All was not well with the Zooniverse. The animals knew it, all nestled in their hay beds and gossiping to one another in hushed whispers (or growls and grunts if you want to get technical.) Joey Moose knew it, as he watched his co-worker,Vince Noir, exit their general manager's office just before closing. Vince was dressed to the absolute nines, but looking so defeated. He trudged through the zoo, scuffing his boots and not caring at all that his pink, feathered boa was trailing behind him in the dirt.
Everyone saw it. Everyone knew. A dark little storm cloud hung over the sunshine boy that night.
Howard especially saw it, when Vince finally made it back to their shared hut.
"Vince? What's wrong?"
"I 'ave some bad news about tonight, 'Oward..."
Vince sighed, while running his fingers through his own hair, stiff with product. Howard sat him down on the couch, before tugging at his nutmeg roll-neck, anxiously and silently waiting for him to continue.
Which he did after a moment of heavy sighing and tugging at his own hair.
"..I ran into Fossil on my way over and...he's coming with us."
"Look, I'm really sorry, 'Oward! I tried to shake him, I did honest! But...you know how he is. He's been real lonely ever since Bambridge stopped returning his calls and he said he'd fire you if we didn't let him tag along. I couldn't let 'im do it, 'Oward! You love the zoo!"
"Fuck the bloody zoo!"
Vince audibly gasped.
Howard's eyes were filled with guilt and instant regret. It was actually quite remarkable how much emotion could cram into those beady shrimp eyes of his.
"Okay you're right, I'm sorry. Don't fuck the zoo. But Vince, it's date night!"
"And if Fossil comes with us, it'll throw us off schedule!"
Howard promptly pulled out a neatly folded sheet of paper from the pocket of his corduroy pants. He then proceeded to unfold it before thrusting it under Vince's large nose.
"I had our whole evening planned out; 7 sharp, candle lit dinner. 7:45, I pay for said dinner. 7:53, we hail a cab to the cinema and hold hands the entire time. 8:15, get to the cinema, and cuddle during a documentary on the migration of the Norwegian tit-mouse. 9:30, go to our favorite pub- do you see where I'm getting at? Bob Fossil doesn't fit into date-night!"
Vince took the paper from Howard and wrinkled his nose at the meticulous and unnecessary detail.
Urgh...How very HOWARD...
"...you've GOT to be a bit more flexible, love..."
"Do you have to bring that up NOW!"
"Apparently I do! 't says right here bumming lasts from 11:27 to 11:33!"
"...that's not long then?"
Vince shook his head, biting his lip to keep from laughing. He wasn't about to laugh out of maliciousness. He just found his boyfriend's blatant inexperience...rather sweet. Well maybe not always. When he was trying to get his rocks off with his old mate/new boyfriend it was well annoying. Vince Noir, rock and roll star, was many things but patient was not one of them.
"...I don't know what I'm doing, do I?"
He was learning to be though...for Howard. The big git from Leeds just had a knack for making him want to set his own selfish needs aside. Imagine that?
"What? Oh 'oward, you're doing fine!" Vince reached out to touch his shoulder, or stroke his hair, or offer some sort of comforting gesture, but Howard batted the hand away. Vince chewed on the inside of his cheek. He hoped they weren't going back to the "no touching" rule. They had made such progress!
"No, no I'm not good at this...see THIS is why I need schedules and lists- I'm gonna mess everything up if I-mmmprh!"
Vince successfully shut him up with a big, sloppy kiss. This always relaxed Howard when he got worked up. Vince wished he had known about this years ago. But then again if he had tried to snog Howard when they were kids, little Howie Moon would have surely come at him like a buzzard. Or, they might have skipped years of sexual tension and the "will they won't they" nonsense from their teen years.
But that didn't matter now, while Howard was indeed relaxing with his big, Northern hands on Vince's pointy hipbones and his mustache tickling his upper lip. Vince supposed these things tend to work themselves out in their own good time.
Just as Howard's mustache was starting to chafe a bit, Vince pulled away. Making a mental note to perhaps add shaving to the midnight barber routine.
"You're doin' fine, 'oward! Trust me, I wouldn't be here if I wasn't head over me heels for ya. The nice heels too! My favorite ones! You know, the white ones that go up to me thighs and have the-"
"I got the picture, Little Man...and thank you." Howard kissed the top of Vince's head, getting a nasty taste of about thirty different hair products but not caring too terribly much. "I love you too."
They stood like that for a minute or two (or ten...or ten seconds, Vince wasn't sure. He had a terrible sense of time) before Howard pulled them both down on the couch, with a heavy sigh.
"So what are we going to do about Fossil?"
"Well, I'm guessing a three-way is right out of the question..."
"That's not funny, Vince."
"Alright, well...I know this is crazy but hear me out – what if we told him the truth?"
"Aw, c'mon 'oward! What's the worst that could happen we told him we were bummin'?"
"He hates me!"
"True, he does 'ate you...but he might 'ate you a lot less if he knew you were with me. He likes me."
"Yeah, a little too much, if you ask me..."
"Yeah, I was kind of hoping he might back off a bit if he knew I was spoken for. I could do without the leering and the creepy love letters..."
"So could I..."
Vince smirked at the sound of jealousy edging in Howard's voice. It was quite flattering.
"Aw, you muppet! You know I only got eyes for you..." Vince tossled Howard's "brown smoke" and Howard surprisingly let him. "'sides Fossil is well creepy and sad. If I were gonna leave you, I'd go for much better."
"Thanks, Vince..." Howard shoved the mod/punk/goth/what ever he was this week kid off of him and stood up. "But the point is, we can't tell Fossil about us. There's a strict 'no dating' policy among the employees-"
"Are you sure there is? Because you should see some of the letters I get from Fossil..."
"Oh, I intend to confiscate those later and make sure he never sends you another nasty note again-"
"-And yes I'm sure! I researched the topic thoroughly when I was pursuing Mrs. Gideon-"
"Now who's being a jealous muppet? Anyway, I double checked after the first time we...got intimate..."
Howard coughed into his balled up fist, blushing. Vince chuckled.
"You mean when I 'elped you lose your virginity after the whole monkey 'ell incident?"
"Yes that! And the policy is still in place. We could get fired, Vince! Or worse..."
"Oi, what could be worse then that?"
"Bob Fossil will have black-mail over our heads..."
Vince shuddered at the thought. Some of the letters Fossil sent him were quite rude...he wouldn't want to have to actually DO any of those things. And Howard...Fossil really had it out for Howard.
"Well..." Vince finally said, standing up from the couch to place a hand on Howard's shoulder. He flinched, but let it stay. "Looks like we have no choice but to take him with us. We can play it straight, we always have to for work anyway-"
"Well that's the point of date night, isn't it Vince? So we can get a break from sneaking around and dodging behind dumpsters for quick snogs and pretending we're still pining over frigid women who don't remember our names-"
"I think that last one's just you. And we don't have much choice do we? But we can humor him for a bit, then pawn him off on the drunkest twink we can find and ditch 'im..."
Vince paused, spying a glimmer of something interesting behind Howard's tiny eyes. A plan was forming...Howard always came up with great plans! Date-night just might be saved after all!
"...you know, you might have something there, Vince! If we can find someone drunk enough to go home with Bob Fossil..."
"We'll be his wing-men! And if we actually get 'im laid, he might give us raises! Or at the very least stop makin' you dance for him."
"I do not dance for Bob Fossil or anyone for that matter! But you make a good point. He might leave us alone for a while if we pull this off."
"You're the one who came up with it."
Vince beamed, proud of his single brain cell and pleased as punch Howard seemed to be too. He snuggled into the jazz maverick's neck.
"And ya know...if things go according to plan, we can turn in early and extend bumming hour on your schedule there..."
Vince hummed, rubbing his face into Howard's blushing neck like a cat would, if a cat was mindful not to smudge his make-up while rubbing his face on people.
Just then, the door of their shared hut swung open, and their general manager stood in the doorway. Wearing a crushed velvet version of his usual 3 sizes too small suit, a comically large medallion and stinking of cheap cologne and some sort of strong alcohol. The two zookeepers flew apart.
"Hey stink cheeks and lady pants! I might have pre-gamed with some drain-o and I can't feel my own skin! I'm invincible to pain! I stabbed my hand with the paper-biter man 9 times to prove it, look!"
Bob held up his hand, covered in staples, to prove it.
"I'm fucking invincible! I'm like big leg but with normal sized legs!"
While Bob Fossil kicked and punched the air like a crazed killeroo with a thyroid problem, Howard and Vince were beginning to wonder if being fired was really such a bad option...