Summary: Who can possibly help Howard and Vince with their new dilema? Doesn't matter, they're just going to call Naboo as usual.
Author's note: I don't know who I am any more, but thanks to Bluey for helping me keep the two Christmas eve body swap Howince stories straight. Well, straight probably isn't the word...
One moment, Howard was riding the jazz train to jazzy town, and the next, he was in the bedroom he shared with Vince. It wasn’t the first time a jazz trance had led to kind of sleepwalking, but something was different. Everything around him was familiar, but somehow off. Howard reached out to compulsively check that Vince’s gift was still in its hiding place (as he did twenty or thirty times a day), but he was stopped short by the sight of his hand. Everything about his hand was wrong, but the chipped green nail polish especially so.
Howard looked down and saw he was wearing drainpipes and a kind of sequined top.
There were no lack of mirrors in their bedroom, but Howard’s eyes could not be trusted. He was dreaming. Or high. Just because he couldn’t smell Naboo’s herbal remedies in the air didn’t mean they weren’t there. Just the other week, Howard and Vince had eaten half a pound of what Vince called “choco-spaghetti tacos” before they’d realized they were under the influence.
He had to be high. Why else would he be looking into a mirror and seeing Vince’s face?
The presentation box was not in its hiding spot. It was out in the open. And it was open. And empty.
“Vince!” Howard screamed.
“I just wanted to see,” Vince explained before Howard could speak. Howard staggered towards Vince, his delicate ankles clearly unable to handle even a modest heel. “I wasn’t trying to be sneaky! I just needed to know, so I’d be ready…”
“Ready for what? What are you talking about?” Howard asked, his Howardy expression bizarre on Vince’s face.
“The gift. I just wanted to see it so I could react properly,” Vince explained. “I didn’t want to let you down. I’m sorry, Howard.”
Howard looked baffled, but then he followed Vince’s gaze to his own chest. Vince saw understanding dawn.
“This was in the box?” Howard asked as he held up the amulet.
Vince ducked his head, avoiding Howard’s eyes, and nodded.
“How did you find it?” Howard still seemed too confused and worried to be properly angry. If Vince could just gloss over the betrayal of trust, they might not have to have a fight at all.
“Well, I was in our room, and I sort of tripped and…”
“Fell face-first in my secret hiding spot?”
Vince was familiar with the meaning of every twitch of Howard’s face and inflection in his voice, but all those years of study were worthless with Howard in another body. Howard could be furious, scared, or gassy. Vince had no clue.
“It was an accident?” Vince offered weakly. He wanted to sound naïve and daft, a go-to when trying to get out of trouble with Howard, but it all sounded a bit desperate in Howard’s voice.
Howard rolled his eyes and harrumphed, but then his shoulders sagged and he seemed to shrink inside of Vince’s clothing, making the form-fitting clothing somehow look baggy. Howard’s ability to destroy an outfit was clearly not limited to his body.
“So it was just another stupid ritual. I’m sorry, Vince.”
Vince was thrown off by the apology. He was still in defensive mode and had no idea how to respond. He felt like a cartoon character that had run off of a cliff, but still hadn’t surrendered to the inevitability of gravity. He was ready for Howard to yell, not to look all sad and lost.
“I thought it would be something nice and special,” Howard continued, looking forlorn. “I should have known better. Everything is a ritual with occultists. Every bleeding thing you do, there has to be some kind of potion, lotion, amulet, hooded cloak, ring forged by the fires of hell, time-traveling slippers…”
“Did you say ‘time-traveling slippers’?”
“Those slippers ruined my sixteenth birthday!” Howard cried. Vince had always known the ‘eccentricities’ of Howard’s upbringing had been upsetting, but he’d never guessed at just how strange things could get in Leeds. “What good is going back to the fifties to learn about dating? All I learned was to wash under my nails, keep my mustache neatly trimmed, and put toilet paper on the toilet seat so I don’t get ‘the clap.’ I wore a cardigan, bow tie, and freshly laundered chinos, but no one wanted to go steady with me. No one! It was all a lie! I have listened to jazz for years and I haven’t met a loose woman or been offered heroin. All lies!”
Howard’s hysteria helped. Vince knew what to do when Howard fell apart.
Vince took Howard’s hands in his own. It felt strange and backwards for Howard’s hand to disappear in Vince’s, but Howard immediately relaxed.
“So this is just a sort of… family tradition?” Vince asked. “Maybe we should call your mum…”
“No! She’s been… She’s still in touch with Old Gregg and I think he… they? I think Old Gregg has been trying to soften her up. Mum always wanted monster grandbabies. She was always so keen to be special and show Nan Moon that she was a real occultist.”
Vince pulled Howard into his arms. Even in their proper bodies, it was still strange to be able to hold Howard and not have him squirm away or kick up a fuss, but having to reach down to hold Howard was absolutely bizarre.
“Let’s go talk to Naboo, yeah? He’ll know what to do. Naboo is genius.”
Naboo inhaled deeply and savored the burning in his lungs. The marijuana had a lovely, fresh scent to it. It was like smoking a fresh-cut lawn.
“This is some good shit, Bollo,” the shaman observed. “How long until those ballbags come ruin this high with some unlikely adventure?”
“Bollo sense something wrong with Vince. Something cause him to feel great fear.”
“Sounds like a normal response to dating Howard,” Naboo deadpanned before he and his companion descended into giggles. They were in their private, enchanted tent. It was good to take a break from the other shamans and just relax with his beloved companion. And the ounce they’d scored from Tony Harrison.
“I’ll wager they’re calling before… never mind,” Naboo sighed as the Peacock Dreams theme song blasted from his mobile phone. “That will be them.”
It was undeniably Vince on the phone, but his voice was wrong. It was too deep, for one.
“Naboo,” Vince cried, his voice utterly failing to break with emotion. “Howard and I have switched bodies! You have to help us!”
Naboo sighed and took another hit. Vince and Howard never called to say ‘hi’ or give Naboo a lead on a cool party. It was always some adventure gone wrong that somehow required Naboo’s intervention.
“I know, I know. Santa Yankee Swapped you. It only lasts a week. Relax, will you?”
“What are you talking about, Naboo?” Howard asked, his pompous tone sounding strange filtered through Vince’s voice. Naboo’s pleasant buzz was starting to fade.
“Did you say Santa? What are you on about? Santa won’t be here for hours!” Vince nearly yelled. He was sounding rather panicky. It was too bad he was too far away to be soothed by Naboo’s herbal remedies. This particular strain would probably have knocked the human on his arse, but at least he wouldn’t be yelling in Naboo’s ear. “I put on this necklace Howard was going to give me, and it switched our bodies. It’s some kind of ritual or test or something from his family. We need your help.”
Naboo took another drag and closed his eyes. He gave the world a few moments to reassemble itself for opening his eyes again.
“So the two of you switched bodies on Christmas Eve, but it’s not because of Santa?”
“We’ve already established that,” Howard squawked in Vince’s voice. It would have been funny if it weren’t ruining Naboo’s well-deserved relaxation.
“Bollo, in this dimension, Howard and Vince have switched bodies due to a magical device rather than a potion. Do you know what this means?” Naboo asked his companion.
“What it mean?” Bollo asked.
“That this is some seriously good shit. This is some shifting dimensions shit. You usually have to pay extra for that.”
“Excuse me, Cheech and Chong, but Howard and I could use some support right about now,” Vince huffed. “The box said some rubbish about ardor and paramours. What are we supposed to do?”
“It sounds like a traditional threshold body swap amulet,” Naboo explained. “Accomplish the goal of the amulet, and you’ll go back to yourselves. Are there instructions?”
“What did the box say?” Howard asked Vince.
“It said, ‘This is a test of outlets for the furtherance of ardor understanding paramours… more’,” Vince stated firmly.
“I think you might have missed a few words there, Little Man. Or maybe gotten them a bit jumbled,” Howard suggested gently.
“Go get the box,” Naboo sighed. “We need to get the two of you sorted before you ruin my whole holiday.”