A/N: Howdy all! This is my first Howince fic - I write a lot of Noelian but I had this idea and couldn't shake it off. So hope you enjoy, I am looking forward to writing this. I plan to update every 1-2 days and if all goes to plan it should be about 8 chapters long. Enjoy! Reviewers mean the world to me.
Also, this fic is rated T for swearing and possible sexytimess later on.
Ugh, Vince thought in disgust as he watched Howard saunter past the kitchen in his trademark muted Hawaiian shirt, earth-coloured corduroy trousers and worn sandals. With socks.
I could sort him out in ten minutes flat if he'd just let me. Why does he insist on inflicting his hideous outfits on the unsuspecting trendies of Camden?
Vince did consider that he might be being a tad harsh but ever since The Velvet Onion had been closed down (something to do with Bob Fossil's secret underground service for equine forced marriages – Vince purposefully hadn't sought out the details) leading to the rapid decline of any remotely acceptable social events, Vince had been so bored. All he had to focus on nowadays was his dull job at the Nabootique, which had few perks aside from the stash of lollies Howard kept for him under the counter that he thought Vince didn't know about, and of course the admiring girls that wandered in, feigning interest in the assorted bric-a-brac but eventually giving in and fawning over Vince's hair, outfit and general presence. Aside from the ever-thrilling life of shop-keeping, the only other distraction Vince had was Howard.
After The Velvet Onion closed, Vince tried to slip back into the easy banter they had always shared, but found to his surprise and dismay, that his usual methods to get Howard's attention weren't working. Vince tried to think what might have caused this drastic change in their relationship.
How long has it been since I've had a night in with Howard? I've been a bit AWOL recently I guess… it's just been party central for Vince Noir for quite a while now!
It was true, ever since his debut show 'Vince Noir's Electro Circus' (which had been a 'outraaaaging success' according to Shaman Weekly), Vince's popularity had skyrocketed and now everyone wanted a piece of him. All he had to do was make an appearance at a party and the host would weep or faint from the sheer joy of having their venue hold such an admired member of the Camden Elite. Walking into any club within a 10 mile radius, Vince could get unlimited free drinks for him and his friends and more phone numbers than he could stuff into his usually pocketless outfits. (Girls and boys). Vince had never really thought about how it might all be affecting Howard, but as soon as all the constant partying died down and Vince actually had a few moments unconsumed with backcombing or applying mascara to think about things properly, guilt surged through him.
He probably feels well left out.
Vince's gloomy thought drifted into his mind as the tattered remains of what had been a last-ditch effort to drag Howard into a shoelace crimp hung limp and lifeless in the air.
As the weeks went by however and Howard made no attempt to reconcile with Vince whenever he attempted to reconnect with his best friend (if that's what he still was) Vince's feelings of bashful regret and guilt soon turned into irritation at the cold-shoulder treatment he was receiving.
Alright so I've been a bit self-centred recently but he can't expect me to suck up to him forever because of it.
It was after one particularly cold dismissal on Howard's part that Vince finally decided to give up trying to get back in the good books of the jazzy freak.
"Alright Howard?" Vince strolled down the stairs into the cluttered shop, aiming a bright smile in Howard's direction, where he was sitting behind the counter, flicking through a magazine with disinterest.
"Hmm." Howard mumbled vaguely, not even bothering to look up at Vince, who had made a special effort that morning, wearing an even more customised and now dyed black version of the Zookeeper jacket he had worn when he worked there with Howard.
"What you reading then?" Vince said, lacing his voice with extra pep and strolling over to lean over Howard's shoulder.
"Global Explorer. D'you mind? I'm trying to read here. S'not like you would understand it anyway. Go and read Cheekbone or something equally mind-numbing for half an hour would you?"
Luckily Howard couldn't see the expression of fury on Vince's face from where he was huddled over his precious copy of Global Explorer, but he did notice the violent clapping of Vince's heels against the linoleum as he stalked away and back up the stairs without another word. All in all, the way Vince saw it – he was perfectly entitled to be critical of Howard's clothes, hair, attitude, shop-keeping abilities and whatever else he could think of (there was a long list) due to the unfair and frankly cruel way Howard was treating him.
Howard walked back out from the direction of the bathroom again, smoothing his terrible shirt. Vince rolled his eyes and turned back to his bowl of Coco Pops.
"Morning." Howard said gruffly as he entered the kitchen, reaching for the kettle and switching it on.
Vince just gave the slightest inclination of his head, still seething from Howard's words the day before. Howard didn't even seem to notice.
I can't believe he was so rude! The twat. I was being nice! Well if he thinks I'm gonna be the 'sunshine kid' for him now he can forget it.
Coffee made, Howard took a sip (burning his tongue slightly, to Vince's quiet amusement) and turned to walk, cup in hand, out of the kitchen. Before exiting he stopped and turned to look at Vince briefly, his mouth slightly open as if he were about to say something. He clearly thought better of it and looked away in an exasperated fashion – making his way down to open up the shop. Vince finished his cereal quickly and stood up to take his bowl to the sink.
"Work's gonna be fun today!" Vince sighed to himself as soon as Howard had disappeared below.
"Yeah well I ain't payin' you for fun." Vince nearly jumped out of skin at the sound of Naboo's voice behind him. With all the Howard-related drama recently, Vince had almost forgotten the small, shiny-faced Shaman and his furry familiar – especially as they both seemed never to be around anymore. Off on 'Shamanic duties' apparently. "Get your ass down there, I need two shopkeepers you lazy berk."
"Alright, alright! Don't get your turban in a twist!" Naboo just looked at him flatly.
Alright, it wasn't my best joke but I've had a rough few weeks!
Vince widened his eyes slightly and looked away, murmuring "tough crowd" under his breath.
"No. Naboo and Bollo have good sense of humour. Vince made bad pun." Vince jumped again and looked up to see Bollo suddenly standing next to Naboo.
Great. Even Bollo's turned on me, thought Vince bitterly as he sighed again and pushed past his flatmates towards the stairs.
"Oh yeah, Vince, I forgot to tell you. Me and Bollo are going on a… business trip. Shaman stuff. We'll be back in a week or so. You and Howard okay to look after the shop till then?"
Naboo's words made Vince stiffen. Alone for a whole week (or more) with Howard? This wouldn't have been a problem in the old days. Back when Howard wasn't being all weird with him, Vince would have leapt at the chance to spend some unsupervised quality time with his best friend. The week would be chock-a-block full of Satsuma fights, crimprovisations (a word he and Howard had devised for the creation of a crimp) and maybe even a few cuddles on the sofa if he could get Howard to relax enough. But now Vince had no idea what it would be like. Howard would probably go out and see Lester Corncrake or attend extra Jazzercise classes just to avoid the hostile, awkward silences that surrounded them now.
But what choice do I have? I still owe Naboo for covering for me about the whole accidentally-setting-the-zoo-on-fire thing… He's been really good about it actually, I don't even think he's told Bollo or it would have got around by now. Bollo's a massive gossip.
"Yeah. No worries Naboolio." Vince tried desperately to keep all the anxiety out of his voice by distracting Naboo with a nickname.
"Okay. Good. Don't let Howard do anything stupid. And don't call me that." With that, Naboo turned to head back towards his bedroom, followed closely by a lumbering gorilla.
Vince reluctantly turned back to the descending staircase and walked hesitantly down to the shop below. Upon entering the Nabootique, Vince found Howard sitting in the same position as yesterday, hunched over the counter, peering down at something in a book. Vince sighed, rolled his eyes and started to walk over when suddenly, Howard jumped, his head snapping up wide-eyed, as if the only thing that had alerted him to Vince's presence had been the clack of his white boots on the linoleum.
Wow, he must have been engrossed. I wish I had something that could hold my attention for that long.
In one swift movement, before Vince could even register what was happening, Howard had jumped up, slammed the book closed and swept it off the counter where it was now tucked securely under his arm.
"None of your business." Howard retorted before Vince could even finish his question, walking forcefully past the younger man and knocking into his shoulder as he strode over to place the book on one of the highest shelves in the shop, one you needed a stepladder to reach.
He knows I can't go up a stepladder in heels!
Without a word, Howard turned and walked back to his previous position on the stool behind the counter.
Wait a minute – is he blushing?
Maybe before, when things were normal between them, Vince would have made more of a big deal out of this – obviously Howard was reading something embarrassing in that book and this sort of thing would have given Vince hours of teasing material – but now, he found he couldn't be bothered to find out what kind of weird fetish Howard was feeding before opening up shop this morning. Instead, Vince rolled his eyes and went to turn the sign from 'Fuck off we're closed' to 'Well come on in then'.
Me and Howard drew that sign, Vince thought a little sadly, before shrugging it off and turning back to face the day.
"Vince!" Vince sat bolt upright at the sound of his name. He had been lying on his back in the stockroom (which was really more of a small dimly lit cupboard crammed with junk not even the he could sell) playing with a set of crystal chess pieces – holding a pawn up to the tiny box window and watching the light refract into a stripy rainbow – when he heard Howard's annoyed shout.
Shit, he sounds more than annoyed actually – what did I do?
Vince peered round the door and was met by Howard's furious gaze, his arms filled with colourful fabrics. They hadn't had a customer all day and while Vince had snuck out to the stockroom to escape the tension and deafening silence, Howard had decided to do some stocktaking of the items out on display.
"Where's all the clothes?" Howard looked so ridiculous Vince could barely keep a smile off his face. Seeing Howard laden with glittery, vibrant items of clothing was not something one saw every day and in his haste to keep a careful account of each garment, Howard had clearly decided the best option (as his hands were already full) was to wear some of the clothes as hats, scarves, sashes and cloaks.
"Umm…I think you might be holding some…"
Vince's mouth was quivering – a smile threatening to burst forth at any moment.
"No you berk! The rest of the clothes! We had at least ten more stupid sparkly shirts than this and I suppose it's just a coincidence that all the boots that are missing just happen to be in your size?"
The smile was gone now; Vince tried not to look down at his boots. Hopefully Howard wouldn't notice they were the ones Naboo brought back from Zooberon last week with a few customisations (by hand!).
"Listen, Howard, I only borrowed them-"
"Oh for God's sake Vince! These aren't your clothes to just take and swan about in as you please! I realise your oh-so-trendy mates would probably faint if you wore the same outfit twice but you can't just steal the items we sell! Do you have any idea how much money you might've lost us? Where are they all now then? Ruined I suppose. Spilled alcopop down them when you were pole dancing or whatever the hell it is you do when you go out?"
Vince just stared wordlessly at Howard as he ranted, his gaze fixed and steady, trying to control the anger bubbling through his veins. Seemingly unaware of Vince's reaction, Howard continued uninterrupted.
"You are going to replace every single one of these items d'you hear me? God, when Naboo finds out about this…"
When Naboo finds out? Does he not care about me at all anymore? A few weeks ago he would've died before telling Naboo about this and risking me getting into trouble. Guess we're not a double act anymore, huh?
Clenching his teeth so hard it was audible in the otherwise empty shop, Vince stormed out of the room and up the stairs, ignoring Howard's angry calls after him. He flung open their bedroom door and delved into his wardrobe, searching through the thousands of multi-coloured and sequinned array of clothes until he found everything he was looking for.
When Vince emerged back down in the shop, he was clutching as many garments as Howard was and for a moment they just stood and glared at each other.
Had any one of the innocent passers-by chosen that moment to peer into the windows of this kooky little bric-a-brac shop he or she (or it) would probably have burst out laughing at the absurdity of the sight before them – two fully grown men (although it was arguable in Vince's case) stood across from each other, their fierce, angry expressions just visible from in between folds of the litany of assorted clothes and accessories they were both entirely draped in. It looked rather like Vince and Howard had been caught in a war between some of the more outlandish fashion designers who inexplicably were using their own ranges as ammunition.
Vince threw down the heap of fashions he was holding, where they landed in a pile at Howard's feet.
"HERE. God, if it's that bloody IMPORTANT to you and your stupid stocktaking have it all back! I SAID I was BORROWING it! I only wore each thing once anyway and yeah I got a bit of Flirtini on the white velvet rhinestone jacket but as you can SEE I spent ages sewing that zebra print on the collar so you can't even see it no more!"
Howard was still fuming, and Vince knew he hated being proven wrong. Normally Howard would have just spent the next few hours hanging it all up and sulking to himself, eventually coming to find Vince, looking all shame-faced and embarrassed and suggesting they watch Colobos the Crab. This time however, it seemed like Howard wasn't going to let it drop.
"Is that everything?"
"YES for Christy's sake."
Except the boots please don't ask about the boots.
"I'm telling you right now Vince – don't let this happen again."
"Howard you don't understand! I have to-"
"VINCE I am not going to tell you again, this is unacceptable-"
"Oh fuck off Howard."
Vince scarpered up the stairs too quickly to see Howard's jaw drop open slightly at Vince's words. Even when their arguments got really heated (which was inevitable when they'd been living in such close proximity of one another for so long) Vince had never, ever sworn at him like that. Vince was made of sunshine and glitter and lollipops – at least he was when Howard was around. He must have been really angry.
Locked in the bathroom (the only place any form of privacy could be achieved in the flat) Vince stared at himself in the mirror through hot, angry tears that threatened to spill over at any moment ruining his mascara.
Stupid, idiotic, uncaring Howard. It was stupid of me to even think he'd understand! He's got the fashion sense of a blind geography teacher with an allergic reaction to colour. He doesn't know the pressure I was under as one of the Camden Elite! Those people are famous for being the shallowest, most fashionable trendsetters in the world! Sometimes it took me days to put together an outfit suitable for their judging eyes and when I was desperate for material I was hardly gonna go raking through Howard's wardrobe was I? And on top of that, he was so…mean! I fessed up to it didn't I? He didn't have to yell at me.
At this point the tears won out and poured messily down Vince's cheeks, bleeding mercilessly through his thick stiffened lashes and leaving dark, tell-tale trails of flaky black in their wake.
The old Howard would never have been like that. The old Howard would be up here right now pounding on the door begging me to forgive him and dragging me into a crimp. The old Howard would wipe away my tears and let me play Gary Numan full blast until I felt he was sorry enough and then let me crawl under the covers with him without all the usual kicking and complaining.
Wiping away his tears with the back of his hand, Vince tried to turn on the tap to wash his smeared face, but kept accidentally knocking bottles and tubes to the floor in his haste and bending down to pick them up. On closer inspection, the thousands of bottles littering the sink were labelled in some kind of foreign, alien language.
Ah, Naboo's stuff then.
Vince looked at the pink bottle in his hand and furrowed his brow for a moment. Suddenly a thought struck him.
If my old Howard is gone, I'm gonna find a way to get him back.