The shrill ring of the phone ripped Howard from his sleep. He grumbled, and moved to answer the phone. He'd been having a rather lovely dream - he was a famous jazz musician. Making his way over to the phone, he cast a glance around the empty room. Vince had recently been sleeping in the room with Howard, something about Howard's room being a lot warmer, but Vince had not yet returned from his night at the club. Shaking his head, Howard picked up the phone and glanced at the clock. 3am. It was too early for him to even be awake. Vince was the night-owl, not him. Rubbing a hand over his eyes, he cleared his throat before speaking.
"Howard Moon here."
An audible sigh of relief echoed down the phone, and before Howard had a chance to say anything else the other person began to speak in a breathless whisper.
"Howard, it's me. Vince. Oh god, Howard, I really messed up this time. I need your help. I swear I didn't do anything on purpose, but it just kind of spiralled out of control." Vince stopped for a moment to draw another breath, before barrelling on. "I know that it's late. Early. Whatever. I just need your help. Please."
Rubbing his face wearily, Howard groaned. "Vince, it's 3 in the morning. I am tired, and you are a grown man. Sort out your own messes, for heavens sake. I am not here "
"Please Howard! I swear, I won't ask you for help again." What sounded like a stifled sob reached Howard's ear, and he bit his lip. "I didn't mean to start anything. I'm outside The Velvet Onion. Please just come and take me home." Another stifled sob trickled through the phone line, and Howard found himself standing before he really had chance to think it through.
"Stay where you are, little man. I'll be there as soon as possible." After all, Howard had never really been able to deny Vince anything. Especially not when he was crying.
It didn't take long for Howard to find Vince cowering under a doorway near The Velvet Onion, hiding away in the shadows. The flickering street lamp provided little light, but Howard could make out a was a dark trail finding it's way down Vince's face.
"Come on, little man. Let's get you home." Howard reached out an arm, and frowned as Vince flinched away. Vince raised a shaking hand and ran it through his hair, before slowly stepping towards Howard. As Howard led him away from the Velvet Onion, and towards the flat, they passed under another street lamp. Howard's gaze flickered to Vince, before he stopped dead. When Vince turned to look at Howard, the full extent of his injuries became clear. There was blood dribbling down his face from a gash above his eyebrow, a small amount darkening his nostril, as well as a split lip. His shirt had been torn, and the sleeve had a dark stain which was slowly spreading. Red-rimmed eyes locked with Howards, and pale fingers reached out towards Howards' own.
"Please, Howard. Can we just go home?" Vince's voice cracked, and tears were beginning to gather in the corners of his eyes. Nodding, Howard entwined his fingers with Vinces', and began to lead him home again. Each time they passed under a street lamp Vince shied away, as though afraid and ashamed to be seen in such a state. The lace cravat had been mostly torn off, and was hanging loosely by a couple of threads. His hair was a mess, and the gash above his eyebrow just kept dribbling blood.
Howard gently squeezed Vince's hand, and led him back towards the Nabootique and back to their flat.
"We're almost home, little man. I'll run you a warm bath and we'll get you cleaned up, okay?" Vince barely reacted, and the only indication that Vince had heard Howard was the slight nod he got in response. Biting his lip, Howard continued on in silence, trying to come up with a way to cheer Vince up even a little bit.
They had almost reached the Nabootique when Howard became aware that they were being followed. A group were walking just a few paces behind them, slowing down and speeding up whenever Howard and Vince altered their walking speed. Frowning slightly, he turned down a side alley that just looped back onto the street. As he'd feared, the group turned into the alley as well. Scrunching his nose up, Howard tugged Vince forwards and they hurried towards the exit of the alley. He became aware that the group was speeding up, and before they reached the end of the alleyway the group had passed in front of them. Howard stopped short and glanced at Vince, who had frozen. His eyes were wide, and Howard noticed that his hands were shaking.
"Hey baby. Why don't you leave your dad behind, and come and have some fun with us?" The apparent 'leader' of the small group of thugs smirked, and stepped forward. Almost instinctively, Howard stepped forward and positioned himself in front of Vince, letting go of Vince
Clearing his throat and straightening slightly, Howard looked at the group. "I think it's best for everyone if you lot leave, yes sir." He nodded slightly, and frowned when they all stepped forward. Howard became aware that Vince had begun to tug on his arm, trying to pull him away.
"Howard, can we just leave. I want to go home. Please." Vince murmured, still tugging on Howard's arm. Deflating slightly, Howard turned and looked at Vince. Before he had the chance to say anything, he was jolted forward and crashed into Vince. The group began to laugh, and as Howard turned to face them he was greeted by a fist to the face. He crumpled to the ground, and curled in on himself as the group began to kick at any part of him they could reach. He covered his face, wincing as boots crunched against his ribs.
After a few moments the group retreated, leaving Howard in a daze on the floor. He lay there, gingerly feeling along his ribs to ensure that nothing was broken. Carefully sitting up, Howard winced, and wiped the blood away that was slowly trickling down from his nose. It wasn't until he heard Vince sob that he realised the group hadn't left, but had, in fact, rounded on Vince. On his Vince. He watched as the group pushed Vince against a wall, and anger began to course through him as he watched one aim a punch to Vince's stomach. Vince cried out, tears streaming down his face. His eyes were screwed shut, and he tried to curl in on himself. Scowling, Howard stood slowly, making sure to keep as quiet as possible. His head and ribs were throbbing, but he pushed past the pain and advanced. As one thug cocked his arm back to punch Vince, Howard pounced forward and grabbed them. He pushed them up against the wall, besides Vince, and curled his hand around the thug's throat.
"You're gonna leave us alone, okay? You go anywhere near Vince again, and I'll come at you like a mighty bazooka. They don't call me The Northern Bullet for no reason, no sir." He scowled and watched as the thug writhed up against the wall. "Do you understand?" He snarled, and when the thug finally agreed Howard let go and stepped back.
Vince cleared his throat, and held out a shaky hand when Howard turned to him. "L-let's go home, yeah?" He sniffled, rubbing the back of one hand against his eyes. All at once, the anger drained from Howard and he took Vince's hand. They had barely reached the end of the alley before a hand was gripping Howard's shoulder and spinning him. Howard cocked his hand and caught the guy in the jaw. He crumpled to the ground, moaning in pain. Howard surveyed the group, who were standing further down the alley, looking at the man on the floor.
The man groaned, and rubbed his jaw. "You're doing all this for a cross-dressing freak?! Bet you get him to wear his hair in bunches and wear dresses in the bedroom. You're both freaks."
Crouching down, Howard gripped the thug's jaw and made him turn his head to face him. Leaning close he began to whisper; "Do not come near Vince again. Are we clear?" He turned to look at Vince, who had wrapped his arms around him. "I love that man, and I won't stand to see him hurt. If you come near him again, you won't just be in pain. You'll be broken." He stood and spared the group a final glance before turning to Vince and holding his hand out.
Vince folded into Howard's arms, and Howard pressed a gentle kiss to the top of Vince's hair. "Home now?" He mumbled, pressing his face into Howard's chest.
"Yeah Vince. Home. I'll run you a nice bubble bath, and get you all cleaned up." Howard's heart melted as Vince beamed up at him. As they began to walk back to the Nabootique, Howard felt his ribs twinge but ignored it. He'd gladly suffer the pain if it meant that Vince was safe and happy.