Married on the Morrow

Sequel to When You Came Home Late. Vince has agreed to marry Terry, but Howard is convinced that Vince is making a big mistake.


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Notes: Sequel to When You Came Home Late. I never actually meant to write this, but I did in response to the feedback I got on

Married on the Morrow by Thingogram

Howard heaved the laden box out of the front door and plonked it down with the others. Each was sloppily packed with gadgets and trinkets, and aptly labelled “VINCE’S SHIT” in large capitals in an offensively glittery silver marker pen. Vince was inside, struggling slightly with another box, looking a little overwhelmed. Just down the path from the door, Terry was piling the boxes into a van he’d hired.

Vince emerged from the front door and deposited his box onto the stack. He stood up straight and stretched his shoulders, looking up at the sky as he rotated them, his face perhaps slightly paler than usual, his eyes maybe wider. Maybe it wasn’t just the exertion that was making him sweat.

“Are you sure about this?” Howard asked, squeezing Vince’s shoulder.

“Yeah, yeah,” replied Vince, not quite able to stop his voice from shaking. “Bit late now anyway, innit.”

“It’s never too late to say you’ve changed your mind, you know,” Howard reassured him. Truth be told, Howard was just as nervous as Vince was. They had hardly been apart from each other in twelve years, and even though he had Gregg to keep him company, Howard wasn’t sure how strange it would be to not have Vince there when he wanted to see him.

Vince reached round and gave Howard a quick hug, before he was distracted by a cry of “You’ll need this!” from the top of the stairs, and had to run back inside to catch part of a mixing deck that Gregg had flung down from his bedroom, the force of which knocked him down onto the floor and forced the wind out of him.

“Gregg!” Howard shouted, following Vince in. “Will you please be careful with that!”

“Sorry,” Gregg shouted back cheerily, his tutu swaying as he danced back into Vince’s bedroom for more stuff.

Howard pulled the deck off Vince’s chest and placed it delicately on the floor, before offering Vince a hand and helping him up.

“Alright?” he asked.

“Yeah,” answered Vince, with no effort whatsoever to keep the contempt from his voice.

“Vince, look, I know you don’t like him, but he’s only trying to help,” Howard said. “He’s just got his own weird little way of doing it.”

“Yeah, I know,” replied Vince, his voice dropping, and his eyes dropping with it.

Lifting Vince’s face, Howard carried on. “And I know he doesn’t seem to like you much either, but he does, you know. He doesn’t like to admit he does.”

Vince smiled, but it was a struggle to do so. It probably wasn’t convincing, but it seemed to work for Howard.

“Is that it?” asked Terry, coming in through the open door.

“A little bit more up here!” came Gregg’s voice from the top of the stairs, where he was swinging back a smooth, curvy ceramic sculpture.

“Gregg! Don’t throw that!” shouted Howard. A sly grin crept onto his face. “If I catch you trying that again, I’ll come up there and bend you over.”

Gregg let out a bizarre high-pitched giggle and skipped down the stairs, depositing Vince’s sculpture in another box, taking care to wiggle his derriere playfully in Howard’s direction. Vince and Terry hastily averted their eyes.

“Better him than me,” Vince muttered to his partner.

“Oi, cheeky,” chided Howard, sneaking up on him and jabbing him in the side. “Why do I get the feeling it’s you I should be bending over instead of Gregg?” He turned to Terry. “Keep an eye on this one,” he advised, grinning.

Howard suddenly darted towards the door. “Hey Naboo!” he called. “Bollo, you would have been such a help this morning, before we finished.”

“Didn’t come here for unpaid manual labour,” came Bollo’s reply. “Joined a union.”

Naboo and Bollo came in, greeting Vince with hugs and Terry with a cool cordiality, obviously just as ill at ease with him and his relationship to Vince as Howard himself was. They chatted for a while, and Bollo was persuaded to help Terry with the last few boxes, because if he didn’t, then Gregg would do it, and Gregg would probably break something, or everything.

“Oh, Terry, did you drop your…?” Naboo bent down to pick something up. He held it out flat in his palm. “…little jewellery thing.”

Naboo realised everyone was looking at the jewellery box in his hand, and Terry had gone quite red. Vince was looking at Terry, a hand over his mouth and his eyes darting everywhere.

Terry took the box back and stood in front of Vince. “I meant to do this later,” he said, so quietly that everyone but Vince had to strain to hear, “away from prying eyes.” Suddenly he dropped to the floor on one knee. “Vincent Noir, you may be a fashion-paranoid French boy, but I love you all the same. And I know I mistook you for a woman when I first met you, but even though I always said I was straight, you made me happier than any woman ever did. Will you marry me?”

He opened the box, and Vince stared, mouth agape, at the glittering diamond within. Finally, he managed to choke out “Yes”.

Terry pushed the ring onto Vince’s finger, and Vince held it up and stared at it, eyes now huge. It was probably a ladies’ ring, a simple gold band with a single but rather large diamond. After a few moments he managed to tear his eyes from it and throw his arms around Terry’s neck and kiss him almost violently. Terry in turn wrapped his arms around Vince and joined in.

The others stared at them as they got off without fear or shame. On one side of the room Gregg gaped in what looked like awe, while Bollo sidled over to join Howard and Naboo on the other.

“I never expected that to happen,” said Naboo, watching the scene like they were some kind of giant mosquito; disgustingly creepy, yet fascinating.

“I know,” agreed Howard. “And it shouldn’t have done.” Naboo and Bollo looked at him. “Vince is a straight.”

“He’s obviously not,” said Naboo, not taking his eyes off the lip-locked couple. “I mean, I know he looked like one, but… remember all that time at the zoo when people were coming up with all those rumours about you? And despite all of those no one ever realised you actually were as both ways as the M1.”

“But he told me he was, Naboo,” argued Howard. “When he first went out with Terry, Vince told me he was straight and he didn’t love Terry.”

“People change in six months,” replied Naboo.

“Not like that, they don’t,” insisted Howard. “How can he marry that man? He raped him, for God’s sake.”

“Well they’re obviously serious about it,” said Naboo. He looked round at Howard. “You should give them your support.”

They watched a moment longer. “Who’d have thought Gregg would have started all this?” Bollo spoke up eventually.

“Gregg?” asked Howard.

“Yes, when he lied on the phone the night Vince first met Terry,” Bollo answered, not noticing Naboo making cutting motions with his arms and mouthing “shut up”.

“What was that all about?” asked Howard.

“When Naboo called to see if Vince was home, Gregg said he was, when he wasn’t, so no one went out looking for him.” As soon as Bollo finished speaking, he caught sight of Naboo’s crossed arms and sarcastic “oh well done” face. “Oh shit,” he groaned.

Howard just stared over at Gregg in shock. Why would Gregg have lied? He couldn’t have known about the rape, surely. No, that was a silly idea. But he could have saved Vince from an experience that traumatised him for months, and instead he condemned him with one little lie. And Vince knew, Howard realised. Vince had heard it on the answering machine. No wonder he didn’t like Gregg.

But he had never said anything. Why? Because… he wanted Howard to be happy? He knew how happy Howard finally was with Gregg? He must really really care if that was the reason.

It still left doubts in Howard’s mind about whether or not Vince really wanted to marry Terry. Surely he couldn’t. How could he? As he watched Vince and Terry’s impassioned bodies writhing together, he felt a wave of sickness over how a man could ever stand to marry, or even love, his own rapist.

Howard lay back on the bed, musing on spangly black boxers. Gregg had thought they were pretty. He supposed they were. Just not what he would have chosen for himself. But his pants weren’t just for him to see now, so he might as well wear what Gregg liked. Vince would kill to see him in these pants, he thought, chuckling.

Gregg came out from the en suite, still dancing as he had been all day, a springy rhythmic jig, wearing a pale pink babydoll nightie that left very little to the imagination, and belly-flopped heavily on the bed, making them both bounce up. Gregg manoeuvred his bounce to land on Howard, but Howard was too quick for him, and rolled him over so he had Gregg pinned under him.

“Not so fast, not so fast,” he chided, smiling. “There’s something I need a word with you about, my darling.”

He let Gregg sit up, and Gregg did so, leaning back on his arms and pouting.

“I heard about what you said to Naboo on the phone the night Vince got…”

“Raped,” filled in Gregg, smiling.

“Yes,” Howard groaned, wondering why Gregg couldn’t see the serious side of the issue. “Raped.”

“It was just a spur of the moment thing,” answered Gregg, playing with the hem of his nightie in a way that Howard found sickeningly adorable. “Didn’t know it was gonna happen. Think everyone’s just overreacting a little bit.” He looked up at Howard. “Rape can be an enjoyable experience. Cheaper than prostitutes.”

Howard stared open-mouthed at his marginally insane partner.

“Old Gregg used to rape people,” Gregg continued. “Some of ‘em didn’t like it. Some of ‘em did. Them were the ones that lived.”

“Gregg,” Howard interrupted. “Let’s just stick to normal talking dirty, shall we.”

“Okay,” agreed Gregg. Then his eyes lit up. “You should rape Old Gregg some time!” he cried. Howard stared again. “Y’know, just sneak up behind me, spread my legs, stick your big old shenis into my waiting mangina…”

“That’s more like it,” said Howard, bearing himself down on his fishy lover.

When Howard first mentioned Vince’s upcoming civil partnership, Vince looked a little nervous. Howard took this as confirmation of his doubts.

“Have you picked a date?” he asked.

“Next Thursday,” replied Vince.

“Next Thursday?” spluttered Howard. “How are you going to have anything ready by next Thursday?”

“We’re not making a big deal out of it,” said Vince. “We’re just having a quick little ceremony in the registry office and that’s it.”

“Who’s coming?”

“No one.”

“What do you mean, ‘no one’?”

“We’re not making a big deal out of it because no one’s coming,” Vince explained, starting to get exasperated. “Terry isn’t inviting anyone. And if I’ve only got five people, I might as well not bother.”

“Oh no you don’t, little man,” Howard said. “If you’re gonna do this at all, you’re gonna do it properly. I don’t care if you have five guests. I want an invitation, and I want to see vows and speeches and things, and the kiss at the end, and I want you to throw a bouquet.”

“No!” cried Vince, failing to stop himself from laughing, and falling forward on the table.

“Alright, I’m flexible with the bouquet,” said Howard, through his own giggling. “But I still want a proper wedding from you. Gregg’s going to wear a big hat, so we need a proper wedding. With a reception after. We’ll do the food.”

“Alright, alright,” pouted Vince. “I’ll go now if you want, and make Terry write some vows.”

Vince finished his tea and stalked out, doing his best to hide the smile that would betray his amusement at the thought of Old Gregg in a big wedding hat.

Unfortunately, Howard’s plan to at least delay the wedding didn’t come to fruition. Terry turned out to be a rather adept writer, and though Howard was conveniently busy every time Vince asked for his help with his own vows, Bollo had managed to give him some good ideas, and Naboo had helpfully checked the grammar.

Vince even gloated that he had gone one up on Howard’s plan, and they were putting some decorations in the registry office. This turned out to mean flowers from a market stall, presented in the miscellany of ceramic objects in Vince’s collection.

And Howard found himself dragged into every expensive hire shop in London while Gregg looked for the biggest and most elaborate hat in creation.

He had one more trick up his sleeve though.

“So, I take it you’re wearing the dress,” he said to Vince a couple of days later.

“What?” Vince blurted out, as Howard forced the smile from his face. “I’m supposed to wear a dress? But that means I’ll have to get one made. Hey Terry!” he shouted, and Howard cursed himself for bringing up the dress in a restaurant on a reception-food-buying trip instead of in private where no one could contradict him. “Am I supposed to wear a dress?”

“What?” shouted Terry. “No! Where’d you get that idea?” Terry came over and sat down next to Vince. “Not that you wouldn’t look gorgeous in one.”

“Yeah, I know I do,” replied Vince.

“If you want something dress-like,” Naboo interrupted, coming up behind and stuffing his face with the cake Terry had offered to pay for, “try a kaftan. Comes in man sizes.”

“Cheers Naboo,” Vince grinned.

“I’ll take you to my outfitters’ later,” Naboo offered. “He’s really good.”

And then of course, Vince had suddenly started wanting Howard’s opinions, and so he had wound up in a pricey eastern tailors’, not doing much and watching Vince get measured for white cheesecloth trousers and a plain white knee-length kaftan, which he wanted to decorate himself at home. At least it was a break from watching Gregg try on hats, but that didn’t console Howard over the fact that he was preparing his best friend for a marriage he was still certain Vince didn’t want to go through with.

Howard had been about to resign to the fact that maybe Vince’s marriage would work when the phone rang. Gregg, whose excitement at most things knew no bounds, seemed to keep a special reserve of it for weddings, and he was currently jumping on the bed, only slightly miffed that Howard had taken his new hat away so it wouldn’t get damaged if Gregg fell off again.

“I’ll get it,” Howard shouted through the door, leaving Gregg to his bouncing while he answered the phone. “Hello?”

“Hiya,” Vince said, sounding quiet and a little tired.

“Hey, little man, you alright?”

“Yeah,” Vince answered, still sounding distracted. “Howard, I’m scared.”

Finally an admission that all wasn’t perfect in Vince and Terry’s love life! And Howard realised that he didn’t have a clue what to do with it.

“Well, Vince… you know you could always postpone it a bit,” Howard told him. “You’ve rushed into this really fast.”

“I can’t do that,” said Vince. “Everyone’s really excited about this wedding. Bollo says he can’t sleep. He’s gonna meet me really early to decorate the registry office. And Gregg sounds like he’s having a little celebration back there.”

“He’s jumping on the bed,” Howard giggled.

“Oh yeah, and Leroy says can you video the whole thing ‘cause he can’t make it.”

“Course I can.”

He heard Vince sigh.

“Vince, are you sure you’re alright?” Howard asked. “You’re not… you’re not crying, are you?”

“No, no,” said Vince, giving a little laugh. “I’m just a bit… Were you scared, Howard?”

“Yes, I was a bit,” Howard admitted. “I think everyone is.”

“Terry’s not,” Vince told him, and Howard could have been mistaken, but he thought he heard a hint of sadness in Vince’s voice.

“Well… he probably is, he’s just not showing it,” said Howard. “Don’t worry; I’m sure everything’ll go fine tomorrow.”

There was silence for a while. Eventually he heard Vince speak again. “Thanks Howard.”

The registry office had been filled almost to bursting with cheap flowers in various mismatched vases and urns and whatnot, which Vince and Terry had had to promise to remove as soon as the ceremony was over. Bollo, enthusiastic as ever, had been given the job of videoing the wedding for Leroy, and after the decorating was finished, he had hung around checking light levels and angles, something which both Vince and Terry had tried to assure him wasn’t necessary. Naboo was arguing with the registrar over various shamanic symbols and blessings he had incorporated into the decoration, as the registrar insisted that a civil ceremony should have no religious significance whatsoever, and Naboo told him in none too polite terms, that Vince wanted it and it was his wedding, so the registrar could shove it.

And Howard was tending to the paling boy-bride.

“What if I balls up my vows? What if I do something wrong? Howard, help me!” Vince almost screamed.

“Shhh, shh, calm down. Deep breaths,” Howard said soothingly, slipping his thumbs under the silk of Vince’s kaftan to rub his shoulders. “How’s that?”

“That hurts,” grimaced Vince.

“Sorry,” said Howard, removing his hands. “Vince, are you really sure you want to go through with this? I’ve never seen anyone this scared before their wedding. And I’ve always been sure you were straight. Even after you started seeing Terry. Vincey, just call it off if you want to.”

“I can’t do that,” Vince insisted.

“Yes you can,” Howard argued, putting his hands on Vince’s waist to keep him calm.

“I can’t,” replied Vince. “Terry- he needs me. He hasn’t got anyone else. All his mates stopped talking to him when they found out he was going out with a boy. And his family won’t have anything to do with him. Why d’you think there’s no one here, Howard? I’m all he’s got; if he loses me, that’s it. It doesn’t matter that I don’t love him.”

Howard couldn’t think of what to say to him. Vince turned and looked him in the face. “I can learn to love him,” Vince said, “just like you did with Gregg.”

He looked down to Gregg, waiting in the main office. He was wearing a suit that included the most obscenely short skirt Howard had seen in his life, with knee boots and an enormous hat decorated with ornamental plastic flowers, all in lilac. All in all he looked like a cross between Hilary Clinton, a prostitute and a table decoration.

He realised how similar their situations actually were. The one with everything and the one with nothing. The one madly seized by love and the one who dutifully showed it. Gregg had been sadistic, murderous, clinging and repulsive. Didn’t Howard love him still?

It didn’t even matter that Gregg had lied on the phone. Did it?

The registrar chose that moment to come and ask if Vince was ready.

Vince looked at Terry, whose cream suit was immaculate, and whose face now showed his nerves.

“Terry,” he began. “When I first met you, I was scared. Really bricking it. And then when I met you again, and you asked me out and I said yes, I couldn’t help asking myself if I was mental. But none of that matters now, because I can’t see myself with anyone else. None of that matters any more, because I love you now, and I promise to love you forever.”

He smiled, thankful he hadn’t messed up the vow like he kept imagining.

Terry looked just as pale and nervous as he was.

“Vincent Noir,” said the registrar, “do you take Terence to be your lawful partner in life?”

Vince swallowed. “I do.”

The registrar smiled and looked over at Terry.

Terry was now almost shaking. His mouth moved, and only Vince thought he caught what those words were.

“What?” he whispered, so softly it was barely more than a breath.

“I can’t do this,” Terry repeated, sweating profusely. “I- I heard-”

Suddenly he ran, through the rows of empty chairs, out of the door and away, through corridors and into the streets.

Vince ran after him, but had barely left the office when he went over on his ankle and fell with a slam to the floor. He tried to get up and follow, but was forced to succumb to the warm, strong restraint of Howard’s arms as Terry got further and further away.

“Somebody run after him!” Vince shouted, as he had been for the last ten minutes.

“Vincey, he’ll come back in his own time,” Howard reassured him, but Vince wasn’t having any of it.

“Let me go; I can walk now,” he snapped, pushing his friends aside and marching to the door.

Howard and Bollo ran after him, caught up and held him still again.

“Look, he’ll probably come back here in a couple of minutes,” reasoned Howard.

“I don’t care,” Vince seethed. “I didn’t mean what I said before. I do love him. I meant my vows!”

He ran again, so Bollo moved directly in front of him, picked him up and held him off the ground. “Call him on the phone,” Bollo suggested. “If he not pick up, he not ready. Give him ten minutes.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Vince panted. He let Bollo carry him back into the office and sit him down. Then he recovered his mobile from Howard and rang Terry’s number.

Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring.

Come on, come on…

Ring. Ring. Ring.

“Hi, this is Terry. Either I’m not here, I can’t hear the phone of I’m busy making out with the BF, so leave me a message and if you’re lucky I’ll call back.”


“Hi Terry it’s Vince. Look, I love you, I mean it, I really do. I want to get married. Come back please. Or call me. I love you.”

He hung up the call, his blue eyes beginning to glisten. “Answerphone,” he explained.

Bollo reached over and gave him a hug. Naboo sat on his other side and put his arm round him. Howard would have made some gesture, had he not had Gregg wrapped tightly around his waist.

They waited for half an hour, until the registrar told them the office would be needed by others soon. Out of pity, he gave them a hand removing the flowers. Terry never once picked up the phone.

Howard told Naboo and Bollo to take Gregg home with them and make a start on the reception preparations. He was going to accompany Vince back to his flat, to see if Terry had indeed gone back there.

He covered Vince’s white wedding outfit with his dark coat, and walked with his arm around Vince’s shoulders as Vince silently walked the streets to his and Terry’s home. When they got there, the door was still locked, but when Vince tried his key, he found that the door still wouldn’t open, and the bolts on the inside had been drawn.

“Terry! Terry! Are you in there?” Vince bellowed through the letter box. “Let me in! Please! I need to talk to you!”

There was no reply.

“Terry! Terry! Let me in! Terry please!”

Vince continued to shout for longer than Howard cared to know, until a hoarse crack could be heard in his voice. Though the sounds of Terry moving within the flat could be heard between Vince’s pleas, he made no response.

Eventually Vince’s shouting gave way to agonised tears as he collapsed, weeping, on the step. Howard came up behind him, and Vince practically flung himself onto him, crying into Howard’s chest.

“Terry,” Howard called. “We’re going back to Naboo’s, to eat the food for the reception. It won’t be ready for a while, and we don’t want to start without you. Please come down sometime. We’ll be there till this evening.”

He turned back to the tearful Vince. “Come on, little man,” he said, reaching down to help Vince off the floor.

“No,” Vince persisted, flinging himself down away from Howard’s hands. “I’m staying here.”

“You can’t stay here,” Howard said firmly, but trying to be as sympathetic as he could. “He won’t let you in.”

“He will,” Vince maintained through his tears. “If I wait long enough he will.”

“Vince, it’s cold, you can’t just wait. Come back to Naboo’s, have something to eat.”

“I’m not leaving!” Vince screeched, gripping the letter box with one hand and the doorknob with the other, and bracing himself steadfast.

Howard sighed. “Vince, I’m really sorry about this,” he said, before he fixed his arms around Vince’s waist, wrenched him away from the door, turned him round and slung him over his shoulder.

“What you doing?” Vince shrieked in alarm. “Put me down! Put me down you bastard!”

Howard was barely down the stairs when Vince’s screaming began to attract shocked stares, so Howard obliged him for a moment and set him down on the floor. “Vince, please be quiet and come back with me,” he requested.

“No,” was still Vince’s firm answer.

“In that case,” Howard sighed, “I’m even more sorry about this.”

He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and stuffed it ungraciously into Vince’s mouth. Leaning against Vince and pinning him to the wall, Howard removed his tie and tied it securely but gently around Vince’s face. The impromptu gag in place, Howard picked Vince up again and carried him away over his shoulder, doing his best to ignore the muffled sounds of what Howard guessed were orders mixed with expletives, and receiving no end of kicks, punches and scratches for his trouble.

Outside a man stared at the bizarre sight of the tall suit-clad man with the gagged boy in white protesting over his shoulder. “Just come from the wedding,” Howard shouted at him, before heading back to Naboo’s.

When Bollo opened the door he was unpleasantly alarmed to find Howard still carrying Vince over his shoulder, and Vince still pounding Howard and trying to shriek in his efforts to be released. When Howard put Vince down, Vince aimed a few random blows at his torso before collapsing on him, still weeping. Tentatively, Howard tried to hold him, while at the same time fumbling with the knot in his homemade gag. “You bastard,” Vince sobbed, his voice high, once Howard had finally removed the obstruction from his mouth. He fell on Howard again, red-faced and distraught, burying his face in Howard’s chest. Bollo put a large arm on Vince’s shoulder, and as he felt the contact, he abandoned Howard’s body completely and let himself fall onto Bollo.

Howard went to give Naboo a hand in the kitchen, while Bollo stayed in the living room to comfort Vince. He found the shaman finishing off his specialty chilli, and Gregg seasoning the soup.

“What happened?” Naboo asked.

“He was in their flat, but wouldn’t say anything. I had to bring Vince back; there was no way Terry was going to even look at him.”

“Do you reckon it’s all over then now?” asked Naboo.

“Probably,” Howard answered.

Naboo twitched into an ironic smile. “’Swhat you wanted then, innit,” he said.

“What?” asked Howard.

“You said you didn’t want it going ahead, and I’ve seen you trying to stop it since Terry proposed. Don’t think I don’t know, Howard.”

“I- I wasn’t trying to stop it; I just… I wanted Vince to have enough time to know he was doing the right thing. I thought he might throw his life away and wind up unhappy. I didn’t want to see him upset.” He listened to the sounds of Vince still crying softly in the living room. “Ballsed that up.”

“Yeah,” said Naboo, almost absently. He gave Howard a weary smile, and Howard found himself returning it. “Come on,” Naboo requested. “Do the last few mushrooms for me.”

Howard set to work, cutting the mushrooms thickly, the only way that did Naboo’s chilli justice, as Naboo went over to give Gregg his opinion on the soup. For the next fifteen minutes, all conversation was strictly food related, until Gregg deemed the soup to be ready.

Because of the unexpected events of the day, they abandoned the idea of the civilised wedding reception, and instead ate on the floor, helping themselves straight from the pot. Vince seemed to have calmed down a lot by now, but his eyes looked sore and he slumped sadly. He didn’t take mush at first, and ate excruciatingly slowly, but he soon realised how hungry he was and gave in to the allure of carrot and coriander soup. Howard smiled as he watched Vince help himself to more and more, thankful that Terry wasn’t particular so that the menu had had to be devised around Vince’s favourites.

When the chilli was brought in, served in Naboo’s own cauldron (“It’s voodoo chilli; you can’t just use anything,” Naboo reasoned), Vince practically dived on it to get enough to fill his face. When the five of them finally managed to finish it between them, he had eaten so much he requested that they wait a while before dessert. Bollo’s contribution was a very sweet treacle tart, and after Vince had finished it and begged for more, even managed to crack a joke and suggest that he and Bollo try a civil partnership next, though Howard noticed his smile falter slightly as he said this.

Still, Vince seemed not only to have calmed down, but to have cheered up, and this took them through an evening of silly games and bizarre conversations, all helped along by the assiduous consumption of discount wine.

When the evening left them tired, Naboo offered to take Gregg and Howard home on his carpet, but when Vince said that he wanted to go back to his flat and see if Terry was willing to talk to him yet, Howard offered to go with him. So as the carpet flew off in one direction, Vince and Howard walked in the other, their arms around each others’ shoulders, in contented silence.

“It’s nice to see you smile,” Howard said.

Vince didn’t say anything. He just widened his smile and laid his head on Howard’s shoulder, feeling the rhythmic plodding of his gait.

The door to the flat was still locked, but Vince’s key succeeded in opening the door this time. The flat had been ransacked, and all of Terry’s possessions were gone. Howard could feel the happiness falling away from Vince as he looked at the half-empty void that had been his home.

“Terry!” he called, his voice beginning to break again. “Terry!”

Vince ran through the rooms, but the flat was assuredly empty. He searched everywhere, but aside from the disturbed dust, there was nothing to suggest that Terry had lived there at all. There was no note, no message, no nothing.

Vince fell into the sagging, moth-eaten sofa. He leaned forward, fingers holding up his face.

“Oh no Vince,” said Howard, sitting beside him and offering him an arm. “Not this again.”

But Vince was already crying. Not loud wails like the last time he was here, but quiet, dignified tears for the life he would never know. And this time Howard didn’t try to stop him, just sat there for the hour or so holding Vince in an embrace, letting him weep.

When Vince finally stopped, he looked round at the flat, and then at Howard, giving him a tiny, sad smile.

“Vince, you know your old bed’s still there if you want it,” Howard offered.

Vince looked up at him. “Thanks,” he said.

Howard pulled him a little closer, almost giving in to a compulsion to kiss his hair. “Go and pack what you need,” he said, letting him go.

Vince eventually settled on a few extra outfits, all of his jewellery and makeup collections, and almost every pair of shoes he owned, all packed into rucksacks and whatever else Vince could find lying around. Howard took some of his bags off him, and in quiet consolation took him home.

“Thanks Howard,” Vince said, his voice hoarse. He dropped his bags on the floor to give Howard a warm, grateful hug, which Howard protectively returned.

Gregg, half asleep, came out of the bedroom and mumbled a greeting.

Howard looked at his lover, and then looked back at Vince, who was looking somewhere in between Gregg and the floor with the eyes of a lost puppy. He didn’t want to spend the night alone, Howard realised.

Howard beckoned Gregg over, and he held the two together with a wicked, playful grin on his face. “Wanna build a tent in the living room?”

They built the tent out of sheets, pinning the ends under chairs and other items of furniture, and tying the other ends to lights and curtain rods, until they had a cosy white sanctuary, filled with the coverings of two beds, and the many soft cushions Vince had left behind when he moved out. They lay in it together, talking about meaningless things. Gregg snuggled up to Howard, and Howard reached over and pulled Vince into a cuddle.

Vince was the first to fall asleep, and Howard alerted Gregg to this, so they could both see how adorable he looked, leaning on Howard and breathing deeply and softly, the pain of the day fading with the coming of deep sleep and sweet dreams. Howard kissed his head, and leant back as Gregg sat up and leaned over him to kiss Vince’s cheek. Howard and Gregg looked into each others eyes, and kissed for one last time before falling asleep themselves, the three of them in one safe embrace.