A/N: This story takes place toward the end of the episode "The Image Maker", just after Stuart stands up to Ann.


Carter held up the oversized jeans, carefully considered them, ten turned to the prone form of Stuart, lying, overwhelmed, on the couch. He walked across the apartment to him, slowly, deliberately. He leaned over to drape the jeans over his friend and, in the act, whispered in his ear, "You deserve better." With a quick pat on the shoulder and a half hug, he straightened, turned, and left the room in one quick, fluid motion.

It was an odd sensation, Carter being that close to him. His caring wouldn't have touched Stuart so deeply, being that he was, in fact, Stuart, but something about watching Ann walk out the door made him feel…vulnerable. Stuart watched him leave, then turned on his side and quickly fell asleep.


The next morning, Stuart woke up and stretched. He remembered now why he hated sleeping on the couch; it gave him muscle aches. He hadn't walked two steps when he heard a small whimper coming from the floor. Looking down he saw a giant rat. He jumped and shrieked, sounding a lot less manly than he might have hoped. Then, on closer inspection, he saw that it was Carter's rat dog, Rags. "Sorry, there, buddy," he said, bending over and patting the dog. He walked into the kitchen, opened the fridge and pulled out a can of the gourmet dog food Carter insisted on buying the little pile of fur. He set the tin on the floor and watched Rags eat for a minute. Then, from down the hall, he heard the distinct squeak of the loose floorboard just outside Carter's room.

"Stuart," he heard from around the corner. Then Carter came into the kitchen, still in his pajamas. "Hey," he said, looking down, "Thanks for feeding Rags." He smiled.

"Yeah, no problem; you weren't up and the little guy looked hungry," he lied. It sounded a lot better than 'I stepped on your dog and this is my way of making up for it'.

"So," Carter started reluctantly. "Uh…" It really wasn't like Carter to beat around the bush like this. Finally, he broached the topic he had been dreading. "How're you feeling?"

He sighed and looked at his shoes, which he had forgotten he was wearing. "I don't know. It's just…I was…Ann was a big part of my life, for a long, long time. Seeing her again, it was like…I don't know."

Carter took a step forward, cutting the distance between them to mere inches. Looking deep into his dark, brown eyes, Stuart saw something there that he didn't often see directed to him. It was compassion, caring, maybe even…No, he thought, mentally shaking his head, no. "Stuart," Carter started, "You do deserve better, I hope you know that. Ann wasn't right for you, but someone out there is." He was quiet a moment, looking down. "Maybe even someone…." He faltered a moment, then closed the distance between them. "Someoneright here," he whispered before he drew Stuart into a long, deep kiss.


Stuart woke up screaming in a cold sweat. It was dark, probably the middle of the night. He couldn't remember why he was screaming for a minute. Once he could recall what had frightened him, he started screaming again. A door slammed open and that damn floorboard in the hall squeaked as Carter came running. "Stuart? Stuart. STUART!" he finally had to shout. He rushed over and crouched over Stuart. He had to resort to forcefully shutting Stuart's mouth. Once he was satisfied that Stuart was done, Carter released his jaw. "What the hell was that all about?"

Stuart looked, wild eyed and frayed, around the apartment, his eyes finally settling on Carter. He was obviously shaking. After he had settled slightly, he offered an attempt at a smile. "Sorry, man, bad dream." He shrugged and stood up from the couch. The jeans that had been covering him fell to the floor and he rushed out of the main room and ran into his room.

Carter tried to follow, but Stuart wouldn't open the door and when he tried to force it, he found the lock stopping him. He pounded on the door, but when no answer came, he decided to leave the matter until morning. He padded off into his room, a floorboard squeaking beneath him as he went.

Stuart ran into his room and locked the door. He lay on his bed, listening to Carter pound on his door and yell at him. He took off his shoes, turned on the fan and slid into his bed, hoping for happier dreams.


So there it is.