Howard had only seen Vince cry three times in his life.
The first time was when he had come down with appendicitis and was in unbearable pain.
The second time was when he had a nightmare about Jagger dying.
And the third time was when he thought Bollo had died. Though that had only lasted for a second and he'd never admit that to the ape himself.
Vince didn't cry when he hurt himself or was just generally feeling sad. He listening to The Stones or put on a poncho and felt much better. However, one night, Vince came home from seeing his friends looking a little worse for wear. He didn't smile or greet Howard, just trailed straight upstairs.
"You alright, little man?" the maverick called after his friend.
"Tired," Vince replied shortly, before slamming his bedroom door shut.
Howard half expected him to soon return downstairs in one of his many ponchos, smiling and laughing. He waited for around half an hour, but the shop stayed eerily silent. Eventually the tall man sighed, locked the shop (he'd shut it hours ago) and cautiously crept upstairs, hoping to hear what Vince was doing, if anything.
As Howard reached Vince's room, he could hear muffled sounds slowly becoming louder. They sounded like... Sobs.
No, not possible. Vince never cried. He must be mistaken.
Nevertheless, Howard knocked on the door.
"Vince? You okay in there?"
Howard could have sworn he heard a strangled sound, then back to muffled hopefully-not-sobs.
Okay, now he was worried.
"Vince, I'm coming in, okay?" the tall man warned, before slowly turning the door handle and stepping into the room. Oh.
Vince was lying on his bed, face in his pillow and tangled in his duvet, unmistakably crying his beautiful blue eyes out. His entire fragile body shook as he sobbed; gut wrenching, heart breaking sobs that were so unlike Vince that Howard was beside the bed in a second. Oh god. He looked absolutely distraught. His eyes were bloodshot and mixtures of various emotions were swimming around, eyeliner streaming. His normally porcelain, pale face was red and blotchy, and his lips had several cuts.
"Shh... Hey hey hey, what's wrong?" Howard asked, trying to keep the panic out of his voice. He gently put his hand on Vince's back, but the smaller man shrieked, half into his pillow: "Leave me ALONE!"
Howard was shocked as he slowly sat beside Vince on the bed, gently prising the duvet away. He didn't know what else to do. Should he call for help? He kept his hand firmly on Vince's back, and used his other arm to pull his friend up and onto his lap. As soon as Vince was sat upright, he wrapped his arms around Howard as quickly and tightly as he could, hysterically bawling and screaming into Howard's chest
"Oh, Vince," Howard whispered, his own tears starting to fall as he held the small man to his chest like he was the most precious thing on earth.
"No!" Vince whimpered, but his little hands still clung to Howard's shirt like a vice. "Stop it!"
"It's okay, it's okay, you're safe now, it's okay," the tall man babbled like a mantra, feeling his chest becoming wet as Vince cried heavily into it, desperately clutching at whatever material he could reach.
Howard wondered what on earth could have possibly caused his friend this much pain. He kept rubbing Vince's back, and held him close when he screamed helplessly into Howard's frame.
"Oh my god..." Howard breathed, crying freely now. "Vince, seriously, what's wrong?"
Vince just shook his head and continued bawling, but visibly began to relax once Howard began his mantra again. He sat up a little and noticed his eyeliner smeared all over his friend's favourite pale pink Hawaiian shirt. His eyes filled up again and he let out a little sob. "I'm s-so sorry, H-Howard-"
"Shh... Hey now, it's okay. You have nothing to be sorry for, don't apologise."
The room was back to silence. All that could be heard was Vince's sniffling and slight whimpers. Those helpless, pained whimpers that ripped through Howard's heart like a knife.
The maverick cleared his throat and gently spoke. "Vince. What happened?"
"I'm not a retard, Vince. Of course something happened, and I can't help you if you don't tell me."
Vince glared up at Howard, and this clearer view of his face showed bruises around his gorgeous cheekbones and jaw, plus more cuts scattered around. "Who s-says I need h-h-help?" he almost spat, the hurt evident on his face as he let out a shuddering breath and put his hand over his mouth.
"What happened to your face?"
Vince blinked and quickly hid his face in Howard's shirt again. "Nothin'."
"Sweetheart, please." The endearment just slipped out but before Howard could backtrack, Vince spoke softly, carding his fingers through his already messy hair.
"'M'sorry, I j-just... I can't tell you. I just can't."
"But why, Vince? Just tell me, I promise I won't judge you or anything."
"No, Howard. I can't." Vince looked up at Howard, his big blue eyes swimming with pain. He took a deep breath and looked back into his lap, voice cracking and body starting to tremble as he spoke:
"He said he'd kill me if I told anyone."