Notes: This is my first ever attempt at fanfic, so any reviews or criticism are very welcome! Also, I realise that Vince's parents aren't really in the canon but for the purposes of this story, I have assumed that he wasn't raised by Brian Ferry in the forest.

"Vince, for God's sake!"

Howard cringed despairingly as Vince emerged from his bedroom and heaved himself spectacularly onto the couch, wearing a garishly purple jacket encrusted with tiny imitation jewels on the sleeves and collar. This was the sixth outfit that Vince had paraded before him in the half hour, and they were due to meet with an executive for Pieface Records in a matter of minutes.

"You are definitely not wearing that."

Vince rolled his eyes. "C'mon Howard, what's the problem this time?"

"I told you! We're meeting with a record executive, not going for drinks with Jacques Le Cube! We have to make a good impression – they're not going to take our music seriously if I show up with a futuristic prostitute in tow!"

"Bollocks. I've been tellin' ya, glam is in. Suits are out. This is the music industry, Howard, it's all about how you dress. And believe me, I know how to dress."

"Do you? Is that right, sir. What's that in your hat…is it a…a feather?! Who do you think you are…Johnny Peacock?"

"Howaaaaard… I haven't been nagging at you about your dress sense, have I? Though believe me, if I got started, I could keep going all day."

Howard sighed, ruffled his hair and checked his watch for the millionth time that morning. "Look, we have to be out of this flat in minus five minutes, and I absolutely refuse to leave with you dressed like the illegitimate lovechild of Freddy Mercury and a French Duke."

"Oi, my uncle's a French Duke!"

"Do I look like a give a cockerel's stump about your bloody uncle?"

Vince pouted childishly, looking for all the world like a little boy deprived of his favourite toy. It pulled at Howard's heart strings, seeing Vince like that, but Howard for once would not be budged.

"Pout all you like, little man, it's a new outfit or I'm leaving without you."

"As if you'd last more than one minute with the exec without me sweet talking him! You know I'm the charisma behind our band."

"I'm charismatic! I'm very charismatic, yes sir! They call me the Charisma Machine! I came first place in the Charismarathon, I'll have you know! I could charm the pants off a…

"A llama?"

"That's it, you – "

Suddenly the phone rang, and Vince jumped from up to answer it, cleverly ducking his way out of Howard's reach, so the northern bullet was left clutching at cushions. Slumped on the couch, he watched as Vince bounded to the phone and answered it with in a chirpy voice. Howard smiled. He treasured these moments with Vince; the playful energy which seemed to follow them around when they spent time together, the idiotic fights which they both pretended to loath and which they both secretly (and obviously) adored.

Watching Vince sparkle and glimmer in his ridiculous outfit (surely it was ridiculous – Howard Moon knew right from wrong, and there was no convincing him that Vince's attire was even in the same league as right!) Howard felt a warmth and affection for his best friend creep over him. Also, a strange urge to run his hands through Vince's hair… now that's not right either, surely…

In an effort to regain a normal thought process, Howard focused his attention into the conversation which Vince was just beginning, wondering who had called. Knowing Vince, it'd be yet another avid admirer – the trillionth Camden dollybird to beg him for a date this week.

"Um…yeah? That's me." Vince's voice sounded weirdly quiet. Howard frowned, and listened more intently as Vince continued.

"Oh…yeah. Right. Er…okay. Okay. No. Are you sure…oh. But…oh. Yeah. I can just…right. Yeah… okay. Tha… thanks. Thankyou. Right. Bye." Vince, his back still to Howard, lowered the receiver from his ear as if in slow motion, and held it there, staring intently into the cordless.

Though he had no idea why, Howard felt his insides turn to ice. He cautiously approached his friend, trying to sound casual. "Vince? Who was that?"

Vince was still staring into the receiver, unmoving and silent – two characteristics Howard didn't think he had ever seen in Vince, and certainly not at the same time. He pursued.

"Vince? What is it, little man? What happened?"

Vince seemed to suddenly land back in reality with a start – he hung the phone up quickly and turned to Howard, shifting on the spot as if he was embarrassed, wringing his hands together before running them through his hair…Vince never messed up his hair…

"Yeah, Howard, it's just this thing, um, you know…" Vince coughed too loudly, his eyes darting around the room.

"What…thing?" Howard was frightened now. It was as if Vince has been possessed…God, was he possessed? Thoughts started whizzing through his head – call Naboo, get potions, fix things up, oh fuck, Naboo was away…but even then he know it was wishful thinking.

"Someone just called, the ah, the police actually, because they had to tell me this thing, and then, you know, they did, and, um…" Vince's voice was shaking almost beyond recognition, and he seemed to have concentrated his vision on a spot half a meter or so above Howard's head. Howard couldn't seem to feel anything except the distance between himself and Vince.

"Vince…Christ, talk to me."

Vince spoke quickly – he stuttered. "My parents. Were in a, you know, one of those…crashes. In a car. They were in their car, I mean. A car crash."

"Oh God, Vince. Are they alright?"

Bizarrely, a high-pitched and hollow giggle escaped Vince's mouth. "Well, yeah, I mean…no." A vicious pause. "They died. I mean, no, they…" Vince coughed falsely again, twice. "…died. In the car. The car crash."

Howard felt himself start to shake. The temperature in the flat seemed to both raise and drop at the same time – Howard could feel sweat and goosebumps creeping down his neck. Both men seemed to be frozen in time for what seemed like a millennia to Howard, while he desperately tried to wrestle with his own shock and reach out to his friend. Finally, he took a step forward.

"Vince…"

But Vince jumped back, still refusing eye contact with Howard. "Oh hey, yeah, it's alright, you know. I was planning to um, go have a bit of a sleepie, y'know, all this record exec stuff is really draining me, so I'm going to…yeah. Have a little nap."

The sunshine kid shuffled awkwardly out of the lounge and into his bedroom, taking the longest route so as to avoid any close proximity with Howard, shutting the door behind him.

Howard felt his absence immediately, and he felt so lonesome that he could have cried. Vince's parents…fuck…he couldn't even process the information. True, he hadn't known them well; they lived down south and while they were very close with Vince, Howard had only spent time with them on holidays and a few weekends at their place while he and Vince had been young. But Howard knew that Vince had adored them, as much as he would complain all the way through their visits. His mother in particular would love to fuss over him, and while Vince pretended to shrug her affections off, he secretly loved being treated like the center of the world. Of course he did. And the easy banter he exchanged with his father always made Howard smile, even when he only overheard it on the phone. The phone…oh God, Vince…

Howard got a grip on himself and followed Vince's footsteps to his bedroom door, knocking tentatively.

"Vince?" Nothing.

"Vince? C'mon little man…" Still nothing. Howard dared for a third knock, and upon receiving nothing but a deafening silence, he retreated back to the living room. Soon, the silence that had followed him from Vince's room became too much to handle, and Howard flicked on the TV. It was loud and bright and vivid, and it reminded him a little of his best friend.

An hour or so must have passed without Howard realizing, glued numbly as he was to the couch, before Vince emerged forcefully from his room with a hard look etched across his features. Howard immediately stood to greet him, holding his arms out for Vince awkwardly but lovingly. Vince bristled, and scowled at his friend.

"What the fuck are you doing? You think I want a hug? God, you're clueless."

Howard blinked, confused. "I just…Vince, I don't know what to –"

"Then don't say anything! How's that for a suggestion, eh? I'm Vince Noir, rock n roll star. I don't need any words of advice from a creepy old jazzman like you!"

"Vince, I was only –"

"I can't be fucked with your 'onlys' right now, Howard. Why don't you let out your bloody emotion somewhere else; geddit outta my face, yeah? Give ol' Gideon a call, read her some cream poetry, that'll do the trick."

Howard gave up trying to interject. Vince was spitting words at him without any hesitation – words which stung, sure, but which Howard knew weren't coming from anywhere real. So he just stood there, waiting for the sunshine kid to finish.

"Stop lookin at me like that!" Vince's eyes were darting about manically…it was as if, Howard thought, he was afraid to stop moving, or else everything that had just happened could get its claws into him for good…

Overwhelmed by worry for his best friend, Howard made a forceful step towards him and placed his hand on Vince's shoulder, trying to lock eyes with him. Vince threw his arm back aggressively, and pushed Howard away with more force than the maverick was expecting, causing him to stumble into the wall. The scene seemed to play out like a silent tableau. Catching his balance and rubbing his shoulder, he turned back to Vince.

"Hey…"

"What the fuck, Howard? Are you trying to come on to me, you queer? Keep your sick fantasies to yourself, you old pervert. I'm outta here."

And with that, Vince was gone in a whirlwind of feather and colour, slamming the front door to the flat behind him. Howard shut his eyes. That one hurt, he thought. That one hurt.

--

Vince was back that evening – Howard could hear him stamping around, opening and shutting cabinets. He knew the younger man well enough to be able to tell just from the sounds that Vince wasn't drunk…Howard presumed that he was too frightened of losing control for that kind of solace.

The maverick's stomach did a cartwheel, knowing Vince was near again. The last few hours had been dreadful…Howard could feel the weight of everything bearing down on him – Vince's parents, not knowing how Vince was feeling, those few harsh words – but the one thing that kept singing out above the din was his absolute desire to protect his friend, in any way he could. And being near to Vince made it easier to do that.

Vince, however, was having none of it. As if anticipating Howard's first move, the younger man wove a hasty exit to his room before the maverick could meet him in the hall. Howard wrung his hands despairingly, too scared to knock at the door, and too scared not to. Clearing his throat, he dared a call.

"Vince?"

"Fuck off Howard!"

Not knowing what step to take next, Howard retreated to the kitchen to make a fiftieth cup of tea in the vague hope that it would give him inspiration. For a moment, he hated himself so much he felt like being sick – there was Vince, he thought, alone and frightened, surely just waiting for a way to be reached, and here I am, making sodding tea. What kind of pathetic, good for nothing –

So caught up in his own thoughts was Howard that he neglected to hear Vince's footsteps approaching from the hall. The maverick turned abruptly, holding an empty cup, and smashed into Vince, sending the crockery flying and then shattering into a million tiny pieces. Vince recoiled with spite.

"Fuck, Howard, what the hell do ya think you're doing?"

"Shit, sorry Vince, I didn't – "

"Can't you look where you're fuckin going? Jesus. I'm sick of your bullshit, Howard, I really fuckin am. Every day I see you face – you're the first bloody person I see in the morning and the last bloody person I see at night, and I'm absolutely fuckin sick of your stupid beige shirts and elbow patches and jazz jazz jazz, I'm sick of your creepy little moustache and your tiny squinty eyes and your nagging all day long, I'm sick to death – "

Suddenly Vince's voice trembled and broke. He froze. Howard could see that he was shaking all over.

"I mean…I'm just fuckin – " Vince's voice broke again. "I – "

Vince was fighting a battle against himself, and Howard could see that he was losing. It broke his heart all over again.

"I'm just – "

Howard gulped, and looking his friend in the eye, raised his hand gently to the side of Vince's head, ruffling his hair ever so slightly. That was all it took. Vince let out a painful mewling sound as his face scrunched up into a sob, and he crumbled into Howard's arms, shuddering violently and pulling the both of them to the floor.

"Oh god, Howard, oh god…fuck…" Vince's chest heaven between words, clutching at Howard, who brought his arms up to encircle the younger man, embracing him entirely.

"Howard…Howard…fuck, oh god, I can't breathe…"

Howard began rubbing circles into Vince's back, feeling the dampness of tears through his shirt, whispering soothingly into his friend's ear. "It's okay, little man, it's okay…I've got you…I've got you Vince."

It was as if time had closed in on the two of them, and nothing existed outside of their embrace. Howard felt a warmth bloom in his chest, and cursed himself inwardly for being able to feel anything good in a situation like this.

"Howard…I'm so…I'm so sorry…" Vince shuddered in his arms.

"Hush, now. No sorries, okay?"

"But I – "

Howard tilted Vince's head upward to meet his eyes. "Vince, none of that, now."

Vince pulled back an inch, staring levelly at Howard with a mix of a childlike fascination and an adult significance. "You're – Fuck, Howard. I fuckin love you. I love you so much."

Before Howard had the time to register the meaning of those words, Vince's eyes glassed over again, and the younger man grimaced, as if he couldn't believe there were more tears still to come. Howard encircled him again, holding him as close as possible.

"Just let it out, little man. You're safe here."

"I can't even…can't even get my head around it…I don't even know what to…god, Howard, how do I do this?" Vince sobbed, Howard's shirt muffling his speech.

All the awkwardness and fear that Howard had previously felt about the situation had magically melted away, and his words rolled out like honey for Vince's eager ears. "One step at a time, Vince, that's all. And I'm gonna be there for each of those steps, y'hear? It's always you and me. You're not by yourself."

"Tha – thanks, Howard. But right now I don't…don't even know what the first step is…"

"The first step, little man, is getting off the floor, or else the leg cramp monsters are going to wage war on us both."

Vince tilted his head upward and ventured a smile. His crying had calmed down now. Howard took his hand and untangled the two of them, lifting Vince up to standing. The maverick could feel the world slowly seeping back in. Vince kept hold of his hand like a lifeline, still trembling a little, holding his gaze. Howard felt a powerful wave of adrenaline pulse through his stomach as he stared into Vince's eyes – his gaze was so powerful, almost as if, despite his fragile state, he was challenging Howard. After a few silent minutes (but not, Howard noted, the harsh silences of the morning), Vince broke his grip.

"I'm gonna have a shower, I reckon. I must look ridiculous."

"Come off it. You look b – " Howard choked on his words suddenly, mortified. "- fine. You look fine."

Vince didn't seem to notice his slip as he turned towards the bathroom, taking slow steps, as if unsure of himself. If Howard had followed his friend, however, he would have seen a quiet smile trace itself over Vince's mouth. Composing himself, the sunshine kid turned to his friend. "Howard…I'm sorry about the record exec."

Howard was momentarily confused. "What record exec?"

"We missed the meeting."

Howard smiled gently. "Oh, Vince. Don't be silly. Besides, we'll swing another one. Soon, people will be flocking to see Vince Noir, Rock n Roll star. Give it a month."

"A month?"

"Make it a fortnight, then."

The two men grinned gently at each other. Howard's mind and insides were swimming, and Vince looked as if he might break again at any second, but they grinned nevertheless. The memory of Vince's words…I fuckin love you…I love you so much… were still very fresh in Howard's mind…but now was not the time for his own feelings. It was going to be a long road ahead for the both of them – Howard felt ill just thinking about the funeral – but all they could do for now was live in the present.

As Vince disappeared behind the closed door, Howard thought to himself, I'm going to spend the rest of my life with that boy.

That's it, guys! Hope you enjoyed it...feedback would be great because I'm pretty nervous right now! Ta.