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Don't Leave Me Again

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It had been just over two months since the "incident". Vince didn't like to talk about it - about how finding Howard dead in a monkey costume was one of the most horrific things he had experienced. After Bollo had miraculously recovered, Vince had rushed to find Howard and tell him the good news. When he had entered the enclosure and spotted Howard propped up against the wall, he assumed it was a joke. It wasn't until he had removed the mask and was greeted with the sight of Howard's unseeing eyes and clammy skin that he realised something was very wrong. He tried to revive Howard, but to no avail. Sobbing loudly, he beat on the unmoving chest over and over again.

He hadn't yet managed a full night sleep, finding himself back in Bollo's enclosure with Howard's body whenever he closed his eyes for a prolonged period of time. So he threw himself into what he thought would distract him. He offered to take the night-shifts, despite hating them, as it gave him an excuse to not having to sleep at night. He would take a couple of quick naps throughout the day, never long enough to fall into a deep sleep, hug just enough to refresh his energy. In their little hut, Vince stocked half of the cupboards with energy drinks, and if he ever found himself starting to drift off, he would quickly down a couple and spend the next few hours buzzing.

Stifling a yawn into his fist, Vince flicked idly through the latest copy of Cheekbones, not really taking any of it in. It was their lunch break, but Howard had been summoned by Bob Fossil yet again. Meaning that Vince was alone in their hut, again. Sighing, he put the magazine down and stretched across the sofa. He thought back to the funeral they had thrown together for Howard. He had royally screwed it up, and knowing that Howard had been watching made him feel worse. They were best mates, and yet he was unable to do a simple thing like find the only song that Howard had requested.

When Howard entered the hut a few moments later, Vince was so immersed in his thoughts that he didn't notice. Leaning against the doorframe, Howard took a good look at Vince. His hair was deflated, his face was pale, and his eyes were sunken in. He looked exhausted, yet whenever Howard tried to broach the subject, Vince would change the topic of conversation. Watching as Vince stifled yet another yawn into his fist, Howard sighed. They were best mates, yet Vince refused to talk to him about what was bothering him. Did he just not want Howard to know, or was it something more significant? Was he angry at Howard? Did he not trust him anymore? At least Fossil had agreed to let them take the rest of the day off, provided that they were in work bright and early tomorrow. If Howard could see Vince getting at least a nights sleep, he would feel better.

Shaking his head to clear himself of any negative thoughts, Howard stepped forward and cleared his throat to gain Vince's attention. Vince jumped slightly, embarrassed that he had been caught so unaware. He rubbed a hand over his eyes before turning to look at Howard.

"Alright Howard? What did Fossil want?" He grinned up at Howard before standing and stretching again. "Guess we better get back to work." He started to walk towards the hut door, but was stopped by a hand landing on his shoulder.

"Woah there, little man. Fossil has agreed to let us have the rest of the day off." Vince opened his mouth to object, but Howard cut him off. "You need the sleep, Vince. You haven't been sleeping properly for a while. As long as we're ready for work early tomorrow, Fossil is fine with us taking the rest of the day off so you can get some sleep."

Vince opened his mouth yet again to object but, seeing Howard's stern expression, he shut his lour and sighed. Raising a shaky hand, he nodded in agreement before making his way over to the cupboard where they stored their sleeping bags. As Howard busied himself closing all the curtains and trying to prevent much light coming in from outside, Vince unrolled the sleeping bags and set them out ready.

Shrugging out of his jacket, Vince folded it over the back of a chair before removing his shoes and belt. He then began to settle down inside his sleeping bag, not having the energy to actually get changed, and waited for Howard to do the same. When they were both lying down, Vince rolled into his side and looked at Howard.

"You know you're my best mate, yeah Howard? I might be a little self-centred sometimes, but I still care about you." He worried his bottom lip between his teeth, before Howard reached out a hand and gently cupped his cheek. Vince nuzzled into his palm, eyes beginning to slip shut.

"I know you do, little man. Get some sleep for me, yeah?" He smiled softly before removing his hand and settling down. It was far too early for him to get any sleep, but he would lie on a cold floor in an uncomfortable sleeping bag if it meant that Vince would actually get some sleep.

After a couple of hours of listening to Vince's steady breathes, Howard dozed off only to be woken almost immediately by a choked off scream. He sat upright in a panic, and looked around the hut before settling his gaze on Vince. Vince who had tears streaming down his face, and who's expression was one of extreme pain and guilt. Howard shuffled out of his sleeping bag and slowly made his way over to the other man. Vince was mumbling something, and Howard leaned in closer to get a better idea of what he was saying.

"-o. No! You need to wake up. Wake up Howard! No! No! You need to wake up. Don't leave me. Howard please. Wa-" Vince cut himself off with a heart-wrenching sob, and twisted violently as though trying to shake someone off.

Reaching out a cautious hand, Howard gently shook Vince's shoulder. "Vince? Little man? You need to wake up. It was just a dream. You need to wake up." He continued to try and wake Vince up, until he sat bolt upright with a gasp.

Vince sniffed heavily and his wild eyes darted around the cabin before settling on Howard, and noticing his hand on his shoulder. Biting off a sob, Vince launched himself at Howard and wrapped his arms around his shoulders. He dissolved into hysterical sobs, and pushed his face into Howard's neck. He clung to his shoulders, as though reassuring himself that Howard was still there.

Raising a hand, Howard gently cupped Vince's cheek and moved them apart slightly. He repositioned Vince so he was straddling Howard, and then looked at his tear-stained face.

"Is this why you haven't been sleeping, little man? Nightmares?" Howard's voice was soothing, and he ran his thumb carefully under Vince's eye so as to catch the stray tears.

"I-I saw you dead, Howard. I felt your lack of a heartbeat! You were dead, and you'd left me! Every t-time I close my eyes, I just see your lifeless eyes staring back at me." Vince dissolved into a new wave a sobbing, and Howard's heart broke. He cupped Vince's cheeks with both hands, and brought him forward. Placing a gentle kiss on his forehead, he smoothed Vince's hair down.

"I'm so sorry, little man. I hadn't realised how much this had affected you." He brushed a couple more tears away before he started to speak again. "Vince, you should've just come and spoken to me. You've been miserable for weeks, and I just want to help."

Sniffing slightly, Vince turned his head and pressed a kiss to Howard's palm, before loosely wrapped his fingers around his wrist. "I don't want to be alone again, Howard. You left me once, and I don't want to be on my own again. Please don't leave me." He looked at Howard with watery eyes, before moving off of Howard's lap. Letting go of his wrist, he extended a hand out to Howard.

Cocking an eyebrow, Howard took the accepted hand and stood besides Vince, who had scooped up the sleeping bags and unceremoniously dumped them in a corner.

"Grab the fluffy blankets out the cupboard for us Howard." Vince mumbles, scooping the cushions up from the sofa. When Howard returned with the blankets, he found Vince awkwardly standing besides the sofa. All the cushions had been piled at one end. At Howard's questioning gaze, he blushes slightly.

"I don't want to sleep on my own. Even if you're in a sleeping bag next to me, I feel alone. So I figured that it would be okay if we curled up here? O-only if you want to, that is." Vince waved his hands about a bit, looking flustered. Smiling, Howard settled down on one corner of the sofa and gestured for Vince to join him.

"I don't think I'll be able to sleep yet, little man, but you can lie on me if you want." Vince nodded and sat besides Howard. He wrapped one blanket around himself, before lying stretched across the sofa with his head in Howard's lap. He closed his eyes as Howard pulled the other blanket over him. Howard the started to gently card him hand through Vince's hair, murmuring softly above him.

"I won't leave you again, Vince. I promise. I'm sorry I left you alone, but I'm here now."