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CLASSIC ROUND ROBIN


Chapter 9

by Demian


Catherine and Mouse quickly but cautiously covered the distance to the culvert. Once they were inside the tunnel, Catherine looked back to see if anyone had followed them.

No one had.

Mouse had already pulled the lever, and when Catherine rejoined him, the door slid open before them. Mouse went to push open the gate, but it caught on something. Their eyes dropped to the ground, finding Vincent slumped against the metal bars, unresponsive.

“Vincent!” Catherine cried.

Out of sheer will, Catherine pushed the gate again until Vincent fell to the side, and she and Mouse were able to shimmy through the tight space. Catherine dropped to her knees and pulled Vincent back up to a seated position. Mouse hovered above them.

“Mouse, go! Get Father, get help!” she ordered, pushing the hair out of Vincent’s face.

“Vincent, okay, right? Not hurt. Okay?” Mouse replied, unable to tear his eyes from his friend’s quiet form.

“He needs help, Mouse. Please. Go!” she repeated.

“Vincent needs … Mouse is …” he muttered, still overwhelmed and unable to process the scene before him.

Catherine twisted around and yanked Mouse’s jacket, pulling him close to her, nearly knocking him off balance.

“Mouse, listen to me. Vincent is going to be okay, but he needs Father now. Tell Father where we are and have him bring help, okay?” she said more patiently than she felt.

“Tell Father,” Mouse replied.

“Yes, Mouse, tell Father, okay? That will help Vincent,” she assured him.

“Yes! Mouse finds Father. Mouse helps Vincent!” he agreed eagerly.

“Go, now, Mouse!” Catherine said, encouragingly.

And with that, he was off.

Catherine turned her attention back to Vincent and was shocked to find his eyes open.

“Vincent! Are you okay? Can you hear me?” she asked, frantically.

“Yes, Catherine,” he managed.

“You … remember me?” she ventured, tears welling up in her eyes.

“Yes, I remember,” he whispered.

Catherine hugged him fiercely until she remembered his injury and immediately released him.

“What are you doing here, Vincent?” she asked. “You should be in bed. What’s wrong … did something happen …”

“I was dreaming. I was trapped, in a forest. I could not find my way through … I had … to find you …” he told her, weakly.

“I’m here … always …”

Vincent smiled and tried to stifle a moan of pain, but Catherine heard it.

“Mouse will be back soon with the others. They will be here any minute … just hold on …” she said.

“Catherine …” Vincent started.

“Shhhh … don’t talk. You need to rest …”

“I heard you … I want to tell you … you need to know …”

“It’s okay, Vincent,” she soothed, cradling him as best she could. She pressed a kiss against his forehead and prayed for the others to get there quickly.

“Catherine, please,” he insisted, trying to pull away from her.

“What?” she asked, confused, searching his face. He looked exhausted but determined.

“I heard you … in the hospital chamber …” he told her.

“You … heard me?” she gulped, trying to remember everything she had said to him when death was nearest. “You’re not mad?”

He shook his head.

“I feel … the same …” he whispered.

Catherine didn’t know what to say. Her heart beat louder, almost eclipsing the frenetic tapping on the pipes as the world Below responded to the distress call.

“They will be here soon,” he sighed, lifting a shaking hand to her face.

Catherine swallowed, still speechless. There was so much she wanted to say—the words were trapped in her throat, pushing all at once to get out. She was nearly in tears with the frustration.

“I know, Catherine,” he promised her. “I know …”

And then everyone was there, surrounding them. She let herself be pulled back as Father and Peter descended upon Vincent.

Father’s admonishment was cloudy in her ears as she settled into the arms that enveloped her. She relaxed and closed her eyes, willing the previous moments with Vincent to stay warm and in the forefront of her thoughts. But Vincent’s groan when he was lifted and placed on the stretcher ripped her away from the happy haze.

She turned her head and stared at the owner of the arms around her.

“Kristopher?” she nearly giggled, shocked, but not surprised, to find him on the scene.

“He was going to spill his guts, Cathy. I just know it. Wasn’t he?” Kristopher asked giddily.

“So romantic that guy … Jeez, Cathy … I …” He stopped talking when he saw the incredulous look on Catherine’s face. “What?” he asked innocently, his mischievous eyes somehow sparkling in the darkened surroundings.

Catherine smiled at him weakly. “I believe he was,” she admitted.

“Oooo, I knew it. We got here too fast. I tried to stall them, but they all looked at me like I was …” he trailed off.

“Crazy?” she ventured.

He laughed loudly, which drew a few stares from the others. “No, dead. Why does everyone think I’m dead? Honestly, I couldn’t be more alive. But man, you’d have to be dead to miss what was going on with you two … wow, Cathy. Sorry we busted in on your parade …”

Despite the enormity of everything, Catherine smiled at him again, so happy he was there. It only seemed right.

“I suppose the parade can be postponed,” she told him.

“I guess so,” he agreed. “Hope so … love like that … wow … wow …”

She reached for him to help her up, and he complied immediately. Catherine stared at Vincent as he was carried past them, still and quiet, on the wooden stretcher. His eyes opened a fraction when he passed by her, but closed right after. It didn’t matter. She would talk to him, sooner or later, and she could feel in her heart that he would not hold back anymore. She nearly shivered in anticipation as an aching pull of desire was drawn through her.

Bringing her hands to her face, she sighed, tired, but relieved. “You’re right, Kristopher. It is …” She turned to face him, and again was shocked, but not surprised, when she found only the tunnel wall behind her.

“Wow …” she whispered. “It is wow …”

* * *

Later, Vincent woke slowly, sore from lying on the too-small bed in the hospital chamber. He remembered everything now and was so grateful to be alive.

Opening his eyes, he was surprised to find the chamber was empty, a few candles lighting the quiet space. He sighed in relief. The last few hours had been difficult and loud as a worried Father had split his time between caring for him and haranguing him for his foolishness.

It was not entirely undeserved. Vincent could not explain why he had ventured out into the tunnels before—he only knew he had to find Catherine, that she was near, that finding her would soothe the torturous dreams that had troubled him so deeply.

He looked down and saw her. She was seated beside the bed, the upper half of her body leaning over him as her head rested on his forearm. One arm lay over his chest and the other over his thigh. It was a sight that made tears come to his eyes. This was the closest they had ever been to each other.

He shifted slightly in the bed, and Catherine’s eyes opened slowly.

“Vincent?” she whispered.

“Mmm?”

She sat up then and blushed immediately.

“What is it, Catherine?”

She grinned as she tucked her hair behind her ears. “I kind of drooled on you. Sorry about that.”

“I don’t mind,” he replied. “Not at all.”

“How are you feeling?” she asked, yawning.

“Very well.”

“It’s good of you to be so positive, but there is no way you are feeling well. You were shot and lost an awful lot of blood. You are lucky to be alive,” she told him.

“Which is why I am well, Catherine,” he said. A soft smile followed, which she returned.

“Do you know what time it is?”

“I would say around two in the morning. You should return Above. You have to go to work later, your big case …” he told her, trying to stifle the sadness rising in him. He didn’t want her to leave.

“No work today, Vincent. The case is over. Joe gave me a few days off, which I gratefully accepted.”

“What will you do with your time off? Perhaps a vacation?” he said, still trying to keep himself together, not wanting to burden her with his need.

“That sounds divine. Any suggestions?”

“I hear the Tunnels are nice this time of year,” he replied, sheepishly, shocked he was saying the words, even as they passed through his lips.

“Are they now?” she laughed, not trusting her ears. Surely he didn’t mean …

“I believe I have some time off as well, Catherine. Maybe I could be your tour guide … my mobility will be somewhat limited, but …”

“Yes, I would love to come Below!” she cried, standing up, excited.

“Then it’s settled,” he said nervously, not believing that yesterday’s misfortunes could bring him so much happiness today.

“You should rest, though,” she told him solemnly, remembering how badly hurt he was.

“Yes, that would be wise. Perhaps after a good night’s rest, you can come Below for lunch tomorrow?”

“How about breakfast?” she teased.

“Breakfast it is …” he agreed. He reached for her hand. “You will be all right returning to your apartment? I could summon one of the sentries to escort you.”

“Vincent, I am so happy, I could fly home. Don’t worry about me. You just rest up. I am a very demanding traveler,” she told him, squeezing his hand.

Just as quickly, she let go and turned to leave.

“Aren’t you forgetting something, Catherine?” he called after her.

She turned back around hurriedly. “Oh yeah, my purse. Oops!” she laughed, picking it up and turning to head out again.

“Something else, Catherine?” he repeated.

She turned around again, puzzled, her eyes scanning the chamber. “Ummm ….”

“I believe you requested something earlier,” he told her, willing his beating heart to slow down.

“I did?” she asked, still confused.

Vincent slowly pulled himself to a seated position. She rushed over to him. “Don’t, Vincent, don’t get up.”

He took her hand again, and she sat down beside him, waiting for him to speak. He dropped his head, shyly.

“I …” he trailed off.

“What is it?” she asked, curious now.

“I believe you requested …” He looked up at her then. “A proper goodnight kiss?”

Catherine nearly melted at those words. She smiled as tears came to her eyes.

“You heard me?” she whispered, suddenly shy herself.

“I heard you,” he replied, squeezing her hand.

Ever so slowly, Catherine leaned forward. Vincent’s hands rose to her face as their lips touched once, twice, gently. After that brief touch, Catherine started to pull away when Vincent brought her back, his lips lingering longer on hers this time. She brought her arms around him and held him tightly, savoring this kiss like it was the last instead of the first.

They reluctantly pulled away from each other, disheveled and breathless, but smiling.

“Was that proper, Catherine?” he whispered, still in shock at his forwardness and her willingness. A door had opened. Nothing would ever be the same between them again.

She laughed softly, stood up, and turned to leave.

“It’s a start!” she called over her shoulder.

Vincent lay back down and sighed blissfully. Breakfast never sounded so good.

The End.


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