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in the religion of the insecure

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It was waiting for them at the concierge's desk. Except "waiting" wasn't really a strong enough word, was it? Lurking, more like. Lying in wait. Stalking. Vince was bloody well being stalked by a cream-colored envelope embossed with velvety calligraphy. He had the nagging suspicion that if he tossed the thing into the bin unopened and hustled on to another hotel, it would follow them, stealthily appearing on other concierge desks or landing neatly on their freshly laundered bed pillows or, god forbid, turning up in their luggage.

He tried to ignore it. He really did. He accepted it from the concierge and immediately stuffed it into his messenger bag -- not a "man-purse", thank you, Stuart -- in the hopes that it would disappear through a rip in the space-time continuum like the one that had already eaten several pens, a set of car keys, and a full bottle of lube. Vince's messenger bag was where objects went to die. He could only pray the curse would extend to the envelope as well.

He should have known better.

Thing was, Vince had known this was coming. Hazel'd fought the computer age tooth and nail, but even she'd eventually been forced to acknowledge that resistance was futile, and though her attempts at understanding the internet were enough to make a grown man weep, she'd more or less gotten the knack of e-mail somewhere around 2009. She'd warned him about the envelope. Well, not the envelope itself, exactly, but the inevitable contents therein. He should've packed their bags at once and absconded to Kenya, leaving no forwarding address for the post to find them.

Though the envelope probably would have found them anyway. The bastard.

Maybe he could set it on fire before Stuart noticed. Or convince Stuart to set it on fire himself without ever revealing its contents. Claim it was Justin Bieber tickets. Or anthrax. Was anthrax still a thing? A boy could dream.

"Oh, good, you're back," Stuart called from the bathroom. "I'm half starved. Let's go out." He emerged clad only in a pair of black trousers, his hair still damp and tousled, and it wasn't fair, was it? They'd been friends for -- jesus christ -- thirty fucking years now, and shagging for nearly half that, but still Vince could go from zero to hard-on in ten seconds or less just from looking at him. Stuart's eyes narrowed, gaze raking up and down Vince's body, and Vince imagined how he must look: cheeks pink and chapped from the cold December air, hair wind-tousled, clutching his damn man-purse like his bloody life depended on it. Couldn't guess what there was in the sight to make Stuart smirk and cock his hips like that. "Or," Stuart said, voice dropping into a lower register, "we could stay in instead."

"Did that line ever work for you?" Vince demanded, torn between incredulity and arousal, but it was a stupid question -- of course it had. It never mattered what Stuart said. It was the way he said it.

Actually, might not be a bad idea. A good shag and Stuart would never think to ask about the envelope burning a hole through Vince's bag.

Stuart prowled forward with a grin. "Seems to be working well enough now." He came to rest with his hands dropping to Vince's arse to pull him flush against his bare chest, skin still steaming faintly from the hot shower, and gave him a quick grope before those warm hands slipped up under the layers of Vince's jacket and shirt. Vince completely forgot about the cold outside, his own ill temper, and the envelope, predictably losing himself in the heat of Stuart's mouth and, well, all the rest of him.

They might've been getting older, but this never did.

After, though, he realized his mistake: the messenger bag had been tossed aside early on the proceedings, landing with a solid thump by the door, its contents spilling out across the carpet. Vince was still mostly naked and sprawled lazily across a divan -- his unbuttoned shirt had somehow never managed to come all the way off -- but of course Stuart had gone from hungry-but-easily-distracted-by-sex to full-on ravenous from the workout, so he was already hunting around for the nearest articles of clothing in the interest of venturing out in search of sustenance, because "I'm so fucking sick of room service I could scream, honestly, what's the point of being in bloody Rome if we never go to a proper fucking restaurant?" and then, far more worryingly, "oi, what's this, then?"

Vince pushed himself half-upright, blinking, but before his endorphin-happy brain had managed to string a coherent thought together, it was too late. Stuart had the heavy envelope dangling from his fingertips, a smirk twitching at the corner of his mouth.

"Junk mail," Vince lied at once, trying to keep the panic off his face. "One of those rubbish credit card promotions, really, dunno how they manage to keep finding me, just chuck it in the bin and be done with it."

"It's got both our names," Stuart pointed out, toying with it. "Did we open a joint account while we were drunk or something?"

"Yeah, about that, I wasn't going to tell you but there was that time in Amsterdam--"

"You know what it looks like to me, though?" Stuart drawled on. His smirk widened. "An invitation."

"Lots of stuff happening," Vince said in desperation. "All over the place! All sorts of people we've met over the years, 'course we're being invited to things, doesn't have to mean anything--"

But Stuart had already ripped the damn thing open. Vince closed his eyes in weary resignation.

"It's Nathan!" Stuart's voice filled up with the sort of unholy glee he usually reserved for car bombs and telling important people to go fuck themselves. "He's getting married! You shirty bastard, you knew, you knew and you never said!"

Vince buried his face in a throw pillow and prayed for death to take him swiftly.

"So the champion shagger's gone and cocked it up after all." Stuart flopped down on the divan beside Vince, throwing his legs casually across Vince's lap. "Fell in love and got himself hitched. No help for it, then, we've got to go back. I told him I would if he fucked it up."

"You've never kept a promise before in your life," Vince protested, lifting his head.

Stuart grinned over at him. "Call it a wedding gift, then."

"But I mean, Christmas," Vince tried, knowing it was useless. "Who gets married on Christmas? Not that it's even a proper wedding, not in England, it's just a civil partnership ceremony in drag, but still, that's, like, a whole new level of camp. Making the Yuletide gay, I'm all for it, but this is practically obscene. The degree of narcissism alone--"

Stuart's grin was verging on manic now. "So that's sorted, then. We're definitely going back. Can't leave Hazel all on her lonesome on Christmas, now, can we?"

"She's not lonesome! She's a married woman! And we've never gone back for Christmas, not once in fourteen years--"

"So it'll be a lovely surprise for her," Stuart said. "Besides, I'm sick of Italy, why'd we come back here again? Italy's rubbish."

"Manchester's even rubbish-er," Vince retorted feebly. "And you hate weddings."

"I really do," Stuart agreed, with far too much cheer. "And Nathan's wedding, god, it'll be a nightmare. Between that mum of his and Hazel, not to mention all the jilted queers on Canal Street, we'll all be drowning in glitter and fairy lights and desperation before the ceremony even starts. I wouldn't miss this for the world."

Vince covered his face with his hands.

It was a miracle they'd managed to book a direct flight from Rome to Manchester this close to the holidays at all, but Vince wasn't feeling particularly grateful. Why couldn't the envelope have come while they were in the New York flat? That would've been a solid eight-hour flight, given him a bit more time to prepare himself. 'Course, if they'd been in New York, the post would've found them weeks ago, which would've been even worse.

And, god, he thought, suddenly horrified, when had they become the sort of couple to have a sodding apartment together? That was a bit adult of them, wasn't it? It'd seemed convenient at the time. What with Stuart's consulting work and their combined preferences, they'd eventually wound up living in New York about six months out of the year -- never concurrently, but a month here, six weeks there, it all added up enough that it had been cheaper and more comfortable to just buy their own place. Having a permanent address came in handy for legal purposes, too. And while he loved the traveling, it was nice to have a home to come back to every now and again. They'd had the place for about five years now.

Now it seemed like a ball and chain hanging about his neck, slowly strangling him. He was mixing metaphors, wasn't he? No matter. How had he ever tied Stuart down to an apartment? What if Stuart was having the same epiphany right now? He glanced over, but Stuart was engrossed with his laptop, noise-canceling headphones on, oblivious to Vince's existential crisis. The bloody plane could've crashed into the Alps and he'd never notice until he got a bit chilly. Vince realized he was smiling to himself, terribly fond, and felt his blood freeze in his veins all over again.

A wedding. Nathan's wedding. Even Stuart couldn't miss a wake-up call like this one. Fifteen, Nathan had been, the bastard, and now he was apparently old enough to be married. God, how old did that make them? Baby Alfie would be fifteen now himself, for gods sake. When had that happened?

They'd been running from this sort of thing for fourteen years, and now it was all crashing down on them. There was a whole new generation of men prowling about Canal Street, men Stuart hadn't had yet. And Vince sitting beside him at a fucking wedding, growing older by the minute, while all the twinks in the world were out there, just waiting for Stuart Alan Jones to teach them the joys of homosexual sex.

Vince had always known Stuart was bound to come to his senses sooner or later. They'd had a good run of it -- better than Vince could ever have hoped for. He shouldn't be greedy.

There was still another hour before the plane was due to land in Manchester. He reached out and slipped his hand over to rest on Stuart's thigh, gratified when Stuart immediately laced their fingers together. He was still absorbed in his laptop, but typing one-handed now. Vince closed his eyes and tilted his head back, holding on tight for as long as he could.


Hazel's screech echoed through the airport baggage claim. Stuart rolled his eyes theatrically, but Vince could see the smile lurking around the edges of his mouth. Vince didn't bother trying to suppress his own grin. "Hiya, mum."

New lines creased her face, and she probably had more grey hairs to dye, but in essentials, Hazel hadn't changed a bit. He willingly submitted himself to the usual motherly ministrations, then fobbed her off on Stuart and went off to collect their bags. They'd learned how to travel light over the years -- which for Stuart meant checking only two bags instead of his customary ten -- so it wasn't too much of a hassle. When he returned to his family, luggage in tow, he found his mum chattering up a blue streak and Stuart...

...seemed shockingly unbothered by the whole thing, actually. Well, he'd always been fond of Hazel. Sometimes he'd seemed to like her a hell of a lot better than he liked Vince, to be honest.

Vince hung back a moment, just watching them. Hazel caught him looking and gave him a wink. He smiled at her as best he could, feeling both too old and too young all at once, the weight of years together and apart dragging him down. He wondered if she thought of Stuart as a son-in-law, after a fashion, or still as that cheeky Irish kid who got her only child into (and occasionally out of) the worst sort of scrapes. How on earth had she convinced Nathan Maloney to invite them to his wedding at the last possible minute, and for god's sake, why? She should've known better.

"Got the bags sorted then, love?" she asked loudly, interrupting herself mid sentence. Stuart turned with her, amusement and relief equally mingled as he saw Vince, and Vince felt frozen in place, unsure. "We'd best be off," Hazel went on, glancing between them with an all-too-knowing look. "Quite a week ahead of us!"

The house in Manchester was just the same, more or less. PC Stroud -- Vince never would be able to think of him as Hazel's husband, much less any sort of stepfather -- was on duty at the station when they got in, but it was a madhouse even without him. Haphazard holiday decorations were strewn about the place as though they'd fallen accidentally and never been picked up again, though Alex's handiwork was clearly visible around the mantel and on the small but very serviceable fake Christmas tree. Bernard had his own flat these days, but they found him in the kitchen anyway, since he was the only one of them who ever could cook worth a damn, and of course Alex was there, too, mixing his infamously lethal Christmas cocktails.

"Here we are, then," Hazel announced. "All my boys home together at last."

"Apart from the blushing bride-to-be, of course," Alex said, after the expected round of shrieking and air kisses. "He's got his own mum to raise a fuss, bless. Blimey, Stuart, have you got a portrait stashed away in an attic somewhere that does your aging for you, like Dorian Gray?"

"TARDIS, actually," Vince said. "We skipped ahead a bit."

Alex rolled his eyes. "Pull the other one, then. I thought of you when they did the reboot, of course, suppose you still tune in every Sunday tea. Never much cared for the newest bloke, though that Tennant's a dish, isn't he? But look at you, Vince, the world traveler!" He tilted his head to one side, consideringly. "Couplehood suits you, I think. You've got a bit of a glow. What brand moisturizer do you use?"

If Vince had any glow at all, it was out of embarrassment. God, at least none of them had asked him or Stuart if they'd be the next to tie the knot, though he could feel the question hovering in the air like some horrid miasma. Stuart was helping himself to Bernard's not-so-secret stash of "cooking brandy", of course, but he looked about as twitchy and trapped as Vince was feeling himself. The house had always been small, of course, but had it ever felt quite so cramped? Maybe back when little boy Nathan used to kip over, to escape his parents and make eyes at Stuart. Vince hadn't much liked him for a bit there. Hadn't liked himself any better, though, so there was that. Easier to be magnanimous about it once you've won.

Had he won, though?

"So tell me about Nathan's bloke, then," he blurted out, because he had to get it over with eventually.

"Oh, yes," Stuart said with relish. "I've been dying to know. What sort of man managed to bag himself the king of Canal Street?"

He'd asked Alex, but his eyes never left Vince, and his smirk had an edge to it. Alex immediately started rattling on about Nathan's fiance, but Vince hardly heard a word of it. If Nathan was giving up his crown, then the field was wide open again, wasn't it? And Stuart might be forty-four, but he didn't look it, and what little aging he had done suited him, the bastard. Not like Vince, getting a bit of a paunch now, lines deepening around his eyes and mouth, hair lightly sprinkled with grey. He looked all right, he thought. Respectable. But he'd never been beautiful like Stuart, not even when he was young and fit, and certainly not now.

Stay with me, Vince wanted to plead with him, but he knew that the second he asked, Stuart would be out the door like a shot. So he kept his mouth shut, nodding and smiling politely as the flow of conversation demanded, and tried to ignore the feel of Stuart's gaze boring into the side of his head.

Predictably, the lesbians were even worse.

"Christ, I'm not back in the country five minutes and already everyone's having a go at me," Stuart griped, slouching back on the couch like a petulant child. "I send the kid birthday and Christmas presents every year, what more do you want from me?"

"A phone call every now and again would be nice," Lisa said acidly. "An e-mail, even. Or carrier pigeon. He's your son!"

"There have been e-mails! And postcards, I've sent postcards!"

"Vince sends e-mails and postcards," Lisa said. "And probably picks out the presents as well."

Stuart glared at her. "So Vince doesn't count?"

"Of course Vince counts, he's lovely," Romey put in, ever the peacekeeper. She gave Vince a smile, which he did his best to return. He'd always liked Romey. She'd been a good friend to Stuart when he hadn't had many, and though Vince never really understood why people who didn't want to sleep with Stuart would ever willingly put up with him, he'd been grateful to her all the same. "But Alfie needs a relationship with his father, not his father's boyfriend."

Stuart stiffened, and all the goodwill Vince had felt toward Romey instantly evaporated.

"Vince isn't -- Christ, you know what, forget it." Stuart ran a hand through his thickly gelled hair, grimacing. "Where is the kid, anyway? He's the one we came to visit."

Romey recoiled slightly, and Lisa's eyes narrowed. Vince wished very much that he could simply disappear.

"Alfie's out at the moment," Romey said.

"On a date," Lisa added maliciously.

Vince blinked. "Alfie's dating?"

"Of course he's dating, he's fifteen. By the time we were fifteen I'd already shagged half the men at Babylon," Stuart said, but beneath his mask of not-giving-a-fuck, he looked about as horrified as Vince felt. "But -- fuck, Romey, don't tell me a child of ours turned out heterosexual?"

"Her name's Emily," Romey said, almost apologetically. "She's a very sweet girl."

Stuart shuddered. "My spunk created a breeder. Suppose that's what happens when a boy's surrounded by women all his life, thinks that's all there is. Fucking lesbians."

"Might be for the best, really," Vince pointed out. "Least you don't have to watch all the twats moving in on him at Mantos."

From the dark look Stuart shot him, he probably wasn't helping.

They went out to Canal Street that night, because what else was there to do? The Street hadn't changed nearly enough in fourteen years. Vince thought there ought to've been some drastic differences, to remind himself of where he'd been once and how far he'd gone since, but it was still the same collection of gay bars and clubs, the same sorts of men prowling the streets and alleyways. There was Babylon, and New York New York; Via Fossa was apparently just called "Via" now, and they'd redone the interior decorating a bit, but it all still felt the same. Like coming home, in a way.

Vince thought he might be slowly suffocating.

It was too familiar, was the problem. That was the bathroom stall in which he'd first copped off; that was the bar with the friendly bartender who'd fancied Stuart rotten and slipped them gallons and gallons of free drinks over the years; over there was the table he'd brought Cameron around to meet the lads. God, Cameron, that was a name he hadn't thought of in years. He'd probably married -- or civil partnered, whatever, Nathan didn't seem to balk at calling it a wedding despite the title on the licence -- ages ago. Cameron always had wanted to settle down. That was a big part of what put Vince off him in the end.

Coming back like this, it was all to easy to slip back into old habits. All the fantastic true stories Vince should be sharing about their years traveling the world, and he somehow found himself making things up instead, complete fictions, as though his old friends were all dodgy shags he didn't know quite how to boot out. He kept buying round after round, not wanting to watch Stuart cruising all the beautiful young boys, but unable to look away. Like being sixteen again. Or, hell, twenty-nine.

"Stuart Alan Jones," a familiar voice drawled, "never thought I'd see the day." And there he was, the man of the hour himself: Nathan Maloney.

The years had been kind to Nathan. He'd gone from a scrawny, gorgeous teenager to an equally gorgeous and much fitter adult. Filled out a bit in the arms and neck, bit of scruff about the face, but still beautiful, damn him. Strangely enough, Vince wasn't bothered by it. Good for Nathan. About time he'd grown up.

Stuart leaned back against the bar, half-smile playing across his face as he looked his ex-shag and protege-of-sorts up and down. "'You fuck it up, and I'll come back.' I did warn you."

Nathan laughed and yanked him in for a rough hug. "Yeah, missed you too, you cunt. And Vince!" He let go of Stuart and grabbed onto Vince instead, planting a wet smack right on his lips. That came as a bit of a surprise -- Vince honestly couldn't recall ever so much as hugging the boy before. Nathan let the kiss drag on a second or two too long, and when he pulled back, Vince could see his eyes had never left Stuart's. Some kind of weird, silent communication seemed to pass between the two of them, and then Stuart smirked and turned away, flagging the bartender over for another round, leaving Vince oddly off-kilter.

"Good to see you," Vince told Nathan, and it wasn't really a lie. "Congratulations, by the way."

Nathan grinned. "Thanks! Though I gotta say, I can't believe I beat you to it."

"That would imply you won something," Stuart put in, dark eyes gleaming. "Vince might argue otherwise."

His tone was mocking, and not in a friendly way. Vince shrugged uncomfortably and retreated into his drink, watching Nathan greet Hazel and Bernard and Alex, letting the others direct the ebb and flow of conversation. The fiance apparently couldn't make it out tonight; at least Vince could be grateful for that much. Didn't know if he could stand watching Nathan play at happy families right then. He tilted his glass back and was surprised to find it empty. Hadn't Stuart just got him a new one? How many had he had now? His head spun, and it was hard to breathe. He needed to get out of here. Thank god for the smoking ban, any road; gave him the perfect excuse to step out for some air.

"Right then, I'll be just a mo'," he said to the group at large, when the conversation quieted a bit. "Mum, can I nick a fag?"

Stuart's eyes narrowed, but Nathan said, "I've got one, actually, I'll join you," and there was no polite way to decline, so Vince just nodded and followed him out.

The cold bit at his cheeks as soon as he stepped outside, and Vince exhaled, watching his breath mist in the frigid air. Hadn't grabbed his coat on the way out, but he didn't much care. Compared to the pounding music in Via Whatever, the busy street felt positively peaceful. He accepted the cigarette and light from Nathan with a quick smile. He'd quit years back, but that didn't much matter now. He was back in Manchester. He bloody well deserved a smoke.

The nicotine went right to his head, clearing the alcohol-induced haze somewhat. He almost managed to forget that Nathan stood beside him, until the boy cleared his throat.

"It is good to see you both, you know," Nathan said. "I'm sorry if I came off as -- I mean, god, seeing the two of you again after all this time, it kinda brought me back, you know?"

Vince huffed out a laugh. "You don't have to tell me."

They smoked together in silence for a while, but it felt more comfortable this time.

"Look," Nathan said abruptly, "some of the stuff I said to you back then -- I was really rubbish to you, sometimes."

Vince shrugged. "I wasn't exactly a prince myself. And you were just a kid, you didn't know any better."

"That's what I mean." Nathan took a long drag on his cigarette, blowing the smoke up into the air. "I didn't know. I thought you were holding Stuart back, following after him all the time like that -- thought you were a sad bastard who didn't know when to let go."

It stung more than it should've, hearing aloud all the things Vince'd been telling himself for years. He'd got over most of that in the intervening decade and change, but the ache lingered. It'd been too big a part of him for too long to just go away entirely.

"But I never really knew Stuart, not in the way I thought I did," Nathan went on, still staring out at the canal. "I knew what it felt like to be the center of his universe for five whole minutes, and I thought that meant I knew everything about him. Knew how he looked when he was cruising someone, how he looked when he came, got that all mixed up with love in my head. Never understood the way he was looking at you. Not 'till tonight."

"What d'you mean?" Vince asked, trying to keep his tone light. "How was he looking at me tonight?"

"Same way he always has," Nathan said. "Same way you look at him, only he wears it different, 'cause he's not a bloody open book like you are. I just couldn't recognize it in Stuart until I'd felt it myself."

His fingers were growing numb around the cigarette, so Vince dropped it to the street, stubbing it out. His head felt clearer than it had in weeks. "You really love this new bloke of yours, then?"

Nathan met his eyes levelly. "I really do."

"Enough to give up all the shagging? To settle down forever?"

"I'm not giving up shagging, thank you very much," Nathan said with a laugh. "And don't call it that. 'Settling down.' That's bollocks. 'Cause it's like you're just settling for it, innit? Like there's nothing better on offer. When really it's the best choice you'll ever make in your bloody life."

Vince thought of thousands of hotel rooms, each one of course needing to be christened properly in increasingly inventive ways; thought of the endless open roads of the American West and the nightlife in Rio and the restaurants in Rome. Thought of the flat in New York, the way the radiators hissed and spat in the old brownstone, the stupidly high thread count in the sheets Stuart had bought in a fit of temper, the absurdly large candles Vince had purchased and strewn about the place in retribution. There were eleven Doctors now, nearly twelve -- or thirteen, depending on how you counted them, and apparently Paul McGann did count -- and still Stuart could rattle them all off in order. Can't settle down if you never stop moving, and they never would, but that didn't mean they weren't settling all the same.

Vince's heart pulled tight in his chest, face warm, pulse rapid, and it was the surest of himself he'd ever felt in his life.

"Yeah," he said softly. "Suppose you're right."

They'd got a hotel room for the trip, which felt utterly bizarre. Hotels in Manchester had always been a theoretical concept for Vince, except once in a blue moon when he'd gone back to one with a shag from out of town. But Hazel hadn't enough room and neither of them had places of their own here anymore, obviously, and of course Stuart's family was out of the question although Marie would've probably been happy to put them up if they'd asked, but it wasn't like money was any object here, so. Vince had switched to water after his chat with Nathan, and Stuart seemed remarkably sober, so they were more or less on an even keel. They'd hardly spoken to one another all night. Vince watched Stuart mechanically strip down to his briefs out of the corner of his eye, folding his own clothes neatly on a chair. Christ, that was the last time he'd stayed in a Manchester hotel -- Judith's bloody wedding. No wonder he was twitchy.

"You hate weddings," Vince finally said, gently. "Stuart -- why are we here?"

Stuart met him head on. "Because you fucking love them, and you'll never admit it, so I'm saving you the trouble."

Vince blinked. "I do not!"

"You do, you think they're beautiful," Stuart pressed on, stalking toward him. "Vince Tyler, you are and have always been an enormous fucking poofter, so stop being so fucking ashamed of it! You love the ceremony, you love the ritual, you love the floral arrangements and the terrible music and you go absolutely bonkers when the couple writes their own vows, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with loving weddings without wanting one for yourself!"

He was well up in Vince's personal space by now -- not that Stuart had ever had any respect for Vince's personal space, not ever -- but they still weren't quite touching, and Vince just stared at him, gobsmacked.

"So what's your fucking problem, already?" Stuart demanded. "You've been acting weird -- well, weirder than normal, which is fucking saying something -- ever since you saw that stupid fucking invitation. I thought playing along with it would help, but obviously it hasn't, so just fucking tell me already."

"I thought you'd think I was...I dunno, pressuring you, or something," Vince tried to explain. It all seemed faintly ridiculous now, even to him. "I didn't want you to think I expected -- or wanted -- not that I don't want you -- fuck, I'm utter crap at this."

"Yes, you are," Stuart told him, but it came out more fond exasperation than genuine annoyance, and Vince found himself swaying even closer. "You think Hazel hasn't been dropping me anvil-sized hints about rings and proposals for about fourteen years already? And my own bloody sister nearly ripped me a new one when they passed that damn marriage legislation in New York State and we still didn't get hitched. Why the fuck d'you think Nathan's civil fucking partnership would be some kind of breaking point?"

"'Cause he was you, that's why," Vince said. "If even Nathan was doing it--"

Stuart rolled his eyes. "Vince, you are the only person I know who could be this terrified of commitment despite having been essentially married since you were fourteen years old." He cupped Vince's face firmly in his hands, and even after all these years, electricity sparked through Vince's veins at his touch. "I'm not going to leave you, and I'm not going to propose to you, so quit worrying about it, will you?"

Vince gripped his trim waist and kissed him hard, keeping his eyes open as long as he could, drinking in the sight of him. Stuart never did anything casually -- every kiss with him was like these were their last moments on earth, and by god he'd make 'em count -- and god, it'd be too easy by half to just melt into it, drown himself in Stuart, lose all sense of anything else in the world beyond Stuart's mouth, his hands, his cock pressing hard against Vince's thigh.

"I love you, you twat," Stuart growled into his mouth, grinding up against him.

"I know," Vince managed. "I'm sorry." And he pushed Stuart back onto the bed and shucked the rest of his clothes before diving in after him.

Then, a little later, he added, "We really don't have to go to the wedding, you know, I'm not bothered."

"Oh, thank god," Stuart said fervently, and made Vince come so hard he saw stars. Actual stars.

They did not, in fact, attend Nathan's wedding, although they bought him a really fucking enormous new flatscreen telly as an apology gift. "So he can watch porn in extremely high definition," Stuart said cheerfully, "to make up for all the boring married people sex he's doomed himself to."

"Never catch us doing that," Vince agreed, and Stuart snogged him thoroughly before turning his attention back to the road, just barely swerving in time to avoid a lorry, and Vince rolled down the windows to let in the frosty Christmas air and laughed and laughed.