. Vince would always choose dreams over reality; he obviously preferred his fantasy of Stuart to the real thing.

It was past time to take that fantasy away from him, and if that left Vince with nothing worth having, who'd really be to blame?

If Nathan's schoolboy crush had taught Stuart anything, it was how shallow and ultimately unforgiving that sort of love was. Nathan would realise Stuart wasn't perfect eventually, and drift away, like dozens of men and boys before him.

If Vince had stuck around longer than any of them, it was only because Vince was so fucking blind, so happy to carry on believing in illusions. If Vince had ever really looked at him, even once, just honestly looked-- but he hadn't. Possibly he couldn't, and never would.

Cameron could have him, then, and never know what he had, or what he was missing. They'd all be better off.

Stuart was sick of it, sick of knowing exactly what he was missing. Sick of feeling that space so fucking acutely, the space between one thing and the next. Between friends and lovers, between affection and passion. The space between being admired and being seen.

"See you Saturday, then," Cameron said. "I'll call ahead from as close as I can manage. Ring twice, hang up, ring once, right?"

"Right," Stuart nodded.

"I think he's probably going to catch on, though," Cameron said. "I doubt it'll come as much of a surprise."

"You might not think so," Stuart said, showing off his most devastating smile. "But that's only cos you don't know him like I do."

Cameron's mouth thinned, but he looked past Stuart at the palace of his flat, and then at Stuart, taking in the coiffed hair, the polished body, the stylish clothes, and shook his head.

He relaxed and met Stuart's eyes and said as he left, with a hint of triumph, "I'd best not keep him waiting."

Stuart closed the door and wondered if he'd be able to stop himself kissing Vince, truly kissing him, just one time. Just once.


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