The Bin Man and the Shiny Prince
Category: The Mighty Boosh
Characters: Bollo, Howard Moon, Naboo, Vince Noir
Pairing: Howard Moon/Vince Noir
Genre: Alternate Scene, Angst, Drama, Hurt/Comfort
Warning: Rape, Unspecified Warning
Length: 5-10k words
Notes: I was going to write a fluffy piece set during the infamous ‘kiss episode’ of season three. But then I got dumped, I feel angsty as hell, am a bit screwed in the head anyway, so this is the result. Enjoy!
The Bin Man and the Shiny Prince by Toggle
A part of him always knew that he would go back to these noble men, these salt of the earth, morally righteous, brave Bin Men. Certainly, these were not the type of men to turn their back on him, or throw him aside for a shiny new article of clothing. Of all that Vince had done, breaking his priceless jazz record to impress his friends, badgering him about the size of his eyes, mocking his taste in music and Stationary Village, this was the worst, by far.
Howard tried not to think of it, as he lifted another bag of rubbish (not held together with a safety clip, how symbolic of the degeneration of society) into the compactor. Riley walked past and nodded at him. Good man, that one. They all were. Fine chaps.
The memory flashed through his mind of Vince dancing about in his shiny cape behind Naboo, as the shaman paid no attention to his pleas for mercy. Howard took a quick look around himself. The other Bin Men were absorbed in picking up the rubbish. He quietly pulled up his sleeve and gave himself a quick, painful Chinese burn, then pulled his sleeve down again.
Riley walked past and nodded at him, once more. Absolute King of a man. Behind him, a familiar figure stepped up towards him, still wearing the cape and vinyl outfit and looking, as usual, like a right ponce. Howard could never figure Vince’s taste in clothes. Elegant tweed, soft browns, the complimentary elbow pad. These were what constituted style.
“You eating out of bins again?” Vince favoured him with his sunniest smile.
“What do you want?”
He only vaguely listened as Vince launched into a story. Always a story with him. Naboo in trouble. About to be executed. He needs Howard’s help.
Howard recalled only a few years earlier, when they’d worked at the zoo together. Vince had looked up to him, then. What had changed, in the interceding years to create the self-absorbed nonce that now stood before him?
He didn’t much care, and told Vince as such. He was with the Bin Men. These were his friends now.
“You sold me down the river for a cape. How do I know you won’t do that again?”
“I said I was sorry.” Vince sulked.
It’s not enough, little man. Howard thought. I need a gesture.
“Alright there, Howard?” Riley asked, patting him on the back.
In a parallel universe, Riley didn’t come up to check on his bin brother, and Howard said the words “It’s not enough, little man. I need a gesture.”
As a result, a completely different series of events happened.
“I’m fine, Riley.”
The man patted him once more, in very manly fashion, before moving on.
What’s the point? He thought. Vince will never change.
“Forget it, Vince.”
“I’ve got to get back to work.”
“With the Bin Men?”
Howard resented the sarcasm in Vince’s tone.
This time, he turned his back on someone.
Vince stormed back down the alley, still a little confused as to what had just happened. Had he been thrown over, for bin men of all people?
He took out his plan pony.
“What do I do now, plan pony?”
The picture whinnied.
“Sweetheart! What are you doing back here? Don’t you know it’s dangerous to be walking around these parts, ‘specially once as gorgeous as you.” The hobo, who had accosted him earlier, drowned out the pony’s reply. “Did you find the small eyed man you were looking for?”
“Yeah, I did.” Something about this man’s focused stare unnerved him. “Listen, I’ve gotta go so, take care.” Vince started to move back down the alley. He wasn’t sure what exactly he was going to do now. Maybe go to a quieter area and ask plan pony again.
“But there was something I was going to show you.” The man smiled, revealing yellow teeth. “I think it might help you.”
“Really?” Vince folded his plan pony and shoved the paper into his vinyl outfit.
“It’s in here.” The man gestured for him to come forward, then pointed to a more secluded part of the alley. Vince ventured forward and frowned. The smell was overpowering. How could Howard even begin to contend with it? The ground was muddy, the bags of rubbish torn open, spewing used condoms, plastic containers, wrappers, foodstuffs and other assorted items everywhere. A couple of rats feasted greedily on the banquet before them.
“I don’t-“ He went to take a step back. The hobo suddenly grabbed him by the cape and propelled him forward.
“Hey! That’s my cape!” He shouted, as he overbalanced, landing heavily and smearing said item with all manner of disgusting substance. Now the man had done it. Vince didn’t get annoyed easily, but this man had dirtied his shiny new cape.
“Why did you do that for?” He went to sit up, only to have a weight suddenly land on his chest, pinning him down. The man’s knees pinned his arms to the ground as he straddled him.
“Indeed, what a beautiful cape.” The man said. “Think I’ll take it.”
“No you will not! It’s mine! Get off me.” He struggled.
“I don’t think so.” The man said. “I told you a pretty little thing like you shouldn’t be walking in this area alone.”
Vince felt his stomach muscles suddenly clamp rigid, a coldness overtake his body.
“Get off me!” He shouted, louder. A hand reached down and clamped over his mouth.
“Sh… we don’t want the bin men to hear do we?”
Vince’s mind went to Howard. The man who had now abandoned both him and Naboo. He imagined seeing him in this position. No, no he could never have that. He had his pride.
He flinched as a hand went through his hair. His hair, damn it. No one was allowed to touch his hair. Not even How-
The man leant forward. That was when he felt it. This man’s intentions obvious. His heart started to jackhammer. No, no no not that.
His mind flashed back to Kodiak Jack.
“I love my little Vincey.” Disgusting arms reaching for him.
“Stay still and I won’t hurt you.” The hobo ordered.
No straightening wand to save him this time.
The hobo scooted back a little, releasing his arms, as he tugged at his trousers.
Muddy ground, his single brain cell told him.
Vince scooted up a pile of mud in his right hand and smudged it into the hobo’s face then managed to push him off as the man shrieked, rubbing at his eyes. He then started scuttling forward, attempting to pull himself up to a standing position.
“You little bitch!” The hobo roared.
He grabbed Vince by the shoulder, swung him around and punched him across the face, with such force that he was driven back down to the ground once more. Vince felt his body go rigid with shock, as he was punched once more, his cheek exploding with pain.
He had never been hit before.
He attempted to scoot back, to curl up into a ball. The man easily flipped him forward onto his front and ripped the cape from his back, then dug his knee painfully into Vince’s back, the delicate bones in his spine painfully rubbing together.
That’s mine, Vince thought, unable to break free of the numbness that was overtaking his entire being. Naboo gave that to me.
“Think I’ll keep this, thanks. It truly is such a lovely cape.”
This doesn’t happen to me. No, this doesn’t. I’m sunshine. I’m rainbow. That’s what Howard says. Bad things don’t happen to me. No, no no.
This couldn’t be. Him being stuck under a sweaty, smelly man in the middle of a rubbish strewn ground, his vinyl suit being torn open from neck to leg.
“Now, I’m gonna do what I was planning to do when I first saw ya.” Hands crawling all over his bare flesh. “I’m gonna rape ya and throw you into that dumpster over there. What d’ya think of that, gorgeous?”
Vince moaned piteously.
No, this doesn’t happen to me. Not me. Not me. Not-
“Coming, H-man?” Riley grinned down from the cabin of the rubbish truck.
Howard frowned down the alley, where he had just Vince trop down a few minutes earlier.
“Actually, guys. I’m a little worried about my friend. I’ll just see if he’s ok.”
The men, strong, brave little soldiers, nodded and saluted him. Howard continued down the alley, unsure of why he was even going after the nonce.
The only consolation in the brutal, painful bumming that followed was that it was over very quickly. Vince lay still through it all, moaning in pain and staring unblinkingly at a swirling wrapper before him. When it was over, the hobo rolled off him, whacking him on the butt.
“Thanks for the great screw, gorgeous.”
Vince flinched. His mind felt broken into a thousand disparate pieces. He was barely aware of being lifted, carried across the alleyway. The man tipped him into the dumpster and he buried himself further into the rubbish, wishing to simply disappear, to not exist.
Where the hell was Vince? He wouldn’t have gotten far. After all, that was why he had come to Howard in the first place, wasn’t it? Because he needed his help. Howard wasn’t even sure why he was determined to find him. He thought about the way they had treated him, and rolled up his sleeve, delivering himself another quick Chinese burn.
Then he heard it. Whimpering, appearing to come from the dumpster to his left. Feigning gallantry but in reality feeling shit scared, he slowly stepped over.
“Ah, guys?” He looked down the alley for his bin brothers. No such luck. They were long gone.
Gulping, he moved closer to the sniffling dumpster.
“A-are you ok?”
There was a pause. “Howard?”
Howard felt his vocal chords disappear into his stomach. He momentarily found himself unable to speak.
“Vince?” He forced out.
“Howard. The cape. He’s taken the cape.”
Howard risked looking in. He could only see a tuft of dark hair, hidden amongst the rubbish.
What’s going on here?
The tightness in his stomach belied any answer.
“Ok, little man. Let’s get you out of here.”
“Leave it, Howard. Just save Naboo.”
“Let’s get you out of there.” He inwardly steeled himself and reached down.
“I said leave me alone!”
“You can’t stay in there. Let me-“
“No! Look, just don’t touch me.”
“Don’t touch me. Don’t ever touch me. Not now. Not ever.”
“You’re always joking. You don’t mean it.”
“Aha!… don’t touch me.”
Howard stepped back, his heart hammering. As the figure started to rise from the dumpster, he found himself biting his lip from calling out, telling him it was fine, he could stay in the dumpster if he wanted. Or to just run, to create as much space between him and the piteous one before him as possible.
First the head came out, bent forward. Howard took another step back. The hair.
It was hard to comprehend that such a source of vanity could be streaked with mud, bedraggled and limp. Vince dropped to the ground and curled up into a ball, still hiding his face.
That was when Howard noticed the ripped outfit, the knobbly white spine.
He forced his eyes further down the torn outfit, Vince’s bare backside shamefully exposed, the tell-tale red streaking his thighs. Howard felt bile rise in his throat, his fingers shaking.
“Who did this?”
Vince didn’t answer. But Howard already knew. There was only one other who haunted this area.
“I’ll kill him.” His fingers itched to go around that sick bastard’s throat. He wanted to ask how this happened, but experience told him that Vince would not be up to talking, not then. Instead, he took off his coat and placed it over his shaking friend’s body. Vince flinched once more, but slowly, seemingly painfully put his arms into the coat. Howard bent down to help him up.
“I said don’t touch me!”
Slowly, his friend stood. Though he averted his face, Howard noted the bloodied lip, the swollen cheek. He tried to recall anyone even laying a finger on Vince and came up blank.
Kodiak Jack wanted to. And you were going to let him.
Both stood a moment in an awkward silence, Vince clenching the coat to his body with shaking fingers, still not looking up.
“I’m not parked far from here.” Howard finally said.
The trip back to the flat above the Nabootique was the longest Howard had ever taken. While still obeying the proper road rules and going at the speed limit, Howard rushed back as fast as he was able. Vince sat next to him, silently looking out the window. In the past, Vince would have nattered on about all types of topics-mostly ones Howard had no interest in, or they’d amuse themselves by coming up with different crimps.
Howard looked to the figure beside him, frowning. Vince was still shaking slightly. He turned the heater up, in the knowledge that he wasn’t shaking from cold.
Finally, he pulled the up to the antiques store.
“Howard…” Vince finally turned to face him. Despite the bloodied, swollen face, Howard was taken aback by his beauty.
He had told Vince, a long time ago while in the Arctic tundra, that he loved him. Vince had responded by laughing at him. So, Howard had repressed his feelings, pushed them right down. He would be content to be friends with his sparkly, sunny, occasionally irritating companion.
Only, his feelings would come up at the most inopportune moments, such as this one.
“I’m sorry about the cape. I’ll make it up to you.”
Howard’s stomach constricted, he blinked back tears. “No need, little man. Don’t worry about that now.”
“Let’s go inside.”
Once inside, Vince walked straight across to the bathroom, wordlessly closing the door. Howard frowned, considering whether to knock, to tell Vince not to wash away evidence of that bastard’s foul deed.
But then decided against it. No, they weren’t going to get this prick through conventional means. Howard was sure of this.
He started to pace, unsure of what to do. What he needed was a plan.
First, take care of that bastard, and then take care of Vince. The latter would take more work.
He pushed down the convoluted emotions that brought up.
In his usual style of reading Howard’s mind, the bathroom door opened and Vince stuck his head out. In his hand he held a folded up piece of paper.
“Howard, you need to save Naboo. Find the crack fox. He has the potion. This is the plan pony.” He explained. “He’ll tell you what to do.”
The door closed once more.
Howard opened up the piece of paper. A drawn pony neighed at him.
This is ridiculous, he told himself.
“Outside, in the garbage heap.” The pony informed him.
Frowning, Howard stepped outside.
In the end, the plan pony was helpful in guiding him to the crack fox’s lair. He breathed in the noxious fumes of the sewer, relishing the warm memories of the brief time he had as a sanitation worker. The week separate from Vince. He pushed away his sating sanitation feelings with resolve to get the bastard who’d hurt his sunshine.
But first, he had to save Naboo. That was, after all, Vince’s request.
Hearing a high-pitched screech ahead, he quickened his pace and turned the corner to a brutal scene. The hobo and the crack fox appeared to be fighting. Howard wasn’t sure which one he wanted to defeat the other. Surrounding the two struggling figures were rows and rows of flinching animals. All were distracted by the two before them. Seeing his chance, Howard grabbed the potion. A horrified scream behind him signalled the victor.
He turned to the hobo dead on the ground, four puncture marks in his neck. Howard reached down and tore the cape from his body, spitting on his corpse, before high-tailing it out of there.
With the crack fox not far behind him, he sped down the sewer, losing himself in the immense maze of paths. Finally spying an entrance ahead, he threw himself against it, landing painfully on the pavement outside.
He looked up to see a set of wide metal teeth grinding towards him. Screaming, he scuttled to the side. The crack fox threw himself out of the sewer and into the rubbish compactor. A high-pitched squeal signalled its demise. Howard picked himself up, and turned to Riley nodding at him.
Brave man. Salt of the earth.
He saluted this Emperor.
Riley saluted back.
Howard went to leave.
“One other thing, Howard…?”
Howard turned back.
“Wanna go around the corner and I’ll give you a blowjob?”
Howard blinked. “Ah, no thanks, Riley.”
The other man nodded, smiled. “See you around.”
Howard watched this man walk back to the garbage truck, shaking his head.
“Naboo is saved!”
Howard fidgeted, grimacing as the congratulations went around the small group of shamans, the organization of various drugs to be taken, the discussion as to who would supply the alcohol.
“Nab-Nab-Nab-Nab-Naboo!” He desperately tried to get the shaman’s attention.
“What do you want?” Bollo turned to him, irritation evident across his gorilla face.
“Vince is hurt.”
Naboo instantly tore himself from the gathering of shamans, joining his concerned looking familiar.
“Where is he?”
“He’s back at the shop.”
Naboo pointed his finger, signalling for his magic carpet to come to him.
“Ok, we’re leaving now.” He frowned at Howard. “I guess you’d better get on, too.”
Bollo cast Howard a distasteful look but said nothing.
“What’s happened?” Naboo asked, as they rose into the air.
Howard felt his heart start to race. He didn’t like heights at the best of times. Sitting on a thin piece of fabric hovering metres high into the wind blasted sky didn’t exactly help.
Howard swallowed. How to even begin?
“He went to find me. I was working as a bin man.”
“Bin man?” Bollo asked. “What’s bin man?”
“It’s a person who takes care of garbage.”
Bollo looked at him blankly.
“A person who picks up garbage from refuse areas and- look, it doesn’t matter. Vince found me and…” He swallowed, once more. “And I was working so I said I couldn’t help him.” Feeling his cheeks blaze, he looked away from Bollo’s gaze. Naboo’s canny sight was elsewhere. “Vince went off by himself. Then I changed my mind.” He paused, finding it hard to continue. “I found him in a dumpster. There was this hobo that worked the area. I’m sure he was the one.”
“The one who put Vince in a dumpster?” Bollo said.
Howard looked down to his broad, clunky fingers, so different from Vince’s. “The one who raped Vince.”
There was a distinct long pause. Howard felt the wind chilling his face, tossing his hair about.
“Where’s this hobo now?”
“He fought the crack fox and died. The crack fox was killed by the bin men.” He added.
“I don’t believe this.” Naboo said quietly. “You’re sure… this happened?”
“And you left him alone?”
“He asked me to save you.” He was unable to keep the defensiveness from his tone.
“Howard,” Naboo turned to face him, pinioning him with his dark eyes. “This wasn’t your fault.”
Howard swallowed twice.
“Why you say that, Naboo?” Bollo’s tone was spiteful.
“Vince will need you now, more than ever. And it will do no good for either of you if you blame yourself.”
I turned my back on him, Howard thought. It was because of me that he was walking down that alley to begin with.
“The only one at fault here is the one who hurt him. You best remember that.”
Naboo turned to face front once more, giving Howard time to wipe his eye on his sleeve.
There was the time that Vince was being copied. At one stage, he gave up, decided to go straight. Put on a suit and gave himself a respectable hairstyle. It looked so unlike his friend that Howard collapsed.
The Vince sitting on the couch aimlessly flicking through the channels was such a shadow of the rainbow being that Howard knew and loved, that he was forced to sag heavily against the foyer wall. He’d at least washed the dirt out if his hair. It now sat in aimless clumps about his shoulder’s, without the hours of styling usually attending it. In place of the ultra fashionable mod clothes, he now wore a baggy grey jumper and track pants.
What disturbed Howard most were his eyes. They were distant, unfocused, lacking in their usual mischievous spark.
Bollo and Naboo moved further into the room. Vince’s pale eyes flicked to Howard, panic quickly overcome by emptiness.
“Hey Vince.” Bollo’s tone was the softest Howard had ever heard. “I’ll make you a tea.”
Vince looked to Howard once more, this time his eyes accusatory.
Naboo walked into the back room. Howard stood awkwardly a moment, unsure of what to say. Vince switched off the television and looked down at his hands.
Howard gave a brief version of events leading up to them coming home, omitting him telling Naboo and Bollo about what had happened to Vince. Half way through, Bollo came back with the tea. At the end, Naboo came in with a potion.
“This will clear up all your injuries.”
“You know what happened to me?” Vince asked quietly.
Naboo nodded. “Howard told us. Here, drink this.”
Vince took the proffered drink with a slightly shaking hand. He sipped it and made a face.
“What’s in this?”
“A mixture of things, really. Tears of a few saints, Jesus sweat, Merlin’s urine.”
Vince grimaced and downed the entire glass. When he offered it back to Naboo, his face was utterly clear of any bruising, swelling or even blood.
“How do you feel, now?”
“I’m no longer in pain, at least. Thanks, Naboo.”
All three sat in awkward silence.
“Think I’ll go to my room.” Vince slowly got up.
Howard stood outside the door a long time, trying to figure out what to say. Finally, he softly knocked.
Vince sat by the window, looking at the snow falling down outside. He’d wrapped himself up in his doona. Howard came in and closed the door behind himself, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“So you got the cape?”
Howard pushed down the hint of irritation building in his stomach. “Give me a minute.”
He went out the room and trampled down the hall into his room where he’d thrown it, returning a few minutes later. In the time that he’d gone, Vince had procured a bucket of water.
“What’s that for?”
“Give it to me.”
Howard handed it over. Vince reached into a drawer and pulled out a lighter. He looked to Howard a moment, and then flicked the lighter, placing the flame against the cape. The material was flimsy and obviously very flammable. Within less than a minute, he was throwing the charred, burning mess into the bucket of water.
“Should have done that from the beginning. I’m sorry, Howard. I should have owned up to Naboo that I was the one that-“
“Hush, little man. There’s something I have to tell you.”
Vince sat at the edge of the bed, favouring him with his utmost attention.
Howard took a deep breath. “How are you feeling?”
Vince shrugged. “I don’t… feel much. A bit shaky I guess.”
“That’s shock. It will pass. That’s when you’ll feel it.”
“The true horror of what was done to you. And I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry that it had to happen to you. To someone of such sunshine and light. Because what you’re going to go through is… the pain is devastating.”
Vince’s entire body froze, what little colour there was in his face draining out of it.
“No, Howard… no…”
“Did you ever wonder why I never want to be touched?”
“But, how could I not know?”
“I am a great actor, remember. I couldn’t expose that to the only light in my life.”
“ But… when?”
It had been so long ago, and Howard had, indeed dealt as best he could. Even so, he felt a whisper of the pain, humiliation and shame return.
“The week we were apart. Between working as a bin man and sanitary worker, I befriended an ex-con named Jimmy Nix. He was quite the jazz aficionado.”
“No, not Jimmy. We were at his house one night, going through old jazz records, when one of his old mates from prison broke into the house. Turned out, he’d just escaped. He had a gun. He beat Jimmy to unconsciousness.” This was the first time he’d told this to another living soul. He folded his hands into each other to keep them from shaking. Vince sat beside him, putting a hand over his own, favouring him with his guileless blue stare. “Then he put a gun to my head and made me…”
“Oh Howard. Howard, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s ok. It was a long time ago. I just wanted you to know you’re not alone in this.”
Vince continued to stare at him. “Howard… I don’t think I can handle this.”
“Hey, little man. It’ll be ok.”
Innocent face. Howard couldn’t lie.
“No. It’s going to be a long, painful road back to recovery. The worst you’ll go through.”
“I can still smell him on me. I washed and washed and I can’t get rid of him.”
Howard suddenly thought the man’s death was too easy.
Vince suddenly grabbed him by the chin and pulled him forward. Howard let out a shocked exhalation, as his friend’s lips covered his own, tongue forcing entry. The older man pulled back.
“Woh! What was that?”
“Come on, Howard, I know you want to.”
Howard stood up and went to go to the door.
“Where are you going?” The panic in Vince’s voice froze him.
“I’m not doing this.” He said.
“But… you want me.” He sounded confused. “I know you’re straight… mainly. But I’m the great confuser. Is it a man? Is it a woman?”
Howard heavily sighed. “I don’t see you that way at all. I’ve always thought of you as a man.”
“But, you want me.” Vince insisted. “I’ve seen the way you look at me, when you think I’m not looking.”
Howard inwardly winced. So, Vince did know. He’d known all along. Shame it had to happen now, while Vince was traumatised and confused.
“It explains the arguments we always have. It’s all that sexual chemistry.” He stood up. “I’ve wanted you too. For a long time.”
Howard felt his heart start to hammer. This wasn’t right. Vince had just been assaulted. He wasn’t thinking straight. Vince started to walk towards him, looking so damned tempting, even without the mirror ball suit, or the glam makeup, or the fancy hair.
“Vince, you’re not yourself.”
Vince stopped mid-stride, face crumpling. “I get it.” He clumped back to the bed and sat down on it. “You don’t want me. Not anymore. I’m used goods.”
Howard couldn’t believe this was his friend talking.
“What are you talking about? You’re not used goods. You’re Vince Noir. You’re sunshine. You’re rainbows.”
“No, not anymore-“
“Yes you are!” Howard insisted. He grabbed the computer chair from the side of the room and wheeled it to the front of Vince’s bed, sitting down. “This is very difficult for me to admit but…I love you Vince. I always have.”
Vince looked up to him. This time, he didn’t laugh.
“I find you so beautiful that sometimes I can barely stand to look at you. Oftentimes, it’s when you’re wearing your less flamboyant outfits. Like right now. Your hairs a mess, you’re wearing baggy clothes. But you look absolutely stunning. ”
“You’re funny, smart, sweet. Everyone loves you. I always have to compete with so many others for your attention.”
“I always treat you so bad, Howard. How do you put up with me?”
“Hush, little man. All is forgiven, now.”
I know, Howard thought. I’ll forgive you, like I always do. You’ll do something to annoy or hurt me in the future, and I’ll forgive you again. And again. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. But I love you. And that’s all there is.
A sly smile broke out across his friend’s face. Howard felt his heartbeat hastily increase. Vince’s eyes looked very blue.
“Howard, the tall, tiny-eyed jazz freak.”
“I kept telling myself you weren’t interested. Weren’t into men. But, nothing I told myself stopped the feelings.”
He leant forward. This time, Howard leant forward as well. They touched lips. Vince pulled back, blessing Howard with another of his megawatt smiles.
“Vince, I’m so sorry. I abandoned you. You came to me for help and I told you to leave. If I hadn’t done that-“
“Because I was acting like such a prat!”
“It doesn’t change the fact that I wasn’t there in your hour of need. And I’ll never forgive myself for it.”
“Please stop, Howard. What are you going to do? Give yourself another chinese burn? This constant putting down of yourself gets on my nerves. You are Howard Moon, Great Man, remember?”
At that point, Howard didn’t feel anywhere near great. Vince leant forward and pecked him on the lips, once more.
“Great man.” He tenderly stroked Howard’s face. Howard took his hand and tenderly kissed it.
“No one’s going to ever hurt you again. I’ll make sure of it.”
And I’ll be there, in all the anguish that’s to come. You’re not getting rid of me, little man.
“Howard, I’m scared. Will you stay with me, here, tonight?”
“Anything, little man.”
Vince gave another of his smiles. Now Howard felt like an Emperor.
“I’ll just…I’ll just get dressed.”
Howard rushed to his room and changed into his jazz pyjamas in record time. When he arrived back in Vince’s room, he was already under the covers. His eyes travelled over the saxophones drawn over Howard’s night clothes and, for once, made no comment. He pulled back the covers. Heart hammering, Howard closed the door and stepped across the room, lying awkwardly beside him, taking care not to touch him.
He rolled to face Vince, just making out his slight figure in the darkness.
“Are you sure?”
He moved forward. Vince was facing away from him. He put his arm gently around the other’s waist, feeling incredibly uncomfortable and awkward, but also the most content in… The most content he’d ever felt.
“Good night.” Vince said.
Howard moved his head forward a little, feeling Vince’s hair tickle his nose. He could smell his shampoo, a mixture of citrus and some woody elements.
“No, no ge’ off me! Howard, help!”
Vince shot straight up. “Vince, Vince!”
“It’s ok, it’s a nightmare.”
“Wha-?” Vince flopped down onto the bed and started to snore softly.
Howard could barely sleep the rest of the night.
He awoke to an empty bed. Frowning, Howard clambered out and opened the door-
-to Naboo standing in the hall opposite.
“What are you doing?” There was no doubting the anger in the shaman’s tone.
“He’s having breakfast. What are you doing, Howard?”
Howard paused, and then decided he may as well own up. “I love him, Naboo.”
“Oh, I know that.” Naboo said, so off-handly that Howard blinked in surprise. “What are you doing in his room?”
Howard clenched his fists. “Not that it’s any of your business but nothing happened.”
“It better not have.”
“What do you think of me? Do you really think after what happened that I… what kind of man do you think I am?”
Naboo stared at him a second longer, then slowly nodded. “I believe you. I just want to protect him.”
“So do I.” Howard said.
Vince sat at the breakfast table, dark hair mussed from sleep, still wearing the baggy clothes from the night before. He looked up and smiled at Howard. The older man moved further into the room, conflicting emotions warring at each other. Bollo refilled Vince’s tea and glared at Howard as he sat down.
So, nothing’s changed there, Howard thought.
He tried to think of something to say but came up with a blank. Both sat in somewhat awkward silence as they ate breakfast.
“I’d better…” Howard took a final gulp of his tea then left the room.
He wasn’t aware of being followed down the hall until Vince spoke.
Vince clutched at his jumper, the anxiety in his expressive eyes painfully evident. “With what you told me last night…” He paused for an extraordinarily long time. “I’m sorry. I feel like I should have known… The signals were always there. The fact that you never wanted to be touched… “
“Hush now…” Howard said, gently. “It’s in the past.”
Vince moved closer, until his face was millimetres from Howard’s. “Thank you for last night. And also for not… pushing me. I want you but right now, I can’t…”
“All I want is to help you.”
Believe me; you’re going to need it in the months ahead.
Vince looked away, took a deep breath. “I love you, Howard.” He said, so quietly that the other man only just heard it.
Howard reached out and took his hand. “You’ve got a lot of people who care for you, Vince. Me, Naboo, Bollo. You are not alone in this.”
Vince caught his eyes. Howard could read the love he had misinterpreted as awe and hero worship, while in the zoo. He couldn’t help but smile. Vince smiled back.
“What’s the plan for today?”
“I’m going to buy you the biggest sack of lollies.” Howard said.
“Are you going to put it in a trumpet sock?” Vince teased, then leant forward and lightly pecked Howard on the lips.
Naboo quietly closed the door between the kitchen and the hallway.
“What are they doing?” Bollo asked, filling up the pipe with pot.
“They’ve both finally told each other that they’re in love with each other.”
Bollo looked up, frowning. “But Vince has been…”
Naboo shrugged. “If it helps Vince, then I’m fine with it. Howard would never hurt him, Bollo.”
The gorilla lit the bong and took a deep toke, then handed it to the shaman. “I don’t understand humans.”
Naboo thought of Vince’s deadened gaze the night before, then the way his eyes lit up, as Howard entered the room that morning. He thought of the man that had hurt his friend so horrifically and couldn’t understand. Not when Vince was the kindest, sweetest, harmless person he knew.
“Neither do I.” He lit the bong and allowed himself to mellow out.