By Wendy de-Veryard
It had been a scrawny night but even so that provided no excuse for the picture Vincent represented when he lowered himself down to Catherine's balcony before her avid gaze.
"Vincent!" She cried edging toward him, reaching out her hands yet not quite knowing where to touch him first if at all. Certainly hugging was out of the question unless she wanted to melt into the mud that positively oozed from his large frame.
"How on earth did you get like that? What has happened!"
"It's a long story" Vincent grinned, and relief shot through Catherine. It wasn't all that bad then, she sighed gratefully. Not as bad as it appeared anyway.
"Come inside Vincent." The invitation was genuine extended from concern but still Vincent hesitated.
"Catherine, how can I? Look at me."
"I'm looking I'm looking" An uncharacteristic unladylike snort issued from Catherine and she clamped a hand to her mouth embarrassed as she went on soberly, "Vincent I'm looking and while I'm looking you are freezing your ass off out here. Come on in and don't argue. There is nothing to be afraid of and we need to get you out of those wet clothes immediately."
"Hum" thought Vincent, 'that's exactly what I am afraid of' but he kept a still tongue and meekly followed her into the warmth of the apartment.
Ever considerate of his feelings, Catherine hastened to the far side of the room and dimmed the lights well aware that harsh electric lamps hurt his eyes.
"I'd offer you a seat " Catherine's voice trailed away while she suppressed another snort of laughter, "but in the circumstances, perhaps a bath would be more appropriate."
"A a bath?" Okay it was a dumb question Vincent knew that the moment he saw the mischievous glint in Catherine's eyes and refrained from commenting further nodding in acquiescence instead.
"This way." Catherine was taking the lead now, still intent on keeping her distance Vincent noticed, and though he couldn't blame her he felt a trifle ruffled that she did not intend to have the grime covering him from head to toe anywhere near her beautiful gown.
"I'll embarrass you as little as possible Vincent. I take it you know how to run a tub of hot water and there are plenty of bottles of soap that you can chose from but you might not know how to work the hydro. So if you would just permit me to enter when you are in the tub I'll show you how it goes."
'Permit her to !" Vincent froze. 'Certainly not!' Fortunately he recovered from the shock before she noticed he had paled, almost laughing when he realised that under the mud and grime that would be impossible anyway and for the first time since he had arrived on her balcony he was grateful for his additional covering.
"Its all right Catherine, I think I will manage." 'Alone' he was tempted to add, but refrained from doing so.
Catherine however, wasn't quite so sure, 'I didn't say that for the chance of a peek at you Vincent." She sounded indignant but in actual fact her feelings were ruffled for she knew full well that THAT had been her intention all along.
"I know." Vincent replied, not entirely believing her.
Then for several long moments they glared at one another while Vincent continued to drip grime and escalating rivulets of mud onto Catherine's plush apricot carpet, until she finally relented, "All right, but just let me shout out instructions from here, before you touch any of the controls."
Contrite Vincent apologised, "I'm sorry Catherine, I didn't realise you only wanted to show me the correct manner of running the hydro bath in case I broke it ." He apologised sincerely.
Catherine shook her head, that wasn't the real reason and he knew it. His first analyses had been the correct one but she let it pass.
"Just drop your clothes by the door and I'll get them washed and dried for you while you soak. You can pull the shower head down to wash your hair separately while you remain in the bath. Call out if you need anything." 'And I'll come running' Catherine added beneath her breath. 'Boy will I come running!'
"Thank you Catherine." Genuine gratitude was portrayed in Vincent's tone and he hurried from his spot into the bathroom, closing the door firmly behind him.
Wonder of wonders Vincent gloriously naked just yards from her. Just a door - one solitary door separating her from everything she had dreamed of. Catherine didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Sitting at the table mug of hot coffee in her hands, Catherine brooded as she listened to the sounds from within her bathroom. From the kitchen her washer hummed softly during its merry go round with Vincent's soiled clothing. How he had got like that beat her, but time would tell. Time and a long leisurely bath to soak away all the grime but for some reason Catherine could only visualise the tide mark that would leave behind!
How she wished it were permissible to leave the mark there forever. A subtle yet forceful reminder of how near she had come to seeing her dream come true. Vincent gloriously naked right there in her apartment, so near yet so far. How she wished she had reason to enter the bathroom right at that moment.
He'd taken the instructions well too, for the hydro bath, meaning she hadn't needed to go in there, and even retrieving his clothing from off the floor hadn't afforded her any peeks since the mirror that might otherwise have divulged his reflection, was covered in steam.
"Hum" Catherine blew out a sigh of frustrated resignation tousling the strands of hair that framed her face. Had she of known it this was one of her many virtues that Vincent had often found totally irresistible and almost his undoing.
'How can I get that man into bed?' Catherine mused. Here before her was a wonderful opportunity, as such one that would not come again. Vincent, here, in her bathroom, naked in her bath, his clothing in her washer. He was totally imprisoned and at her mercy. A slow wicked grin spread across Catherine's lovely face as she thought of something mischievous. She hadn't yet taken him any towels!
Oh the thought was so tantalisingly delicious that Catherine hugged herself tightly. She could just picture it now.
'Catherine can you bring me a towel please?'
Now the most deliberate misconstrued act of all. Taking the towel straight in there, seeing him bare before her, seeing his stunned surprise at her coy offer, 'well you did say to bring you a towel Vincent so here I've brought it.'
'A towel Vincent? It's waiting for you outside the door can you fetch it? I'm rather busy at the moment.' Yeah right, busy with eyes fastened to that door! Catherine giggled.
Catherine laughed harder and with wicked humour, 'A towel Vincent? Come and get it.' 'And the towel.'
Oh yes she could well imagine those scenes but when the question came she knew she would do none of them. Simply it would embarrass Vincent whichever one she chose, and as soon as he could leave he would do so, and she might never see him again and that risk was too great to take.
Still the fantasy had been really nice while it had lasted.
Inside the bathroom Vincent had placed his discarded sodden clothing at the door as instructed, filled the bath with luscious hot water, a rarity for him to indulge in, and had stepped into its depths with a growl of satisfaction that signified to Catherine his joyous pleasure.
Just that sound alone had rendered her shivery, covered in goose bumps. She could well picture lowering herself into a tub of steaming water after a long hard day, and especially one spent trudging the streets for whatever reason in the depths of winter. Indulged in the thought, Vincent called her twice before she heard him to ask about the hydro controls.
She called back to him, explaining the controls. Slow, moderate and fast depending on the depth of water and the amount of bubble bath he had dropped in.
Inside the bathroom Vincent touched the first control gingerly. A whirl begun all around that momentarily startled him, but he soon settled to the sound in the joy of watching tiny bubbles bursting from all around his body and sending the most exquisite sensations through his frame.
The water was deep, so he refrained from touching the second control. This was fine, a luxury in itself. Never had he experienced such a wonderful device. If only Mouse could make one below.
Catherine had said something about bubble bath though. Vincent had noticed bottles marked foam and gel on the shower shelf, he reached for one that caught his eye now.
He read the instructions cautiously and adhering to them as closely as possible or so he thought, he poured the entire contents into the tub. At once the foam developed and covered him, leaving him feeling cocooned in silk.
It was wonderful. Bliss.
Lying back Vincent sunk himself low, his arms on the sides of the bath, his eyes closing with the pleasure surrounding him. It had been a long and trying night. Vincent chuckled remembering something he had once seen on a bill board, 'And all because the lady loves milk tray.'
Well it wasn't exactly chocolates, but it had been something he thought Catherine would especially like. She brought him so much - lavished gifts on him in abundance and he was always trying to find ways to please her. Was always thinking of gifts that he might take her that would be appropriate and affordable.
Below they hadn't much in the way of money and naturally he could never go out spending any, so gifts from him were usually second hand items brought below by the helpers, and then given to Catherine from the sincerity of his heart.
Tonight though had been different. Tonight Mouse had shown him an item of jewellery that had for some reason or another been discarded into a tree. And not any old tree either, it was hanging in Catherine's tree. The one she had climbed after her father's death and the one she had climbed even as a child. br>
The bracelet could have come from a robbery or simply have been lost in the tree from some climber who may have slipped. Really the item should have been recovered and taken along to the police station, Vincent knew that, but for once he had taken the chance presented to him. Here was something he could offer Catherine. Something valuable if the way it sparkled was anything to go by. Besides if he didn't take it someone else would, so he may as well go get it instead.
Having convinced himself of the right to have it, Vincent started to climb the tree, up and up, hand over hand foot over foot until at last he reached his precious find. Then holding the bracelet up to the moon-light he noticed that it looked even more beautiful, and Vincent was overjoyed to find that the bracelet was inscribed with two hearts entwined. Nothing could be more perfect to offer to Catherine and Vincent carefully bestowed the bracelet into his inside pocket and begun the long climb down.
Mouse had gone now, slunk back into the shadows in search of new treasures, but Vincent felt certain that someone was watching him. He hesitated listening intently, hearing the wind rustle the long grass around the tree trunk. It could have been a creature, a mole, or a hedgehog a frog maybe, but Vincent knew otherwise. Born of the night he knew every whisper and every breath that the darkness uttered, and this sound was decidedly human.
"I'll take that." The voice rose up to him, "If you don't mind. It belongs to me after all." Usually Vincent would have let it go without argument, but this was Catherine's gift, something precious for a change, something she could wear to the office without questions arising such as 'where did you come by such a beautiful crystal?' Catherine was forced to keep unusual gems from his world hidden as well as the secret of its location.
"Then you should have climbed up for it yourself." Vincent replied softly, still several feet from the ground.
"I was intending to."
"How do I know it is yours?" Vincent asked.
Vincent couldn't argue with that but he had to ask. "With what?"
"Two hearts entwined. It was a gift for my girlfriend."
"So how did it get up into the tree?" Vincent asked mystified.
"She threw it up there. We had a row."
"Oh I see." Reluctantly Vincent made to extract the bracelet from the folds of his cloak. His fingers grasped it and he had to force himself to withdraw the bracelet from his pocket, "then you'd best have it back. Here." Unhappily he tossed the bracelet down to the waiting hands below.
"Will you be giving it to her after all?" Vincent didn't really care to know, he felt too disappointed for that.
"Not at all. I've no use for it now."
"But surely "
"Surely you can give it to someone else? If not now then someday?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Nah. I'm through with women mate. I just couldn't bear to see it up there dangling as a constant reminder of the mistake I almost made and I certainly have no wish to experience that kind of treachery again. My advice to you mate, watch out who you fall in love with. Women! Huh they'll take your heart until they can get their hands on your credit cards and then its bye bye thanks for nothing."
"I'm sorry you have had that experience."
Vincent's sincerity hit a cord in the other man's heart. "Me too, so you know what I am gonna do with this?"
From his vantage point above Vincent watched the fellow hold it up to the lamp light and saw it sparkle almost as if it were winking goodbye and then Vincent watched in fascinated horror as the man stretched his arm back and forth and let the bracelet fly.
"NO!" Vincent cried jumping the last few feet to the ground, "Why did you do that?"
"No woman is worth it man." Was all the reply he got as the fellow turned his back and walked away. "Take it from me be kind to yourself no woman is worth it."
Vincent truly felt sorry for the man, truly wanted to catch up with him and tell him, make him believe that he was wrong, but at that moment, at that very moment all he could do was wipe the tears from his eyes and cry.
What a waste of a beautiful gift, gone now from his grasp forever.
Still scheming Catherine smiled impishly as she thought of a tune she had heard playing earlier, it was a song by Diana Ross and it had bugged her all day. Now though as she sat yards from a naked Vincent the lyrics came back to tease her. Softly she sang them her eyes lighting up with mischief. "I want muscles all over his body, from his head down to his toes. I want muscles "
Catherine could well imagine those muscles. From the little she knew of Vincent's body she was sure it must ripple with muscles. All that rock work, swinging a pick day after day not to mention the amount of running through the tunnels that he undertook and all that swimming in the subterranean levels combined was bound to bring about a desirable mouth watering physique that a lot of men would kill for. And how she longed to trace her fingers over those firm biceps and triceps and feel his hard lean body pressed close to her own. She shuddered, "This won't do Chandler, get a grip." Her coffee cold, she rose from the seat with the intention of returning the mug to the kitchen when suddenly something strange caught her eye.
Foam was coming from beneath the door of her bathroom!
The more she stared with disbelief the more it grew before her eyes. It was overlapping the carpet and oozing wave after wave toward the centre of the room. Dropping the mug back to the table Catherine raced across to the bathroom about to fling open the door when a muffled cry came from within and the door burst wide open.
Catherine stopped dead in her tracks and doubled with laughter. Before her stood one blob of foam from head to toe. Vincent she presumed but then not - in fact the abominable snowman more like.
Her peals of laughter increased until she could not get her breath, and was just beginning to think she might never breathe again when a swirl of foam was blown upward as Vincent tried to clear it from his face with several puffs through his barely parted lips. This rendered Catherine senseless. She collapsed onto the carpet in one shaking lump spilling over with giggles.
"I'm glad .puff...you think puff .its puff splutter funny." Vincent crawled through his words, his eyes wherever they may be, twinkling with delight despite his predicament. "But ...puff...if you ...puff splutter think this is bad you spit splutter should spit see your (another spit) bathroom!"
Jumping to her feet Catherine raced behind the man she adored to witness for herself the catastrophe behind him. "Oh Vincent! How on earth did this happen?"
"I'm sorry Catherine. May I use this towel?" Through a space cleared to see a little Vincent had spied a towel draped over the arm of one of Catherine's sofas.
She waved at him without looking back, "Yes please do," before promptly disappearing into the wall of foam.
"Catherine No!" Vincent whirled around just in time to see her being swallowed up and raced in after her losing sight of her completely the moment the bubbles covered his face again.
Vincent was frantic. It had almost killed him in there. He had awoken to sheer hell. Unable to breathe in anything but foam he had stumbled from the bath in sheer terror and bolted for the region of the door with little thought but escape and air! And now Catherine had gone in there and he had followed her back in. Where was she!
Concentrating on the bond, it was the only level available to him that could ascertain her whereabouts, and the rush of relief he felt at finally touching her arm almost overwhelmed him. He grasped her elbow and pulled her back the way he hoped he had come, but she shook his hand away!
Speech was impossible his muffled cry of 'Catherine get out of here' was lost as foam filled his mouth. And then he heard running water!
What on earth was she doing? Hadn't it been running water that had started all of this? Or more to the point pounding water, but the movement of water nonetheless.
Holding his breath had become agonising, and Vincent was just wondering how Catherine was withstanding the pressure when she grabbed his arm and dragged him out of the bathroom closing the door with a flurry of foam firmly behind her.
'Pooh' Catherine spat out foam from her mouth, and smoothed it from her face to let it fly from her fingers in shards across the room. Her hair was covered, in fact as Vincent peeled away his foamy blinkers for the second time in minutes he was forced to admit that there wasn't a lot of difference between the two of them right now.
"That should do it." Catherine spoke at last, grinning from ear to ear, "Cold water always kills bubbles. We'll give it a few minutes and they should all have been washed away, give or take a few feet of them on the carpet that is."
"Oh Catherine how can you be so calm about this? I have ruined your bathroom." Vincent was contrite.
"Not at all Vincent. Given it a thorough clean yes but never ruined it. Don't worry its not the first time and it probably won't be the last. Pretty scary though isn't it? Now let me guess you fell asleep and accidentally caught the fast button by mistake, and I guess we can safely presume you over did it with the bubble bath, huh?"
Despite himself, Vincent grinned. He thought she was going to be furious for ruining her bathroom. It was more than a relief to know that not only did she understand but obviously at some time she had obviously done the same thing herself.
"So did you have a good bath then Vincent?" Catherine's chuckle died on her lips as she noticed that the foam that had once covered him completely had slowly begun to melt away to leave in its place delightful little beauty spots for her avid and hungry gaze.
"Up until THAT happened, it was the best I have ever taken." Unaware of his melting gown Vincent took a step toward her. Reaching out he brushed away the foam from her shoulders, sliding it between his fingers and flinging it out across the room much the same as Catherine had done earlier.
Too close Catherine panted her eyes never leaving the exposed beauty of him. He was too close, she couldn't bare it even more she couldn't bare for him not to know of it and besides she needed to sit - her legs were fast becoming jelly.
"There's another towel on the sofa Vincent " she motioned in the general direction reaching back for a chair behind her, "A much larger one." The emphasis did not go unnoticed and Vincent quickly moved away from her to don the extra covering over the one he was already wearing thus hiding himself from her hungry eyes.
They stared at one another then. For long heart stopping moments trying to assess the situation, each tentatively searching along the fringes of the bond for any signs that would assure them of the other's acceptance. And the marvel was, each found it.
Time stood still. And as it did each became aware of their appearance. Vincent, with foam oozing around the fringes of the towel was very much aware of his nakedness beneath.
Catherine, her gown glued to her body where the foam had soaked through was well aware that her nipples were standing hard and proud through the silky fabric and a blush began to creep from her throat to infuse her cheeks with embarrassment.
Instinctively she covered herself, folding her arms across her chest feeling foolish for doing so. She wanted him to see her, wanted him to know how her body craved the touch of his, but knowing full well that for his sake she should shield herself from his eyes.
He'd not want this. He would run he would hide and might never return to her. Catherine anticipated that at any moment he would go to her kitchen to don whatever garments of his had dried and leave abruptly. Instead he did nothing of the sort. He just stood there watching her his breathing rapid and harsh.
At that moment Catherine despised the towel that was covering him. She wanted to see him as he had been and was dismayed that when she had had the chance she had been more concerned about getting rid of all those bubbles from her bathroom. She'd lost the chance, and now it could possibly be too late.
Yet he continued to stare at her, and she noticed with a flutter of excitement that he was very much aroused. She'd not noticed that earlier. There was a tell-tale bulge beneath the towel and she wondered if he was even aware of it. Never before had he allowed her to know of his desire for her, even though she had suspected it on more than one occasion.
"Catherine." Had he closed the gap or had she? All she knew was that on the mention of her name they were glued together. His body closer to hers than she had ever dreamed possible. His hands on her shoulders - her hands upon his firm buttocks holding him closer still and seeking out his obvious desire with the synchronised arousal of her own. Vincent's lips found Catherine's and a groan was expelled from one or either of them, they neither knew nor cared which never giving it a second thought as others followed filling the room with delighted sounds of pleasure.
"Catherine." His voice on her lips, his breath in her mouth, Catherine craned to him seeking out the tantalising depths she had craved for so long.
"Make love to me Vincent." Heavy lidded with desire Vincent drowned in Catherine's eyes. She loved him, wholeheartedly, loved him unconditionally but make love to her?
Fear coursed through his veins. What were they doing! Roughly he pushed her away, instantly regretful and pulling her back in one swift movement so that she hardly had time to register the fact of their abrupt parting.
"Catherine .I'm sorry forgive me." His voice broke with emotion.
"What is there to forgive? Vincent I want this, you know I do. I love you, all of you, please Vincent don't stop now." Catherine begged her eyes filling with tears.
"We mustn't Catherine. It would be wrong. If I take you it would be wrong." He drew back a little searching her eyes, begging her to understand from the depths of his.
"Vincent its what I want, don't you see? I am yours. Have been yours from the beginning of time. I need you so, and I know that you need me. You might try to lie to me, but your body betrays you."
"I could never lie to you." Vincent shook his head vehemently, "And it is true I do want you, but Catherine don't you see this can never be."
Caught on a wave of sheer pleasure Catherine denied his latter words. He wanted her! He'd admitted to wanting her! Nothing else mattered from now on. Now it was just a question of time. Joy sang through the bond alarming Vincent by its intensity and fear consumed him.
"No Catherine! You aren't listening to me!" He shook her then and with an abrupt change of subject asked, " Are my clothes dry? I had better go."
"And what if I were to say they were still dripping wet?" She flung at him sarcastically, her temper and disappointment rising in one swift moment.
"Then I'd still put them on! It wouldn't be the first time I'd worn wet clothing this evening!"
By those words both of them were reminded of earlier when he had arrived on her balcony soaked and dripping with mud. The reminder calmed them somewhat and Catherine felt compelled to ask, "That reminds me, just how did you get like that?"
Despite everything Vincent grinned. "It's a long story."
"I've time, and besides half of your clothes are still in the wash, so why don't you fill in the time by telling me?" She smiled at him as the passionate fury of moments ago ebbed slowly away. "Come sit down Vincent. I'll just change into a clean robe and fetch you something to wear while you are waiting. Those towels must be pretty soggy by now."
Grateful for the change in her and for the return of normality Vincent sat and prepared himself for the telling of his tale.
"Oh Vincent you know you don't have to feel compelled to bring me gifts" Catherine told Vincent having just listened to half of his story. "Believe me Vincent, you are the only gift I need, just bringing yourself to me is enough."
Vincent smiled disbelieving that she meant that. She was so beautiful, how could he ever believe that she wanted him beside her more than any man of the city, of the world even &endash; one that might walk alongside her in the sunlight?
"That still doesn't explain though how you got so muddy Vincent." Catherine prompted his silence eager to hear the full story.
"No. That came afterward."
"Afterward? What do you mean?"
They were sitting opposite one another each upon a dinky sofa, Vincent filling his to capacity and wrapped in clean dry towelling robes. Catherine had pulled hers over her toes curled as she was upon the sofa enchanted by his story.
"After the fellow had left " Vincent drew a deep breath, "I felt so desolate, so absolutely bereft and didn't quite know what to do. I wanted that bracelet Catherine it was so beautiful I could just picture it upon your wrist. And I couldn't just give up so I decided to search for it."
"Vincent the park is a big place!"
"Yes but I knew the general direction, so it was relatively easy or so I believed."
"Just let me interrupt you there Vincent, tell me did you actually find it?"
Chuckling Vincent replied, "Yes and no."
A smile lit up Catherine's face and her eyes danced with merriment at the picture he represented. He looked so gorgeous, so innocently beautiful and so full of obvious delight that she wanted to hug him &endash; tight.
"Yes and no? What exactly does that mean?"
On the mantle piece a clock chimed once, startling Vincent. One in the morning! He never realised! "Its late. I should go." He made to rise but Catherine reached out a hand to stop him.
"Oh no you don't. Not until you have finished your tale of woe." She grinned at him impishly and he sat down again.
"Then I will endeavour to cut a long story short. You need your rest Catherine."
"All right then but promise me you will fill me in when there is time?" Vincent nodded.
"So then how did you get so muddy?"
"As I said I thought I might still find the bracelet, and I did! Oh Catherine I was elated, I couldn't believe my good fortune and it was once again hanging from the branch of a tree, though this time a much smaller variety thank goodness. It was easy, I could just reach up and bring it down. Unfortunately I failed to realise that the branch was overhanging the bank of the lake and as I pulled the branch down, I felt the bracelet within my grasp for just mere seconds before I lost it again to a very loud plop behind me. The branch went with it but I could see where it may be in the water so I ." He paused.
Catherine was laughing.
"So you " another squeal of laughter erupted from his lady love. "waded in to find it again?" Vincent nodded his eyes bright with delight.
"And you couldn't find it this time?"
Vincent shook his head. "I tried Catherine. I really tried. It had to be there somewhere, and I suppose I got a little frantic dredging up the bottom by the handful and only succeeding in covering myself with more and more mud."
"Oh Vincent!" Leaving her sofa, she went across to his and folded herself down into his arms, "Thank you for trying Vincent, but please promise me that you will leave it where it is now. Don't go back for another try will you?"
"No I won't Catherine."
Vincent's blue eyes twinkled, "Promise. Besides I've no need to repeat the experience. Would you excuse me for a moment Catherine I need to go to the bathroom?"
Drawing her brows together Catherine rose and allowed him freedom of movement, shaking her head in wonder. Would she ever understand him? His ability to jump from one subject to another often startled her.
Not many seconds later he returned and took up his seat again, drawing her back onto his lap as he settled and from his pocket he withdrew something that sparkled in his hand. "For you." He offered it to her.
"I thought you said you hadn't found it?"
"When you asked I said yes and no. That was true. I did find it only to lose it, and find it again, only to lose it again, but would you believe " he chuckled, "As I left the lake I noticed something caught on one of my boots, and it was this!" He touched his gift, "I expect it will need cleaning, but Catherine if I may, would you please permit me to fasten it onto your wrist now?"
Holding out her hand was Catherine's only answer, and she watched as Vincent unclasped the tiny lock in his large and powerful hands, and refastened it around her wrist. It looked perfect and she loved it at once. "Thank you Vincent, I will treasure it always."
"And now my love you must sleep. It is late and you have work tomorrow, and I have a class full of youngsters to teach the finer art of physics to."
br> "Phew poor you." Catherine giggled, "Wouldn't you sooner spend the day here with me?"
"Catherine I would prefer to spend any day with you, but you do not need me to remind you that I cannot come outside in daylight."
"No, but you could always stay the night thus affording you the chance to be here during the day." Catherine spoke the words softly hardly daring to breathe, hoping against hope in great expectation of a positive answer. None came.
"I'm sorry Catherine. You know how it is. I dare not embark upon such a relationship with you. To do so would compel you to stay with me, to do so would mean I could never let you go, and you have a life Catherine, a life without me, and the day will come when you will meet someone worthy of your love." His words broke her heart. Still he maintained that love between them, intimate love was wrong. But it was he that was wrong. Catherine drew a deep breath of resignation, one of many she had drawn since she had known him and accepted her fate once again for the time being.
"All right Vincent. I understand, but know this I will never meet another more worthy of my love than you."
Sighing Vincent made to stand, saying nothing, drawing her up with him for a final hug before redressing in her bedroom.
Catherine waited for him out on the balcony, the coolness of the night fanning her cheeks, reducing and subsiding the burning flames of desire that were once again forced to be held in check around him.
No doubt their time would come, but it would not be tonight.
Catherine sighed, they had come further this night on the road to their future together, but as per usual Vincent had set another obstacle before them. Briefly she wondered how many more he would think up, or would he just continue to stoke the same one over and over higher and higher preventing her ever breaking through?
"Penny for them?" His voice tender and husky came from behind and she turned a wistful look to him.
"My dreams are worth more than pennies Vincent. They are priceless." He knew where she was aiming - the bond shimmered with her love and desire for him.
"I'm sorry Catherine. We must forget this night ever happened, that is forget what took place between us."
"Don't you mean what almost took place between us Vincent?"
Shamefully Vincent turned his face from her, "Yes." He whispered. "Catherine I must go." He touched her shoulder with a gentle squeeze begging her to understand, "Thank you for the bath."
"You're welcome. Thank you for the bracelet. Will I see you tomorrow?" Catherine felt defeated as sorrow filled her heart, and for once the determination she usually felt for a future meeting with him evaporated. What was the use? Perhaps she should just accept that they could never be more than friends?
"I'm sorry Vincent. I apologise for trying to make you do something you will never be ready for."
At her words, and the finality of them something inside Vincent snapped, "Catherine " He drew her into his arms, "Its not that "
His response caught her unawares, it was filled with pain and longing and desperation, "I love you Catherine." Catherine's mind whirled away with happiness. He loved her? He had finally said he loved her? She couldn't believe it!
Oh she had always known of course, but to hear it said, well that was something else entirely. Perhaps there was hope after all.
He was saying that too and she listened intently, "Perhaps there is hope for us someday Catherine, but please understand it can't be now. You have to be sure. I have to be sure that you have explored every avenue, have sought every path have followed your heart. Out there Catherine " he indicated the streets and city below with one sweep of his arm, "could be the man for you. Or he could be waiting elsewhere in another city another country perhaps, and until I feel that you have searched for him and not found him, only then will I allow myself to accept that there could be a chance for us."
"No Vincent you're wrong." Catherine shook her head as did Vincent adamantly so. "No Vincent listen to me! Please!"
Sighing Vincent nodded, prepared for anything.
Taking a deep breath Catherine began, "In a way you are right." She was surprised when he stiffened at her words and timidly she continued, "there is someone out there for me." His body tensed. "The same is true for you." At this Vincent began to shake his head, and Catherine quickly went on, "Oh yes there is Vincent."
"No! There will never be another for me but you." The words exploded from him stunning her with their ferocity.
Still she continued "In fact if we are perfectly honest with ourselves, there will be more than one or two with whom we could be compatible with. Find happiness even, share a good life, but Vincent I don't want to take that risk. I want to stay with you now and forever. You are my destiny Vincent can't you see that?"
"Catherine we have been over this a hundred times, you deserve more than I can give. Surely a man who could walk with you in the sunshine " He got no further as she commented furiously, "And a woman who could walk with you in the tunnels? A woman who belongs in your world, a woman who may have been brought up in the tunnels, a woman whom you may accept has nothing to lose by being beneath the city with you and who may become acceptable to you as your wife."
"YES Vincent! It's a possibility. There is true love and secondary love. True love is available but few find it, those that have found it should treasure it and not throw it away for something of lesser value. Vincent what we have is true love, please don't ask me to settle for anything less. Nor you Vincent please don't take another in my place " Sobs came then and Vincent pulled her close cradling her in his arms, "Don't cry Catherine. There will always be a place for you in my heart. I promise I will love no other."
She pulled back in his arms, hadn't he understood a word she'd been saying? Exasperated she told him, "Vincent you just don't get it do you? You may not intentionally seek to find another but she will come. Despite what you think Vincent you are beautiful and one hell of a hunk. Didn't Lena wish to have you for herself?"
"That's only one example Catherine."
"Only because the women of this city that might ogle you don't get that chance. Vincent believe me, someone will come. Perhaps you may settle for secondary love in a bid to have me accept that there is someone out there for me. Don't do this to us Vincent, please don't crush our dream." Tears ran unchecked down Catherine's cheeks as hopelessness washed over her.
In turn deep sorrow washed over Vincent, wave upon wave. How could he tell her that a dream was all it could ever be? But if she was prepared to accept only that then maybe they could stay together for all time. It would be better than the alternative. He would hate to see her with another. No he would die to see her with another. Wordlessly he drew her tighter against him, his hands caressing her back through the folds of her robe.
"Then we will keep the dream intact." He whispered not quite knowing what else to say but it was enough if Catherine's response was anything to go by. She positively lit up before him and hugged him tighter and tighter. "Oh Vincent I love you so, we can make it work you'll see."
He doubted her words but let it pass, for now enough discussion had taken place without any real headway, and he was tired of going down the same old road. Another time they would confront it again and he must firm his resolve before then. Tonight he had almost shamed himself, he would be stronger next time, for a next time would surely come if he knew Catherine.
He knew that she loved him unreservedly, unconditionally and her love and acceptance warmed him, but he also knew it was impossible. They walked the impossible way, dreamed the impossible dream, still it was enough. Would always have to be enough.
"I must go." Reluctantly he drew from her, "I'll see you tomorrow at seven, at the threshold, can you make it?"
"Yes." Her eyes were bright her affirmation breathless, "I'll be there." She watched as he alighted from her balcony on the beginning of his journey home.
Catherine's initial words of love and desire died on her lips, instead she asked, "are your clothes completely dry?"
He smiled, "Yes thank you and they feel wonderful. I feel more like myself in these garments." She knew he was referring to his scantily clad form with the towel and she smiled impishly. "Be well Vincent."
"Be well Catherine." And with that he was gone on his journey home and embraced only by the night.
For a long time Catherine stood by the wall of her terrace overlooking the park, feeling him through the Bond, only relinquishing her hold upon the night as she felt his sigh of relief at reaching the safety of his destination. Turning she went back into her apartment, she would spend the night alone again, but what memories she would have to dwell on this time!
Switching off the lamps, Catherine walked to her bedroom, disrobed and got into bed. For a long time she lay there remembering the evening with pleasure. Every kiss every touch, every sight of his beautiful body beneath all that foam. Oh how she wished she could see him like that again someday. Finally her eyes closed and she heard the new words to an old song drifting mischievously through her mind as she fell fast asleep
"I want bubbles all over his body from his head down to his toes I want bubbles "