These should be the loved-up days; the honeymoon phase everyone always goes on about - and maybe they are. Vince, however, has that face. That face he is so prone to put on when he thinks he's not worthy of it.
Stuart has sixteen years' experience of this face and what goes on in Vince's head when he puts it up. The self-doubt that had kept him from even applying to uni. The self-doubt that had kept him from ever acknowledging most of the men who eyed him up in the clubs.
No, Vincent Tyler has this crippling fear that he will never be good enough. And Stuart Alan Jones knows that there's fuck all he can do about it. Because he's tried, hell, has he ever tried to make Vince realise that he is good enough, though he's never been the type to say chin up, brother, you have a lot to offer the world. Mostly he's seen to it that Vince would untwist his knickers a little.
Being friends with Vince was never about having a one-man fan club following, like so many liked to believe. There was no one that Stuart trusted better to get him out of a scrap or to drive his car when he was too pissed to do it himself, and Vince always did it without passing judgment. Stuart gets enough of that from himself, Catholic guilt and all. Not to mention how everyone else is mostly judgmental arseholes. How is it their fucking business, anyway?
The wagging tongues of Canal Street are probably whispering over their pints of beers that now that Stuart Alan Jones has gone through every single fanciable bloke in the Greater Manchester area, he is merely having that last Mancunian cock before fucking through the available manpool of another city.
Yeah, they are finally having each other's cocks, but it isn't The Last Hurrah of him being the Manchester Man-Whore. No, it's something else. It is about this feeling lodged inside him, making him aware of a stupid muscle inside his chest; a feeling he can't even put words to inside of his own bloody mind without irony, but he acknowledges it now.
And Vince had let down his barriers as well, so in some ways they are a couple now. If you really need to label it.
So why does Vince want to go and doubt it?
"Where to next?" Stuart asks, looking over at Vince in the passenger seat. Stuart might want to leave Manchester but he has no clue where he really wants to go and Vince is his co-pilot after all.
Vince looks over at him, the surprise written all over his face.
"I... dunno. You were the one who wanted to leave."
"Come off it, Vince. Like you were so fucking content with planning the frozen produce aisle at a supermarket so Mrs Smith can have more variety of frozen garden peas. Come on, you want to go somewhere, I know you. So Bournemouth? Bora-Bora? The next Little Chef so I can blow you in the bathroom?"
"I... I..." Vince's eyes are perfectly round and Stuart knows that he is mentally scrounging for what he thinks must be the right answer.
"Stop it. What do you want? Tell me." Stuart is mostly keeping his eyes on the road but shoots Vince a glance to tell him that he won't take some rubbish for an answer.
"You're the one who wanted to leave." Oh good, he's suitably angry.
"You came with me. I know you'd have stayed if that was what you really wanted, but it's just the two of us now. So tell me."
"I don't know what to tell you."
Translation: I don't know what you want to hear.
Stuart turns on the indicator light to turn left onto the hard shoulder so he can properly face Vince. Vince who is looking at him like Stuart just told him that he's planning to marry Pamela Anderson and live in a nice semi-detached in Bolton.
"Okay, Vince. Let's hear it. When are you anticipating me getting bored? Maybe you're sure that I'll want to cop off with the next remotely attractive man I'll meet?"
He doesn't need to see the insecurity practically bleed from Vince's eyes to know that he hit a nerve. The correct nerve.
"Stuart..." Yeah, he struck that nerve good. If Vince were having one of his rare confidence moments, he'd leave the car right there and then, but he doesn't.
"I know you've had front row seats to Stuart-Does-Manchester for years so I do realise that you have a great reason not to trust me. I just can't be doing this if you're going to wallow in your misery and self-loathing. I like the Vince who is along for every crazy thing I do. I like the Vince who is a shameless Sci-fi fanboy. And I know I want you in my bed now and forever. I already know what's out there, that's the beauty of it. And I know that I prefer being with you."
Vince is looking down, clearly hearing him but Stuart can't gauge what he's thinking, despite knowing him for all this time.
"There are two Stuarts, you know. One is the Stuart I know – and only I know – the guy who told me it was okay to come out of the closet, the guy who doesn't allow me to act like a prick, at least not forever. The Stuart who gets me and doesn't judge me. And fuck, the things he's willing to do for others. Then there's the Stuart everyone else sees and it's like New Labour, you somehow buy into the image."
"So you lie back and think of Tony Blair, do you?"
"Fuck you, Stuart."
"Sorry, I couldn't help it."
"I know the Stuart that only I know wouldn't do this to me just to leave me so he could suck some bloke's cock in the backroom of a club but the opposite has been so thoroughly propagated that shaking it off is hard." Vince isn't crying but his vocal chords are strained with emotion.
And Stuart knows that it's Vince's defence mechanism at work, that shell around his heart, the fears that Stuart will always fuck around until his heart gives out from a Viagra overdose. Maybe there's nothing he can say or do to eradicate that image completely. All he can do is to prove Vince wrong.
He laughs, the dry sort of laugh that only the realisation of a twisted irony can produce.
"There's nothing I can say that will convince you completely that I won't cheat on you. I can't bloody well demand that you take a leap of faith, I know it doesn't work like that. But you came along for this so it's up to you whether you stay or leave. That's the risk I'm taking."
Something in Vince's face suggests that he hadn't thought that far about Stuart and his feelings and, in all honesty, it does sting a bit.
"I know you're never going to say it and I can't ever imagine saying it with you but yeah, I did need the reassurance that you know what is on the line." Vince looks away, seemingly to watch a lorry whoosh by.
"This vagueness makes me even sicker to my stomach than regurgitating the sentences the greeting cards industry has ruined with teddy bears and balloons. Listen to me, Vincent Tyler. It's only going to be you. That's why I want you to pick your destination so I can follow."
A wicked sort of smile appears on Vince's lips as he reaches over to kiss Stuart. It's a flitting kiss but the promise behind it is quite tangible.
"Let's go around the world, never really stopping, always moving to someplace new. Let's do that. And never look back."