By Wendy de-Veryard
"Yikes, what was that!" Kanin fairly spun a full circle as something charged at him from behind, and before he had time to regain his balance had disappeared down the tunnel and out of sight like greased lightening.
He was alone and the shock of whatever it was stunned Kanin, so much that he was momentarily silenced after his initial outburst. For several long seconds or it may have been minutes Kanin would never be sure, he stood looking, just staring in the direction the thing had gone, wondering what the heck it could have been.
As he looked and he wondered a pair of figures appeared ahead of him, two people so obviously close that they walked slowly with arms about one another and Kanin immediately knew who it was.
"Catherine! Vincent!" He called and it was easy to detect the relief in his tone.
Concerned the pair hurried toward him asking if he was well. Catherine remarked that he looked as if he'd seen a ghost.
"Don't know what it was, but I sure as hell saw something. Must have branched off before it met you or you'd have known."
"Unless it was invisible." Both Vincent and Catherine remarked together, and smiled somewhat sheepishly as they remembered with equal embarrassment the Kristopher Gentian experience and 'that' painting he had done of them, the one that now hung in Vincent's chamber.
"Nah! I saw it. And it wasn't a ghost. Or if it was then it was a small ghost, 'bout the size of Arthur, certainly no bigger."
"Perhaps it was Arthur?" Vincent suggested kindly.
Kanin shook his head, "I'd know that black and white racoon anywhere. No it wasn't Arthur." He drew in a deep breath, "well whatever it was it's gone into the tunnels, someone must have left one of the entrances open and let it in. No doubt if it's of flesh and blood someone else will see it soon."
The words were only just out of his mouth when a scream sounded in the direction of which the apparition had fled and without hesitation the three people started running in that general direction. Rounding the final corner they found Brook flat to the ground laughing her head off.
Bemused the small group of people stopped abruptly at the sight, Vincent offering a hand to help Brook up. "What happened?" He remarked with interest quickly looking around them. There was no one in sight.
"I don't know Vincent." Brook looked a trifle embarrassed. "I was at my post, it's almost the end of my turn at sentry duty and I guess I'd fallen asleep." She looked away at this ashamed, knowing that she ought not have done that and no doubt she would have to face a Father lecture once Vincent spilled those beans.
"Go on." Vincent asked somewhat dryly.
Brook winced detecting his annoyance, "Well suddenly I was awoken to something wet and warm all over my face, and the next moment I was pushed flat. I panicked, I thought for a moment that an intruder was trying to , trying to, well you know, and then it was gone, except before it left I reached out and grabbed this!"
Everybody looked and Vincent felt decidedly uncomfortable as Brook revealed a wad of tawny coloured fur in her hand.
There was absolute silence as each after the other looked at Vincent and then all shook their head knowing it couldn't have been him.
"I'm relieved to know I had an alibi." Vincent remarked dryly, causing laughter to ripple among the group, "but I hasten to ask why you were laughing?" Vincent stared at Brook willing her to answer.
She did, carefully, most embarrassed, looking anywhere but his face, appealing to Catherine to help her explain, while shamefully aware that her reason for laughter had been quite out of order and certainly never a possibility.
"Well, when it first happened, you know, the hot breath, wet touch, I didn't know what to think except, well you know. I screamed then, and when whatever it was took off, I grabbed it, I felt, I felt, fur. I just assumed..." She smiled now feeling decidedly silly for what she had assumed, "that it was you, Vincent."
Kanin's bellow of laughter broke the silence that for moments descended over the small group of people as she finished speaking and relieved Brook joined him, then Catherine, and finally, thankfully, Vincent followed.
"Me!" The word came out filled with disbelief and humour that Brook could ever think such a thing, when suddenly his face paled as he realised the implications behind such a thought.
"Brook, you surely didn't think that I...I..."
"No, no Vincent! Not really, it's just that in light of this, well I thought you might have been playing some kind of joke seeing I'd fallen asleep on duty and all." Brook's voice trailed away, as she became mad at herself for reminding him of that fact once again. Still Father would get to know of it when Vincent related the story later. She was sunk for sure. Laundry duties for the next two weeks it would be, cleaning up after the boys. Oh great. Just great.
"Well as it happens I had an encounter with the little beast myself earlier." Kanin told Brook sincerely understanding her confusion.
"Hey, how dare you speak about Vincent like that." Catherine clapped a hand to her mouth to hold back the giggles, as she looked coyly at Vincent wondering if she may have gone too far.
Brook was having hysterics.
Kanin was trying very much not to laugh.
Vincent's blue eyes twinkled, "Besides," he added. "I'm not little."
Laughter broke, the tunnels sounded with it and any sentries that were awake on duty popped their heads out from their hiding places and grinned at they knew not what. The sound of laughter was always infectious.
When they had quietened down, they began to say their goodbyes promising to speak about this later, when a great clatter was heard and then a shout and another clatter. The sound of breaking china.
"William!" Everyone chorused together and started running in the direction from whence the sound had come.
They found him amid a chaos of broken pots and looking quite stunned. They did not have to ask what had happened as the tuft of tawny fur in one of William's hands told its own story.
"You saw it too!" Brook and Kanin cried together. "Did you see what it was?" Kanin added excitedly.
"If I didn't know better, I'd say this proves what 'it' was." William held up the offending parcel of fur looking daggers in Vincent's direction, "But hey when did you take to running on all fours, Vincent?"
Decidedly embarrassed and a little cross at this suggestion and reference to his 'other side' Vincent remained looking deadly serious and refused to reply.
"It wasn't Vincent, couldn't have been. He was with me when Brook screamed."
William didn't understand Kanin's remark one iota, but all the same he shook his head, "Course it wasn't Vincent! Too small. Too fat. And went like greased lightening."
"Well that's two out of three against anyway." Catherine remarked with a giggle.
"Yeah! Yippee!" A great shout echoed along the tunnels, and William half scrambled and half accepted help from his friends to get to his feet in time to follow Vincent as he started running in the direction of that new shout of stunned surprise.
They came upon a group of small boys laughing and giggling and running in circles swirling dust in their wake and because of that it was difficult to see what it was that was causing the boy's such delight.
"Hey Vincent, this is neat, come see."
"Yeah, Vincent. Who's is it do you know?"
"Can we keep him Vincent? He's so cute."
Slowly the group of adults approached grateful when the swirling dust settled and revealed before their eyes a very beautiful dog, obviously a puppy, and obviously very well cared for.
"A golden retriever." Catherine remarked, "He must have got lost. Oh he's beautiful."
She bent down put out a hand and whistled and the puppy bounded toward her, tongue lolling covering her face with long sloppy kisses before she'd had a chance to stop him. And somewhere deep inside Vincent's heart cried at how readily and easily Catherine accepted the affection from the puppy and he wished it could be him.
"He's well looked after. Not a bit bony must belong to someone. My guess that someone is up in the park right now looking for him. We should take him up with us, Vincent. We were headed that way." Catherine added as an afterthought for the benefit of everyone else.
"Well, he's got a collar and a tag." Brook led the puppy toward the nearest light squinting at the small lettering. "His name is, Sim Simba!"
As she cried the name the puppy barked loudly in agreement causing everyone to laugh.
"Nice name." Catherine remarked, "suits him."
"Thought Simba was a lion." Kanin remarked.
"Well yes he is, but I think we have already established that there are similarities." She refused to look at Vincent as she spoke, but through their connection Vincent detected her humour and couldn't help but smile. No malice had been intended, as if it could from his Catherine.
The others were laughing, enjoying the exchange at Vincent's expense happy to know that he didn't appear to be taking offence.
"Catherine's right." Vincent spoke surprising everyone to silence as he had intended, before he smiled and went on, "We were just going above. We will take the dog with us, if any of you have a belt or something we can use as a lead perhaps?"
"It's okay, Vincent. I'll carry him, it'll be my pleasure." Catherine bent to pick up the wiggling body hugging him tight revelling in the attention the puppy gave to her, his warm wet tongue licking every part of her skin he could reach.
Catherine giggled, "Then again, perhaps not, it's like holding an eel."
"Here, I can let you use my belt. I think I can manage to hold up my pants as far as my chamber." Kanin told her unbuckling his belt as he spoke.
They waited this small group of people, the children woebegone to see that the puppy was leaving, but not too unhappy as they knew that someone loved him and someone was in all likelihood searching for him even now.
"We'll miss ya Simba. Come back and see us sometime you hear." The children petted and hugged their new-found friend with great enthusiasm as Kanin threaded his belt beneath the puppy's collar and held one end out for Catherine to take hold of.
Brook bent and hugged the puppy tightly and tears fell from her eyes. Vincent was amazed at how quickly the puppy had stolen everyone's hearts.
Saying goodbye to the puppy was not an easy one, but Catherine was already late for an appointment up top and once the goodbyes were done, she edged away making it obvious as she checked her watch that they had to leave. And amid, shouts of "Goodbye Simba" from the assembled group, Vincent and Catherine moved back down the tunnel toward the park entrance.
They were silent as they walked, the earlier aura that had surrounded them on their way up before replaced now with something tangible yet surreal circling them each with thoughts of their own.
Catherine's attention was diverted mainly with the puppy, as every few seconds she would stop and pet his glossy coat and allow him to bestow her with a long wet lick. And Vincent concerned that every time it happened he wished similarly that it could be him.
Funny that. It had been part of their conversation as they had made their way up top earlier. A stilted conversation true, but one that had not made them pull apart, had in fact held them close, closer than a heartbeat.
Intercepting his thoughts Catherine's mind also began to remember that conversation as they reached the place where it had begun. The place where accidentally she had tripped and reaching out for Vincent her hand had shot up his sleeve and encountered warm soft fur that she had delighted in stroking for the moment possible.
Remembering now, Catherine re-enacted the pleasure it had given her by bending and weaving her fingers through Simba's golden coat in full view of Vincent their connection telling him in no uncertain terms at how pleasurable doing so was to her.
Vincent swallowed with difficulty, embarrassed when Catherine rose her gaze to his, and their eyes met and in silence they spoke to one another. Catherine's pleading, Vincent's denying her yet again.
All she wanted was a kiss. Was it so much to ask?
Most of this stroking of the puppy Vincent knew, was done with a subtle suggestion on her part that she didn't find his differences repulsive. Catherine sighed, would he never kiss her? Three years already and nothing instigated by him, instigated that is of his lips on her lips. Oh he would kiss her hair repeatedly, sometimes even her brow or her cheek, but never, ever her lips and Catherine ached to know what it was like to kiss him and to have him kiss her.
They walked in silence only broken by the sound of Simba's collar and tag rattling against one another and only the sound of the buckle on Kanin's belt repetitive enough to pace by.
And the park entrance loomed ever closer.
"I'm sorry Catherine." Vincent finally broke the silence, unable to bare it a moment longer, "What you dream for can never be." His words caught on a sob and Catherine felt tears slide down her cheeks. 'Why did he always have to know what it was her heart yearned for? Could she never have any secrets?'
She sighed, a little embarrassed that he knew, a little annoyed that he wouldn't even try, as he pressed the lever which would open the door to the outside world, stepping back into the shadows as the door opened.
No sooner had he done so when a shrill whistle could be heard from up in the park and Simba grew so excited that he ran in circles eager to be off.
"That your master?" Catherine smiled, "Calm down now, let me get this belt off of you."
Simba jumped and ran circles around both Vincent and Catherine entangling them in the belt, in fact running so fast that Catherine was having a hard time sliding the belt from off the collar. "Vincent, can you help?" She asked breathlessly.
Bending to help her, the couple made eyed contact and for a moment two hearts missed a beat at how close their faces had suddenly become. But the moment was lost in the act of untying the puppy from its restraint and hopefully before the owner came looking for him into the tunnel itself.
Suddenly everything happened at once. Simba barked, his owner called to him, Simba barked again and footsteps were heard from both in front and behind .... behind!
The belt was unfastened but not before Simba had run circles around Vincent and Catherine tying their legs together, forcing their bodies closer than a heartbeat. And then it happened!
Deciding that he might as well go up to the park entrance to retrieve his belt rather than waddle all the way home holding up his pants, Kanin rounded the final corner and called out, "I was thinking" He stopping dead not believing what his eyes were telling him.
There before him Vincent and Catherine, arms around one another were kissing, and no affectionate kiss of goodbye either.
Kanin stepped back into the shadows, wishing to watch yet knowing he ought not. In his heart he felt so happy for them. He felt so happy that Catherine would kiss Vincent in 'that' way. He felt delighted for Vincent. Yet he was also stunned to the core by what he had seen.
He heard a whistle above and a dog barking before he heard the sliding door closing to shut off the sound, and then he heard Catherine's voice, "Kanin is that you?"
And Vincent's "Did you want something?"
Yes he wanted something, he wanted his belt, but the last time he had seen that it was doing more good than harm, and Kanin was not about to go and unravel it from where the puppy had so obviously left it. Which in Catherine's opinion he was sure, was a very good place indeed.
"Kanin?" Vincent whispered once more surprised that his friend had not answered. He was sure Kanin was still there. "Say something."
Still amazed that he had witnessed them kissing like that Kanin smiled as he turned to walk back home, calling over his shoulder as he went, grinning with a big silly smile on his face and deciding in the circumstances there was only one thing he could say