A/N: Here's the final part! It's quite long, so I hope it doesn't disappoint! Thanks for reviewing!
The police have just left, and Vince can hardly move. They asked him to go with them, that they'd take him to him, but he wanted to go by himself. He's shaking violently, shoulders heaving, breath entering his body in a series of short gasps and hiccups, and he doesn't even realise he's crying until he feels the wetness on his cheeks. He stands, and instantly loses his balance, hands flailing out for the arm of the sofa. When he's steadied himself, he tries again. A deep breath, and he seems to come to his senses, running to the bedroom and pulling a small case from under his bed, opening wardrobes and drawers and pulling out items of clothing. He disappears into the bathroom and comes back minutes later with a wash bag, which gets tossed into the case along with the clothes. Then, he's ready.
He picks up the case and drops it in the living room on his way to the kitchen, where he scrawls a note for Naboo and sticks it to the fridge with a magnet. He goes to pull his boots and coat on, then picks up his car keys, makes sure he has his phone, wallet and the piece of paper the police gave him with an address scribbled on it, and picks the case back up.
Now he's ready.
Emotionally, he's all over the place, but for this, he is ready.
He reaches the top of the stairs and then stops and clings onto the banister. He can barely believe what's happened. An hour ago his world had all but stopped, and now... now it's spinning faster than ever.
"Hi, Vince. Can we come in?"
Vince nods silently and steps back from the door, allowing them entry. He follows them wordlessly up the stairs, and they stand, until he gestures to the sofa with a flick of his hand. He feels sick. They're smiling, but he still feels sick. He can't work out if the smiles are sympathetic or happy.
"Sit down, Vince," the female officer says, gently.
Vince shakes his head. "I'll stand, thanks." He can't sit, can't keep still; so he paces.
"Vince, relax. It's good news."
Vince stops and stares at her, not quite brave enough to believe that it could ever be good news. He feels a weakness in his knees and now he does sit. He has too, otherwise he'll just fall to the floor.
The police had been very good to Vince, and those two officers in particular had gone out of their way for him, against the rules, to inform him before they'd rung Howard's parents, only because, over the past year, they had come to see just how much Howard meant to Vince, and it went way beyond friendship. Vince had asked if he could be the one to tell Howard's parents, and they'd agreed, only Vince hadn't rung them yet. He wanted to wait. As awful as it sounded, because Howard was their son, their flesh and blood, Vince wanted to see him first, and he knew that was selfish, but he couldn't help it. Howard had asked for him – him. No one else, because the fact was, everyone else was still a bit hazy.
Howard had amnesia. Amnesia he was only just starting to come out of. And that wasn't the start of it. Vince couldn't even begin to conceive what had happened, because Howard himself couldn't even remember. He'd been found by the side of a country road, a country road in a remote part of the Lake District, of all places. How he'd got there, no one knew, but he'd had a nasty bump on his head and bruising down the side of his face.
Vince was ecstatic beyond belief, but he was angry too, because a stupid error had meant that as the hospital had to put Howard on the missing persons list nameless, because even Howard himself didn't remember who he was, the photo of him they'd used, for some reason, hadn't been cross-referenced with the ones matching his description on the national database. That small mistake had caused an entire year of unnecessary grief and pain, and Vince was livid. And he would have remained completely oblivious if it wasn't for the fact that Howard's memory had slowly begun to return, jump-started by a key word.
The name of Howard's new psychiatrist.
For a year, Howard hadn't even been his name. The doctor's had to call him something, so they'd asked him to pick a name, and he'd chosen Mark. But now Mark new that he wasn't Mark anymore – he was Howard Moon.
How much more he knew, Vince wasn't sure. What he was sure of, however, was that Howard must be feeling very confused and beyond terrified, maybe even more so than when he couldn't remember anything.
Vince lets go of the banister and walks down the stairs.
Vince doesn't care that he might be breaking the speed limit. He's driving through Yorkshire now, and it's taken him a lot longer that he'd hoped. The Christmas traffic has been murder, plus he had the rush hour to contend with – the M1 had been particularly frustrating.
He glances briefly at the open A-Z on the passenger seat, still not comfortable with having to take his eyes off the road for more than a couple of seconds. Yorkshire is Howard's territory, a fact Vince is painfully aware of, and it's making him ache. The radio is soothing him though, the familiar accent of the DJ comforting and wrapping round him like a blanket. Of course, it's not exactly the same as Howard's voice, but it still helps.
His eyes blur, and he blinks them quickly so that the road clears in front of him. He's so close now – another hour or so and...
He wonders what he'll say to him when he gets there, how he'll act. Will Howard appreciate being pulled into a bone-crushing hug? He doesn't like to be touched. Or does he now? Does he even remember that he doesn't like it?
The world speeds by, buildings and trees blurring into one, like someone has taken a painting that's still wet and rubbed their hands all over it.
Vince is getting tired, running now on pure adrenaline. He knows he should stop for a bit and rest, but he can't. Instead he presses down on the accelerator slightly and opens his window to let in a blast of cold air. It howls through the car, making it sound like he's in the middle of a violent storm.
He is, sort of. The snow up here is even worse than it is down south, and he knows he has to be careful. The car's wipers are working to full capacity, only just keeping the screen clear.
The snow starts to fly in through the window, and in the end Vince has to close it. He's shivering now, and he turns up the heating slightly, turning it back down a minute later when it starts to make him feel sleepy, and he shakes his head to clear the fuzz.
Vince pulls into the hospital car park, stopping the car and switching off the ignition. He sits there for a moment, the enormity of what's about to happen suddenly crushing him. He slaps himself mentally and unclips his seat-belt, stretching, arms above his head as he yawns.
"You know, I wish you'd learn to drive."
"Yeah, yeah – one day." Vince is distracted as he reads his magazine and Howard pulls a face at him.
"I'm gonna have to pull over in a minute – need a rest."
"I said I'm gonna pull over for a bit. I swear, I feel like a taxi service sometimes."
Vince pays attention this time and grins. "I thought you liked driving me everywhere?"
Vince pulls his case from the back seat and slams the door shut. He locks the car and walks up to the hospital entrance, feeling light-headed and like he's going to cry again. As he enters, he takes a good look round, nearly bumping into another visitor as he goes towards the reception desk with his face tilted upwards.
"Can I help you?" the woman behind it asks, tapping a pen against her chin.
"Yeah," he says, knowing full well he sounds nervous, and no doubt looks it too. "I'm, uh, here to see Howard Moon. He's -"
"Oh, yes! You must be Vince. We're so glad you've come so quickly. I'll just page Doctor Harrison – he'll come and meet you. Please, take a seat." She smiles at him and picks up the phone.
Vince smiles back politely. He doesn't want to sit – he's been sitting for hours and his joints ache, so he stands, looking out the window at the whiteness that's settled over everything. He's not waiting long.
Vince spins round and smiles again.
The doctor gives him a look of relief and gets Vince to follow him up to his office.
This time, Vince sits, and accepts an offer of tea.
The doctor explains what happened the night Howard was found, tells Vince about his friend's injuries and about the amnesia. Tell him pretty much everything he already knew.
"Is he going to be okay now? Will he get the rest of his memories back?"
"I fully expect him to, yes," the doctor nods, smiling comfortingly. "You have to be prepared for Howard's behaviour to be erratic at times though – memories usually come back in bits and pieces, and he'll get confused by some of them. And when he remembers what happened that night... well, none of us know, and it will no doubt be very upsetting for him."
Vince nods in understanding, unconsciously wringing his hands together. "When can he come home?"
"Hopefully. I need to monitor him for a couple of days, but it should be okay. I'll transfer his medical care down to London. Now, would you like to see him?"
Vince stands with the doctor at the door to Howard's room. His palms are sweaty, and he rubs them against his jeans.
"You know, if he's asleep, I can wait till the morning."
The doctor notices his anxiety and looks at him encouragingly. "It's fine, Vince. Trust me. He's awake – knew you were coming." He pushes open the door before Vince can say anything else and pops his head round the frame.
A nurse walks out and gives Vince a smile as she passes. He can hear the doctor telling Howard he has a visitor, and then he leans back out the doorway and stands back for Vince to pass, and he does, with shaky steps, his head bowed. He hears a shuffle from the other-side of the room, and as the door closes behind him, he realises that he can't look, because tears are wobbling against the rims of his eyes. But he has too, because he remembers that it's Howard, his Howard, and he's been waiting so long...
A voice brings him back to reality.
Vince lifts his head, too late to stop the tears as they are already sliding down his face and dripping to the floor. He breaths deeply as his eyes travel up the body in front of him, hesitating before he looks at Howard's eyes. He sees a small smile on his friend's mouth, and it's all Vince needs to get the courage to meet his gaze, and when he does...
A hiccup escapes Vince's mouth, his face screwing up into a sob, and he launches himself forwards, flinging his arms around his friend's neck.
"Howard," he whispers. "Howard."
Howard hugs him back, holding the weeping man tightly too him and burying his face in his hair. "It's all right, little man."
Vince gasps at the use of his old nickname and pulls back to look at Howard properly. He puts his hands on his face. "You remember that?"
"And you remember me?"
"All of me?"
"I... I don't know. I know that..." he frowns.
"I know that you're not – and don't take this the wrong way – you're not as pretty as I remember."
Vince drops his mouth open. What does he say to that?
It doesn't matter though, because Howard grins, and Vince let's out a choked laugh between his tears and slaps a hand to Howard's chest.
"What?" Howard laughs. "I've got twelve months to make up for!" His face falls. "What happened to me, Vince?"
Vince is temporarily caught off guard by this sudden change, then remembers he is to expect it. He takes Howard's hand and guides him to the bed, sitting them both down.
"Hey, it's okay. It'll come eventually."
Howard sighs and looks at him. "Will it?"
"Yeah." Vince squeezes his hand. "I promise."
They sit there for a few moments, just looking at each other. Vince traces a light hand over Howard's face, smiling when he doesn't flinch.
"You hate being touched," he says, softly.
Howard screws his face up in thought. "Do I?"
Vince nods. "What else do you remember, apart from me?"
"I remember... I remember that I live with you in... London. Dalston?"
"Is it just us?"
"No. There's Naboo and Bollo."
Howard's face is blank. "I'm sorry," he says, and he hangs his head, studying his hands.
"No, no don't be. It'll come back to you." Vince sniffs and wipes his face on the back of his hand. "I've missed you."
Howard looks at him, genuinely surprised, and that hurts Vince a little bit. Was he really that bad a friend?
"How can you even say that?"
Howard realises his mistake, and looks so horrified that Vince pulls him into a hug.
"I did miss you, Howard. I missed you every day, every hour – every second. And I looked, I looked everywhere for you. I tried Howard, I really did. I'm so sorry it took me so long to get to you." He sobs again, burying his face in his friend's neck.
"Shhh – you did your best."
"I'm sure you did."
Vince pulls back. "But in the end, it was you. You found me." He smiles gently, but soon crumbles again. "I thought... I thought you'd died," he says, voice catching in his throat.
"I'm sorry." Howard reaches out and wipes away Vince's tears, a gesture Vince relishes.
"When I couldn't find you at the fair, I..." he trails off, noticing Howard's look of confusion. He shakes his head. "That doesn't matter at the moment. What matters is you. What's in been like here?"
Howard shrugs. "Okay. They've been really good. I was actually thinking about leaving soon. Couldn't have stayed forever."
Vince looks around the room. It's tastefully decorated and homely looking, and it certainly has Howard's touch. The walls are a calming pale green, and there are a stack of jazz CDs in the corner. That makes him grin. "Jazz."
"What?" Howard follows Vince's line of vision. "Oh, yeah. The nurse put some on one day, and I really liked it."
"Liked it? Howard – you love jazz. You live and breath it."
"Yes! You have records though, not CDs. Hundreds of records. I can't believe that didn't jog your memory! Now I'm even more honoured."
Howard chuckles. "Yeah – you must mean a lot more to me."
Vince squeezes his hand and stares up at him. He still can't quite believe where he is. "You are real, aren't you?"
"I think so, yes." Howard places his fingers under Vince's chin and tilts his head one way, then the other.
"What is it?"
"Nothing, I'm just looking at you. That okay?"
Vince's eyes sparkle. "Of course it is."
Howard runs a finger down Vince's cheek, and then yawns, so he doesn't notice when he shivers under his touch.
"You should sleep," Vince says, removing Howard's hand from his face, and then he yawns too.
"Seems like you need to, as well. You've had a long journey."
"Mmm. Traffic was awful. I even started talking to myself at one point."
"You drove up on your own? It's a long way to go on your own."
Howard notices Vince grinning at him, and looks slightly unnerved. "What?"
"You don't know that I drive. I only passed my test a few months ago. You were always on at me to learn."
"Well..." Howard rubs his chin. "In that case, well done."
Vince stands and stretches his arms out. "Come on you. Time to get ready for bed."
Howard frowns then, and looks like he's struggling with something.
"Will you... will you stay with me?"
Vince wakes up in the early hours, and finds that the bed is shaking. He turns to look at Howard, who is fidgeting and moaning next to him in his sleep. On closer inspection, Vince can see a sheen of sweat on his brow, and his face is distressed. He puts a hand to his shoulder and gives him a gentle shake.
"Howard? Howard, wake up."
Howard starts to thrash about, so Vince shakes him harder, unable to hide the fact that he is scared.
Howard's eyes fly open and hit sits bolt upright, breathing heavily. His hands reach out blindly. "Vince!"
Vince grabs them and tries to calm him. "It's okay, it's all right – I'm right here."
"I remember! I remember what happened. It's..." Howard is breathing erratically, and Vince puts an arm round him.
"Try and calm down, yeah? Easy does it."
"We... we were at the fair, and I... oh, I don't remember what I was doing, but there were these two men. They asked me something, and then I was walking with them – I think they needed help – and so I go with them to their car, and then they're pushing me into it. One of them punches me, and it must have knocked me out because when I wake up, it's hours later, and I hear them arguing – they're arguing about me. Something about me being the wrong man, and I pretend to still be asleep, but the next thing I know they're pulling the car over, and one of them gets out and grabs me from the back-seat, and then..." he trails of, the need for air now far too great.
Vince rubs his back soothingly. "You're doing great, Howard. D'you remember... d'you remember after that?"
Howard rubs a hand over his face. "He... he threw me into... I think it was a ditch, at the side of the road. I must have hit my head again, and then, and then I was here." He inhales sharply, and Vince knows he's about to cry. He gasps in air, shoulders shaking, and then a noise escapes his throat, followed by a torrent of tears.
Vince pulls him into his chest and wraps his arms around him, stroking his hair and rocking him back and forth as he sobs. "Shhh, it's all over now, it's all over." But he's angry – angry at the men who did this to his friend.
"I want to go home."
"I know – we will."
"Please. Look, I know you're worried, but he'll be fine with me, honest. You're transferring him anyway, what's a couple of days? He just wants to go home. Let me take him today, and we'll go to the hospital first thing in the morning."
Doctor Harrison frowns at Vince, and then sighs. "Fine – but let me talk to him first. You do realise that he's going to have to give a statement to the police, don't you?"
"I know. Thank you."
After a long good-bye to the staff at the hospital, Vince and Howard are finally walking over to Vince's car. Vince opens the back door and tosses his case onto the back seat again, not noticing that Howard is standing there staring at him, until he turns back round.
"All right, Howard?"
Howard shakes his head, as if clearing it, and then smiles. "I remember now. I remember you not driving, and I remember me going on at you to learn."
Vince grins at him, and then winks. "Scared?"
"Terrified," he jokes back, then looks the car over. "I like it – nice stars."
They load Howard's things into the boots of the car, and then climb in. Vince puts his seat-belt on and turns the key in the ignition.
"As I'll ever be." Howard watches Vince intently as he smoothly pulls out onto the road, suddenly feeling very proud.
Vince glances at him and smiles. "You're not gonna start telling me what I'm doing wrong, are you?"
Howard laughs. "Not at all. I'm not sure if I even remember how to drive myself."
"Well, don't worry – we'll get that sorted." Vince turns a tight corner, thankful that the roads have been salted. It's stopped snowing, and the sun is bright, perfectly reflecting his mood.
He has his best friend back, and he couldn't be happier.
Vince pulls into a petrol station a few minutes later, mumbling about how expensive it is, even up north. Then he laughs. "I sound like you," he says to Howard, who just looks at him in puzzlement. "Never mind. D'you want anything?"
"Argh!" Vince lets out a frustrated sigh and smacks his hand against the steering wheel as he is caught yet again in rush hour traffic on the M1.
Howard chuckles. "Road rage isn't good for you, you know."
"But what's he doing?! Trying to switch lanes when there's nowhere to go." Vince tuts. "Twat!"
Vince tries to hide a sheepish smile. "Sorry."
Howard just laughs again and goes back to looking out the window, something he's done for almost the entire journey, taking everything in. When they passed through Yorkshire, Vince asked if Howard wanted to stop and see his parents, but not being able to remember them properly, he declined, saying he'd call them instead.
Vince said he'd make damn sure he did.
"You ready?" Vince asks Howard as they stand outside the flat.
Howard stares up at the building. "Nabootique," he says, before looking like he's about to lose his balance. Vince grabs him, steadying him as he clutches his head.
"Yeah, I think so." Howard takes a deep breath. "Nabootique," he says again, slowly this time. "Is... is Naboo a shaman?"
Vince smiles widely. "Yeah, that's right. Do you remember Bollo?"
"Yes! Oh, that's great, 'cause I had no idea how I was gonna explain a talking ape to you."
Howard's eyes widen and he looks at Vince in shock. "He talks?"
Vince pulls a face at him and shakes his head. "You have got to stop doing that."
"But it's fun!" Howard retaliated, a smirk gracing his mouth.
Vince takes his arm. "Come on you – it's freezing." He puts the key in the lock and pushes the door open, calling up the stairs. "Hello?"
He waits a moment.
"That's good," he says, as he ushers Howard inside.
"Well, I thought it would be better if you came back to empty house. That way you can get settled before Naboo and Bollo come back, so you're more comfortable."
They walk up the stairs and Howard pauses at the top, just taking it all in.
"Anything?" Vince asks.
Vince takes Howard's hand and guides him to the sofa. "You sit down. I'll put the kettle on." He chucks his keys on the table as he wanders into the kitchen, and while the kettle is boiling he leans against the work-top and looks at his friend. Then he flicks his eyes around the flat, then back at Howard again.
Howard looks back, confused. "What is it?"
Vince smiles, making Howard instantly relax. "It's back to how it should be. You belong here."
Howard opens his mouth, but seems at a loss for words, so he smiles back softly instead.
Christmas Day – 9.02am
Vince mumbles incoherently and rolls over, swatting a hand towards the owner of the voice.
Annoyed and still half asleep, Vince turns his head, blinking his eyes as he tries to focus on the shape looming over him.
His annoyance immediately vanishes, and he gives Howard a sleepy smile. "Hey."
Howard perches on the edge of Vince's bed. "Hey, little man – merry Christmas."
Vince pushes himself up and Howard hands him a mug of tea. His sleepy smile turns into a grin. "Thanks, Howard." He sips the hot tea carefully, then places it on his bedside table. "You all right?"
Howard looks at him, seemingly embarrassed by something.
Vince frowns. "What's wrong?"
"I... I didn't get a chance to buy you anything."
Vince wants to laugh, but the look of genuine dismay on his friend's face shuts him up. "Are you kidding?" he says, softly. "I've already got what I want – you. Howard, last Christmas was awful – I hated every second of it. Now I can start to enjoy it again. We both can."
Howard smiles. "Thank you."
"But you know," Vince continues, grinning cheekily. "I still haven't opened your present from last year. I put it in your wardrobe."
"You didn't open it?"
"No. You weren't there to give it to me."
Howard looks touched, and then walks over to his wardrobe and pulls the door open. He finds the parcel at the bottom at the back, and pulls it out, then reaches to the other side and grabs something else, which he hides behind him.
"Whatcha got there?" Vince asks, trying to peer behind Howard's back.
"Never you mind," Howard replies, sitting back down on the bed. He hands Vince his present and the smaller man tears into it, grinning when he pulls out a blue box. He opens it, his grin changing to a look of awe as he stares down at a silver ball chain with a silver guitar pick pendant. Looking closer, he sees that his name has been engraved onto it diagonally in swirly letters, and he picks it up, holding it up against the light.
"Do you like it?"
"Howard... it's beautiful." he puts it on, and then goes to hug him, but Howard puts a hand out to stop him.
Vince bites his lip. "You've remembered your 'no touching' policy, then?"
Howard smiles. "Actually, yes. But it doesn't apply anymore, not to you, and that's not it anyway. I know I said I hadn't been able to get you anything this year, but I was able to get hold of something I was supposed to get you about, ooh, a year ago."
Vince looks puzzled, and tires to think of what it could be, but then Howard brings his other hand out from behind his back and when Vince sees what he's holding, his eyes well up.
It's a toffee apple.
"You remembered," he says, his trembling voice barely a whisper. "Where did you..."
"Naboo got hold of it for me the other day."
Vince takes the apple and turn it over in his hands.
Vince sniffs, and he's no longer able to hold back his tears. He leans forward and throws his arms around Howard's neck, knocking him backwards. "Thank you," he mumbles against him, hiccuping back sobs and clutching at the back of Howard's shirt.
"Hey, hey," Howard says, gently turning Vince's head to face him. "What's all this?"
Vince hastily wipes his eyes and gives Howard a watery smile. "I'm sorry, it's just... you couldn't have given me a better present."
"You mean, the apple's even better than the necklace? Even better than me?" Howard says, his voice teasing and his eyes bright.
Vince chuckles. "You're an idiot."
"I'm your idiot."
"Yes, you are."
Vince puts toffee apple down next to him, then takes Howard's hands and looks at him seriously. "You mean the world to me, d'ya know that? This past year has felt like a really slow death and I thought I was going to go mad. But you fixed it all, in that clever head of yours."
Howard gives him a gentle smile. "I might not have if the psychiatrist had had a different name."
"Don't. The fact is, he didn't, and you worked it out. God, I swear, if I ever find that man, I'll kiss him all over."
Howard cheeks redden slightly. "You know you mean everything to me too, don't you? You've amazed me, especially these past few days. I couldn't have got through it without you." He reaches a hand out and trails his fingers down Vince's cheek, the skin warm beneath them.
Vince leans into his touch, his gaze locking onto Howard's, and he shuffles forward slightly, bringing their faces closer together – so close, that their breath is mingling and they're each going out of focus in the others eyes.
"Howard?" Vince whispers, every inch of him trembling slightly.
"You know how I said I wanted to kiss your psychiatrist all over?"
"Would you... would you mind if I kissed you instead?"
Howard swallows heavily, an action that makes Vince's breath catch in his throat. Howard doesn't say anything in reply, instead he closes the small gap between them and presses his lips ever so softly against Vince's.
Vince puts a hand up to Howard's hair and tangles his fingers into it, pulling him closer. He want to taste all of him, and he doesn't hide that fact as he runs his tongue along Howard's bottom lip.
Howard takes him in, a small moan escaping his mouth on a rush of air. They kiss slowly and steadily, savouring every moment of it, taking the time to explore each other, hands caressing hair and faces.
When Vince pulls away for air, he notices that Howard is shaking.
"I'm okay," Howard assures him, kissing the tip of Vince's nose.
"I love you." Vince doesn't realise that he's said the words out loud until it's too late, but it's fine, because at the very same moment, Howard had said the exact same thing.
They laugh softly, about to enjoy another kiss when there's a thump against the door, and Bollo grunts through it that breakfast is ready.
"Come on," Vince says, climbing off the bed, pyjamas crumpled and hair sticking up in all directions. He takes Howard's hand and pulls him up. "I suppose the quicker we eat, the quicker you can open your presents." Vince goes to open the door, but before he does, he turns to Howard and gives him a quick kiss.