She was radiant, simply breath taking. The Baron had his hand over his chest, feeling the pulse and attempting to muffle the sound of his beating heart. It was almost more than he could bare, the very sight of her: a grown woman, but still so lovely and kittenish despite that.
Music drifted into the air from the table Muta was prowling along. He had pushed one of the buttons on the CD player by mistake. It didn't matter; the music was soft and caressing. It was the wrong song, but the feeling was the same, and the Baron was lost for a moment in the memory of holding Haru in his arms.
Her warmth enveloped him, and he realised that she was holding him in her arms. Looking about him, he saw Toto riding on her shoulder and Muta padding along beside the young woman.
"This is my collection," Haru said, coming to a stop at the top of a hallway lined with her year's efforts. "If you want a closer look at anything, I'm happy to get it down for you," she added.
Muta and Toto headed down the hall, stopping before each picture, trying to find themselves once more in her work, as they had done in the first painting she had shown them.
Baron made himself watch his companions instead of letting his thoughts dwell on the way Haru's arms twined about his upright form, brushing against him gently.
"This one is for you, Baron," Haru said, turning to the first picture. "The very first that I did, the inspiration for all the rest, but before all that, it was always going to be a present for you."
He looked and felt his heart twist within him. Haru, his little kitten, resting her head on his shoulder while he played a white glove through her brown hair. It was a portrait of two lovers, enjoying simply being together.
"Do you like it?" the girl asked, looking down at him, worried that he might not.
He saw the kitten close her eyes and sigh a contented purr, watched himself kiss her gently between the ears. Blinking back tears, he saw that they had not moved, but still his heart yearned for the life in the portrait to be real, to be his life.
"I love it," he said, taking his hat off in awe. "Thank you Haru." He knew just where he would hang it in the Bureau too.
He felt her clothing shift, her body shift, behind him. He felt her lips touch him between his ears, just as his portrait had done – only it was the other way around. He didn't bother to check the tears; tears of happiness needed no banking, merely to be tidied up later.
"Baron, do you think it was ever possible?" Haru asked, moving to the next picture. "Us, I mean. If I had stayed a cat –"
"I would still have been made of wood," the Baron interrupted, not turning to look at the girl he loved so much.
"You don't feel like wood to me," Haru said, bringing him closer to her face, causing him to slide over her chest.
Both hearts ached against the warm touch, the closeness of the other: the impossibility of their love.