THAT TICKING CLOCK

Darlene Jones

"Well?" Catherine demanded.

"How many times do we have to have this conversation?" Vincent snapped as he paced his chamber. "You know we canít take the risk," he added gruffly.

"Actually, the word is wonít," she retorted. "You wonít even try."

"You knowÖ"

"Iíll tell you what I know," Catherine stormed. "I know that you have all the right equipment. You told me so yourself." Vincent stopped pacing and faced her warily. He nodded, worried as to where this particular conversation might be headed. She had never been so direct before.

"I assume you have erections," she added. "And I assume, like other men, you do something about it." Vincent stared at her wide-eyed. How did she know? He felt his face flushing. He turned away to avoid her gaze. "Oh, now Iíve embarrassed you," Catherine said coolly. "Talking about sex. And so directly too."

"Please," Vincent managed to utter plaintively.

"No, Vincent, not this time," Catherine said. "This time you are going to hear it all. I love you and only you. I want you. In my arms, in my bed, skin against skin. I want to make mad passionate love to you, only you." She paused as if waiting for a response but he was completely off balance, thrown by her words and the force with which she declared her feelings. Before he could begin to formulate a response she continued. "Iíve been celibate for a long time Vincent, not to mention that ticking clock. I have needs and I intend to see them fulfilled."

Ah, she had left him an out and he leapt for it. "Thatís exactly what Iíve been telling you for years," he retorted. "You must find another life above."

"Oh no, you donít get off that easily," Catherine declared. "The father of my babies will be you. You! Have you got that clear?"

"Catherine, no," he growled.

"And it will be sooner rather than later."

"Stop!" he roared. This was too much. Did she really think she could bully him into taking such a risk?

"Tell me you donít desire me." She glared at him. "Go on, I dare you to tell me you donít have desires for me."

Vincent stared at her. He couldnít do that, for he did desire her, with a fierce burning that was impossible to stifle no matter how hard he tried, a burning that raged though him constantly.

When he didnít respond, she turned and climbed the ladder to her building. He could feel her anger, for the first time ever targeted at him. He called her name but she didnít pause, didnít even glance back.

He sank to the tunnel floor in dismay as the door to her subbasement closed and the light from it was denied him. She wanted what he couldnít give, had for a long time. He was as acutely attuned to her physical desires as he was to her emotional state. He would give her the world, his life, anything, but thisÖ? He dropped his head on his knees and wept.

***

Catherine grinned as she readied her bath. She had rocked him tonight - deliberately. She knew he wanted her ó lusted for her would be more accurate. And she hadnít made wild guesses talking about his erections. She knew. She knew because she shared the bond.

When she first knew him, the stirrings were mere whispers, uneasy primitive feelings that mystified her. With time, and as her love for him grew, the strongest of his emotions became hers. The anger and aggression of his rages rose and swelled, sometimes frightening, but far more often emboldening. She came to appreciate rather than fear the strength of those sensations, the elemental force of them.

She felt his rages but far stronger were his desires for her. The sexuality was overpowering and she wanted desperately to sink into it, to revel in the primitiveness of his passion. She felt his desires, oh yes, she felt those.

She had refrained from telling him for fear of hurting him. She suffered a twinge of guilt. She really should have said something but, she rationalized, he would be devastated if he knew she shared the power surge that flowed through him when he defended, attacked, killed. He would be even more shocked if he knew she read his physical desire just as accurately and whatís more shared every bit of it. If he knew she knewÖ Catherine didnít finish that thought for it led to visions of Vincent disappearing in the lower reaches of his world, visions of never seeing him again and a life without him was the one thing that she simply could not accept. He was so sure their love had to be pure, the stuff of lofty poetry and fairy tales. But that wasnít enough for her, not nearly.

She grinned again. Their "conversation" at the threshold was only step one in her plan. For far too long she had squelched her urges in deference to the bond and Vincentís sensibilities. Now, she luxuriated in her bath, eyes closed as she ran her hands over her body languorously. She imagined her hands were Vincentís and slowly, slowly slid one hand down her belly to her center. She fondled herself lightly, then deliberately retreated saving the full expression of her needs for later. A little at a time, she reasoned. A growing tension reached her from Vincent followed by a sudden burst and multiple after shocks. She sat up abruptly and stared at the tile surround. It took her a few moments to regain her equilibrium and she struggled to hide her glee from Vincent. She had expected a reaction of course, but not quite so much and not quite so fast.

***

Vincentís body shuddered and tensed as he sought sweet relief for his yearning. Finally the rising crescendo erupted in an explosion more powerful than anything he had ever experienced. It was as if Catherine had shared it with him. He sank back weak from the release then bolted upright. She had caused it! Her sensual indulgence rang loudly through the bond. He got up, wrapped himself in his dressing gown and paced in agony. He could only see what he had done as yet another betrayal of Catherine and their love. Thankfully she would know nothing of it and he sighed with relief as he felt her settle into a peaceful sleep.

****

"Morning, Radcliffe." Joe said.

"Morning, Joe," she sang back.

"Whatís up?" he asked. "You look like the cat who swallowed the canary."

"You could say that," she laughed.

"Got lucky last night," he teased.

"You could say that too," she laughed again and headed for her desk, humming a sprightly tune of love.

She sang her way though the day. Nothing depressed her, not her visit to the tombs, not the pile of files on her desk, not even the testimony of the mugging victim she interviewed that afternoon. Dinner and a movie with Jenny rounded off the evening and she fell into bed, exhausted and happy.

****

The next day Vincent was distracted and cranky. Classes, for the first time ever, were a chore. Even working on the new chambers did not relieve his stress and no matter what he did the day dragged. Catherineís lightheartedness grated. That she could be so happy without him reinforced his contention that she must find a life Above. But, and it was a big but ó he didnít want that, never had really, and after last night ó how could he possibly let her go?

The evening hours passed slowly. He played chess, lost badly, allowed Father to gloat and beat a hasty retreat to his chamber when he knew Catherine was preparing for bed. He waited anxiously, guilt ridden for using what she unknowingly offered for his own gratification, yet wanting it, needing it, so badly. He tensed in anticipation and sagged with despair when nothing happened. Driven by forces he could not control, he soon found himself on her balcony watching her sleep ó peaceful, beautiful, his Catherine.

The pattern of this day repeated itself five more times. Not once did he think of inviting her down to the tunnels, not once did she arrive at the threshold as she often had in the past. Yet, he felt no anger from her, nor did her mood shift from the happy, almost carefree one of that first day.

***

"Whatís eating Vincent?" William asked as he cleared away the last of the supper dishes.

"I donít know," Father replied. "Heís been moody and cranky for days now. Not like him at all."

"Snapped at me this morning," William said. "Heís never done that before."

"Catherine not here," Mouse stated knowingly. "Vincent mad."

"Donít be silly," Father said. "Vincent isnít mad at Catherine."

"Is," Mouse stated unequivocally. "Big fight. Catherine yelled. Vincent yelled too."

"When was this?" Father asked.

"Last time she was here," Mouse informed him.

"What did they argue about?" William probed.

"Clocks," Mouse replied blithely as he departed with scraps for Arthur. Father and William stared after him.

***

"Vincent?" Father called from the entrance to his sonís chamber.

"Come in," Vincent replied morosely.

"What is it?" Father asked. "What is troubling you so?" If Father expected an outpouring of confidences, he was to be disappointed. Vincent started at the question, studied the man standing before him and simply shook his head.

"Tell me," Father encouraged.

"No," his son replied slowly.

"ButÖ" Father protested.

"No!" Father recoiled from the fury as Vincent rose, swept his cloak from the chair and rushed past him to escape.

Vincent prowled the tunnels and then, when it was dark enough, the park. Catherine wasnít home and her empty apartment held none of the usual enticing invitation. The tunnels were quiet, his chamber no sanctuary when he finally retired for the night.

Moments later it hit. Catherine satisfying her own hunger roused his to a pitch he wouldnít have believed possible.

***

Catherine, smug with satisfaction, slept well and rose early, refreshed and eager for part three of her plan. She was at the threshold much earlier than normal for a Saturday morning, but Vincent was waiting. She saw him tense, take a small step forward and then retreat. She didnít throw herself at him for the usual hug and noted his disappointment. Nor was she angry and she saw that that too, puzzled him.

"Good morning, Vincent," she said sprightly as she walked to him, rose on tiptoe and planted a light kiss directly on his lips. "I promised to help Rebecca with the Winterfest candles and Iím late," she added. "We have to hurry. Tell me about your week."

She had taken several steps into the tunnel before she heard him release his breath and move quickly to follow her. She smothered a snort of laughter and slowed her pace to allow him to catch up. She chatted about her week and asked him questions about her tunnel family. His responses were monosyllabic and virtually inarticulate and each time she glanced at him he ducked his head to hide behind his hair, but he had taken her hand when he caught up to her and didnít let go until they arrived at the candle chamber.

Catherine spent most of the day working with Rebecca. Eric brought them lunch, which they shared with Mary and Olivia.

"What are you doing to Vincent?" Olivia asked with a wink.

"Doing to Vincent? Why, nothing," Catherine replied.

"Donít go all innocent on us," Mary admonished. "Youíre doing a number on him." Catherine stared at Mary, mouth hanging open. Mary laughed.

"Itís working," Rebecca answered.

"What do you mean?" Catherine sputtered.

"He was mellow and dreamy at breakfast this morning but heís been cranky and grouchy and distracted since your last visit," Mary replied. Catherine grinned happily.

"Antsy would be a better word," Olivia interjected. "Itís like heís waiting for something."

"He has never lost so many chess matches with Father," Rebecca informed her. "So, spill," Olivia instructed. "Maybe we can help."

Catherine shook her head no and refused comment but that didnít stop the others from speculating avidly and throwing out suggestions. Rebecca thought she should trap him in her apartment. Olivia suggested aphrodisiacs from Narcissa but it was Maryís idea of tying Vincent to the bed that made her giggle.

Catherine left the happy candle makers three hours later after accepting a dinner invitation for the following night. She did not seek out Vincent before she returned Above.

***

Vincent ground his teeth as he watched his tunnel family greet Catherine Sunday evening. They surrounded her effectively pushing him to the side. He watched helplessly as the women exclaimed over her dress and hair and as the children chattered with her demanding her attention. But it was the menís behavior that was truly grating. They all hugged her in greeting; even Pascal, and the bolder among them kissed her on the cheek. William kept his arm on her shoulder much longer than necessary and Kanin flirted outrageously while Olivia looked on indulgently.

Finally the fuss subsided and they all sat down to eat. Catherine patted the bench beside her and looked at him archly. Vincent moved to take his place but Pascal slid into the spot and promptly began to give Catherine a lesson in pipe messages. Vincent watched helplessly from his seat at the end of the table. She appeared to be absorbed in the discussion and didnít even look at him once.

After dessert she rose and came around the table to his side. He looked up at her unsure of what she expected. She leaned over, kissed him lightly ó on the lips! ó in front of everyone! ó waved goodbye and asked the children to accompany her to the threshold. It was just as well as he couldnít have moved if his life depended on it. He glanced around to gauge reactions. No one was even looking at him. They were all engrossed in conversation, Father complaining loudly that he needed a new chess partner.

Kanin poked him on the arm. "Vincent?"

"Pardon?" he replied.

"What do you want to do tomorrow in the new chamber?"

"Chamber?" he asked feebly.

"Should we finish the far wall first or start smoothing the floor?"

"UmÖ IÖ the wall first, I guess," Vincent fumbled.

***

"Howís Catherine?" Father asked.

"Fine," Vincent muttered.

"Pardon?" Father said mildly, his eyes studiously on the chessboard.

"Not you too!" Vincent snapped. "Howís Catherine? Where is Catherine? Havenít seen Catherine for ages. Is Catherine OK, Vincent? Catherine! Catherine! Catherine! Youíd think there was no one else in the world," he stormed.

"Now, now Vincent," Father soothed.

"That little boy voice doesnít sit well, Father," Vincent warned.

"Itís just that she hasnít been here for two weeks and everyone misses her, Vincent. The children love her, and just the other day Mary was sayingÖ" Father chuckled as he watched Vincent scoop up his cloak and beat a hasty retreat. Heíd put any money on his sonís destination and the outcome Ė if he were a betting man.

***

"Well?" Vincent demanded.

"How many times do I have to tell you?" Catherine retorted. "I was out with my co-workers."

"All night!"

"Vincent, itís only 2 or 3 in the morning."

"Exactly. You need your sleep, and IÖ" He stopped speaking abruptly and turned away, well aware he was making a fool of himself.

"And, youÖ" Catherine prompted, her voice now soft and gentle.

"IÖ That is the childrenÖ Mary, Father, they all miss you. Itís been two weeks Catherine. Two weeks! No word from you in all that time, no visitsÖ Everyone is upset."

"And, you?" Catherine asked huskily.

Vincent turned back to look at her. She was wearing one of those gowns with little pearly things on the bodice, revealing her form, enticing. "IÖ IÖ"

Catherine reached up, pulled his head down and kissed him. Not lightly on the lips which he was half expecting, but fully, which he hardly dared to dream of. She backed away slowly. He loosened his hold reluctantly but his arms stayed around her.

"Well?" she demanded with a wicked gleam in her eye. Vincent swept her into his arms and carried her to her bed.

***

"Well, well, well," she said much later with a contented sigh. "Whoíd have thought baby making would be so much fun."  Vincent roared with laughter.