Howard had a cold, so Vince was making tea, but he couldn't make it look quite right. Howard's tea always looked dark and serious. Vince's tea looked far too light to heal anyone. Further inspection convinced Vince it was a problem of distribution. The tea on the edges of the cup was well lighter than in the middle of the cup. He wondered if it was the same the whole way down to the bottom of the cup. He was going to have to ask Howard. And then ask him for another word for cup.
Howard's head was pounding and his chest was throbbing. Vince was sitting on the edge of his bed yammering on about the many shades of tea and what vessels might be used to hold this mercurial liquid. He tried to throw a pillow at Vince, but it stopped dead in the air, inches from Vince's hair before falling gently to the floor.
Vince dropped to his knees beside Howard, holding a porcelain teacup above his head, wondering what tea looked like from the bottom. Howard sent Vince to his closet to find the clear glass tea set Howard had bought for just such an occasion. Vince called him "genius" and kissed him on the cheek before running off. He'd taken Howard's tea with him and knocked over his breakfast tray as he ran from the room. Breakfast in bed would have been nice, but breakfast on the floor was pretty much what Howard had been expecting.
Vince quickly washed out the cup and poured some fresh tea for Howard. The tea looked even lighter in the glass, and it was lighter at the very bottom of the cup. Vince wanted to add cream and sugar, but Howard didn't take either. Howard drank his coffee black, as well. There was no room in Howard's life for excess sweetness.
When he ran back upstairs, Vince found Howard on his knees picking toast up off the ground.
"Howard! Why are you out of bed, you're meant to be resting, you Fraggle. Look, you knocked over your food and everything."
Vince tucked Howard back into bed as the older man grumbled. Howard's hair was damp with sweat and his eyes were glassy. There were little red circles on his cheeks that made him look a little like Raggedy Andy. Old Raggedy Howard. Howard didn't think it was funny. He called Vince a berk and told him to go away.
Howard applied more salve to his chest. The tar-like substance kept getting on his fingers, no matter how careful he was. The wound was clearly infected. If the drawing salve didn't pull it out, he would have a very strange doctor's visit ahead of him.
Vince was tucking the sheet around Howard's neck when he smelled the tar (and realized it wasn't the scent of Howard's anti-dandruff shampoo). There was a horrible red scratch poking out from the top of Howard's pajama shirt. He opened a few buttons and saw scratches covering Howard's chest. A wave of nausea washed over Vince as he watched it happen all over again. Howard, smiling and laughing, stepping out of the van. A green hand reaching down and grabbing Howard by the front of the shirt, hauling him on to the roof. Vince had been frozen in panic. There was normally at least a week between Vince rescuing him and Howard's next imperilment. He wasn't prepared for Old Gregg to follow them home. If Leroy hadn't called at just that moment, causing Human League to pour forth from Vince's mobile, Old Gregg would have been back to Black Lake with his unwilling husband before Vince knew what was happening. If Leroy hadn't called to see if he could borrow Howard's dark blue trousers, Howard could have been dead. Or worse, married to Old Gregg. Or both.
Vince shook off the memory and ran to Naboo to tell him about the infected wound, who said, "Put some of Howard's disgusting tar stuff on it."
Howard woke up covered in sweat, with Vince leaning over him, yelling his name.
"Stop yelling!" Howard snapped, "I'm trying to sleep."
"You were screaming," Vince whispered. His eyes were a little watery, like he'd just plucked his eyebrows.
Howard vaguely remembered something about Old Gregg in a wedding dress.
"Can I do anything to make you feel better?" Vince asked. He was kneeling on Howard's bed, wearing nothing but a tight black Kiss tee-shirt and even tighter black pants.
It was the million dollar question.
Howard growled and closed his eyes.
Vince checked on Howard through the night. The salve was working. Whatever horrible things that had been on Old Gregg's fingernails was working its way out of Howard's skin. The scratches were long and deep, but had gone from a scary red to a friendly pink. Old Gregg had lifted Howard with one hand. He was strong and fast and batshit crazy.
Vince gave Howard a quick, one-sided hug before crawling back into his own bed. The sky was getting light and he hadn't had a wink of sleep. He set his alarm so he'd be awake to make Howard's morning tea.
Howard pulled a pillow over his head and tried to drown out the sound of Vince's alarm. His flat mate was apparently undisturbed by the god awful racket emanating from his phone. Howard finally gave up and dragged himself out of bed. He turned off Vince's phone and slowly made his way downstairs to make tea. He still felt a bit weak, but he was on the mend. A few hours of nightmare-free sleep, and he'd probably be right as rain. He wondered if that would ever happen again. At least Vince was getting his beauty sleep.
Howard left the tea and some biscuits on the stand between their beds, for whenever Vince decided to greet the day. Howard was briefly tempted to pour the kettle over Vince's head, to teach him a lesson about sleeping in on the rare occasion that Howard really needed Vince to handle the mundane tasks of the day. Howard sometimes grumbled, but he didn't really mind being the details guy. Howard cooked and cleaned, paid the bills, did the shopping and Vince saved them both from monsters. And while the little man had trouble remembering steps, but if he was given a task he would cheerfully work for hours. They were yin and yang, two halves that made one functioning adult.
Looking at Vince curled up on his side, sleeping peacefully and looking absurdly young and sweet, Howard couldn't stir up any real resentment. Vince had saved Howard from Old Gregg twice. He deserved his rest.
Howard climbed back in to bed, still exhausted but with far too much on his mind.
Howard was a thirty-year-old, unemployed jazz enthusiast with a pathological fear of intimacy. He hadn't really expected to have to dodge marriage. Its specter never exactly loomed in his future. Howard fully expected to die alone and un-mourned. Again. Maybe Vince would be able to stir up a few tears the second time around, if he hadn't already drifted off and gone solo. On a good day, Howard could convince himself that if he just found the right medium, he could make something of himself. He could believe he simply hadn't found his calling yet. Today wasn't a good day.
Howard closed his eyes and thought of beautiful women in grainy black and white serials, being tied to train tracks and fearing a fate worse than death.
Howard was screaming again.
Howard's eyes were looking through Vince, open but unseeing.
"Help me, please!"
Vince wrapped his arms around Howard, and tried to say reassuring things (but more or less just screamed his tits off). Naboo and Bollo burst into the room, looking ready for a fight.
"Why are you idiots screaming?" Naboo snapped, "We were working on serious Shamanic business, you know."
Vince smelled the skunky scent of Shamanic business.
"Can't you help him?" he asked, watching Howard crumble onto the bed.
"I'm fine," Howard mumbled into his pillow.
"He says he's fine," Naboo said with a shrug, "No cure for fine."
Howard wasn't sure what day it was, or how long he'd been asleep. For the first time since leaving the cave, his lungs felt clean and strong. There was no headache or sinus pressure. He had recovered from the effects of the damp cave. Howard Moon was all better.
He put on some proper clothes and went to the bathroom to clean up. He was brushing his teeth when there was a knock at the door. Howard opened the door and returned Vince's "all right" before going back to his morning (or in this case, midnight) ablutions. He waited for Vince to start filling the room with hairspray, but the young man just leaned against the wall.
"Something wrong, Little Man?"
Howard had been lying on the road, his chest feeling like it was on fire, as Old Gregg and the Funk ran away from Vince's electro nonsense. He'd been feeling nothing but grateful to be alive when he felt Vince's hand grabbing his.
"Sorry, I let the Funk get away," Vince apologized, "I'd chase him down, but I can't really run in these boots. Or these trousers."
When Vince didn't respond, Howard looked at him in the mirror. His friend looked as hale, healthy and coiffured as ever so Howard ran his fingers through his hair and checked for nicks from his shave. He heard Vince moving towards him and was ready to move away from the mirror when thin arms wrapped around his chest. Vince's tears wear hot against Howard's back, but his ... partner? ...his Vince made no noise. He just held Howard tight and silently wept.
Howard wasn't ready to be held, but he wasn't ready to pull away either. When Vince cried himself out, Howard made tea and sandwiches while they planned their next career move (since they were no longer going to be the next big name in white funk).
"We should go to America," Vince suggested, "Fossil owes us."
Howard felt woozy every time Vince said 'we'. Howard had never had a best mate before Vince. Even as a school boy, he liked to keep a healthy amount of personal space. Perhaps there were men all over England holding one another and crying.
That's what Howard was going to believe, because he wasn't ready to consider the other possibilities. He and Vince could go to America. Being outcasts together was their shtick, it always had been.
Vince couldn't stop grinning. Howard was twitchy and irritable, but he wasn't fleeing at the suggestion they make plans beyond the next week. For the first time in their friendship, Howard was talking about a shared future.
Vince chewed on his thumb and tried to hide his excitement. He wasn't sure why, but Howard made him happier than anyone, even Charlie. If Howard were gone forever...
It was unbearable to even consider. Vince looked up to make sure Howard was still in front of him. He found Howard staring at him and his face went red under the scrutiny. Howard seemed to be staring at his mouth, and Vince wondered if he had mustard on his face. Vince tried to be casual as he ran his tongue over his lips, looking for stray condiments. Then Howard went red and mumbled something about paperwork, before running up the stairs two at a time. Vince was confused, but happy. Howard was afraid of flying, so they'd have a nice long boat ride together. A chance to just enjoy each others' company without a bunch of wacky adventures. They could lie out on deck all day. Vince would need his Edgar Winter sun screen, but Howard looked good in a tan.
Vince knew Howard was only pretending to be asleep when he walked into their room. Howard didn't snore, but he made a funny little noise when he exhaled. He also knew Howard would never give up on a ruse, so he gave Howard a quick kiss on the cheek and whispered, "I'm so glad you're safe."
When Howard fell asleep for real, Vince would give his hair a trim. Howard didn't know it, but he was always in a better mood after a haircut.