A/N: OH MY GOD, here it is at long, long last - the conclusion! Sorry for the slight delay in posting this, I've just been being a real perfectionist about this chapter, because I know that a lot of people have been waiting for it for a long time, and I wanted it to do the rest of the story justice. I hope I've succeeded.
You may also have noticed that I've upped the rating - I don't think it's too bad, but I'm aware that I'm slightly more insensitive than most people, so I thought it best to be on the safe side.
Other than that, there's not really much else to say here, except - for the last time:
Enjoy the show...
- - - - - X - - - - -
'The Chokes' episode recap: Vince is hosting a cabaret evening at the Velvet Onion, and is desperate to replace the recently-deceased lead singer of his headline act, The Black Tubes. He is told that he can only do so if he can fit into a pair of incredibly tight drainpipes. Meanwhile, Howard learns that big shot director Jurgen Haabermaster will be present, and pleads with Vince to let him star in the show, even though he can't act.
Vince attempts to wither his legs down to size in time for the gig as Howard undergoes secret theatre training with retired actor Monty Flange. But who will be the one to earn their big break, and finally leave the Nabootique in pursuit of fame and stardom?
The tension in the shop was so thick, Vince swore you could have cut it with a knife. Howard was stood by the door, suitcases in hand, looking nervous but determined.
He was going. He was really going.
Naboo and Bollo said their goodbyes first, keeping things brief. Vince watched as though from outside of himself as Naboo shook Howard's hand, as Bollo awkwardly patted him on the back and got his name wrong. Then suddenly Naboo was hustling the ape out of the room, talking loudly about a 'thing' that needed doing, leaving Howard and Vince alone together.
"You… You're really leaving?"
"Yeah. I am."
Howard's jaw was set - he had made up his mind about this. There was a long pause. They weren't supposed to be like this, all awkward and stilted. They should never have gotten to this point. Whatever had gone wrong between them should have been put right long ago, before it could escalate and snowball into this unfixable situation. Vince wanted to reach for the older man, to beg and plead with him to stay, to hang around his ankles if he had to. But he couldn't move, rooted to the spot. Howard seemed so very far away, even though there couldn't have been more than three feet between them.
Howard, for his part, was fighting an internal battle. He had his plane tickets, a lucrative deal with Jurgen Haabermaster; his multi-purpose tweed utility suit was packed in case of emergencies. He was going. He had to go - he was going to finally be somebody, a feat he could never achieve stuck in this dead-end job, in this run-down flat in the middle of Dalston.
Only… only he would be leaving Vince behind. It didn't seem right, somehow - him jetting off to Denmark to seek fame and fortune, while Vince - beautiful, special Vince, who deserved so much more in life - remained stuck in this ugly town, working tirelessly behind the counter in a dodgy second-hand shop. Whenever he had thought about this fated day in the past - the day when they would finally separate - he had always pictured Vince being the one to swan off in pursuit of stardom, not the other way around.
"Well…" Vince was saying, "I'll miss ya, Howard. We've 'ad some crazy times, 'aven't we?"
"That we have, little man, that we have."
In any other situation, this would have led to a crimp, but now was not the time.
"You'll send me a postcard from Denmark, won't you?"
"If you want."
"And I can ring you, right? Whenever I want to?"
"Er… I guess so."
Vince cringed at the hesitation in Howard's tone. He really didn't want to be a part of his life anymore, then. After being inseparable for the last however many years, this was all they had left. The last few remaining threads that tied them together were fraying rapidly.
"Well…" Howard said awkwardly, not quite knowing what else to do, "I'll be seeing you…"
The older man gave a small, sad smile before turning towards the door.
He half-turned back, frowning at Vince. A split second later, he received an armful of his very soon-to-be former flatmate as Vince all but launched himself at him, a neon blur flinging skinny arms around his neck and clinging on for dear life. Howard staggered backwards, taken completely off-guard. He wasn't entirely sure how to respond, and for a moment he just hung there, before something in him clicked and he realised that this was the last time he would be seeing Vince for months, after years of running and fighting and laughing and loving and dying together. And then he was pulling the smaller man to him with equal force, thinking about ear-splitting electro and mismatched socks and inane questions and blue eyes and everything he would be leaving behind. He didn't know how long they stayed that way - it could have been five seconds, or five minutes, or five eternities - but then they both seemed to come to their senses and released each other simultaneously.
Vince sniffed hard and looked down at the floor, hiding behind his fringe.
"Please don't cry," Howard begged, swallowing the lump that had formed in his own throat.
"M'not cryin'." Vince muttered sulkily. Howard tilted his chin up and wordlessly brushed away the tears that were already making their way down his face.
"I'll come back and visit soon, yeah?"
"Wait, Howard. Before you go…"
Vince yanked off one of the chains from around his neck and placed it in Howard's hand, closing his fist over it. Howard looked down in confusion and to his surprise saw that it was the silver lightning-bolt necklace he had bought for Vince aeons ago now, when he had first pulled him out of school to work at the Zooniverse. It wasn't the prettiest piece of jewellery Vince owned, nor the most expensive, and Howard hadn't seen it for years; he had rather assumed that it had gotten lost somewhere amongst the oceans of clutter they had accumulated between them. He looked back up at Vince questioningly.
"Take it," Vince said softly.
Howard shook his head. "I can't do that, Vince - it's yours."
"Howard, take it - please," Vince begged, "I want you to 'ave somethin' to remember me by. So you don't forget me."
"I could never forget you. Even if I wanted to."
"Sure, you say that now," Vince rolled his eyes and offered a watery grin, "but when you're some big-shot movie star, you won't be thinkin' about me, stuck here." He sighed, all traces of a smile vanishing.
"I will miss you, Howard."
"Yeah. I'll miss you, too."
"You won't. But thanks for sayin' it."
Howard shook his head. He just had no idea, did he?
"I'd better…" He gestured vaguely towards the door. "My taxi's waiting."
"Go on, then - don't want to miss your flight." Vince ruffled his hair in an adorably awkward manner. "Good luck, Howard."
"Back atcha, little man."
He turned towards the door again. This was it, this time. Do or die. He took a deep breath - and then stepped over the threshold, walking away from the Nabootique and towards his new, unfamiliar life. Life after Vince. Life A.V.
Back in the shop, Vince let waited until Howard's taxi had driven out of sight, and then let go of the composure he had been working so hard to control, slumping over the counter.
A few more threads snapped.
- - - - - X - - - - -
Vince woke slowly, in the way that you do when you don't really want to wake up at all. The cold winter sunlight from outside hurt his eyes, which was odd because he hadn't been drinking. There seemed to be something heavy weighing down on him - metaphorically speaking - only he couldn't quite figure out what it was.
Swinging his legs out of bed, he noticed that Howard's was already empty. He'd probably gone down to the shop - he liked to be up early to arrange his stationery. Shaking his head, Vince pulled on his fluffy, sparkly dressing gown and headed downstairs.
"Howard? Howard, you up?"
Apparently not - the shop was dark and empty. Vince scratched his head in puzzlement, wondering where Howard had gotten to. Maybe he had gone out to buy some corks…
Oh, of course he hadn't, who did he think he was kidding? Howard was gone. As in never coming back. He was in Denmark, learning how to be a famous actor.
He jumped at the lisping voice behind him, turning to find himself face-to-face with Naboo.
"What are you doin' down 'ere in lookin' like you've just escaped from the loony bin? Go an' get dressed - you'll scare away all the customers."
Vince didn't move, save for swaying a little on the spot. He felt suddenly as though all the air had gone from the room. Howard wasn't here. He wasn't going to come back…
"Vince…?" Naboo looked at him more closely now, concerned in spite of himself. "Are you ill?"
"Yeah," he replied softly, "I guess I am.
- - - - - X - - - - -
I just thought I'd write to let you know how I'm doing. Copenhagen is a fantastic city. You'd like it here, I think. Well, you'd like the pastries, anyway.
Haven't really done an awful lot of work yet, but I'm sure that'll come soon. Jurgen did tell me about this advert he wants me to star in, though. If I'm honest, it sounds a bit… well, dodgy. But if it's my ticket into Hollywood, then I'll take it sir, you bet your bottom dollar.
How are you? I hope that everyone is okay and you haven't managed to burn the shop down or anything yet. Haha.
I miss you. You probably think I'm just saying that, but I do - I miss your eyes and your smile and your laugh, and all your stupid questions that used to drive me up the wall. I even miss our fights. Nothing's quite the same without you. I love you. I love you. I love you I love you Iloveyouloveyouloveyou -
Howard sighed and tore up the postcard with a groan of frustration. This was his third attempt, but, like all the others, there was no way he could send it. Why was this so difficult? He was writing to Vince - there was a time not so very long ago when talking to him was the easiest thing in the world.
But now they were in completely different countries, separated by at least a mile of sea (possibly more than that - he'd never been all that good at Geography in school. Or Maths), and he couldn't even write a simple postcard to the man was supposed to be his best friend without sounding like a complete and utter halfwit.
He supposed he could try ringing - but he was afraid. Afraid that it would be awkward. Afraid that they wouldn't know what to say to each other. Afraid that they would. Afraid that Vince wouldn't even want to speak to him - after all, he hadn't exactly made an effort to call yet, either.
He hoped that Vince was okay, though. He did have a bit of a tendency to get himself into trouble, and although he was often more than capable of handling himself, Howard had long suspected that he was a good deal more fragile than he seemed. He often needed someone to remind him that he was only human, in spite of everything…
Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to leave, after all. He thought back to their tearful farewell. There had been something in the way Vince had thrown himself at him, he was sure about it. But what? Love?
You're deluding yourself, Howard, his brain told him firmly. Sighing, he picked up his long-cold coffee and attempted not to think about Vince.
He didn't succeed very well.
- - - - - X - - - - -
"Who the 'ell's this?!"
Oh dear. Naboo took one look at Vince's expression, his face a mask of pure thunder as he stood in the doorway, and had to fight the urge to cower behind Bollo.
"This is Adam, our new employee. Oh, don't look at me like that - someone needs to manage the shop now that Howard's left, and God knows you're incapable of doin' anythin' yourself."
"Why… why does he look like that?"
'That' presumably referred to the fact that Adam was dressed like a much younger and, in Naboo's opinion, more attractive version of Howard, complete with Hawaiian shirt and moustache.
"Thought that maybe you wouldn't notice the difference."
"How can you say that?! You dress some… person up as my best friend, and you think I won't even notice?! Well, you're not replacing Howard, Naboo, I won't let you. I want him gone."
"Just get rid of him! I don't want to see him!"
Vince turned on his heel and tore upstairs to the flat. Moments later, the sound of a bedroom door slamming could be heard. Naboo sighed, massaging his temples.
"Sorry about that," he apologised to Adam, "he'll come round in a bit. Why don't you make yourself useful and get us some tea, yeah?"
"Precious Vince gone mad," Bollo said sadly once he'd gone.
"'E's not mad, Bollo, 'e's just… lost. None of the magic is working."
"Because Vince lose his sparkle?"
"No. Or at least, not just that. It's not just about Vince - it never was. It's the two of them together - that kind of chemistry provides the foundations for just about anything to happen. Now that Howard's gone, the link's been broken, and nothing works as well as it should do."
"What do we do?"
"I'd like to say that we can find Howard and fix them again, but I'm not sure we can, this time. They're the only ones that can save themselves now."
- - - - - X - - - - -
"Howard? It's me. Vince. Um… I'm guessing you're busy, so call me when you get this, yeah? 'Kay, bye."
- - - - - X - - - - -
"Howard? Stop ignoring me, I know you're there. Please pick up. I… I just want to talk to you. It's not the same here without you. Naboo's hired this new worker for the shop - he is well dry. 'E doesn't know how to crimp or nuffin'! I miss you, Howard."
- - - - - X - - - - -
"'Ey, Howard! … You wanker. You think I care 'bout you? I don't - I don't fucking care. What are you even doin', callin' me? I don't wanna speak to you. Never never ever again. Nuh-uh… Hello? Hellooooooo??! Knock, knock, who's there? I can't hear you! I'm in… in a tunnel, haha… Howard? 'Oward, is that you? S'me, Vinsh! Or is it you? I dunno. I think… think I 'ad a bit too much to drink. Maybe somethin' else too, I can't remember. I've been bad, Howard, please don't tell! Everythin's all black and white…like zebras! You remember the zebras, Howard, at the zoo? God, I feel like I'm dyin'… I am dyin', without you. I'm not interested in your wife, I'm in love with Howard! I fuckin' love you, small eyes! You wanna fuck me, Howard? 'Cause you can if you want to, y'know, I don't mind. You do want to, don't you? 'Course you do, everyone does! I'm Vince Noir, rock 'n' roll shtar! … Howard? Howard, are you there? Hey, who is this? Why'd you call me if you're not gonna shay anythin'? Prick."
- - - - - X - - - - -
Howard was feeling decidedly miserable as he ponced about filming for a new Danish TV show in Jurgen's studio. It had been almost two weeks now, and his mood had been steadily declining every day. Instead of spending less time thinking about Vince, he'd been thinking of him more and more. It didn't help that on his third day of being here, he'd been mugged and had his phone stolen, meaning that he had no way of knowing whether or not Vince had tried to contact him. Of course, he could always ring Vince on the landline of the flat he was renting, but he couldn't quite work up the courage. Just in case Vince didn't want to speak to him after all.
"Howard, it seems as though you are not in the mood to act today. What is the matter?"
He gritted his teeth, resisting the urge to punch Jurgen in the face, just as he had done to Gideon all those years before. How times changed.
"I just… can't seem to get it right."
"I see. This is supposed to be a happy scene, full of joy and energy. Why don't you try casting your mind back to the time when you were happiest?"
Howard thought. The trouble was, he couldn't actually remember a time when he had been really, truly happy.
"Come on, Howard… you must know, surely? When was the last time you were happy?"
Howard gritted his teeth. He was beginning to think this acting malarkey was a load of bullshit. Still, he closed his eyes and thought some more, going through all of his mental filing cabinets in search of a time less desolate than this. Then it was as if a dam had burst within his mind, and memory upon memory came crashing down on him with amazing clarity:
"You saw 'im! You saw my boy!"
"Howard, I'm sorry… I shouldn't have made you do the fight… I just wanted you to be happy…"
"Maybe I should knock yours back a bit…"
"Come on, Howard. Maybe we'll just have to be freaks together."
"Are you really dead, Howard?"
"You can't die again, you can't leave me again!"
"I'm like Mowgli - the retro version."
"Do you really think the animals are interested in Gary Numan?"
"It takes about ninety mink to make a small ladies' glove."
"That's 'cause they're really crap at sewing,"
"What am I, a pit pony?"
"I found them!"
"Stop saying that, we're a team!"
"Howard, it's freezing out here!"
"Day twelve. Vince dead."
"Vince! You're alive!"
"Vince, this is difficult for me, but I feel as though I should say this... I love you, Vince."
"Are you laughing at me?!"
"I wanna sleep… I'm so tired, Howard."
"Did you kiss 'im?"
"What really went on between you and Tommy?"
"It's impossible to be unhappy in a poncho!"
"It takes a bit more than a Mexican rug to cheer me up."
"Are you jealous, Howard?! I didn't fancy her!"
"Do you even like me anymore, honestly?"
"I can hear them all screaming, Howard…"
"We are going to be okay, Howard. You 'an me. As long as we're together, we'll be okay."
"Look, Vince is a friend of mine; I couldn't do that to him."
"I love you, Howard, did you know that? And I hate you. 'Cause I know what you did, see. But I love you more."
"I don't see how it's any of your business what I do."
"I'm sorry, Howard…"
"You always have to spoil it, don't you? I knew I should have gone for the Gothic Threeway…"
"Do you believe in fate, Howard?"
"Hey, Howard? Can I be a bridesmaid at the wedding?"
"Are you trying to come on to me?"
"I'm drawing a line in the sand!"
"I love you, Howard."
"Actually, Milky Joe's calling me, so I'd better go see what he wants…"
"I've just spent four hours cleaning that filth off the shutters!"
"No smoke without fire."
"You're such a coward! You always leave, don't you, at the drop of a hat!"
"I'm gonna kill you!"
"It was just a joke!"
"You don't talk now, Vince, you listen!"
"You - you hit me!"
"You are so anal, Howard."
"You saved my life. So thank you."
"I went to the doctor's… he's confirmed the worst."
"Hey, I'm here for you."
"If he touches you again, I swear, I'll fucking kill him."
"…Can I have a hug?"
"It's not good enough, little man, I need a gesture."
"Howard… Howard, you're hurting me!"
"Don't worry, I don't fancy you."
"The deep, powerful, molten sexual tension that's been brewing up between us…"
"I'm in love with Howard!"
"Oh. Yeah. We're in love."
"I'll never love again."
"I love you, Howard."
"You don't love me, Vince. The only person you've ever loved is yourself."
"I want you to 'ave something to remember me by. So you don't forget me."
Once the floodgates had been opened, they wouldn't stop coming. True, not all of them could be called happy times by textbook definition, but in a way the painful memories were just as important as the sunshiney ones, if not more so. They all carried the same message - he couldn't survive without Vince, and he'd been incredibly stupid to think otherwise. Vince was his light, his life, his everything… without him, Howard was half a man.
He'd been wrong to think he could leave, but he realised that now. Which meant that the next thing he had to do was get on a flight to London as soon as possible, and attempt to salvage whatever was left of their relationship.
- - - - - X - - - - -
"Unbelievable. His legs aren't even that thin."
Vince feigned disgust as he watched the Sammy the Crab parading around as frontman on the new Black Tubes video, but in all honesty, he wasn't really that bothered. Compared to the pain of missing Howard every day, not getting into a band was nothing. He hadn't even really wanted to be join up with them all that much - he'd just needed something to focus on to take his mind off Howard. Not that it had worked.
But he had to put on a front for Naboo and Bollo, pretending that he was fine and everything was just the same as usual. Because if they found out how close to the edge he still was, they'd probably have him chucked in the asylum.
The shop door opened, and Vince glared, preparing to give whoever it was a piece of his mind. They were closed, for fuck's sake - couldn't they read the sign? Then he froze, stunned into silence by what he saw.
Howard was there, standing in the doorway and looking rather sheepish.
Vince gaped. He had literally no idea what to say. All rational thought had left him - the same sentence seemed to be whirling through his head over and over again: 'Howard's back.'
"Hey, guys." Howard greeted, sounding somewhat nervous. Vince wanted to leap up and hug the life out of him, to sob into his shoulder and beg him not to leave again, but the counter was in the way, a physical obstacle to represent the metaphorical barrier that had sprung up between them. So instead he did the only thing he knew how to do, and launched an attack.
"What are you doin' 'ere? Thought you'd 'gone off to see Jurgen'?" His voice was high and mocking, and he was fully aware of how pathetic he sounded, but he couldn't help himself. The memory of what Howard had done to him, leaving him to fend for himself so that he could chase stars in Hollywood, effectively trading him in for fame - it still hurt.
"What can I say?" Howard sighed melodramatically. "Jurgen offered me a lot - he offered me money, fame, international art house acclaim - but I thought 'do I need this'? And I realised - I've got everything I need right here."
He ruffled the fur on the top of Bollo's head, and Vince found himself having to blink back tears. He'd come back. He'd really come back. Because he'd missed them. It wasn't quite a profession of undying love, but it was a start. Maybe now that they'd had some time away from each other, realised that they simply couldn't function apart, they would be able to start piecing back together the remains of whatever relationship they had.
"What would you do without me?" Howard was asking. "I'm irreplaceable." He laughed and chucked Bollo under the chin.
"Adam?" The gorilla called. Vince felt himself grow cold. Oh, God. He'd forgotten about Adam. How would this look, now?
"Yeah?" Adam replied, coming out from behind the shelf. Howard did a double take that in any other circumstances would have been rather amusing, looking at the young man oddly. Vince concentrated on staring at Howard, hoping to send him some sort of telepathic message: 'It's not what it looks like, Howard. If you've ever believed me in anything, believe me now - it's not what it looks like.'
There was nothing. Howard wouldn't even look at him.
"He came back," Naboo told Adam. "You're fired."
Adam sloped off without saying anything more, but the damage was already done. The hurt in Howard's eyes was clear as day, even as he tried to hide it. There was an awkward, tense silence, broken only by the jingle from some dodgy advert on the TV.
"Oh my day, what's this?" Vince said rather lamely, feigning an enormous interest in whatever was being advertised. Amazingly, it seemed to do the trick, as three other pairs of eyes turned towards the ancient set. Then someone whom Vince had hoped never to see again appeared on the screen.
"Hello. I'm Jurgen Haabermaster."
"Yeah, let's have the TV off, shall we?" Howard leaped in quickly. He went to go and switch it off, but Bollo held him back.
"Easy. Hang on a sec." Vince half-rose from his chair. If this was something Howard had made during his time away, then he wanted to see it.
"When I'm making my avant garde films, I can often suffer from the pain of trapped wind," Jurgen was saying in the advert, "It can be very uncomfortable, like having an angry crab scuttle around in my tummy space."
There was something of a collective gasp as Howard appeared on-screen, dressed as the 'angry crab of trapped wind'. Was this the only reason why he had come back, then? Not because he missed them at all, but because he was forced to make embarrassing adverts? That stung.
"Oh, my sweet Lord," Vince looked at him. "Are you the new face of trapped wind?" He laughed nastily, hating himself for doing so when Howard looked pained. "Nice work, Howard."
The advert continued, but none of them were really paying that much attention to it anymore. Vince got to his feet, unable to look at anyone.
"Right, I've, erm… got somethin' that needs doin', so I'll be seeing you, yeah? S'good to have you back, Howard." He added, making it sound like an afterthought, though it was really all he could think about.
Then he fled up the stairs to the flat, desperate to be alone.
- - - - - X - - - - -
Howard stared after Vince, wondering what the hell had gotten into him. Okay, he supposed that some teasing over the ad had been pretty much inevitable, but he had expected a slightly warmer welcome, given the way Vince had tearfully thrown himself at him when he'd left. And the younger man was acting frankly… odd. Odder than usual, even.
"I never thought I'd be sayin' this, Howard," Naboo told him, "but it's good to have you back."
"What, so you've go someone to take the piss out of again?" He asked bitterly.
"No, so we can finally get this place back into some semblance of proper working order." The shaman said evenly. "It's been chaos these past two weeks."
"Well, it would be, without my superior managerial skills."
"Yeah, don't flatter yourself too much."
Naboo glanced furtively over both shoulders before whispering: "Look, he'd kill me if he knew I was telling you this, but Vince has been a wreck without you."
"Oh, yeah, he obviously missed me so much." Howard rolled his eyes. "Naboo, he can't even stand to be in the same room as me."
"Oh, he missed you. Trust me."
"Then what was all that about?" Howard gestured vaguely.
"I don't think even Vince knows why he does half he things he does. But he did miss you, more than you'll know."
"I… thanks." Howard didn't quite know what else to say. He had a lot to the think about as he headed up to the flat.
"Howard?" Naboo called after him.
He paused on the third step, looking back. "Yeah?"
"…Maybe I missed you, too. A bit."
"Yeah. Don't you dare tell anyone I said that, or I'll turn you into a crab for real."
"I won't. Cheers, Naboo!" Howard grinned.
His smile faded as he reached the bedroom, knocking on the door and entering nervously when he received no answer. Vince was sat on his bed, chewing a thumbnail absently and staring into space. He had gotten changed, Howard noticed. He was glad - the black and white look didn't really suit him. It just wasn't bright enough.
"Hey," he greeted, sitting down next to Vince. He tried not to notice how close the younger man was, that he could feel the body heat radiating from him and smell his hairspray. He tried to ignore the way his insides fluttered as Vince's shoulder brushed against his, or when he felt the rush of air as he sighed. For the most part, he was unsuccessful.
"Why'd you leave, Howard?" Vince asked.
"I just… want to know. Why did you leave?"
"I told you - to work with Jurgen Haabermaster, further my acting career -"
"That's not why. If it was, you wouldn't have come back."
"You were going to leave," Howard pointed out. "To join the Black Tubes."
"I was never actually going to go. I've never left, despite your constant assumptions that I'm gonna be off like a shot the first chance I get."
"Well, you don't exactly make it easy, Vince." Howard sighed. He could sense a fight coming on, and he really didn't want that. "Two weeks ago you were all over me, practically begging me not to go, and then I get back and all you can do is laugh. I just can't get my head around how you can change so quickly, why you always say one thing and then contradict yourself with another. It makes no sense."
"You're supposed to be the smart one; 'aven't you figured it out yet?"
"Yeah, and you're supposed to be the brave one, so why don't you just come out and say whatever it is you've been meaning to say?"
"Fine!" Vince shot up off the bed, pacing the confines of their tiny room. "You really want to know? It's because I love you, you moron! I love your stupid moustache and your small eyes and your beautiful, generic face. I love your horrible shirts and your freaky stationery and the way you organise your socks in alphabetical order of colour, even though that is well weird. I even love your jazz - even though it's the most God-awfulest thing to have ever been called music, even though it makes my ears bleed - because it's you. I. Love. You. It's completely ridiculous and I hate myself for bein' that stupid, but I can't help it - I always 'ave done, and I'll probably never stop."
Vince suddenly stopped mid-rant, breathing hard, staring at Howard with wide, terrified eyes as he realised what he'd just said. Then he tore out of the room and down the stairs. Seconds later, the front door banged open and then shut again as he left the shop.
Howard remained where he was for at least five minutes before it began to sink in what the other man had said. Vince had just told him he loved him. Him. Howard Moon. There was no way. That just wasn't even possible. But then… what if it was? Vince had seemed pretty sure of it, as he'd practically screamed it at him from the other side of the room.
Shaking himself out of his daze, Howard ran out after him. For better or for worse, he was going to get the truth. All of it.
- - - - - X - - - - -
Fortunately, Vince wasn't very hard to find, as Howard managed to track him down in less than ten minutes, sitting on a bench in the children's playground. There was a dejected slump to his shoulders, and even from this distance, Howard could see that he had his head in his hands. Tentatively, as though he were stepping over landmines, Howard approached, laying a hand on his shoulder. Vince jumped slightly, and looked up at him with wide, wary eyes.
"How'd you find me?"
"You never really were all that good at hide and seek."
Vince laughed weakly. A beat of silence passed.
"Did you mean what you said?" Howard asked slowly, feeling sick with adrenaline. "Back at the flat?"
Vince sighed. "Yeah, I meant it. What do I have to do to make you believe me? What, d'you want me to write you a poem or a sing you a little song? That ain't gonna happen, Howard. I'm not good with words. I'm not good at sayin' what I mean, or knowing when to shut up. I'm not smart - I'm not gonna sit around having intellectual discussions about Sartre or the economy all day. And I'm never gonna like jazz. I'm not some trophy girlfriend that's gonna just gonna look pretty and listen to you all day long. I'm not perfect, Howard, I get that. And you probably deserve better than me."
Howard's heart was thundering now. He felt as though he might pass out. He was hyper-aware of everything; his own breath coming in shortened gasps despite the cold, the light rain that had just begun to fall, needling his skin. Vince stood up, sliding off his wooden seat. He bit his lip and looked down before continuing in a shaky little voice:
"But I do love you. I love you more than anything I've ever felt before in my life, and I don't understand it and it scares me to death, but… if you - fuck, I dunno. If it's not the same for you, then I promise, we can just forget all of this and I'll never mention it again. But if you do feel the same… If you want this as much as I want it… if you want me as much as I want you… If you - if you love me, Howard, then please, just tell me now. Just tell me, an' we can stop all of this… I'm so tired, Howard, so tired of pretending and tryin' to hate you when that's the last thing I want to do… "
Whether or not Vince carried on speaking beyond that point, Howard didn't know, as he unconsciously tuned everything out, realising what was happening in a sudden moment of epiphany. Vince was saying, not for the first time, that he loved him. That he was in love with him. That he had been pining away in his belief that it was unrequited just as much as Howard had, if not more. God… they were so stupid. Vince was silent now as Howard looked at him, expression nervous but as open and honest as Howard had seen it in a long time. He seemed to move on autopilot, unable to stop himself from reaching out and caressing Vince's cheek, running his thumb over the soft skin. The smaller man gazed up at him with slightly glazed eyes and flicked his tongue out over dry lips, leaving a sheen of moisture behind. Howard caught himself staring, paralysed, unable to move or speak. And then Vince leaned up to press a quick, chaste kiss to his mouth. It probably lasted less than a second, but it was still enough to detonate an atomic bomb inside Howard's heart and mind, and as Vince went to pull away, he moved his hand to the back of his neck, holding him in place as he closed the gap between them fully.
For a moment, Vince was too shocked to respond, as he gasped into Howard's mouth - then he was kissing him back slightly hesitantly, as though he still wasn't sure whether or not this was really happening. His breath hitched in his throat, lashes growing damp at the realisation of his dreams in the form of Howard's kiss. The older man sucked on his trembling lower lip with far more confidence than he would normally have had, compensating for Vince's moment of insecurity. Then he was pulling away, and Vince whimpered slightly as teeth grazed the delicate skin of his bottom lip.
Their gazes locked for a moment, and then Vince looked down, uncharacteristically unsure of himself. Howard lifted a hand to his face and tenderly brushed a stray lock of hair out of his eyes.
"Vince…" He began slowly, "I think we need to talk."
He seemed to tense up, all of a sudden - his eyes flickered over the peripheries, unable to maintain contact, and he jerked violently out of reach when Vince went to touch him. Vince swallowed nervously, mouth very dry.
"Howard? What's wrong?"
He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know the answer, but the question had to be asked. Howard did look at him then, sighing sadly.
"I just… Is this really a good idea?"
At his words, the world threatened to spin off its axis and slam into the sun, but Vince somehow managed to maintain his precarious hold on it. After the way Howard had kissed him just then… well, he wasn't prepared to give up now, not after he had handed his heart and soul to Howard on a silver platter only moments earlier.
"What are you talkin' about?"
Howard's fingers touched Vince's cheek lightly, skimming over the porcelain skin like butterfly wings. They trailed over his jawline, and Vince shivered, remembering Howard's fist landing there mere weeks before. The bruise had long since faded, but the nerve endings still retained that memory, sparking at the caress that was so gentle by comparison.
"After everything that's happened, Vince… we're both so messed up right now. And I've already hurt you so much. I don't want to hurt you again. I'm not sure I could live with myself. And…"
Howard looked away again, mumbling the rest of his answer.
"I don't want you to hurt me, either."
At that, Vince's face hardened almost imperceptibly.
"What d'you mean?"
"I just… I don't want to get involved in something now only for you to get bored a week, a month down the line and move on to some other conquest. I have no idea what that would do to me, and I don't want to be put in a position where I have to find out - Ow!"
The 'ow' was not intended to be a part of the sentence Howard had planned out in his head - rather, it came out as Vince slapped him across the face, quite hard in fact. Howard glanced down at him and swallowed hard. He looked mightily pissed off.
"What was that for?!"
"Haven't you been listening to anything I've said tonight?" Vince demanded. His voice wavered precariously, and Howard realised that he wasn't just angry - he was hurt. "Is that all you think I'm after? Sex? Do you really think I'm that shallow, Howard? And, no offence, but if that's what I wanted, I wouldn't put all this time and effort into trying to sweet-talk you into bed. I get people throwin' themselves at me every time I walk down the street. I can have sex any time I want, with whoever I want."
He softened slightly, taking Howard's hand.
"But I want you. And not just for that - though obviously, yeah, I do want that, want it so much it hurts sometimes, but… I love you, Howard. And if you had any idea how fucking hard it is for me to say that… I'm no good at this kind of thing. I'm not supposed to think about things like this, I'm not supposed to care about anyone but myself. I'm not supposed to know about love, Howard, an' maybe I still don't. But I do know that the way I feel about you… You're the only person who ever liked me just for bein' me. You're the only person that gets to see me with me hair unstraightened and no make-up on, the only person that gets to see me cry, an' the only person that gets to see me really, properly happy. You're the only person that I don't have to put on an act for, the only person I've ever felt completely safe with. Not my parents, not Bryan Ferry, not Naboo or Bollo or Leroy or any of my other friends - you. Maybe I don't know a lot, Howard, but I do know that that's gotta be love. What else could it be?"
"How can you say that?" Howard asked miserably, avoiding meeting Vince's eyes once again. "How can you possibly say that I make you feel safe? I'm a failure, Vince - I can't protect you, I can't -"
"Just listen -"
"No, you listen!" Vince shoved him roughly in the chest, a fire burning in his eyes that Howard was quite sure he had never seen before, more intense and passionate than he would ever have believed his ditzy friend to be capable of.
"Have you completely forgotten who you're talking to? I know you, better than anyone. I know you're not the heroic Man of Action you like to pretend to everyone that you are. I know that you never slayed any dragons, or pulled the sword from the stone, or whatever else it is that you're always bangin' on about. To be honest, you're a bloody coward! I mean, let's face it, I've saved your life far more times than you've saved mine."
"Thanks, Vince," Howard replied sarcastically. "That makes me feel loads better, thank you."
"But Howard, don't you think you're missin' the point a bit?! I'm a grown man - I'm thirty years old, I don't need protecting. I'm more than capable of lookin' after myself, most of the time. But I - I need you there to remind me that it's okay to let other people help every now and then. I never would have been able to cope this long if I didn't have you. When that poncey little twat came round and tried to steal my style, I would've just given up if it weren't for you, keepin' me going. Sometimes I wonder why the hell you still stick around with me, after everything I've done to you - I've been such a prick to you lately, Howard, and I'm so sorry. I have no idea why you put up with me, I really don't. I'm just glad that you do. And you do have it in you to be brave, I know you do."
Howard shook his head again. "I'm not brave, Vince. Not like you."
"Me?!" Vince echoed incredulously. "I'm not brave, Howard, I'm stupid. There's a difference. And I never could have done all the things I've done if I didn't have you there next to me. Everyone thinks I'm strong, but I'm only like that 'cause of you. I would be half the person that I am if it wasn't for you. All of this -" he made a vague gesture with his arms to incorporate his physical being "- all of this is nothing, Howard, just glitter and dust. Plastic and hairspray and silly, meaningless trinkets - that's all I am without you. What is it you're always tellin' me? It's what's inside that counts, right? Well, without you, I'd just be all hollow and empty, there wouldn't be anything inside of me. You came along when I had nothin' else, when I was just a lonely orphan on the streets, with no parents and no future, and you believed in me when no-one else would. I would be nothing without you, Howard - you moulded me out of Plasticine into who I am today. Yeah, you're not some fairytale Prince Charming ridin' in to sweep me off my feet, but I'm not exactly Cinderella either, so it's okay. I don't want some over-protective pillock to wrap me up in bubble wrap and treat me like a fucking china doll - that's the last thing I want. I don't need protecting, Howard - I just need you. You're one of the biggest fuck-ups on the planet, but then so am I, and I wouldn't want you
any other way. 'Cause then you wouldn't be my Howard. Besides, life wouldn't be quite so exciting if I wasn't 'avin' to drag you out of trouble every five minutes."
"Oh," Howard said. He wasn't quite sure what else to say. He was pretty sure that that was the most he'd ever heard Vince say in one go before. All he knew was that they were standing very, very close, and Vince was looking a little shy again now that his rant was over, worrying at his lower lip in an oh-so-tantalising manner.
"Howard…" He began, a little apprehensively, "You know when we were s'posed to be goin' to America for our big break, only I gave the captain a mullet and we got stranded that desert island with all the freaky coconuts…?"
"Yeah, what about it?" Howard feigned nonchalance, hardly daring to hope that Vince might be going where he thought he was going with this.
"Well, I… y'know when we 'ad all those whacked-out dreams after eating too many…? I sort of…remember some stuff happenin' , and I was wonderin' if… maybe… you remembered it too?"
"Yeah…" Howard said. His voice came out thick, husky. He cleared his throat nervously and tried again, "Yeah, I do."
"I remember… I remember the way you looked in the moonlight, and really realising for the first time just how irritatingly beautiful you are. I remember not being able to take my eyes off you. I remember kissing you, and thinking that this would be it for the rest of my life… And then I remember you saying that you loved me, and I… I ran away and left you. God, how could I have done that to you?! I'm sorry, Vince, I'm so sorry - I just got scared. I panicked, I thought you didn't mean it -"
"I did," Vince said softly, "I've always meant it. I still mean it now. What about… what about you?"
"What about me?"
The answer came immediately - no hesitations, no time for self-questioning or second-guessing. Howard took a deep breath, wondering vaguely why he was so nervous. Vince had already said he loved him, several times. What was the problem?
"I love you," he said at last, feeling an enormous weight lift from his shoulders as he did so. This time there was no laughter, no denials, so he continued.
"I love you so much that it makes my head spin just thinking about it, makes my brain hurt from trying to understand it. When I was away… I thought about you all the time. There wasn't a day went by that I didn't miss you, Vince, believe me. I don't even know how I could have left you in the first place. That's why I came back - not because of an advert or anything else, but because I can't survive without you. You can make even the dullest of things seem like fun - I never would have gotten through years of millet distribution if you weren't right there next to me acting as if it was as exciting as a trip to Disneyland. It sounds ridiculously corny, but whenever I'm with you, it's like everything's okay with the world, somehow. Your energy rubs off on me, and I can't quite keep up with you all the time, but you… you make me a better person, Vince. You make me want to be a better person. You're the most incredible person I've ever met. You're brilliant and beautiful and infuriating and utterly insane, and there's no-one else quite like you. And I… I think the world would be a much more depressing place without you in it."
"Oh," Vince said quietly, looking immensely touched. He pressed his palm against Howard's cheek and searched his eyes with a deep intensity.
"Why didn't you answer any of my calls?"
"I rang you, like, three times, Howard. You didn't pick up once."
"Oh… I… My phone got stolen."
Vince frowned. "How did that happen?"
"I, um… I got mugged."
"Oh…" Vince breathed, running his hands possessively over Howard's face as though frisking him for any signs of physical injury. "Did they hurt you?"
"Good. 'Cause, you know, if they had, I'd've had to track them down and hurt them. I'd go all the way to Denmark, if I had to."
Howard laughed nervously. The worrying part was, he believed him. He doubted Vince even knew where Denmark was, but that was entirely irrelevant.
"Hey, Howard…?" Vince whispered in a shaky little voice.
"Do you think you could maybe… kiss me again?"
Before the sentence was even complete, Howard was leaning down to meet Vince's lips again, wrapping his arms around a slim waist and pulling him close. Vince gasped and kissed him back feverishly, hands coming round to the back of Howard's head and pulling him down. There was none of the gentle hesitation of the previous kiss - they were each desperate, frenzied, almost possessed; years of longing and frustration and passion and pain and loneliness and regret were poured into the mix, until all of it faded to a distant memory and nothing hurt anymore.
Howard's hands slid under Vince's t-shirt, climbing the ladder of his ribs, skimming his shoulder blades, wanting to touch every inch of him now that he finally had permission to do so . They slid up into his hair with a mind of their own, tugging gently and teasing the soft layers, and Howard felt rather than heard the moan their actions elicited.
Vince's tongue slipped inside his mouth, and it was Howard's turn to gasp at the feeling of it moving against his own. Explosions went off in his head, painting neon colours on the backs of his eyelids. He didn't ever want this moment to end; he felt as though he was touching heaven, reaching for Nirvana, as though some higher purpose had been revealed to him through the beautiful creature in his arms.
They parted slowly, resting their foreheads together, lips were not quite touching but still close enough so that they were sharing the same breath. Vince's eyes were still closed, the expression on his face one Howard could only describe as 'blissful'. His hand was hovered next to Howard's face, shaking slightly, not quite making contact.
"The fireworks are back," he breathed.
Howard didn't know what that meant. He decided he didn't need to know, so long as it meant that Vince had about as much intention of letting go as Howard did.
The sound of clapping broke the silence, and the couple managed to tear their gazes away from one another long enough to look around in confusion for the source of the noise. A small group of young women were stood by the entrance to the park, cheering as they watched their embrace with knowing grins.
"It's about time!" One of them yelled.
Vince found that their excitement was infectious, and he smiled to himself, tipping his head back to look at the sky. He felt as though he was walking on air, and Howard was the only thing keeping him tethered to the earth, stopping him from floating off into space.
He still couldn't quite believe that, after all the angst and the drama of the past few months, they were finally okay again. That on its own would have been fantastic, but more than that - better than that - Howard loved him. Actually loved him. Just as much as he loved Howard. It felt like the start of a new life, as though he was being given the chance to put all of his wrongdoings, every stupid mistake and thoughtless insult of recent times - and there had been a lot of them - behind him and move on, begin anew with Howard at his side.
It was incredible. It was unbelievable.
And it was real.
It was properly dark now, but the Moon was unnaturally bright, cutting a clear circle through the blackness. Little clusters of stars hung between the clouds, forming their own individual cliques. Vince often imagined that they were having conversations, gossiping about the things they'd seen during their millennia of watching the earth. Sometimes, on rare occasions when he went up to the roof to think, he pretended that they were talking to him, whispering confessions in his ear. And sometimes he would just lie beneath them, basking in the feeling of being so, so small by comparison.
He needed that grounding more frequently than he would have liked to admit. When people constantly treated you like the centre of the universe, sometimes it helped to be reminded of your own insignificance.
"You okay, little man?" Howard asked, breaking into his thoughts. Vince turned to see the older man watching him with an adoring expression on his face, and blushed slightly under the attention.
"M'fine, Howard. More than fine. Just… y'know?" He flapped a hand around uselessly, trying to encompass the overwhelming nature of everything he was feeling at that moment in time.
Howard smiled gently. "Yeah, I think I get what you mean."
Vince shivered, and Howard wrapped an arm around him, drawing him close.
"Let's go home, shall we?"
- - - - - X - - - - -
Howard was beginning to get nervous again, Vince could tell. Now that they were back at the flat, alone together in their shared bedroom, the practicalities of the recent change in their relationship status was starting to weigh on his mind. The gap between their two separate beds seemed wider than ever, the two feet of carpet space in between them stretching into a yawning chasm.
Vince, impulsive as ever he was, simply collapsed onto Howard's bed, and lay back invitingly amongst the drab beige sheets. Howard blinked at him, looking like a fish out of water, and Vince sighed affectionately and surveyed his friend in what he hoped was an encouraging manner.
"C'mon, Howard," he cajoled softly, "I'm not gonna hurt ya, I promise."
At his words, Howard flinched, and Vince somehow knew that he'd struck a nerve. Realisation dawned on him, and he propped himself up on one elbow in order to better see the other man. His entire body radiated tension, and his small eyes flitted all over the room, looking anywhere but at Vince. It had never occurred to Vince before now how a big man could seem so small.
"Howard… Are you okay? Come down here."
Howard did as asked, laying down on the narrow bed next to Vince, but he still refused to look at him, keeping his gaze fixed on the ceiling. Vince stroked his shoulder comfortingly, the older man as solid and unmoving as a rock beneath his touch. Vince was at a bit of a loss - he knew what the problem was, or at least he thought he did, but he had no idea how to reach Howard. He knew that he had to try, though - after all the times Howard had broken down his defences in the past, it was the least he could do. He ran his fingers up Howard's neck to his chin, tilting his face until he had no choice but to look him in the eye.
"Howard, you know we don't 'ave to do anything you don't want to, right? We can take things as slow or as fast as you like - I can wait."
"It's not really a question of wanting it, Vince," Howard mumbled, so quietly Vince had to strain in order to hear him. "Of course I want it, I want it more than I've ever wanted anything before. I just…"
He trailed off, unable or unwilling to finish, but Vince understood, and he decided to ignore the fact that Howard's voice cracked slightly towards the end of his sentence. He'd never really seen Howard cry properly before, and he knew that he wasn't about to now, either - the other man would pull himself together in a few seconds.
But Vince found that he had to fight the urge to burst into tears himself as he thought of Eleanor and Old Gregg, and the fact that the only sexual experience Howard really had was that of the violent, abusive, possessive kind. And he had exacerbated the problem, hadn't he? By laughing and making fun of him, and never taking him seriously. No wonder Howard didn't want Vince touching him. He was lucky he even still wanted to speak to him.
He could make things better now, though. He knew he could.
"Howard…" He began in low voice, gently caressing the other man's face. "D'you trust me?"
"Of course I do."
"Then you know that I'd never do anythin' to hurt you, right? An' no-one else is ever gonna hurt you again, either, not while I'm around. I'm so sorry I didn't listen to you before, but I'm here now, an' I'm listenin'. I love you, Howard. I love you so much…"
He pressed his lips to the space between Howard's neck and his shoulder to illustrate the point, feeling a pulse thrumming beneath the heated skin. Vince sighed and closed his eyes, turning his face inwards to breathe in all that was Howard - his own unique scent of old books and new soap and that aftershave he wore that Vince always pretended to hate but secretly couldn't get enough of. He didn't think he would ever grow tired of this…
"I don't want to let you down."
It took a good few seconds for Vince to even realise that Howard had spoken, before he tilted his head up again, eyes flicking open to gauge the severity of whatever Howard was thinking. As always, his face was entirely unreadable, a closed book that was double-padlocked and bound in chains tighter than Houdini's diary.
"I - Look, I'm not like you, Vince. I really have no idea what to do, here. I just don't want to end up disappointing you."
Vince surveyed him silently, wondering what he could say to put Howard at ease. As he was debating this, he shuffled closer to the other man in the already confined space, until there was scarcely room to slip a sheet of cling film between their bodies. Their space between their faces on the pillow could be counted with mere centimetres - from this distance, Vince had to pick which one of Howard's eyes to focus on.
"Can I tell you a secret?" He asked finally.
"I've, um… I've never really had proper sex before. I mean, I have, obviously… but just not the kind that's worth havin'. I've never really enjoyed it, never taken it slowly or been held afterwards… I've never really been all that, y'know… loved. So it'll be like a first time for both of us. And it doesn't matter if it's not technically brilliant, 'cause it's me an' you, and that's all that really counts anymore."
Vince suddenly felt horribly exposed and vulnerable, as though he'd just opened his chest right in front of Howard, and Howard was leaning right in there to examine his heart. In reality, Howard was saying nothing, just looking at him with an odd kind of happy-sad expression on his face. One hand was stroking up and down the bare skin of Vince's upper arm, raising goosebumps and drawing excited shivers from the smaller man. Vince's fingers toyed with the bottom of Howard's shirt before slipping to the band of flesh just underneath, tracing intricate patterns that only he could see. In a bold move, Howard moved his other hand to the lower part of Vince's back, sliding it under the waistband of his jeans, squeezing lightly. He watched in fascination as Vince gasped and jerked, lips parted and cheeks flushed as his eyes rolled shut.
"Howard…" He whispered somewhat nervously. His gaze flickered all over Howard's face, darting from his eyes to his mouth and then back up to his eyes again. He licked his lips unconsciously, and Howard found that suddenly he was the one who was unable to look away.
"Howard, do you want -?"
Before Vince even had time to blink, he found himself being crushed to Howard in a searing kiss that made him feel as though fire was flooding his whole body. This time, it wasn't frenzied and desperate, nor was it shy and sweet, or awkward and forced. It was bridling with tightly controlled passion, a slow-burning heat that smouldered between them until they were all but consumed by it, screaming a thousand silent declarations of love.
Vince explored Howard's mouth with his tongue, slowly, as if he was mentally drawing up a topographical map of the area to be stored away and used at a later date. He wound his fingers through the curls that grew at the nape of Howard's neck and hummed contentedly against his lips. He felt as though he could happily live in this moment for the rest of time; the world could grow and change and evolve around them, but as long as he stayed in this bed, in this embrace, he would remain young and beautiful forever.
Howard ran his hand down Vince's side, feeling the ridges created by his ribs through the thin material of his t-shirt, down to the slight curve of his hip where the hand stilled, staking its claim. Their legs tangled slowly together, a movement that was unconscious on both their parts, bringing their bodies ever closer.
Howard shifted slightly, and Vince took the opportunity to move over the top of him, straddling his body. Howard's eyes widened, but he didn't complain as Vince leaned down to kiss him again. It was funny, mused the one tiny corner of Vince's brain that wasn't solely occupied by what he was doing, that he wasn't just desperate to ravish Howard after wanting and waiting and silently pining away for so long, now that he had him where he wanted him at last. But it was just the opposite - now that they had finally admitted this to one another, they could take it as slow as they liked - they had all the time in the world.
Vince's hair fell in a dark veil around them, shielding them from the rest of the world. Maybe this was the world, just the two of them and this bed. Anything could be happening beyond their thin plywood door - nuclear war, alien invasion, the sun going supernova - and it wouldn't matter, so long as they were still entwined with one another when the fallout cleared.
Vince pulled back a little to gaze down at the man beneath him. There was a look of shocked awe in those small brown eyes, staring up at Vince as though he was some kind of ethereal, Godlike being.
"You are so beautiful…" Vince whispered, caressing Howard's cheek with a hand.
The shocked look increased; the eyes widened to almost normal size.
"Um… Aren't I supposed to be the one saying that to you…?"
Vince smiled fondly. "You have no idea, do you?" He shook his head. "Has no-one ever told you just how… bloody… gorgeous… you are?"
Each pause was punctuated with soft kisses as he extended his exploration from Howard's mouth to the surrounding regions, pressing his lips to his jaw, his chin, his collarbone, placing wet open-mouthed kisses against the pulse point in his neck. Howard moaned and clutched Vince's head to him as his tongue lapped over a certain spot behind his ear that sent a rush of blood straight to his groin.
"You like that?" Vince murmured, and did it again, and again, until Howard's moans became little more than high-pitched whimpers. Vince smiled to himself, filing that little bit of information away for use at a later date before moving on. He could feel how aroused Howard was beneath him, and he was fast becoming aware of his own excitement pressing against the front of his jeans.
Howard couldn't quite find the words with which to describe what Vince was doing to him, but if this was what they had been missing out on all this time, he had to wonder why on earth they hadn't started long ago. Then again, maybe it wouldn't have been so meaningful if it had happened that way - as it was, it felt as though every look that had passed between them over the years, every illicit touch, every fight and every misplaced 'I love you' had been building up to this exact moment. To think that if even one thing had played out differently, it might not even be happening…
All such thoughts were driven from his head as Vince began to work on unfastening his shirt, looking out at him from under his lashes as he did so, biting his lip, deliberately seductive. The look alone almost caused Howard to moan aloud. How could he have resisted that for so long? Then Vince was undoing the last button, pushing the material from his shoulders, and Howard really did moan aloud as sharp teeth nicked his collarbone, immediately soothed by the flick of a moist tongue against his skin.
He couldn't help gasping the younger man's name as he kissed and nibbled and licked his way down his torso - after all, he was only human. Vince, meanwhile, was glowing with a kind of strange, second-hand delight at Howard's reactions. He'd heard Howard say he loved him more times than he could count, and now he believed it, but it wasn't until this moment that it had truly dawned on him that Howard wanted him. It was an incredible thought, almost too much for his brain cell to handle.
He rested his chin on Howard's stomach and looked up at him again, not teasing this time, but a little shy and rather beautiful. Before he had even made an active decision to do so, Howard flipped them over so that their positions were reversed and he was on top. Vince looked up at him, brow crinkled adorably with confusion.
Howard pressed a finger to Vince's lips, effectively shutting him up. He didn't exactly know what had prompted him to take the initiative - as he had pointed out before, he really had no idea what he was doing - but he did know that he planned to draw this out as long as possible. It felt wrong, to rush it, to get it over with quickly. Howard had the feeling that Vince had often cheapened himself during sex in the past, and he didn't want that to happen here - he wanted to make him feel as worthy and special as he deserved, as he was.
He removed his finger, and Vince opened his mouth again to say something else, but Howard never heard what it was as he captured his lips once more, swiping his tongue in between them and grazing the plump flesh with his teeth. He didn't linger, though, moving away before Vince had a chance to respond properly and dotting little kisses over his cheekbones, his eyelids, the tip of his nose. Vince melted into the mattress and gripped Howard's shoulder blades tightly, and then Howard was pulling back, pausing briefly to look at him before sliding down the length of his body.
He set about slowly tugging off his boots first - though he had indulged in past fantasies that involved Vince and his beloved footwear, they could wait until a later date. Now wasn't the time. He peeled away odd socks and then reached for Vince's belt, pulling it through the loops and buckle before slipping open the button of his jeans and pulling down the zipper.
Howard had no idea how Vince managed to squeeze into the things every day, but they were bloody difficult to get off, and in the end Vince had to half-kneel up to help him, giggling slightly as he did so. Once he was free of them, Howard gently pushed him back down onto the bed and parted his legs, mouthing soft kisses at the inside of his thigh, the sensitive patch where no hair grew close to the join of his hip. It occurred to Howard once again that he had virtually no clue as to what he was doing, but judging by Vince's reactions, he must have been getting something right, as the smaller man whined and keened and arched against the bed, carding his fingers through Howard's hair.
"Oh, God, Howard, please don't stop," he begged, "I need you… All of you. Everything."
Howard suppressed the shudder that ran through him at the implications of that 'everything', and slid his fingers under the hem of Vince's t-shirt, slowly pushing the fabric up his body and claiming every new inch of flesh that was revealed to him with his mouth, pouring kisses over the swathe of skin just above the elastic of Vince's underwear, his stomach, so worryingly flat it was almost concave, the ladder of his ribs. His teeth fixed around a nipple and Vince gasped and spasmed under him. He located the famous 'Nicky Clarke' scar and traced it gently with his tongue, before treating each of the still-fading bruises that decorated his body with more fleeting kisses.
By this stage, Vince had been suitably reduced to a writhing, whimpering mass of raw nerve endings. He felt as though his whole body was alight as Howard worshipped every part of him with his hands and mouth. It was the most incredible feeling he had ever experienced. He didn't exactly know what this was, but he knew that it couldn't be sex - to Vince, the word 'sex' meant alleyways and alcohol, violence, filth, blood needles shame abuse guilt. This couldn't have been any further removed from all of that - this was something so much deeper, something that could be seen in Howard's eyes as he pulled away slightly to look down at him with what could only be described as awe, as though Vince was the most incredible thing he'd ever seen. Vince didn't need to be able to see his own face to know that it was mirroring that exact same expression.
He shivered as Howard pulled the t-shirt over his head and then ran his tongue all the way up from the hollow of his throat to the underside of his chin before nuzzling the space where his neck met his shoulder. Vince responded with a strangled cry he barely recognised as his own as he felt the stubble brush his skin.
Finally, Howard raised his head to meet Vince's gaze again and cupped the side of his face, brushing his cheekbone with his thumb. Vince looked up at him, heavy-lidded, eyes darker than Howard had ever seen them before.
The next few minutes seemed to pass in a hazy blur as they rolled about on the bed, moving together as they slowly stripped one another. Before long, they were both naked, and Howard's arms encircled Vince's waist as he pulled them both into a kneeling position, moving back a little in order to better see the other man. What he did see took his breath away completely.
"God, Vince, you're…" He let the end of the sentence hang, unable to find the right adjective to finish it with. What was he, exactly? Stunning? Exquisite? Divine? Any would have been true, but none seemed to truly capture the way he felt about Vince at that moment in time. His skin seemed almost iridescent in the small pool of moonlight coming in through the window, his lips red and swollen, his cheeks flushing a lovely shade of pink. His carefully constructed hairstyle was rapidly coming undone, the layers framing his face in loose waves and cascading over his collarbone, ebony on ivory.
And those eyes… Howard had admired those eyes from afar for years now; their gigantic proportions, as though they would have been better placed on a cartoon character rather than a human being. And their incredible blue colour that almost seemed to slip between shades. Howard had seen every emotion under the sun shine out from those eyes within the last few years, from joy to humiliation, amusement to frustration, but never before had they seemed so open to him as they did now, displaying a heady cocktail of excitement, vulnerability, shyness, desire, and a thousand other things that, when combined, could only be described with a single word, humbling and entirely overwhelming - love. If ever Howard had doubted it, he knew it now. The way Vince was looking at him, not just appreciative, but reverent, as though he was some kind of ancient Greek deity rather than a very ordinary jazz-loving shop assistant.
Vince was well aware of the fact that he was probably staring at Howard, but he didn't think he could have stopped even if he wanted to. Which he definitely didn't. He'd always known, even before he'd been consciously aware of his feelings for the other man, that Howard was actually incredibly good-looking underneath the corduroy and Hawaiian shirts. But now that it was out on decadent display for him, it was undeniable. Howard was… Vince cursed his inability to find the right words and momentarily wished he'd paid more attention in school. He was unbelievably sexy, was what he was; a light sheen of sweat coating his skin, all broad chest and shoulders and big, strong Northern arms. His hair was even more scruffily dishevelled than usual from Vince running his hands through it, sticking up at odd angles and hanging down on his face. And though his eyes were small, they were more powerful than any others Vince had ever seen, and now they seemed to cut right through him and stare into the very core of his being. He could sense how very much Howard wanted him in the way his darkened gaze raked possessively over his body, quite sure this was the first time in his life that he had ever felt truly beautiful.
"Come here," Howard said quietly, almost echoing Vince's words from earlier. It was odd how their roles seemed to have reversed, Howard now taking the lead, but then maybe that was the way it was always meant to be.
Vince did as he was asked, moving towards Howard until he was close enough to feel the heat from the bigger man's body. He pressed the palm of his right hand against Howard's wonderingly, interlocking their fingers, loving the way they looked, entwined with one another. His other hand grasped Howard's hip gently, thumb stroking over soft skin while Howard lightly caressed his cheek before releasing Vince's hand and catching him up in his arms until his elbows locked and their chests were pressed tightly against one another. Their lips grazed together fleetingly, as Howard's hands slowly made the journey down along Vince's spine, feeling each of the alarmingly protruding vertebrae, before grasping his backside and bringing their lower bodies into alignment.
Both men gasped aloud at that delicious feeling of bare skin on bare skin, liquid fire igniting in their stomachs and ripping through their entire nervous systems. Vince dropped his head and mouthed at Howard's shoulder, grazing the skin lightly with his teeth, tasting sweat beneath his tongue. They rocked gently against one another for a while, little gasps and cries rising from each of them. Then it occurred to Vince how close he was to the edge, and how he didn't want it to be over so quickly, how much he desperately wanted to do it properly for once, so he raised his head again to whisper a little nervously in Howard's ear;
"I want you."
Howard shuddered a little, both at Vince's words and the sensation of warm breath tickling his face and neck. He pulled back to study the younger man's face intently - the implication of what he'd said was clear enough, but Howard needed to be sure. Vince was looking up at him, a little shyly perhaps, but the look in his eyes was one of absolute commitment.
"I don't know what I'm doing," Howard admitted quietly, "I don't want to hurt you."
As he spoke, a wave of nervousness crashed over him - because he really didn't know what he was doing. Up until a few weeks ago, he'd never had proper sex before, and he'd still never had it with another man. He wanted it, so much it almost frightened him, but at the same time he also wanted to make it good for Vince - especially after his earlier admission that he'd never really enjoyed sex before - and was afraid that his lack of experience would let him down.
"You won't hurt me, Howard," Vince informed him, smiling brightly, "I trust you."
And Howard felt like crying then, the expression of pure devotion on Vince's face almost too much for him to handle.
"Just, um… I need to get myself ready, first." Vince told him, the colour in his cheeks deepening. Howard nodded and, much as it pained him to do so, released the smaller man to give him some space. Vince patted his cheek reassuringly and then slid off the edge of the bed, crossing over to his own side of the room and fumbling in his chest of drawers for something.
Once he'd returned, Howard spent the next ten or so minutes watching Vince prepare himself for what was to come. It was at once the most arousing and terrifying thing he'd ever seen; he wasn't even sure whether the pterodactyl-sized butterflies crashing about in his stomach were down to nerves or excitement.
"I'm ready," Vince breathed finally, after what seemed like a lifetime. Howard moved over to rest on top of him, settling his weight fully between Vince's legs. Vince smiled again, but Howard noticed that it was a little shaky.
"You scared?" He whispered.
"Terrified," Howard admitted.
"Yeah. Me too. But I want this, Howard, more than anything."
That was the final push that Howard needed, and slowly, inch by inch, he joined them together, unable to help the deep moan that escaped him at the sheer blissful feeling of it, like nothing else on earth. Vince bit his lip and closed his eyes at the sensations from his perspective - not quite pleasure, not quite pain, but some kind of halfway house that was at once intolerable and incredible. He knew that that would change, though, once he got used to the feeling of Howard inside him, and God, but he couldn't wait for that. All physical aspects aside, it felt like not just a merging of the bodies, but as if their very souls were fusing together; as though, at that moment in time, Howard knew everything there was to know about Vince and Vince could see every tiny facet of Howard, as though each of them were witnessing the past, present and future of the other's lives, everything they had ever been and were ever going to be.
Howard rested his forehead against Vince's, closing his eyes and panting heavily. The feelings assaulting his body were almost too much for him to handle, and he had to remember to pace himself, or he wouldn't last very long at all. He pulled back a little to look at Vince, wanting to make sure that he was doing it right, that everything was okay. Vince blinked up at him with big Bambi eyes as he ran a thumb along his lower lip, gently plucking it from between his teeth, and then pressed a kiss to his mouth.
"You were hurting yourself," he explained needlessly.
"Was I?" Vince breathed. He looked a little dazed.
"Are you okay?"
"More than okay, Howard."
Vince rocked his hips slightly to illustrate the point, whining when the action caused Howard to slide in even deeper. Howard took this as his cue to start moving again, pulling back agonisingly slowly, relishing every sound that his actions provoked. A large part of him still couldn't quite believe that it washim who was pulling such wanton noises of desire from Vince's throat, but unbelievably, it seemed to be true.
Gradually, they fell into a sort of rhythm, sweat-slicked bodies sliding against one another, feeling the heat building between them. Vince wrapped his legs around Howard and lifted his head up to kiss every part of him he could reach; his chest, his collarbone, his neck… occasionally their lips fell against one another, and every time that happened, it sent a fresh spark of electricity directly from their mouths to their groins. Howard toyed with the ends of Vince's hair, grinning in spite of himself when the attention to his precious locks caused the younger man to sigh deeply.
Then Vince jolted sharply and cried out as Howard hit a certain spot inside him, hands fisting in the bed sheets, the tremor that shot through his body eliciting a groan from Howard at the same time. Howard re-aligned his hips and attempted to make contact in the same place again, knowing he'd succeeded when Vince bucked against him and whimpered pitifully. He began picking up the pace, until Vince was little more than a writhing mess beneath him, mumbling incoherently under his breath. Howard strained to hear what he was saying, blinking in surprise and awe when he realised what it was.
Just one word. Howard. His name, over and over again - a plea, a mantra.
Every time Howard managed to touch him there, Vince felt a flash fire the likes of which he had never experienced before rip through his entire being. He barely felt real, let alone human; he existed now on some other plane of existence, where he could feel nothing but those bursts of pure liquid desire rhythmically flooding his system. He wanted - no, needed - for it to last forever, and yet at the same time, he wasn't sure he could bear it for that long without combusting.
"Howard…" He begged finally, voice high and needy, "Howard, touch me… please…"
Howard complied without a second's questioning, curling his hand around Vince and stroking in time to his thrusts. Their movements were becoming erratic now, losing all sense of rhythm; kisses grew sloppy and less deliberate, often missing their intended targets as they panted harshly against each other's mouths. Vince's head lolled back against the pillows, and Howard attacked the exposed white throat, biting and sucking, secretly delighting in the soft mewls he felt vibrating in Vince's larynx and the way his nails raked desperately against his back. The bed was creaking violently, and Howard was sure that their flatmates would hear, but he didn't care - he wanted them to hear, wanted the whole of London to hear, because Howard Moon and Vince Noir were making love so intensely that the headboard was slamming against the wall as the whole earth moved with them.
Howard knew from the familiar tightening in the pit of his stomach that he was close, but he could tell that Vince wouldn't last much longer either, and he wanted to watch him, to see his face as he climaxed before succumbing to the inevitable himself.
"Vince… Vince, open your eyes."
Howard couldn't help the thrill he felt at the way Vince responded immediately, lashes flickering open to reveal the sky-coloured irises. His breath caught in his throat as Vince looked up at him, sweaty and flustered and a picture of pure rapture. He traced one finger over a razor-sharp cheekbone, looking the way Vince shuddered beneath his touch.
"I love you," he whispered huskily.
The words, coupled with the extra deep thrust and twist of Howard's hand that accompanied them, were too much for Vince to bear, and he seemed to freeze for a moment, before his eyes were rolling back in his head as he reached his peak, mouth falling open as he all but screamed Howard's name…
Howard held off on his own orgasm for as long as could, but Vince shuddering and clenching around him as his muscles were sent into spasm was simply too much for him to bear, and he came so dramatically that his vision blurred for a moment, before he was collapsing on top of Vince, exhausted.
They lay like that for the longest time, utterly spent. Howard wondered vaguely whether he'd died, but he couldn't have done, because he remembered being dead once before, and it had never been quite so perfect as this.
Finally, when he'd gathered what was left of his strength, he rolled off of Vince and lay on the tiny strip of mattress beside him, making a mental note to buy a bigger bed if this was going to become a regular thing. Which he sincerely hoped it was.
Vince nuzzled his head into Howard's chest, feeling more contented than he ever had done in his life as he felt solid arms encircle him, gentle fingers playing absently with his hair. They were both still hot and sticky and sweaty, but neither could really be bothered to do anything about it right at that moment in time.
"Don't ever leave me again, Howard," Vince pleaded, beginning to drop off already. Howard stroked his back soothingly, trying to ignore the guilt twisting his guts.
"I won't, I promise. Never again. I love you."
Howard smiled at the sleepy, childlike quality of his voice.
"Yeah. For always, little man."
- - - - - X - - - - -
Howard awoke slowly the next morning, realising two things as he did so:
1) For the first time in a very long while, he was actually waking up happy, rather than dreading the day ahead of him.
2) For the first time ever, he was waking up with another warm body curled up next to him.
Well, actually, on top of him would have been a more accurate description, as Vince was still sound asleep with a leg flung across his stomach, his head cushioned on Howard's chest, hand resting over his heart. Howard smiled as memories of the previous night came back for him, careful to remain perfectly still so as not to disturb Vince.
Not that he needed to have bothered - within about five minutes, the younger man was beginning to stir, yawning and stretching, almost whacking Howard in the face in the process. They definitely needed a bigger bed. Finally, Vince rolled onto his stomach and tilted his head up, looking at Howard from under his fringe with bleary eyes.
"Hey. Sleep well?"
The last part of that greeting was said with much amusement as Vince broke into another gigantic yawn.
"Like a log. Wonder why that could be."
Howard smiled again, somewhat nervously this time. "So, last night, it was… I mean, was it… okay?"
Vince rolled his eyes, shaking his head in fond amusement.
"Howard. Do you really need to ask? It was amazing," he said softly, moving up so that he was face level with Howard and leaning down to kiss him. This, Howard decided, this was a morning kiss - different again to all their others, lazy and languorous and drawn out, not particularly going anywhere, both of them just enjoying the feel of one another as their lips and tongues moved slowly together…
Eventually, Vince pulled away, unsure of himself again. Howard had seen that expression on him so many times over the last 24 hours, but it had been so rare in all the years of their friendship that it still took him by surprise.
"Was it okay for you, then?"
"Well, I dunno," Howard replied, after much consideration, "I haven't really got much to compare it to."
Vince looked so hurt by this that Howard instantly regretted his words. "Vince, I'm just joking. It was incredible. You're incredible."
Vince blushed at this - that was something Howard had to get used to as well. He looked so ridiculously cute with his hair all messed around his head as a result of sleep and… other things, that Howard found he couldn't resist the urge to run a finger down the centre of his nose
Vince started snickering abruptly, as if something hilarious had just occurred to him.
"Nothing. Just, we sound like a proper cheesy couple now."
"We are a proper cheesy couple now, Vince."
Vince raised an eyebrow. "Really. And what do I call you, then? If we're a proper cheesy couple?"
Howard frowned in confusion, struggling as ever he did to keep up with Vince's 'logic'.
"Err… what? Sorry, I'm not following."
"You know, like a pet name! What d'you fancy? Baby?"
Howard suppressed a shudder. "I'm not twelve, Vince."
"Are you ill?"
"Now you're just being silly. What about… Howard?"
"Dunno. S'a bit borin', innit?"
"Oi! That's my name, thank you very much."
"I rest my case."
"It's not as bad as yours." Howard huffed, even though he was secretly loving this whole exchange, just like the banter of old.
"What's wrong with mine, exactly?"
"Well, what kind of a name's 'Vince' for a prancing Camden androgyne? You sound like a forty-year-old Hell's Angels reject."
"As if! My name's French! It's the language of love, Howard, you can't argue with that."
"Don't call me that." Vince mumbled, embarrassed.
"No-one calls me that."
"Whatever," Vince rolled his eyes, "I need a shower. Coming with?"
Howard was unable to hide his enthusiasm at that suggestion, and Vince grinned, satisfied with his victory.
- - - - - X - - - - -
Late that evening, Howard was reclining on the sofa, watching the TV without much interest, while Vince lay between his legs, head on his chest, which appeared to be his new favourite position. Howard's right hand was distractedly playing with his hair, twirling the strands around his fingers, while his left hand had crept under Vince's t-shirt and was stroking slow circles on the soft skin of his stomach.
The programme they had been watching ended, and Howard began flicking through channels with the remote. Vince moaned softly as the attention to his hair ceased, and Howard smirked, setting the remote back down again to continue his ministrations.
"Thought you didn't like people playing with your hair, little man."
"Thought you didn't like being touched," Vince countered.
Neither of them moved.
Just then, Naboo and Bollo staggered into the room, bringing with them a cloud of probably highly potent smoke. They both stopped and stared and Howard and Vince entwined together on the sofa.
"Bollo no need to see that,"
Naboo continued to look at them, until they both squirmed under his gaze.
"Look, Naboo," Howard began, "we can explain this -"
"So, you got there in the end, then?" Naboo cut him off. "Too you long enough. You two were just about the only people who didn't see this comin'."
Howard and Vince exchanged confused glances.
"I hope this doesn't mean that you're plannin' on movin' out?"
"'Course not!" Vince sounded outraged at the very idea. "We love this place!"
Howard coughed suspiciously into his hand, but Naboo chose to ignore it.
"Good. 'Cause it's gonna take you at least another ten years of work before you've earned enough to pay off all your back rent. Oh, and no funny business in the shop, yeah? Don't need you scarin' away all me customers."
"What customers?" Vince asked cheekily. Naboo rolled his eyes and stalked off. Bollo continued to scrutinise them.
"Harold take care of Precious Vince. Or Bollo rip his arms off."
"Yeah… Thanks for that…"
"We're not watchin' this!" Vince protested, realising that Howard had conveniently stopped channel-flicking on a documentary about the history of jazz.
"What would you suggest we watch, then?"
"No way. There is no way you're getting me to watch that mindless crap."
"I thought you loved me, Howard."
Howard pinched the bridge of his nose and counted very slowly all the way to ten.
"Love is about compromises, Vince. You know? Sacrifices. Sometimes, you do something you don't particularly want to do for the person you love, because you know it'll make them happy."
"… So we can watch MTV, then?"
Howard pretended to be annoyed that Vince had somehow managed to win, yet again, but he didn't really care. Especially not when their eyes met, and Vince somehow managed to straddle him on the tiny sofa, kissing him deeply and grinding against him in a way that was definitely leading somewhere.
"What about the TV?" Howard asked in a tiny voice, not really knowing why he was bothering.
"Fuck the TV," Vince whispered hotly in his ear.
"Mmm…" Howard's hands came up to grasp denim-clad thighs. "Rather fuck you…"
Vince laughed at the expression of shocked embarrassment that crept onto Howard's face as he realised what he'd said, cheeks flushing scarlet.
"Howard Moon, who knew you had such a filthy mouth…?"
"I can't hear you!" Naboo yelled, coming back into the room with his hands clamped over his ears and his eyes screwed shut. He looked so ridiculous that Howard and Vince promptly burst out laughing. And that was the best thing of all, really, but it was so them. Some things really did never change…
- - - - - X - - - - -
And that's pretty much the end of the story. For now, anyway. Of course, things still weren't perfect - not by a long way. Love doesn't solve your problems, after all - it just made them seem that little bit more bearable.
Howard was still as neurotic and paranoid as ever - he still managed to get himself into all kinds of stupid trouble, and, in Vince's opinion anyway, still listened to far too much jazz. The emotional scars from his past abuse still ran deep, and it would be a long and difficult journey before would heal fully, if they ever did. But at least now Vince would help him, instead of adding to the abuse.
As for Vince, he was still affected by his abandonment issues, as became apparent when more and more of his 'friends' disappeared after it was made clear that he was no longer interested in the clubbing scene. Though he claimed not to care about them, their attitudes clearly had a serious effect on his self-confidence, and he became more and more dependent on Howard, to the point where he was as clingy as he had been back at the zoo. As concerned as he was about Vince's mental welfare, a small, selfish part of Howard couldn't help enjoying this slightly, rather than taking it for granted the way he had before.
Two weeks from now, Naboo would send them on an 'errand' to the other side of the world in order to get him some 'supplies' (i.e.: drugs), which would result in several scenes of torture from which they would barely escape with their lives. There would also be plenty of passionate love-making as they camped in their tent under the stars, although this would never make the final cut, not intended for the eyes of the general public.
Speaking of Naboo, a significant change could be seen in his general attitude to life. The high levels of love radiating through the flat were obviously having an affect on him, and he could often be seen smiling over the hookah. Howard swore he even saw him singing once, though no-one was ever quite sure whether or not to believe him on that.
After Vince having several words with him, Bollo went out of his way to be civil to Howard and remember his name. He had limited success, but it was the thought that counted.
Bob Fossil disappeared suddenly one day after Howard made a surprise appearance at his place of residence to 'have a chat'. No-one quite knew where he disappeared to, but rumour had it that he had hooked up with Dixon Bainbridge, who was recently released from prison, and the two of them were planning world domination. The Velvet Onion came under new management, and Vince was able to carry on doing what he loved - singing - without fear of sexual harassment. He and Howard started spending more time on the band, and when they played together, people stopped throwing tin cans at them. They even had a few fans, and there was talk of a record deal in the wings.
Leroy stopped drinking, inspired by Vince's example, and managed to find himself a steady girlfriend to take skiing with him.
This was the same question that Vince had asked many times before in the past, and would probably ask hundreds more times again in the future. But one particular night, not long after he and Howard had finally confessed their feelings for one another, he asked it after finding Howard on the roof, talking to the stars. He was secretly thrilled that he wasn't the only one to do such a thing.
"Watcha thinkin'?" He asked, sitting down next to Howard and handing him his tea without waiting for an answer.
"Dunno. Just wondering… what do you think would have happened if things had turned out differently? What if I'd never gone off with Jurgen Haabermaster? D'you think we'd still be where we were before, fighting all the time and too afraid to change anything? Or what if we'd gotten together back at the Zooniverse? Would we still be together now?"
Vince leaned his head against Howard's shoulder, contemplating this for a while.
"I think you think too much," he said finally.
Sometimes, a single thread is all that holds a relationship together. But no matter the extent of the damage, as long as that one thread remains there is some small hope of fixing what can seem irreparable. No-one can ever really hope to know what the final tapestry will look like before those threads have finished weaving together. You can only ever guess, trust in your instincts, take that leap of faith - and hope that you succeed.
So, no - things still weren't perfect. They probably never would be. But for now, at least, they were as close as they were ever going to get.
And for Howard and Vince, as long as they had each other, that would always be enough.
- - x The End x - -
So here we are, 13 months, 20 chapters, 40 author's notes, over 90,000 words, several writer's blocks, heaps of frustration and about enough caffeine to make an elephant jump, and it feels very weird to finally be leaving 'Threads' behind - it must be one of the longest-running stories on here. Or at least, that's what it's felt like at times, though admittedly that's mostly down to my own laziness in updating. But seriously, when I first started this back in February 2008, I had no idea that it was going to spiral into this massive project, or that it would become so popular, so huge thanks to everyone who's given me their support and made it possible. I think I'm going to miss it, as much grief as it's given me over the last year (has it really been that long? Apparently so.)
I very much doubt that there will be a sequel; even if the boys do write a fourth series, it won't be for a very long time, and would probably render all of this AU. I may do a few oneshots set in the Threads 'verse, though, because I'm not quite ready to let it go completely yet! As for future projects - well, I do have a few things planned that I'm actually pretty excited about. I hope to get started on them pretty soon
A general notice: From now on, I will not be posting my stories on here. It makes me a little sad to say that, because this is where I started out, and it will always have a special place in my heart, but I feel as though it's time for me to move on. However, my fic journal on LJ is open to the public, so anyone can read it even if they don't want to join the site. I will post the link to it on my profile page shortly. But not now, because I'm knackered.
And now there's really only one thing left for me to say: roll the credits!
DISCLAIMERS:The Mighty Boosh and all of its affiliated characters, concepts, settings, dialogue, etc belong to its wonderful creators, Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. Also Steve Coogan, Henry Normal and all the Babycow Productions people, and I guess the BBC as well, because they scare me. No copyright infringement is intended and I'm not making any money from this (sadly). It's all just good clean(ish) fun.
'Nancy Boy' lyrics belong to Placebo.
'Call Me When You're Sober' lyrics belong to Evanescence.
'A Design For Life' lyrics belong to Manic Street Preachers.
'I Know It's Over' lyrics belong to The Smiths.
'Don't Speak' lyrics belong to No Doubt.
'Tainted Love' lyrics belong to Soft Cell.
'Poison' lyrics belong to Alice Cooper.
'Every You Every Me lyrics belong to Placebo.
The plot (what plot?!), as well as all original characters, concepts and settings, belong to me.
With thanks to:
Everyone who has reviewed this story since February last year. Seriously, thanks so much - your suppost has been phenomenal, and I never would have gotten this finished without you. It's been an incredible journey, and I just hope you've all had as much fun reading it as I have writing it. And thanks to everyone who has been reading without reviewing too. The fact that you've stuck with it this long means so much
Specials thanks (and massive hugs) to:
The brilliant, hilarious, gorgeous, and - I'm not gonna lie - totally insane LJ Family. I don't know what I would have done without you over the past year - you've picked me up when I was down, made me laugh when I've been high (not literally. I don't do drugs), nagged me enough to finish this bloody story, and basically kept me... well, perhaps not sane, but saner than I would have been otherwise. The past year has been one of the best of my life, despite some less-than-great things that have happened, and you're the best friends a girl could hope to have. I love you all so, so much 3
And last but most definitely not least, thanks to the wonderful, hilarious, immensely talented, and yes, I'll admit it, just a little bit sexy Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding, for having the imaginations to create such a beautifully insane world in the first place. I never would have had the inspiration to write this if it wasn't for them. Which kind of goes without saying, really.
So, that's it now (incredibly).
The Official and Proper End.
… But is it really the end?
Yeah. It is.
You can all go now.
Just be sure to click that little button at the bottom of the page one last time before you do.
Thanks for reading, and I love you all!