To Jump on the Wind’s Back

It’s easy to forget, sometimes, if you don’t have any reminders. Vince gets a reminder.


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Notes: Because I will never lose my love for literal jungle child Vince. And I cry lots of tears over his character trajectory.

To Jump on the Wind’s Back by Culumacilinte



Howard didn’t even have time to twist fully around to look for the source of the voice before a warm, laughing shape hit him about the middle, a full-on, launching tackle like an overenthusiastic ocelot cub, and sent them both tumbling. The world upended itself riotously, and all there was for several long moments was the thumpthumpthump of his own shoulders hitting the ground, and the sting of the rope around his wrist, and warm bare skin in altogether too many places.

When Howard opened his eyes, it was to the weight of Vince kneeling across his hips and smiling down at him with such unadulterated sunshine that Howard felt briefly like he was eleven years old again, seeing that smile for the first time and unused to the force of it. He felt dizzy, though that was probably more to do with the tumble than Vince’s smile. Then he blinked.

‘Vince? Where… are your clothes?’

‘Mmm?’ Vince glanced absently down at his bare chest. ‘Oh, I lost them.’

Vince wasn’t actually naked, but he was as near as, by Vince’s standards. All that remained of his shirt was a raggedly torn circle of collar about his throat, and his jeans had been rolled up to mid-calf, drawing somehow obscene attention to his filthy, bare feet. Howard tried to think of the last time he’d seen Vince’s feet bare outside of their bedroom, and couldn’t. Altogether, he looked like Peter Pan as played by a young Mick Jagger or Iggy Pop.

There were grass stains on his elbows, dried mud streaked over his chest and thighs; his hair was an actual mess rather than just an artful impression of one, and he’d clearly caught the sun; the colour was high in his cheeks, and there was a scattering of thoroughly new freckles over his sharp shoulders. He looked (gorgeous, interjected a voice in Howard’s brain that he was practiced at ignoring) young, which was an odd thought, because Vince had always looked young, and would probably continue to do so until he was an OAP.

‘You lost them?’ Howard echoed dubiously. Vince was about as likely to lose his clothes as Howard was his (admittedly small) collection of first press Mingus LPs. Vince laughed a little sheepishly, ducking his head to ruffle his hair and tipping off Howard’s lap to land on the trampled grassy floor of the glade with a bump.

‘I know, I know, how d’you lose clothes. Unless you’re you.’ He shot a smirk at Howard which Howard, being the bigger man, chose to ignore.

Now that he wasn’t sitting on top of Howard, Vince noticed the rough rope leash fastened around his wrist, snaking along the ground to a large, sun-baked rock which acted as a frustratingly effective anchor. He cocked his head, plucking at it with idle interest, as if it were a potentially interesting fashion choice Howard had made, rather than a restraint keeping him tied to a rock. Howard liked to tease Vince that he was like a budgie, but just for a moment, as he regarded the rope, he did actually look like one– like a parrot, or perhaps a monkey; in his face was a sort of bright, uncomprehending curiosity that had nothing to do with his usual sunny simplemindedness. And then he shifted, or the sun did, and he was back to just… Vince. Howard blinked. Vince lifted an eyebrow.

‘What’s this, jungle-style bondage? Kinky.’

‘Yes, actually,’ Howard said rather tartly. ‘You’re interrupting a very intense scene here, Vince. What do you think? Now, what the hell have you been doing that you’ve lost half your clothes?’

‘Well!’ Vince loped over to the boulder, hauling himself up with a subvocal grunt of effort to perch on top of it like a frog. His dirty toes curled to grip the dry stone. ‘First I was bein’ chased by this magpie, yeah? Only she was huge! Probably coulda ridden her if I’d wanted to. Couldn’t figure out why she was chasin’ me– and I was busy tryin’ to find you, couldn’t be doin’ with giant birds swooping around after me outta the canopy– until I realised, I was wearing gold boots, wasn’t I? All shiny! No wonder she was after me. So I chucked ‘em off into the trees, and whoosh! Off she went.’

‘Right,’ said Howard.

‘And then the shirt got done for by this crocodile who wanted to eat me– nearly did, too. I almost forgot I can talk to animals, would you believe it?’ He shook his head, clicking his tongue like the thought embarrassed him, a silly little oversight. ‘So it weren’t till he almost had me and I started shouting about how he couldn’t kill me, I had to find my mate Howard, that he realised he could understand me, and then I remembered, and he laid off sharpish after we had a bit of a chat. Real gentleman.’

He shook his head, mouth tugging wryly to the side and eyelashes fluttering down like moths. ‘And then, well. I suppose I just got a bit… excited, remembering and all. Ran into this group of marmosets, proper little rascals, and we all got to playing, just like I used to when I was a nipper. Wrestling, runnin’ about, treetop ambushes, it was a right lark. And I figure it’s all right and all; mud’s well good for your pores. People shell out all sortsa dosh for mud baths and masks and stuff at posh spas; same thing for free with a bit of marmoset-wrestling!’

‘Anyway,’ he shook his head, and grinned down at Howard again. ‘What happened to you? This mynah bird said she’d seen you tied up here.’

It took Howard a moment, after the torrent of Vince’s story and the frankly distracting state he was in, to realise that he was being asked a question. He scowled. ‘I got kidnapped by a sort of… sphinx-man who wants to make me his consort,’ he admitted grudgingly, and Vince hooted with laughter.

‘What is it about you?’ He shook his head, like Howard’s habit of getting kidnapped by strange creatures with amorous intentions was just an amusing personality quirk, and then burst out laughing afresh. ‘Hah! Animal magnetism, yeah?’

‘Hah bloody hah,’ Howard groused, but he was having a hard time keeping his moustache from twitching. ‘Just get me untied, would you? Before he comes back and decides he wants you for his harem as well. You’re clearly better consort material than Howard Moon.’

‘Aw, cheers, Howard.’ Vince preened a little from atop his rock, and Howard shook his head, deciding not to tell him that it hadn’t been a compliment.

‘Get on, you tart.’

And Vince did without too much more prompting, sacrificing a small compact mirror in the cause of a sharp edge to cut through Howard’s rope leash. He grabbed Howard’s hand to lead him from the glade, and Howard didn’t complain; as long as he wasn’t going to end up anyone’s consort, he’d put up with the invasion of his personal bubble. Vince grinned and called out to nearly every animal they passed, apparently too delighted with his rediscovered gift not to, and Howard watched with bemusement as he carried on airy, laughing, half-comprehensible conversations. But then, really, he realised, they weren’t that much more incomprehensible than listening to Vince go on with his Camden mates; at least in this case, he had the excuse of literally not being able to talk to animals.

Eventually, they ran into the giant magpie who’d chased Vince earlier, and who was currently immensely smug about the addition of two bejewelled golden gogo boots to her hoard of shinies. They were, she informed Vince, far more impressive than anything any of the other local birds had to show for, and magnanimously agreed, in exchange, to fly Vince and Howard back to Dalston. It turned out Vince had been right; she was easily large enough to ride.

Hours later, Howard was folded up into his bed, half asleep and drifting comfortably further in that direction, when he was abruptly catapulted into sharp wakefulness by the unsteady, wobbling shift of someone else crawling onto his mattress. He thrashed with the startle of it, blinking blearily at the shaggy shape looming above him.

‘Whoah, Vince, what–!? Personal space, please–’

‘Oh, shut up and let me in,’ Vince grumbled, and Howard shut up, and let him in.

Despite his self-professed aversion to touch, there had been more than a few occasions over the years when Vince had joined him in bed for a cuddle, but this time, Howard wasn’t sure what Vince’s motivation was, and it set him rather on edge. So he laid still as Vince fussed and shifted, shoving the duvet aside and bunching it up until he found a position he apparently found comfortable, curled up against Howard’s side, the curve of his spine against Howard’s belly.

‘Do you ever forget things, Howard?’ he mumbled eventually.

Howard cleared his throat awkwardly. ‘Well, everyone–’

‘I mean important things. Big things.’

Well, that explained the motivation, but Howard didn’t feel any more comfortable for the knowledge. He shifted a little, very aware of the warmth of Vince against him. ‘Is this about today?’ Vince nodded, but didn’t say anything else, and Howard dared, eventually, to shift a little himself and bring his hand up to rest on Vince’s shoulder. Vince let out a huffy little breath, but when he spoke, his voice was very quiet, as young-sounding as he had looked earlier, shirtless and half-feral and smiling in the sunlight.

‘How’d I forget that? That’s– me, isn’t it? Or it’s supposed to be. I’m Mowgli in–! Well,’ he faltered, ‘not flares anymore, I s’pose. Mowgli in drainpipes.’ He let out a breath like half a laugh. ‘Even after we left the zoo, I set up that little salon, you remember? For the pigeons and chaffinches and, aw, the sparrows, the cheeky little beggars.’

Howard did remember; remembered coming back to their shared room after he was long up and dressed to see Vince in his pyjamas and wild bedhead, happily laughing and chatting with the birds on his windowsill, gasping theatrical disbelief and cackling hysterically at the gossip they brought him. He hadn’t thought about that in a while, and now he felt something creak under his sternum at the remembered image, like an old tuning peg being twisted too far.

‘When’d I stop doin’ that?’

Horribly, Howard had no idea. He knew that Vince had stopped, of course; it had gone along with the sudden increase of numbers in his mobile, the way his smiles had looked more often like sneers, the acting out, but he couldn’t have said when. It had just… happened, gradually. Vince hadn’t had time for that kind of silliness anymore, not with trendier sorts of silliness to attend to.

Vince continued on in that small voice, sounding increasingly miserable. ‘I think I even forgot about the forest. Like… I dunno, maybe ‘cos all my other mates woulda thought it was stupid, if I tried to tell them about it. Or else they’d all be pretending that they grew up in the forest too, raised by… I dunno, Syd Barrett or Marc Bolan; it’d be well trendy. But… it’s not about bein’ trendy, is it? It’s just… what it is. I guess. So I didn’t ever talk about it, and maybe after a while I just… I mean, I did grow up here, after I left the jungle, so it was like my brain just… forgot there was anything before that.’

He shivered, nuzzling his head down further into the crook of his own elbow, and before he could think about it and ruin it, Howard had hitched an arm around Vince and tugged him closer into his chest. Vince made a hiccoughing little noise, and Howard drew a sharp breath through his nose.

‘I ain’t even thought about Bryan in years,’ Vince said softly. ‘But bein’ out there today… it was like my body still remembered all this stuff even though I’d forgot about it. Leapin’ around like a monkey and wrestling with marmosets and everything, just laughing and getting dirty and not caring, and all the sun and the wet green smells…’

‘You looked happy,’ Howard said, before he could stop himself, and Vince sighed.

‘Yeah.’ It felt like that shouldn’t have been notable– Vince was the sunshine kid, after all– but it was. Maybe he hadn’t even realised it until this afternoon, but it was.

‘Well,’ Howard started fumblingly, ‘I mean, you’ve remembered now, haven’t you? So that’s all right.’

‘I s’pose,’ Vince agreed, but he didn’t sound overly convinced. Howard’s hand was spread over Vince’s stomach, and he could feel the uneven rise and fall of it, like Vince hadn’t quite got the rhythm of breathing. Tentatively, he stroked at it with his fingertips, and all the air went out of Vince like the shuddering drop of tension in the atmosphere after a thunderstorm. ‘It was simpler,’ he said after a moment, ‘back then.’

In his mind, Howard could see the beginnings of several snide remarks about how Vince surely didn’t need help being simpler, but he held them back. During the day, he mightn’t have. But at night, in moments like this, Vince seemed a lot less like his frequently-callous, bratty, untouchable mate and a whole lot more like the oddly delicate, ingenuous kid he remembered from school. Vince hadn’t known any of the rules then. He’d been forever blazing his own crooked little trails, but it had been up to Howard to build fences along them to make sure he didn’t fall off and get hurt.

‘I think maybe that’s why I forgot,’ he continued, nearly whispering. ‘Cos if I remembered… it’d’ve just made me sad that it weren’t anymore.’

The tuning-peg feeling twisted a further painful degree, and a breath snuck out of Howard’s mouth before he could stop it. ‘Oh, Vince.’

And then, after a moment, incongruously, Vince giggled. ‘Howard, you’re squashin’ me.’

He squirmed in Howard’s grip, and Howard realised with a flush of mortification that his comforting hold seemed to have turned into a death clutch. ‘Oh. Sorry.’ Immediately, he let his arms go limp, trying to roll away, but Vince only followed, shifting to curl into Howard instead of away from him.

‘S alright,’ he said easily, burrowing his head into the soft space between Howard’s chest and shoulder. Hesitantly, Howard brought his hand up again, this time to rest over Vince’s back, where he could feel the slats of his ribs through lean muscle. Vince shifted into the touch and let out another one of those long breaths. This one sounded a little more steady, which Howard counted as a good thing.

‘Always thought you were a bear,’ Vince mumbled into Howard’s chest, breath warm through his pyjama shirt.

‘How d’you mean?’

‘When I was little, I always slept with, mm, Jahuli or Marisha or Hroon; leopards, gorillas, bears. Comfy, you know? All big and soft and warm. Nice to feel protected when you’re a tiny hairless monkey in a big old jungle. An’ then I found you, and I thought– he’s just like an English bear, innee? All prickly and soft both at once, funny little eyes, big paws. Made me, mm, feel right safe.’

Howard couldn’t think of a thing to say to that through the glowing tidal wave that had suddenly swamped his sternum. He made Vince feel safe. He’d used to have fantasies about that; himself as a brave tall protector, a knight errant, but it had been– well, longer than he liked to admit since he’d really believed any of them. Vince had grown too sly and cynical to even pretend to need someone like Howard. Except apparently not.

He swallowed hard. ‘Did you want– maybe we could, every once in a while, I could drive us out to the woods somewhere and we could make a day of it. You could… find some squirrels to gossip with. Teach me how to climb trees like a monkey.’

‘Yeah?’ Vince twisted to peer up at him, eyes huge and cautiously hopeful. Howard had no idea how they seemed to glow even in the dark of the bedroom, with no light stronger than the vague brownish dim seeping around the edge of the curtains to catch, but glow they assuredly did.

‘Yeah,’ Howard murmured roughly. ‘Be good for us, I reckon. Some time on our own; you can get back to your roots without worrying about your shallow mates.’

Shifting again, Vince propped himself up just enough to be able to look down at Howard. He was smiling again, but it wasn’t the blinding, cricket-bat-made-of-glitter-to-the-head affair of earlier; it was altogether smaller, soft and close-mouthed, all appreciation and… affection? For a desperate moment, Howard’s brain was full of their kiss on his birthday, which he normally did his best to forget about. He felt slightly stunned. But Vince only smiled a little wider and declared, ‘Genius,’ before snuggling back down into his side.

‘You know I couldn’t teach you to climb like a monkey if I tried,’ he said after a few moments of silence, in which Howard tried to get his heart rate under control. He fancied he could hear the sound of that smile in Vince’s voice, all gentle, secret fondness. It did nothing to help with his heart.

‘And why not, sir?’

‘Big old Northern bear like you? You’d do better nicking honey off bees or… whatever bears do in their spare time.’

‘I am nimble and fleet, I’ll have you know.’

‘Yeah, yeah, legs like the gazelle, I know,’ Vince mocked gently. ‘Only gazelles can’t climb trees either, can they?’

‘Depends where you are,’ Howard ad-libbed. ‘There’s whole colonies of tree-dwelling gazelles in… the valleys of New Zealand.’

‘Oh yeah? Didn’t think you got gazelles in New Zealand.’

‘There’s a lot you don’t know, little man.’

It was an old kind of conversation, but it felt natural now, to fall into it, not a half-hearted attempt to recreate an outworn pattern because it was easier than having an actual conversation.

Vince huffed a little laugh that made Howard suspect he was thinking the same thing, and rubbed his cheek against Howard’s chest like a cat. ‘S it alright if I stay here for the night?’

Ordinarily, even if he knew he was going to relent eventually, Howard would have put up a fuss just for the sake of form. He would have insisted that a man’s bed was his castle, or that he wasn’t a pillow, was he? or that his REM cycles were delicate things and Vince’s dreams would probably crowd over into his headspace and disrupt them, and then Vince would have laughed at him and done it anyway. Just at the moment, though, it didn’t seem quite worth it.

‘Yeah, ‘s fine,’ he said.

He couldn’t tell if Vince was surprised by his easy acquiescence, but after a moment, he yawned, his fingers curling against Howard’s chest. ‘Cheers, Howard.’

Cuddling whilst awake was one thing, but falling asleep like that another entirely. It took Howard a few minutes to persuade his body that this was just how it was going to be and it might as well enjoy it, and by the time it had come around, Vince was, to all appearances, deeply and peacefully asleep. The warmth of him against Howard’s side was not entirely comfortable, but his heartbeat and his deep, steady breathing syncopated into a lulling rhythm that caught Howard’s own heart and lungs up into their gravity as he let his eyes slide out of focus against the inside of his eyelids. It was all the soft sounds of Vince’s body, and the smell of his skin and shampoo, and as he sank slowly into sleep, Howard’s brain occupied itself sorting through and filing nearby wooded areas for future weekends away.