for the inspiration.
In gratitude to the writers of the wonderful zine "Lovelocked"
As she approached the chamber at the end of the corridor, the very center of her world, voices could clearly be heard. Catherine hesitated, unwilling to disturb Vincent if he had a visitor - female, by the pitch of the voice....
She had wondered why he hadn't come to meet her at her threshold, but over the years she'd come to expect the unexpected where the Tunnel world was concerned. Emergencies transpired with depressing regularity - not unusual when one considered the patched-together nature of most of the systems Below. So she had traveled alone to the Hub, planning to wait for him in his chamber until he was once again free. But the female giggles and low rumbling chuckles emanating from the far end of the hallway betokened another reason for his non-appearance at her threshold.
Turning away, Catherine tiptoed back down the corridor, meaning to wait in Father's study until Vincent's guest departed. But before she'd taken more than two steps, Vincent called out, "Catherine, please come in."
Shaking her head at the fleeting thought that she had succeeded in sneaking away, a chagrined Catherine turned yet again and covered the last few yards between herself and...she wasn't sure what.
The sight which greeted her when she walked through the entry startled her into dumbfounded astonishment. The female voice which now greeted her was Samantha's - and she was sitting dwarfed by the mass of Vincent's armchair, while he...apparently...was...braiding her hair?!
Catherine realized her mouth was gaping, and managed to choke out a "Hello, Samantha" as she closed it. Her gaze moved from Samantha to Vincent and back, but she didn't ask the obvious question.
Vincent smiled gently at Catherine's consternation. "I apologize for not coming to meet you, but Samantha..."
"I had a hair emergency," the youngster finished for him. When she realized by Catherine's puzzled expression that more explanation was needed, Samantha added, "I'm meeting Geoffrey for a walk to the Falls, and I was too nervous to do my braid right. Vincent can always do it perfectly, so I asked him if he'd help."
"A man of hidden talents," Catherine responded, smiling.
"It was imperative that I do this immediately, Catherine. You understand." His eyes begged her to.
"Oh, yes, I certainly understand," she nodded, agreeing wholeheartedly. "Nothing's worse than not having your hair perfect when you're trying to make a good impression. You should have seen me before my interview with the District Attorney - I was almost late because I couldn't get the curl just right."
Samantha nodded gravely. This was "woman talk" and she and Catherine were equals on this point.
With an amused grin Catherine sat on the bed and watched as Vincent finished the final plaiting and applied a ribbon to tie it off properly. The sureness and deftness of Vincent's hands as he worked with the thick hair amazed her. It was as if he'd done this a hundred times before. Finally, Vincent gave his client a pat on the shoulder. "All done."
Samantha bounced out of his chair and threw a quick "Thanks, you're a lifesaver" over her shoulder before racing out of the chamber, her newly adjusted braid flying. They could hear the pelting of her feet as she sped away, toward her date with destiny.
Vincent looked after her for a moment, then shook his head and took her place in the chair. "She won't need me for such things much longer," he murmured wistfully.
Catherine could control her curiosity no longer. "Has she...needed you for such things often before?"
Vincent took a deep breath as if rousing himself from a daydream. He focused on Catherine's face as he explained. "Since I was a boy, I've helped Mary put the youngest children to bed. I seem to have a way with them, she says. They sleep in my arms when no one else can stop their crying.
"I began helping her in the mornings as well, getting the children ready for their day. She taught me how to comb and braid hair so that she could focus on getting the younger ones dressed. I still help her occasionally, when work details or illness call her usual helpers away. It's a talent..." he quirked the corner of his mouth into a small smile, using her term for it, "I've never lost. And on rare occasions, some of the children I used to assist come to me...as Samantha did tonight. I don't believe she truly needed my help, but she was nervous...and she likely needed some reassurance that she was looking her best."
"Reassurance which I'm sure you gave her, judging from the way she ran out of here just now." Catherine chuckled low in her throat. "You know, I was a bit jealous of her."
His knowing look made her realize he had felt that from her, just as he always sensed her emotions.
The slight smile on his face was driving her wild. She loved it when something struck his funny bone. He was usually so serious, and even when he was having fun, it was a subdued kind of fun, judging from his expression. In his eyes she'd catch amusement or see his happiness reflected, but rarely did those unique lips curve into a semblance of a smile. She thought it might be because the long habit of self-consciousness about his unusual facial features had imprinted itself so firmly that the natural impulse to smile no longer held sway over him. Whatever the reason, she was glad she'd broken down his defenses far enough to earn that small smile.
On impulse, she rose from her perch on the edge of his bed and planted herself on his lap. "What's a girl got to do to get the same treatment as Samantha?" she purred, her smile letting him know she would let him off the hook if he became too uncomfortable over this unexpected intimacy. Yet her eyes held a plea which was unmistakable. She wouldn't beg, but she hoped he would offer.
For a long moment he sat completely still, his eyes betraying his surprise at her sudden move and her unusual request. Finally, he swallowed audibly, then rasped, "You would like me to...to braid...your hair?"
"Yes, please," she replied in a breathless whisper.
In the past year and a half she had let her hair grow out, and it was long now - to the middle of her back. She usually left it down, or pulled it back casually into a loose chignon as she had it now. She had noticed that Vincent liked long hair - not just on himself, but on women as well. And she had seen how his eyes brightened in approval when she tossed her hair over her shoulder or ran her fingers through it if it became tousled. Whatever little thing she could do to make him happy, she was glad to do, and growing her hair out had been one of the easiest.
Besides, it pleased her as well. She felt more feminine, more desirable, and she needed to feel that way, absent any movement towards deeper physical intimacy from Vincent. She sensed he wanted it, but somehow he couldn't seem to break through whatever barriers held him back. She couldn't force her way through those barriers - he had to find a way past them himself. He had to want it badly enough - want her badly enough - or it would be useless.
All this flashed through her mind as she waited for his answer. If he truly couldn't do as she asked, she'd understand - she always did, always would. Until the time for such understanding was no longer necessary.
"Vincent...it's all right...I...."
A warm, claw-tipped finger was pressed to her lips, instantly silencing her. Then she felt his powerful arms enfold her and her world spun. When it righted again, she found herself seated as Samantha had been, with Vincent standing beside the chair. "Would you like a plait like Samantha's?" he asked soberly.
She'd had a French braid, low on her nape. Catherine nodded, momentarily speechless.
Vincent took up his place behind the chair. He pulled out the few pins which held her chignon. When he’d loosened it, he lifted her hair in both hands, letting it drift through his fingers, weighing it, testing it. Then he picked up the brush he had used on Samantha's hair and ran it through the thickness of hers. The brush moved rhythmically from her scalp to the ends of her hair, never tugging, never pulling. Again and again he gentled the brush through her tresses, smoothing them for the work ahead.
His touch was light, his movements subtle. If he found a knot, he worked it gently free. Catherine relaxed into his sure touch, allowing the sensuality of the moment to pervade her soul. If he was this loving and tender just brushing her hair....
Setting the brush down and using the clawed tips of his nails, Vincent began the slow process of separating her hair into equal sections. Catherine bent her head, allowing him unimpeded access. He lay sections of hair upon her shoulders. Then he began to form the braid.
His skilled fingers worked adroitly, fashioning a thick, pliant plait. No words were spoken, but as he worked, awareness of a new closeness grew between them. For Catherine, his touch upon her hair was the sweetest, most innocent foreplay she’d ever experienced. He’d never allowed those hands he thought so fearsome to caress her so tenderly before, and she savored the rare indulgence. She’d happily sit here for hours if he’d continue to brush her hair, to stroke it and tease it into place. Imagining how it would feel to lie beside him while he ran his hands through it, caressing her hair...caressing her, she sighed deeply and let her eyelids drift shut, closing out the world to concentrate solely on his touch.
For Vincent, this was an intimacy rivaling the tenderest embrace they’d ever shared. Catherine’s hair had always held a fascination for him - the way it fell across her brow, the tendency for tiny tendrils to come loose and float around her face when she curled it or wore it up. Rarely had he given in to the urge to even stroke a stray strand back in place, so now that he had both hands full of such lushness, he had to struggle to breathe. He filled his eyes with its beauty - rich highlights glimmered in the candlelight, revealing subtle blonde and caramel hues. And working through her hair released not only the aroma of her floral shampoo but a hint of her body’s own essence - that scent which was distinctly Catherine in his mind. His senses reeled from the onslaught, and he wished he had the courage to do what he so often did surreptitiously when he held her - to brush a barely perceptible kiss upon it.
Too soon, he was done, the braid finished and the excuse to touch her like this ended. He tugged a length of suede cording from his vest and used it to tie the plait, holding the braiding in place. "It’s done," he whispered, still slightly awed by the opportunity which had - literally - fallen into his lap.
Catherine reluctantly opened her eyes. Leaning her head back, she smiled up at him. "Thank you. It feels lovely."
Reaching over to a nearby shelf, Vincent plucked a curved piece of metal down and handed it to her wordlessly. It was the same reflector which Catherine had found when she’d first been Below, the one in which she’d seen the ruin of her face - the one she’d thrown at him in fear when she’d reacted to his sudden looming presence behind her at that moment. Oddly touched, she accepted it and turned her head from side to side to catch glimpses of the plait. Satisfied by what she saw, she nodded and returned the reflector to Vincent, commenting impishly, "You could get a job in a salon Above with a talent like that!"
That too-rare smile quirked the corners of his mouth again. "I’ll keep that in mind...should I need a job Above someday."
Catherine rose from the chair and turned, kneeling on the seat and looking up into the unique face of her Beloved. She tried to keep her tone light as she admitted, "You know, for the life of me, I can’t remember why I came Below tonight. This was such an unexpected pleasure, it’s driven every other thought from my mind."
One clawed hand came up to tentatively stroke her cheek, and Catherine held very still, amazed by what was, for Vincent, a bold move. "I can’t recall either," he replied huskily. His eyes glittered in the candlelight as they took in her upturned face, her rosy, glowing complexion, the slight trembling of her full lower lip.
He watched as she formed the whispered words, "Thank you again."
"It was my pleasure, Catherine," he managed to reply, trying to keep the tremor from his voice. His fingers as they caressed her burned from the contact - whether it was from the hot blush that rose to her cheeks or the sudden rush of blood through his veins, he didn’t know. The turning of her head caught him by surprise, as did the soft brush of her warm lips as they skimmed a kiss across his palm. His heart pounded so hard he thought his ribs might crack, and he felt an adrenalin charge pierce him that was almost electric in force. But he couldn’t move, for Catherine was now nuzzling against his hand, placing delicate kisses upon the pads of each finger. And that sound she was making...a kind of muted moan low in her throat. It made the hairs on the back of his neck rise in response, and reflexively, his hand closed to cup her chin.
Her eyelashes fluttered in surprise as she looked up at him once more, but she didn’t protest or move away. He let his thumb stray across her ripe, tempting lips, grazing them lightly, feeling them pucker slightly in a breathtakingly gentle kiss. The room swam before his eyes, his vision clouding as he sought to gain control over his senses. Then he felt Catherine’s arms snake around his neck, drawing him down toward her. He still held her chin firmly in his hand, but it was she who leaned up to press her mouth to his, repeating the tenderness she’d graced upon his palm and his thumb. He gave up trying to recover his equilibrium and closed his eyes.
Everything beyond her presence faded into obscurity. He heard the soft rustle of fabric as Catherine minutely changed position, felt the tightening of her arms around him, and melted into the heady scent and taste of the woman he adored as she kissed him. Never had he been kissed like this before, but he knew hunger when he felt it. She was hungry for him, for his mouth, for his kisses! As he ached for hers.
With a groan he didn’t realize he’d released, he let his own arms catch Catherine up in an embrace and responded as he’d hardly dared even dream of doing - with the pent-up yearning of a starving man. Her mouth was so pliant, so willing beneath his own - even as her soft, glorious hair had yielded to his every urging, so Catherine now seemed to melt within his arms, to curve and bend so that every plane of her body melded to his. Their Bond thrummed with the pulsing of their blood, vibrating as never before with the sensual tension their kisses had unleashed. More was the wordless demand resounding within it, each beat of their hearts adding to the clamor.
One of Catherine’s arms pulled away, but the other held him so tightly, he wasn’t concerned. He felt her reach behind her with her free hand. She plucked at the thong tying her braid in place and it gave way, spilling the end of her braid across her back. Her mouth broke from his for the barest moment, only long enough to murmur "Please!" He knew what she wanted. Releasing her, he used both hands to rake through her hair, loosening the plait he’d only recently created. He allowed his hands to fist in her hair, clutching handfuls of the gossamer strands, then opened his palms to free it, feeling it glide through his fingers like spun silk.
Another groan pierced the silence, but whose? Clasping the back of her head now, he urged her to bend backward, exposing her neck. She complied with a throaty whimper which set his blood afire, causing the kisses he planted at the pulse point of her throat to be more fevered than reverent, his passions loosening exponentially with each touch of lips to hot flesh.
Catherine moaned his name low in her throat, her hands playing through his hair as he lavished attention on the delicate column of her neck. She held him to her, hardly daring to believe that something so innocent could turn so erotic in the span of a few heartbeats. Yet what had been simmering for so long just beneath his composed exterior had finally been unmasked - and the sensual, hot-blooded lover she’d dreamed of was flowering before her astonished eyes.
"Catherine...Catherine..." he crooned hoarsely between lavish kisses, pouring his love out to her with his voice, his mouth, his tongue. Their Bond trembled with echoing passion, binding their hearts ever closer with each fervent expression of adoration. Her entire body quivered with the intensity of her response, her arms barely able to retain their grasp on him, and she moaned his name again in response, then added, "Yes!"
Suddenly, she felt a shudder course through his body, and the muscles of his back stiffened. He tore his mouth from the hollow of her throat and groaned, "Father...." Leaning his forehead against hers, they both gulped badly needed air as they strove to calm the wild beating of their hearts.
"Dinner!" she replied. "I forgot."
"As did I," he admitted. "He’s expecting us...now."
He raised his head to catch her eye, and the look he gave her left no doubt of what he’d rather be doing. "We’re already late," he added, in a tone heavy with apology.
"I know," she answered, then managed a small smile. "But I don’t regret it."
He shook his head, amusement now overtaking the fervency in his dazzlingly blue eyes. "Nor I. But...before we go...perhaps....?" He let his fingers drift through her hair, reminding her that it was exceedingly tousled, mostly at his hands.
"Maybe you’d better let me have the brush!" she remarked, arching her eyebrow, her tone suggesting that if he did it, they might never get to dinner.
Again he gifted her with his smile. "Yes, that would be best. Otherwise...." He left the rest of his comment unspoken, but it hung in the air between them like a promise.
She tilted her head as if considering it, then nodded. "Later then. I really would like you to finish what you started." Her lips curved into a tempting smile.
"What we started, Catherine," he chided her gently, but then his eyes grew serious and the mood between them suddenly grew heavy with significance. "And yes...later. Then... after...perhaps you might put a braid in my hair, as well?" The inquiry was part entreaty, and Catherine frowned, trying to figure out what he meant. Then her brow cleared. "A lovelock? I’d be proud to. After. And you’ll promise to wear it?"
He nodded as he picked up the brush and handed it to her. "Until it grows out...and you plait another."
Vincent closed his journal and placed it back on the shelf among his collection.
"And that’s the story of why your Daddy has this little braid, Jacob. Now...go to sleep and dream sweet dreams." Catherine smiled in admiration, astonished at how he’d managed, as he read, to turn such an overtly sensual interlude into a story a child could hear.
The little boy snuggled deeper into his bed and curled his unusual lips into a thoughtful pout. "Daddy...someday...will somebody put a lovelock in my hair?"
"I’m sure of it," his Mommy replied as she bent to kiss the wild blonde tangle that was her son’s hair. "I’m sure of it. Good night, my heart."
The tall golden man blew out all but one candle, then put his arm around his Beloved’s waist and hugged her close. She reached up with one hand and trailed a finger down the tiny plait. "It’s almost time for another," she whispered.
"Later," was his reply.