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  Thanking the Whiting

 

For Dale's birthday, with apologies re: the lack of pirates.


"You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!"
But the snail replied "Too far, too far!", and gave a look of askance--
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.

-- The Lobster Quadrille, Lewis Carrol


Vince liked making card houses. This particular hostel had a counter instead of a table, and the surface wasn't gripping the edges of the cards too well, but he'd still managed four stories so far.

He liked to have the pictures facing out, always had done. Hazel had told him that his logic, age seven, had been that otherwise the jacks would be staring at each other inside the house forever, and they'd get uncomfortable. It wasn't bad reasoning for a seven year-old, Vince had decided. Stuart had laughed when Vince had tried to explain, said the jack of diamonds was hot stuff and the problem wouldn't be too much staring.

He had about two seconds of footstep-warning before Stuart sashayed up behind him and wrapped his arms round Vince's stomach. Two whole seconds to plan, he thought wildly, and then it was one second, and then Stuart bumped cheerfully into him and didn't bounce off.

"You'll make me knock this over, you knob," Vince complained, ignoring the solid edge of Stuart's cock against his arse, concentrating on steadying the two of spades.

"I'll make it up to you after," Stuart murmured, pushing his hips a tiny bit. Vince shivered despite himself.

"No. I'm--"

"During," Stuart interrupted, and Vince could imagine the expression on his face, the perennial salesman besting his best offer with a twinkle in his eye. "I meant, during."

"I said, no," Vince said, then gritted his teeth when Stuart kissed the back of his neck, his mouth brushing tissue-soft over lightly sunburnt skin. "Stuart. You can't just barge in and decide today's the day--"

"Coward," Stuart whispered, dusting his fingers over Vince's stomach, and Vince shuddered and wrenched away from him. The tower crumpled, spraying clubs and diamonds all over the counter and carpet.

"Now look what you've done," Vince said, carefully looking at the cards, nowhere else. It was actually curiously satisfying, the simple mess of it, but Stuart didn't need to know that. He'd been running out of cards. He always sort of dreaded the moment he'd set the last one in place and then have to make the decision of whether to collapse it immediately or leave it perilously unguarded while he made tea; again, nothing Stuart needed to know. "I spent all afternoon doing that."

"Oh no," Stuart said flatly. "Tragedy."

"No," Vince retorted, looking over. Stuart had his hands loosely on his hips, and his mouth was drawn in handsome, petulant lines. "But it is a pity. After I worked on it."

Stuart rolled his eyes. "Like I said, tragedy."

Vince realised they were arguing about a card house. "Well, anyway. What do you want? Don't tell me you fucked the pool player already."

"No, I owe you ten bucks," Stuart said, and it came clear in Vince's head: turned down, Stuart came to rub his rejected hard-on against home territory, territory that knows the history, knows what it's being offered. Stuart reached in his pocket, took out a wad of notes, and glanced at Vince innocently. "We said ten, right?"

"What did he say?" Vince asked. He knew he'd wind up knowing, sooner or later, and if Stuart told him now he wouldn't even get the itch.

"I didn't ask," Stuart said, and smiled suddenly. "You don't think that little squirt turned me down, Vince--"

"Well I don't know," Vince protested, relaxing slightly. "Something happened. He wasn't 'little squirt' when I left you. He was 'delectable', you said."

"His arse was delectable," Stuart said. "When he was taking the tough shots, stretched out over the pool table, just waiting for someone to shove it up him. But he didn't stay bent over, did he? He finished the game, sat down, and was left with all the delectableness of Ron Maloney."

"Well, you don't really owe me ten bucks then," Vince said. "If you didn't ask." He knelt down and started picking up the cards, smiling a little when Stuart cocked his hips, bringing the bulge in his trousers neatly into Vince's eyeline. He probably didn't even know he was doing it.

"You said, get him in ten minutes," Stuart said, equitable to a fault. "Just because I realised I had a much better offer up here--"

His voice had turned soft. Vince gritted his teeth. "Yeah, but there isn't an offer up here." He wanted to say, "sorry," but that would be stupid.

"Oh, right," Stuart said. The softness melted away. "My mistake. I'll just go back downstairs, shall I?"

"Yes," Vince said. He could still feel the play of Stuart's breath on the back of his neck, and it made him want to scratch.

"Fine," Stuart said, and stalked to the door, then lingered. "Fine."

Vince braced himself, prickling under the glare he knew Stuart was giving him, concentrating on squaring the cards against his palm.

"Do you want ham?" Stuart said. Vince looked up. Stuart was looking straight at him, authoritative and studiously casual. "They've got ham downstairs." He squinted thoughtfully, as if summoning the memory into sharper focus, then nodded to himself. "Looks nice. It's with honey, like you were talking about. I could make them bring you some."

"I'll get some myself, it's alright," Vince said, coming over all warm. He hadn't talked about the ham from the deli counter in Chortlon for at least three weeks. "Thanks, though. Thanks."

"It's fine," Stuart said, and this time it didn't sound like Vince were a money-grabbing lesbian or an interfering parent, and that made him feel warmer still. "I'm going to go find myself a better pool player. There was a boy downstairs, had his money on the table. He might turn out delectable too."

Vince chuckled. "Good luck," he called, then added, in his best drawl, "don't need it," and Stuart, half way through the words himself, broke off and grinned.

"I'll see you later. Or tomorrow."

Vince nodded. To be expected. "Got your key?"

"Nah, I thought I'd wake you up when I stumbled in, show you what you're missing."

"Behave," Vince smiled, and four months ago Stuart would have heard that and crossed to him and kissed him on the mouth, would have nuzzled with those incomparable hips of his and then swerved away and smiled and strutted downstairs. Then.

"It's okay, mum." Stuart lifted something silver out his pocket and dangled it from one finger. "You'll get your beauty sleep, never fear." He smirked, waved, and ducked out the door. Now.

An improvement, Vince thought, left staring at the neat red slab of cards in his hand; he'd picked them up without noticing. Definitely an improvement. "Brr," he said to himself, spooked by the realisation that Stuart had just made a pass at him, the monthly pass, and this time it had almost been natural to push him away.

Some day, he thought, but he didn't want to pursue that, because the point had never been to stop wanting Stuart, merely to get him on his own terms. He sat back gingerly on the floor, started spreading the cards around. He always used the jacks on the bottom, facing away from each other, the jack of diamonds in pride of place. Tradition, like.

He laid the first few blocks quickly on the fuzzy carpet, relaxing into the calm of concentrating on the relative simplicity of defeating gravity using equally perilous lines. He liked making card houses, and it was nice to begin again. He'd got too close to finishing, before Stuart came in, and that would never do; they never seemed to look as great when he'd done.

Wonky edges, wobbly stories, imperfect symmetry - thousands of flaws, and inevitably they fell down because now he wasn't treating them carefully any more. It was a pointless game, really.

Really, he just wanted to keep building.

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