Dinner for Two

It's a year since The Party. Vince promises to let Howard decide how to celebrate his 33rd birthday, but all Howard wants is a minimal fuss and to connect like they used to do.


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Notes: Disclaimer: I do not own the Mighty Boosh, nor the characters within them. They belong to Babycow. Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt. I just like to play with them.

Dinner for Two by cailenbraern

As his fingers expertly knotted the tie around his collar he came to the conclusion that it was a little too much. Accessories were all well and good, but he didn’t want to come across as though he’d made too much of an effort. Questions may be raised then; questions he wasn’t prepared to answer tonight. He pulled the loosely knotted tie over his head and threw it down on the carpet somewhere. Ordinarily Howard would have bent down to pick it up straightaway and tidy it away neatly in its correct place on his tie rack, especially as it wasn’t his room he was littering, but he found himself distracted on this night.

Instead he took a step backward, trying to cram as much of his reflection as he could into the small mirror stuck on the inside of the wardrobe door. This was ridiculous. Vince had three full-length mirrors in their bedroom, anyone of them he could’ve used and it would have made this a lot simpler. But he was borrowing the use of Naboo’s room tonight while the shaman and his familiar were out on another bender. He had removed all of the garments which formed the possible choices for tonight’s outfit from the bedroom he and Vince shared and hung them up neatly on the wardrobe door.

The current choice was a white button-down shirt with dark brown trousers and black work boots. Unfortunately for Howard, every single pair of trousers he owned were either some shade of brown or grey. He really needed a black pair, but for tonight he had to improvise. Borrowing a pair of Vince’s was out of the question as he doubted they would even fit one of his legs if he cut the sides and sewed them together. So he’d gone for the darkest pair of trousers he had, and in dodgy lighting they looked black so it wasn’t that big a deal. The shirt was causing more problems than he could handle.

It had to be plain; that much was clear. Vince said his patterned and paisley shirts were an optical nightmare, burning the retinas and painting the lens with their gruesome designs. Actually, Vince had only said the first part and Howard filled in the rest. Now, however many different combinations of buttons done up or undone, the plain shirt still looked far too formal and uptight.

He sighed and glared at the mirror, as if it was all its fault he was having trouble getting dressed. As he did so, he caught the reflection of Naboo’s bed behind him. Sitting on top of it was a parcel, wrapped plainly in red paper. He turned around and walked over to the bed. When he picked it up, he saw that there was a label attached with his name written on it. He allowed himself a moment to smile and feel warm inside. Naboo had pretended he had forgotten his birthday earlier in the day.

He tore off the red paper to find a plain cardboard box. He lifted the lid and unfolded the tissue paper inside to find a plain black t-shirt with a silver silhouette of a man playing a saxophone on the front.


“I’m ready!” Vince announced with a flourish, twirling as he exited the bedroom. His high spirits slumped slightly when he saw that the hall was empty and no one had witnessed his grand entrance. He stole a quick glance into the lounge area which was also empty. He was sure Howard would have been waiting for him; after all it did take him ages to get ready.

He walked back up the corridor, noting that the bathroom was vacant and knocked on the door of Naboo’s bedroom.

“Howard? What’s going on, you’re taking longer than I have!” Vince pressed his ear against the wood to try and hear what was happening inside.

“Yeah, sorry… Got a bit carried away reading a book while I was waiting.” Howard called out, his voice muffled through the door. A moment later it opened and the taller man bustled past Vince into the corridor. “You ready, then?” Howard stopped as he reached the stairs, buttoning up his black, wool coat before turning to wait for Vince.

“Just gotta grab my jacket.” Vince ducked back into their bedroom and emerged seconds later. “Where are we going, anyway?” He asked, rushing to follow Howard who was now making his way down the stairs to the door.

“I dunno,” Howard lied as he fished his keys out, “thought we’d drive around a bit first, ‘til we figure out what to do.”

“Well, that sounds like a riot.” Vince rolled his eyes skyward, sarcasm dripping off every word.

“Hey, you said you’d do whatever I wanted, yeah? Remember that? It’s my birthday, and instead of

going through the embarrassing debacle of last year, we’ll do what I want. No parties.” Howard held open the door. Vince walked through it, his eyes seeking out the camper van parked in the road.

“Yeah, alright! Doesn’t seem much fun if we’re driving around all night, can’t we do something?” Vince whined, checking his hair in his reflection in the van’s window. Howard inspected the road and crossed over to the driver’s side of the van. He unlocked it and the pair got in.

“We’ll find something, eh? Trust me.” Howard assured, pulling his seatbelt on and locking it. Vince mirrored him, looking at his face for some clue as to what exactly was happening.

“Sounds like you’ve got some sort of surprise organised. That’s well wrong, I’m supposed to be surprising you, ain’t I? It is your birthday.”

“We all know how well your surprises work out, don’t we?” Howard couldn’t stop the snide reply from coming out and instantly regretted it. He started the engine and drove off before Vince could get out of the car. To his surprise, Vince didn’t reply. Instead, the younger man idly flicked through the collection of tapes stowed in the glove compartment.

That activity kept him amused for five minutes before he shut the compartment and leant back. He glanced across at Howard who seemed highly agitated. The van was stopped at traffic lights, and Howard’s eyes darted rapidly from the red light to his hands. Seemingly envious of Howard’s frenetic eye movement, his fingers drummed a rhythm-less beat on the steering wheel.

“Alright?” Vince ventured, reaching over to touch him reassuringly on the shoulder. Howard started at the gesture and turned to look at Vince. Noticing Vince’s face had developed a slightly green hue from the traffic lights he reached for the gearstick and put his foot on the accelerator.

The van stalled, and from behind them came the blare of horns from angry workers trying to get home during the rush hour. It took two more false starts before Howard was finally able to get the van moving and passed the traffic lights.

“You should never distract a man while he’s driving, Vince. Ruins his concentration, you know? Driving is a serious business, very serious. You never know when a passing deer might canter onto the road and if you’re not paying attention, BANG!” His passenger jumped in his chair, Howard allowed himself a miniscule smirk.

“As if!” Vince recovered from the unexpected, loud noise made by his friend and went straight into argumentative banter mode. “There’s no deer in Dalston! In fact there aren’t even any animal threats for you to run over just because you can’t hold a conversation and drive at the same time.”

“I can talk and drive! Just you watch me, see? I’m doing it now, look. Talking and driving, yes sir! What about cats, eh? Cats, dogs, squirrels, foxes…”

“Eugh!” Vince shuddered at the memory of one particular fox. “You can run them all down!” Howard took his eyes off the road to shoot an outraged look toward his friend.

“What? What’s that, little man? Hey? You’re not supposed to say things like that; you grew up with animals, talk to them, hold tea parties for them–”

“I was 6 years old!” Vince interrupted, affronted. “And I only did that once. Anyway, I still love animals, just not foxes. Not after what happened.”

“Yeah.” Howard couldn’t think of anything else to say, and Vince made little attempt to start another conversation. When there was a lull such as this, Howard started thinking about their destination again, and the paranoid, insecure voice would start speaking to him.

“You seem a bit nervous, Howard. Where are we going?”

“We’ll be there in a minute.” Howard couldn’t tell him or Vince would laugh in his face. This was a bad, bad idea. He should’ve spent his birthday with Lester’s head, at least then he wouldn’t feel so nervous and apprehensive and out of control. Luckily Vince seemed satisfied with this frankly rubbish answer and sat back in his chair. True to his word, Howard took the next turning and pulled into the car park of the Harvester restaurant. When he’d gotten the van into the parking bay as best he could, he switched off the engine and looked down at the wheel.

“A restaurant?” Vince asked, and Howard tried desperately to work out the tone of his voice. There didn’t seem to be any annoyance or outrage. Mild curiosity, and was it his own sense of hope that was picking up a trace of excitement.

“I thought it might be nice, you know, to sit down, have a meal somewhere. I mean, there’s no danger in it, is there? No psychotic weirdos trying to kill us, no voodoo vixens trying to defile us, no animals trying to maim us or vacuum up our eyes. Just… a meal.” Howard scrutinised Vince’s face as he tried to gather the younger man’s reaction to the idea. “But, you know, I know you don’t like to be seen out in public with a Jazz freak, or someone with as bad a sense of fashion as me, so we can go somewhere else, or home if you’d like.”

“No, could be alright, I s’pose.” Vince finally replied, stilling Howard’s hand which had made its way to the ignition, ready to leave. “It is your birthday after all and I did promise!” Vince made a big show of pretending to be put out by the idea. He looked over at Howard; his top half was obscured by his coat but his trousers looked decent enough and his hair… Wait, what? “Howard, have you done your hair?”

“Hm?” Howard reached up to feel his hair, stopping himself before he messed it up. “Oh, I thought I’d try this new shampoo.” This in a sense was true. It was a new shampoo, and then he’d found some of Vince’s mousse in the bathroom cabinet. He’d used that whilst blow-drying it, scrunching his hair so it defined his curls more. Then he’d used some of that Goth Juice hairspray, just a little bit to give a bit of bounce, rather than that awful bouffant he’d had for those Goth girls.

But of course, he’d got it wrong so he had to wash it all out and start again. It took him two attempts, but he managed to get it looking halfway decent instead of like brown smoke.

“It looks good.” Vince nodded in approval, giving him the once over once more. “Tell you what; this will make you look genius.” Vince reached into his jacket pocket and brought a pencil. “Look at me,” he ordered, taking the lid off. Howard backed away.

“What you doing?”

“Eyeliner, bring out your eyes more.”

“That’s for girls.”

“I know what I’m doing, alright? Trust me. If you don’t like it, then you can wash it off, but I guarantee you, you won’t even know it’s there. Now shut up, and let me do this.” Vince held Howard’s chin and pulled him gently towards him.

Howard swallowed deeply as he felt Vince’s fingers against his skin. His breath caught in his throat as his friend moved closer towards him, those pointy features so close to his own. He could smell the products in Vince’s hair, he could count the specks of glitter around his eyes, and he could feel Vince’s breath on his cheeks. He wasn’t quite sure what was happening here. This was just meant to be a meal between two friends to celebrate a birthday, but his increasing heart rate was trying to tell him another story.

Being this close to Vince was a brutal reminder of exactly what had happened the last time he tried to celebrate a birthday. And that wasn’t something he wanted to think about, in fact, he had tried to repress it ever since. He refused to talk about it with Vince, or even mention it, preferring instead to skirt around the issue.

His body was just reacting to the proximity of the other man. That was all. He hated being touched. His personal boundaries were being crossed and he was getting anxious. Yes, that was the reason. But Vince was backing away now, Howard’s chin was released and he cried out for more of that basic contact.

“Have a look.” Vince nodded to the rear-view mirror. Howard did just that, and as much as he tried to pick fault with Vince’s craft, the Electro Prince was right. He could barely see it.

“Shall we?” Howard removed the keys from the ignition and exited the van. Once Vince was out, he locked the vehicle and pocketed the keys. He led the way through the car park and held the door open for Vince, not realising the significance of that chivalrous gesture. Vince was through before he realised he had just treated Vince like a woman, but if it bothered Vince he showed no sign. “Drink first, or shall we sit straight down?”

“Let’s eat, I’m starving.”

“Two, please.” Howard told the waitress.

“Right this way, sir.” The waitress led them to their table, picking up two menus along the way. Howard and Vince began unbuttoning their coats. “Can I get you any drinks?”

“I’ll have a whisky, please.” Howard told the waitress as he hung his coat on the back of his chair. “What about you Vince?” There was no reply. Howard looked across the table at Vince. He was halfway through taking his coat off, his mouth hung slightly open in astonishment. “Vince! What drink would you like?”

“What? Oh right, er.” Vince shook his head and struggled to form coherent thoughts. When none were forthcoming, Howard decided to step in for him.

“A coke for him, please.” The waitress nodded, smiling at him before walking off to fetch their order. This was new for Howard. Nobody ever smiled at him, except for Vince, and that was usually only when he was laughing at him. A look across the table saw that Vince was frozen in the same position. “What is the matter with you, eh?” He snapped his fingers in an attempt to wake him up. The younger man blinked, then came to and removed the rest of his jacket. He sat down.

“Sorry Howard, just…I wasn’t expecting you to look so ni-look decent, I mean.” Vince appraised the white shirt unbuttoned over the black t-shirt. Was that silver on the t-shirt? Vince could’ve sworn Howard was allergic to silver.

A very small part of Howard wanted to punch the air and whoop very loudly. The urge to shout ‘Ha! In your face, little man! Didn’t think I could do it, did you?’ at Vince was also fairly strong. Instead he looked down at his outfit, brushing off a speck of invisible fluff off his white shirt and pulling the t-shirt down before taking his seat.

“Well, special occasion, you know. Couldn’t have you too embarrassed to be seen with me.”

“Howard, I’m not–” Vince was interrupted by the waitress bringing their drinks to the table. Whatever it was he was going to say was forgotten as he watched the girl accidentally brush Howard’s hand as she placed his drink in front of him. He watched as the girl blushed and apologised, battering her eyelashes while Howard remained oblivious. When the girl left, Howard picked up his menu and Vince copied.

Half an hour later and they were both tucking into their meals. Vince had a Caesar salad, and despite it being the healthiest thing on the menu, Howard felt sure that afterwards Vince would order the most sugar-ridden, calorific desert on the menu. He, himself had the steak platter. Together they ate in comfortable silence.

“This is nice.” Vince spoke in between chewing a lettuce leaf.

“Don’t speak with your mouth full.” Howard gently chastised, washing down his last mouthful with a sip of his drink. “Yeah, it is. It’s been a while since we spent real time together.”

“This year’s been mental! You’ve barely spoken to me since that all that stuff with Sammy and Jurgen.” Vince made an effort to swallow before he started talking, but before he’d finished his sentence he popped another forkful into his mouth. He chewed happily on it while he waited for Howard to finish what he was eating.

“It goes both ways, Vince. You haven’t exactly been Mr. Talkative, have you? Eh?” Howard carved another slice of his steak and ate it. Vince had paused in his eating and looked a bit guilty and shamed. “What happened to us, Vince? We barely argue anymore. I miss that.”

“Dunno.” Vince shrugged, pushing his salad around with his fork. “But this is good, right? Us talking again?” He looked up at Howard, his eyes wide and hopeful. To his relief, the taller man nodded and grinned so broadly that Vince thought he might melt with the warmth that suddenly flooded his body.

“Thing is, I don’t think you think you would have fit in in the Black Tubes.” Howard gestured at Vince with his fork. The younger man looked up from the dregs of his salad, a mildly affronted expression on his face.

“Oh yeah? Why’s that then?”

“The whole time I’ve known you, you’ve always said it’s your dream to be a rock ‘n’ roll star. I don’t think you realise how much work is involved. It’s a tough business, Vince. You need a thick skin. Not you though, you wear your heart on your sleeve, don’t you? You’re too sensitive, too naive. There’s a lot of people in that industry who’d take advantage of you.”

“You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“We share a room. I know what’s underneath your bed.”

“I keep my trombone under there, that’s no secret.”

“What about the magazine hidden in the lining?”

“That was different, ok?”

“Oh really?”

“Yes, I was under the influence of drugs. I was an unwilling participant in that. But listen, that’s my point, yeah? It’s easy to be taken advantage of. Even someone as worldly-wise and thick-skinned as me can be made a fool of. You’re better off in the shop with me.”

“It’s so boring in there, though. I mean, you’re a great shopkeeper, but I’m more of a star than you. It’s my face that people want to see, they want to see what I’m wearing so they can copy it.”

“I thought you hated people copying you.”

“I don’t mind inspiring people. I just hate ballbags like Lance Dior that steal my identity.”

A small, 15 year old girl with blonde, crimped hair approached the table. She had hot pink and electric blue highlights in her hair, and her eyelids were painted with neon orange eyeshadow. Her clothes were a mix of fluorescent and psychedelic colours, and the outfit was finished by a pair of knee-length gold boots.

“Excuse me, are you Vince Noir?”

“Hey, alright?” Vince grinned as Howard rolled his eyes and went back to eating his meal.

“I love your hair.” The girl simpered as Vince ruffled his hair, looking a teensy bit smug or so Howard reckoned. “And your clothes, can I please have your autograph?”

“You see? You don’t even need to do anything to be famous. I can’t even walk down the street with you anymore without 300 people mobbing you for autographs!”

“Course you can!” Vince ignored Howard, taking the pad and pen and scribbling his name down. He embellished it by adding a couple of stars and kisses. When he had finished, he handed it back to the girl and she held it out for Howard. Howard looked up in bewilderment, swallowing his mouthful and nearly choking.

“What, you want mine as well?” He managed to get out after dislodging the vicious morsel.

“You guys are in a band, right?” The girl asked, looking between Howard and Vince.

“We used to be.” Howard admitted, taking the pen and pad regarding it as an alien being.

“We’re thinking of reforming, actually!” Vince proudly boasted to the girl.

“We are?” Howard looked up briefly before beginning to sign his name. He’d never done it before and so the end result looked terrible. He scribbled it out and started again.

“Think about it! We had a laugh, didn’t we? It’ll be brilliant! Just like the old days. This could be exactly what we need.” Vince put forward a pretty convincing case. It had been fun, and Howard couldn’t deny that he missed it.

“Is he your boyfriend?” the girl asked Vince with nothing but innocent curiosity. Howard lost control of his pen and ended up scribbling four o’s instead of two in his surname.

“We’re just friends!” Howard squeaked as he all but threw the pen and pad back at her. She blushed and apologised before walking away. “Can you believe that? What a cheek.”

“Could be worse,” Vince smirked and took a sip of his coke.

“How’s that, then?” Howard asked, unable to make eye contact now. Instead he licked his thumb and tried to erase the biro marks on his other hand.

“At least she didn’t ask if you were my dad!” Vince had to laugh as Howard looked up at him sharply when he realised this statement was true. Vince began to giggle uncontrollably when Howard looked in the direction the girl had walked off in, eyebrows raised in astonishment.

“I’ve just got to nick off to the loo,” Vince announced, folding up his napkin and dropping it on the now empty plate. Howard nodded at him as he stood up and pushed his chair under.

Barely five seconds after Vince had walked away, the waitress appeared out of the blue, and placed a full glass in front of him.

“I’ve brought you another whisky. On the house.” She smiled and winked, causing a blush to darken Howard’s complexion. He cleared his throat nervously.

“Thank you.” He raised his glass as a toast to her generosity. She began to pile up the plates, gathering up the cutlery and placing it on top of the plates.

“My name’s Carys.” She left the pile in the centre of the table and looked at Howard expectantly. He stared back blankly at her before realising that he was expected to reciprocate.

“Oh, er, Howard! That’s mine. Name, that is.”

“Nice to meet you, Howard. I hope you won’t think it awfully rude of me if I asked you what brings you to our restaurant tonight.”

“It’s my birthday.” He mumbled, smiling weakly as he dreaded the inevitable question of age. Instead Carys flashed him a dazzling grin as she removed her pad and scribbled something down. She tore off a scrap of paper and handed it to him.

“Happy birthday, Howard. There’s my number. Call me later if you want the best birthday present of your life.” Carys had picked up the pile of plates and cutlery and had sped away before Howard had a chance to sputter out an intelligible reply. Moments later he was scared out of his wits as a hand clamped down on his shoulder from behind. Vince had returned from the toilet.

“What’s that?” Vince gestured to the scrap of paper in Howard’s hand. “Waitress finally given you her number, has she? About time, she’s been eyeing you up ever since we got in here. I was getting fed up of her mooning over you. What you reckon? You gonna ring her?”

“Er, I’m not sure.” Howard was far too shocked to pretend it wasn’t a big deal. An attractive woman of mid-twenties had handed him her own, personal number, had invited him to ring her up, and had basically propositioned him! He could count on one hand how many times that had happened in his life and still have five fingers left over. Eleanor didn’t count. She wasn’t an attractive woman. He wasn’t even sure what Eleanor was. He twisted in his chair to stow the slip of paper away in his coat pocket.

“Stay still a min,” Vince urged and Howard couldn’t help but shiver as he felt Vince’s fingers on the back of his neck, “you’ve still got the label on your shirt.” Vince’s fingers brushed Howard’s neck several times as he attempted to rip the label off. “It’s one of those plastic things, hang on.”

Oh god. What? Oh god, help me! Howard sat frozen as Vince leant in to rip the tag with his teeth. Lips pressed lighter-than-feather kisses on the back of his neck, and it took more self-restraint than Howard knew he had not to moan aloud as he felt Vince’s teeth graze his skin. Howard gripped the edges of the table until his knuckles turned white, and felt everlasting gratitude that he was currently seated under the wooden surface as he felt unwanted stirring in his trousers. The snap of the plastic seemed deafening as Vince finally removed the offending label.

“You alright, Howard?” Vince asked, looking at Howard’s pale face and trembling arms with concern. He sat down opposite and watched as Howard downed his whisky in one, coughing as the spirit burned his throat.

“Fine.” Howard replied shortly, picking up his dessert menu and hiding behind it.

“I’ll have the triple chocolate fudge cake,” Vince announced decisively. Howard could’ve bet money on that choice. He folded his menu and handed it to Carys.

“Nothing for me, thanks.” He smiled softly at her and she nodded, collecting the menu and tottering off. Vince looked cross with him. “What?”

“It’s your birthday, Howard! You can’t not have dessert on your birthday. How am I supposed to nick off now and get them to put a candle in it to surprise you?”

“I don’t want a fuss, yeah? Quiet meal, remember?”

“I’m going to feel well guilty while you’re watching me eat cake.”

“Don’t worry, little man. Nowhere I’d rather be.” Howard mentally kicked himself for sounding so schmaltzy and took a sip of his second complimentary whisky. Vince simply grinned like a simpleton.

“You could have had an apple pie or anything though.”

“Watching the old weight, aren’t I?” Howard patted his stomach which, Vince noted, was looking much flatter these days.

“As if! You’ve never been on a diet in your life.”

“Ah, but I’m getting old now, Vincey boy.”

“Shut up, you’re the same age as I am, and I’m never getting old.”

“We all grow old, Vince.”

“Not me, I’m staying young forever. Like that kid in that fairytale, Percy Pot.”

“Peter Pan. How exactly do you intend to achieve this phenomenal feat, eh? Never mind that, it’s the Jazzercise classes, yeah? I can feel myself getting healthier every session! I can’t throw away all that work and effort by scoffing as much food as I can find, can I? I tell you, Vince, I feel better now than I’ve done in years.”

“You look it, as well.”


“Oh, er, I mean you’ve lost loads of weight.” Vince played with the straw in his glass. Howard seemed to like the sound of that.

“Does it really show?” He prodded at his belly through his t-shirt, Vince just rolled his eyes.

“Bloody hell, Howard.” Vince nodded his head to the table across the room. Howard followed his gaze to see a group of four women looking over at him and huddling together, whispering to each other. He looked back at Vince who nodded yet again behind him. He turned around and watched as Carys approached with Vince’s fudge cake in one hand, and a tall cocktail glass with a sparkler in it in the other.

“Since you didn’t want any dessert, I thought you needed a candle of some variety!” She explained, placing the brightly coloured cocktail in front of him.

“Please don’t sing,” Howard begged her. Her smile disappeared and she looked mildly hurt. She nodded stiffly and walked away. When she was gone, Howard pushed the cocktail over to Vince who didn’t utter a word.


“Have a bit!” Vince broke off a piece of his cake with his fork and offered it to Howard. The taller man shook his head and carefully moved Vince’s hand back.

“It’s your pudding, Vince.”

“Just try it!” Vince managed to evade Howard’s hand, and the forkful of cake appeared in front of Howard’s lips once more. “It’s the best fudge cake I’ve ever tasted!”

“All the more reason for you to eat it, yeah? Ow!” Howard backed away as one of the fork’s prongs stabbed his lip. “Watch it with that thing, little man. You could have someone’s eye out.”

“That wouldn’t have happened if you just tried it. Come on, open your mouth. I’m not going to give up here, you know I’m not.” Vince grinned mischievously as he waved the fork in front of Howard. With a weary sigh, Howard opened his mouth and allowed Vince to feed him the cake. As he closed his mouth around the fork, he thought he caught Vince staring at his lips as though mesmerised. He suddenly felt very hot and uncomfortable, and he squirmed in his chair. After releasing the fork he swiped his tongue across the corner of his mouth, capturing a rogue chocolate crumb. This seemed to break the spell and Vince brought the fork back to his plate. “Well?”

“It was delicious, Vince. You’ve proved your point.” There was something in Vince’s smirk that unsettled Howard, and before he knew it, the fork was back in front of him with a fresh piece of cake on it.

“Good, ‘cos there’s no way I can finish this on my own.”

The fudge cake was now devoured, and the two men sat sated after their meal. Howard watched Vince dancing in his chair to the music flooding the restaurant. He raised his eyebrows quizzically and Vince paused momentarily.

“What?” Vince resumed his dancing, and Howard smirked as he leant across the table conspiratorially.

“You do realise you’re dancing to Jazz, don’t you?” Howard practically gloated, a wolfish grin displaying all his teeth. Vince stopped dancing, studying Howard hard for proof of deceit before paying attention to the music playing.

“Get stuffed. No way is this Jazz. Jazz is your ridiculous trombone and brass toys making awful noises. And scat! This is way different.”

“It’s Ragtime, Vince, popularised in the 1800’s. Mostly played on pianos. Jazz isn’t always brass, Vince. There are guitars, woodwind and strings as well as pianos. This particular piece is by Scott Joplin.”

“Didn’t he sing ‘Me and Bobby McGee?” Vince asked in all seriousness. Howard looked at him with disbelief before shaking his head slowly.

“No… You’re thinking of Janis Joplin there. Come on, Scott Joplin. Wrote ‘Maple Leaf Rag’? ‘The Entertainer’.” Howard could have banged his head on the table with frustration at Vince’s blank look. It seemed the restaurant was playing a compilation album of Joplin as ‘The Entertainer’ was the next track to start playing. Howard pointed at the air and Vince listened, recognition dawning on his face.

“I know this one! It’s the cat food advert.”

Howard downed the last of his fourth whisky as he felt his patience being stretched thin. It had an almost instantaneous effect as he felt calmer, slightly light-headed and more at ease with himself.

“Hey, Howard, why do you like Jazz?”

“We’ve been down this road many a time, Vince. I know you think it’s rubbish and coma-inducing, but you and I are very different men.”

“No, I’m serious. How did you get into it?” Vince seemed genuinely interested, focusing his entire attention on Howard. At first, Howard was sceptical but on seeing that eager face he decided to swallow his pride and risk a fall by confessing all about Jazz.

“Well Vince, it all started during that week I became a bin man…”

“That is an incredibly story!” Vince’s face was lit up with awe, and Howard felt ecstatic that he hadn’t ridiculed his passion for Jazz at all during his tale.

“You see, Vince. You shouldn’t underestimate Jazz. You can’t pigeonhole it.”

“Yeah, well, you can keep all that trombone noise. Ragtime is pretty cool, though.”

“Just between the two of us, I don’t dislike Numan as much as I claim to.”

“I knew it!”

“In small doses, mind! Tiny, pocket-sized doses.” Howard laughed lightly as he leant back in his chair, completely casual. Vince saw this as his way in.

“This has been nice, yeah? Although, last year wasn’t entirely bad, was it?”

“Vince,” Howard spoke in a low, warning tone and Vince received the message, loud and clear.

“Alright, sorry I mentioned it!” He held his hands up in surrender and moved back. A waiter approached the table and placed the bill down. “What happened to Carys?” Vince asked the newcomer.

“Her shift ended. Probably gone home.”

As the waiter walked away, Howard reached into his trouser pocket for his wallet. Vince snatched the tray with the bill on it, shaking his head.

“I’m getting this. It’s your birthday treat. Don’t get used to it!”

“Thanks, Vince.”

Vince pulled out some notes from his jacket pocket and placed them on the tray. He held up one of the two mints for Howard who shook his head. Vince grinned childishly and pocketed them both.

“Come on, Howard. Let’s get out of here.”

Having reached the conclusion that Howard was somewhat over the influence after four whiskies, the two decided to leave the van in the car park and walk home. 15 minutes, after several duets of most of Gary Numan’s collection, they arrived home. Howard unlocked the front door, and once again allowed Vince through first. They climbed up the stairs, dumping their coats on the banister.

“Cuppa tea?” Vince offered, rubbing his hands together in an attempt to warm them up.

“Lovely, I’ll give you a hand.” Howard followed Vince into the kitchen, getting the mugs out of the cupboard while Vince filled the kettle up and switched it on.

“Er, wait there a minute.” Vince left the kitchen and returned moments later carrying a square, thin package wrapped in gold hologram foil paper. “Happy birthday, Howard.”

Howard was speechless as he took the package from Vince. He grinned goofily as he unwrapped the paper with the greatest care in the world. Inside was a vinyl record; an extremely rare, first edition vinyl record.

“I saw it on the internet, I didn’t know if it was one you wanted or not. I looked through your record collection and you didn’t have it, so…” Vince trailed off, desperately seeking approval for his uncharacteristically thoughtful gesture.

“It’s… God, I’ve wanted this for years.” Howard lightly stroked the cover with amazement. “This must have cost you a fortune, Vince.” He didn’t look up from the record, couldn’t look up. Vince might see the tears in his eyes if he did that.

“I tracked the man down, did a bit of haggling. He was very easily persuaded.”

“This is… It’s incredible. I don’t know what to say. Thank you, little man!” Howard pushed aside his personal boundaries and enveloped the smaller man into a cuddle. A strong, manly cuddle. As he pulled away from Vince, something caught Howard’s eye. “Only you, Vince could manage to get chocolate on your ear.” Howard reached out with his hand and wiped the chocolate off with his fingers. As he was doing so, Vince grabbed hold of his wrist.

Howard believed he had overstepped the mark and tried to pull his hand back, but Vince’s grip remained firm. He stared intensely into Howard’s eyes, stepping closer so their bodies were pressed together. Howard swallowed; his throat was suddenly dry and the oxygen had been sucked out of the room.

“Vince, this isn’t some sort of birthday tradition, you know? You don’t have to do this.”

“Why not?”

“We agreed!”

“No, you agreed, I never had much choice! Why can’t we talk about last year?”

“Because it was a mistake!” Howard snapped, raising his voice and causing Vince to jump at the sudden anger in his voice. “Because you were using me to save your own neck, same as always! Because it didn’t mean anything.” Howard wrenched his wrist back and gained some distance between the two of them. He put the record on the counter and ran both hands through his hair, removing them instantly as he felt the products in his hair rub off on them.

“What about tonight? Didn’t that mean anything?” Vince asked in a small voice, his hand still hung uselessly in the air. Howard turned to him, his brows furrowed with confusion.

“What are you talking about? We went out for a meal. A celebratory meal.” Howard shook his head in disbelief at what was happening, the whisky turning everything in his mind to fog. “As friends.”

“But you made an effort. Your hair, your clothes, you look amazing!”

“Only because I knew you wouldn’t be seen in public with me! I’m far too embarrassing and freakish to be friends with you. You can’t accept me for who I am so I have to pander to your fashions and your trends!”

“You really think I’m that shallow!” It was Vince’s turn to shout now, and the arm that was previously raised now punched the air for punctuation. “It’s a wonder you even know me at all! I’d go anywhere with you! It doesn’t matter how much I whine or moan or tease you, I would go absolutely anywhere if you only asked. But you never do! You’d much rather sit at home on your own, listening to your precious music in the dark!

“Tonight was brilliant, Howard. And that wasn’t because of the way you were dressed or the way you had your hair. It’s because you were relaxed. Can you remember the last time you felt that at ease?” Howard remained silent, shamed into submission. The kettle finished boiling but both ignored it. “You might be happy enough to pretend what happened last year didn’t happen, but I can’t. You’re right, I did do it to save my own neck and let’s be honest, I wasn’t that far away from a brutal death. Just look at Lester! But you don’t know how much I’ve wanted to kiss you before that night. How long I’ve spent thinking about it ever since. And god, if you only knew how much I wanted to wring Carys’ skinny neck!”

Howard was stunned. Absolutely flabbergasted as Vince poured everything out. The Electro Prince sagged as his declaration drained the energy from him.

“Look, forget I said anything, yeah? Must’ve been that cocktail. I’m going to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.” Vince turned and walked towards the hallway.

“Vince, I’m sorry. I’m not-“ Howard couldn’t bring himself to say the word but Vince turned his head to the side, understanding the meaning of his unfinished sentence.

“Gay? No, I don’t think you are, not completely. Just answer this, and if you don’t then I’ll never mention it again, I swear. Do you love me, Howard? Do you think you could love me?”

A dozen denials came to the tip of Howard’s tongue but he couldn’t bring himself to speak a single one of them aloud. Snapshots of this night flashed through his mind; Vince applying eyeliner, the way Howard’s breath hitched in his throat; Vince’s fingers, breath, lips and teeth against his neck, sending bolts of electricity coursing through his body; the comfort and ease he felt with Vince feeding him, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

“Just so you know, the fact that you haven’t said no gives me reason to hope. I can always try again next year. Then it really would be a tradition, like mistletoe at Christmas. Night, Howard.” Suddenly Vince was aware of a warm body pressing against his back. An arm snaked round to wrap around his stomach and the hand of a second arm came to rest upon his chest. Howard then leant down and buried his face in Vince’s neck, nuzzling the skin and savouring his scent, relishing their close contact.

“Last year, I said that when I crossed that boundary, it’d be forever, and I meant every word. The best birthday present I’ve ever had is you, Vince. I tried to ignore it, but I can’t; I love you. I want to try and make you feel amazing as you’ve made me feel tonight.”

Vince broke free of his embrace. He turned around and pushed Howard back until his back hit the kitchen wall. He then lunged forward and captured Howard’s lips with his own in a kiss filled with ten years worth of pent-up longing and want. As the kiss increased in passion and desire his hands found his way to the white shirt, pushing it off of his shoulders and down on to the floor. Vince broke the kiss, finding Howard’s eyes nearly black with want.

“Bedroom, now!”