HE'S MY BROTHER
Summary – Pt One – Before meeting Catherine Vincent discovers a feral child in the lower tunnels
Pt Two - The feral child from Outsiders has been stealing food and Mouse feels he is the only one to bring the child into the safety of the community.
CAT AND MOUSE (The first part of this story is set about ten years before Once Upon a Time. Mouse's story is a bit vague, but I have taken this retelling from the first time we meet Mouse in Shades of Grey. It's mentioned in, Ozymandias that Mouse fought Vincent, but I felt Mouse's reference was more apt considering Vincent's gentle nature. However, in Part Two I have this scene in a different context. No copyright infringement intended by the song lyrics herein.
The Road is long,
With many a winding turn.
That leads us to who knows where, who knows when.
But I'm strong.
Strong enough to carry him,
He ain't heavy. He's my brother.
He could sense the child nearby, hiding in a cleft in the rock. He crept to within inches of him. He sensed feelings of happiness coming from just ahead, along with the sound of ravenous, greedy chewing.
Vincent had been tracking this feral child for weeks now, but every time he thought he had him, he would disappear. It was frustrating, but with his almost supernatural patience Vincent had searched for signs in the uninhabited parts of the tunnels, some of which had never been surveyed. When a whole chicken had been stolen last night, Vincent had followed the trail of discarded bones the child had left from the kitchen, to a hidden nest of sorts.
The boy had eluded every attempt to catch him until now. He attacked William when he'd been cornered in the kitchen, biting William so severely that it had been decided to put an end to these invasions.
Father was concerned that the boy was malnourished and possibly diseased, and must be caught and taken care of. There had been several occasions already where those of the tunnel community had tried to coax the child to them, and although they had only been trying to help, there had been some other injuries incurred, so this task had been left to Vincent.
He stood for some time, his back against the rough wall, listening to the soft snuffling sounds as the food was consumed.
Vincent kept his empathic senses attuned to the child's mood and waited until the boy was so sated that he felt it safe to approach. It was important that he not think that Vincent was going to steal his food or harm him, and with a full belly he might allow him to get close.
As he approached the crevice in the rock where the boy had made his home, his steps silent, Vincent peeked around the corner. The child sat in the darkened corner of his nest. The floor of the tiny chamber was covered with food scraps and old soiled blankets, stolen from the tunnel dwellers, and the smell made Vincent's nostrils flare.
He sensed no fear from the child, only curiosity, and so he continued to approach. The boy's eyes, which he could see clearly in the dark, dirty face, were unafraid, so Vincent came a little closer. Not wanting to startle the child Vincent spoke very softly. "Don't be afraid. I won't harm you. You don't have to be alone anymore." He went one more step closer, his broad shoulders only just fitting through the narrow gap in the rock.
Suddenly the child screamed and threw himself through a small opening just behind him. The sound of his frightened passage fading into the distance was accompanied by an occasional barking cough.
Vincent stood stunned. He hadn't even sensed the change of mood in his quarry, it had happened so quickly.
He let out a gusty breath in frustration, and turned back the way he had come. There would be another day.
From that day on, Vincent left food outside the child's nest. At first there was no sign of him, but the food was gone the next day, and no more food was stolen from William's kitchen, and the children were not being frightened by the sudden appearance of a filthy waif wearing scraps of blankets as clothing.
About a week after he had begun, Vincent was late delivering that day's ration. When he turned into the tunnel, his nose told him that the child was waiting for him.
"Uuugh!" the boy grunted angrily, pointing at Vincent.
"I am late. I'm sorry," Vincent said softly, amazed and pleased at the same time. The child seemed no longer to be afraid of him. He was now only angry.
Vincent placed the food on the tunnel floor, a few feet away from the crouching boy, and then backed away.
The child did not move, and made a shooing gesture with a hand, and another loud "Uuugh!"
Knowing that he had been dismissed, Vincent turned and walked away, a gentle smile touching his lips. It was progress.
When he reached Father's chamber, Father was at the top of the spiral staircase.
"How did your delivery go? Any sign of him?"
Removing his cloak and placing it over the railing, Vincent said, "Yes, Father. Something wonderful has happened." And he told the strange story.
"Well," Father said when he'd finished "at least that is progress. How much longer do you think it will be before we can get him to trust us? I worry about him out there in the dark alone."
"He's very timid and suspicious. We must be patient and not rush him. If we do, he'll most likely run from us, and we'll lose all that we've gained. Be patient, Father. He will trust us in time."
"Your wisdom astounds me, Vincent, but your patience is truly remarkable."
"We are dealing with a frightened child, Father. We have to go slowly and with care."
"Yes, of course."
Vincent knew that his father was worried about the boy. He was alone and out in the dark tunnels, unkempt and unprotected. He went up to Father and slapped him on the shoulder affectionately as he added "He will become one of us, Father, and you'll be able to care for him then. But until then we must wait."
Father made an impatient sound in his throat, and Vincent knew that he still worried.
"The child was alone in those tunnels long before we found him. A little longer won't hurt" Vincent said.
It had been three weeks since Vincent had begun this 'cat and mouse' game with the feral child, and now it seemed as though the child even enjoyed his company. At first he'd waited for Vincent to bring the food and drink each morning, and allowed him to stay nearby as he ate. Vincent would sit silently, but as his visits progressed he began to speak to the boy, then tell stories from his own childhood, or recite passages from Dr. Seuss. Then one day he'd brought his own copy of Kipling and a small candle. When he lit the candle the child shied away, but he soon relaxed when Vincent began to read.
Vincent was always conscious, however, not to try to touch the child. He wanted to wait for the boy to make the first move, and when it came, it almost brought to him to tears.
He was reading the Elephant's Child, and although his senses were attuned to every nuance of the boy's demeanor, he was still surprised by a shuffling sound next to him. Vincent was leaning against the wall, his legs outstretched, his ankles crossed, head bowed over the book, when he felt a small hand touch his hair. He kept reading, not wishing to startle the child, as the hand traveled to his face, tracing his forehead, tickling the soft hair on his muzzle, cheeks and chin. He slowly lifted his head and looked the boy in the eyes.
They were a bright, intelligent blue, wide and inquisitive, like stars in the night of the grimy face, surrounded by a matted mass of what could be sandy colored hair. Vincent laid the book on his lap and allowed the child to examine him.
With a hand on his own chest, Vincent said his name very softly. "Vincent."
The child did not respond, only stared at him with curiosity, his mouth moving as though he too was trying to speak.
"Vin – cent," Vincent repeated slowly, not really expecting an answer.
The boy's mouth formed a V and said "Phhhhhh."
"That's it. V – in – cent."
It took some time, but eventually the child was able to make an acceptable attempt of his name. "Vvvi – sss – et …"
"Good" Vincent said with a nod and a smile.
"Good," the boy repeated, putting emphasis on the last syllable, smiling with a toothy grin. "Good, good. Viss – et. Good, good." and he kept repeating the word 'good' over and over. Vincent wondered if he understood the word, or just liked the sound of it.
When Vincent moved to leave, the boy made an angry protest.
"All right, I won't leave you" Vincent said, reseating himself.
He stayed with the child all the rest of that day, reading and rereading many of the stories. He wondered if the boy could understand his words, or just enjoyed the sound of his voice. He had been told that he read well, but was more inclined to think that it was just the sound of his voice that comforted the boy.
Vincent was concerned however, when occasionally the child would emit a barking cough, and when he stopped reading at one point and looked at him, the boy became agitated and demanded "Good, good." Vincent took this to mean he was to continue reading. He put his fears aside for the moment in favor of keeping the boy's trust but he still worried.
By the afternoon the child seemed to be getting sleepy, and although he had touched Vincent's face earlier, he kept his distance. After finishing a story, Vincent looked over at the small pile of rags and realized that the child was curled up asleep in the middle of the tunnel.
Vincent didn't want to leave him there, so he put the book down and went over and lifted the child into his arms. He expected him to wake and begin to fight, but he stayed asleep, and Vincent carried him into his protected nest and laid him there, covering him with some of the dirty rags, and then crouched in indecision.
He didn't want to leave the boy, not now that the child had begun to trust him, and yet he knew that Father would worry if he didn't send word soon. So he made his way silently out of the small alcove.
Some distance down the tunnel he came to an accessible pipe and sent a message that he planned to stay with the boy and for someone to let Father know that he was all right and would return when he could. Then he returned to the boy's nest, and he realized that he must be getting used to the smell as it no longer bothered him as much as it had.
As was his way in such a situation, Vincent sat against the wall facing the sleeping boy, laid his head back and dozed, his senses attuned to any sound or movement.
Some hours later the boy opened his eyes, and when he saw that Vincent was still there, he came over to him, and lifted the book. "Good, good." he said and pushed the book into Vincent's hands, and sat down next to him.
Vincent read through the book several times, reading each story until the boy fell asleep again, and then he slept as well.
The next morning he heard footsteps coming down the tunnel. Moving quietly out of the nest he saw the flare of a torch. After so long in the dark, his eyes took a few moments to accustom to the light. He stood in the tunnel to meet William, who was carrying a covered pot of what smelled like, his famous vegetable stew. The aroma made Vincent's mouth water, and he realized he was very hungry.
"Thought you'd both need something hot," William whispered, as Vincent met him.
"Thank you, William." Vincent said taking the warm pot.
Suddenly a dark shape came bursting out of the alcove screaming and waving its arms at William.
"Okay. Okay. I'm not gonna hurt ya!" William said, raising his hands in self defense and backing away.
Vincent intercepted the child with the stew pot, lifting the lid and saying softly "It's all right. Look. Food." He redirected the child with the stew pot, placing it on the ground.
"Okay. Okay!" The child said, exactly the way William had said it, his attention taken by the tasty aroma coming from the pot. He plopped down on the floor and began shoveling the steaming contents into his mouth with both hands.
"Is that good?" William asked.
"Okay … good." The child said around a mouthful of the food. "Okay, good." He repeated.
Vincent turned to his companion and smiled proudly.
William shrugged. "He's a quick learner." Then he waved one of the spoons he held. "I guess he doesn't need this."
Vincent shook his head and laughed softly, and William asked, "How's it going? Everyone's worried about you. That little wildcat is unpredictable. Watch yourself. He could have rabies or something."
Placing a hand on William's shoulder Vincent said "He's more a frightened mouse than a wildcat William. He has been alone most of his life I think, judging by his inability to speak and his suspicion of man. But he is responding to me, so I don't think it will be long before I can bring him home. Tell Father I will send regular messages."
"How much longer are you going to be down here? You're going to need a good long soak to get rid of his stench, not to mention anything else that kid's got."
Vincent knew he must smell much like the boy by now, but it was worth a little discomfort if it meant getting the boy away from his solitary life and to the love and care of the community.
"It won't be long, now."
"I'll bring you more food. I don't think you'll get any of that." William pointed to the boy and the swiftly disappearing contents of the pot.
"Don't trouble yourself, William I'll be fine."
They both looked down at the boy, who between mouthfuls began mumbling "Okay good. Okay fine,"
Vincent's eyebrows rose, and William shook his head.
"I'll leave some more at the end of the tunnel, and do the same every morning till you come home. Just make sure that he doesn't eat everything. You may be strong Vincent, but even you'll starve if you don't eat occasionally."
"Thank you, William" Vincent said, patting the large man on his shoulder with a laugh. "You are truly kindhearted."
William made a dismissive sound. "It's the least I can do Vincent. You're doing the hard part."
Vincent stayed with the boy for three more days until the child's cough seemed worse, and he seemed listless. When he fell asleep again Vincent took the opportunity to touch the grimy forehead. The boy had a fever. And when the boy became unresponsive, Vincent lifted his small boney frame into his arms and carried him out of the deeper tunnels to the Hospital Chamber.
When he got there, he placed the bundle of rags and bones on one of the beds and tapped out a message on the nearby pipe for Father to meet him there at once.
When Father came into the room, he took one look at Vincent's unkempt condition and then the filthy child, unconscious on the bed. "Dear God, Vincent!"
Vincent stepped back. "I think he has a fever, Father. He also has a cough."
"And fleas, too, I expect. Look at him." Then he took a good look at his son and added. "And has given them to you as well no doubt."
Vincent's expression was unrepentant, but he did smile as he said "It's not surprising Father."
"Hmmm. Well leave this scallywag to me, and go and bathe and change. Those clothes will have to be cleaned and fumigated." Then he turned from his son to the child, who was shivering on the bed.
Knowing that the child would be in good hands, Vincent left the chamber and gladly went to the bathing chamber for a long awaited cleansing.
When he returned, his hair still wet, he hardly recognized the small form in the bed.
Mary and Father were there as he arrived. "I would say he's about eight or nine years old. We may never know his true age" Father said, looking down at the blond cherub, lying snug and warm amid clean white sheets.
"The poor dear. How do you suppose he came to be alone and abandoned in one of the deepest tunnels?" Mary asked
"I don't know, Mary, and we may never know unless he tells us."
"Do you think he is …?" Mary asked gently.
"Intelligent? Brain-damaged?" Father finished for her. "Only time will tell, Mary."
"He has survived on his own for a long time, avoiding detection. I would say that proclaims quite loudly that he has intelligence," Vincent said from behind them.
"Yes, but animals can do that, Vincent." Father stated flatly. "I have heard about other feral children, and they never become like other children."
His eyes never leaving the sleeping form, Vincent said emphatically, "He has spoken words that he learned in only a moment. He has intelligence." Then he looked his father squarely in the eyes. "I think he will surprise us all, Father. Will he be all right? His health, I mean."
"Oh, yes. He'll be fine in a few days, with some warm food and antibiotics. Although how we will keep him from returning back to that filthy hole he came from, or to the state in which he arrived here, I don't know."
"I'll see to that, Father." Vincent said with determination, as he pulled up a stool beside the boy's bed. Father and Mary left him with his charge.
Vincent stayed beside the bed until the boy woke, and when wild blue eyes turned to him he put a hand on a small narrow shoulder and said "You're safe. Don't be afraid."
The boy was still not strong, and all he could do was lift his head from the pillow and whimper.
"It's all right. Rest. No one will hurt you here. Look I've brought you another book."
He lifted a copy of Great Expectations and the boy understood, but first he looked fearfully around the room. Satisfied that he was alone, he laid back and watched Vincent open the first page. The boy had been put in an isolated corner of the chamber so that he would not be frightened by any comings or goings.
The boy began to relax as Vincent began to read, his deep gentle voice echoing throughout the chamber.
"My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip…"
A month later the feral child had become less guarded and skittish. He wore clean clothes, and although he disliked bathing he submitted to being cleansed regularly, as long as Vincent was nearby to encourage him.
He had also become friends with some of the other children and shown an almost uncanny understanding of mechanical devices, proving Vincent's conviction that he was indeed intelligent.
"I think it's time we gave the boy a name," Father said one evening as he and his son were playing chess in Vincent's chamber. The feral child was asleep at Vincent's feet. He had taken to curling up wherever Vincent was, and would sleep nowhere other than in Vincent's chamber. It became clear as soon as he was well enough that he would not sleep with the other children, so a mattress had been brought in and placed beside Vincent's bed.
Vincent moved his knight. "What do you suggest we call him, Father?"
"You would be the best judge of that, Vincent. He is your shadow. Why, look at him. He sleeps at your feet like a faithful puppy."
"Yes, but he is far from a lapdog, Father, or as easily trained. I think as he becomes more acquainted with our world and people, he will soon outgrow such hero worship."
"So what will you call him?"
Vincent lifted his eyes from the board. "He is not a pet, Father." And his face broke into a grin. "Besides he has a name. Watch." He looked down at the boy and said, "Mouse?"
The boy was instantly awake and looking around the room, as though someone had said 'there's a mouse' and the child was looking for it.
Chuckling, Father looked from Vincent to the boy. "How …"
Vincent shook his head. "We were in the kitchen with William some days ago, and a mouse ran out from behind one of the cupboards. William ran to kill it, but the boy was there before him. He caught the creature by the tail and was cradling it in his hands and looking at William with angry eyes."
The boy put his hand into his tunic and pulled out the small grey creature and began letting it run along his arm and over his hand.
Father looked at Vincent with a pained expression. "Well, I suppose it's better than a pet rat."
Vincent laughed at the look on his father's face while Mouse continued to play with his namesake, oblivious to the momentous occasion.
MOUSE AND SKUNK(This takes place after Outsiders and between Kingdom by the Sea and Hollow Men)
So we go on,
His welfare is my concern.
No burden is he to bear,
We'll get there.
For I know.
He would not encumber me,
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.
Mouse ran through the tunnels talking softly to himself. "I'll get you! Can't hide from Mouse."
He was close. He could smell it.
"Wanna hide from Mouse, better not stink so bad" the young man murmured as he continued along the dark lower tunnels.
Vincent had wanted to do this, but Mouse had argued that it should be him.
"No one better than Mouse to catch a skunk" he had told Vincent and Father that morning.
"He may be dangerous, Mouse" Vincent had said.
Father shook his head. "He shot Vincent three months ago, Mouse. When his family came here and terrorised us."
Mouse remembered that time. Vincent and Catherine had bad feelings for a long time, but they were back to normal now – close and together better than ever.
"Won't shoot Mouse. Got no gun. Father got gun, right?"
Vincent looked at Father and grinned, the way he always did when Mouse said something that was simply the truth.
"Yes, Mouse. I have the gun" Father said.
Vincent leaned closer to Mouse and said, "But Mouse, he is wild and dangerous."
Mouse shook his head. "No worse than Mouse was when Vincent found me." He looked up at his friend, the hero worship still very evident.
"Yes, but Mouse, Vincent has … certain skills that you lack," Father said.
Mouse got angry. "Mouse has a nose. That's all Mouse needs to catch a skunk."
He heard Vincent's soft laughter. "But Mouse, to catch a skunk one must be very careful" Vincent said.
"Mouse is careful." He looked up at Vincent. "And this skunk is not a real skunk. Stink will wash off. This skunk not as good as Mouse though, steal – run – hide – listen, if someone comes, run and hide some more. This skunk dumb. Steals runs and then stinks up the place. Trust Mouse." And he grinned happily, sure that Vincent and Father would let him do it.
Now, as the smell got stronger, Mouse slowed his pace. "First thing gonna do is throw it in the water. Mouse couldn't a smelt that bad." Then he thought of something. "What is it anyway. Boy? Girl?" His face crinkled up in disgust. "Nope, not a girl. Girls don't smell so bad."
Then he heard it. A scratching and shuffling, and he clamped his mouth shut and listened.
He crept to an entrance of a large cavern. There was rubbish and wood everywhere. The 'child' was crouched by the wall, a stolen candle stub burning in his hand as he used rocks to draw pictures on the wall.
Mouse noticed that the whole cavern was covered with crude pictures, and as his attention was elsewhere the child realised he was there and screamed and ran from the chamber.
"Stupid Mouse! Stupid, stupid! Let it get away." And he ran in the direction the child had gone.
"Do you think he will catch him, Vincent?" Father asked doubtfully.
"He seemed very determined."
"Yes, but what if he gets hurt by the boy? Who knows what kind of life he had with those murderers?"
"Mouse will know how to catch him. Unfortunately, we haven't the time we had with Mouse. This feral child has seen violence and committed violence. We can't allow him to stay free any longer now that we know where he is. It's too dangerous. If one of our men caught him they might harm him and we can't allow that."
'Hmm …" Father said, troubled. "Are you sure this is the right thing to do, Vincent? Bringing him into our community like this? Such a violent child. Catherine said she could arrange for him to be cared for Above."
Vincent shook his head, and turned away. "No, Father. Catherine said he would be put in a place where he would be restrained or even drugged to keep him calm." A shadow passed over Vincent's face as he remembered his own experience with drugs and capture. "We cannot allow that." Then Vincent lifted his head at the sound of the pipes. "Its Catherine I will meet her. Excuse me, Father." And he grabbed his cloak and left Father's study.
Catherine's face lit up as he met her at the entrance to the tunnels, and she was in his arms.
There was silence between them as they took comfort from each other's presence. Since Elliot's last appearance in their lives there had been a new closeness between them, and sometimes … they wished …
Catherine looked up at Vincent, keeping her arms around his waist. "How's the skunk hunt going?"
Vincent laughed softly, putting his hands on her shoulders. "With Mouse, one can never be sure. He left this morning and hasn't been heard from since. He doesn't think to check in by tapping on the nearest pipe. His attention is on his quarry, and with single-minded fervour he won't stop until he's attained his goal."
Catherine laid her head back on his shoulder. "I wonder what Mouse would have become if he had grown up in my world, with a normal family, instead of being alone and abandoned."
His chin on top of her head, Vincent chuckled. "A mechanical engineer perhaps … for an airline?" He nuzzled her forehead with his lips.
She looked up and laughed. "Oh my God, just the thought of Mouse with access to an aircraft makes me shudder." And they shared a laugh.
"Come. Father will go looking for Mouse if I'm not there to stop him."
They turned, and with their arms around each other, they made there way back to Father's study.
When they arrived at the entrance to Father's study, there was an almighty caterwauling coming from within. Vincent's nostrils flared. and even Catherine put her hand to her nose at the stench.
"Mouse, you can't do that. You will hurt him!" Came Father's exasperated voice
"Hurt him? He bit Mouse!" Mouse's voice complained.
Vincent looked down at Catherine and paused. "It appears Mouse was successful." And they both took a deep breath before they entered.
Mouse was very pleased with himself as he sat on the floor on the squalling bundle of rags. He had chased the creature through the tunnels and then cornered him in a dead end. After wrestling with him for a while and receiving a nasty bite, he had gotten him in a headlock. He had then thrown the smaller child over his shoulder and carried him kicking and screaming to Father's chamber.
As Vincent and Catherine entered, he looked up at them and said "Told you Mouse would catch him." .
Trying very hard not to laugh, Vincent said, "Yes, we see that Mouse, and you will squash him if you're not careful."
"Can't get off. Tried to bite again. Gotta keep his face in the floor."
Catherine put her hand over her mouth, trying very hard not to laugh out loud, and with a swift glance in her direction Vincent clamped his mouth shut, no doubt attempting to do the same.
"Mouse, get off that child this instant." It was Mary who had just come into the room and who was instantly obeyed.
The boy scrambled to his feet and ran toward her to escape. Unlike before however, when his family had accosted her, Mary stood her ground. She would not be frightened by a small boy. And she stared the child down with her best 'I am not moving' stare.
The boy looked up at Mary, confused, and then turned and ran in the opposite direction. But Vincent was there before him, blocking the other exit. Their eyes met, the boy's showing recognition and then fear. He backed away, shivering.
It was Catherine who got his attention, her voice gentle and melodious as she said. "Don't be afraid. Please don't be afraid. No one will hurt you. You're safe here."
"Safe here." the child echoed in a frightened voice.
Vincent lifted his head from the boy to look at the woman he loved. Those had been the same words he had spoken to her three years ago, and he wondered if she realised it. They had helped her, and they worked now with the boy.
Catherine had come prepared; she put her hand in the pocket of her beige coat and pulled out a large candy bar. Opening it, she took a small bite to show what it was, and then held it out to the boy. He sniffed it and then snatched it out of her hand and began biting off chunks hungrily and stuffing them in his mouth.
"He likes candy!" Mouse said, surprised, and then his expression turned to disappointment. "Should'a thought of that. Woulda saved getting bit."
Even Father smiled at that, and Vincent and Catherine looked at each other, trying very hard not to laugh.
Mary came down the stairs and walked slowly up to the boy. At first he flinched but did not run, too interested in his chocolate bar, which was quickly disappearing. Mary lifted her hand to the boy's long sandy hair, and like a frightened puppy he cringed, his eyes wild, but did not try to flee.
When Mary touched the boy's head, she looked over at Mouse and spoke softly so as not to frighten the child. "Mouse, why is this child soaking wet?"
Mouse looked away guiltily.
"Mouse!" Father said softly with authority.
Mouse squirmed and turned his back.
"Mouse, what did you do?" Father asked, and everyone in the room had a suspicion they knew the answer.
Mouse let out a gusty breath, his look unrepentant as he stated with a shrug "He stunk."
"And …" Father prompted
Hunching his shoulders, as though sure he was going to be reprimanded again, Mouse finished. "Threw him in the water. Made him swim." Then he brightened. "Washed off most of the stink though." Mouse was smiling now with satisfaction of a job well done.
Mary had been gently murmuring to the boy as Mouse was interrogated. "Well, I think we can do a better job. Come with me, young man and we will clean you up properly."
"Clean you up properly," the feral child repeated. Shivering, he went quietly with Mary, licking the now empty candy wrapper.
When they had left, Father demanded "Mouse, how could you?"
Vincent and Catherine could hold back no longer. They both burst out laughing.
Mouse took this as the reprieve he'd been waiting for, and said. "Not a bad swimmer once he went under a few times."
Gales of laughter filled the room, as even Father had to turn away and put a hand over his mouth.
A month later Vincent met Catherine for a walk in the park, and arm in arm they walked along the deserted paths.
"How's Skunk doing?"
Vincent stopped and looked down at her enquiringly.
"Well, that is what they're calling him, isn't it?" she added
Laughing softly, he resumed walking. "Yes, it is, and he is finally losing the aroma that gave him that name." Then he frowned. "For some of us at least."
"But not for you?"
"No," he said, with a regretful shake of his head. "Sometimes, I find there are advantages for me and at others … disadvantages." And Catherine couldn't help but smile. She knew that Vincent's sensitive nose was still affected by the boy.
"Mouse took the boy to meet Elisabeth, and she is teaching him to paint, given the appearance of his drawings all over the tunnel walls. It will be good for the boy to be able to learn how to express himself properly and in an appropriate place." he said with a wry grin.
"So there is graffiti all over the tunnel walls?" Catherine asked, with a barely controlled giggle.
"Yes. They are crude, but Elisabeth says he has talent."
"How is Mouse coping?"
Another soft laugh, "Mouse and Skunk have become inseparable."
She stopped with surprise, looking up at him. "Really?"
"Why are you so surprised, Catherine? I would have thought it natural for two of a kind to become friends."
"After what Mouse did to him?"
"Especially after what Mouse did. Skunk was accustomed to rough treatment and respects it. He looks at Mouse the way a faithful hound would his master, and Mouse, I think … is pleased to have a brother."
Looking up at the deep blue of Vincent's eyes, Catherine said, "Yes, I suppose they are like brothers."
"Yes ... they are" he said looking down at her with all the love he felt for her in his eyes. Taking her hand and placing it in the crook of his arm, he said, "Come, I will show you some of Skunk's art work." And they made their way to the culvert and Below to see the new addition to the family and his blossoming talent.