A Simple Sneeze

Patricia Rogers


Vincent, Kanin, Winslow and a few of the others, were busy clearing a small rock fall in one of the satellite tunnels. Everything was going to plan, and there had been no problems, as they all worked together as a team. Then, just as Vincent stooped to get his canteen for a drink, Kaninís foot slipped on a small rock, which sent up a cloud of dust. Straight up Vincentís nose, which of course made him sneeze. Very hard. And as he went to straighten up, he found he couldnít for a couple of seconds.

"You okay Vincent?" Kanin asked, as heíd seen him pause for a moment.

"Yes, Iím fine," he replied, as he straightened.

But he wasnít, because heíd felt a decided twinge. But of course, being Vincent (and extremely stubborn) he didnít want to make a fuss. And as the day wore on, it got steadily worse. Then, just as he was going to say that it was time they were heading home (because it was becoming unbearable) Kanin (who had been watching him covertly, and realised that something was wrong) spoke.

"Well, I guess itís about time we packed in. Itís been a long day, and I for one have had enough!"

Vincent sent up a silent prayer of thanks that he hadnít had to say anything.

As they headed home, Vincent hung back, and Kanin dropped back too. No one commented, because they just assumed that the two of them had something to discuss.

Now Kanin was not the sort of person to beat about the bush, so he asked Vincent outright. "You hurt your back, didnít you?"

Vincent was just going to deny it, when he saw the look on Kaninís face. The sort of look that said, "Donít even think about it!"

"Yes," he admitted, "but I donít think itís anything serious. Please donít say anything to Father, because heíll only make a fuss."

"Alright, I wonít, but if it does get any worse, promise me youíll tell him."

"I promise. Now letís get back and Iíll go soak in the hot pool for a while. Thatís sure to help...I hope," he murmured under his breath.

But, unfortunately, it didnít.

The next morning it wasnít any easier, and it took him longer than usual to get dressed. But he was still determined not to say anything, despite his discomfort. And fortunately Kanin had already left the dining chamber when Vincent got there for his breakfast.

Unfortunately, (for Vincent that is) Father was still there and he commented on Vincent being late for breakfast. But just as he was going to make some excuse, one of the children came running up, and said something about Father having to come straight away.

Vincent breathed a sigh of relief. But it would have been short lived if he had seen the look on Fatherís face, which said that he would "get to the bottom of this." Because he knew instinctively (as fathers do) that Vincent had been about to make some sort of excuse, because he had sensed his hesitation. But Vincent managed to avoid him for the rest of the morning. In fact, he managed to avoid everyone. Until, as he rounded a bend, Samantha ran full tilt into him, and he had to get hold of her to stop her falling. And in doing so, he jerked his back.

"Samantha," he began, more sharply than he intended, and then he stopped, as he watched in dismay as her bottom lip began to tremble, and her eyes filled with tears. "Samantha," he said again, but more gently this time. But it was too late, as she turned and ran from him. "Iím sorry," he called after her, but she took no notice, and he didnít know if she had heard him or not.

Then things came to a head. He had managed to reach his chamber without being seen, and thought he was safe, when he heard a bit of a ruckus outside. He had just decided to ignore it, when he heard his name mentioned, and several of the tunnel dwellers came into his chamber, uninvited. And they all seemed to be talking at once.  Vincent had had enough. He threw back his head and roared. There was instant silence as they all stared at him, stunned.

"I donít know what this is all about, and quite frankly I donít care. Now if youíll all please leave my chamber, and let me have some peace!"

And as one, they turned and exited the chamber. Which left Vincent feeling slightly guilty. For about two minutes. "After all," he said to himself, "Iím entitled to a bit of privacy and peace."

Meanwhile, outside the chamber, Kanin was just passing, and heíd heard Vincent roar.

"What just happened then?" he asked.

"I donít know," he was told, "Vincent lost it."

Instantly Kanin knew what was wrong, and he decided to pay Father a visit. And Father, having heard the roar, was just about to pay Vincent a visit. As they met at the entrance to Fatherís chamber, Father said, "Ah, Kanin, I was just going to see if Vincent is all right."

"You donít need to," he replied. "I know whatís wrong with him. Letís go back inside, and Iíll tell you." So he explained that Vincent had hurt his back, but not how. "Iíll let Vincent tell you that, Ďcos I donít think heíll thank me if I do!"

When Father reached Vincentís chamber, he paused at the entrance and called out, "Vincent, is it alright if I come in?"

Vincent heaved a sigh, because he knew that the time of reckoning was almost upon him. "Of course you can."

Now Father had no intention of letting Vincent have time to make up an excuse, so he came straight to the point. "Kanin just told me that you hurt your back."

"Kanin has a big mouth," Vincent muttered.

Father couldnít believe what Vincent had just said. "I donít believe you just said that," he told him, outraged.

"Neither do I, and I apologise."

"Well, have you hurt your back?"

"Yes, but itís nothing serious."

"So when did you become a doctor?"

Vincent chose to ignore that. "Truly, it is nothing."

"At least tell me how you hurt it, and I might be able to give you something herbal to relieve the pain," Father asked him.

Vincent dropped his head. "I sneezed," he mumbled.

Now Father wasnít quite sure that heíd heard aright. "You did what?"

Vincent lifted his head, and gave his parent a look that defied him to laugh, or make any comment. "I sneezed," he ground out, and he turned away.

Father quickly changed a chuckle into a cough."Well, if you wonít let me examine you, at least go to bed and rest. Youíll do that much wonít you?"

"Yes Father, I will."

"You promise."

"Yes Father."

"Good, Iíll pop back later and see how you are," Father told him.

Vincent sighed, because he knew it was no use whatsoever arguing! So he got himself undressed and into bed.

The problem was, that once folks knew that Vincent had hurt himself, they kept popping by to see if he needed anything. He knew that they meant well, but all he wanted to do was to be left alone, so he could get some sleep. So he hit on a plan. The next person who disturbed him was greeted with a soft growl, and as he hoped, it seemed to do the trick. Even Father got the same treatment, so he decided to leave well enough alone.

Meanwhile, up Above, Catherine had just returned from a trip that she had had to make, to get a deposition from a witness. So of course she had no idea about what had been going on. As she let herself into her apartment she fully expected Vincent to be on her balcony, because he always knew when she was back, and was surprised (and a bit disappointed) that he wasnít there. So she decided to go and see him. As she was walking along the tunnels she met Daniel.

"Hi Catherine," he greeted her.

"Hello Daniel," she replied.

"Er, are you going to see Vincent?" he asked, hesitantly.

"Yes, of course I am," she answered, wondering why he had seemed to hesitate.

"Well perhaps youíd better go see Father first," he told her.

" Why, whatís wrong. Is something the matter with Vincent?" she asked anxiously.

"Just go see Father," he told her again, and hurried off.

By now she was thoroughly alarmed, and she headed straight for Fatherís chamber. When she reached it she didnít stand on ceremony, but she just went straight in. As she entered, Father saw her and had just started to greet her, when she cut him short. "Father, Iíve just seen Daniel, and when he knew that I was going to visit Vincent, he told me to see you first. Is anything wrong?"

"Catherine, my dear, come and sit down," he told her.

"I donít want to sit down, I want to know whatís wrong with Vincent."

"Heís hurt his back," he began, but she cut him short again.

"How did he hurt it?" she asked.

"He sneezed."

"He sneezed!" she repeated.

"Yes, but I donít think that itís too serious, although he wonít let me examine him. And at the moment heís acting like a bear with a sore head."

"Hardly a bear," she replied with a giggle.

"No, not quite," Father replied, with a chuckle of his own, as he realised what he had said. "But heís certainly growling like one."

"Anyway, Iím going to see him now," she told him.

"Good luck," he replied, "youíll need it."

She turned to leave, and was suddenly struck by a thought. "By the way, howís he been managing for food and drink?" she asked.

"Oh, heís been letting Mary visit him, but sheís the only one."

"Thatís alright then. Iíll see you in a while."

She returned sooner than he expected, but he was not really surprised. "You were right," she told him. "He sent me away with a flea in my ear. Not a very big one, but a flea nonetheless!"

"Then itís about time that we do something," he told her.

"Yes, I agree, but what?"

He thought for a few moments, and then he suddenly said,  "Sui Lin."

"Who, or what, is Sui Lin?" she asked, intrigued.

"Sui Lin is a very skilful Oriental lady, well versed in the ancient arts of healing. What you would call alternative medicine."

"She sounds exactly what we need, but will Vincent let her treat him?"

"She is also a very forceful lady, and besides, his natural courtesy wonít allow him to be rude to her," he told her.

At that moment Catherine smothered a yawn, and said, "But itís getting late, I think Iíd better go now, and come back in the morning. Iíll Ďphone Joe and tell him I wonít be in." Then she suddenly remembered that it was Friday, so thereíd be no problem.

"Itís very late Catherine," he said, "you can stay the night in the guest chamber, if you like."

"That would be great," she replied.

"Iíll call Mary," he began.

"No, thereís no need to disturb her, I know where everything is, thank you. Goodnight Father."

"Goodnight Catherine, sleep well."

Catherine was up early the next morning, and she made her way straight to Fatherís chamber. "Good morning, Father," she greeted him.

"Good morning Catherine. Did you sleep well?" he asked.

"Yes, fine thanks," she replied. 

Then with the courtesies taken care of, they got down to business. "Now Father, how do I get in touch with Sui Lin?" So he gave her precise directions, and when sheíd had her breakfast, she went straight Above. And because heíd been so precise, she found Sui Lin without any problems at all.

Sui Lin owned a little shop that was down a side street, and when Catherine reached it, she paused for a moment and peered in the window. But the panes were quite thick, and she couldnít see inside. So, taking a deep breath, she went inside. The first thing that struck her was the wonderful smell, and the second was that it was like stepping back in time to her childhood. Because it was exactly like a little herbal shop that she used to visit sometimes with her Grandma!

She was so wrapped up in her memories that she failed to hear someone come up behind her, and when a voice said, "Good morning, how may I help you?" she nearly jumped out of her skin. She spun round, her heart pounding, and standing in front of her was a little Chinese lady who couldnít have been have been more than five foot tall. But what she lacked in height, she made up for it in girth. In fact she was as nearly as broad as she was long! And Catherine liked her immediately, even though she didnít know her.

"Iím sorry I made you jump," she apologised.

"Thatís quite alright," Catherine told her, "itís my fault for daydreaming."

"Shall we start again?" Sui Lin asked.

"Yes, I think we should," Catherine replied with a grin.

Sui Lin bowed slightly and said, "My name is Sui Lin, and you are?"

"Catherine Chandler."

"How may I help you, Ms.Chandler?"

"Catherine, please. We both have a very good friend."

"Vincent."

"Yes. Heís hurt his back, but of course, being Vincent, he wonít let anyone fuss over him."

"I quite understand, heís always been the same. How did he hurt it, do you know?" she asked.

"Yes," Catherine replied. "He sneezed."

"That is quite common," Sui Lin told her.

"I didnít realise," Catherine replied.

"So. Now weíll go, and I will sort him out!" And the way that she said it had Catherine feeling a tad sorry for Vincent, because she realised that Sui Lin was indeed a very forceful lady.

On their way Below, Catherine and Sui Lin talked (obviously) about Vincent, and Catherine realised just how much Sui Lin loved him. They had decided that they would visit Father first, to discuss the best course of action.

When they reached Fatherís chamber, he greeted Sui Lin very warmly. "Sui Lin, welcome. Itís been a long time since youíve visited."

"Yes, it has." she replied. "I just never seem to have had the time. Always too busy I guess, but I shall make time in future. I forgot what a wonderful place it is here."

"You know that you are always welcome any time."

"I know that. Now, about that stubborn son of yours!"

Meanwhile, in his chamber, Vincent knew immediately when Catherine had returned. And he also knew, as he knew the moon shone at night, that she would be visiting him again, and he felt guilty about the way he had treated her previously. But he was determined that this time he wouldnít be in bed, and most definitely not in his nightclothes. So he got himself out of bed, very slowly, and thought about what he would be able to put on. And he decided straight away that it might be awkward to get into his normal attire, so he opted for a pair of jogging bottoms and a sweatshirt, that Catherine had given him some time previously. He also knew that he wouldnít be able to get his boots on either, so he just pulled some socks on, and didnít realise just how utterly gorgeous he looked.

He had just finished dressing, when Catherine called from the chamber entrance, "Vincent, is it alright if we come in?"

"Of course it is," he answered, wondering who was with her.

And he was delighted, and just a touch wary, when he saw who it was. "Sui Lin, itís nice to see you again, itís been a long time. Too long. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" he asked her.

Catherine saw instantly that Sui Lin was not going to be swayed by his charm and again she felt a bit sorry for him.

"You know exactly why Iím here, young man," she told him, and Catherine had to stifle a giggle as Vincent dropped his head, looking for all the world like a naughty school boy caught with his hand in the biscuit barrel. Then Catherine quickly revised that opinion as she realised what he was wearing, and her mouth went dry.

"Good Lord, Vincent," she said to herself, "I wonder if you know just how utterly sexy you look in that outfit?" and then answered herself straightaway, "Of course you donít!"

"Yes I do," he admitted, "but there is really no need."

Catherine blinked, and then realised that he was talking to Sui Lin.

"Iíll be the judge of that," she told him. "Now, take that shirt off, and sit on this stool."

Vincent started to say that it really wasnít necessary, when she pinned him with a look that brooked no argument, and he gave a resigned sigh. Now Vincent was usually shy when it came to letting anyone see him minus any clothing, but he knew it was pointless to try and get out of it as far as Sui Lin was concerned, so he complied, albeit reluctantly!  

And Catherineís mouth went dry again, as she was confronted by a vision of such beauty that it took her breath away. She realised that Vincent wasnít altogether comfortable with her seeing him as he was, but she just couldnít stop herself from looking at every wonderful inch of him. He was every bit as gorgeous as she had imagined, and fantasized about. His chest was broad and tapered down to a narrow waist, and his muscles rippled as he moved. And he was covered, thicker in some places than others, with red/gold hair. Or was it fur? Whichever, Catherine wanted to stroke it wondering if it was as soft as it looked!

And Vincent, who had been watching her closely for any sign of revulsion at his differences, was amazed at the rapt look on her face, and realised that she actually liked what she saw.

Then Sui Lin broke the spell, "Come on Vincent, on the stool now please."

So he lowered himself onto the stool, and Sui Lin stood behind him. Next she directed him to lean forward slightly, and when he did she ran her hand down the length of his spine, pressing quite firmly. Suddenly he jumped slightly and sucked in his breath, and she knew she had found the source of the problem. "I thought as much," she said. "This calls for *Tui Na."

"What exactly is Tui Na?" Vincent asked, puzzled.

"A type of massage," she told him. Then leaving him still sitting on the stool, she went over to his bed, and to his (and Catherineís) utter amazement, she started pulling the covers off!

Vincent started to protest. "Sui LinÖ" But she cut him short.

"Donít worry, I havenít gone crazy," she told him. "You need treatmentÖ"

"I donít thinkÖ" he started to say.

"And your bed is too high for me, and too soft," she said. "So you must lie on the floor, and as it might be cold and definitely uncomfortable, Iím going to make a pad of your bedcovers." And she proceeded to do just that. When she had arranged everything to her satisfaction, she directed him to lie down on his stomach. Which he did, reluctantly.

"This isnít going to hurt, is it?" he asked her.

"Well, it might hurt a bit," she told him. "But Iím sure a big tough guy like you can stand it." Catherine had to stifle another giggle, at the thought of a little body like Sui Lin being able to hurt Vincent. But she was to be proved wrong!

Sui Lin started to work on his back, and Catherine winced at some of the things she was doing, because to her it looked extremely painful. But Vincent bore it stoically, deciding that it wasnít too painful after all.

Then suddenly, Catherine (who had been watching closely) saw that Sui Lin seemed to pause at one particular spot, and wondered why. She soon found out, as without any warning, Sui Lin pressed down very hard on that place on his spine, and Catherine heard an audible "clunk." A roar of pain followed instantly from Vincent, which reverberated round the chamber, causing Catherine to wince. Sui Lin got to her feet, and so did Vincent, and Catherine could see that he was furious. She braced herself for the outburst, feeling sorry for Sui Lin.

"Have you any sense at all, or are you trying to do me permanent damage?" he began, and then stopped as he realised Sui Lin was looking at him with a very smug grin on her face. He was just about to ask her about that grin, when he realised that he was standing upright. And apart from being slightly stiff from the way he had been holding himself to ease his back, there was no pain. A wry little smile touched his mouth, as Sui Lin came to stand in front of him. Catherine had to stifle genuine laughter at the picture they presented. Sui Lin, at barely five foot, squared up to Vincent at six foot two!

"Well?" she demanded.

"Yes thank you," he replied.

"Donít be facetious, it doesnít suit you. You know exactly what I meant."

"Yes Sui Lin, I do know what you meant, and I apologise for losing my temper with you. I just couldnít resist teasing you a little; you looked soÖ feisty."

Catherine was amazed that he even knew that word, never mind that heíd used it. Then she realised that Sui Lin was speaking again.

"What you need now Vincent, is another massageÖ" she began.

"I think Iíll pass on that!" he replied.

"No, a very gentle, relaxing session, to get rid of any lingering stiffness."

"Only if you promise that it definitely wonít hurt this time," he said, giving her a mischievous grin.

Sui Lin put her hand on her heart, and barely able to suppress a chuckle, she said, "I promise." She had half decided to give him an aromatherapy massage, but she had second thoughts when she realised that it wouldnít be practical, considering the amount of hair he had on his back. So she decided to use *baby powder instead, because she knew it would wash out quite easily.

"Are you ready Vincent?" she asked him.

"Yes, I am," he replied, and lay down again.

She began the massage and Catherine watched as Sui Linís hands kneaded and rubbed his back, and she wished with every inch of her being that she was the one doing it! Suddenly she had a brainwave, and she said to Sui Lin, "Sui Lin, do you think you could teach me to do that?"

Vincent was just about to protest, when Sui Lin said, "I think that would be an excellent idea. At least, I could teach you the basics."

He caught Catherineís eye, and shook his head slightly, but she merely smiled sweetly at him, and he knew that it was hopeless. He would just have to bear it!

"Now Catherine, I usually stand at the clientís side to do this, but as Vincent is on the floor," she said, "you might find it easier to straddle him."*

Vincent could not prevent the slight groan that escaped, but luckily Catherine appeared not to have heard it, as she knelt astride him, scarcely able to believe her luck. Then with Sui Linís guidance she began the massage, and she couldnít believe how incredibly soft his hair/fur was, because she was still undecided as to which it was. But whichever it was, it felt wonderful.

Now Vincent had been enjoying the massage when Sui Lin had been doing it, but it was totally different with Catherine. He tried telling himself that it was no different, (and had almost convinced himself of that fact) when he realised that he was getting stiff in a totally different place. Just as he was trying to figure out how to get himself out of his dilemma, to his utter relief Sui Lin spoke. "I think that will do now Catherine." And he was truly thankful for the fact that he was wearing the jogging bottoms, because of course they were quite baggy!

Sui Lin spoke again. "What you need now is a shower to wash all that baby powder off your back," she told him. Then glancing at her watch, she realised how late it was, and she said that it was time she was going back Above. "But first Iíll just go and say "Goodnight" to Father."

"Would you like me to take you back up?" Vincent asked her, because he was getting slightly uneasy at the way Catherine was looking at him.

"No, there is no need," she told him. "Iím sure someone will be happy to do it. Goodnight Vincent, Goodnight Catherine."

"Goodnight Sui Lin," they said in unison. He turned to Catherine and said, "It is getting late, and perhaps you could stay in the guest chamber tonight."

Catherine jumped for joy mentally, while she maintained a neutral look outwardly. "Yes, that would be nice," she replied. "I am tired, and wasnít looking forward to the long trek back Above. Goodnight Vincent." She turned to leave the chamber, and then paused as if she had forgotten something.

"Have you forgotten something Catherine?" he asked.

"No," she told him. "But I was just wondering if you needed a hand to get some of the excess powder off your back, before you shower, in case it gets matted up." She didnít think it was likely, but she wasnít about to tell him that. "I could brush it out for you."

Unfortunately he saw through her ploy, and he said, "No, I donít think that will be necessary, thank you."

She took the bull by the horns. " Come on Vincent, Iím not going to bite you."

"Itís not biting Iím worried about," he told her, with a little smile playing on his lips.

"Please Vincent, I promise Iíll behave myself."

He saw the look of longing on her face, and sighed deeply, realizing that he couldnít deny her.

He crossed to his dresser and picked up his brush, and gave it wordlessly to her.

He knew from the start that it was going to be extremely difficult for him just to sit there, and submit to her ministrations, but he didnít realise just how difficult! And Catherine knew that it was going to take all her willpower not to grab a hold of him, and ravish him. But she also knew that she must tread warily, for fear of losing any chance to take their relationship further. Unfortunately, she completely forgot about the Bond, and that he knew what she was feeling, until she realised that he had tensed, and she kicked herself mentally. So, acting like little Miss Innocent herself, she asked, "Is anything wrong Vincent?"

He didnít answer her straight away, and she thought to herself, "Youíve just blown it big time Chandler," and then he stood and faced her and said, "I think you know whatís wrong!"

"IÖ" she began, and then stopped as she saw the look of mischief on his face.

"It seems to me," he said, "that there are two ways to relieve tension. One is a good massage, and the otherÖ" "Which would you prefer?"

Her mouth went dry, and she had trouble speaking. When she finally could she said, "Definitely the other, but are you sure. Itís one helluva big step to take."

"I am absolutely sure, but are you," he asked her seriously, all trace of humour gone.

"Vincent, I have never been more sure of anything in my life," she told him fervently.

"Well thenÖ" he paused. "But you will have to teach me, because I have neverÖ"

"I think I could manage that," she replied.

So she did, very thoroughly. And to her delight, he turned out to be an extremely apt pupil, turning the tables on her with a speed that left her breathless!

Much later. They were lying with limbs entangled, thoroughly satiated, when suddenly Catherine giggled.

"What is amusing you so, my love?" he asked her.

"I just had an amazing thought," she answered.

"Which wasÖ?"

"That we have finally got to this point, as the result of a simple sneeze!"

The End.

* Tui Na is an actual Chinese/Japanese therapy, but anything else is purely imagination.