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November 13th, 2007


[info]accio_arse06:50 pm - BOOSHFIC: Truly, Madly, Fishy 3/6
Title: Truly, Madly, Fishy, Part 3 of 6 - “How to Choke on a Whelk”
Author: accio_arse
Rating: R
Word Count: This part 7900
Pairing: Howard/Old Gregg, Howard/Vince.
DISCLAIMER: Not my characters - created by the nice Mr Boosh.
Beta thanks: to [info]dark_safari [info]gloriette80 taeli and thymeth - yes, four of them!
Summary: Howard spent a night alone in the same room with Old Gregg, and just about survived. Now he has to explain it all to Vince.

NB: This story is about Series 1&2 Howard and Vince, because I wrote this way back in February. Sorry for the delay, and thanks for all your encouragement so far!

Part One on LJ - Part one on IJ
Part Two on LJ - Part Two on IJ
This story also crossposted to BSH on LJ



*****



One … two… three hours… four…

Four sodding hours.

Howard set his teeth, rounded his shoulders, swivelled and turned. One step, another step… weave round to dodge Naboo’s hookah, past the sofa… third step, stop, turn…

And then again, in the other direction, back and forward across the living room of the flat, like a trapped wolf wading through eternally thick, clingy custard.

A happy little splishy-splash noise tinkled through the flat; Howard shuddered. Over there, a mere few feet away, Old Gregg was still waiting, ensconced in the wetness of their bathroom – and Howard had absolutely no idea what to do about it.

Every time he got near Old Gregg, he couldn’t explain it. Something just happened. An inexplicable urge began building, thumping through his blood. Even in the cold light of day, there, in the bathroom - another few seconds and it’d have been too late. He’d have been pulled under all over again, stripped naked and enticed into unknown sexual practices - and that would probably have been just for starters.

It was only now, with the safety of a solid door between them, that the salty spice was finally dissolving from his lungs, the pressure on his crotch subsiding and his head beginning to clear. Finally, Howard had space to think – and as soon as that happened, in rushed memories of last night, on the doorstep with Vince. How he’d been laughed at. Humiliated. How pathetic he’d been. Ridiculous, stupid - dreaming that Vince would ever be attracted to someone like him

Yeah. So this wasn’t exactly an improvement, was it?

Naboo and Bollo were long gone. They’d woken up, demolished a mountain of eggs and bacon in front of the Saturday morning cartoons, and then headed off for the weekly run to Shamansburys. There’d been a few heated moments when Bollo had discovered his ‘Gorilla Alpha Beaut-ee’ hair pomade was being held hostage in the big bathroom by a strange sea creature, but Naboo had unearthed an old tub of Miracle Wax and offered it as a substitute. Ten minutes with the wax, some eyeliner and a mirror, and Bollo had grudgingly acknowledged himself fit to be seen.

On their way out, the shaman had pulled Howard to one side. He lifted one eyebrow meaningfully. “Your… guest.”

“Um… Yes?” asked Howard. Naboo’s shaman stare often gave him the creeps, though he’d be the last one to admit it.

“Your guest. Your responsibility. Understand?”

And that was it. Howard was left alone in the flat – or almost. There were still those ominously wet, slappy noises echoing inside the bathroom; a constant reminder of Howard’s unfinished business.

Vince was nowhere to be seen.

Howard kept finding himself in the living room, over by one of the windows. He knew that if he pushed his nose up - over there, right against the cold corner of the glass, and raised himself on the tips of his toes, way up high - he could just about get a cramped view of the street. It was pouring - cold, grey, smothering sheets of rain, but he was pretty sure he’d be able to make out the figure of one bedraggled, flamboyant man tottering his way home.

A circle of misty breath began to appear all around his face. Only a solitary clear patch remained in the centre; the space made by Howard’s moustache hairs moving round and round, wiping the glass clean as he chewed on his bottom lip.

By now it was well past midday. Normally, Howard wouldn’t worry. Vince was the kind of guy who’d pop out for a packet of Polo mints, then swing home a few days later with stories about his amazing new best friends - how he’d met them at the corner shop, got on really well, and went round to their place to drink Flirtinis and play Twister, or jumped in a van to some cool little place they’d promised had wicked people and banging music.

But Vince was usually surrounded by a whole gaggle of friends - Bollo and Naboo included - and who was going to make trouble when faced with a gorilla? Who was going to even remember what they’d tried after tangling with a shaman?

This time it was just Vince, out there all on his own. Howard chewed some more on his lip. Sure, Vince might act cool, the Duke of Topshop, cruising along on a wave of accessories and charm, but underneath it all, Howard knew another Vince – one that was sweet, childlike - almost worryingly naïve.

Howard remembered back to when they’d worked at the zoo. He’d had walked into the Keeper’s Hut, ready for his mid-morning break, only to be confronted with a large, shaven-headed customer in a black coat, invading the zookeepers’ private sanctum. More than that: the customer had been attacking one of the other keepers, pushing him up against the far wall. And even worse: the keeper being attacked appeared to be Vince, and there’d been fear in his eyes as they peeped out from underneath the shadow of the attacker’s wide shoulders.

For once, fury had overcome Howard’s highly developed sense of self-preservation. Red had pulsed in front of his vision, he’d let out a mighty roar, and in a rush, he’d run in and pushed the man off Vince.

Almost immediately, he regretted his rashness - after all, the stranger was huge, aggressive and obviously inclined to violence - but luckily for Howard, fighting back seemed to be the last thing on the stranger’s mind. He’d just lain there on the floor, sprawling, blinking like a large, bald, startled woodland creature. Finally, with a frightened, puzzled look at Howard and Vince, the man had scrambled to his feet, and immediately ran out of the door and into the labyrinthine ways of the zoo.

Howard let out a long, relieved breath, strutted to the door, stuck out his chest and cocked his elbows wide. “Hah! Did you see him go? How I saw him off? He didn’t stand a chance. No way! They call me Crouching Tiger! They call me Hidden Mongoose! Coming at cha- oh yeah!”

Meanwhile, Vince was dusting off his jacket and feeling his limbs carefully, one by one.

Suddenly, remembering to be concerned, Howard looked over. “You alright there, little man?”

“Yeah. Think I’m okay.” By now, Vince was onto his badge collection, and was checking it for signs of damage.

“What the hell was that about, anyway?”

“I dunno!” Vince pointed at the low-slung belt of his skinny jeans. His usual uniform was at home that day, in the middle of another radical, Vince-style makeover. “All I was doing was showing him the new badge on my belt – the Jagger one, you know? That guy seemed to be dead interested in it – who wouldn’t be? I mean, Jagger! So I told him to lean right in, have a closer look – come into the hut if he wanted, I’d got loads more in there - and then, suddenly he’s jostling me up against the wall!”

Howard scratched under his jaw thoughtfully. Ah. It all began to make a certain kind of sense. So Vince had been flashing himself about, pointing at his tightly-clad groin, then invited a total stranger into the hut, asking him if he liked what he saw - if he wanted any more.

“There’s a whole lot of little kids visit this zoo, you know!” Vince was up and looking for his red brimmed hat, getting ready to spring into properly-dressed vigilante action. “What if the guy who tried to mug me goes after them as well? We should get a crowd together - make sure he’s properly gone!”

Howard cleared his throat. “I don’t think…”

“What don’t you think?”

Howard was thinking that the man hadn’t actually been hitting Vince, or threatening him, or asking for money - all things you might expect during a normal mugging. In fact, now Howard came to think about it – that man had been breathing quite hard, and sort of pushing against Vince, all the while making a kind of grunting groan…

Howard winced. Why did these kind of things always have to be his job?

So in the end, Howard explained to Vince that the man had probably been indulging in an unusual form of Jagger worship – as in trying to buff the badges with his entire body. A little extreme, if you will, but quite harmless. Vince listened with wide-eyed, serious attention, nodding all the while, and then with a little smile bounced off to the iguana gymnasium, full of the renewed joys of Jagger, perfectly content to be worshipping a rock idol so potent that even random strangers hurled themselves at his merchandise.

Howard was left in the Keepers Hut, completely alone, and brooding on the certainty that one day all of his lies would come back to haunt him.

So now, as Howard pressed his nose against the windowpane, staring through the downpour, a dread knot was tightening inside his stomach. Who knew where had Vince had ended up, just to shelter from this rain? Or even worse - which stranger Vince had met on the way? Who knew which house or car Vince had stepped blithely into, lured by the promise of sweeties and pop stars?

Oh God - why had he shouted at Vince last night? Why had he yelled at him to fuck off, anywhere he liked, as long as it was far away from him? Why had he done that to Vince in the cold, in the dark, at the head of an oncoming storm?

If anything happened… Howard dropped his head… it would be his fault. Forever, his fault.

He’d already tried Vince’s mobile number about twenty times; never any answer. And the others hadn’t seen Vince either, not since he’d left that Pinky Bill gig early last night, leaving early to go check on Howard.

So Vince had thought Howard might need some company after what had happened with Old Gregg, and he’d cut short his night to come back to him.

Howard pushed one hand flat against the windowpane, feeling the cold moisture trickle into his palm. Wasn’t that just like Vince? He couldn’t count the number of times Vince done that - turned up, right when Howard needed him, in the nick of time, every time… sure, he’d make Howard sweat a little first, and might take the piss for weeks afterwards - but in the end, it didn’t matter. Vince always came through.

It’d been Vince who’d rescued Howard when he’d been trapped in that laboratory, strapped to an operating table, about to have his head transplanted onto the body of a snake. The others hadn’t even noticed Howard was gone, never mind bother to, diligently search for, find and untie him. Of course, Vince had laughed at him a bit first. But he’d been the one to come.

And those ten foot Yetis, the ones who’d bewitched Howard to use in their deadly mating ceremony? Vince again - he’d rounded up the others and headed off towards Howard in a flash. The Ape of Death, Black Frost, the coconut flying squad… so many times Howard had owed Vince everything - his life, his sanity, the remaining chastity of his various body parts.

Like that killer kangaroo, just about to smash Howard to a bloody pulp with its smasher punch. Again, Vince had jumped in to save him. He’d reached out in the middle of the raging fight, right into the boxing ring, and reduced that kangaroo to a helpless puddle, just by squashing its big dangling bollocks with one hand. Nobody else would have done it. Just Vince.

Howard closed his eyes, pushing his palms into his face and squishing up his forehead.

Vince. A man who would grab a pair of giant hairy kanga-balls, or worse - and all for him.

Why had he never told Vince how grateful he was? Why had he only ever sniped, backstabbed and lied? What if now it was all too late? Why was it so easy to imagine Vince, in a deserted alley, broken, crushed and torn?

This was Howard’s chance to come to the rescue. This time for a change, Vince needed him - yet instead of looking after Vince, what had he been doing, all night long? Howard’s skin crawled with self-disgust at the thought - up in his bedroom with Old Gregg, playing at grab the gherkin.

Frantically, Howard began to pace up and down, dodging between sofas and tables, barking his shins on shelves, knocking over cans and scale models of submarines. He forced himself to stop. No – this wasn’t helping. He had to calm down. Think logically.

Perhaps Vince was still at a club – Yes! Vince would be safe there! But what kind of clubs would stay open all night and through to noon the next day? Desperately, Howard tried to wrack his brain.

When the band played nights, the others always sent him back to the flat straight afterwards, telling him that he wouldn’t like it, that it would be too noisy - that modern nightclubs very rarely had poetry readings, serious Russian theatre or freeform scat competitions. Howard found such assertions very hard to believe. Sometimes he even had the sneaking suspicion that they might be trying to get rid of him.

Before the band? Howard’s forehead crinkled up as he tried to recall. Hadn’t there been that happening at ‘Jazzy Monkz’ back in Leeds, when he was nineteen? The Scunthorpe Saxophone Trio had played the back room of the local church hall - selections from the phone directory rendered into atonal rhythms. Howard remembered it well. It had been the latest he’d ever stayed out – until nearly ten thirty pm, and he’d only managed to stay awake that long by surfing the E-number rush from the free orange squash.

Well. That hadn’t helped much.

Another five minutes, that’s all - then he’d start trawling the streets for sure. He’d start off at Pinky Bill’s – wherever the hell that was. He’d ask people on the street, anyone, someone had to know where that club was. Old Gregg? He’d park him in a river, a duck pond, anything to keep Naboo off his back.

Howard took up his place by the window once more, straining high until his footwear creaked. Two droplets of condensation had formed in the window by his face. With a poignant twitch, they sprang together, began to wobble down the glass, trembling, and were just about to burst against the window frame when Howard’s heart leapt into his throat.

There! There! Vince! It was him!

Still in the same flimsy paisley outfit from yesterday, pale and glowing in the grainy daylight. But how had he appeared so quickly? Nowhere in sight - then suddenly right at the front door?

The door scraped open with a jangle of keys, then Vince’s distinctive tread bounced up the stairs. Howard remembered once telling Vince that he walked like a pregnant, knock-kneed flamingo in the wrong sized trousers. Now he knew that he’d been crazy. Vince’s footsteps might just be one of the most beautiful sounds of all time. Howard wanted to sample those footsteps, to moisturise them and feed them through a jazz loop till they screamed their inner poetry.

The top of Vince’s hair appeared, followed by the rest of his head. Too late, Howard saw Vince jump back in alarm, as he caught sight of Howard leaning over the stairwell, his face an ecstatic grimace of unrestrained relief.

Too late, Howard realised he should act cool, pretend to be a bit more relaxed about the whole thing. Now was the worst time ever to shout in delight, bounce up and down, and throw himself on Vince, no matter how much his body was telling him to. Howard peeled his hands’ tight grip off the banister rail, moved away… yes, casually does it. Craftily turn that action into an overhead stretch. Ah yes – you’ve got all the smooth moves, Moon.

Acting as if he’d nothing else on his mind, Howard strolled around the lounge, dallying here and there and ending up beside the bookcase. There was a CD sitting on top of a speaker. Striking a nonchalant pose, he picked it up and flicked his eyes across the cover:

“Suck On My Hot Titties! Squeeze My Tepid Elbows! Vibrate My Freezing Uterus! and 101 other Amazing Hits!”
Howard set the CD down again at once. Ugh - foul, modern stuff. Must be a stray from Bollo’s collection – what was it called - Hop Hop? Something like that. Howard had once given an example of the genre a listen and had been appalled - not a single slap-funk bass solo on the whole album, just some crazed Welshman shouting, “Your Mother’s Got a Penis” over and over.

Meanwhile, Vince had flopped onto the monochrome sofa, lifted a copy of ‘Cheekbones Daily’ from the table and was casually thumbing through, checking out the newest trends in face arrangement. Howard glanced over, trying not to be too obvious. He still felt a bit wobbly. The sheer joy of having Vince home, safe and unhurt, was almost more than he could handle.

Where had Vince been, though? He looked remarkably dry and well groomed, obviously not someone who had spent all night in a rain-soaked alley. Unable to restrain himself, Howard began to move closer, checking Vince on all sides for further evidence - mud splashes, contusions or bruising.

Vince flicked through his magazine irritably, hardly glancing at the pages. Eventually, he stopped. “Right. What d’you think you’re doing?”

“You’re alive!” blurted Howard.

“You got a problem with that?” Vince was still staring angrily at the magazine pages.

“You’re dry!”

“So now you want me to be wet as well as dead?”

“No… “ Howard circled the sofa. The ends of Vince’s dark hair were flicking gently against his dewy skin, there was just a hint of stubble at his jaw, his lips were pink and healthily flushed… how did Vince do it? He looked as good as ever. “But you were out all night….”

“Howard? You got a sudden earwax fetish or something?”

“What? No…” Howard replied, puzzled, moving in even closer to Vince, transfixed by his long eyelashes and perfect skin.

“You sure?”

Howard frowned, trying to figure it out.

“Cos if not,” said Vince, “Get the hell out of my hole!”

Howard stood back. “Oh.”

Crossing his legs, slowly and with deliberate casualness, Vince flung his magazine away. For the first time, he looked straight at Howard. “So you’re talking to me now, are you?”

Howard lowered his gaze, feeling himself colour up at the direct eye contact. He fiddled with a button on his shirt. “Yeah… um… sorry about last night…”

“Don’t worry.” Vince turned his head and looked deliberately into the far corner of the room. “I didn’t fancy hanging around to watch you and seaweed boy doing the horizontal mambo anyway.”

“Oh...”

“Yeah,” said Vince, pointedly.

Howard twitched his mouth. It pulled nervously over to one side.

“So you really want to know where I was last night?”

“…Yes?” replied Howard, cautiously.

Vince stretched his arms luxuriously above his head, giving a seductive little smile. “Next door. With Captain Margaret.”

“Captain Margaret?” spluttered Howard. “That crazy golf lady who lives next door? The one who hates me? Who waves her mashie niblicks at me every time I walk past?”

Vince’s eyes smiled. “She does, doesn’t she? But I think she likes me.”

“She looks like the bride of Frankenstein in an argyle sweater! You spent the whole night with her?”

“She wanted to show me her collection.”

“Collection of what? Voodoo golf carts?”

“No – even better!” Vince pulled his knees together. His platform boots splayed out to either side, girlishly. “Submarines! She’s the one who sold Naboo his little sub. She’s flooded out her whole basement for her collection. You should see the ones in dazzle camouflage! They’re wicked!”

“You spent the last fifteen hours looking at submarines?”

“What can I say? We got on really well.” Vince leant forward, stuck his hand behind his waistband and pulled out a roll of biscuits. “She gave me these as well.”

“A present from her - so that’s why they’re wedged down your trousers, obviously.” Grumpily, Howard reached out to pick them up. “Hobnobs?”

“Yeah - for the jellyfish! Naboo has them in a bucket in his room. The little critters that helped rescue you - remember? Naboo’s promised to take them round town a bit to say thanks, show them the sights. A trip along the Thames, feeding time at the London Aquarium, a tour of Dalston Sewage Processing Plant. That kind of thing.”

“Jellyfish can live in buckets?”

“A magical bucket, yeah? Try to keep up.”

“Oh.” Howard slapped down the packet of biscuits. They rocked crunchily few times, then came to rest. He turned his back on Vince, stomped over to the window and stared out onto the sodden rows of houses.

“So, tell me then.” Vince’s voice was carefully offhand. “Is Fish Face still here?”

“Ummm…. yes,” admitted Howard.

“He’s been here all night?”

Howard nodded vaguely.

“And you’ve been…” Vince left his question unfinished. He hooked his boot out to the side, and scuffed the toe into a tight circle on the floor. “With him… all that time?”

Howard winced guiltily, but didn’t reply.

Vince was still making thoughtful little circles with his toe. “You know, I finally figured it out. After I left. I figured out what happened last night. You know?”

Howard turned round to face Vince, surprised.

“Yeah. I’m really sorry.”

Howard waited, wondering where this was about to go.

Vince tilted his head, ruffling his hair up on one side. “I can’t believe I did that! Just ran off - left you! But you didn’t help - shouting and effing and doing all that crazy stuff - and you told me to! You did! Yelled at me to go away!”

Howard rounded his shoulders, hunching into himself and mumbling, “Yeah. I might’ve.”

Vince swung himself up from the sofa. He walked over and rested a gentle hand on Howard’s shoulder. “But I still shouldn’t have left you. I’m sorry.”

Howard found his legs were shaking just from being this close to Vince. Even through the fabric of his shirt, the heat of Vince’s fingers beat like a pulse. “No - it’s okay. Really, it is.”

“No, it’s not! I hate it when it all goes wrong!” Vince threw both his arms around Howard, resting his head on Howard’s shoulder. He pulled him close. “We’re going to make it alright again, aren’t we? Aren’t we?”

Howard could feel Vince’s warm, slim body against him, still in that purple paisley outfit from the day before. It was so wispy and thin - pressing close, moving, rubbing - oh God – Vince might as well be naked.

“Howard?” Vince hugged even tighter. He looked up. “It’s going to be okay, then? You forgive me?”

Inside Howard, something pulled apart and melted. He slung his arms around Vince, fiercely pulling him in. “Don’t talk crap! Nothing to forgive!”

Vince leaned further into Howard’s chest. “No, there is. Sorry I laughed. It wasn’t fair.”

“Doesn’t matter now,” whispered Howard. Tears stung; he blinked them back.

“You okay, Howard?”

Howard cleared his throat, trying to regain self-control. “Well, you know me. Rugged man of action. Stoical is my middle name.”

“Stoical?” Vince wrinkled his nose up. “You mean the same as a ferret? ‘Cos I’ve heard what you dirty Northerners do with ferrets.”

Howard’s head was spinning - only yesterday, he’d nearly been driven mad with longing, shoved up against Vince in that tiny submarine - and now here was Vince, finally beside him, warm and real. This was it. From now on - no misunderstandings, no secrets. Just the two of them, finally together. And any moment now he was going to reach down and grab Vince’s arse – which might possibly be the most wonderfully round, tempting thing ever invented, and –

And ferrets? Had Vince said something about ferrets?

“Don’t act like you don’t know!” Vince grinned. “Leroy told me about you Northern types! You all put ferrets in your trousers!”

“He… what?”

“He said they’re great. They buff up trouser zips from the inside with their special bushy fur - makes them sparkle something wicked! Sounds ace, dunnit?” Vince smiled hopefully. “Howard? Could you get me a ferret? A stoical would do too – anything, just as long it goes for zips. I’ve a feeling zips are going to be very big next season.”

Trying to stifle the sudden rush of happiness inside, Howard pushed his face into Vince’s hair. Vince – a man for whom the sole purpose of small mammals was to buff his fashion items into a high, shiny gloss. There was no logic to it, none at all - how could it possibly make him love Vince all the more?

Vince heard Howard sigh. “Hey, Howard? Sure you’re okay? Was that monster messing with your brainbox really bad?”

“Yeah, he was. You have no idea.” Howard relaxed against Vince, lifting his hand, about to stroke Vince’s head. This was it. After all those years of frustration - finally home.

“That’s what made me figure out that you’d gone wrong. ’Cos all you wanted to do last night was snog me! How freaky was that?”

Howard’s hand dropped like a brick.

“What a nutter, right? Why would he magic you to do something so weird?”

Howard’s arms slackened. “I… I dunno.”

“So what happened just after I left? What’d he do next?”

Howard could remember only too well – a shiny red mouth, breath ghosting across his skin, how they’d pulled at each other’s clothes, the clammy, grabbing hands… “Nothing!” he insisted. “Nothing happened! No - not much, anyway!”

“Come off it, Howard! I could feel you shake just thinking about it!” Vince rubbed Howard’s back reassuringly. “You can tell me. I won’t laugh this time - honest.”

Howard wriggled away, breaking out of Vince’s touch. “No! I told you, nothing!”

“Oh God, Howard! Was it that bad? Did that nutter force you to do things? With his magic? Did he? I’ll shove his tutu right up his seaweed till it comes out pink! See how he likes it!”

But Howard was remembering that he hadn’t exactly been forced. He could probably have said no, any time - if he’d wanted. But somehow, he hadn’t. In fact, a lot of the time, he’d even been the one to start.

“Come on, Howard! Tell me! How can I help if you won’t even tell me what happened?”

Howard turned away, gritting his teeth together. It all seemed so unnatural. Didn’t he tell Vince everything? Always? And didn’t Vince always help? Didn’t Vince make things right?

And if only he could tell, just one other person, it would be such a release - about the smell of Old Gregg, how it jumped in his blood and went straight to his balls. And how he didn’t know what the hell he was doing – it was all such a mess – after all, the one he really wanted was Vince. To be with him, to touch him, to make love to him – but somehow he’d got entangled with a merman who wanted marriage and larvae and constant access to a bath… And oh God, how was he going to get out of it? Please, Vince? Please?

But no. This time Vince would do more than just laugh at him, call him a small-eyed retard and spend the next week telling any random strangers he could find about Howard’s idiocy.

No. This time Vince would be appalled. Horrified. Completely disgusted. He’d never want to talk to Howard again. Never look at him. Probably never be in the same room with him. He’d leave the flat. The band. No - Howard couldn’t lose what little he had.

Warm, gentle fingers were working their way into Howard’s right palm. Vince’s mouth was near Howard’s ear, asking softly, “Why won’t you let me help, Howard? Aren’t we mates?”

Yeah - mates. Howard gave a short laugh. Of course. That’s what they were, and that’s all they’d ever be. He was lucky to have that, after what he’d done last night.

“Howard?” Vince’s fingers were moving towards Howard’s wrist, stroking the sensitive skin inside his arm.

Howard had closed his eyes, letting himself sway into Vince’s touch. Just one more minute - if he kept pretending, fooling himself that Vince’s gentle touch meant more than it really did - where was the harm in it? The only one who was hurt was himself.

And Vince was touching his skin so softly. So lovingly. Making Howard’s hairs stand on end all along the length of his arm. With a tiny shudder, a chill wave broke at Howard’s neck, rushing down his back, tingling across his thighs.

Vince’s hand moved further up, stroking reassuringly. “Howard? C’mon.”

Howard opened his eyes. Vince was so close – there was his mouth, slightly open, the inner edges moist and waiting, his top teeth just visible through the lips’ gap - how could Vince not be wanting this as much as he did? Howard felt himself leaning in, pushing their bodies nearer.

“Howard…?“ whispered Vince.

Howard held his breath, shaking with expectation.

Vince opened his mouth further, his expression worried. “Howard? You sure that juju’s gone? Like, properly? Cos were you about to snog me? There - just like last night?”

For a moment, Howard remained completely still, his eyes closed, breathing hard. Then, with a groan verging on frustration, he shrugged hard, shaking off Vince’s hand. “How can I help it? If you’re going to keep fondling me -“

“What did you say?” Amusement played through Vince’s voice. “Fondle? Howard? Did you just say fondle?”

“No - no! Shut up!” Howard spun around, about to escape in the direction of the door – then stopped, filled with a sickening realisation.

Months from now, he’d still be remembering these last few minutes, wouldn’t he? Treasuring how Vince had been kind to him, had held and touched him – and what’s more, wanking over it – and –

He turned around, his fury pumping so hard he could hardly hear his own shouts. “You! It’s always about you! You think the world revolves around you, do you? And you like rubbing it in, don’t you - that my whole life’s a failure? That I never get what I really want? You enjoy that, don’t you?”

Vince looked completely taken by surprise. “Hey! I was trying to help!”

“Help? Yeah, right! That’s a laugh! You’re too busy rushing off, finding the latest stupid look in bollock tight red lycra.”

Vince jumped back. “Hold on there! Don’t insult the threads!”

Tiny muscles were dancing at the clamp of Howard’s jaw. “Anyway - what if I don’t need you? What if I’ve found someone else?

Vince laughed in disbelief. “Yeah – right!”

But nothing was going to stop Howard now. “Yes! What do you think of that? Not so clever now, are you? Don’t like the thought that there’s somebody out there who might want to…” Howard found himself leaning towards Vince, imagining exactly what somebody might want to do with him, something involving sweat, and saliva, and thrusting… Snarling, breathing hard, he sought a safer distance, desperately pulling back further away from Vince.

An unusual furrow had appeared between Vince’s eyebrows. “What? You can’t be – no! You talking about Fish Features?”

“Yes. We’re…” Howard pushed harder, trying to get the words out, “together. We’re together. Together! Yes!” He wondered how far he could run with it. “I’m - we’re very happy! Happy! Delighted! Ecstatic! Together!”

“Listen to yourself, Howard!” Vince shook his head. “You’re not at all well.”

“And which part are you finding so sick? That somebody might actually want me? Just because you don’t -“

Vince reached forward to touch Howard’s arm. “What d’you mean! I do want you! I do! We do stuff together all the time! Just ‘cos I’m not going to kidnap and voodoo you so’s you can snog my face off all night… “ Vince’s mouth dropped, understanding finally dawning. “Howard? Really? That’s what you want? To do that?”

Howard stared at Vince’s hand, and where it rested on his arm. Then he looked straight into Vince’s face, his voice low and unsteady, as if every word took effort. “Get your hands off me.”

Hastily, Vince pulled his hand away.

“Don’t touch me, Vince. Understand? Never again.”

Wet hurt sprung up in Vince’s blue eyes. “But…”

“Stay away!”

Then the pair of them stood, just staring, almost willing the other one to speak. Silence hung heavy. Even the air in the room seemed thicker, as if somewhere between the sofa and the bongos an invisible wall had sprung into being, holding them apart.

Eventually, Vince gathered up his keys, quietly turned around and made his way to his bedroom.

And Howard watched him go, every step of the way.

*****


Howard stood in front of the bathroom door. He hunched up his shoulders, took a deep breath, drew back his knuckles in anticipation – and remained like that, motionless, completely failing to knock.

Eventually, frowning hard, he let his hand fall back down by his side.

He’d just told Vince how happy he was to be with Old Gregg. More than happy – delighted - ecstatic! But as Howard’s anger drained away, fast as quicksand, it wasn’t happiness that was taking its place. All he felt was a cold, hollow ache.

Perhaps he just shouldn’t speak, ever again. Then the worst stupidity couldn’t leak out of his brain, gush through his mouth and end up all over Vince. Why did that always seem to happen? All over the one person in the world whom he most wanted to impress?

For a moment, Howard’s eyes narrowed in thought. Yes - he could gag himself. That might work. If he tore up some bedclothes and bound them round his whole head - Howard’s heart gave a leap. Of course! Why had he never thought of it before? No more sleepless nights, all the embarrassing things he’d ever said running round and round in his head until 5 am, when he finally managed to tire himself out with a combination of staring into the dark, panicked breathing and useless sobbing. That might really work!

The light fell from Howard’s eyes. With a despairing grunt, he let his body sag. God - was he completely insane? That wasn’t any kind of solution. How would he be able to breathe, play the trumpet, eat quiche if he went round all day with his head tied up in a sheet?

Gathering himself together, Howard aimed his fist once more at the door, this time banging so hard that his knuckles hurt. “Hey! You in there!”

No response.

“You’ve been ages! Finished yet?”

Still nothing.

Howard cracked the door open and peered in. Over there, in the bath – was that Old Gregg? Those few bladders of brackish hair, sticking out of the rim? Cautiously, he sidled further.

Then, Howard was far forward enough to see over the lip of the bath, and into the water itself - and he recoiled in shock.

Was that the same clean, clear torrents he’d run from the taps a little over four hours ago? Now greener, cloudier, thicker - something like a tin of mushy peas emptied into a big bowl of dirty dishwater, all swirled round until the green had melted into a pool of sludge. Howard wrinkled his nose in disgust.

Suddenly, a disembodied limb loomed, then disappeared again in the murk – a brief glimpse, leaving behind the impression of slick and shining skin.

A long time ago, in a café, Howard had seen a plate of oysters. They’d been ready opened - just sitting, waiting to slip raw down the customer’s throat, and Howard’s eyes had been drawn, unable to look away despite himself. A wet quiver; a puddle of flesh in the cold white of the ceramic bowl. Old Gregg’s skin was greener, of course, but…

Then a face bobbed higher in the water, and for an instant Howard caught sight of crimson-rimmed eyes – fixed, staring wide, unseeing. A mouth gaping a silent scream. Then the clouds closed over quickly, a dozen shades of green tendrilling in their wake, leaving Howard unsure he’d seen anything at all.

Condensation hung in every corner. A solitary bead of sweat began to gather, tickling at the nape of Howard’s neck.

“Hello…?” he tried.

With an explosion of spray, Old Gregg’s face broke the surface of the water.

Howard staggered back, hitting a hard, tiled wall. “Jesus!”

“I’m Old Gregg!”

Howard clutched at his chest, trying to catch his breath. “Wha…”

“Old Gregg happy in his water!”

“Wha… the… fuc… !”

Old Gregg looked over at Howard, all shiny eyes and teeth, grinning and dripping as he sat up in the bath. “Old Gregg get a kiss now?”

“God, no!” shouted Howard, in between gasps.

“Oh…” Old Gregg dropped his head, downcast. Then he clapped his hands, and waves splattered around the bath. “Old Gregg’s gonna wait! Old Gregg’s gonna get kissed good on his wedding day!”

Howard’s heartbeat was still trying to race back down to its normal speed, but he had enough energy to wince at that, and think - oh, shit. Leaning against the wall, he let himself collapse, slowly sliding down the cool, slick tiles, coming to rest upon his heels and taking in a deep breath of the clammy bathroom air. He hoped to God it would calm him down, and help him with what was to come.

This had all been a huge mistake. He had to end it, and as soon as possible, before Old Gregg started working his groin-luring juju on him once more, before it spiralled completely out of control. Howard could feel it already, even in his shock, even here, in the furthest corner of the room - the taste of the salt invading his blood and nipping at his veins. A flash of naked green skin caught his eye, glistening and tempting. Howard pushed his head away, firmly averting his gaze.

“Gregg,” he began, talking firmly in the direction of the wall tiles.

“I’m Old Gregg!”

“Yeah, sure you are...” Howard paused. “Look, it’s just not happening. You and me, we’re not getting married.”

A series of sucking splashes emerged from the direction of the bath. Howard looked down to see two bare webbed feet in front of him, surprisingly fine-boned and slender.

“But Howard,” the voice above him pleaded. “If you don’t marry me, I’m gonna just die.”

Howard snorted into the wall. Ridiculous. Everybody knew that was just a figure of speech. How pathetic was this creature going to get? You didn’t really die - it only felt like it.

“Old Gregg’s only speaking the truth. He’s gonna die if we don’t get’n marry. Don’t you believe me, Howard?”

“No, of course I don’t!” Howard spun round, shaking and angry, caught sight of Old Gregg’s nakedness, and slammed angrily back towards the wall. “So what? What if I don’t marry you? What are you going to do about it? Explode? Fall apart limb by limb?”

“Yes, sir. In seven days, sir. The Codfather gave me seven days. Six days now. We used one of them when we made that sweet, sweet love.”

“We did not make sweet, sweet… You salt-toed twat! I slept on the floor! In a blanket! What do you need, a diagram?”

Old Gregg’s reedy voice was desperate. “The Codfather of Sole did me a funky favour. Seven days on land to find my true love. I gotta marry you in seven days, or else he’s gonna hurt me real bad.”

Howard swivelled around, his forehead creased up into a mountain range of disbelief.

Old Gregg was hunched over on the floor, still naked and dripping, his skinny arms shimmering as he pulled them tightly around his thin legs. He spoke down into his bony knees. “He’s gonna rip out my gills. Also my lungs. Then rape my nostrils with a whelk.” Old Gregg gave a frightened whimper. “A whelk! I’m gonna choke on a whelk!” His face lifted up to Howard, beseechingly. “But it don’t matter, does it? We’re gonna get married. Aren’t we? Howard? You’re gonna marry me?”

“Can’t you just go back to this… Codfather? Tell him you’d rather stay single? No skin off his nose, right?”

“Howard? You’re really not gonna marry me?” Old Gregg tightened his claws around his legs. The green scales buckled and rippled under the pressure. “But he said he’s runnin’ short on raped nostrils! He needs mine for his box of juju! I don’ wan’ that, Howard! It’s gonna hurt so bad!”

“I see.” Howard narrowed his eyes. “Just like you were going to hurt me? Don’t think I’ve forgotten. How you kidnapped me. Forcing me to drink that Baileys from a shoe until my taste buds bled.”

“I don’t have my powers no more, Howard! Gave them to the Codfather! Gave them up to come to give you love!”

Howard stared into the corner. “Yeah, well. I didn’t ask you to.”

“But you love me, Howard - you do! Exactly the same way as I love you!” Old Gregg was crawling across the floor, closing in on the distance between him and Howard. The nobbles on his naked spine undulated, a sinuous line curving down to his tailbone. “You put your manly tongue inside my mouth! Old Gregg’s funky mangina went all happy with love! You held me in your big strong arms!”

Howard shifted uncomfortably at the memory.

“You carried me off to your cave! We made sweet fishy love all night long!”

“I just told you – no! All I did was… and then you grabbed my….” Howard shook his head. “Oh, fuck it. Whatever you say. I molested you in every orifice. You happy?”

Howard squashed his cheek against the cold of the bathroom tiles, trying to think of a way out - and how he’d ever got into this mess. He’d hardly sent Old Gregg an invitation, “Dear psychopathic green merman – do feel free to drop by and stalk me any time. Love and kisses, Howard Moon. PS, before you set off, don’t forget to do a deal with the cod Mafiosi. And make sure to offer them both nostrils to rape. See ya soon!”

Old Gregg was smiling, tilting his head to one side as he remembered. “Howard was making happy little noises. And Howard’s sea cucumber grew bigger. I rubbed it and it grew. That means Howard loves Old Gregg.”

Howard shivered, appalled with himself. Was there something wrong with him? There had to be. Why did the thought of Old Gregg’s hand down his trousers even now send tingles to his groin? He should be disgusted. How was he ever going to escape if he only kept wanting more?

“It was so good, Howard! Streams of creamy salt water leaked right out of Old Gregg’s mangina. That only happens when it’s love!”

“No!” Howard was curling desperately into a ball, yelling through the gap of his knees. “No, it doesn’t! Random mouth contact - it doesn’t make a proposal of marriage! Even in a cave! Even if the other person leaks!”

Old Gregg’s hand was climbing Howard’s leg now, starting at the ankle, inching up the maroon corduroy. “But I touched your sea cucumber. Didn’t you like that, Howard?”

Oh, Christ, yes, he had – and all too much. A memory forced itself through again, of rubbing up and down, thrusting his thinly Y-fronted erection into Old Gregg’s webbed palm, the pressure building closer and hotter... Howard scuffled back. Where he touched the bathroom wall, dripping condensation soaked through the back of his shirt.

“Nobody but me’s gonna touch your sea cucumber ever again. It’s all mine. Ain’t that right, Howard?”

As if anyone else had ever touched him there, like that. It’s not like there was a big queue of candidates, all desperate to wank off the great Howard TJ Moon. Not even a queue of one, in fact – especially not the one. Not Vince. Howard breathed hard, trying to banish the sudden, blood-rushing image of Vince’s pale fingers - over his flies, roughly pulling down his trousers, grabbing, his hand a blur as he worked Howard up and down.

A dark, moist meander was trailing up Howard’s maroon cords, mapping where Old Gregg’s claws were progressing - past Howard’s knee, up his thigh, sidling into the creases of Howard’s tightly pulled body, squeezing towards his crotch. Howard’s shoes began to skid pathetically on the floor, squeaking low at first, then higher in pitch. The deep sea musk was wisping through his nostrils, the familiar prelude to overwhelming arousal. Almost too late now - Howard closed his eyes, his toes curling. Shivers ran through his lower back and buttocks.

Suddenly, Old Gregg halted his attack, lifted his eyes and started to howl. “Moon! Mr Moon! Gonna be Mr Moooooon!”

Howard grabbed the last-ditch chance of escape. On hands and knees, he scuttled for the far corner.

Old Gregg beamed as Howard fled. “You’re gonna give me your name, Howard! Then there’ll be no whelky rapings! Gonna be Gregg Moon!”

“Yeah right, my name. Have my name,” gasped Howard. “Just stay over that side!”

“Then the magic breaks. Codfather can’t come near if Old Gregg changes his name!”

Howard paused, a glimmer of hope beginning to flicker. “My… name?”

“Yes, sir. We gets married. The contract’s not with a Mr Moon, and I’s free.”

“Really?” Howard thought about it. “We don’t have to live together afterwards? No larvae kids? That’s it? I only have to marry you – give you my name? And you’ll go back to your swamp?”

“That’s right, my fuzzy little man-peach. I’ll be free! You’re gonna marry me cos you love me!”

Howard collapsed against the wall, sagging in relief. Perfect! He’d marry the green cretin – then, job done, boot him straight back to his fishy kingdom. Right? In a rush, the words burst out of Howard, “Okay! I’ll do it!”

Lifting his chest and sucking in a long, deep breath, Howard finally surrendered himself, drinking in the saturated air all around. Well, in the meantime, if he was really going through with this weird farce - he might as well enjoy some of the benefits….

Old Gregg was crawling again, closer every second, his mouth a thick grin, his thin naked limbs slipping, tumbling over Howard’s. Oh God - that salty, Gregg-ridden tang. The rush had begun again in Howard’s lungs. His brain was thick with lust, his blood pulsing and stiffening. Webbed hands were pawing between his thighs, and without thinking, Howard relaxed his legs, opening up, giving in. This time, yes, he was going to let it all happen. Yes. Go on. Yes.

Just before finally pulling down Howard’s zip, Old Gregg stopped, one hand pressing down over Howard’s ready flesh. He smiled one more time. “I’m gonna pick out a nice outfit for you, Howard. For the wedding - just you wait and see. You’re gonna like this. You’re gonna like this a lot.”


*****


Truly, Madly, Fishy Part 4 - Married on the Morn - Written, but not edited, and don't hold your breath. I'm off to watch the new series now. Yaaaayyyyyyyy! And perhaps have a bath. :) Seriously, does anyone else REALLY want a bath now?

*****

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