THE STRIPPER?

By Wendy De-Veryard

A change is as good as a rest, or so the saying tries to convince us, and Catherine believed in this firmly. Hadn't her life changed drastically since she had known Vincent? And hadn't that change been for the better? Yet something was missing.

Trying to spend as much time as possible with him did her good, but just lately she wanted more. After three years of being his soul mate, and of him protecting her in the dangerous assignments that went along with her job, she had grown tired of things the way they were. Not that she wanted to leave him, or have him out of her life, no in fact exactly the opposite, what she needed was more of him. Catherine desperately wanted to see a new Vincent, involving him in things he would never do Below, and one of those things was decorating.

Looking around her apartment, Catherine sighed at the walls that had lost their lustre, the peeling paint upon the skirting boards, the doors, and window frames, and she was sick of emulsion clad walls. In fact the whole place needed a facelift, and Catherine aimed to involve Vincent in a spot of do it yourself.

An impish thought crossed her mind, as she measured up the walls, and floor space, working out how much paint stripper, wall-paper and carpeting she would need. She could also do with a new bed, and bed-set, something co-ordinating, and matching curtains. Fired by her enthusiasm, Catherine set off for the nearest D.I.Y store, to purchase her stock.

That done, she managed to wheedle a week off work and then set about tackling her handyman.

Going Below, Vincent met her at the threshold, and at once could tell by her grin that something delightful was in store, not that he hadn't been caught up in her excitement all day. The Bond so steady and sure had been burning with her zeal all day.

"Good evening Catherine," Vincent told her as he swung her into his arms, "I have felt your happiness today, can I share it with you?"

Catherine liked this light-hearted banter that they often shared, "Of course, in fact I want you to be part of it."

Raising an eyebrow, he waited, and watched as her lips twitched with humour, "Vincent?" she began.

"Yes Catherine?"

"How good are you at stripping?" Catherine tried her hardest to keep a straight face. Drawing her lips in tightly to keep from laughing. The look that passed over his face was a picture.

He could hardly repeat the word, but had to try, lest he had misheard her, "Strip...ping?" he asked her. A smile creased his face that lit up his eyes, as he caught her mischief through their Bond.

"Would you care to enlarge on that Catherine?" he asked her.

A gush of hearty laughter burst forth from her, unable to hold it back any longer, "Vincent..." she laughed, "If you could only see your face."

"I have no wish to see my face Catherine." he told her dryly with a touch of humour in his tone, "However, no doubt it portrays genuine astonishment."

Catherine laughed some more. "As you have been unable to answer my question Vincent, perhaps Father would be able to enlighten me?"

Vincents eyes opened wide, "You wouldn't?" he shook his head.

"Wouldn't I?" her face creased into smiles again, "Then answer my question?"

She was enjoying every moment of her teasing. Even more so, because he did not know what on earth she was referring to, and could not believe she was referring to the very thing that flew to mind. As his obvious confusion turned into embarrassment, Catherine decided it was time to stop having fun at the expense of his feelings, and started to tell him what she was driving at, well almost, she still toyed around a little, loving his acute discomfort.

"I need a handyman, Vincent, and I thought you would do nicely. You certainly have the physique for it" To emphasis her point she walked right around him, trailing her hand around his body. The contact of her hand was like fire through his clothing, and he stood immobile, his eyes blinking backwards with surprise. Catherine in this mood was a force to be reckoned with!

"And" she went on, "I shall need to get you on the floor, to help with the rolling, I don't think I could manage it by myself. And also, there will be a lot of screwing to be done." Trying to keep her voice steady and matter of factly, Catherine found it impossible not to burst out laughing after the last statement. Doubled over with laughter, she peeped at Vincent, and saw him trying very hard not to laugh out loud, until finally he had to ask, "I well know that you are doing this on purpose Catherine, but Im still at a loss to know what exactly you are talking about. It's not what it appears is it?"

"Oh Vincent, what ever do you mean?" her voice vibrated with laughter as she tried to keep it as steady as possible, her eyes giving nothing away.

Vincent gathered her against him, "I mean Miss. Chandler, that you are teasing me mercilessly, and I have to admit I rather like it. Nonetheless I am no nearer knowing what it is you are aiming at."

"Vincent!" Catherine chided him, with a fit of the giggles, "Whatever do you think I mean?"

He smiled, a deep knowing smile, that made her heart flip, and for a moment she was lost in his lagoon eyes.

Stammering she heard herself say, "Decorating." her lips felt suddenly dry, "I would like your help with the decorating." she finished, moistening her lips with the tip of her tongue.

The action so small, so normal, sent Vincent's blood on fire, he swallowed hard, for the first time he had known her, he had an overwhelming desire to put his lips to hers, to moisten them for her. He shuddered, as a shiver ran through him, and he found his head descending towards hers.

A breath apart he hesitated, she could see the depth of his desire aflame in his eyes, and held her breath, would he? Would he? He pulled back. No, the disappointment was great, Catherine could feel the despair rising, and her earlier enthusiasm died.

Rubbing her brow, she feigned a sudden headache, he knew she was pretending, still when she said she was going back to her apartment, he let her go, the moment was too raw, he could not trust himself, better she put some space between them, while he re-covered his composure. As he watched her climb the steps to the basement, he called out softly to her, "Catherine?" she paused and waited, without looking back, "the decorating? When should we start?"

"Tomorrow. Come up when you can. I'll be waiting." Then she was gone, and Vincent suddenly felt very much alone.

* * *

When Vincent appeared on Catherine's balcony the following evening, he was a little nervous of her reaction, but needn't have been. Catherine made no mention of the evening before, and was as pleased as ever to see him. Relieved, Vincent entered her apartment, and was surprised to find that she hadn't got started on the work, saying so, she told him, "I thought it would be nice if you were here from start to finish. I don't suppose you have ever decorated an apartment before, have you?"

He confirmed that he hadn't and was happy that she had waited for him, "I had plenty to do anyway, with just planning everything", she told him, "And besides, I need help with carrying the furniture into the bedroom."

They started with paint stripper, "Pooh", cried Vincent, "This stuff could kill you."

"It is strong isn't it. I know of someone who while six months pregnant used paint stripper while decorating and inhaled so much, it knocked her unborn child out for over fourteen hours. He was also born with a really large birthmark, and she wonders if the paint stripper had some baring on that. We will have to open the windows, and leave them open all night to allow plenty of ventilation, or we are going to pass out."

While they waited for the paint stripper to work, they rolled up the old carpet, leaving the underlay down, "I have ordered a new carpet and bed, they will be delivered tomorrow, do you think we can get most of the room done by then?"

"I wouldn't know, I have never tackled anything like this before in my life. How good are you at hanging wallpaper?"

"Pretty good, it's something I enjoy, though a helping hand is a bonus. If you think you can tackle the sanding down of the paint, I can get started on measuring and cutting the paper Vincent."

They worked along for several hours, Vincent supplying them with cups of tea and coffee, until Vincent asked if he might try his hand at wallpapering. He had an impish idea, and while Catherine was otherwise engaged, he completely covered over the door with wallpaper, then waited for her reaction. Catherine kept looking in his direction and wondered about the silly grin he wore, yet he refused to tell her what was amusing him, and she never noticed, so she carried on working, knowing whatever was up his sleeve would come to light eventually.

When at last all the old paint was stripped and the new applied, Catherine got some huge bin bags and gathered up all the debris. Her eventual intention to take it all down to the skip in the alley alongside her apartment in the daylight, but for now to leave it outside her door. Gathering as many bags as possible she walked across the room and then stopped to gasp. "Vincent, where's the door?" she asked him, her face lighting up with laughter, so that's what had amused him so. Vincent burst into laughter, "It's where you left it isn't it?" he asked her, ducking as a bag of rubbish flew his way, "Missed me."

Surveying the room later, they both agreed it did look lovely, especially now the door was wallpapered to match. "There's just one problem Vincent," she told him, "How do you expect me to come to visit you from now on, for I can tell you people are going to stare when they see me attempting to scale down the outside of the building every day."

Vincent burst into more laughter, at the mere thought of it, with which she could not help joining in.

"It's almost dawn Vincent." Catherine told him at last, "Would you like some breakfast before you leave, or you don't have to leave, you could stay if you wish, though the delivery men will be coming sometime during the day."

"Then I had best go, otherwise I may have stayed."

"Tell you what then, stay over tomorrow. I will have two beds once the other one is delivered. Tell Father not to expect you home, and then if we can get the whole apartment finished, it will give me more days to enjoy some relaxation, before I have to go back to work."

Vincent agreed, though a niggling thought that would not go away kept jumping up to bite him, as he thought of her mention of having two beds. Obviously by saying this, she expected he would use one and she the other, and Vincent didn't know whether he should feel grateful for this or not, and that disturbed him greatly.

The following evening when he arrived, they carried all the furniture back into the lounge, now that the new carpet had been laid and fitted, "I couldn't ask them to do the bedroom with all the stuff in there, so perhaps we can tackle that ourselves," she told him. "Have you ever laid a carpet before?"

Vincent grinned, "Not that I can remember Catherine."

"It's not a job I enjoy, and the whole room wants to be void of furniture, if you hear me swear, just close your ears and know it's not directed at you." Vincent exhaled a sharp breath tinged with humour through his nose at the thought of Catherine swearing, but by the time they had shuffled and pulled the carpet to fit, once the walls and paint work were finished, Vincent felt like swearing along with her. Finally as every corner met the wall, was tacked down, and Catherine was convinced there were no rucks in the carpet, she collapsed onto her back upon the floor, and sighed, "Thank goodness that's finished." she cried.

Looking around the two of them declared that the room looked beautiful, and all that remained was to carry back the furniture, erect the new bed and fit the new bedroom suite. "It's flat-pack Vincent, I will need your help to screw it together.

"What?" she asked him as a look of relief passed over his face.

"I was beginning to wonder about that," he told her, "Two days ago, when you asked for my help, you mentioned there was to be some screwing, and as we haven't done any of that yet, I wondered just what you had in mind."

Catherine began to laugh; she could not help herself, "What have I said?" Vincent asked her, "You know, I worded that sentence around my head before I said it, hoping it would come out right, but it didn't did it, I could tell by your face as I said it, that it didn't," he reddened.

"I'm not even going to attempt to repeat it Vincent, but believe me it didn't come over as you'd planned. Just take my word for it."

Putting the flat-pack together proved to be very amusing in itself. Vincent was in a fun mood, and as he screwed the panelling into place from within the wardrobes, Catherine fixed the door handles onto the outside. "Vincent, where are you?" she asked him on more than one occasion.

"I'm in here Catherine."

Catherine slid open the door just in time to see Vincent stepping out at the other end, so she quickly got inside, and pattered along to his exit, while he ran around to go in through her door. Round and round they went playing a silly chase me, find me game, until Catherine stopped to go back the other way, and ran straight into his arms. The game stopped dead, as breathless she looked deep into his laughter filled eyes, her own giggles trailing away, as the aura of his presence mesmerised her.

For long moments they looked at one another, until Vincent groaned, and brought his head down close to hers, "Catherine." he spoke huskily, while she waited holding her breath. This time she felt his breath warm on her mouth, so close were they and she prayed he wouldn't pull back. Suddenly there was a loud creak. It came from all around them, and their eyes opened wide with horror as the panels from the wardrobe caved inwards onto them. "Look out!" Vincent cried, as he scooped Catherine into his arms and dived out into the room. The panels leaned heavily onto each other like a pyramid, before the bottoms, slid outwards and the whole lot crashed to the floor.

"What a noise, god what will the people in the apartment below think?" Catherine asked, and just to answer her a loud thumping came from the floor as the occupants below hit something against their ceiling. Catherine started to laugh, an uncontrollable laugh, while Vincent stared at her a wry grin on his face. "I don't know what's so funny Catherine, it took me hours to screw all that together, now I have to start all over again."

"That's whats so funny Vincent, I can tell you now, you are a lot better at stripping than you are at screwing, I think you'd best let me do it. I've had more practice." Then suddenly realising the import of her own words, she cracked out laughing.

Vincent's lips pursed inwards, holding back a comical reply, when suddenly his expression altered, "I think I could be good at both with practice." he told her seriously.

Catherine stared at him; "I'm not sure which way to take that Vincent?"

He grinned at her, enjoying playing her at her own game, "What other ways are there?"

Catherine blushed, "Let's get back to work", she stammered feeling ruffled in no uncertain terms, "I'll put the screws in, if you hold onto the panels."

While they worked each closed down on the Bond, and dwelt upon the moment before the panels came crashing in on them. Vincent knew with certainty that he had intended on kissing her. He had enjoyed the time immensely over the last few days, and the usual undercurrent had gone, but he knew that Catherine wanted him to kiss her, and once he became honest with himself he knew that he wanted it too. And if he were really honest with himself, he wanted very much to make love to her, and that meant he could put off speaking about it no longer.

A soft moan escaped him before he was aware of it, and Catherine looked up sharply, catching his eye. "Are these panels secure enough to stand without us, for a while Catherine?" he asked her.

"Perhaps, if we don't play around them why?"

"There is something I must talk to you about before my courage fails me."

Putting down the bag of screws and screwdriver, Catherine walked into the lounge, "Would you like a drink?" she asked him.

"No. Come and sit down."

She sat without question, and watched as he sat first opposite her, then feeling uncomfortable, got up to slowly pace the room. She could tell he was having difficulty choosing his words, and waited patiently. Through the now open Bond, she infused her love, giving him courage, and hesitantly he began to speak.

"Catherine, I well know how much you need me..." he paused, unable to voice the word. Closing his eyes tightly he let it slip from his tongue, "sexually." Catherine drew in a sharp breath, this was not what she had expected, and she found a blush creeping up her neck.

Keeping his eyes closed, he went on, "And I... I need you in..." he stopped, then in a rush the rest of the sentence tumbled out, " the same way."

Catherine stopped him, "Vincent sit down, and open your eyes please, for with all the pacing your doing, you are going to walk into the wet paint at any minute." Vincent grinned, and opened his eyes, as she went on, "Don't make it hard on yourself Vincent, come sit down here with me, and let us talk about this rationally. The time is long overdue to do so."

Crossing the room to take her hands in his, he sank to his knees in front of her, resting his head in her lap. "These past two days Catherine, have been so enjoyable. I have had such fun, and at first I was grateful for there being no undercurrent between us. Until I realised that I missed it, and the reason I missed it was because I had grown to like the build up. Knowing that the time would come when I would not be able to contain myself any longer, and yet Catherine there are things you must know before we take this step, things you may not be aware of," he turned away then unable to meet her eyes.

"What?" Catherine spoke softly, "Tell me?"

"Can we talk about cats for a moment?"

Catherine nodded, smiling quizzically.

"I don't know how much you know about cats Catherine, but their make up, their anatomy is rather different from humans." He stopped; this was the only way he knew of to explain, yet it was difficult because he hated mentioning his non-human side, still it had to be done.

"The male cat....when he mates....he...I mean, his, er, his."

"Penis?" Catherine entered for him.

Vincent gulped and nodded, "Yes." he whispered, "That." he went on, " It's not the same as a mans. It's barbed at the tip," having got this far, the words came out with haste tumbling over one another in a bid for freedom, "and when he mates, the barb prevents his withdrawal until he has released all his seed. It is practically impossible for the male cat to free himself without ripping the female until he is spent."

Vincent stopped dead, now what? he told himself, searching for the right words again.

Catherine smiled, "And you Vincent, are you like the cat or the man?"

He looked at her, saw she was smiling, gently teasing, "Oh the cat, most definitely, or there would be no need for this embarrassing conversation."

"So let's see then Vincent, what you are trying to say, is that once your body enters mine, I have no chance of escaping until you are through." Vincent nodded, speechless. "Sounds good to me Vincent," she told him.

With relief Vincent laughed, "You don't mind?"

"No. I have seen cats mating actually, I have also heard the wailing, tell me does that occur before, during or after the event?"

"Oh during, obviously."

"Then do you mind if I am different, and wait until afterwards. I think after you have finished making love to me at long last, then that will be the time for me to wail, Vincent, because it has ended," she laughed heartily, "that's if you ever actually decide to start it to begin with."

His eyes met hers, "Oh yes my Catherine, you can count on it. If, joking aside you really are sure about this."

Seriously Catherine told him, "I'm glad you told me, but I don't see that it will make much difference, the thought of your being stuck within me sounds rather nice."

"But not very practical if we ever get disturbed."

"You could always have Father on standby with a bucket of cold water!"

Vincent barely heard her, he still had something on his mind, "There is just one other thing though."

"What?"

"Condoms. Because of the barb, I can't wear any. They don't fit."

Catherine burst into another fit of the giggles, "How do you know?" she cried.

Sheepishly he looked at her, "Devin got some once, we used them mainly as water bombs, but I also tried some for size. They were tight then and slipped off, so I am certain that they wouldn't fit at all now."

"Better and better." Catherine told him.

Looking at her strangely, Vincent tilted his head to one side, waiting for her to explain. "Vincent!" Catherine spoke sharply to him, "They stretch to quite a size, and you tell me they dont fit!" she laughed heartily, "This I must see." Then as she realised what she had said she slapped a hand over her mouth, and actually blushed scarlet.

Vincent hugged her, "You are brilliant" he told her, "I was so worried about holding this conversation with you, and I am so glad that you know, and have taken it so well, it's a load off my mind."

"I love you Vincent, and when the time comes for us to be lovers, I promise I will help the union as well as I can. Don't be afraid Vincent, don't let it hold you back anymore, from what you have told me I actually think it will be a wonderful experience for us both."

"I should very much like the time to start now, Catherine," he told her, his words barely audible, as his eyes gazed into her own, and getting up to pull her onto her feet, he brought his head down to hers, and Catherine sighed with pure pleasure as their lips met, at last.

His kiss was all she had ever dreamed and more and just in time too, as an almighty crash sounded back in the bedroom, causing them both to physically jump. Vincent laughed out loud, "Huh! So much for your being better at it than me. At least my attempt stayed up for several hours," he told her as they surveyed the panels, back to the status of flat-pack once again. Then his eyes burned into hers and he smiled mischievously, "Talking of which?"

And as his lips met hers, there was no more need of words, but the stripping started all over again.