Guy woke up from his last bit of sleep when he felt a soft warmth stirring against him. He blinked his eyes and saw Cani smiling at him. 'Morning, cutie.' he whispered.
'Morning, lover.' she said and gave him a long kiss. 'I'm going down to help mom and dad set up breakfast for us.'
'I'll be down soon too.' said Guy and watched the heap of arms and heads covering his body. 'As soon as I can untangle myself.'
Cani chuckled. 'Good luck.' she said and got up, dressed quickly and went out of the apartment they used while they were at her parents.
Guy tried to slowly pull himself from under the collection of limbs but soon enough Ara woke up and pushed him down with one of her legs on his chest. 'You're not getting away that easily.' she said and yawned.
Mami stretched and yawned. 'She's right.' she said and cupped Guy's cheek. 'You have a responsibility to make our mornings a good thing.'
Guy chuckled and put his hand on Mami's. 'So, how can I do that?'
She and Ara smiled sleepily devious at him.
'Good morning.' said Guy when he met Natalie and Tobias downstairs at the garden later.
'Morning.' said Natalie while Tobias was counting his squats.
'Training?' Guy asked.
'There's a short marathon coming up soon and Tobias is running to support the good cause.' Natalie said. 'It's to create centres for the elderly and younger kids to get together while the parents work.'
'Ohh, is it that time again?' said Cani who entered the garden behind Guy. 'This is the third time he's running then.'
'Really?' asked Guy.
Cani nodded. 'He won the other two times.'
'Nice.' Guy said. 'I only did a marathon during my last year in school. Ended up in third place, even if I hadn't really trained for it.'
Cani's ears pricked up. 'Why not participate in this one?' she said and looked at Natalie who liked that idea and smiled.
'Yes!' said Natalie. 'Having a human run in it for the first time will make for great publicity! The organisation will love it!'
'Ah, wai-' started Guy when Tobias snorted.
'A weakling human run a marathon with our kind?' he said. 'He'll never make it.'
'And why not?' said Cani before Guy could say anything again. 'Guy's definitely no weakling and he'll give you a run for the money.'
'Hah!' said Tobias again. 'That, I'd have to see.'
Guy held up his hand but Cani stepped in front of him. 'Okay, you will!' she said. 'He'll participate and when he's beaten you, you will eat your words.'
'Okay then, bring it on!' Tobias said and started his morning run. 'Make sure you have a doctor ready for him!' he shouted over his shoulder.
'You just get ready to lose big time!' Cani shouted after him as he jogged out of the gate.
'Oh, this will be exciting!' Natalie said.
'Let's go sign Guy up.' Cani said and walked inside with Natalie, discussing what they'd need to get ready.
Guy sighed. 'I'm going to have more of these mornings, right?'
The organisation loved the idea and the news that a human would participate in a canine event for the first time brought in a lot of attention and sponsor money for the cause.
'You certainly know how to stir things up.' said Mami as she handed him his water bottle at the runners tent near the start of the marathon course.
'But I didn't!' said Guy. 'Cani started it.'
'You sure have been training a lot during these five days though.' she said, checking the sports bag with supplies. 'Not something an unwilling person would do.'
'I can't very well slack off now, can I?' he said and took a sip of water. 'It's become a major publicity event, and I can't set a bad example for humans.'
Mami nodded. 'You're already a bad example because you got yourself intimately involved with five other species already.'
He looked at her with wide eyes. 'But..'
She gave him a sly smile. 'So you'd better make up for that and prove your man's worth by winning.' she said and gave him a kiss. 'For good luck.' she added and walked away with the bag to bring it to the car.
Guy chuckled and took another sip while watching the rest of the runners. Every generation was present from older children to older folk. Just about everyone did it for fun. Only Tobias seemed extra eager to win this.
He was at the van with Natalie doing some active stretching. A few people from the local press were talking to Cani and Feli. They kept them away from him for now so he could prepare for the run in relative peace. Ara and Avia were close to them. Ara gave him a wink and Avia a quick wave when they saw he was looking at them. He gave them a smile and wave back, then noticed a couple of the older female runners watching him and sniggering.
With an embarrassed soft groan he drank the rest of his water.
'Ready to lose?' said Tobias at the starting line next to Guy.
The organisation had put him at the front to give the press some good pictures.
'Don't trip over your own tail.' said Guy sideways while trying to keep a cheerful look on his face.
'And with this I pronounce the sixth marathon as started!' the head of the organisation said after a short word of thanks and fired the gun.
Tobias sped off at once but Guy didn't give him the chance to gain a lot of distance on him.
'Don't run out of breath now!' Tobias said when Guy caught up to him and increased the pace.
'If you keep talking instead of running you'll be out of breath yourself!' said Guy and overtook him.
Tobias ran harder again. 'Like a human could outrun us!'
'You'd be surprised!' Guy said, overtaking him again and within a few moments the runners in front of the group shook their heads at the two who were sprinting away from them.
'Just.., give up.., already..' panted Tobias, his tongue hanging out while running on his last legs a short while later when they entered the forest.
'You.., first..' panted Guy, forcing himself to keep running.
'You.., humans.., are so.., stubborn..' panted Tobias, his feet getting so heavy he slowed down.
'Only.., when.., needed..' Guy panted, nearly stumbling.
'You.., are.., not.., going to.., make.., it..,' wheezed Tobias, slowing down even more. 'finish.., line..'
'I'll..,' wheezed Guy at Tobias's side. 'before.., you..'
The two slowed down to walking speed, then trudged for a short distance before slowing down to a crawl and crash another moment later against a thick tree on the side of the path. They tried to catch their breath and ignore the numbness in their legs for a while before Guy had the energy to see where they were.
'Did we.., go the right.., way?' he panted, leaning back against the tree.
Tobias turned around. 'The route.., is marked..' he panted and looked at the sides of the path. 'There..' He gestured with a tired swing from his arm. 'Arrow..'
Guy saw the red arrow on a short pole a little further and nodded. 'Kay..' he said. 'Let's go.. Before others catch up.., and see us..'
Tobias nodded in agreement and leaning against each other they staggered forward, overlooking the sign they had just passed that warned about the dangers in the forest in the direction of the red arrows, and the green arrow from the marathon route just in front of it that pointed to the path to the right.
It took a while but eventually both Tobias and Guy regained their normal running speed and called a truce. At least until they saw the finish line.
'There.' said Tobias and nodded towards a red arrow.
'We have to go there?' asked Guy when he saw it was a small path leading into a darker part of the forest.
Tobias shrugged. 'Maybe they decided to make it more interesting and add in a little cross country?'
'Okay then.' Guy said and ran up the path after Tobias.
The path went right and left through the trees, was flanked with thorny bushes at one point and they had to duck a few times to avoid low hanging branches.
'You sure we're going the right way?' Guy asked.
'Of course!' Tobias said, jumping over a large tree root. 'It's always simply follow the arrows.' He grinned. 'If this is too much for you you can always give up and wait for the rest.'
'You wish!' Guy said.
The path ended up at a clearing next to a low hill and they slowed down for a moment.
'Whereto now?' Guy said. 'Do you see any arrows?'
Tobias looked around and couldn't see any, but he spotted a sign a few metres from the entrance of a cave. 'Maybe there.' he said and pointed at it. 'We probably need to go in there.'
'Right.' Guy said, still looking around. 'You know, I had expected to see at least some people along the route.'
'Afraid to run the track alone?' grinned Tobias.
'No.' Guy said. 'It's just, not what I'm used to with our marathons.'
'You're in Canine territory now.' said Tobias. 'Forget your silly human ways!'
'I still say something's-' Guy said when they heard a growl.
They stopped at the sign which said "WARNING! GROUCHY BEAR! DO NOT GO NEAR!".
'Tobias?' Guy said, staring at the sign.
'Yes, Guy?' Tobias said, staring at the same sign.
Another roar sounded and the head of a big brown bear appeared from the cave entrance.
'I suggest we run.' Guy said.
'I agree.' said Tobias and they scrambled towards the edge of the clearing.
'There!' said Guy and pointed at an opening in the trees. 'Path!'
'Yes!' Tobias said and sprinted with the bear close behind him.
They rushed along the path but despite it being narrow the bear didn't give up, running and growling right on their heels.
'Guy!' Tobias shouted. 'It's gaining on us!' The bear growled again. 'And by we, I mean it's gaining on me!'
Guy tried to think of something to chase the bear away with, or distract it with, but all he could imagine for that to work was food. His face brightened and he unzipped the pouch he wore.
'Tobias!' he said. 'Natalie gave you energy bars, right!?'
'Yes!' said Tobias, the hairs in his neck standing up when he thought he could feel the bear's breath touching his back. 'But this is no time to start eating!'
'Not us!' said Guy and unwrapped the bars he had. 'Thrown them to the bear!'
Tobias blinked. 'Oh, right!' he said and hurried to get the bars out of his pouch, unwrap them and toss them behind him while Guy tossed his over his shoulder.
The bear screeched to a halt, sniffed at the bars and sat down to eat them.
Tobias and Guy stopped running only much later when they crossed a wider path on their way.
Wheezing loud Guy pointed back at the path they came from.
Tobias wheezed back and shook his head.
Guy wheezed and gestured along the wider path, Tobias wheezed and nodded, then trod along it with Guy.
'It must have been a coincidence.' said Tobias later when they could run again.
'It better be.' said Guy.
'Look, there's the route again.' said Tobias at the next red arrow.
'At least this time it's a normal path.' said Guy.
'Don't be a wuss.' said Tobias.
'If we encounter another wild animal, I don't have any food left to save you.' Guy said. 'Remember that.'
'It'll be fine.' said Tobias. 'It's mostly squirrels and bugs here. You're not afraid of bugs, are you?'
'Bugs, no.' Guy said and blew at a bee flying in front of his face to chase it away. 'I just don't like anything that might sting though.'
Tobias saw one flying in front of him. 'You worried about a bee or two here?' he said and grinned.
'Not one or two.' said Guy, watching another bee fly next to him.
'Do all humans worry as much as you?' Tobias said, watching several bees fly around a cluster of flowers they passed.
'Most do when there's a reason to.' Guy said as he slowed down a little while noticing more bees around them.
Tobias slowed down with him. 'You know, I get a funny feeling in the back of my head.'
They jogged slowly forward while the amount of buzzing in the air became louder. They stopped at a small clearing while they looked around nervously at the cloud of black and yellow insect surrounding them.
'Tobias?' Guy whispered.
Guy gestured back over his shoulder at several rows of wooden boxes crawling with bees. 'I think I know what's going on.'
Tobias looked behind Guy and nodded. 'Yeah, I think that might be it.'
A bee flew right in front of Guy's face. 'I think we'd better move on. Carefully.'
'Agreed.' Tobias said while he looked cross-eyed at a bee who had landed on top of his muzzle. 'Very careful. Absolutely no sudden movements.'
The two tiptoed in turtle pace away from the hives until they heard not a single buzz anywhere near them, then darted off.
Panting hard they reached another crossing and Guy stared at the arrow planted there. 'You know, I don't trust these things much.'
'But there aren't any other signs around.' Tobias said. 'These must be the ones. Maybe someone put those hives there after the route had been set up.'
'Maybe.' Guy said but he doubted it.
'Let's just follow them for now anyway.' Tobias said. 'If we do come across other signs or we see people we can always ask.'
Guy nodded. 'Okay then. Let's go see where we end up this time. Staying here won't help us.'
The guys picked up the pace and even felt more confident after running a while without getting into another weird situation. The path went along the side of a hill and they had a nice view of an open area beneath them while their feet got some rest with the softer ground they now ran on.
'Those look like raspberry bushes like we have at home.' said Guy as he took notice of the small bright red fruits in the bushes. 'I used to eat those in the wild until I got sick.' He chuckled. 'Then repeat it when I felt better.'
'These bloodberries are edible too.' Tobias said. 'Very sweet.'
'I'll have to try those later then.' Guy said. 'Raspberry bushes had plenty of fruit, but if the outside of the bush had nothing left there was more on the inside if you could live with the drawback.'
'What drawback?' Tobias asked.
'They're full of nasty thorns.' Guy said, remembering how painful some days had been.
'Ah, these have-' Tobias started when the ground underneath their feet suddenly gave way.
Both cried out when part of the path slid down the hill taking them with it. They grabbed at anything in reach but all they got was loose earth coming down. Until they reached the bushes below.
'Tobias?' Guy groaned while he looked up at the sky as he lay on his back in the thick bloodberry bushes.
'Guy?' Tobias groaned.
'You wanted to say these bushes have thorns too, right?' Guy groaned feeling like a pincushion with sunburn on a bed of nails.
'Good guess.' Tobias groaned as he felt like being wrapped up in electric barbed wire because of the thin branches stuck in his fur.
'I think I'm less enthusiastic about trying these berries now.' Guy said.
'I think I'll stick to meat on my bread from now on too.' Tobias said.
After some time picking thorns out of each other like monkeys picking flees, Tobias and Guy went on.
'This is not a marathon, it's a survival course.' said Guy.
'I'm beginning to agree.' said Tobias. 'Let's just find our way to the finish.'
Tobias estimated the direction they had to take and they went through the forest, stepping deep into a hidden large mud patch once, getting attacked by a bunch of squirrels, almost sneezing their noses from their faces when they stumbled upon a field of flowers that pollinated through exploding stems, until they finally stumbled upon a path Tobias recognised.
A short jog further they saw the finish line.
'Thank goodness.' Guy said, red-eyed and tired, dried mud itching his legs. 'We made it.'
'Yeah.' said Tobias, his nose itching and his ears stinging from the squirrel bites. 'And it's not very busy. Seems we're still the first.'
They jogged on a little further, then were off with all the strength they could muster.
'You're still going to lose!' Tobias said.
'Don't think you can win from a human that easily!' Guy said.
Both struggled to stay on their feet as they ran head to head and blind towards the finish banner. They heard the crowd cheering and give it all in their last sprint before crossing the line, together. And the crowd went silent when they dropped down on the ground, wheezing hard.
'I.., won..' wheezed Tobias, rolling on his back.
'You.., wish..' Guy wheezed. 'I.., did..'
They noticed the people around them staring in confusion.
'Guy?' Tobias panted.
Guy swallowed. 'Yes?'
'Why.., are they.., staring at us?' Tobias panted.
'There you are!' Mami said as she walked up to them.
'Mami..' panted Guy. 'We made it.'
'And which of.., us, won?' panted Tobias.
Mami crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow watching them for a moment. 'Neither of you won.' she said. 'You just crossed the finish line for the little kids marathon. From the wrong side.'
After the other girls arrived they patched the guys up while they told their story of what happened to them, causing them to be the last in the real marathon. The girls laughed out loud all the way back home.
Tobias and Guy were glad they were so tired that they went to bed early, skipping an evening of embarrassment and hoped it would be over after a long night of sleep.
Guy felt sore all over when he woke up. His soft groaning woke up Feli and she stroked his forehead. 'How are you feeling, darling?'
Guy gave her a little smile. 'Like I've been run over by several trucks driven by squirrels.' he said and chuckled.
She chuckled and kissed him soft and long. 'Take your time to get up if you're not sleepy.' she said. 'There's no plans for today anyway.'
He smiled gently at her. 'I will.'
The other girls woke up and all kissed him before going down to Cani's parents. Guy sighed as he stared up at the ceiling. 'I hope I'm busy during the next marathon.' he said, trying to get his muscles to move without too much protests.
He met Tobias in the hallway when he went down. 'And how are you feeling now?' he asked.
Tobias straightened himself. 'Just fine.' he said. 'Yesterday's run was nothing I'm not used to.' He clenched his jaw to hide the wave of aching shooting through his body. 'I'll bet you feel sore.' he said, pretending to yawn as an excuse for his strained voice.
Guy hopped once on his feet. 'No problems at all.' he said, forcing a smile through his agony. 'I could run another marathon if there was the time today.'
'Right.' said Tobias, going down the stairs so Guy wouldn't see the tears in his eyes. 'If I had no plans I would have invited you for another run.'
Guy bent to lean on the railing while following Tobias down the stairs, his face the opposite of the cheerful tone he forced in his voice. 'Oh, that's too bad.' he said. 'But we have enough time to do that later.'
'Sure.' said Tobias, hoping Natalie had something very relaxing planned today. Something involving the least amount of body movement.
When they arrived at Cani's parents they were met with more sniggering.
'What?' Tobias asked, wishing he had stayed in bed.
'You're famous now.' said Ara who handed him one of several newspapers.
Guy read the headline together with Tobias, "Interspecies Conflict Resolved", "Both Lost Big Time".
A reporter who was at the finish line of the kids marathon had overheard their recount of their adventure and wrote it down.
'You're the talk of the day now.' Cani's father said with a grin. 'Thanks to you two, both our species have gotten closer already. A miss Tesha called to congratulate you on providing such, positive, news.'
'You're the new favourite comedy duo on the grid.' said Mami with a grin. 'Laughter really brings people together.'
Tobias and Guy groaned as they sat down at the table to eat, moving the jars of bloodberry jam and honey far away from them.