Title: Empty Chairs
Warnings: Mentions of Fossil and Kodiak Jack! More salmon insensitivity.
Summary: Vince is introduced to Howard's current social circle.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Boosh, I just like to borrow them for fun and angst.
Author's note: Staying on track with my 10,000 words in ten days!
Vince gasped when they made their way into the clearing. There were a dozen bears in or around the stream, each one the size of a small bus. Even the babies were massive.
"Relax, Howard," Vince instructed as held up his hands and tried to show the bears he was just a fun-loving guy who didn't have a gun, "They're as afraid of you as you are of them."
"I seriously doubt that," Howard grumbled under his breath as he steered Vince towards an empty patch of land. Even from a good two hundred yards, the bears were a tremendous sight.
"It's so beautiful here," Vince observed. It was an idyllic scene. The only hint that humans had ever touched the land were the mounted cameras from Jurgen's crew.
"They're run by remote control," Howard explained, "After a few days, it occurred to his crew that they could actually be eaten trying to film me being eaten. Now everyone but Jurgen stays behind an electric fence."
Vince wanted to ask Howard why he was there, why he was willing to be sacrificed like some proverbial (or maybe not so proverbial) virgin for a egomaniacal madman. What he managed to ask was, "Why?"
Howard was in full nursemaid mode, and Vince couldn't be sure if Howard was ignoring the question or if he actually hadn't heard. He tended to get absorbed when he was fussing over a patient, and couldn't hear over the sound of his own clucking. He'd worn a "Fox Bummer" sign on his back for two weeks without noticing when Jack Cooper had a sprained ankle. Tending to the fox had become Howard's reason for waking up in the morning, and Vince had been a little jealous. Howard would have been a great nurse if he weren't so grouchy and short-tempered. He'd make you chicken soup from scratch if you had a cold, but he'd also throw it in your face if you asked for a little more salt.
"Howard, is that bear walking towards us?"
Howard stood up and waved his arms, "Back off, Mr. Teeth!"
The bear turned around meekly but mumbled, "Dick," under his breath. Howard looked so pleased with himself that Vince was happy he didn't know the bear had just cussed him out.
"That bear just called you a dick, that is genius," Vince said, the words being pulled from his mouth by some invisible (and utterly mental) force.
Howard's face dropped and Vince stared at his nails. He couldn't help himself, there were so many things he had to keep secret from Howard, all the rest of his thoughts just came tumbling out.
"Why is that one called Mr. Teeth?" Vince asked as Howard began cleaning his knee with ice cold water. The cold went straight to his bones, but Howard's hand felt warm on his calf.
"He's called Mr. Teeth because he's got big, horrible teeth," Howard explained, his snappish tone not fitting with his gentle touch, "That one is called Killer. That's Man-eater. That's Monster-face..."
Vince laughed, "Them are the worst bear names ever, Howard. These bears just want to eat fish. They wouldn't eat you... unless they were hungry or scared."
"That is tremendously reassuring, Vince. Have you considered running for office?"
"I'm just sayin', they aint' gonna come atcha for no reason. That's why Jurgen hasn't been able to get you eaten yet. You aren't part of their diet plan."
"I know a thing or two about bears, all right?" Howard snapped.
Like Vince, Howard didn't have any special qualifications to work at a zoo. He'd come to the Zooniverse after dropping out of school (also like Vince). What he knew about animals was all self-taught from books and magazines, but he'd wanted to be a proper zoo keeper someday. When the men in black suits came to close the Zooniverse, Howard's face had been in all the papers as one of the ring leaders of the illegal zoo. Fossil and Bambridge played dumb, insisting, "Howard Moon, former male prostitute" had duped them and had really been in charge the whole time. It didn't matter that it wasn't true, Howard looked so guilty in every picture - it just seemed true.
"Is there one named Fossil?" Vince asked, trying to maneuver to a safe topic.
"Of course," Howard was clearly trying not to smile, "He's not here, though."
As awful as it was, Vince fondly remembered those days after the zoo closed, when Howard had needed him more than ever. Vince had to physically drag Howard out of the zoo, pack up his things and have Bollo help move the boxes into Naboo's place. For a few weeks, Vince was the strong one who made things happen. He was the voice of reason saying things like, "If you keep crying directly into your tea, you're going to get dehydrated," and letting Howard plan their yearly holiday.
"Does he have a big belly? Does he dance? Is he just a colossal dick?" Vince asked with glee. Nothing made Howard friendlier than talking about someone he hated.
Howard's lips twitched in a barely contained smile.
"See that bear grooming himself?"
Vince looked at the especially shiny and fluffy looking bear, "Yeah?"
"If we stay here an hour, he'll still be grooming himself," Howard explained.
Vince had a feeling he knew where this was going.
"That's why I named him Vince," Howard continued.
Vince smiled at his beautiful namesake. Even if it was a joke about Vince's vanity, Howard had still named a gorgeous bear after him.
"You'll know Fossil when you see him," Howard added with a smirk, "He'll be the one relentlessly trying to hump Vince."
Vince laughed despite the appalling image. Howard had vacillated between shielding Vince from Fossil's creepy attentions and offering Vince like a sacrificial lamb in order to get Fossil off his own back. If Howard were always loving or always indifferent, Vince wouldn't be such a shambles. He'd spent years trying to be who he thought Howard wanted him to be, and it never made a difference. He'd taken care of Howard the best he knew how after the Zooniverse closed, but Howard had still traded him to Kodiak Jack for a map. If he was totally honest with himself, generally not a good idea, Vince hadn't really needed the straighteners to keep Kodiak Jack at bay. He'd talked his way out of worse, but things had gone a bit fuzzy in his brain after Kodiak Jack mentioned how "generous" it was of Howard to share a beauty like Vince. All the rage he couldn't quite aim at Howard was directed at Kodiak's nose.
He never brought it up, but he knew Howard was remorseful afterwards. Vince had spent years trying to convince Howard they should form a band and had always been shot down. A week after the Kodiak Jack incident, The Mighty Boosh was born. Howard had apparently found a loophole in his deal with the Spirit of Jazz. He was only possessed when he tried to play good music. In Howard's words, "As long as I'm only playing this New Wave shit, I'll be fine."
"Vince must be the best looking bear here," Vince pointed out, "You can't blame Fossil. Look at that fur! I might get some ginger highlights, myself."
Howard rolled his eyes as he lightly wrapped Vince's knee in gauze, "Don't try to buddy up to Vince, Vince. She's very defensive. I don't have your gift, but I think I've heard her say, 'Don't touch my hair!' when other bears have approached."
Two small cubs came scampering towards them. Vince waited for Howard to scare them off, but Howard just smiled.
"You'll like these little guys," Howard said, his eyes all soft and dewy like he was looking at baby kittens. Howard had a serious soft spot for little animals.
The cubs kept a safe distance, in fact, when they got too close, Howard did yell at them. They clearly weren't afraid of Howard, they were just following his rules. Vince decided he'd have a good talk with the little bears before they left, make sure they understood that Howard was right. They shouldn't get too close to humans, even nice eccentrics like Howard (and Vince). It bothered him to imagine something happening to Howard's cubs.
"What are their names?" Vince asked as the cubs wrestled. Tiny in comparison to the full grown bears, the cubs probably already weighed more than Vince and Howard combined. One mimed ripping the throat out of the other, only to be knocked over onto his back and pinned.
"The bitey one is Chewy Teeth," Howard explained with a soft smile, "He'll chew on anything."
Vince smiled. The first time Howard called him Chewy Teeth, Vince had spent a week trying to talk without showing his teeth as he tried to figure out what Howard had meant. When he finally broke down and asked, Howard had looked confused.
"You have teeth, you use them to chew... What part is tripping you up, Little Man?"
Despite all the bear shit and the half-eaten salmon carcasses strewn about the place, it was incredibly beautiful.
"This place is well nice," Vince exclaimed, wishing he could think of better words to use.
Howard looked around, his brow furrowed in distrust, "It is beautiful..."
"Howard?" Vince wanted to explain how good it was to be with Howard again, how lonely and heart-broken he'd been for over a year on his own. No number of friends, no amount of TV or buckets of tasty food could fill the hole in Vince's life without his best mate. He was pretty sure if he tried to say it out loud, he'd somehow make Howard uncomfortable. He'd find a way to make saying he needed to have Howard filling his hole sound 'weird' to his old friend.
He was lost in his worries about his limited vocabulary when one of the little bears started edging closer. His heart lodged in his throat when Howard stood up and yelled, "Not so close, Little Man."