In his latest protest, Vince had managed to drape himself over the whole of the sofa. He stared up at the ceiling, folding his arms every time he thought Howard was looking at him.
"Naboo's been gone ten minutes," Howard threw back. He was skimming the shelves of his DVD collection, and urged Vince again to do the same.
"I don't do films," Vince shrugged.
"You always manage to come up with one, when it's your turn to pick."
"Those are normal nights," Vince said, "Naboo's gonna be gone for the whole weekend, didn't he tell you?"
Howard rolled his eyes. He hadn't.
"Exactly," Vince replied, "We're not wasting a chance like that on the dullest thing you can dig out of that shelf."
Vince was, somehow, extra intuitive this evening. Howard had settled on one of the quieter and slower-moving films, knowing Vince would give up on understanding the story and would instead fall asleep against his shoulder. Because it was their night in together, and Vince wouldn't sacrifice that opportunity, even over a movie he hated.
"What did you have in mind?" Howard said, hesitantly. Once Vince, whose attention-span was easily satisfied, diagnosed himself as 'bored', it took something drastic to revive him.
"D'you know why they're out for the weekend?"
"Basically, okay, they do this race every year for familiars on magic carpets. So that's all he's taken with him."
"What's your point?"
"Well, he'll have left all his books and potions here."
Howard moved away from the shelves, in order to give Vince the condescending staredown he deserved.
"Not with any of the serious ones," Vince continued. "That beige book he's got oughtta be right up your street."
Vince's eyes widened, and he followed Howard into Naboo's room, boredom dissipating with every step.
Howard only looked through the bookshelf after Vince nudged him toward it; he was determined to stay out of anything Naboo could blame him for breaking. As with most things, Vince had the opposite inclination. He dove immediately into a gilded trunk and scooped out anything that looked interesting.
"Howard," Vince said, repeatedly, until he earned Howard's full attention, "Check this out."
He held up what seemed to be a glass bauble, filled with water and dark glitter, dangling from a chain. Vince tilted it one way, to indicate there was something more exciting in the middle, which could only be seen once the clouds of glitter had settled.
"Well," Vince said, "I was trying to read the square in the middle, but that's impossible. I think the letters are changing. Come look."
"In a minute," Howard paused to remove his choice of book from the shelf. The spine said 'beginner' very clearly, and something else miserably smudged out, and he thought that was a safe place to start.
Vince held the chain up at each side of his neck.
"It's so interesting," Vince was pleased with his discovery, and clasped it around his neck.
There was a startling crash of thunder, followed by a bolt of lightning that seemed to split the bedroom window down the middle. Howard jumped back at first, but tried to recover.
"Did that… do that?"
Vince held it up, but this only turned the letters upside-down.
Rain slammed against the window, in sheets.
"This is genius," Vince said, setting the charm back against his chest, "Let's watch this."
What, like a film? Howard meant to ask, before Vince took his hand and led him cheerfully back to the sofa.
"It'll be just like those times, back at the zoo," Vince proceeded. He turned, to provide Howard with a momentary view of his most charming smile. A second of seeing it, Vince knew, was enough to get Howard to do anything, usually without further instruction.
Like turning the couch and pushing it back against the bannister, so it faced the window. Vince had to set Howard down against his preferred armrest, blinking and shaking himself free of the smile's power. Vince laughed to himself, satisfied, and found something he wanted to work on.
"Will you get that flannel off the bed?" Vince asked. He was busy comparing coats from the hooks on the wall, then sorting through his sewing kit for a thread to match. When he returned to the couch, Howard was waiting with the blanket, stretched over his arm.
The curtains were open, allowing them to watch the raindrops race down the glass, cheered on by alternate bursts of thunder and lightning. Much better than any movie.
Vince leaned into Howard's shoulder, allowing him to wrap them both up in the blanket. He folded his legs up onto the couch, and set his coat over his knees to work on.
"Almost exactly like that night at the zoo, now," he said happily.
"Yeah?" breathed Howard, staring forward, "'Cept we were sitting on the floor, on two separate mattresses with two awful blankets."
Vince was adjusting the hem on the coat. Howard's coat, clearly.
"Yeah," Vince agreed, "but the feeling was the same. The vibe."
"The vibe?" Howard turned. He noticed Vince's sewing project, too, but decided it was better to ruin the coat than the conversation.
"Yeah. I love rainstorms. Just sitting like that in the hut… I always felt so comfortable and safe with you. God," he added, whining slightly, "I was so in love with you then, it was embarrassing."
Howard tried to decide how to convey 'what are you now, then?', 'you can always feel safe with me,' and 'were you really?!' all at once. Vince would understand perfectly, as he divided the thoughts up. The first was given to his eyes, as he turned to Vince and quirked his brow. For the second, he tightened his reach around Vince's shoulder, and almost kissed his head, stopping with just enough distance to preserve Vince's hairstyle. The last, he spoke.
"Yes, really," Vince mumbled back, "It was so obvious, Howard, you must've known. I felt like such an idiot."
"I feel like an idiot... I didn't know."
"I thought there was something wrong with me," Vince tried to make it sound like a joke, but spoke too quickly, "I was so nervous around you, always waffling on, even though I'd known you forever… I think I was waiting for you to do something. And that took you long enough."
"You should've said something," Howard argued, with the calm superiority that had originally put them in this position. Vince nodded at him, to point this out. "Fair point."
"It's fine," Vince brushed Howard's hand, then returned to his work on the sleeves, "We figured it out, eventually."
"I think we still are."
The glitter settled against one wall of Vince's necklace. All the lightning, now, appeared in that side of the sky.
"D'y' know what?" Vince began, in the endlessly charming tone Howard felt at home with, "When we first started there, doing nightwatch, I used to put your jacket on first thing in the morning. Before you woke up."
Howard could not think of anything more delightfully engaging than a new story, from the one person he thought he completely knew.
"Sometimes. But one morning, after a night like this with the rain… I remember, you couldn't sleep because of the sound it made, so when it stopped in the morning you slept through half the shift. I got up before you, and I stood there, wearing your jacket. It wasn't on purpose," he quickly added, "I'd tried to find mine in the dark, 'cos it was so cold in there, do you remember?"
Howard nodded. Vince trimmed the thread and poked the needle into the empty cushion beside them, so he could focus fully on the story.
"I was freezing, and I'd usually just take half your blanket, but I felt bad about waking you up again. I leaned over and grabbed a jacket, and it was yours. That's what started it, me being hopeless and lovesick and embarrassing."
"What are you saying?" Howard led gently, "All that, from my uniform?"
"Well I did go through your pockets," Vince added with a chuckle.
"You did what?" At any other time, Howard was convinced he would have remembered the complete list of things he kept in his Zooniverse uniform. But now, under the pressure, and based on the weight of Vince's smile, all he could come up with was 'something embarrassing.' And that wasn't much help.
"There was nothing else to do."
Howard moved his hand back to the armrest, in the surest display of disapproval he could think of.
"The inner one was just ticket stubs," Vince continued, undeterred, "films that I thought were too old and boring to be in cinemas, bands I've still never heard of, and one from that porpoise race. And I thought 'why would you need a ticket for that?' but then I remembered I was supposed to be the one in it, and figured you planned on watching."
Howard nodded, silenced by nostalgia. Vince didn't mind; he understood and enjoyed his role as the storyteller.
"And then in the front ones, loads of those tabs off coke cans," he toyed with the pockets on the jacket he held, currently, and wondered if anything similar was inside. But Howard was there, and he wouldn't trouble him by looking.
"Yeah. They always broke off when I opened them. I didn't want to leave them lying about."
"Or you didn't want people seeing you'd broke 'em," Vince hummed. "And all the sweets wrappers, written in Spanish? I couldn't figure out where you got them from; drove me mad. What were they about?"
"Mexico. You can't get anything that spicy here."
"Spicy?" Vince was entertained, "You're so beige, Howard, you're like a korma. You don't do spicy."
The lightning, throughout their conversation, became more distant. Howard shrugged and reached to shake Vince's necklace, just enough to bring it back.
"There's a lot you don't know about me."
Howard's hand slipped down from Vince's shoulder, and settled over his forearm. On his way to meet it, Vince brushed the necklace. The thunder returned, rattling the windows. Howard tightened the blanket around them.
"I might fall asleep," Vince said.
Howard knew better than to ask if he was serious. Vince could fall asleep anywhere.
"I was counting on that," he said, instead.
"You're so weird."
As he leaned in, pressing his face gently against Howard's neck, the glitter in the necklace shifted to the other side. Howard thought he could hear the stairs creaking, but convinced himself it was anything else, dictated by storm. When Vince wasn't awake to distract him, he had a habit of worrying about everything.
He reached for Vince's wrist, where the sleeve was crumpled up, and stroked back and forth with his thumb. Again, he heard another small noise somewhere behind them. But Vince was so comfortable, he couldn't turn his head to check.
The noise gradually became an "ugh."
Howard squeezed Vince's wrist until he was noticeably awake, blinking and sighing at him.
"Alright, Naboo," he said, back to the noise.
"You're home early," Howard said, still unconvinced this was Naboo they were talking to. It could've been any number of unwelcome visitors.
"Have you been going through my stuff again?"
It was Naboo. Howard immediately shook his head.
"They rescheduled," Naboo explained, stepping around to Vince's side of the sofa. He reached to take the needle out, first, making a point of not looking at the others, until something shiny caught his attention, "And that must be why. Unbelievable. Howard, I knew you were going through my stuff."
He waited, glaring, until Vince took off the necklace, set it on the coffee table, and apologised falsely on Howard's behalf.
"You could've at least read the instructions, you ballbag. Could've done anything but rain."
"Won't happen again," Howard said, rolling his eyes at Vince.
"Isn't there anything else you can do to… whatever it is you two do… claim each other?"
Vince laughed, and simply wished Naboo a good night, smiling the whole time. No one was immune to it.
"You are ridiculous," Vince said to Howard, when they were alone again.
Gradually, the rain subsided. The room was dark and quiet, but warm.
"I'm going back to sleep," Vince said, in place of an apology, "Did you want to move to the bed?"
"No, this is fine for now. Let me have m' coat."
Vince's eyes were already decidedly shut when he reached to pass it over. Howard took the necklace from the table, and slid it into his jacket pocket.