Almost Never Disclaimers & Chapter Index
This story is set during Queer as Folk UK series one, and contains spoilers for plot elements up to episode four.
"What do you want?" Lisa stood in the doorway of the house, her arm across the doorway, barring the entrance.
"It's in your contract, isn't it? I do have visitation rights." Stuart showed her his watch. "Sundays at two. Now get out of the way."
"I thought we were just all politely forgetting about your part in the whole fatherhood thing, since you missed the last three Sundays. Where's Vince?" Lisa asked.
"Who cares? How should I know? Fuck off," Stuart recited, pushing past her.
"Ah, I see," Lisa said. "He kept after you to come over here and do your patriarchal duty, so you've packed him in, and now that he's had a go at you, you've come over here to grace us with your lovely mood."
"Lisa, you're not right and you're not funny. Alfred hardly needs me for a father," Stuart told her, "you'll be traumatising him enough for two and then some."
"It's always fun," Lisa commented, "watching you pretend to care."
Much as he wanted to scrape together another nasty retort, Stuart just ignored her and headed for the nursery.
Alfred, at least, was sensible enough to recognise his father and react properly, with a series of enthusiastic half-formed giggles. He kicked and burbled happily when Stuart reached in to wave to him, and laughed when Stuart lifted him out of the crib, careful to support his head, and held him.
"Nice to see you too," Stuart murmured to him. "Don't suppose you're talking yet."
Alfred stared up at him, silent and pop-eyed. He was still kicking a little, his small legs cycling restlessly, but otherwise he was settled and peaceful.
"Fine with me," Stuart said, moving to sit on the overstuffed sofa. "If you could talk, you'd probably just have a go at me. We'll get along much better if you just sit here and drool."
Someone had given Romey one of those hideous calendars with the babies dressed up as animals and things; it was lying on the end table. Stuart picked it up and flipped through it, showing the pages to Alfred.
"Look at that baby, Alfred," he said. "Look at him. Doesn't he look like a twat?" He bounced his knee until Alfred wiggled and gurgled. "That's right, he does, he looks like a twat. Now if you see some other baby, looks like that, you go on ahead and trounce him. Just go right on and pound him a good one. Cos I'm your dad, and I say it's okay."
"You're going to raise him up to be Fred West," Romey scolded. Stuart smiled at her; she was leaning in the doorway, watching him with Alfred.
"How long've you been lurking there, you voyeur?"
"Long enough to hear you inciting our son to riot."
"Jesus," Stuart said. "Our son."
"Too late now," she said.
He looked at Alfred and shook his head. "It's not that, it's just-- Romey, how did this happen?"
"I know. It's going to be quite something, when he's older, telling him how he came about."
"It's so fucking stupid," Stuart said. "Completely random. Cos you know if it wasn't for the lawsuit all those ages ago..."
"Oh, I don't know," she shrugged, "I think we might still have stayed friends after uni, even if it wasn't for that."
"Give over. If it hadn't been for that, we'd have no reason to even know each other."
"You don't need reasons to be friends with people." Romey sat down next to him on the sofa. "It just happens. I'd miss you if I didn't see you now and then. I think that's how you know you care about people, really. You miss them when they're not about."
"Go on," he scoffed.
"I would. You may be a complete terror, but--" she shrugged. "I'll forgive a person anything if they can make me laugh. Especially if they can make me laugh at myself, you know, without feeling stupid. Like you do. And Vince does."
He shook his head and gazed down at Alfred, at his bobbing little fists wavering in the air, eyes unfocused and blinking. "Doesn't make much sense."
"Remember when Lisa had to go down London for three weeks cos of that case in another jurisdiction?" Romey asked. "I thought we'd got settled, you know-- we'd been together years, we were used to each other. It wouldn't matter to me if she was here or there. But I missed her so much. That's how you know who's important to you. Not even so much how nice it is being with them, but more, how you feel when they're gone."
"Pfft. Did you shag anyone else while she was off?" Stuart asked.
"That would be your first question," she said. "No, I didn't."
"Surprised you didn't get carpal tunnel."
He'd been shooting for indignation, but Romey just gave an earthy chuckle. "No, but I went through more than my fair share of batteries," she said.
"Hm, I'm impressed," he said. "How often?"
At that she did go the slightest bit pink, but Romey shrugged, "Every couple of days, I s'pose. Why, how often do you?"
Stuart said, "Hourly."
"You do not," she laughed, "you may have the inclination but I know you don't have the time."
"Doesn't take long," he reminded her, "not like you women. Vince ever tell you that story about the girl he had, when we were in school?"
"Did he? How'd that happen?"
"How do you think? She asked him to some dance or something, he didn't have to bottle to just turn her down like a normal person, so he took her. And then he took her. S'pose he thought he couldn't get out of it without telling her the truth. And you know him, he'd never say an honest word to anyone if he could help it. Sad bastard."
"Vince gave heterosexuality the old college try, hm?" she smiled. "You ever try that, with all the things you've done?"
"Of course not," he said. "I know who I am."
Romey tilted her head. "All right," she said, her voice growing serious, "what's happened? What's he done?"
"Oh right. When's Vince ever done anything?"
"Yes, all right, Stuart, I take your point, you're upset with him. You don't have to keep pounding away at it. What's the matter?"
"Ask him," Stuart said, "he's the one went tearing off after Phil's funeral, hasn't answered one of my calls since, the twat. Here it is Sunday, and not a word."
"That's terrible," Romey frowned. "I didn't realise they were so close. You can't be angry at him for that, Stuart. He's obviously taking it hard."
"Got nothing to do with Phil," he said impatiently, "it's all that Nathan's fault, he came round to Hazel's looking for me."
"So?" she asked.
"So," he shrugged, "he was there, and it was such a shit day, that day, and--"
"Oh god. You didn't."
Her shocked expression did wonders for cheering Stuart up. "Of course I did," he said, "I mean, he was right there."
"Right where exactly?" she pressed.
That bit was... less amusing. "Upstairs. Vince's old room."
"Jesus Christ," she said, shaking her head. "He's not speaking to you? Count your lucky stars. If I was him I'd never let you hear the end of it."
"It was practically nothing," Stuart said, annoyed.
"Oh right, just you having some pretty young thing in the very same room as your infamous wanking session? How many times have I heard that story? It's not as though you don't throw it in his face at the least excuse," Romey said.
"I'm not throwing anything in anyone's face," he rolled his eyes, "don't make it sound so fucking dramatic."
"No? Stuart, you preach it like a parable. Yea verily, the tale of how Vince could've had you back when you were kids, if he'd just had a bit more nerve."
"Nobody needs a parable to see that Vince is a complete coward," Stuart said heatedly. "It's not like he said a thing to me, the day of the funeral, he just took off running. He can't stand up to me so he just runs away."
"He stands up to you all the time," Romey said, "and you know, it's not as though--"
Before she could finish, Alfred began to squirm and cry in Stuart's arms, interrupting the budding argument.
"Great. Here, take him," Stuart tried to pawn him off on Romey.
"No, just rock him, he'll quiet down again in a minute. We woke him, that's all."
"You do it," Stuart insisted.
"No! Stuart, you don't get to pick and choose like that. You don't only get to do the fun parts. If you're his dad, that means you hold him, even when he cries. Calm him down."
"Fuck's sake. How?"
"First off, relax," she said. "He can tell you're upset, that's what set him off. He's attuned to you. Talk to him quietly and it'll soothe him."
"I'm not upset, Jesus," Stuart muttered. In more dulcet tones, he crooned, "Alfred, I apologise for bringing you into the world just to leave you in the hands of a houseful of women. Not just women, but lesbians. I'm sure they'll teach you how to fix a car, but aside from that, you're going to be on your own."
"Lovely," Romey rolled her eyes.
"I've done my part to propagate the species," Stuart went on in the most soothing tone he could muster, "and now I'm just dead weight. I'm meant to step aside and let the next generation take over. They'll put me on an ice floe and shove it into the ocean. No wonder you're so upset."
It worked; Alfred stopped squalling and started chewing on his own small hand, and Romey smiled sardonically at Stuart.
"See? Was that so hard?" she asked, fetching Alfred's pacifier and handing it to Stuart.
Stuart gave it to Alfred and watched it disappear into the baby's mouth almost entirely before Alfred yanked it back out and started working on just the nipply bit of it.
"S'pose not," Stuart admitted.
"I really don't want you doing that thing you do," Romey said.
"Which thing?" He flashed a grin. "There's so many."
She refused to be charmed. "The thing where you try your hand at something, and if you're not instantly great at it, you can't be bothered. Cos no one's ever felt like they were good enough at this," she gestured between him and Alfred. "But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. I don't want you to just give up and fuck off."
"We'll see," Stuart said noncommitally, just because he liked the exasperated way that Romey sighed when he told her things like that.
"Would you like to stay for tea?" Romey asked.
"Nah. I don't eat tea," Stuart said, "or elevenses or twoses or threeses or whatever other excuses people make to cram more food into their gobs."
"Bollocks," she said pleasantly, "I know you're always going round Hazel's for tea on Sundays."
"I don't think vodka martinis and Twiglets count as tea."
"It's Sunday, everything's closed, you've got work tomorrow, there's nothing better to do," Romey said persuasively. "If you can use it for an excuse to hang about with Vince all day, you can use it for an excuse to spend time with your son. Though really, Stuart. You don't need an excuse. The world won't stop turning if it comes out that you care about something."
"I don't make excuses," Stuart declared. "I don't give a fuck what anyone thinks."
"Good. Then stay for tea," Romey said.
He couldn't think of any reason not to, so he answered, "Fine, I will," feeling he'd missed a step in there somewhere.
But then, he'd been on his back foot all week. It was very distracting, how his phone kept refusing to ring. And Vince had changed his answerphone message to the default, a preset recording that simply said 'Please leave a message' in robotic tones.
Little things like that always convinced Stuart that Vince wasn't as hapless as he pretended to be; he must've known Stuart would call and listen to the outgoing message to hear his voice, or why else would he change it to the computer recording instead? The bastard.
"'S funny. Phil's funeral, you know, at the buffet, this bloke, never saw him before... comes up to us out of nowhere and just says 'Let me guess. Stuart and Vince.'" Not much of a story, so why was he telling it? Stuart tapped Alfred's knotted hand, tried to get him to open his fingers. "Phil was stuck on Vince, seems like. Told this accountant bloke all about him."
Romey made a sympathetic face. "Did Vince know?"
"Nope. Phil never said. The twat."
Alfred cinched his little face up, yawning around his pacifier, his fists still clenched. Stuart was about to give up on getting him to open them.
"You never said," Romey told him quietly.
He kept his eyes on Alfred. "Nothing to say."
She sighed a little. "Stuart, I know you."
"You had my baby, Romey. Doesn't mean you know me," he said.
"I remember how you were at uni," she said. "Before all this." She touched the lapel of his wool coat. He wanted to brush her hand away, but he knew she expected that, so he left it. "I know you hate it, but I do know you."
He shook his head, tried on a smile that didn't quite fit.
"How much longer are you going to go on like this?" she persisted. "You joke about how you'll still be out there when you're sixty, but then you run down Bernie because he's still out there, pushing sixty--"
"I run him down cos he's a sad old coot with a gut on him like Santa Claus--"
"--and you're miserable, Stuart. You think I can't see that? You're making yourself miserable."
"I'm fantastic," he said. "You'd like to think I'm miserable, cos you think I deserve to be miserable, the way I carry on. Admit it."
"You know I don't think that," she said.
"You do," he said heatedly. "You love it when it suits you, the way I am. And then you turn around and give me shit for it when it puts you out. Think what you want, I don't care."
"I just want you to be happy," Romey told him gently.
"Oh, absolutely," he said. "I know exactly what it is. You want me to settle down, grow up, take responsibility, so you can count on me when it comes to Alfred. It'd be so much easier for you, wouldn't it, if I gave up going out, gave up shagging-- pair off with some boyfriend, set up house down the street, buy a fucking washer-dryer and take up golf or something--"
She was laughing at him by that point, but he refused to ease up. "Well, fuck off. That's what the insurance and all that is for. Alfred's taken care of with my bank, he's taken care of in my will. That's as much as you're going to get out of me."
"I don't want you to lay down and die, Stuart," Romey said.
"No, that'd be Lisa."
"But you know, you can't go on like that forever. And even if you could, why would you want to? Isn't it getting sort of old? The same clubs, the same scene, the same sort of men all the time, never getting close to anyone? That's no way to live," Romey said.
"It's the only way to live," Stuart replied. "It's brilliant. It's everybody's bloody fantasy, is what it is, only it's my life. Everyone just wishes they were me."
Romey laughed. "Vince isn't everyone."
"Isn't he?" Stuart answered, but it didn't sound mocking and funny like he intended, and Romey gave him an irritating, compassionate look.
"I just worry about you sometimes," she said. "Sex is easy. Love is the hard part."
"That's one of the best things about being gay," Stuart observed. "No dealing with women. No fucking around about love. You can't imagine how I pity you dykes-- double the claptrap, plus, no cock."
Romey grinned, but the second she opened her mouth, he cut her off with, "Strap-ons don't count."
"Don't knock it 'til you've tried it," she laughed.
"Have done. I'll stick with the real thing, thanks."
"You've used a strap-on?"
"Nah, but I've been with blokes that used 'em. Me, I don't need any help. I can come three, four times a day no problem."
"More than I need to know," she said.
"Oh, you're not the least bit curious."
"Why, are you curious about what it's like for us?" Romey asked.
"Sure. You know I'm always up for talking about sex. I'm up for anything to do with sex," he grinned. "Go on then, tell me all the steamy details. Lisa must be fantastic in bed, for you to put up with her the rest of the time."
"Funny, that's the same rumor I hear about you," Romey returned.
"Ha ha. C'mon, let's hear it. What's the sexiest thing you two do together?"
"Oh, you really don't want to know. You'd be struck dumb."
"Romey," he said impatiently, "I rimmed this bloke for like twenty minutes last night. There aren't even words for half the stuff I do. So don't act like there's anything you can say that'll disgust me."
"Okay," she shrugged, "I think just about the sexiest thing is when Lisa goes down on me when I'm on my period."
"Except that," Stuart said instantly. "Never mind."
"It feels sooo good," Romey smiled impishly at him. "Cos that time of the month, you know, I feel really open--"
"Alfred, tell your mother to shut her face before you and me both sick up all over the carpet," Stuart said. Alfred grabbed his finger and squeezed, which seemed like a fairly intelligent show of agreement to Stuart.
"Don't give him any ideas," Romey said, "he seems to have discovered spitting up this week. He's been doing it after every meal practically, spewing food like it's going out of style. It's a shame, he was such a good eater up til now."
"Hm," Stuart made an encouraging noise to let her prattle on.
"Oh, you really don't want to discuss this thing with Vince, do you?" Romey grinned. "Look at you, you're willing to listen to me go into hardcore baby talk just to keep me from asking about it any more."
"Why don't you just take him," Stuart unloaded Alfred into Romey's arms before she had a chance to protest. "I'm going. Things to do."
"I thought you were staying for tea?"
"Changed my mind," he said. "Oddly enough, talking about puke and menstruation hasn't done much for my appetite."
"Do you want me to talk to Vince for you?" Romey persisted.
"And say what, exactly?" Stuart asked, fishing his keys out of his jacket pocket, preparatory to taking off.
"That you're an idiot, and if he ever wants anything to happen with you, it's going to be up to him to start it," Romey said.
"Fuck off. I'm not looking to start up with Vince," Stuart told her.
"Why not? You're best friends, you know everything about each other, and you love each other," she said, ignoring his derisive snort. "Don't be stupid, Stuart. Most people go their whole lives wishing they could have that, and you're pissing it all away."
"Maybe most women go their whole lives wishing for that," Stuart said. "But I expect really-- I mean, really-- everyone goes their whole lives wishing they could shag anyone they wanted, and sod the consequences." He spread his hands and gestured at himself illustratively.
Romey leveled a canny stare at him. "You think Vince will stop looking at you all starry-eyed if you leave off shagging your way up and down Canal Street, forgetting everyone's names and breaking their hearts like you're his evil twin?"
"If you think I'm the diabolical one, you need to ask around," he said. "Find out how many of those blokes were left thinking they're terminally strange after Vince chucked 'em out for having a funny-shaped birthmark or asking him if those were ice lollies they saw in the freezer. At least I show them a good time before I get shot of them."
"So I hear," she said. "Doesn't answer my question though."
"Who gives a shit?" Stuart jingled his keys. Alfred craned his head around, looking for the source of the noise.
"Look at that," Romey said, pleased. "He can tell the sound's coming from behind him."
Stuart held the keys above Alfred and shook them again. Alfred reached up and batted at them to make them clink.
"I have to say, I hope you make up with Vince soon. For your sake, but for selfish reasons as well," Romey told him. "He's so good with Alfred."
"You should've had him be the dad," Stuart said.
"I couldn't ask him, it's such an expensive procedure," Romey explained.
"I would've paid."
"But not because you love him, or anything like that," she said with a touch of sarcasm.
"Was that really the only reason you picked me?" he asked dourly. "The money?"
Romey studied him, her expression softening. "No, that wasn't it. I didn't ask Vince because I didn't think he'd do it, for one thing. He'd be too worried about passing on bad genes or something. And honestly, even if I could talk him into it, I thought he might get attached enough to want joint custody. I knew I wanted the father to be involved, but I wanted the baby to be our child, mine and Lisa's."
She chucked Alfred's chin fondly, rocking him gently. "I thought, if the baby was yours, you wouldn't try to take him, and I'd still get Vince as a sort of a second father to him. You and Vince are a package deal, whether you admit it or not. So that was my sinister plot," she finished brightly. "Suppose you'll want to pry Alfred out of my scheming clutches now."
"Believe me, you can have him," Stuart said. Reluctantly he added, "I thought he might've come over. Vince. He hasn't been by at all to see him?"
"No," Romey said. "He called Thursday night. Didn't say anything about you two fighting, just asked after us. I was serious, Stuart, I will call him if you like. Just to say you came round, and ask why he wasn't with you. Maybe if he talks about it, he'll get over it quicker."
"Don't bother. It doesn't matter," Stuart said.
"Obviously it does," she shot back, "look at you. Is it so hard to admit you care if he's angry at you?"
"What difference does it make? Just means I have to do my own grocery shopping. Or hire somebody. I bet I could hire someone for that."
"Oh, probably," she said wearily. "You could hire a best friend while you're at it, save you having to feel anything for anyone. You could turn all your relationships into transactions. Life could be so simple."
"I don't charge for sex," he fluttered his lashes at her with a cheeky smile. "Though I probably should."
"Don't you? You're just trading orgasms with those men. God help anyone who thinks differently, like young Nathan, poor thing."
"Oh, poor Nathan. Don't try to make me sympathise with him, this is all his fault."
"It's his fault you shagged him in Vince's old room?"
"He didn't have any business going to Hazel's. What the fuck did he have to go bothering them for?"
"Maybe he reckoned that was the only way to really get to you," Romey said. "Clever boy."
"That's shite. They can deal with him, or turn him out, I don't care," Stuart said. "Nothing to do with me."
"That must be why you're so lighthearted today," Romey said, "cos it's nothing to do with you. Cos you don't care."
Stuart gave up and perched on the arm of the sofa, glowering at her. "It's none of your business," he said.
"Somebody's got to mind your business," she said, "seeing as how you aren't bothered."
He examined his manicure for a moment, flicking his thumbnail against his forefinger, and glanced at her. She sat patiently, cradling the baby, her blue eyes wide, friendly, concerned.
Stuart grimaced a little. "He's not even out at work, Romey."
"I know," she said. "Haven't I been hearing that for years? What happens if he does come out at work, what're you going to use for an excuse then?"
"He's a twat. And a liar. And a coward. And an anorak. He wears ugly shirts. He's... got fish," he finished lamely. He'd thought he had more material than that.
"He's got fish?" Romey laughed. "Is that some new STD, or are you just exceptionally sad?"
"I don't like fish," Stuart said crossly. "What's the point? They're under glass. They gawp and swim. You feed them, they gawp and swim, you give them funny names and aquarium toys, they gawp and swim. You may as well have a pet paperweight."
"So that's what it comes down to," Romey mused. "He's got fish. You know, it's just a hunch, but I suspect, given the choice between you and the fish, Vince might just be willing to find a new home for the aquarium."
"He's still a liar and a coward, he still-- he follows me around, but he's not right up there with me," Stuart said, and covered it with a sneer. "Like a trotting little puppy. He's always half a step behind."
"And you miss him when he's not about."
"I didn't say that."
"You don't have to," she said. "And at any rate. He's not following now. Is he."
He glared at her through veiled eyes, and turned over his keys in his hand. Alfred's eyes toward the sound, and Stuart shook them above his face again.
"Is Stuart asleep, or dead?" Lisa asked from the doorway. "He's been here nearly an hour. I'm this close to phoning the Guinness Book."
Romey cautioned, "Look out, don't let the baby grab those keys-- everything he sees goes straight into his mouth."
"Like father, like son," Lisa commented dryly.
"That's it, everyone have a go at me," Stuart said. "Get after me cos I don't come round enough, then harass me the whole time I'm here."
"Well, since you ask so nicely," Lisa said.
He stood. "Don't worry, I won't tax your hospitality any further, such as it is," he said. "I'll just sign the checks and get out of the fucking way."
Lisa grinned sharkily. "Promise?"
"I'm not paying for his therapy though," Stuart said, passing her in the doorway. "That's on your tab."
"I won't be the one giving him abandonment issues,"
"No, you'll just make him wish he'd been abandoned."
"Time!" Romey said.
"We don't have enough judges to call that one," Lisa said. "Where's the panel got to? I called Vince, he's on answerphone, and no one's picking up at Hazel's either."
"Bernie and Hazel have been going to Manto's sometimes, in the afternoons," Romey said promptingly to Stuart.
"I'm heading home, I've got work to do," Stuart told her. "Got a kid to keep in pacifiers and ugly baby calendars, haven't I."
Romey smiled. "All right, Stuart," she said softly.
Stuart headed out of their house, slid into the Jeep, plugged the key into the ignition and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. He'd end up feeling exceptionally sad no matter where he went from here, so he might as well sink as low as possible. He shifted into gear and headed for Manto's.
No one was there.
Almost Never Chapter Index