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A Day Out of Time

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A DAY OUT OF TIME
Story by T'Mar, Essobgi and Esdi'Ve. Written by Esdi'Ve.

Vincent sat in thought. He was comfortable in his chamber; his body was at rest, but his mind was in turmoil. The more he thought, the less comfortable he got. His chamber seemed to grow too warm for some reason, he felt suddenly that he was wearing too many clothes, and he rose immediately, unhappily, to change. The subject of his thoughts had gone home, and Vincent hoped that she didn't tune in to his discontent.

As he took off his everyday clothes and climbed into soft pyjamas, he tried not to think of the differences between his own body and his brother's. As children, this had been a constant source of teasing, until things had got serious. Devin's position as the oldest of the boys had been threatened by his "little brother". Up until Devin was sixteen, he'd been the leader in physical development.

He'd been the strongest (it was a secret that Vincent allowed this), he was the tallest, although not by much, and he'd been the first to boast about "having hair on his chest". Devin then claimed that Vincent's "otherness" simply wasn't fair in this department. After puberty, when his shoulders broadened, Vincent's baby fuzz strengthened into something which couldn't be argued with.

Smoothing down his pyjama top, Vincent sighed. Since his brother's visit, many memories had come to mind. Most of them made him smile, but he didn't need THAT particular one right at the moment. His "otherness" was bothering him again. Vincent tormented himself, as he lay in bed wondering if he would sleep at all, with the thoughts of what Devin would do, given his particular problem.

Vincent smiled wryly to himself - Devin would shrug, and get on with the job. He'd probably get his face slapped, but that would only lead to another smile. Vincent didn't think he would recover if a woman slapped his face, for any reason whatsoever. Vincent slipped further into a sulk when he thought about Devin and Catherine in the imagined

roles. It would be a casual moment, full of fun, so why did he have to mate it into such a big deal? Vincent had been down this road before, he didn't want to appear to be a bumbling fool aid he somehow couldn't treat the moment with levity.

Catherine was, at that moment, trying to snatch a few hours' sleep. They had been together that evening, trying to talk about the things that usually fascinated them but tonight some deep gulf separated their thoughts. Devin had recently gone away again, taking Charles with him. The visit of both men had laid a cloud over Vincent and Catherine's moods. Vincent could almost describe himself as being jealous of the easy way Devin got along with Catherine. Devin bluntly told him to take her off the pedestal; she wouldn't break.

Devin had not been told, but caught on to the concept that Vincent and Catherine shared nothing but warm good-night hugs, despite Vincent's admission that she was "more than a Helper". Devin had immediately added two and two and came up with five, only learning subsequently that it was. more like three. Vincent was holding back, scared that he would damage Catherine if he relaxed his guard for a moment.

Devin found this attitude ridiculous, and quite unlike the Vincent he knew, who was warm and loving and adored to be held in return. Devin also knew Vincent's love of the tactile sense. As a small child he'd stroked soft blankets and cuddled well-worn toys, collected bits of velvet and satin and woolly fabric just for the feel of the fabric beneath his fingers. Just why Vincent then refused to stroke and caress the most wonderful surface knowable by a man, the soft skin of a beautiful woman, was beyond Devin. Maybe this confusion was what was disturbing them so.

Vincent shifted once again. He was thinking of the way Catherine had related to Charles, how she had not been afraid of his ugliness and how she had been willing to help him. It began to dawn on Vincent that she really really had lost her fear of him, that she no longer found him ugly. She said he was beautiful, but he couldn't believe her. Now he was beginning to change his mind.

Vincent wished he could drift off into sleep and get some rest. He'd discovered that since Charles and Devin's visit, and the realizations that they had brought, that he was beginning to dream. Vincent couldn’t help the content of those dreams, and began to feel hot all over again. His mind tormented him - "just one kiss, just one kiss, just one..." |n his conscious mind, Vincent didn't want to find out where that path would lead, as they both knew for certainty they could never share a life together. His unconscious mind would give him no peace and continually mapped out the way clearly.

Vincent had set his limits firmly, he would not transgress her personal space. That meant never to cross the boundary of her apartment just as much as not crossing the intangible barrier of intimacy. That he wanted to, in his heart of hearts, was not in question. Devin was right, he longed to hold her, to caress that which was more precious than anything. After much more torment, he decided upon a course of action. Maybe a step down that path would be no bad thing. The softness of Catherine's skin pushed into his mind and filled his senses. He needed something, he was being drawn powerfully like a pin to a magnet.

He made a decision. On Wednesday, when they met, they would talk about this, or - maybe not talk so much, as act upon it.

That Wednesday, Catherine did not come. He waited and waited, but she did not appear. Neither was she in her apartment, as he went to her balcony to wait. He began to sense something through their bond, a deep feeling of sorrow. Catherine was very upset. He could do nothing but wait for her return to find out exactly what had happened.

She came home very disheartened, as her father was dying, Vincent put his own plans on hold without even thinking about it, and comforted her through this time. Uppermost in his mind had been the idea that he would try to kiss her, to see if that would not be too unbearable, and when she had given him a kiss instead, just to say "thank you" it was all he could do to stand on his feet, not dissolve into a little pool.

They did not make any great moves to further their relationship for quite some time. Things remained unspoken between them, as always. Catherine knew that their lives were intertwined, there was no longer any question of any other man in her life. Vincent filled her up, completely. If he would never kiss her, well, she accepted it. Maybe he was bashful about his long, feline teeth. The thought made her Oliver. That was why/ she had opted for a quick peck on the cheek, and she remembered it in slow motion, savouring the feel of his warm skin aid scratchy beard. She fought to keep her thoughts under control and prepared to meet him that evening.

When he arrived he was distracted aid she discovered that he needed her to find a friend who had not kept an appointment. Jealously raged within her, try as die might to keep it out, as she discovered more and more about Lisa. When she finally got to the bottom of Vincent's problem, it was clear that it wasn't oily Father's insistence that fed Vincent's shyness. To encourage him to overcome it, she kissed his hands and held them close to her face, while he silently wept without embarrassment. Now it was Catherine's turn to wonder whether they should take a step down that path.

The aftermath of their second anniversary found them close together on the balcony. Vincent declined to venture into her apartment and Catherine gave it up, deciding it was better that way. They stood close together, embracing in the gentle candlelight, and Catherine asked Vincent to read some of her favourite poetry. She could hear Vincent's voice vibrating in his chest, soft and low. They sat down behind the wall, safely out of sight.

Following the poetry she suggested some music and went inside to play classical music from cassettes. They spoke in low whispers which died out to a companionable silence. The night passed too quickly. She was tired, and she slept. Vincent continued to listen even though he knew she was sleeping and gathered her even closer to him. He didn't dare to do anything else, for fear of ruining this night which seemed to perfect. Eventually his eyes refused to focus as the candlelight grew dim and he found himself dropping his head in sleep. The night was cold but they were warm together.

Catherine awoke, stiff and cold.. She found that they were still sitting together, out on the balcony in the depth of the night. She looked up at Vincent, finding that he wore a peaceful expression on his face. She slowly wriggled out of his grasp and went inside. Fetching the covers from her bed, she settled down again and wrapped it around them. Without waking him, she eased his body into a comfortable position and snuggled in. Vincent scarcely moved, he instinctively put his arms around tier and they were cozy together. Catherine watched the stars and listened to the New York night-time sounds, and refused absolutely to feel guilty for not waking him. "Not yet," she told herself, "we have hours yet." Intending to enjoy half an hour of closeness with Vincent before waking him, she slipped into a dream.

The building of the traffic woke him. Although New York traffic was never quiet, as dawn approached the streets got busier. Vincent was wide awake in an instant, and Catherine also. They looked at each other in horror, it was almost light and many people were about. A night of sleeping on a hard surface after a late night made them both stiff and sore, and cold. Catherine blinked, trying to rationalize their next move. Vincent looked out at the lightening sky, then back at Catherine. She caught his thought, he could not return Below in safety.

"Come inside," she whispered, taking his hand. "You will be safe in the apartment." She got to her feet, her head suddenly pounding, and pulled him after her.

Vincent was reluctant. That he was now caught, there was no question. Even the balcony was not a haven in daylight. He followed Catherine inside the French doors which she shut behind them and quickly drew the drapes, returning the roan to night-like darkness. Vincent turned around, as though looking for an escape route.

"Vincent," said Catherine, softly. "I'm sorry, this is my fault. I didn't think that we would sleep so long. Are you all right?" she asked, moving closer to him.

Vincent moved heavily, his eyes wide in the dark. Catherine thought that he looked terrified and wanted to reassure him. He turned away and spoke. "The fault is not yours, Catherine, but mine. It was selfish of me to want to stay. I could have carried you through to safety here and returned Below long before, but I wanted to watch over you while you slept. I am no guardian, Catherine, if I also sleep."

She crossed to him, placing her hand on his, arm, turning him back. Catherine wanted to recreate a moment like those many moments they had recently shared. She wanted him to be as comfortable in her home as she was in his.

"It will be okay, Vincent, really," she tried to reassure him. "I will stay here with you all day. I can get out of whatever Joe has planned for me. He will understand if I call in and say that I want to rest. We will have a chance to spend some more time together."

Vincent was not convinced. He crossed back to the French doors, and Catherine thought for a moment that he was going to leave anyway. He pulled up short just in front of the drapes. "Father," he said, thinking of how that man would worry about him. "How will I explain my absence today? We have a work party planned which I am to lead. I have duties that I cannot shirk."

Catherine realized that she could simply pick up the phone and explain to Joe that he could not count on her today; however getting a message through to Father in the Tunnels was quite another matter. "We'll think of something," she said soothingly. Then, briskly, "Shall I make us some coffee? It's almost breakfast time, you know!" She gave his arm a final pat and headed for the kitchen.

Vincent stood, still looking around him. In her environment Catherine became larger than life, seemed to grow deeper, have more facets. Just looking at her personal possessions, Vincent thought that he was finding new aspects to the person he loved. He noticed the tasteful furniture, which was almost new and looked far too clean to sit on in his opinion. He noticed ornaments arranged about the room, pictures on the walls, and, horrors, a mirror. Vincent had no confidence in himself at the best of times, and surely this current morning could rank as one of the worst. He had spent the night sleeping, uncomfortably wearing his clothes which were now badly rumpled. His hair must surely look like a bird's nest. He dared not approach the mirror.

Catherine was fumbling in the kitchen. She told herself it was because she was very tired and had been jolted awake. In her heart she admitted the truth, she was wildly excited to have Vincent there in her apartment "Trapped!" she thought to herself joyously, selfishly. Somehow she couldn't remember where the teaspoons were, couldn't get the packet of coffee undone without splitting the foil and managed to plug in the toaster instead of the coffee machine. Finally, the aroma of coffee filled the air and it cleared her head a little. She felt rumpled as well, but then it was her apartment and she could easily change.

Catherine started to think about getting showered and dressed and what clothes she would wear today. A shock of electricity went through her as she realized again that Vincent was in the next room, waiting for her. She left the coffee and returned to the lounge.

He was still standing in the middle of the room, looking lost. "Come," she said, "sit!" They sat down together on the couch. "The coffee won't be long," she continued, conversationally. Vincent sat silently. She took his hand. "Don't worry, Vincent, we'll get a message Below somehow. Father will understand, you'll see."

They listened to the sound of the coffee machine in the kitchen and the aroma of coffee drifted slowly through. It was another facet of Catherine's life - the Tunnel community didn't own a coffee machine and could never afford the coffee to put in it. To him, the coffee smelled strong. It was a scent that belonged to Above, not home, and it served to remind him that he was in a foreign place. Vincent remained tense.

Catherine returned to the kitchen to pour out two mugs of hot steaming liquid. Suddenly the thought occurred to her that she didn't actually know how Vincent would prefer his coffee. She put her hands on her hips and surveyed her kitchen, deciding to serve the coffee on a tray with all the accoutrements.

Vincent took the mug and it warmed his hands, cold from the night and from shrinking fear. He stared into the depths, wondering exactly how it would taste. He preferred tea, not really through choice but because Below they obtained wonderful herb tea from Chinatown helpers and awful coffee from the rest. Catherine had forgotten this; she always had decent coffee for breakfast.

Catherine tucked her feet up and leaned back. She was now wearing elegant mule slippers which Vincent thought were the very essence of femininity. He had never seen anything so delicate. When they met, Catherine had never worn her slippers.

She was thinking of breakfast, and huffed in frustration. She didn't know what Vincent ate for breakfast. She didn't actually know what Vincent ate at all. They didn't exactly go for meals in restaurants. He turned to her with a question on his face, she smiled and put her free hand on his arm, admitting to her uncertainties. He smiled in return and began to relax at last, easing into acceptance of this day.

She drained her mug and stood up. "I'm going to freshen up in the bathroom," she announced. As she left, she threw back over her shoulder, "... and then it's your turn..."

Vincent didn't know if he liked that idea or not.

As she showered, Catherine enjoyed the caress of the warm water. For some reason she'd locked the bathroom door behind her. It wasn't modesty, and it wasn't as though she thought that Vincent would suddenly intrude, on any pretext at all, it just seemed more polite to do so. However, she hadn't chosen her clothes from the closet, so she'd have to re-emerge in a state of undress anyway.

To his dismay, Vincent could hear Catherine's movements in the bathroom. He heard the swish of water in the shower and images came unbidden into his mind. They were uncomfortably like his dreams. In reality, he had often held her, felt her warm hands in his, hugged her close. Now, in his mind, she was wet, still clothed, although the clothes were clinging to her figure, smiling at him with her arms held out. He sighed, bowed his head, and pressed his knuckles into his eyes.

Wrapped in a towel, she peeked into her bedroom, and as she thought he was still in the lounge. She crossed to the closet and found the clothes she wanted almost immediately - a soft pale pink jumper and dove-grey tracksuit pants. She even chose her lingerie with care. A passing thought made her smile - what on earth did Vincent wear under all those layers?' She doubted that she'd ever find out!

Vincent heard the whir of the hairdryer and steeled himself for her reappearance with the instruction that the bathroom was now free.

It turned out to be worse than he thought. Catherine's bathroom looked new and shiny, unlike the old and battered, mismatched porcelain of the bathrooms Below. He looked around at the rows of interesting bottles and other containers. He felt acutely that he was somewhere that he had no right to be. He stared at the bath, then pulled aside the shower door and peered inside. Vincent had never had a shower and didn't think this was the day to experiment. He could think of no way to avoid wetting his hair in the shower cubicle and didn't want to ask Catherine for three towels to get it dry again. She had already given him two pastel blue towels and a shove in the right direction. Reluctantly, he ran a bath.

Now it was Catherine's turn to listen to bathroom noises. She heard a heavy thump and wondered what was going on. "Boots?" she thought, "cloak!" and laughed at the thought that Vincent had not taken it off when he came inside the apartment. She heard the bath running and decided to go into the kitchen to fix breakfast before her mind took off on flights of fancy.

Vincent could hardly see. He'd turned the hot tap full on and the heat of the water filled the bathroom with steam. The bath was half full and so hot that he couldn't get in. His bath was usually tepid at best as the hot water Below had to be shared by so many people. He felt selfish having so much of it to himself. He shut it off and ran the cold tap instead. The air was getting so thick he couldn't breathe and he opened the bathroom door to let some out. Feeling better, he shut it again and found that the bath was now at a comfortable temperature.

Wisps of escaped steam reached the lounge just as Catherine began to put things on the table. Again she had to contain her curiosity as she dared not go into her bedroom to find out what was happening.

Dressing again was awful. His body felt so clean and the clothes felt stale. He didn't have the usual things that he used to complete his toilet, like his hairbrush. He didn't want to use Catherine's. Sighing, with a wry glance in the mirror he raked his fingers through the mane he'd just pulled out from his collar and decided it would have to do.

Catherine was next to the table putting down boxes of cereal, when Vincent appeared slowly from her bedroom door. She'd never seen him look so beautiful, freshly washed with his hair wet at the ends. Why he was wearing that cloak again she couldn't imagine. She invited him to sit for breakfast. No sooner had he done so than there was a commotion at the door. Someone was coming in! Frozen only for a moment, Vincent fled back from where he'd just emerged, his cloak flying out, knocking over a little side table.

Catherine raced to the door in horror. Today was the day her cleaning lady was due, and she'd completely forgotten. Luckily the chain was on and the door stopped opening abruptly.

"Hello?" called a voice. "Miss Chandler?"

"Oh, hello!" called back Catherine from. the other side of the door. "Don't worry today, Mrs Mendez, I.. ah., don't feel well, I won't be going to work, just staying in bed. Do you think you could come tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow I work at Mr Brent's, honey, I can't get here again before next week..."

"Okay, then" said Catherine, "next week it is, sorry, Mrs Mendez. I'll still pay you for today."

"Get better soon, honey, see you next week." Mrs Mendez left, quite happy to get an unexpected day off.

Catherine shut the door and heaved a sigh of relief. She gazed around the apartment for Vincent, who was nowhere to be seen, and she walked through to her bedroom. He was standing well back, and visibly relaxed when he saw her. "Catherine..."

She crossed to him, smiling. "I think you should take that cloak off for now, don't you?" she suggested. He'd heard her right the table. "And how about those boots as well, they do make a noise when you run around in here!"

He removed the cloak and carefully placed it across a chair. He slowly lifted his foot and pulled off one boot, balancing with one hand on the wall. Catherine saw that Vincent wore creamy, thick, white socks inside his boots. He put his boots together under the chair. The thought crossed Catherine's mind that she'd just asked Vincent to perform a strip-tease in her bedroom but she moved away before the thought had time to escalate into laughter that would be misinterpreted.

They resumed their interrupted breakfast, during which Catherine tried not to study Vincent and Vincent tried not to embarrass himself. Altogether it was quite a strained experience. They washed the dishes together in the kitchen. Catherine had almost slipped into the role of home-maker, thinking that he would leave her to do the chore herself, but he chose to share it with her. They enjoyed the experience, not because of the task itself, that was the last thing they would have chosen to do, but because they could do it together, not focusing on each other.

They returned to the lounge and Catherine put some music on. They sat opposite each other, listening to the music. She could not believe that Vincent had never visited before; she felt that he belonged there. Vincent was beginning to enjoy his day. He stopped studying his hands and stood up, looking around the room. He crossed to the drapes and pulled one back a little.

"I've never seen New York from high up in the daylight," he remarked, "although I've often climbed many storeys at night. Then the lights look like jewels on black velvet; it's entrancing."

Catherine joined him. "During the day it just looks like a normal, dirty old city," she said. "No romance at all." They were standing close together at the window, shoulder to shoulder. Vincent turned back to look intently into her eyes. "One makes one's own romance," he said.

Catherine could not reply. She was gazing into blue pools of light, almost drowning. "Yes," she eventually murmured. That beautiful face was so close, so warm and inviting. Catherine could not believe that once she had been horrified at the sight of him. His voice was deep and low, soft and gentle; it was what she had loved first and what she loved most. His hair was more tangled than she'd seen it for some time, somehow it made him look wild and un-tame-able even though she had him trapped in her apartment.

In turn Vincent was gazing at her. Her face and hair were caught in a shaft of sunlight. Unexpected colours played in little rainbows in the fringe which fell over her forehead. She looked very different, had more depth than usual, and Vincent felt a pang as he fell in love with her all over again. Warm feelings flowed through their bond and they both smiled. Vincent reached for her hand. "Let's pull back the drapes and sit in the sunlight," he suggested.

They did so, sitting together in the shafts of sunlight which streamed in through the window. Vincent reached up and touched her hair, stroking the silky softness, admiring her beauty. She smiled at him. His hair framed his face like a cloud as he bent down and put his cheek close to the top of her head. Being close to him in daylight was something else, Catherine decided. Instead of imagining how his hands looked placed on top of hers, she could see them. The pale fur looked no less like fur but more golden, and his claws shone like pearls. Although strange, they were his hands and they fitted him perfectly. Catherine could not now imagine how any other man's hands looked, or why she might think them attractive. Her fingers moved across the backs of his hands towards the sleeves which were as usual pulled far down. She wanted her fingers to explore in that direction. Vincent allowed this; she caressed his wrist. She decided that he was right - one made one's own romance. The city beneath her window might be ugly in daylight, but they were enjoying it today, finding beauty where others might say none existed.

He was filling his senses with the softness of her sweater, her clean hair, the warm sunlight. In the darkness that he was accustomed to, warmth and light meant that one was sitting close to a fire. He thought that he enjoyed sunlight more, and pulled Catherine closer.

She moved into his embrace willingly, seeing as well as feeling every contour of his body, under layers and layers of cloth.

The phone jangled, breaking the moment. Catherine got up reluctantly to answer it. Vincent stood too, and walked further back into the lounge, looking at the items which decorated it. She knew his things so well; he knew little of hers. He noticed photographs, framed portraits of her family members, her parents, and Vincent smiled whet ha found a photo of Catherine herself, aged about seven, with a toothless grin. She was on holiday with her parents and she looked happy. This snap was just poked into the edge of a frame.

Catherine finished telling the person on the phone that Mrs Mendez wasn't there and came over, to where he was standing, photo in hand. She grinned in embarrassment. At his questioning look she said, "I was sorting out a box of old photos at Daddy's house. I... liked... that one. It reminds me of being part of a family, the security of being a child, being loved."

Vincent glanced at her intently. Her feelings of loneliness were surfacing again. She could never hope to have a family of her own and be in that same situation, a mother with a child and a husband, not while Vincent was in her life. He felt very bad about that, for her and for himself too.

She was offering to show him more family photos. She wanted to share that part of her life with him. It was a friendly gesture from her, but he debated in his mind several things. Firstly, she missed being part of a family. Secondly, she might be saying that she didn't mind giving all this up for him. She'd said so consciously, but maybe her subconscious said something else.

They looked at the photos for quite some time. Vincent watched Catherine grow up on those pieces of paper, from cuddly baby shots to schoolgirl pictures to teenage messing about with friends.

Something occurred to him. He wanted to ask her if he could keep a recent photo of her, smiling gently at the camera, to look at whenever he wanted to; however he simply couldn't find the words. She caught his thought and gave to him the picture on which his fingers lingered. He caught her thought, too, that no photos of him existed. Below it was too dark for snapshots without a flash and she had never seen any photographs there at all. She imagined that Father would think that it might breach their security. Sometimes, she felt so proud of him that she wanted to shout his name from the rooftops. She would love to have a huge picture of him in the middle of her desk but such a thing was impossible, beyond thought. Catherine put down the photos and hugged the real thing, unexpectedly.

He shook his hair out of his eyes. Catherine passed her hand across his brow to help him, sweeping it back. "Pigtails!" she said, in a lighter mood, "plaits!"

Vincent gave her a 'not funny' look. As an adolescent, long hair had been in fashion and Vincent was envied for the way his hair grew and the fact that hey already won his battle with Father not to have it cut. Father realized that his hairstyle was part of his 'otherness' and the length of it might shield his face if he wasn't wearing his cloak. Devin wanted long hair too but fought tooth and nail with Father who didn’t think so.

However, before that, as a child, his hair had been no less long when everyone else's was quite short and he'd been teased unmercifully. Lisa had lots of pretty ribbons to tie her hair with and Devin had often stolen them. Firstly, it made Lisa mad, sometimes she even cried. Secondly, it was great to tie them in Vincent's hair when he was asleep. Once or twice he'd not even found them and had come to breakfast looking like that. Then there had been a commotion as Lisa grabbed her ribbons back, glaring at Vincent, who was pained because he was innocent and having his hair pulled hurt. The very idea of tying his hair back was indescribably awful. It was for Girls.

He explained most of this to Catherine who found it very funny. Vincent still couldn't see the humour.

"Your hair is tangled," she said. "Let me brush it out for you." Catherine rose and found a wide-toothed hairbrush that she used when her hair was set in curls. Sitting behind Vincent, she took handfuls of his hair and brushed it slowly out.

The day wore on. Vincent and Catherine had never shared such a long uninterrupted time together. It wasn't like the weekends, when she came Below, where any one of the Tunnel Community could suddenly appear with a message or errand for Vincent. In his chamber, their privacy was limited as the tunnels had few doors. It wasn't like in the evenings that he spent on her balcony, where they were out of doors and it was late. Vincent knew that to keep Catherine up too late would lead to her having an awful day at work afterwards. Today, they were sealed in a capsule, free from intrusions, free from their duties and responsibilities, free to enjoy each other's company.

They talked over many subjects, read favourite passages from. Catherine's library which was nowhere near as extensive as the one Vincent was used to borrowing from, listened to music on headphones - which was a new experiences for Vincent and one which he enjoyed immensely. Catherine decided to "acquire" a personal stereo for him with a supply of his favourite music. They did all those things which true lovers do on a day which is theirs alone.

Catherine returned to the kitchen to pour boiling water in a teapot. She had some very special tea, and brought out of the cupboard an old and precious tea service. With everything arranged perfectly on the tray, as it should be for someone who is held in such high esteem, she set it down on the low table in the lounge. Carefully she poured out the amber liquid and served Vincent his tea.

Vincent received the honour with gratitude. He worried though about the delicate, almost translucent china. It was a tea service for ladies' afternoon tea, not for someone with his size and strength. Catherine watched him as as tried to put his finger-through the handle shaped like a double "S". He gave it up and tried to grasp the cup gracefully from the other side. An audible "click" was heard as his teeth met the rim. Catherine suddenly had the realization that teacups weren't designed for teeth like that. The tea was delicious and Vincent complimented her on her choice.

Following the tea they sat down together to listen to more music, this time a whole concert on the radio.

***

If New York could be said to have a rush hour, this was it. The traffic noises seemed to get more urgent as darkness began to fall. The mood between Catherine and Vincent started to get sombre. Their day was nearly over. Catherine's thoughts were desperate; she couldn't bear it to be over. She had spent the day in Paradise - she had everything she really wanted and needed. Her whole world was in this apartment, right here, right now. She just knew she couldn't suggest they spend another day like this on purpose, next time. It had happened by accident, and to arrange such a magical time just wouldn't work. Vincent would never shirk his duties Below on purpose.

Action was needed. Catherine got up and announced that she would cook some dinner. Vincent greeted this with enthusiasm. A big man, he had an appetite to match and hadn't eaten anything since breakfast time. Catherine was used to spending the day without food or eating on the run, however the Tunnel Community had their meals tightly scheduled by the chef William, who insisted that his customers arrived on time and ate heartily. Vincent often performed hard manual labour due to his considerable strength and this needed fuelling. He hadn't noticed that he was growing very hungry and his stomach began to growl, happily out of Catherine's hearing.

Catherine stared at the contents of her grocery cupboard. As she lived alone she didn't keep a huge stock of food and basically ate very haphazardly. It would take much thought and time to construct a meal that she wanted to serve to Vincent.

Still searching, she found some pasta as a base for the meal, then she looked in the refrigerator for the ingredients for a sauce. There was the remains of a delicatessen salad, some pate, an avocado and some mushrooms. Catherine wondered how to combine them all in an interesting fashion and decided it wouldn't work. She put the pasta on the stove to cook and made up a cheese sauce to serve with mushrooms. There was no fresh meat in her fridge and nothing that would serve two in the freezer. Catherine was bothered about that. Good quality meat was a rarity in the Tunnels and Catherine at least knew that Vincent enjoyed it. She decided to give him the single portion of steak that remained, hoping that it would defrost quickly in the microwave.

Vincent wasn't sure if he was expected to help in the kitchen or whether William was right about his presence there. He decided to allow Catherine the privilege of preparing a meal of her choice, without his interference. He did feel as though he should contribute something to the occasion, however.

Catherine smiled at his request. "Why don't you organize the dining-room?" she said. "The cutlery is in that drawer and the glasses in that cupboard. I'll find a tablecloth and the place-mats. We could have our own dinner party, Vincent!" He smiled at her enthusiasm. "Would you light some candles?" she added.

"Of course," he replied, with a slight nod of his head.

Catherine searched out the best tablecloth from her linen drawer. She left Vincent organizing the scene for their candlelit dinner and was just returning to the kitchen to finish preparing their meal when there was a loud knock at the door.
Vincent looked askance at Catherine. She hurried over, shoving him in the direction of her bedroom. ''I'll find out who it is, it won't take long," she whispered.

Vincent disappeared through the doors, pulling them to behind him. Catherine crossed to the door, opened it a crack and peered through.

"Hello there, girlfriend," came a familiar voice. "Your boss told me that you were taking the day off, so I thought I should come and see what's happening."

"Edie!" smiled Catherine, genuinely pleased to see her friend. "Well?" said Edie. "Can I come in?"

Put like that, there wasn't much else Catherine could do. She unlocked the door and ushered Edie inside. Edie looked around. The scene in Catherine's flat was set for a romantic evening for two.

"Whoa!" said Edie. "Am I interrupting something? I thought the story was that you had a bug."

Catherine looked at her sheepishly and shrugged. "I feel better now, and I thought I wouldn't cancel my evening plans." This was Catherine's thin excuse.

"Well, your boss asked me to drop this off on my way past," Edie continued. "I don't know what's cooking, but I was busy all afternoon getting this off the computer. I think you're supposed to work on it tonight, but that would interfere with your 'plans', huh?"

"Let me just check on something in the kitchen," Catherine said, getting up hurriedly, trying to change the subject. She really didn't want Edie to stay longer than necessary. "Won't be a second," she called over her shoulder.

"Okay," said Edie, settling on the couch. From where she was sitting she could see through the louver doors to Catherine's bedroom as one of the doors had wafted open again. Edie noticed that the bedclothes were all in a heap, further piquing her interest.

Catherine emerged from the kitchen. "What did Joe tell you I had to do with all this?" she asked.

"It's apparently linked to the Westley case you were just about to lake into court. He wants it all ready by tomorrow at lunchtime." At that, Catherine groaned. Edie shrugged and decided to talk about something more urgent and interesting. "So, girlfriend, are you going to spill the beans about your hot date tonight?"

"No," said Catherine, affecting an air of mystery, "I think I'll just keep you guessing."

"Is that fair?" Edie was outraged. "I'll bet he’s tall, dark and handsome..." At that moment there was a smashing noise nearby.

"... and in the next room..." thought Catherine. She smiled at Edie, trying to blame the noise on the neighbours.

Edie was not to be fooled. She was certain that the smash had happened in Catherine's apartment, probably in her bathroom, if not her bedroom. She also knew when it was time to leave, and did so graciously, with an air of superiority which told Catherine that Edie knew all about it, but that she would let Catherine, keep her little secret.

While Catherine was seeing her out with the usual courtesies, Vincent was still cursing himself over and over for being a fool. He'd hidden out of sight when she answered the door and scampered further back when the door shifted open again. He'd gone into the bathroom and kept as still as possible, trying to listen to what was being said, when Catherine didn't come to rescue him.

Several containers were standing close to the washbasin, which hadn't been returned to their places in the cupboard. Trying to move quietly, he'd caught a glass bottle with his sleeve and knocked it to the floor where it broke. From the smell that arose Vincent realized it was the perfume Catherine was wearing today. In trying to pick up the pieces Vincent managed to soak his shirt and his hands with the cologne. He was still on his knees with his hands full of glass splinters when Catherine came in. She had to smile at the sight of this huge, highly perfumed man crawling around on the floor.

Vincent sat back on his haunches. "I'm sorry, Catherine."

"Let me help you," she said, kneeling down as well, collecting more splinters. "You'd better wash up before dinner."

She left him to do just that while she rescued their delayed meal. Vincent washed his hands free of the perfume but wished more than ever that he had fresh clothes to wear. He decided that his under-shirt would have to go, and removed it, replacing his outer clothes. He left the shirt in the bathroom.

Catherine had turned out all the apartment lights, leaving only the soft candlelight glowing. Vincent's breath was taken away by the sight of the beautiful scene: the woman he loved waiting for him, bathed in golden light.

Catherine had served avocado as a starter. Vincent had never tasted this, and wasn't sure how to eat the soft and slippery flesh. He followed Catherine's lead, but he didn't appreciate the taste at all and ate it with very long teeth. He covered this up by valiantly opening the bottle of wine and pouring them both a generous glassful. Catherine eyed him speculatively as she wasn't at all sure how much alcohol Vincent had ever consumed in his life and what effects it might have if he wasn't used to it.

For the main course they had the pasta and Vincent accepted the steak gratefully when Catherine claimed she wasn't that hungry. They ate mostly in companionable silence. Vincent had quickly finished his wine and Catherine indicated that he should pour some more. She commented that, it was a fine wine and he agreed. Catherine decided that maybe he did know a thing or two about wine and concluded that he was just full of surprises.

Catherine watched Vincent as he ate. She didn’t mean to study him exactly, she just hadn't ever had him so close in such a formal and intimate situation. Even though he wasn't dressed up for the occasion he looked marvelous in the romantic setting, with the candlelight shining in his eyes. He was just as desirable as Catherine had ever seen him. She'd had two glasses of wine already to keep him company and was beginning to wonder if this wasn't getting to her. Vincent's table manners were as excellent as his other manners always were.

Catherine found that her usual small talk in a situation like this wouldn't do. It was no good discussing the merits or otherwise of various favourite restaurants and watering holes with someone who had no hope of ever going there. Vincent's conversation was polite, refined and really quite serious but Catherine was beginning to want something light-hearted to laugh at. She smiled at him, lifted her glass and spoke.

"To us," she said. "May we do this again and often!" Vincent bent his head and agreed, lifting his glass to meet hers. By this time he'd quite decided that to be in Catherine's apartment was the most natural thing in the world.

They sat over empty plates for quite some time, engaged in light conversation. By now it was quite dark outside, neither of them realizing that this implied that Vincent was probably safe enough to go home again.

Catherine eventually cleared the table and carried all the dishes to the kitchen. Vincent looked speculatively at the empty grate in the lounge. "Could we make a fire tonight?" he asked.

"Oh, yes!" said Catherine with enthusiasm. "I don't usually bother except on very cold nights."

Vincent built up the hearth while Catherine watched him. Soon there was a fine blaze going which warmed them, heart and soul. They sat close together on the couch, watching the flames, finishing the last of their wine. When Catherine's glass was empty she sat twirling the stem in her fingers. Vincent put his glass down on the floor and reached for hers, their fingers meeting around the delicate stem. A flash of electricity went through her and she glanced at his face. She thought she saw, just for a second, a strange expression in his eyes, but this was veiled in an instant.

Catherine thought it over. The pictures she could see in the flames fanned her own thoughts. In recent weeks their relationship had taken several important steps forward. She had discovered that, deep-down and very well buried, Vincent craved the touches and caresses that were normal and natural in any man. He had once loved Lisa, and had wanted to deepen their relationship, however Lisa and Father had born in him the idea that he was unable to reach out and grasp that love.

When she was mourning her own father's death and had fled to him in the Tunnels, he was forced to admit that he didn't want her to return to her home Above. When she had given him the most chaste "thank you" peck on the cheek, he had stood stock-still, shell-shocked, that she would dare to give him that which he wanted above all things, a kiss. Made bold by the wine, no doubt, and in the afterglow of their day together, Catherine came around to thinking that now should be the time for something quite special to happen.

Vincent caught the thought. He knew she bad seen his naked face, the desire kindling in his eyes. His recent dreams came unbidden into his mind, and the room began to feel warmer and warmer to him. This had little to do with the fire. Catherine's presence always had the effect of confusing him, making him feel as though he was bigger, uglier than ever, but tonight the wine had broken that barrier down, and he only saw himself as he was, mirrored in her eyes. He swallowed, opening his mouth in a little gasp. His face felt flushed, his hands damp. What were all these odd reactions?

Catherine sat still, knowing this would have to be taker, at Vincent's pace. She watched as confusion ranged across his face, then she moved closer until she sat curled up close against him, with Vincent in his usual place, arm around her, holding her close. "I'm so warm and comfortable," she said. "Don't, ever leave, Vincent."

"l won't leave you. I'll always be where you are."

She stroked his hands, scenting the remains of her perfume on his sleeve. The same perfume wafted up from her hair into his face, more intoxicating than the wine. He briefly touched her hair with his lips. She snuggled closer, leaning her weight against him, feeling his solid body cushioning her.

Catherine watched the flames, studied them as they licked at each piece of paper or coal in the fireplace. "Imagine being a moth," she said dreamily. "Seeing the flames, fluttering closer and closer until finally, you get too close..."

"... and your wings are singed, you are burned up," continued Vincent.

"You are consumed by the fire," went on Catherine, turning to look at him, "part of it, part of that brightness. It doesn't matter if that's all there is, just to be part of that flame."

"Yes..." said Vincent. He shifted and she moved around to face him. His hand went up to the side of her face, feeling the soft skin cupped in his big hand. The claws did not even touch her as his hand stroked across her face. He stroked again, touching her hair.

Catherine moved her head and placed her lips to the inside of his palm. Vincent's eyes slowly closed. As he breathed in, his courage settled in the pit of his stomach. When he opened up his eyes again, Catherine was still there, real, not a dream. In a moment which played past slowly like eternity, he moved closer to her, drawing her face to his, cupped in both his hands like water in the hands of a thirsty man. Closing in eyes in rapture, his lips gently met hers as two roses drifting in the late afternoon breeze will graze each other. They savoured the sensations passing between them on a level they had not yet explored.

Catherine decided that this was what she was hungry for. She wanted to feast, to take more and more helpings of something so infinitely sweet and soft and desirable. She knew only one thing in that moment: that Vincent must kiss her again, over and over, just as slowly and hesitantly as he had kissed her just then.

A wonderful feeling surged through him. The spell had been broken - he had kissed Catherine and nothing had happened. The world stayed where it was, Father had not suddenly appeared to reprimand him, Catherine had not run away, his 'dark side' had not surfaced to rob him of this moment. Vincent sighed raggedly with relief.

Catherine opened her eyes and looked up at him, touching his head with her free hand. She gently applied pressure, bringing his head down to hers again. Vincent's eyes were still shut, as though he were afraid that this scene would evaporate. Catherine's lips moved on his, seeking a reaction from him. All at once an instinct took over and he found himself holding her tightly. The kisses deepened as the sensation from their lips filled their hearts with joy. Vincent was sure that he could not, breathe, he didn't want to breathe, he wanted to drown right now, never to return to the real world and face the problems this kiss surely would bring. He was on fire. He was burning up, he was breaking out in a sweat, he must...

... not let the joy turn to panic or anything else which could not be handled. They broke the kiss, hugging so closely that he couldn't see her face, which was buried in his hair.

"Vincent," whispered Catherine, "I love you, I love you..."

He held her close. "You are my world," he whispered back. "My Catherine, I love you."

They hugged for some time, sharing loving caresses. Vincent felt that he was becoming suffocated by her closeness, he reached to his neck to loosen his shirt and vest from his throat. Catherine watched as a part of Vincent she had never seen came into her view.

Without the under-shirt, his chest was bared just an inch or two and she saw blond hair thickly covering his collarbone. This extremely modest revelation thrilled Catherine more than she ever wanted to admit to.

Leaning forward, he entered into another kiss. He held her so close that he was aware of every contour of her body through their casual clothes. He was more aware than ever before of Catherine's breasts pushing into his chest. His temperature rose steadily and he broke the kiss to breathe fast and hard. He could never have imagined that, passion was so intense as this. It took him away, it was an uncontrollable as that beast within him which took over whenever he got really angry about something. The worst, or best, of it was that Catherine was there to share it with him, she felt it as he did, she shared his emotions. Looking at her, he saw how her eyes were wide, her lips and face flushed deep pink, as she looked younger, prettier, more desirable. What was going on?

He was aware of his own physical changes as well, and he wondered if this turn of events was apparent to Catherine and, if so, what he should do about it.

Catherine regarded him slowly. It was within her experience to know the next moves in the game that was playing out. She saw him warring with himself, and suddenly knew she. was ready for whatever came next.

It was within Vincent's experience to know that whenever he let go and lost himself, he usually bitterly regretted it. He had developed an iron will that slammed a tight lid on his feelings when required. He was not about to do anything at this time that he would live to regret. Catherine was too precious for that.

He looked away. His hand dropped to his side. Catherine caught it back again, searching bis face. Vincent looked back at her, smiling gently. He regretted nothing. "How wonderful," he said, very quietly, "to hold you, to kiss you, to feel you near."

They sat holding hands, the heat of their passion dimming to a warmth that surged from one to the other. She rested her head on his shoulder. "Wonderful," she echoed.

Time would have been as nothing to the lovers as they sat in the firelight and candle-glow, hearing the music of the city outside, now a dull roar, now more strident. The candles burnt low and the coals went out. It was now the early hours of the next morning, and time for them to part. The moment had been delayed as long as possible, but it had to come around. Vincent gathered Catherine up in his arms as he stood up. He swung her down to stand on her feet, although she hardly thought her legs would hold her.

Neither of them could say a word. Words were an unnecessary complication. Catherine pulled back the drapes and opened the French doors as he pulled his hood ever his hair and went out into the night. She shut the doors again and slowly walked back into the empty apartment. She went through to her bedroom to spend the hours until dawn quite alone.

***

Vincent walked slowly back to his chamber. The Tunnels were silent and still as most people were asleep. When he got there he found a note from Father, essentially saying what he'd expected it would say. He decided to disobey his father and NOT wake him, however. Tomorrow morning would be time enough for that. The night air and peacefulness of the Tunnels had calmed him down. He changed for bed, stretching out his muscles to relieve the stiffness. Once there, he remembered the events of the day as he drifted into sleep, his dreams full of kisses and soft skin, loving touches and more, all those things he could not do, or yet could not even dare to try.

Catherine looked at her face in the bathroom mirror. A new Catherine looked back at her, one who was hopelessly in love. She touched her finger to her lips, remembering how he had kissed her, actually kissed her, and her passion for him flared again. In the pit of her stomach she wanted more, she would have torn his clothes from his body, she knew she would have, if he'd given her even half a chance. There was no sleeping while she felt this way, she was sure, and sighed.

Neatly folded, lying in a corner - quite for-gotten - was Vincent's under-shirt. She picked it up and held it close. It reeked of her spilled perfume, as did most of the bathroom, but underneath it all was HIS smell, his own personal scent, and she shut her eyes as she breathed it in. Retiring to bed, she curled up in a tight little ball around the shirt, and slept very soundly indeed.

Vincent was dreaming that she would awaken to find a face close to his. He did, in fact, but it wasn't Catherine's. As the face came into focus, instead of honey-gold hair the face was framed by a grizzled grey beard. Father wore en expression of concern, hurt and anger. "Where have you been?" he demanded.-"I was worried sick. None of the sentries had seen you..."

"Father," said Vincent, sitting up. "I spent the day Above, with Catherine."

This news hardly mollified Father. "Above?" he repeated. "All night and all day? Really, Vincent, I can't believe that you would ever be so reckless as to spend all day Above."

Vincent interrupted the tirade. "I was safe, Father, don't worry. I stayed too late the night before and couldn't get back, so Catherine and I stayed all day in her apartment."

Father noticed a heavy waft of feminine and expensive perfume coming from his son. Vincent's hair was rumpled and he looked tired but peaceful. Father scratched his head and wondered. All night and all day in her apartment, alone, just the two of them. Father chastised himself for wanting to influence the actions of two consenting adults, but really—

Catherine awoke to the jangling of her alarm and went through the motions of getting to work on time. As she showered, the action of the hot water streaming over her skin reminded her of his touch. The water caressed her as she could only dream that he someday would.

Arriving at her office, she spread out the material that Edie had delivered last evening and was trying to gather her thoughts, when Joe appeared with his usual, "Hi, Radcliffe". He noticed that nothing had been done on the work he had asked her to do and Catherine tried to charm him with a smile, promising it by mid-morning.

One of the secretaries noticed Catherine stifling a yawn and remarked upon it to her confidante, Edie, who couldn't help dropping rather heavy hints about Catherine's social life. By lunchtime, even Joe was aware of the gossip floating around the DA's office. Catherine was too tired to notice any more than a sudden silence whenever she appeared on the scene.

No matter what anybody thought, they had achieved a new serenity. They had climbed up to a plateau, to a forbidden height and had sat there in the sunlight, bathed in their love. They had conquered a great obstacle, seemingly monumental from his side, and hers, and everyone else's. They had dared to share a kiss, lived to tell the tale, and glorified in the telling. A wall had crumbled - who knew what lay beyond? Catherine and Vincent knew only one thing, that finding out was going to to be long, slow process, taken one careful step at a time. They would share the journey, having fun along the way, until they reached the place where they could share not only their hearts, but their lives and their love as well.

I want to lay down on your shoulder
Just inside your arm
I want to listen to your heartbeat
And your breathing on and on
I want to lay down on your shoulder
Surrender to your peace
And just go to sleep

END