Author's Note – This final chapter is dedicated to Concupiscence66, CherryTroi, IceySummer02 and WearerOfCapes for all their dedication and sweetness. Your reviews encouraged me a lot. So thank you.
Also hugs to everyone who has favourited/followed. : )
PS - Don't worry. There's a sequel to follow. I just felt that 21 chapters was long enough. Loose ends deliberate.
Internal Dialogue Guide
Vince - italic (no speech marks) / The Brain Cell - italic (single speech marks)
Howard - normal (no speech marks) / Head Cell - normal (single speech marks)
WHY CAN'T I DO IT?
Vince was more frustrated than he had ever been before.
HSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. RRRRRRRRRRRRR. GRUNT.
'Hey. Calm down, Vince. Maybe you're trying too hard,' suggested his Brain Cell.
'You can touch him in the morning,' Charlie pointed out.
"Yeah, with your REAL HANDS," contributed Tony. "Listen. Get into bed with him. And then..."
Are you mad? He'd KILL me. OUT!
Vince psy-punched the alien effectively; then tried once more to caress Howard. He waited for a reaction, encouraging or otherwise, but none came. Vince sighed and concentrated instead on the sounds from his babyhood. He smiled as he thought about Jahouli.
I was lying on my back, he told Charlie. And he came over and sniffed me. He licked my face. I wasn't scared. His tongue was all tickly. I laughed. He curled all round me and I felt so warm and safe. Just like I do with Bollo. I hope Bollo comes back soon. I need my gorilla hugs. They're the best. Bryan never hugged me. Naboo lets me put my arms round him, but he doesn't hug back. Howard... I love being in his arms. He's... gentle. Like he fears I'll break. But when I'm there... it's where I want to be... forever. And his kisses. They make me feel so... so... prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
o - o
Meanwhile, Howard was slowly making his way to his own Memory Theatre.
'Why's it okay for YOU, but not for HIM?' demanded Head Cell stubbornly.
Howard only tutted in response.
'It's your own hands, you don't trust.'
It wasn't fair of me to smack him, but the rest he liked.
'That's not an answer.'
'You liked his real hands.'
I could SEE them.
'That isn't the point.'
Leave me alone.
'Just don't underestimate him. You've set him a challenge.'
Yes. But some risks are worth taking.
'You mean you want him to?'
Ye... NO! No, he doesn't have the concentration, the control or the... No. It's a Moon skill. And he's a Noir.
o - o
At Pete's place, Bollo's lap proved so comfy that despite himself, Naboo was soon soundly asleep. The gorilla watched him for a while; then a mischievous gleam came into the familiar's eyes. As gently as possible, he removed Naboo's turban and expertly groomed the dark hair beneath. Lacking the sensitivity of Vince, the shaman did not stir. Encouraged, Bollo stripped off the outer robe, the inner robe, the under layers; until Naboo was just in his pants. Delighted to have got this far, Bollo chuckled deeply and Boo opened one eye.
"Sorry. Shh. Go back to sleep," the gorilla urged.
"You. Hairy. Horror."
Both eyes were open now and glaring.
"Bed," answered Bollo.
"Stop pretending I'm Vince."
"Boo mine too."
"NAboo," corrected the shaman wearily, as he was carried over to the bed. "And you're..."
Snuggled close to the gorilla, Naboo was asleep again.
"...just like Vince," Bollo murmured.
He tucked up Naboo, before making himself a nest out of the clothes pile.
o - o
Howard settled into his reclining chair and gingerly picked up the remote.
'What are you looking for?' his Head Cell asked, panicked. 'Don't go torturing yourself. That never helps.'
o - o
Howard pressed play and saw himself and Vince holding hands in the playground of their new school. The smaller boy was chattering about his imaginary friend, Charlie, a pink, bubblegum beast.
"He's got a huge moustache and he wears a hat. He keeps me company when I'm asleep. He can change his size and he's all bumpy, but not sticky. Imagine that."
Howard smiled indulgently. Neither of them noticed at first when a gang of children, led by the sixteen year olds, Lance and Leroy, gathered around them. Then the jeering started.
"Noir and Moon up a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G."
Blushing furiously, Howard released Vince's hand abruptly and pushed him away – too hard. Vince stared up at Howard, surprised and hurt. The gang laughed. Howard gave Vince a stricken look; then shoved through the bullies and fled.
o - o
No. How could I? How could...?
'Howard, don't start.'
It wasn't his fault. It was me. I left him. And all because of some stupid... I left him.
'He was fine.'
'Go forward; then get the hell out.'
o - o
Next day, Howard waited at the gate with more trepidation than usual. Suppose Vince just walked straight by him and sat next to someone else in class? Or worse, suppose he growled at Howard or hissed? The thought that he might have lost his best friend, annoying as Vince could be sometimes, was almost making him cry. But Howard T. J. Moon did not cry, Sir. It was well... unmanly.
He jumped; then met the bright blue gaze of the child, now standing in front of him. Vince grinned widely and Howard smiled back awkwardly.
"You okay?" asked Vince.
"Yeah," said Howard. "You done your homework?"
"I hate Maths. What IS the point?"
Howard took a breath and began to lecture.
"Maths is important, little man."
The bell rang and Howard took his friend's arm.
"Come on. We'll go over this at break."
"Maybe I should start a homework club," Howard enthused, dragging Vince to their line. "For after school. I'll speak to Mr Brunt."
o - o
What! I upset Vince. I saw his eyes after I... And yet we're both acting as if... it NEVER happened. There's no apology, no explanation, NOTHING!
The least I could have done was...
Howard was distracted by an invisible finger brushing along his moustache. Automatically, he told Vince off. There was a fit of giggles in response.
Sorry, Howard. How's this?
A tongue lapped his cheek and Howard was too startled to protest. The tongue found his other cheek; then his nose, his chin, forehead.
Vince! You... you...daft pup. Stop it.
Oh, Howard. It's a leopard kiss.
That may well be, Sir. Carry on and I'll... Listen, Vince.
YOU started this.
Yes, but this isn't really... Let's just leave each other alone for now.
Oh. Vince sounded disappointed. Oh. Okay.
We'll discuss everything in the morning, Kitten. When we can see each other.
And touch too.
Vince stretched out both hands and imagined that they were once more placed on that beautiful, broad chest. Howard gave a surprised grunt. Shy fingers began to explore, circulating, tapping, testing.
I promise, little man.
You know me. I need to know you.
I understand, Vince. Just don't lick me, okay?
But you're so yummy.
Get too carried away and I'll tickle you, Sir.
Relax, will you? Now...
Howard waited for his friend's next move, but nothing happened. He concentrated on the screen again. The teen Vince and Howard sat together in class as usual, but when Vince tried to hold hands, Howard muttered, "Don't touch me." Those innocent, sparkling eyes changed immediately to hurt and confusion. "Sorry," Vince whispered.
Howard. HOWard. HOWARD. Right!
Vince psy-slapped the beloved cheek; then placed his hands gently over the maverick's horrified eyes.
Oh, Vince. I'm so sorry.
Stop it. You're doing what you told me not to.
That's the past, Howard. It doesn't matter.
But it does. Vince, you have to understand.
No. You didn't do anything, Vince. The fact is... I'm a coward. I didn't stand up for you. I hurt you instead.
Howard. Shut. Up.
The severity in Vince's tone was startling. Howard ceased apologising.
Good. Now, you were right before. We need to LOOK at each other. Howard, I know you won't believe me, but... you take better care of me than anyone. I'm rubbish at taking care of you, but I try to. Because I love you.
No. First, you're not rubbish at caring. Second, I love you too. And third, GET back in time out.
Told you I'd figure it out. I'll go back when you do.
Fine. Let me see.
Okay, but you leave immediately. With ME.
The slender hands came off and Howard checked the screen. Teen Vince was doodling in his Geography book, a smile back on his face. Teen Howard was concentrating on copying facts about the Arctic Tundra.
Howard, come on!
There was an ineffectual tugging at his arms.
o - o
"Vincent Noir," said a very cold voice. "WHAT is this?"
Vince and Howard both looked up.
"Get on with your work, Moon," Mrs Fray warned.
o - o
There was a click and the screen paused.
NOW, you freak.
Did you just press?
Oh. Right. I'm with you.
Howard got up and his hand was instantly taken. He made no resistance as he was guided back to his Jazz zone, Vince scolding all the way. The Noir was startled when Howard abruptly pulled free and made a scooping motion.
Vince was helpless in midair. Howard laughed.
I win this, little man. I WIN. And you're mine.
Confidently, Howard walked forward and Vince, to his alarm, floated.
Hey! You can't just... Howard, you'll drop me. Help.
I don't think I will, Kitten.
I am so gonna get you.
I look forward to it. Here we are.
And, Howard, you're MINE.
We're each others. Now...
To Vince's disbelief, he was laid accurately in the hammock.
How? How? How?
Howard Moon moves in mysterious ways, my Mowgli.
Howard, I love you and all, but never do that again.
I'll see you later.
Grrrrrrrrr. He was kissed on the nose. Prrrrrrrrrrr.
Knew you couldn't stay mad.
Bumberklaat. Vince leopard kissed in return. Got ya.
Both unanimously cut the link and smiled. Maybe they were not entirely sure where life was taking them, but they knew that despite all the arguments, the disappointments, the bizarre encounters; a song, a smile, a touch, a look – could heal in an instant. Vince purred; Howard scatted. Both hoped.