The Leathery Man-Witch and the Hoary Old Yeti

Vince has an age crisis. Howard offers some words of comfort. He also makes paella.


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Notes: Takes place some years post-S3. Though this doesn’t come up at all in the fic, I imagine by this point the Nabootique has gone under, and Naboo is instead running a delivery service for specialty shaman products. Howard and Vince, natch, are the delivery boys.

The Leathery Man-Witch and the Hoary Old Yeti by Culumacilinte

‘I’m old, Howard!’

Howard snorted. ‘Pfft, like you’re old.’

He assumed that Vince was just fishing for compliments and left it at that, but when no wheedling response came, he looked up from his chopping to find Vince, in front of the mirror, looking alarmingly morose. Not that he looked very morose in the general scheme of things, but by Vince’s standards it was right up there. Howard put down his knife, leaving a bell pepper half-sliced, and came out from behind the counter to lean against a wall and regard Vince with warm concern.

‘Heyyy, you’ll never be old, little man. Just you watch; time you hit seventy, you’ll still be spry and svelte, bopping around on your Cockney springheels.’

Howard’s attempts at comfort earned a little twitch of a smile from Vince, but he continued prodding his face in the mirror, pulling back to look at himself full length, cocking one hip and frowning at the result. ‘I am, though. I mean, I’m, you know how old I am.’

They were the same age, even if Vince sometimes liked to pretend otherwise. Howard was actually probably the only person in the world who knew his real age; Vince himself probably would have forgotten if he didn’t have Howard around to remind him. He was never too great with numbers, and besides, the continuity of his childhood got no end of confusing at times. Still, the same age they might be, but Howard had been deep into middle age by the time he was about twelve. Looking at Vince, Howard saw a man who still wore glam-rock jumpsuits as part of his workaday wardrobe; he was pretty sure no-one who did that could ever be called old.

‘I’m not just bein’ vain, Howard,’ Vince said, vaguely reproachfully. Again, Howard thought, the tone made him sound like a child in a sulk. ‘I look like…’ he pursed his lips at his reflection, wrinkling his nose up in a way that made him look like a rat. The reflection looked sheepish and shifted on its stack heels, as if it hated to be letting Vince down in this fashion. ‘I look like a bloke,’ Vince decided on eventually, sounding deeply unhappy with this state of affairs.

Howard blinked, nonplussed. ‘But you are a bloke.’

‘Well, yeah,’ Vince conceded, ‘but I’m supposed to be the Confuser, ain’t I? Dartin’ all about between the genders like a liiiiithe otter. Used to be all I needed to look like a bird was a bit of lippy and a cheeky wink, now I need a full face of makeup, the lot!’

He ran his hands over his own torso, and now that Howard was looking with a mind to see, he thought that it might actually look a little bigger than it had a few years ago. Not that Vince had put on any fat— he’d have thrown a massive strop if so much as an ounce of misplaced adipose tissue found its way somewhere it shouldn’t be– he just looked a little more solid. When they’d been their 20’s, Vince had been so skinny you could have snapped him like a Twiglet. Now, maybe, his ribcage had broadened, the strong muscles of his thighs better defined.

‘I do!’ Vince squawked, whipping around. ‘I can see it in your tiny little shrimp eyes, you’re lookin’ at me and thinkin’ it!’

‘I’m not!’ Howard protested, too quickly, and then backtracked immediately. ‘What I mean to say, sir, there’s nothing wrong with getting older; there’s a dignity–’

‘There is if you’re me! I’m the Sunshine Kid! You ever heard of any forty year old kids? Course you ain’t, that’s just weirdos and paedophiles. I’m s’posed to be like Peter Pan, only without, you know, the murder and child abduction and that.’ Even in the midst of his funk, he managed a darkly twinkling grin at that; it only lasted for a moment before sinking back into morose contemplation. ‘M’gonna look like an old man-witch. Lose all my androgynous charm and end up with a big ol’ beak of a hooter and a chin you could cut ice with. Strap me onto the front of one of them ships you get way up in the Arctic and plough me through the ice fields, wuahh, breakin’ up icebergs with me massive chin.’

Traumatic as the subject might have been, it was a good image, and they both had to pause a moment to appreciate it. The moment broke when Vince shook himself in a convulsive sort of shudder and pulled another grotesque face, leaning forward to smear fingertips over his cheeks, drawing his skin into a taut mask. ‘Ugh, and I’ll get all leathery and chapped and horrible, all windburnt like Biggie Shackleton!’

Howard waved him away. ‘No-one’s gonna use you as an ice-breaker, not with your delicate figure; you’d snap like a stale crisp. Anyway, if you’re old, what does that make me? Methuselah?’

Vince gave him a cockeyed look in the mirror. ‘What, the Head Shaman’s ex?’

‘No, you tit, Methuselah. From the Bible? Nine hundred year old man?’

‘Whatever.’ Vince had never had much truck with the Bible; he had enough trouble with his reading when everything was spelled the normal way.

‘You look good old, anyway,’ he said dismissively, and then pulled an awkward sideways face, clearly not wanting to distract Howard from the matter at hand with an age crisis of his own. ‘Er, I mean you’re gonna look good. You are and all!’ He bounced away from the mirror to plant his hands on Howard’s chest. ‘You’re gonna be a right silver fox, I can tell, with your whiskers and goin’ all grey at the temples, dead distinguished. I reckon probably your body’s been waiting to hit middle age proper all your life, and once it does, wham! I’m gonna be all over you like a carpet; I’ll have to beat the ladies off with a shoe.’

It wasn’t precisely that it was unlike Vince to be complimentary (he’d even coupled the compliment with a backhanded dig about how Howard had looked prior to being old), but Howard was faintly surprised that Vince had been able to pull himself away from his concerns about his own appearance to spend the energy complimenting Howard’s. He swelled faintly, bringing a hand to rest on the curve of his belly. After a moment, he sucked his stomach in.

‘Yes, well, that’s my style, Vince. Enduring, like the mountain; people come around to it in their own good time.’

Vince laughed, mocking but not cruel, and gave him a poke in the chest that quickly turned into a cheeky little grope. ‘Yeah, sure, regular old craggy bluff you are, y’muppet.’

Feeling emboldened, Howard turned Vince around with hands on his shoulders so they faced the reflection of the both of them in the mirror, Vince half in front of Howard. Privately, Howard had always been rather embarrassed of his pudge, which had only grown more apparent (and less easy to pretend it was simply his sturdy Viking physique) as he aged, but Vince seemed to like it. He poked fun, of course, but in bed he habitually nuzzled his face into Howard’s tum, giving it kisses and sucking hickies onto it; once Howard had awoken after having dozed off to discover Vince apparently deep in conversation with his bellybutton. Now, he leaned back against Howard’s chest and stomach with a little sigh. Howard tried to look dignified and stern for the benefit of the mirror, imagining the grey-touched silver fox Vince pictured him being in a few years.

‘Look at that,’ he said with a little nod. ‘That’s what you’ve got me for; I’m like, uh,’ he groped for a Vince-appropriate metaphor. He hit on one which, whilst not exactly flattering, made him smile crookedly anyway. ‘I’m like an accessory! Check me out; long as I’m stood next to you, you’ve got my big sturdy manful…ness to make you look like a slip of a girlyboy.’

Vince squinted at their reflections for a moment as though he were deciding whether or not the theory held up. Evidently deciding it did, he wriggled back around around to grin at Howard, pushing up on his toes to smush a kiss against the corner of Howard’s mouth that was both faintly stubbly and sticky with lip gloss. ‘Aw, Howard, that is well romantic! You reckon?’

Howard had pretty much always thought that Vince looked that little bit more like a slightly unreal rockstar fairy next to Howard’s determined plainness, but he didn’t say that. Instead, he gave Vince a little chin-pinch and a wiggle. ‘Damn right I reckon, sir.’

‘Even if I turn into a man-witch?’

‘Well, by the time you turn into a man-witch, I expect I’ll be a right proper hoary old yeti, so it’ll balance out.’

Vince laughed, wrinkling his nose and tonguing one incisor. ‘No way!’

‘Oh no?’ Howard pulled the sort of face men who smoked pipes and wrote literary criticism for a living pulled, all eyebrows up and mouth contorted down at the corners, eyeing Vince over his nose.

‘Definitely not. You ever start getting that hairy, I’m makin’ you shave, sure thing.’

Howard chuckled, and, on an impulse born from a long and familiar combination of fondness and the desire to annoy, ruffled Vince’s hair. Vince shrieked and slapped at his hand, jerking away. ‘Oi, you’ve got food juice on your hands! What were you chopping? There better not be garlic juice in my hair now.’

‘Just peppers; they’re all right, aren’t they? They’ve got… B vitamins.’ He had no idea if bell peppers actually contained B vitamins, or indeed, if B vitamins were any good for hair.

Vince squinted dubiously up at him. ‘Maybe,’ he conceded after a moment. ‘But if I’m gonna get B vitamins in me hair, I want ‘em from my shampoo, not your filthy mitts.’ He shoved a hand into his hair and fiddled about with it, still looking askance up at Howard. ‘You’re takin’ advantage of your hair privileges, Howard.’

Turning back to the mirror, he peered with great concentration at his fringe, shaking his head. ‘I’m gonna have to wash this out. Scrub your hands after you finish your kitcheny business!’’

Age crisis apparently averted– or at least supplanted by something more immediately important– Vince dashed off like a well-coiffured antelope. Within moments, the sound of the shower rattled through the pipes and hissed into the background noise of the flat, and Howard shook his head, returning to assembling his paella. Squashed satsuma was just fine, apparently, but heaven forfend a little unexpected bell pepper residue get into the precious hair. Just like Vince; eternally a flibbertigibbet, no-matter how much he might worry about his age.

As he finished julienning the pepper and went to the fridge to dig out the prawns (which was always slightly weird, as Vince had known a few prawns in his time, but Howard refused to make paella with tofu), Howard found himself humming an aimless, cheerful tune. It was hardly ever something he needed to do, Vince being Vince, but it gave him a little glow that he was able to cheer him up. A right proper double act, that was them.

In the kitchenette, Howard deveined prawns; in the bathroom, Vince warbled off-key pop songs. They were both getting a little older, but Howard thought he was all right with that.