Almost Never Disclaimers & Chapter Index
This story was inspired by Aidan Gillen's performance as the completely unhinged and incredibly cruel Baby in Mojo, and it's dedicated to Margo, in greatest thanks, for sharing it with me.
Mark was telling some long, boring story, so Stuart waited until Mark paused for breath just before the point of whatever he'd been chuntering about, and cut him off.
"Look," Stuart said, "what I have."
Vince turned his attention to the two small tablets in Stuart's hand, each stamped with an X-eyed grinning cartoon face: the symbol on the latest E going round, a souped-up batch with speed in. "Oh, nice. Where'd you get it?"
"Izzy. Had some last weekend, I have these left still, just found them in my jacket pocket. Excellent stuff. Lasts hours."
"Any road, I was saying," Mark began again.
"I had him," Alexander claimed.
"What? Izzy? You did not," said Mark, "when was this?"
"Last year, some party at Flesh." Alex measured off a few inches with his hands. "He's just about this far from being useless, but that's nearly far enough."
"Stuart, don't go buying from Izzy," Vince said. "Have you ever seen that basement lab of his? That's probably nothing but drain cleaner and ground up white mice."
"Better be fucking trained albino mice for what he charged me. The tosser." Stuart took one, chasing it with a gulp of his drink. "You want the other?"
"No, I don't believe I will, thanks," Vince answered. "What part of 'drain cleaner' appeals to you exactly?"
"I told you, I had some last week and it's good. What about you?" Stuart asked Alexander, ignoring Mark, who rolled his eyes.
"Wouldn't touch the stuff," said Alex. "Can't take it with vodka. Tried it once, spent the next thirty-six hours wishing I could hurl myself off a cliff."
"Thought that was normal for you," said Stuart, and got Vince's elbow in his ribs for his trouble. "Oi, fuck off." He offered Vince the second pill. "Last chance," he said, holding it out, and when Vince didn't take it, Stuart put it on the tip of his tongue and offered again, leaning close.
"Get off," Vince said halfheartedly, shoving Stuart's arm.
Stuart swallowed the pill with the last of his drink. "Fine. More for me." He sank deep in his chair at the table, eyeing the little puddles of condensation that had gathered under their drinks. "Cunt," he muttered, and his mobile rang. Stuart checked his phone. "Fuck."
"Who is it?" Mark asked.
"Business," Stuart said. "As in, none of yours."
"God! What's got you so arsey tonight?" Alexander demanded.
"I'm fine, I'm fantastic," Stuart insisted, rising none to steadily to his feet. "I'm taking this. I'll be back."
The cool air outside slapped him in the face as Stuart left New York New York and rang back the caller. He leaned against the rough stone wall and waited in the alley while the phone rang.
"How's it going so far?" Stuart asked.
"About how you'd expect," his sister replied. "Mum cried."
"Fuck's sake," said Stuart. "What did Dad say?"
"Not much," Marie said. "But Mum put me through the ringer. Had to account for every bloody thing I've ever done the whole time we were married. At least now they're at each other's throats instead of mine. It's brilliant, really. I'm sure Robert's getting the same thing from his parents. If he even bothers to tell them. Doubt he will. He barely told them when we were married, so why fuss about it now?"
"He was a cunt, Marie. You should've known he was a rotter when Vince didn't like him."
"Vince is no fit judge of character," Marie said. "He likes you."
"What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing at all, just the family's falling apart over here, and where are you?"
"What're you on about, falling apart. They'll get over it."
"Listen. Hear those voices going at it? I only managed to get away cos now they've set in on each other," Marie told him. "Mum said it was cos I didn't pay him enough attention, Dad said I'd been too much of a mother and not enough of a wife, and Mum asked him what the bloody hell that was supposed to mean, and it went from there."
Stuart listened, and on the other end of the line, in the background, he could hear shouting. "Fuck."
"Yeah," she said. "I haven't seen them this bad in years. Maybe they'll split up as well. It's an epidemic. But don't mind us, Stuart, you just have a good time, no need to come round."
"It's not as though it'd help. What could I do?" Stuart asked.
"You could've come along, but I'm sure whatever you're doing now is much more important."
"Why're you having a go at me? It's nothing to do with me," Stuart said.
"Oh, I know. Under the circumstances, I'm just glad you left your mobile on," said Marie. "Though if you'd really like to help…"
Stuart shrugged, and then remembered he was on the phone. "What?"
"Come over and tell them you're gay," she said. "They'd forget all about Robert."
"Oh, ha ha. With a sense of humor like that, I can't imagine why he ever left you."
"Fuck off," she said. "I guess I'll just go jump into the line of fire. Like always. See if I can't settle things between them. Like always. And then they'll team up and start in on me again, while you go sneaking off to hang round in bars. Like always. Have a good time, Stuart," and she rang off.
Stuart switched his phone off and shoved it into his pocket. Fucking Marie. So Robert left, boo fucking hoo, she should've known better than to marry that tosser in the first place, let alone have his kids. She got herself into it, and Robert was the one who'd run out on her. And his parents had always been mad, turning on each other at the slightest opportunity. But no, somehow everything was all Stuart's fault. Christ, who needed it anyway.
He had to get inside and get his mood up again before his high kicked in. Tricky stuff, E. Mostly, E made it seem like everything and everyone was utterly wonderful and lovely, but there was nothing quite as miserable as a bad time on ecstasy; it could leave you feeling like the most wretched bastard on earth.
Going back into the music was like walking into a wall when he went inside. He returned to the table, where Vince and Mark and Alexander were vigorously debating piercings.
"It's the same as tattoos," Vince said. "I just can't see them without picturing the bloke down the road, grey hair and wrinkles, the nurse goes to give him a wash and gets an eyeful-- here's a saggy ring of thorns round his scrawny old arm, and there's the scars from his Prince Albert--"
"Ugh! You take the fun out of everything," Alexander complained. "A bloke with a stud in his tongue, Vince, that's sexy, I don't give a toss what you say."
"He's right," Mark said, "I've had blokes with those studs and they are *incredible*."
"But what if it gets caught on something?" Vince asked. "Like if it gets tangled up in your short hairs, and there you are, some bloke's face between your legs and he's stuck down there-- one minute it's oh, god, oh, yes, next thing you know, oh, shit, where's the bloody scissors?"
Stuart nearly crippled himself laughing. "I like how you say that as though it hasn't already happened to you."
"It hasn't!" Vince said. Mark and Alexander looked at him doubtfully. "Honestly, it hasn't," he insisted. "Stuart, you all right? God, I shouldn't have let you take both of those. I bet you drove tonight as well, you twat."
"I did!" Stuart said, still giggling.
"So much for this," Vince shoved his drink away. "Give me the keys."
Stuart tilted his head down and smiled up at him. "Come get them."
"Oooooooooh," said Mark, sending it up.
Vince cuffed Mark lightly. "Give over." He shook his head at Stuart. "*And* you. Fine, leave the car. Someone'll come along and haul it to a chop shop."
"Queue up, I'm having the stereo," said Mark.
"Bagsies on the hubcaps," said Alexander.
Stuart excavated his keys from his pocket and hung them on the edge of Vince's glass. "Have them, then," he said. "Sort me out."
"I would if I could. You need it," Vince laughed.
"I don't need anything. Don't even need a taxi. I'm fine to drive," Stuart drew himself up in his chair regally, and pretended to go for the keys again.
Vince grabbed them away and held them out of his reach, shaking his head. "Bollocks. I'm not letting you drive in this state, no chance. You're right off your head, you are."
"I'm not, I'm brilliant," Stuart said. Coming back here had been a very very good idea. It was true, he was fucking brilliant. And Vince was brilliant. Even Alexander was brilliant. Dressed in dark blue and neon green so bright it nearly hurt Stuart's eyes, the twat, but still. Brilliant.
In fact everyone here was brilliant. Well, Mark wasn't brilliant, but who gave a fuck about him. The rest of them were fabulous. They might have stayed in tonight, like a load of wasters, like a boring load of stupid idiot wasters, but no, they were lovely and clever and they'd all come out tonight to make sure Stuart had a good time. They might have stayed home and shouted at each other for no bloody reason, night after fucking night for their whole lives, hating each other and hating themselves, slamming the doors and scaring the kids and frightening the horses, but they'd come out instead; they were wonderful, to a man, every one of them.
Stuart laughed again. He was ready to frighten some bloody horses tonight. Springing to his feet, he headed for the bar, looking them all over, every gorgeous chiseled face, every hard sculpted arse, all on display and all he had to do was choose.
"Vodka cranberry," he ordered while he made up his mind.
In a minute or two the barman shoved the drink in front of him, and Stuart pulled out a note, but the bloke waved it away.
"Paid for," he said. "Your friend down the bar there, in yellow."
Stuart grinned and looked in the direction the barman pointed; maybe he wouldn't have to decide after all, maybe his night would sort itself.
Then he saw the bloke in yellow and that was the end of his brilliant night. Spotty face, squat weightlifter's body, wide mouth like a frog, and what was worse, Stuart recognised him.
He lifted his hand to acknowledge the drink and strode quickly back to the table.
"Believe me, worth every little ache and pain the next day and then some," Alexander was saying.
"You're telling me," Mark started, leaning forward, "there was this one bloke--"
"I'm fucked," Stuart interrupted as he slipped into his chair, turning to Vince. "You remember Wil."
Vince frowned at him. "Which one?"
"From work, I told you, the bloke on the BMW account."
"Wil?" Alexander inquired.
"Short for Wilhelm, if you can believe it," Stuart said. "He's an absolute cunt, he's some big man's son at the company. He's landed this cushy spot in their marketing department. He could pull the fucking rug right out from under me, the bastard."
"What, here?" asked Vince, casting about. "Has he seen you?"
"At the bar. In yellow. He sent me this," Stuart lifted his drink and while he was at it, swallowed most of it down. "That weaselly cunt, Christ, if I have to turn him down, that's it, I'm off the account. He's that sort. Six fucking months I spent pitching that business and setting up the deal. And look at him. He has no right going out in public with skin like that. He has money, don't they have fucking dermatologists in Germany?"
"Why don't you just shag him, Stuart?" Mark asked. "'S not like you to be so choosy."
"Oi," Vince said. "Nobody bloody well asked you, all right? You know, if you don't have any use for Stuart, then why're you always coming round?"
Mark glared at Vince furiously and finished off his drink in one loud, angry slurp. "Fuck if I know," he spat, slammed the glass down and stood, turned on his heel and left.
"Well," said Alexander, looking after him. "That was riveting."
"I know he's been through a lot, but I'm really sick of him slagging off my friends all the time," Vince said. "It's not just Stuart. He's constantly on about everyone. Stuart's just the only one he winds up to his face."
"Never mind him. Give me some sort of excuse," Stuart poked a finger into Vince's side. "When you go off and jilt some shag or another, what d'you tell them?"
"Early day tomorrow, promised to let a friend stay over, food poisoning, someone's in hospital…"
"Those are so weak, Vince," Alexander hooted.
"That's never going to work. Fuck, it's all over. What's he doing now," Stuart asked.
Vince peered over at the bar. "Watching you."
"He's coming over."
"All right, look. Vince. For the next ten minutes, we're madly in love. And act jealous."
"What?" Vince asked incredulously.
"You'll never pull it off, Stuart," said Alex, "look at you, you're boxed!"
"And you--" Stuart pointed at Alexander. "Either keep your mouth shut or get out *now*. If you laugh I swear I'll fucking kill you."
"And give up my front row seat for this? Never. I can play along," Alexander said. "They don't call me a drama queen for nothing."
"Stuart," Vince said in a hush, "we'll just tell him we have someplace to be. A party or something."
"He'll ask to come along, he's that type, now just shut it," Stuart hissed back at him, and jabbed Vince with his elbow until Vince finally took the hint and settled his arm round Stuart's shoulders.
Just in time, as Wil arrived at their table. "Hello, Stuart," he said, his phlegmy voice gurgling like a clogged toilet. "I can call you Stuart?"
"Certainly, whatever you like. Have a seat. Good to see you," Stuart gave him a brisk smile. "Wil Bettelheim, this is Alexander Perry, he's a friend, and this is my boyfriend, Vince Tyler-- Vince, you remember I told you all about Wil."
"Nice to meet you," said Vince, shaking hands with Wil.
"Thanks for the drink, by the way," Stuart said. "Appreciate it. Can I get you something?"
"No, thank you," said Wil, lifting his half-full glass.
"How're you enjoying Manchester?" Stuart asked.
"Of all my trips, this one so far is best," said Wil. "Finally I find the places I heard so much about. That man Shipley never takes me where I wish. If they had given me into your hands as I asked, Stuart, the sooner I'd find Canal Street."
"I'm sure Shipley would've been happy to bring you," Stuart said, "if he'd known where to go."
"Oh, no, no. It's no secret," Wil contended. "I say to the taxi driver, Canal Street. Mr. Shipley says another street. He tells me Canal Street is not where I wish to be. I argue, I say, ask Mr. Jones, he will tell you the place. He has the secretary, she gives me the name of Canal Street. Still he does not take me here. You understand how I must feel, then, about Thrive, that they must be very stupid, they don't understand where I wish to be, they don't know what it is that I want."
"I understand," Stuart said. "I had the same problem when I was at your headquarters in Munich. It's a whole different language, and I don't mean Deutsch and English."
Wil smiled at him toothily, creasing his spotty face. "Yes. True. I'm only curious why you are not the one to show me the town. Since we speak," his smile broadened slyly, "the same tongue."
It had been down to Shipley because Stuart had traded dozens of favors round the office to make sure Wilhelm was unloaded onto someone else, anyone else. Stuart groped for his glass and took a drink. Thanks to Izzy's dodgy E and fucking Wilhelm tipping up, Stuart's mood was veering all over the map, he was hot and cold, dizzy and weightless, doomed and sick of himself.
He'd clocked so many hours on the BMW account, and he'd done fuck all for it; it was his account, he'd won it, he ran it, so he felt entitled to bill them thousands for the time he spent cruising at lunch, or down the salon in the afternoon. Anyone looking to account for his time would find him out soon enough. If Wil started asking questions, it'd scutter Stuart's pending bonus. But he'd never shagged yet to get ahead at work and he wasn't looking to start with Wilhelm.
"You know, I wish I could've. The thing is, at the office, they all know Vince," Stuart said, smiling toothily back at Wil. "They wouldn't put me in a spot like that. They know how he gets."
"How he gets?" Wil asked.
"He's very possessive," Stuart put on a grin, leaning back against Vince, bracing himself against his friend. "I'm in for it if I so much as look at another man. Isn't that right, sweetheart."
From the sound of his voice, Vince was trying to see the humor in the situation. "Oh, yeah," he said, playing up his accent, his voice even deeper than normal. "Last bloke I caught making a pass at Stuart, I broke a chair over his head."
Alexander choked on his drink and went into a brief coughing fit.
"You all right there, Alexander," Stuart asked in deadly tones.
"Fab, thanks," Alexander replied, and turned to Wilhelm. "Sorry, it's just so funny, thinking of Stuart with anyone else. Those two have been together ages. I mean, years and *years*."
"Yeah, thanks Alex," Stuart said.
"You know, I bet Stuart couldn't even get it up for another man," Alexander carried on happily. "He's really shy. I know what you're thinking, he comes across so confident, but when it comes to the bedroom, Vince tells me he's meek as a lamb."
"Don't mind him. Alexander suffers from the sad delusion that he's funny," Stuart told Wil.
"You are not so shy as that?" Wil asked, and covered Stuart's hand with his own.
"D'you mind," Vince said quite casually, reached over, lifted Wil's hand off Stuart's and placed it on the table.
"As they say, the jealous type?" Wil asked Vince.
"Yeah. Well. Who wouldn't be," Vince forced a laugh.
Wil turned to Stuart. "And yet at the Thrive office, they tell me you are the wolf. Mr. Farley's secretary, she says you are a very popular man."
"They just don't understand. Different languages," Stuart said. "You know, I come out to Canal Street, they all assume it's nothing but back rooms and bathhouses here. I'm just here to see my friends, but try telling them that."
"It's strange how these ideas are given," Wil said. "Even I am told by Mr. Farley that the downsteps bathroom is yours, for liaisons."
"God, is that going round? That's embarrassing, isn't it," Stuart cast a quick secretive smile to his right, but Vince didn't look happy, to say the least; Stuart turned back to Wil. "That was us. Early days. Couldn't keep our hands off each other," Stuart laughed. "Remember that, Vince?"
"Yeah," Vince said, the slightest touch of acid in his tone. "S'pose we were a bit wild. Of course, it's all different now. After *such* a long time. And we're getting older. Stuart's birthday's coming up, in fact."
"Oh?" Wil asked. "You will be...?"
Stuart kept his smile with an effort. They were definitely going to pay for this. "Twenty-seven. It's not for months yet."
"So young," said Wil. "I have thought you were older."
Alexander very, very deliberately took a dainty sip of his drink, clearly on the verge of exploding into laughter. "How old did you guess?"
"I would say thirty," Wil answered, as Alex bit his lip, shaking. "But it is different, at the office. I see you in the suit, you are the account director, I think you're this age."
"I can see how you'd think that," said Vince, with exaggerated innocence.
Wil nodded. "But here I see you are both such young men. How long are you together?"
"Since we were just kids," Stuart said, snuggling back even closer to Vince. "He's been in love with me for years and years. Isn't that *sweet*." He kept expecting Vince to tense, or give him some kind of warning squeeze, or anything at all-- but so far, nothing. Stuart continued expansively, "You'd think by now he'd relax a bit, but no, he's still the same jealous twat as ever."
"As he says, who could blame him. How have you met?" asked Wil.
"We knew each other from school," Vince said. It struck Stuart, not for the first time, that Vince always said that as though it explained everything. Stuart had known plenty of people from school and none of them were still around.
"In this school, I would not mind to have lessons," Wil smirked. "You are sometimes still wild, maybe?"
"Afraid not, mate," Vince said.
"Sorry. It's too bad, but Vince would never let me," Stuart said. "Can't be helped. What can I say. He's really mad about me. I just couldn't."
"Er kennt sich aus?" Wil asked, rudely switching to German to exclude the other two.
"Sie haben nicht die geringste Aussicht," Stuart answered smoothly. "Das kann ich unmoeglich tun. Es tut mir ausserordentlich leid."
"Hoechst zuverlaessig?" Wil asked, and looked at Vince for a moment. "Das glaube ich gern."
Stuart smiled thinly. "Das versteht sich von selbst."
"Ah well," Wilhelm rose. "I will go to drown my sorrows. It is good to meet you all. You are the lucky man, Vince."
"Yeah. Thanks. Nice meeting you as well," said Vince.
"Sig Heil," Alexander muttered under his breath, waving as Wil walked away.
"What did I tell you?" Stuart said. "He's a cunt, he's like the worst bloke I've ever met in my life aside from that fucking Mark."
"Is he gone yet?" Vince asked.
"Heading for the door," Alexander reported. "He's looking back, though. Standing there, watching."
"Fuck," Stuart said. "All right, fine," and he turned to Vince and laid an enormous kiss on him, a bit of a snog really, or it would have been if Vince had opened his mouth at all. Instead it was a stage kiss, showy and hollow, and then Stuart pulled away and immediately tossed back the last of his drink, half-melted ice and all.
"That's done it. He's gone," said Alexander. "Well, that was quite something. You don't think you overdid it, oh, just a tad?"
"Like he'd believe it if I didn't," Stuart said.
"I'm going to find Mark," Vince said. "Sort things with him."
"Yeah, fine. Run along," Stuart told Vince without looking at him.
Vince shoved away from the table and into the crowd. He left his G&T, so Stuart appropriated it and took a drink.
Alexander pondered him from across the table. "Sometimes I really wonder about you, Stuart Jones. That was one of the nastiest things I've ever seen you do, and I've seen you do quite a few."
"Christ, everyone has a go at me. You can piss off. It's exactly what he wants," Stuart said. "Some big fucking game of pretend. Gives him an excuse to just let it all pass by, so he never has to get out there and do for himself."
"I know this might explode your tiny mind, but not everyone's out to be just like you, Stuart," said Alexander, unexpectedly stern. "You're such a bastard. It's like you're out to punish people for liking you."
"Everybody likes me," Stuart said, and grew incensed with Alex laughed. "What? Go on. Who wouldn't? There's nothing wrong with me, I'm lovely."
"Yeah, you were a real prince tonight," Alex said. "If I were Vince, I'd take those keys and drive that bloody car of yours off a cliff."
"Well, if he's so bothered, he can tell me himself," Stuart said. "I'm taking a cab home, tell him to bring the car round tomorrow."
"Not a chance. If you're so bothered, you can tell him yourself," said Alexander, and left.
Stuart stood from the table and moved into the crowd, looking for tonight's shag. He might as well plunge in and have a good time; he'd probably have a week or two of nothing but steady shagging, until Vince got over the snit he was undoubtedly in, the twat. Fine, let him stew and sulk, and get wound up about it and complain to all their friends. Let him deny it all, again, and look away, like always. Let him act as though it had all just been a cruel joke, and not a cruel truth.
It was just lucky that Stuart wasn't bothered by any of it, because telling Vince himself was the one thing he could never do.
Translations of the German:
"Er kennt sich aus?" = He knows his stuff?
"Sie haben nicht die geringste Aussicht." = You have no idea.
"Das kann ich unmoeglich tun." = I can't possibly do it.
"Es tut mir ausserordentlich leid." = I'm very sorry.
"Hoechst zuverlaessig?" = Loyal and faithful?
"Das glaube ich gern." = I can easily believe it.
"Das versteht sich von selbst." = That goes without saying.
Almost Never Chapter Index