Aftermath (Aftermath Story 2)
Notes: This is a much requested sequel to ‘Dixon Bainbridge was Pissed Off’.
Aftermath by thymeth
Back at the keepers’ hut, Howard opened the door and found…
He was just standing there, looking up at them.
Howard frowned. How dared he come here after what he had done?
He pushed passed and sat Vince down on the sofa.
“Do you want anything? Tea?”
But Vince just shook his down-turned head.
“Yeah.” Vince’s voice was nothing more than a whisper.
Howard didn’t know what to do. Should he just leave Vince sitting like this and go back to work? Should he make him a cup of tea even though he said he didn’t want any? Or should he sit down next to him and pull him close and just hold him and stroke his hair and tell him it’d be alright, that he was safe now?
He didn’t know.
So he just stood there.
There was a shuffle and a tiny noise behind him. Howard glanced ever so quickly over his shoulder.
Naboo was still there. Howard shook his head to himself.
“Why are you here?”
That made Howard turn properly. Naboo had spoken.
“Yes, I can speak,” he said, his lisp more prominent now, “I want to help.”
“Yeah, well, it’s too late for that now,” Howard snapped.
“I’m sorry,” Naboo said, “I’m under a magical contract. I have to do what I’m ordered to.”
“That’s what Quisling said. Now shove off.”
“I can help you,” Naboo insisted, “Just give me a chance. Please?”
“No.” Howard turned back to Vince, who had lifted his head.
“Let him,” he said, “At least let him try.”
“No,” Howard answered, “He works for Fossil and Bainbridge.”
“Please, Howard,” Vince said, “For me?”
And Howard met his eyes and could not deny him anything.
“Fine,” he said and turned back to Naboo, “You can help. But know this: I don’t trust you at all. And if anything goes wrong, I’ll hunt you to the end of the earth and skin you myself.”
At the door Naboo looked up at Howard and beckoned him closer. Howard bent down.
“Look after Vince, yeah?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?” Howard frowned.
“I’ll be back.” And he left and Howard closed the door.
Vince was still on the sofa, leaning forward, forehead in hands. How small he looked, a child almost.
Howard would do anything for him.
And he could think of nothing.
So he went over to the teapot to make a cup of tea. But he could not find the tea. Or the water. Or indeed the teapot. Even if he had, he wouldn’t have known what to do with them.
He hid his face in his hands, careful to keep his back to Vince. Vince must not see him this weak.
He rubbed his eyes fiercely but the image of Vince bent over Fossil’s desk would not leave him. The more he tried to forget it, the clearer it grew.
Howard didn’t know how much time had passed, or how this had happened, but now Naboo was leading them, one in each hand, outside, around a corner, along a path and to the centre of the zoo.
Quite a crowd had assembled, looking at something, something that was shouting and swearing loudly.
“Come on.” Naboo pulled them closer and Howard saw Bainbridge on his knees in a puddle, hands almost pulling his ears off his head, screaming.
Naboo went over to him, but Vince fell back.
Howard turned to him. Vince’s eyes were on Bainbridge’s enraged face, terrified.
“It’s alright,” Howard said and added without thinking, holding out his hand, “I’m here.”
Vince looked up at him and his face softened. Not smiling, but almost.
He took Howard’s hand and let himself be led closer to that screaming mess on the ground.
“Make it stop, you bastard!” Bainbridge raged at Naboo, “I’ll have you killed for this disobedience!”
“Only you can make it stop,” Naboo said calmly, “Only when you regret what you did will it stop.”
“I regret it! I’m sorry! Make it stop!” Bainbridge shouted, “Aargh!” And he collapsed onto his side, hands still pulling at his ears, rolling around in the puddle.
Vince’s grip on Howard’s hand tightened and he pulled closer, half-hidden, arm around Howard’s arm.
“You have to truly regret it,” Naboo answered, still just as cool, “with every bone in your body.”
Bainbridge continued screaming and Vince’s hold on Howard’s arm was almost painful now. But he didn’t dare move, for fear of Vince pulling away.
So he kept his eyes on Bainbridge in the mud getting dirtier, louder and more obscene by the minute. And with every expletive flying from his mouth, the more Howard disliked him and the more he decided he deserved this.
“Oh, make it stop!” Vince shouted suddenly, “Naboo, make it stop!”
And everything went quiet.
“But he’s not…!” Howard exclaimed, glaring at Naboo.
“Yes, he is,” Naboo said, “It’s over.”
Two men picked Bainbridge up by arms and legs and carried him away.
Naboo stood still as the crowd dissolved, eyes on the spot Bainbridge had laid.
“Come on,” Howard said and made to leave. But Vince went over to Naboo who had his hand over eyes now.
“Are you alright?”
“Fine,” Naboo breathed, “Fine.”
“No, you’re not,” Vince said, hand on Naboo’s shoulder, “Howard.”
And Howard was there just in time to catch him as he fainted.
Light as a feather, Howard carried Naboo back to the keepers’ hut and lay him down on the sofa.
“He tired himself out,” Vince said, straightening up from tucking a blanket around him, “For me.”
“Anyone would have,” Howard said, mostly to himself.
“No, they wouldn’t,” Vince answered in the same low voice.
“I would,” Howard said and turned to him.
Vince looked up.
“I’d do anything for you,” Howard said and touched his cheek. And before he knew it, Vince’s arms were around his waist and head on his shoulder, forehead resting against his neck. And Howard wrapped his arms around him, just holding him close.
“I know,” Vince said, barely audible, “Safe.”
The next few weeks Bainbridge spent in a monkey cage, with Fossil dropping in ever so often to pick through his hair for lice and kiss his nose.