an episode expansion
AND THE WIND MOVES THEM … BEYOND THE KINGDOM
Author’s Note: first published in the 2018 Conzine: With Love, All Things Are Possible
**Mildly adult in theme**
Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.
Vincent …” She stepped into his chamber, his name whispered in gratitude and joy, but one look at him, seated – still … and so still – in his chair, and her relief … trembled. “You’re hurt.”
In truth, she’d expected him to be waiting for her once she’d sent Elliot out. She’d waited to make sure Elliot didn’t turn back out of curiosity (or overconfidence), that his footsteps went on and away … and then, after the secret door slid shut, she’d waited to hear his. But he wasn’t there; he didn’t step from the shadows anywhere along the way. Alone, the walk home to him seemed so long.
“It’s the kind of hurt that heals easily,” he said.
His words had edges and dark depths, and she sank to her knees beside him, knelt by him really. He held himself so apart. So beautiful … and so terribly sad. When the … deed … was done, the battleground above them quiet, when she’d told Elliot … herself … him… “it’s over, it’s over,” she’d known it wasn’t, not in the way that mattered most.
“Tell me what you’re feeling.”
He did, painfully doubtlessly enough, the words too overworked to swallow back. And everything he said about Elliot was true …
“I felt your fear, Catherine. The sorrows you shared. The joy you felt when you knew he was alive. And when death was nearest, when he … ”
“When he kissed me.”
“Yes … … … I felt … … that too.”
She sat back on her heels.
The kiss had come as such a surprise, in a moment so narrow, so fraught … survival her only intention. To live – for Vincent, for all they were and for all they were yet to be. Caught between longing and confirmation, between frustration and determination, there in the looming shadow of death, she’d seen not her life passing before her eyes, but her future, what had to be, what had no other choice but to be. The glory of it. The necessity. His once-uttered plea now her own directive: Don’t die, Catherine. Don’t go, not yet. When Elliot’s lips touched hers, she was so very far away …
But his kiss had served her. As with the sun breaking through pressured clouds, she was enlivened, emboldened. She knew what she wanted, all she wanted …
He felt that too. Surely.
“I’ve never felt closer to Elliot than I did last night,” she ventured, stepping from their interminable crossroads on to a diverged path, as brambly and loose-stoned as it might seem at this beginning. (Her dark aspect and her light sighed as one – We are just now setting out … again.) “I saw so much of what he’s kept hidden – the boy he was, the man he could be. We almost died together. And when he kissed me, just for an instant … a small part of me responded … and I wished … I wished that it was … you.”
Oh! If only I could retract that last, rephrase it! She’d responded not in small, but with all, with everything, always, forever … to him. To wishing, to wanting only him! Elliot himself had all but disappeared. She gathered a breath to try again, but he spoke before she could … if speak were the proper word for both the hope and the hopelessness in his whisper.
“How, Catherine? How can you … wish that.”
“Vincent … you say you know what I’m feeling. If it’s true, then you already know … how. How much, how long, how deeply.”
He shook his head and looked away, released a long breath through grimly-parted lips. In the face of his stubborn resistance, she allowed desire – the bridled but quenchless heat – to coil and climb … In her every dream, bared heart to bared heart, she reached for him, took him in her arms … Must we go on dreaming?
“Why, Vincent … why won’t you kiss me.”
“Because … I don’t … I don’t want to … … kiss you.”
“I don’t believe you.” She cradled his bandaged hand, carried it to her cheek.
He pulled it back, balled it to a fist regardless of the shooting pain she saw tighten the cordons of his neck.
“Believe it, Catherine. A kiss is not what I want. And what I want will only frighten you.”
Maybe what I want frightens him, she considered, though for less than a moment. Because … So what if it does? Because he sounded like Father, and she didn’t want anyone else in the room, in the space yet between them. Because, withholding or not, he’d admitted appetite… craving.
“I told you months ago, Vincent. I’m not afraid.”
If he says, ‘you should be’, I won’t be able to bear it. I won’t hear it. With all her heart, she willed him not to even think it.
She rose from her heels, touched his chin, turned his head; her face neared his. She riveted him with her gaze, using everything – every dream, every imagining … every agony of separation that would make their joining sweeter. She trailed her hand over his shoulder, down his arm to his good hand that she ushered to her pounding heart. She breathed deeply in, as much a sigh as a gasp, and the fullness of her breast heaved into his palm. Her nipple stiffened between his splayed fingers that closed on it, the cup of instinct. Flame leapt from the abiding smolder, infused her blood. You are the one i am lit for; i am the bush, i am burning, i am not consumed. 1 Her lips parted. There was nothing he could do now but kiss her.
But he didn’t. He removed his hand … Himself.
And there was Father. And Mary. And behind her in the doorway … Jamie.
My God. Why. Why now. She frowned her acknowledgement – it wasn’t a greeting.
Stupid Universe, Mouse would say. Is he out there too?
Father had the decency, at least, to blush. She could see apology in his expression, but there was no un-being there now.
He cleared his throat. “I … uhh … brought Mary ‘round to check on you, Catherine. If you’re injured, scraped up … she can see to you … ummm… in the hospital chamber …”
Mary didn’t bustle in as Catherine feared she might. Instead, rooted in the entryway, Mary bit her lip, her eyes narrowed as if she herself were in pain.
Perhaps she is. She remembers – knows – love, Catherine granted. Still, she stone-walled them away, offered a crabby nothing in return. Vincent remained closemouthed as well, and from his glowering silence she took contradictory comfort.
“I’ll just … I’m on clinic duty all morning …” she said and tugged at Father’s arm, retreating at step with him in a tottering tow. “If you need anything …”
Jamie was left in the corridor, her eyebrows raised, a grin inching on. Before she, too, scooted from view, she flashed a -V- with two half-gloved fingers.
Alone again. Thankfully.
But there was nothing for which to rejoice. Neither victory, nor peace. The corridor channeled the morning bustle – the callings out, the laughter, the tapped announcements of the time and first call to breakfast.
“You must go, Catherine. Above … There will be … questions.”
He was right, of course. She’d have to appear at work as normal. Struggle through until she could return to him. They weren’t finished. She stood up, looked long at him … longingly…
And let him, then … let him feel everything she’d imagined: her unbuttoning of him – vest, shirt and resistance, the shrug of her coat, the pull of her shirttails from her trousers, the puddle of her clothes on the chamber floor. His unbuckling … The meeting of their lips, their soft mingling of breath, the sweet touch of her tongue to the sharpest of his teeth. Her breasts against his chest. The whorled hair he hid from her, velvet to her skin. Her hands on his flanks, on his back, in his hair. The exultation of becoming one, the One of them made so much more than that.
He looked away, looked down. He drew in a breath … reached out for her hand. She gave it … and waited.
“I …” he began.
Say it! she inwardly thundered. Say it and I won’t go. I’ll barricade this chamber with everything I can throw in the doorway, tap out an “I dare you to interrupt us” proclamation. I won’t care what anyone thinks. Or hears. There is only you, Vincent. Only you matter. I love you. Say it!
But … no …
“If I kiss you now …” he said, full-voiced, unshrinking, “you would taste anger and jealousy, my fear of losing you … to death … to another man …”
So … he wouldn’t kiss her …
Meaning there would be a later.
In the most unfathomable way, she wasn’t disappointed. She felt a smile spread across her face; contentment intertwine the fire. In that single word there was hope, and more than that, there was promise. A step in the only direction there was for them – toward love.
“I’ll be back … as soon as I can, Vincent.”
“I’ll be here,” he whispered and let her go … for now.
Dante Alighieri. Divine Comedy, Volume 1, Canto III ~ Title Quotation
A. A. Milne ~ Opening Quote, from Winnie the Pooh.
1. Lucile Clifton. To a Dark Moses. Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980.
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