Author's Note: Please note this is a very adult story and contains language which many will find offensive.  All of us have uttered words we regret, that we wish we could take back.  Many have been on the receiving ends of hastily spoken words on the part of others that have left them crushed by their harshness.  A very wise person told me that we give words power – the power to either hurt or praise; and if we are truly wise, we make the decision to never allow them to harm us.

So having said the above, I made the decision to use the offensive words knowing that it would take such words to shatter Vincent, destroy his walls and equally, it would take Catherine’s enduring love to resurrect him and make him whole.)


“'THE BEST IS YET TO BE’”*
(The story originally appeared in the
fanzine “White Cover”)

by Joanne Grier
(Originally written as J. A. Cliffe)



Fearful his restless tossing would awaken Catherine, Vincent eased himself from her pliant warmth.  Tossing two fluffy, king-size down pillows on top of his old ones, he settled his large frame against them, expelling a slow even breath. Flexing one leg Vincent waited, inwardly smiling in anticipation.  Solemnly, he began counting to himself, and as he reached double digits, he felt Catherine’s body shift seeking his.  Her fingers searched and finding his hip, she slid one hand the length of his leg, settling possessively against his naked thigh.

Gently, Vincent stroked her silky tresses and his thoughts turned inward.  Familiar and comfortable as breathing, the night sounds of the tunnels surrounded him.  It’s been five months, he thought, shaking his head in wonder.  Five months....

THE PRELUDE:

Pushing herself to complete the investigation, Catherine was determined to end the emotional torment of her prolonged separation from Vincent.  Two weeks in Boston examining corporate records had proved endless, causing many sleepless nights, and had left both of them emotionally bereft.

Their attendance at the season’s concert finale in Central Park had been eagerly planned and anticipated, and she couldn’t wait to get home.  Sighing, Catherine returned her attentions to her notebook.  Gripping the pen with a fiercely determined look, she began to scribble furiously.

Vincent waited for her at the threshold, he felt Catherine’s resolve, and her fatigue, sensing that she teetered on the edge of exhaustion.  As she moved to greet him, the dim tunnel light failed to hide the pale shadows beneath her eyes; mute testimony to her weariness.

Warmly embracing her, Vincent held Catherine close, attempting to infuse her with some of his own strength.  His words were a soothing caress against her cheek. “I‘ve missed you, Catherine.”

She burrowed into his immense chest.  “As I, too, have missed you. I felt lost without you near me, Vincent.  Your arms....” She hugged him tightly. “Oh, how I’ve missed being in your arms, being held by you....”

Vincent slid his arms more possessively around Catherine, drawing her closer.  Nuzzling against her hair for a moment, he inhaled the clean scent, filling his nostrils with her essence.

With a sigh of resignation, reluctantly he stepped back, releasing her.  Taking her by the hand, they began their journey towards the park.  When Catherine’s steps faltered and she stumbled slightly, Vincent lifted her into his arms without speaking.  Effortlessly he carried her towards their special place beneath the bandstand.  Carrying her small form safely cradled within the circle of his embrace, Vincent’s inner conflict heightened, knowing he should take Catherine home and insist that she rest.  Yes, he should do exactly that, but he couldn’t, he simply couldn’t.

The intensity of emotions throbbing within the bond burst around him as Catherine’s nearly overwhelming need of him blazed up hotly.  His own yearning echoed in response; (’Catherine, if I could only share the secret depths of my heart with you.  How lonely I have been without you, how my arms ache to hold you.’)  Tensing his jaw, Vincent fought against crying the words aloud.  (’All I want is to be with you, to watch over you as you sleep and know you are safe.  Oh Catherine, I have needed you so much....’)

As they settled into the voluminous pillows, the music swelled above Vincent and Catherine, rising and falling against the concrete walls that secluded them from the eyes of the world.  Flowing sweetly to surround them, the sounds filled them with a poignant, bittersweet reminder of their long separation.  They nestled closer, needing the reassurance of touch.

Catherine’s head rested against Vincent’s shoulder.  Tilting her head, she pressed a soft kiss into the fleecy cotton sweater he was wearing, sighing as she felt the loud hammering of his heart against her lips.  She hugged him harder, trying to get even closer.

The swirling passion of the music invaded their minds, filling their body’s suppressed longings and unspoken desires.  The fiery notes breathed around them, a dancing vortex ebbing and flowing, stalking them in its volatile core of forbidden sweetness, playing upon their bodies until they trembled.

Then, the music ebbed, leaving them in a strained silence.  The noise of shuffling feet and snatches of conversations from above faded; leaving the last haunting melody floating on silent eddies.

Catherine sobbed pressing her lips repeatedly against his chest. Tears stained her face and she saw similar tears brimming cobalt blue eyes, as she wept, Catherine’s vision blurred.

Vincent bent to gently nuzzle against her cheek; his lips were soft and delicate.  It was several moments before Catherine fully realized he was kissing away her tears.  Her eyes met his, pleading silently, beseeching him to suspend his fears.

Vincent’s eyes swept her face, his desire and love unquestionably visible.  Waves of electrifying eagerness swept them as their lips hesitantly touched, then clung softly, molding together to accommodate to their differing contours.

Catherine lay quietly against his powerful body, her mouth clinging to his, never wanting this moment to end.  Gathering her into in a rough embrace, Vincent covered her with his body, pressing against the length of her.  Catherine strained upward, seeking him.  Sliding one leg from beneath his, her ankle rubbed against his calf and thigh.  The sensation of her hips sliding beneath him fueled the flames, devouring him.  Vincent tightened his embrace; his arms propelled her upwards until her breasts flattened against his chest.

Breathlessly, their lips parted. Vincent buried his face against her warm, scented neck, trembling all over.  Softly he nuzzled into her, lost in the rapture of their kiss.  Raggedly, he inhaled the defined scent that to him was uniquely hers.

“Catherine, Catherine.”  His lips pressed to her throat, whispering her name hoarsely clinging to her softness.

She clung to him, riding the summit of wildly cresting emotions.  Aware of Vincent’s innocence and his fears, she sought to soothe him, stroking his back; her hands clutched and released the wild tangle of his hair.

Vincent suddenly rolled away and sat up.  His shoulders shook violently. “Forgive me, please,” he sobbed, burying his face in his hands.

“Vincent, don’t...”  He jerked violently at her touch.  Warily, he lifted his head, expecting to see loathing in Catherine’s eyes, but in the dim light her skin glowed.  Her eyes were luminous, holding not the slightest trace of revulsion, and her mouth was curved into a peaceful smile.

Vincent’s eyes searched her face, seeking any hidden fears, and he gasped, sensing only joy radiating from within her.  Getting to his feet, shyly he offered her his hand.  “You must be tired.  I’ll take you home.”

(’He’s going to ignore what happened, pretend we didn’t kiss.  Pretend it was just a fluke. The passion wasn’t real, that he wasn’t aroused!’)  Reaching the junction that would take them from the community and toward her threshold, Catherine stopped.  “Please,” her fingers moved to caress his face, “don’t take me home.  Let me spend the night in your arms.”

The directness of her statement startled Vincent.  Confused, he tried to think, to find his voice. (’She can’t desire me, she can’t!  I’m not worthy of her love, I could never be worthy of such a gift.’)

She knew his thoughts - knew Vincent - and lightly touched his arm.  “You need me, too.  Don’t push me away and pretend that the kiss didn’t happen, that nothing has changed between us.  Please.”

Effortlessly he gathered Catherine close and swept her into his arms.  Vincent’s expression remained passive, his eyes hooded and unreadable.  Holding her securely, he shuddered, looked down at her for a moment, and then began walking.

Vincent strode along silently through unknown passages, the twisting and turning labyrinth left Catherine lost in the maze of rock formations.

The sensation of weightlessness, coupled with the security of being in his arms, was soothing and restful.  Resigned to Vincent’s refusal and to his trepidation, Catherine nodded off to sleep.  The sensation of being gently rocked awoke her.  Startled and disoriented, she opened her eyes. Vincent was still holding her, rocking on his heels, the motion comforted and soothed her.  Through sooty lashes, Catherine stole a quick glance around, expecting to see the threshold.  Her eyes wide with amazement, she gasped.

Vincent sensed her awareness, his eyes smiled, he signed audibly and gently lowered her to her feet.

Catherine happily threw herself against him, turning his sigh into a soft grunt with her realization they were in his chamber..

“Catherine, I will prepare a guest chamber, if you wish.”  His voice was a soft whisper, and even in asking, he held his breath fearful of her response.

She shook her head, “I’m in the only chamber I wish to be in; yours.”

Her delight surrounded him, adding to his dizziness, his utter joy.  Then, Vincent felt Catherine sag against him as her exhaustion hit him full force.  Slipping his arm around her waist, he led her towards the bathing chamber.

The single candle still burning there cast long shadows, giving the cavern a slightly ominous appearance.  Catherine shivered against him.  Aware of her childhood fear of the dark, he murmured a reassurance, “I’m here.  These shadows are quite friendly, Catherine.”

He light a second candle, walked to a battered chest and withdrew clean towels and cloths, then reached for a new toothbrush, relieved when his fingers closed over its thin, cellophane wrapper.  He moved deeper into the shadows towards a large oak cabinet.  “It will only take me a moment to find sleepwear for you.”  Reappearing a minute later, Vincent called out, announcing his approach, then handed Catherine the clothing with shaking fingers.

He slipped back into the shadows, well away from the bathing chamber entrance, his thoughts a jumble of conflicting emotions. (’Run! Leave, you fool!  This is impossible!  Take her to your chamber and leave her there.  Remember Lisa and Devin.  Your hands scarred them cruelly.  Leave Catherine, and never see her again, lest her delicate skin also bear the manifestation of your so-called love!)

Vincent made as if to run, but stopped abruptly when the sound of Catherine’s voice reached him.  Retracing his steps, he found her half in and half out of the entrance with her hands braced against the wall.  He hurried towards her. “Catherine? What is wrong?”

“I seem to have a slight problem.”  She smiled softly, the corners of her mouth turning up, barely containing her mirth.  “My feet are swollen. I took off my shoes to remove my stockings and now I can’t my shoes back on.”  Catherine wriggled her toes into the old carpet remnant that served as a bath mat.

Vincent.stared at her bare feet for several seconds, eyeing their appealing nudity, then whispered, “Then I shall carry you.”  Lifting her into his arms, he strode towards his chamber, his mind still a whirl of confusing thoughts: (‘You must not give in to your own needs.  You must not forget what happened to Lisa because you dared to want her’.)

Catherine settled on his bed, Vincent turned and moved resolutely back to the chamber entrance.

“Vincent?”

His posture rigidly erect, Vincent answered without turning around. “Yes?”  Even to him, his voice seemed harsh. “What it is, Catherine?”

“Vincent, please don’t leave me here while you go off to brood about what happened earlier between us.  It was beautiful, something I’ve wanted for so long.  The touch of your lips, to feel your hands is a memory I will treasure.  I’m not denying the existence or the validity of your fears, but we’ve been apart for two weeks.  I felt so desolate during that time, didn’t you?”

“Yes!” he hissed.

“Do you deny that what happened between us was beautiful?”  She waited, growing irritated by his silence and his refusal to discuss their kiss.  “Can you deny that you feel everything, every emotion I feel?  Did you feel anything within me other than joy and happiness?  Perhaps you felt repulsion, disgust?  Or better still, pity?”

His head snapped up, her arrow sharp words pierced his heart spilling in grand profusion his greatest hidden fears. “No,” he said gently, “I felt none of those things.  I sensed your joy.”  He spun facing her, his soul revealing eyes bore into her, mirror sharp images of conflict and pain.

“Vincent, please come here.”  From the far side of the bed, she patted the edge.  “Please?”  The silence grew heavy and the distance interminable.  Slowly he moved to stand beside the bed.

Catherine’s eyes boldly challenged him.  His throat constricted, nearly choking the words from him, “What would you have me do?  Name any wish I can grant.”

“I want you to hold me and let me fall asleep in your arms.  I wish to awaken in the safety of your embrace.  I wish to see only your face when I awaken, have your breath upon my cheek when you inhale.”  Catherine ran one hand gently up his arm, not quite able to grasp his shoulder.  “I wish to know the wonder of your kisses. There are many things I wish for, Vincent, but being in your arms can, and does, fulfill many of my dreams.”

Vincent flushed warmly beneath the boldness of Catherine’s gaze, her open appraisal of his body. (’She cannot find my form appealing.  That is not possible!’)

“Vincent, I can’t hide my feeling from you anymore, and I don’t want to.  Believe me; I’m not trying to seduce you.” Catherine hesitated, “Well, no, that’s not quite true, perhaps just a small seduction.  I simply won’t let you deny what happened.  It was real.  I love you, and I do find you physically attractive.  I know you feel the same way about me, don’t you?”

When he wouldn’t - or couldn’t - respond, she continued, “Father convinced you that these feelings are wrong, that you could never expect a woman to ever desire you.  He was so wrong.”  Her voice rose sharply.  “Father didn’t raise a monk, he raised a man; unique and different surely, but most definitely a man.  And, furthermore, from what I experienced in our brief interlude, you’re not a eunuch!”

Startled eyes locked to hers. “Catherine, please?”

“Please what?  Don’t make it difficult for you?  What could be more difficult than continuing to deny your desires and physical needs?  I have the same desires and needs, Vincent.  Denial won’t make them less viable and it surely isn’t going to make them go away.  If it will make you more comfortable, I’ll get dressed and we can go back to my balcony.  We can huddle in the cold.  You can hold me in your arms until your butt and mine are both frozen from that damn cold cement!  Would that make it easier for you?”

Dumbstruck, Vincent stared down at his hands.  He couldn’t find his voice, and if he did, what could he possibly say to her.

Catherine’s words turned less challenging.  “I said I wasn’t trying to seduce you.  I want to be with you, in your arms the way every woman wants to be held by the man she loves. We’ve been separated for weeks, and before that, in a whole month, we were together for less than six hours.”

“Six hours?” he repeated, knowing that she was precisely right.  He knew how many hours it had been.

Her eyes glinted, snapping with fire.  “Yes, I do count the time we’re together every moment of it.” Embarrassed by her outburst, Catherine’s composure deserted her, and she began sobbing.  She turned away from him then buried her face in a pillow, her shoulders shaking as her sobs increased.

Vincent stared at her, stunned by the bluntness of her words, her sudden tears and the vortex of emotions which buffeted his senses.

He hesitantly put one hand on Catherine’s shoulder as he bent closer.  His face was scant inches from her ear. A lump in his throat made him swallow repeatedly as he tried speaking in a familiar tone of voice.  “Catherine, please don’t, I never meant to bring you pain; I’m not worthy of your tears.  Seeing you distraught, knowing it is because of me, shall break my heart.  Please, don’t cry.”

Catherine’s sobs increased.  Lifting her into his arms, Vincent crushed her to his chest.  “Oh, Catherine, Catherine.” Again and again, he breathed her name, covering her small face with kisses, begging her to stop crying.

“Forgive me,” she murmured against his mouth, “Just once, I wanted to sleep in your arms, where we’d both be safe.  In a place where we wouldn’t have to worry about dawn, or telephones, or....”

“Hush now. I know, I know.”  Touching her face lightly, he brushed away the pooling dampness cascading down her cheeks.

Catherine urged his chin up, bringing his eyes level to her own swollen ones.  “I’ll get dressed so you can take me home.”

“No, I don’t want you to go.  Please stay, sleep here in my arms.  Let me know this joy of holding you close as you rest.”

“Are you sure in here?” she asked, her fingers gently touched his head.

“Yes,” his voice trembled.

Her fingers moved to his heart, “… and here?”

“Oh, yes, especially there,” he breathed, pressing his lips against her hair and snuggling closer.  Wide-eyed, smiling, Vincent trailed his fingers gently over her face, learning the contours of it by touch for the first time, re-avowing, “Especially there.”

*****************

The subtle change in their relationship occurred slowly. Vincent continually shook his head in wonder over Catherine’s delight in his shyly sweet kisses.  Constantly fearing that his canines would injure her delicate beauty, he refused to grant her requests to open his mouth when they kissed.

Catherine shared her feelings concerning intimacy between them, and her honesty allowed Vincent to speak of his fears, bringing them slowly from the darkness of his soul.  They continued to be spiritual lovers only, but each enticement, each tantalizing kiss brought them closer to fulfillment.

THE FIRST ENTICEMENT:

The cold wind whipped Vincent’s hair in a wide arc.  Silently he dropped onto the balcony, stepped towards the soft, flickering light and rapped on the terrace doors.

Hearing his knock, Catherine leapt from the sofa and ran to the door, her stocking feet soundless against the plush carpet.  Their eyes locked as they entwined in a warm, welcoming embrace, savoring the joy of being together. Vincent wrapped Catherine within his cloak and they snuggled closer.

She lifted her face, staring at him, openly inviting his kiss. He pressed his cool lips against Catherine’s, and they warmed instantly.  He inhaled sharply as Catherine opened her mouth and wet his lips with the tip of her tongue, tracing the fullness of his lower lip until he groaned.

The billowing wind snatched his cloak away and Catherine shivered violently against his warm body.  “You should go back inside,” Vincent murmured hoarsely.  “It is so cold out here.”

“The cold doesn’t matter.  Our being together is everything. I’ve missed you so much.  Please, don’t go, not yet.”  Shivering, she snuggled against him, seeking his warmth.

The wind continued buffeting them.  Vincent whipped the cloak from his shoulders and wrapped her inside it.  Turning his back to the wind, he protected her from its gale-like force with his own body.  They stood locked together, freezing in the cold, unwilling to part.

“This is preposterous!” he thundered against the wind.  Taking her hand, Vincent urged her towards the door.  Once inside, he walked to the fireplace, dropped a pillow to the floor and gently lowered Catherine.

Vincent knelt, swiftly pushed up both legs of her pants, stripped off her socks and began rubbing her frozen toes. After warming one foot, he pulled his heavy sweater from the tight confines of his jeans and placed her foot against his warm stomach.  Pulling his sweater over her foot, Vincent continued administering to her other foot.  He stopped the brisk rubbing motions but continued to hold her feet between his hands until he was satisfied that they were both thoroughly warmed.

Finally, Vincent shyly peeked up at Catherine.  Her head was back, exposing her slender neck.  Her eyes were closed and her breathing shallow, erratic.  Her pupils dilated as their eyes met and held.  “Oh, Vincent,” she panted, “Vincent!”

THE SECOND ENTICEMENT

The voices of Father and Mary faded to soft murmurs as they moved down the corridor, away from Vincent’s chamber. Gathering up the cards and score pads, Vincent returned them to a burnished chest and then began to rearrange the chairs.

The cups and saucers collected, Catherine smiled, watching Vincent quickly retrieve his cup and gulp down the last mouthful of tea.  She repackaged the remaining brownies in a decorative tin and resealed the loose tea.  “I’ll leave the brownies and tea.  Jenny was right about it being an excellent brand.  There’s enough left for several pots.  Would you like me to brew another pot for you?”

“Perhaps later.  If you are tired, I’ll take you home.”  His eyes revealed his wish that she stay.

“I’m not sleepy.  I was hoping you might read for awhile.”

Vincent settled comfortably in his chair, his fingers curving unconsciously to caress the worn wood.  Selecting a volume from the nearby stack of books he began to read, the rich timbre of his voice filling the chamber.  His eyes darted repeatedly to Catherine as she moved about his chamber.

When she neared him, he reached for her hand and brought it to his lips.  He urged her closer, pressed a second kiss to her forehead, and then gingerly drew her down into his lap.  Smiling at him, Catherine’s arms encircled his neck.

Laying the book on the table, he wrapped his arms around her completely, tugging her closer.  Cocooned by two tensed pillars of steel, her soft nibbling kisses dampened his face.  Breathless, lightheaded, Vincent pulled away when Catherine moved her tongue over his lips.

“Please, Vincent,” she murmured against his mouth, “I’m not afraid of your mouth.  Don’t be frightened.  You won’t hurt me, please, open your mouth, let me kiss you as I long to, let me...”

His voice, he cut off her words, “Catherine, how can you not be afraid of my mouth?  If I were to hurt you I could never forgive myself, if I marred your flesh with these...”

“You won’t!  You’d know if I were in pain.  It isn’t possible for you to hurt me, Vincent,” she insisted.  “I trust you completely and you must trust yourself equally.  Your kisses are wonderful, but there is so much more pleasure you can’t begin to imagine.  Won’t you trust me?  Please?”

“I trust you with my life.  When you touch my lips with your tongue, it feels like I’m being separated from myself.  It’s as if all the forces of the Chamber of the Winds are tearing me apart.”  His words ended in an explosive sigh.

“It feels like that for me, too.”

“It does?” Vincent asked his eyes wondrously wide.

“Oh, yes...” Catherine lowered her mouth to his, raining delicately soft, wispy kisses against his lips.  Opening her mouth again, she continued trailing moist leisurely kisses across his mouth.

Indistinguishable sounds that were nearly whimpers came from deep within Vincent’s throat.  Urgently, he pulled Catherine firmly against himself and tangled his hands in her hair.  Mouth quivering, he pressed against her, straining upwards; seeking searching wanting her beyond thought.

The chair groaned beneath their twisting bodies.  His arms  slipped beneath her legs, he stood and walked to the bed without ending the kiss.  Not relinquishing his hold, lowering her gently, he stretched out next to her.

Catherine’s arms entreated him closer.  Her tongue pressed against his lips, then darted away to lick against the corner of his mouth before returning to press against the cleft of his upper lip. Moaning her name, Vincent slowly opened his mouth, offering her everything she would have of him.

Silky and wet, her tongue played over his, gentle and wild in its seeking, caressing and worshipping their differing contours in a dance of endless love.  Capricious and angelic, Catherine glided over the satin smooth edges, slowly tasting and claiming, plundering wantonly in an incandescent white-hot cauldron of fire.  Endlessly she explored, drowning in his uniqueness and branding him with her taste.

Catherine gasped, lifted her head to stare into eyes ablaze with passion.  Vincent stared at her mutely for the space of a heartbeat, and then crushed her to his breast, pleading huskily, “Catherine.  Don’t stop, don’t stop.”

THE THIRD ENTICEMENT:

Catherine tugged the ribbed cotton lace-trimmed camisole over her shower damp skin and slipped into a light robe, belting it loosely around her waist.  Exhausted, she had succumbed to the temptation of a nap upon arriving home, and now was rushing to be ready when Vincent arrived.

She stood surveying the closet, attempting to find something supremely comfortable, yet totally devastating.  The concert Below was to be a gathering of friends playing for their own enjoyment, and after a day of heels and a court room suit, Catherine wished for the comfort of jeans.  Unconsciously rubbing her temples, she sought to ease the headache that had plagued her for most of the day.  She was still debating what to wear when she heard Vincent’s tap and moved towards the door.

“Catherine,” tilting his head Vincent’s face clearly revealed his puzzlement, “have I come at the wrong time?”  He eyes flickered over her short, silk robe and the snowy lace which peeked beguilingly along the edges.

She held the door open and smiled. “You’re on time. I’m the late one.  I fell asleep and only woke up about twenty minutes ago.”  Closing the door, she stepped into Vincent’s welcoming embrace, and buried her nose into his cloak.

He sensed a tinge of pain flowing within the bond and her sense of conflict, he held her closer, offering his strength.  Scooping her up, he moved to the bed and sat down, cradling her on his lap.  “Tell me what’s wrong?”  Feeling her relax, he waited.

“Nothing’s wrong, not really.  Part of me wants to attend the concert, but...” her voice trailed wistfully off and she snuggled against him.

“Part of you wishes to stay home,” he finished her thought. “Catherine, would you consider staying home and allowing me to ease your headache?”

“Oh, Vincent, that sounds heavenly, but what about the concert?  They’ll be expecting us.”

“I felt the dull throbbing of your headache all day.  I told Father when I was leaving there was the possibility that we would not attend the concert tonight.  He seemed to understand, saying that there were times when he and Margaret needed and wanted privacy.”

Mouth agape, Catherine drew back to look at Vincent as the implication of his words registered in her mind.

Vincent watched her, measuring her reaction against his own. “Father realizes we are adults, and while his opinion is valued, the choices we make are our own.”  When she smiled, Vincent pressed his cheek to hers.  “What would you like to do this evening?”  His breath was a gentle caress and his velvet voice became softer, ending in a soft whisper.

Her furrowed brow relaxed, “More than anything else?”

There was a trace of a smile as he tilted his head, listening intently, “Yes, more than anything else.”

“Could we light some candles, fill the CD carousel and “

“And?” he prompted, his eyes filled with hope.

“Could we cuddle here on the bed and hold each other?  All day I thought how wonderful it would be to lie with you, held closely in your arms.”  Catherine’s features softened as her fingertips brushed his face.

Her eagerness for solitude delighted him, matching his own. Vincent chuckled softly.  “This is what you truly desire?”

“Yes, oh yes!”  Happily sighing, she scrambled from his lap and tugged on his hand.  “Come on.  You light the candles and I’ll choose the music.”

Moments later, Catherine settled on the bed beside Vincent.  She felt him tremble uncontrollably as she eased against his work hardened muscles. Aware of his struggle, the conflict between his body and Father’s life-long teachings that it was wrong for him to ever touch anyone, Catherine knew she had to be patient.

His trembling slowed, then stopped and Vincent brought his head to rest against Catherine’s forehead.  He gathered her close, holding her lightly.  Gently, he massaged the side of her temple, the source of the throbbing that filled the bond.  His touch was like the kiss of a gentle wind on a warm spring day, the softest of caresses.

“Come closer,” she breathed the delicate rush of her breath a whispered plea.

In his heart, Vincent knew Catherine welcomed and wanted his touch, yet he always waited for her to ask, never assuming it was his right. He inched closer, curled his hips against hers, inhaling sharply through clenched teeth as Catherine writhed against him, pleading, “Closer, please, come closer.”

Sliding his hand down her leg, Vincent grasped the back of her knee, lifted her leg over his hip, and moved against her softness.

“Oh, Vincent, it feels so good having you hold me like this.  You feel wonderful.”

Vincent strained against her, holding her tightly, his emotions soared, the heat and scent of her body demolishing his will.

She smoothly released the lacings of his sweater and exposed his throat to her questing lips, wetting his neck and chest.  Clenching her leg tightly against his muscular buttock, she strained against him desperately, seeking to keep her hips locked to his hardening arousal.  Her mouth claimed an enticing patch of skin, suckling greedily.

Vincent’s fingers brushed over the soft, tantalizing swell of her breasts.  “Oh, yes. Yes, again.  Touch me again,” she whimpered.  Gently his long tapered fingers stroked, caressing the warm mound beneath his hand.

Pressed frantically against him, body trembling, Catherine abandoned his chest to seek his mouth.  Plundering it wantonly, her tongue swept over his lips, swirling and stroking, shameless in her pursuit, whimpering as Vincent’s tongue curled over hers for a moment before he pulled back.

He eased her gently away, cradling her head in his hands, trying to calm their soaring emotions.  The sounds of their harsh breathing filled the room.  Rolling to her side, Catherine curved a pillow against her stomach, hugging it to her shaking body.  (’Don’t run away from me.  I want to love you, feel you inside me. I’ll die from wanting it, if I don’t love you soon.  This aching hurts so much.’)

Vincent took several calming breaths as Catherine’s thoughts and churning emotions assaulted him, combined with his, left him shaken and drained.  Spooning his body to hers, he slid one arm across her waist, nestling her against him. “I’m here. I won’t leave you. I promise.”  The fragile words stirred the honey blonde hair near his mouth. “I want to love you, truly I do.  My waking and sleeping are haunted with thoughts of loving you.”

In his arms, Catherine turned staring at him with astonishment.

“Will you come Below tonight, Catherine?  Spend the weekend with me?  There is a place of wondrous beauty, a forgotten cavern where we could be alone.  I would like to share this place with only you; a place where our dream may begin.”  All the old haunting fears of a lifetime pummeled against Vincent’s fledging acceptance of his own masculinity and Catherine’s love and desire to be truly a part of him.

His eyes boldly assessed hers. “I have been working to provide for your comfort Below.  It will not be like this.” One hand gestured about the bedroom then slowly returned to rest on her arm.  “But you shall have all the comforts my world has to offer.”

“Yes.” she said effortlessly.  Bright sparkling eyes met Vincent’s, joyously revealing the depth of her commitment to a life together.  “I love you; I want to begin living our dream.”

Cuddled together, they lightly caressed, drifting and sleeping, content to awaken when gentle fingers and lips too long denied searched, caressed, and lingered.

Fingers of pink streaked the deep purple eastern sky.  Easing from her side, Vincent swung to a sitting position.  His fingers glided through his tangled hair, he pushed the long bangs aside, then pulled on his boots.

Catherine stretched and scampered off the bed to retrieve his cloak.

Vincent watched Catherine as she moved, sleepy, love-mussed, innocently child-like in her rumpled camisole, and when the loosely belted robe slid down, baring one shoulder, his heart raced.  The pale light of dawn enhanced her beauty, leaving him gasping to breathe normally.

Catherine dropped his cloak onto the bed and stepped in front of him, smiling.  He wrapped his arms around her lithe form, molding her body against his chest and face.  Long moments passed and Vincent continued to hold her, unwilling to leave or suspend the joy of having her so close.

Catherine murmured his name then drew him closer still, leaning her body into his. (’Oh, Vincent, I can’t wait until tonight!  I want your hands on me, I want you inside me.’)

Vivid and aching, her impressions filled the thread of the bond, intertwining with it, mingling with his perceptions as their need roared to a fiery core.  The heat of their combined passions seared him, consuming Vincent in a blinding white flame.  Beads of sweat dampened the hair on his neck, making him warm and uncomfortable.

Trembling, she swayed towards him.  He fought to control the desire that suddenly and uncontrollably welled up from within him.  Catherine’s body followed the movement of his head, her breasts pressing against his face as he nuzzled against their softness.

(’Oh God, Catherine, I never knew anything could be this wonderful, this delectable and warm!’)

Open mouthed, he brushed against Catherine, rubbing his face repeatedly over the swell of her breasts and slid lower.  The camisole slid upward with the motion, and large, impossibly gentle hands, held Catherine tenderly.  Inhaling sharply, Catherine’s warm heady scent intoxicated him.  Vincent nuzzled lower, pressing gently against the sensitive mound of her womanhood. “Catherine..Catherine!”

THE BEGINNING

An autumn dawn, pale and fragile had nearly crested when Vincent slipped into the tunnels.  Heart pounding, he paused, leaning forward hands on his thighs to catch his breath.  Images of Catherine’s body teased at the edge of his mind, making him lightheaded.

Vincent reached his chamber, then quickly divested himself of cloak, boots and threw himself on the bed face down; rolling to his left side, he clutched a pillow to his chest and sighed deeply as he tried to rest.  Within minutes, although his body struggled against it, he was fast asleep.

Sensing Catherine was awake and beginning her day, Vincent jerked awake slightly refreshed.  After a light breakfast and hasty swim, he journeyed to the secret chamber he’d mentioned to Catherine earlier.  Once there, he worked diligently on final preparations for this evening.

At long last satisfied with the results of his labors, Vincent returned to his chamber, gathered up his cloak, several items that he had repaired, and began the five mile hike to a Helper’s shop.

Once repaired, the items were exchanged for food, and from his small horde of cash, Vincent bought flowers.  Returning to the hidden cavern, he stored the food, arranged the bouquet and lit a small brazier to warm the room.  With a final look around, he nodded, then returned to his chamber to begin his personal grooming.

Rapidly finishing the stacks of files on her desk, Catherine’s energy seemed boundless.  Caught up in the happiness of her mood, Joe readily agreed to her request for an early dismissal.  By two in the afternoon, she was looking into the windows of Bloomingdales department store.  Once inside, Catherine headed for the lingerie department and began her search for the perfect nightgown.  Several hours and gowns later, she emerged confident that what she’d selected would tantalize Vincent’s acute senses.

Catherine hailed a taxi, she directed it to a small gourmet shop, where she bought cheese, wine and some of the harder to obtain fruits she knew Vincent loved, but never got enough of Below.

At home, Catherine quickly packed her nightgown and robe, plus some warmer clothing in a tote bag along with her special purchases.  After a hurried shower, she stood in front of the bathroom mirror and smoothed on Vincent’s favorite scented lotion, trying to picture his reaction.  Brushing her hair until it shone, she applied minimal makeup, dressed and hurried to meet her beloved.

*************

Impatiently Vincent’s long legged stride broke into a ground eating run, sensing Catherine’s approach from Above.  Slipping through the opening that led to the ladder, he saw her and froze, mesmerized by her loveliness.

The knowledge that this woman truly loved and wanted him struck him anew.  Vincent’s heart began to pound against his ribcage when Catherine dropped her tote bag and flung herself into his outstretched arms.  As he hugged so tightly she could hardly breathe, she managed to gasp, “I’ve missed you even more than I thought it was possible!” at the same moment he did, bringing a smile to both of them.

Vincent eased her bag onto his shoulder and slipped his free arm around her waist.  Catherine’s hip rode comfortably against his thigh as they walked; creating sensation of warmth that flowed through their bond.  After reaching a series of cross tunnels, Vincent started down one that took them away from the communal hub.

Before they reached the battered bridge that spanned the Whispering Gallery, the eerie sounds of howling assaulted Catherine’s ears.  Looking down into the abyss, she hesitated, suddenly fearful of the great height.


“I assure you, it is safe.”  Gathering her against his chest, Vincent held her until her trembling ebbed.  She timidly stepped out onto the high expanse with a tight grip on Vincent’s fingers as the ghost-like voices surrounded them in a steady, rising chorus.

Vincent looked up to the vaulted ceiling of this great cavern. “I come here often and listen to the voices, trying to imagine the faces behind each of them, the circumstances which prompted each whisper I hear.”

Concentrating on every step she took, Catherine nodded solemnly. “Yes, the sounds do have a certain majesty.”

Their journey continued, moving steadily lower before the passage began to climb once again.  Concerned for Catherine’s safety and well-being, Vincent marked a trail along the wall of intersecting passages, explaining, “If something were to happen, you could follow these marks to reach Father and safety.”

He stopped to retrieve a lantern he’d left along the trail, and lit it.  A few steps forward led them to a low, dark passage traversing in a descending direction until they entered a cavern filled with a mysterious light that shimmered, reflecting the mineral deposits in the rocks.  A fifteen foot high water fall cascaded down the far wall, rushing into a large pool that filled three-quarters of the area.

Catherine gasped, “It’s wonderful, Vincent.  Does this place have a name?”

“No,” he replied softly, nearly whispering as though forced to by emotion. “Devin and I found it a year before he went Above.  He’d convinced Father that we were old enough to explore and camp on our own.  We found this place, claimed it, and vowed to keep it a secret.  We came here often to fight imaginary villains, plotted the adventures we would have someday in the world Above.  Mostly,” his voice turned wistful, echoing the loss of boyhood “mostly we came here to dream.  After Devin left, the memories in this place were too painful.”

Taking his hand, Catherine held it against her cheek, rubbing it tenderly, silently communicating her love and understanding.  Their eyes met and she stood on her toes, her lips warm and sweet against his.  As they parted, Vincent looked deeply into her eyes.  She smiled enigmatically as her fingers brushed his chest.

He gave her a questioning look. “Tell me, Catherine, what makes you smile?”

“You, us being here together in this place makes me happy.  I don’t have to look over my shoulder for the sunrise.  Even in your chamber, we are the subject of ceaseless scrutiny, wondering when Father might pop in.  Here, we are wonderfully, gloriously alone!”  She pirouetted and lifted her arms, her bubbling laughter filled the cavern.  “Completely alone!”

He nodded, agreeing. “Come, let me show you around.” Grasping her hand while they walked, Vincent pointed out the special properties of the cave.  Climbing a small pathway that took them fifty feet above the rock floor, they stopped.

After a minute’s searching, Vincent found a small alcove barely wide enough for him to stand, his shoulders brushing the sides of it when he edged inside.  Quietly standing he waited, but when Catherine didn’t follow, he eased his immense frame from the narrow opening.  “If you will step inside, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.”

Following his advice, Catherine disappeared within the inky interior.  Moments later, her head emerged, her smile bright, and her eyes sparkled.  “How?” she queried, the sound whirling around her.

“The stone is porous and allows the sounds, voices of the Whispering Gallery to be heard, even down here.  In the chamber where we’ll stay, there is an opening and if the air current is suitable, the sounds of the gallery can be heard quite loudly.”  He chuckled low in his throat.  “The first time we heard the echoes, Devin and I were terrified.  Having just read “The Canterbury Tales”, we envisioned a ghostly apparition until we realized what the sound was and its source.”

Traversing the path, Vincent led Catherine back to the chamber, asking her to wait, he went inside.  A delicate light pushed back the darkness, a warm glow emanated from within the former murky depth.  He returned to her side quickly, sweeping her into his arms and carried her over the threshold.

The fresh chisel marks revealed he’d carved many small ledges to hold all the candles.  A large portion of the chamber was occupied by a king-size bed covered with a faded patchwork quilt and pillows.  An octagonal table, complete with antique lace cloth, had been set with matching table service for two.  In the center was a small crystal vase containing an arrangement of aromatic flowers flanked by dual candles.  The remaining flowers were divided into bouquets and scattered about the room.  On the table next to the bed, a second vase contained a single, red rose.

“Oh, Vincent, this is perfection!” Catherine exclaimed.

Inwardly he glowed at her praise as her exuberant hug warmed him, Vincent returned her embrace.

“But, how did you get a king-size bed down here?  It must have taken hours to accomplish all this.”

“The bed is a double one that Devin and I shared.  I had stored it away on the one trip I made here after he left. I carried another bed here from a nearby storage area and turned it sideways to achieve the suitable length.”  Glancing down at his legs, a wisp of a smile spread across his face, “These have always caused a problem as I grew taller.  Father had difficulty finding a bed where my legs didn’t hang over the end.”  He leered at her shorter legs, then chuckled softly, “A problem about which, I’m sure, you would know nothing.”

Catherine’s effervescent smile warmed Vincent, and reaching for her, he gathered her close.  They stood holding each other, lost in the enchantment of simply being together.  Leaning back, she drew his head down and sought his mouth.

The taste of her, responsive and familiar, assaulted his senses, surrounding him in pleasure.  The feel of her mouth beneath his was sweet and exhilarating; joining spirit and soul into the man he had dreamed of becoming.  She was his world, he was her everything.  A joyous surrendering of the past became the promise of tomorrow.

“Catherine,” Vincent’s voice roughened and she felt his trembling “...kissing you like this, knowing you welcome...want my touch.  I have no words to tell you.  I have dreamed of you here, holding you, touching you.”

Catherine’s hands splayed over his chest and she pressed kisses into his ruffled shirt.  “I’ve imagined loving you since you left my arms this morning, envisioning your touch, the feel of your body when I hold you.  Oh, Vincent, I want to love you so much.”

He lifted her hands, and brought her palms to his mouth. The heat and pressure of his lips startled Catherine.  She inhaled sharply as he continued; Vincent pressed his lips to her tender flesh.  He parted his lips slightly and brushed his tongue lightly over her fingertips.  “Your skin is soft, like silk beneath my mouth,” he whispered huskily.

Smoke green eyes sparkled revealing her pleasure as Vincent tenderly licked her palm again. “You’re making my legs shaky,” she breathed against his forehead.

He smiled, leaning back.  “I thought it was me.  Holding you like this, the nearness of you makes me tremble.”  Releasing her hands he continued to lightly run his fingers over her arms and shoulders, exhilarated by the sensation.

Catherine gave him a sudden, shy look. “Vincent, I’d like to change my clothes.  I’ve dreamt of this night for so long and I’ve found a gown I’d like to wear for you.  Maybe it’s old fashioned, but I’ve always hoped to be wearing something beautiful when we begin our dream. I...I,” her voice quivered, “want to be beautiful for you, to be what you have dreamed.”

The love that filled her voice washed over Vincent and he realized Catherine too, had dreamed of their first night together, knew his long cherished dreams and understood completely his wish for her to stand before him in a shimmering gown of white: virginal and pure innocent and chaste, for within his heart, she was his bride and there were no others before him.  “I’ll wait by the lake,” his velvet voice became incredibly soft, the barest of whispers, and then he was gone.

Catherine turned down the bed, then sat to remove her walking boots and rubbed her bare toes into the worn carpet, thankful for his thoughtfulness in providing it tonight.  Looking around the chamber, she noted a small, two-drawer chest, moving her tote bag closer; she took her clothes to the chest and smiled to see Vincent’s clothing already in the lower drawer.

Taking the bottle of wine, she arranged the cheese she’d purchased beside the fruit on the small table next to the bed.  Then, she began undressing.

Vincent stood tossing pebbles into the lake until he heard Catherine call out to him.  Reaching the chamber in three strides, he quickly ducked inside.

Catherine stood with her hands folded together in the shimmering light of the candles.  His eyes swept over her, clearly revealing his pleasure and happiness.  “You are a vision, the embodiment of all my dreams.”  Tears dampened his lashes.  “You have never been more beautiful than you are at this moment.  My heart aches to receive the gift of your love.”

Catherine opened her arms and drew him into her welcoming embrace.  They held each other then slowly began to touch, wishing to savor this moment, the joy of this beginning.

Splayed fingers pursued veiled, shadowed dreams turned vivid and glowing in their brilliance when Catherine slid her hands over his chest; Catherine’s hands pursued their exploration looking into deep eyes, silently seeking his permission, and then released the jabot from his shirt.  She freed the cascade of ruffles, then buried her face against the exposed warmth of his chest, soft mewling cries filled her throat and she breathed in the scent of him.

Continuing to rub her face against him, wetting his skin with moist kisses, then with his help, she removed his shirt completely.  She ran her hands freely across the expanse of his chest, stroking him, touching him as he’d never been touched.  Her cries of delight filled the chamber, echoing gently.  Finding his flat nipple, Catherine’s lips teased and laved against it until it bloomed and she suckled hungrily.

Silk covered breasts rubbed against his chest, pressing invitingly and her hips swayed against his, mimicking the act of love.  His hands slid possessively over her, cupping her bottom, lifting and pressing her firmly against his own undulating hips.

Sliding her arms around his neck, Catherine gripped his shoulders tightly and molded her body to his growing erection.  “Closer. Oh, Vincent, I can’t get close enough to you!” she breathed into his mouth.  Lifting her easily into his arms, Vincent cradled her hips in his hands as Catherine spread her legs wider, locking them around his waist.  He continued to lift then lower her, sliding her against his body, the friction causing his rapidly swelling manhood to press hard against his tight jeans.  Lowering his mouth to hers, he whispered, “Such sweet, sweet pain.”

Trembling, Vincent lowered Catherine to her feet and took her hand, guiding her to the bed.  She knelt then eased the leather bindings from his boots, straining to remove them.  His hands lightly eased hers away as he gripped the heels of first one, then the other, and swiftly tugged them off.

Catherine pulled off his socks, fingers sweeping upward to caress his muscular calves, and then trailed down to ramble over his feet.  She stroked the top of one foot with her tongue, and then playfully nipped his ankle.  Lifting her head, she smiled up at him, seeking his reaction.

Vincent was leaning back, eyes closed; breathing shallowly.  Soft noises of pleasure emerged from his throat as he gripped his thighs between clenched fingers.

Slowly, tantalizing him, Catherine’s hands moved up his legs, then gently nudged his hands aside to brush against his thighs timidly, hesitant, yet eager to remove the last barriers remaining between them.  Opening the closure on his belt, she pulled it off and put it aside.  Then, discovering the snap on his jeans, she eased the zipper down carefully over his aroused state.

Smoldering blue eyes met green ones for a moment, then Catherine rocked forward and buried her face against him.  For an instant, Vincent’s hips recoiled, and then he surged upward, tangling his hands into her hair. “Catherine!”

Her mouth had created a raging fire within him, burning to his very soul.  Pressing his body into the fiery cauldron he eagerly sought the flames of her love.  He growled softly, urged Catherine up, and settled her into his lap, facing him.  Curling into him, she continued to seek him, wanting to touch him everywhere at once.

Vincent crushed her mouth to his, plundered it wantonly, hungrily.  Rolling over, he held her tightly to his chest and brought her to lie beneath him.  Starved for her taste, his tongue slid along hers boldly, branding her.

“You are beautiful, Catherine,” he whispered, and buried his face against her neck.  Wetting her throat with the tip of his tongue, he trailed kisses down her skin, then gently brushed his face over the swell of her breasts.

They moved together - one heart, one soul - fingers tenderly searching until their need to touch, to lay skin against skin, consumed them.  Free of clothing, Catherine’s body was beyond Vincent’s imaginings.  He couldn’t still his hands, repeatedly roaming the planes and valleys that had only existed for him in dreams.  His mouth followed the path of his hands, feasting on her skin, claiming Catherine in a sea of infinite love.

He moved slowly, lavishing soft, wet kisses over her aching, taut nipples.  Catherine pressed into him, wanting to offer Vincent all she was, everything he wanted; to fill his mouth and have him suckle her.  She whimpered, tossing her head wildly, she moved beneath him, wanting more.  Eagerly, Vincent pursued her pleasure, as his warm tongue moved over her; Catherine’s kiss-dampened nipples puckered, hardening even more and he gently laved their aching peaks.

Her fingers danced through his lush hair joyously.  Catching the golden waves tightly, she plunged into it lustfully; gathering and releasing it, loving the way it floated gently back to the sides of his head.  Straining against him, she fondled his exposed neck with the palms of her hands, smiling when he lifted his head, bright-eyed with delight. “Your hand, no one has ever touched my neck.  It’s like the nerve endings are exposed.”  Catherine’s loving acceptance lifted him, freeing him to share all that he had kept locked within his heart: his need to feel the gentle touch of loving hands upon his body, to be held within her loving embrace and to be encircled within a warm, welcoming nest of love.

Expectantly, Vincent moved closer and waited.  Catherine sat up, her breasts edged invitingly along his chest.  She knelt before him, her hands trailed over his broad shoulders; each stroke of her fingers delicately taunting and teasing his flesh.  Rippling, soft kisses followed her hands as she brushed back his hair and nibbled across the smooth expanse of muscles beneath it.  Softly, gently, her lips whisked over Vincent’s skin in endless points of rapture as she nuzzled into his ears.

“You taste so good,” she murmured, kissing him and rubbing her hands across his hard chest.  Catherine felt his chuckle build within and smiled as it floated freely, the sound making her giddy and light hearted with joy.  (Oh, to be with him like this, to be able to bring him such love!)

Vincent kissed the side of her mouth gently as his hand leisurely stroked her, worshipping her body.  “You give me so much, so much.  Each gift of your love is sweet, filled with the promise of what is to be.”

“I want to give you everything, to watch your eyes light with the fires of each new discovery.  Your eyes reveal your every feeling. I adore seeing through them how I affect you.” Urging him closer, she kissed both of his eyelids, then sought his mouth, whispering, “Touch me; I love the feel of your hands, I love the way your mouth feels on my skin.  Touch me everywhere.”

Warm and husky, Catherine’s voice gave freedom to all his fantasies.  He kissed her again, loving the moist wet sound of their lips meeting, the feel of her tongue, warm and soft sliding along his own, and the honeyed sounds of pleasure poured from her throat and burst within his mouth.  Breathlessly, they drew apart as his hands roved over her, kissing her delicate skin at will.

Lightly, Vincent’s hand brushed over her quivering stomach, one finger tracing the hollow of her navel.  He moved to the smooth prominence of her hip bone, his large hand spanning over half the width of her body.  Seeing this, he shuddered, his eyes filled with fear, and he suddenly sought her eyes. “Catherine, you are so small.  I’m so much bigger, my weight could injure you.”

“But, it won’t,” she replied surely, “it will be fine.  Your touch is so gentle and loving, you’d know instantly if anything was injurious.  I want you to feel free to touch me anywhere, to fulfill all your dreams and fantasies of loving me.  You are everything to me.  I want to give you so much, so much.  Touch me.”

He brought his hands to lie across her hips, his fingers splayed over her stomach.  His breath was warm against her skin as he nuzzled gently against her navel.  Silky smooth skin warmed beneath his touch and Vincent began to nuzzle lower, the scent of her body drawing him.  He groaned softly as Catherine lifted her hips, eager and unwilling to wait for his kiss.

His mouth moved over her tenderly, sweetly, his mind filled with memories of their previous night together when he had first tasted the womanly scent of Catherine.  A scent that haunted him and now was his for the taking.  Gently brushing his lips over her delicate flesh, his heart pounded wildly as Catherine’s joy and pleasure flooded the bond with giddy rapture.

Reaching her toes, Vincent continued his wondrous journey up the length of her other leg, pausing again to taste of her softness, then moved slowly upward to seek the tawny peaks of her breasts.  His sighs filled the chamber as he laved eagerly against diamond hard nipples.

Writhing beneath his hands, Catherine urged him closer. “Please, I want to touch you, to share this joy of being with you.  Please I need you.”

Following the urgent tugging of her hands, he lifted his mouth and trailed his tongue along her throat to nibble against her chin, and with a hungry moan, he claimed her mouth.  Gently he filled her, his tongue dancing over hers, swirling and caressing, plundering wantonly and drowning in her taste.  Gathering her close, Vincent rolled to his back, continuing his breath-stealing kiss.  Catherine began to move her hands freely down the contours of his frame.

When she brushed the length of him, he shuddered against her, his hips thrusting toward her hand.  “Oh, yes, touch me again, again!

Her hands moved over him, caressing until he groaned with ecstasy.  The hair on his chest stimulated her nipples and she rubbed repeatedly over his chest.  When her tongue traced his navel, Vincent’s intake of breath was audible; his body trembled as her breasts rubbed over his throbbing shaft.  Gently, she pressed against him and slowly bent to lave the length of him.

His control over his raging emotions became tenuous when her mouth covered him and she suckled gently.  Her fingers stroked along his penis, then whispered lightly over his inner thigh. “Catherine, oh God!  What you’re doing feels so good.”

She lifted her head, seeking his dark, smoldering eyes, instinctively she knew the teasing and fondling were over.  Slowly kissing her way up his body, she lay beside him, whispering, “I want to feel you inside me.”

Kneeling over her, Vincent slowly lowered his body until he was sheathed within her warmth.  His body stilled, the wonder of her acceptance, the feel of his manhood within her, consumed him.  His eyes filled with tears as he held her quietly, allowing her to adjust to his length.  Then he began thrusting gently.  Catherine’s hips rose meeting his, rising and falling with his movements.

They soared higher and higher, straining towards each other, wanting their joining to be complete.  Catherine cried his name climaxing beneath him.  Vincent’s hips arched against her, his spine snapped back, head up, and the blood roaring in his ears.  His body coiled as he sought his own release, plunging deeper within Catherine’s body.

All at once, the chamber was filled with the sounds of loud, angry voices.

“He’s nothing but an animal!  Those fangs could rip a man apart.  He’s a killing machine!”

“She’s perverted, crazy to allow him to touch her.  There ain’t enough women down here as it is, and she prefers that hairy animal to a real man!”

“He could never satisfy a woman, not really.  She probably fakes it better than ’em $200 bimbos!  The bitch deserves what she gets.  Betcha he mounts and fucks her from behind like a crazed animal in heat!”

Vincent sobbed, collapsed against Catherine, then rolled away.  His face contorted, his mind convulsed in anguished pain as shock waves hit him, recoiling in explosive spasms inside his head.

“Vincent, NO!”  Catherine grabbed at him, clutching at his shoulder, but his powerful arms shook her free, sending her tumbling across the bed.  Gripping his head, fighting the excruciating shame, his roar reverberated through the chamber, filling it with a savage, primal fury.

Uncontrollable frenzy, mindless, beyond thought filled Vincent’s head.  He lashed out, sending one chair crashing against the wall.  Old and worn, the table shattered beneath the lethal blows of his fists.  Crystal and china broke as the table crumbled.  Shards of air-born glass rained down upon him as the wine bottle exploded against the wall.

His uncontrollable fury destroyed all the gentle scholar had sought to create.  The horror and pain visible on Catherine’s face fueled his frenzied explosion of carnage.  As bits of broken glass slashed his bare feet, the smell of blood mingled with the scent of roses in the chamber.

A boiling rage consumed him, yet his screams became more human moment by moment; a keening of soul-shattering grief.  The destruction mocked all he sought to be, giving proof that he was all the voices said.

Whirling, bolting from the chamber, Vincent ran from the voices that shamed and degraded him.  He ran from the humiliation, the debasement of his soul, the aberration of his mind.  He fled the voices that mocked all he had become with Catherine’s love.  And, he ran from the sound of her joyous cry of release that still echoed in his brain; a sound now made perverse and vile.  Vincent continued to run until he no longer heard the sounds of Catherine screaming his name, begging him to come back.

**************

“Father!”

Catherine’s scream startled him from his nap, the book on Jacob’s lap crashed to the floor, the sound resonating through the quiet library.  Adrenaline pumped into his system, fear constricted his heart as he struggled towards Catherine.

“Help me!  Vincent!  He... the voices, he heard the lost voices!”  She babbled, all the words tumbling out as she sobbed incoherently.

Grabbing her by the shoulders, Father shook her fiercely. “Catherine!  Get control of yourself.  Tell me what happened to Vincent!  Where is he?”

His face revealed his escalating horror as Catherine sobbed out her story.  Father’s anger boiled and the reality of what had happened slammed into him and he momentarily sagged against her.

“Dear God!  We have to find him.”  He moved across the study, mounted the stairs, grabbed a wrench and began tapping an urgent message.

Moments later the pipes stilled, then rapid fire tapping filled the chamber.  Voices filled the passageway and the library was inundated with a sea of anxious, fear-riddened faces.

In rapid succession he barked orders like a general commanding an army, Father dispersed the tunnel citizenry to equip themselves to search for Vincent.  His voice rang out, stilling their scurrying feet, “Catherine will take us to where we will begin.  Remember, you are to only locate him.  DO NOT attempt to talk to him or get too close!  And please, dear friends, ask no questions.  It’s imperative that we find Vincent immediately!”

Father struggled to keep up, leaning heavily on his walking stick.  They reached the exterior of the cavern and the search teams scanned the unfamiliar area, quietly talking among themselves.

“NO! Stop!  You can’t go in there!”  Catherine’s nerve shattering scream stopped Pascal seconds before he reached the chamber entrance.  Frantically, she whispered to Father, and his face paled at her words.

“Please,” he shouted, “no one attempt to enter the chamber!  Fan out and begin searching from here.  Criss-cross the area in our standard pursuit pattern.  No one is to search alone!” Father’s strong voice echoed and reverberated across the cavern.

“Father!  There’s blood here!” Pascal pointed to the dried red tracks leading from the chamber.  Stricken, desolate that his life-long friend was injured, Pascal glared at the other members of the team.  “What are we waiting for?  He’s hurt, let’s find him!”

They reacted to the urgency in Pascal’s voice, the group dispersed, leaving Father and Catherine alone.  With faltering steps, Father made his way towards the chamber entrance.  Catherine shuddered violently, followed and stepped inside.  Jacob Wells stood in the middle of the carnage; his eyes missed nothing, including his son’s trousers and a crumpled white nightgown.  “Dear God, help me find my son,” he sobbed.



THE DARKNESS

Twelve days passed and no trace of Vincent was found.  Even Mouse couldn’t unscramble where his friend had hidden.  The community was exhausted and divided about whether the search should continue.  Tempers flared.

The emergency community meeting wore on into the night, each side arguing loudly in an attempt to sway the vote.  An underlying bitterness and sense of doom prevailed while anger blazed up among them.

Cullen held the floor, addressing the issue of survival, of the community resources by the continual depletion of their meager food stores.  The chamber exploded, William thundered his objections, announcing that there was food enough for the community.  Cullen tried to shout down William’s objections and the two men stood toe to toe, their faces contorted in their fury.

“STOP THIS!”  Catherine’s voice rose above the din.

Father furiously pounded his gavel trying to restore order.

With the fury of a woman protecting her man, Catherine launched into the fray, shouting down William first, and then Cullen.  “How dare you suggest that food is the issue here!  Any food that is eaten, any supplies that are depleted in the search for Vincent, will be replaced.”  Opening her purse, Catherine yanked out her wallet and threw a handful of money in Cullen’s face.  “There, you greedy bastard, use that, and if it’s not enough, I’ll get more!”

She spun to face the others, shouting, “You are supposed to be Vincent’s friends, his family.  How can you even consider abandoning the search?  Do any of you think he’d abandon you, if you were lost, or hurt?”

She glared at Cullen, rage distorting her features, making them harsh, her words were like drops of acid.  “To suggest we stop searching is unthinkable!  Each of you depends upon Vincent, and he has given unfailingly of himself.  He always put the good of the community above his own needs.”  She continuously poked Cullen’s chest hard, emphasizing each word.

Cullen backed away as Catherine continued her diatribe, jabbing at him with her finger.  “So, now, when he needs you the most, you want to give up on him because it’s too much TROUBLE?  Because searching gets in the way of what YOU want to do, or when you’re HUNGRY!

“Vincent is your friend, for God’s sake, how can you forget all he’s done for you?  Vincent killed to protect you!  Have any of you stopped to realize what price he paid and continues to pay for having saved you?  You rape his soul, and then you want to abandon him!”

Tears cascaded down her face and she whirled around at the touch of a hand to her shoulder.

Sharp, pain filled grey eyes beseeched her. “Catherine, this won’t help.”

Seeing Father’s pain heightened her own sense of guilt and remorse, and she collapsed onto his shoulder, sobbing hysterically.  Father held her trying to offer comfort as her crying continued unabated.

Pascal came stand next to him. “Father, let me take Catherine for a little while.  She needs rest.”

Jacob Wells eased Catherine from his chest and into Pascal’s waiting arms. “Go with him, my dear. Please try and rest.”

Sagging against him, Catherine clung to Pascal as he slipped one arm around her, supporting her fragile body.  She continued sobbing as he helped her up the steps and out of the chamber.

Once certain she was out of earshot, Father turned to the assemblage, his voice purposeful.  “Our society has survived because of our commitment to, and respect of, each other as individuals.  Each of you must vote your heart.  Don’t be swayed by the dictates of others, no matter how eloquent or passionate their speech.  You have honored me by allowing me to lead you for many years.  At times it’s been quite a heavy burden, and I’ve borne it gladly.

“Because this involves my...” he choked on the words, struggling to regain control, “...son, I cannot, in good conscious, participate in the vote.”  Father’s tired eyes searched the crowd, looking for one particular person. “Mary, if you would be so kind as to handle the proceedings and make the necessary recording in the council books when this is over, I would appreciate it.”

When she nodded in agreement, he continued, “Now, if you will be so kind as to excuse me, I must see to Catherine.”  He limped across the room; barely acknowledging them as people stood aside to allow him passage.

Seeing him like this reminded many of them of precisely how heavy the burden this man endured was and of how many years he had borne it silently.

Father entered the chamber slowly.  His conscious mind shrank from the knowledge that his child no longer occupied this chamber that he could be… (No!)  His iron will slammed down, refusing to allow the thought to be fully formed.

Catherine lay on Vincent’s bed, still sobbing and Pascal spoke in soft, soothing tones, patting her shoulder helplessly. He looked up as Father entered, relief covering his thin face.

“Thank you, Pascal.  I’ll look after Catherine.  You go along now.  The community is voting and you must be there.”  Wearily, Father stumbled towards a chair.

******************

Several hours later Mary quietly entered Vincent’s chamber.  Her heart ached and she hastily wiped the tears from her cheeks.  The sight of Father in Vincent’s chair, his head in his hands, added to her despair.

His head snapped up at the sound of her feet moving slowly across the worn carpet.

Mary stood at his side reluctant to answer the question in Jacob’s eyes.  Gathering a deep breath, knowing no way to soften the blow, she began. “The community has decided to suspend the search operation.  The vote was very close,” she added sadly.  “Pascal is livid.  He told them they had best find someone to handle their communications, because he wasn’t giving up.  He intends to keep searching. Mouse, Jamie and William have sided with Pascal.  They intend to search for Vincent until he is found.”

“The vote is what I expected.”  The timbre in Father’s voice belied his words, his eyes filled with tears.  “I’ll try, Mary, to abide by their decision.”  He ran his hands through his hair.  The lines on his face etched deeper in his desolation and despair as his eyes sought Mary’s.  “I can’t!  I cannot do this thing they ask of me!  How can I forsake my son?  How?”  He began to sob softly.  Blinded by her own tears, Mary gathered him in her arms.

**************

The community slowly returned to normalcy, learning to adapt to poorly prepared food and the state of chaos on the pipes.  It was a deafening bedlam, leading to short tempers. Pascal steadily refused to return to the pipe chamber. William was adamant, suggesting none too pleasantly to anyone daring to ask that the solution to the food problem was simple: learn to cook.

Early each morning, Vincent’s closest friends gathered together, outlining where they would search, then they’d set out before most of the community had awakened.  They carried emergency medical equipment, storing it at one of the search points, moving it to each location as they swept deeper into the interior.

After several days of searching, they decided packing supplies daily impeded their progress.  In a daring move of disrespect and defiance, they boldly raided the larder, taking provisions for several weeks, gathered the camping gear, and left Father a note, telling him of their destination.

Catherine abandoned her apartment completely, returning only to pick up clean clothing and to check on the message she had left for Vincent on the balcony.

Each morning she arrived at the office, quiet and subdued, did what was asked of her and returned Below as soon as it was feasible.  Nightly she brought samples of Manhattan’s epicurean delights Below, providing Mary and Father with hot, nourishing food.


Thanksgiving passed and still no sign of Vincent was found. Father finally noticed after Mary’s sharp words, that Catherine was extremely thin and the mauve shadows beneath her eyes had become permanent and deep.  Finally one Saturday, he ordered her to remain in bed.  Refusing to allow her up, he stood guard within the chamber to assure himself that she obeyed.  After an hour of shouting, she realized Father was right and meekly retuned to bed where she slept around the clock.

******************

Slowly, Vincent woke and became aware of his surroundings.  He was in a slightly familiar chamber and his keen sense of smell was assaulted by strange odors.  Instantly alert, he realized he was naked beneath the quilt which covered him, and that someone was approaching.

“So child, you’re awake.” Milky, sightless eyes peered at him, sensing his fears.  “Do not be frightened, Vincent, it is only an old woman comes to comfort you.”

“Narcissa!  How did I come to be here?”  He started to sit up, but remembering his nakedness, sank further beneath the quilts.

“I found you many days ago, near the caves of the lost ones. Your screams led me to you, but I was days in finding you.  You hid each time I came close, but Narcissa could not let you remain lost.  It took a long time to bring you here.”

“But how,” Vincent interrupted, “did you get me here?”

Her hand moved in a slow circle around the chamber. “They help. The spirits can do what would otherwise be impossible.  Drink this.  You must rest and grow strong.  Sleep heals.”

Placing a bowl of foul smelling liquid in his hands, Narcissa entreated him to drink.  He consumed the liquid and in spite of his desire to question Narcissa further, he fell into a deep sleep.  Sporadically he awoke; aware Narcissa applied healing potions to his battered body.  Another week passed and when he awoke he knew his body had healed.


Narcissa entered the chamber carrying his cloak over one arm.  His trousers, ruffled shirt and boots rested in her other hand.  “Child, it is time to return to the Father and to Catherine.”

Vincent shrank away from her.  “NO! I cannot return.  I will make these chambers my home.  I can never go back!” Despair and panic filled his rising voice and he struggled to control the lump in his throat that made breathing nearly impossible.

(‘I’ll never hear the warmth of their voices or know the gentle touch of their hands!  Never see them!  I will die without them, for inside, I am hollow, empty without their loving warmth. Catherine!)  Covering his face, his shoulders shook violently and he sobbed.  Vincent’s heart constricted as a sense of rage and rejection swept through him.  He could never go home again!

Gnarled fingers curved over his shoulder, “Child, you must go to the Father.  He grieves, thinking you dead.”  Her weathered hands gripped him tightly, her strength surprising.

“Narcissa, you don’t know what happened.  It is impossible for me to ever return to that life!”

“It is impossible because you make it so.  Their love calls to your heart, yet you reject it, willing yourself to remain in the spirit world.  Your heart lies with the Father and Catherine.  You must return!”

“NO! I will remain here.  If you won’t have me, I shall go elsewhere!”  He reached out, grabbed his belongings and clutched them to his chest.

“The spirits will not have you.  They know your destiny and will not allow you to alter their plan.  Seek the Father.  Seek your heart!”  She turned and left him alone to think on her words.

Dressing quickly, he expected to find Narcissa in the antechamber, but found no trace of her.  He had no sense of her.  Aimlessly he wandered from corridor to corridor, seeking solace from the endless voices that raged within his mind.

Vincent lost all sense of time.  Hours became days, days became weeks and his world grew darker.  Roaring his rage into the black void of despair, he was truly alone.

**********************

“Catherine, my dear, the tree looks very nice.” Father tried to sound cheerful as he entered Vincent’s chamber.  Except for the tree she was decorating and the edge of her nightgown peeking from beneath the new bed pillows, the chamber looked exactly as Vincent had left it nine weeks ago.

“Thank you, Father.  We decorated a similar tree last Christmas Eve.  I thought,” she blinked rapidly trying to prevent her tears from spilling, “that is, I wanted Vincent to know wherever he is, that I haven’t forgotten, that I still love him.”

Father gathered her close, holding her as she sobbed.  He had reconciled his anger towards her, realizing the depth of her love for Vincent and the pain she’d suffered since his disappearance.

“Vincent knows you love him, Catherine.  Wherever he is, he knows and that love will bring him back.”

Wiping her eyes on the snowy handkerchief Father produced, she smiled wistfully.  “I’m going to my apartment to get the gifts for tomorrow morning.”  Slipping into her red jacket, she stepped into the passage.  “I won’t be long.”

Memories of Vincent assailed Catherine when she opened her apartment door.  Determined to gather the gifts quickly and leave, Catherine pulled the bag of wrapped gifts from the closet.  Sorting the mail, she tossed aside everything but her bills and bank statement, and those she shoved into the bag.  The balcony and all its memories drew her, and helplessly, she stepped across the cold cement.

A blaze of lights stretched before her, causing the memories to flare even stronger.  The wind snatched the words from her as she spoke them, “Be well, Vincent.  Wherever you are, my love, be well.  Come back safely.”

Tears cascaded from her eyes and she ran inside throwing herself across the bed.  Raw grief poured from her and cries of anguish filled the silent room.

Sometime later, she applied cold compresses, trying to reduce the swelling, knowing Father would notice her red eyes.  The process took far longer than she’d anticipated. It was quite late when she left to return Below.

Finding the library dark, she placed the bag inside the entrance, then retreated towards Vincent’s chamber.  The gloom there indicated Father had forgotten to leave a candle burning.

Vincent’s head jerked up when Catherine entered.  His senses roared to life, the scent that was distinctly hers mixed with her perfume, bombarding him, filling him with deep despair.  For weeks he had successfully blocked the flow of the bond, sealing his heart and spirit away from hers, unable to endure her pain and suffering.  She was silhouetted within the dimness; the bond surged anew, filled with the sweetest of songs.

Vincent’s hand went to his chest, clutching at the pain that stabbed his heart.  He watched her move slowly through the darkness, skirting a chair to stand beside his antique writing table.  Deprived, hungry eyes drank in the sight of her, knowing now he must send her away and that he would never see her again.  This madness had to end!

Lost in the sight of her, he realized too late what her fingers sought.  “Don’t!”  He hissed into the darkness.  The flame of the candle caught, flared briefly then a soft circle of light surrounded Catherine.

“Oh God! Vincent!  Is it really you? You’re safe,” her voice broke and sobs filled her throat as she stumbled towards him, seeing only his beloved face in the dimness.  Openly sobbing, she clung to him, unaware of his disheveled appearance, nor the odors that clung to his clothing, she bathed him in her tears.

For a moment, Vincent allowed himself to feel her the softness of her body pressing close, then gently he pried her hands loose, forcing her to stand away from him.  “Catherine, you must leave.  What we shared is over.  There can be no life for us together.  You must return Above, to the life you were meant to live.”

“NO!”

“YES!” he roared, his voice echoing in the stillness.  “Forget me.  Ours was a dream never meant to be.  It’s time to awaken from the night shadows of our dreams and return to our fate.”  Wearily he stood.  “Come, I will take you home.”

Green eyes darkened with fury and she snatched her arm from his grasp.  “Home?” she spat vehemently, “You will take me home?  I am home!  Since the night you disappeared, I’ve lived nowhere but here in your chamber.”  Her voice rose sharply.

The deluge of emotions surging within the bond smothered him in a tidal wave of raw, swirling rage.  Staring at Catherine, Vincent felt everything she had experienced since their parting.  Her pain was crushing him.

“I thought you were lost, hurt or dead!”  Voicing her deepest unspoken fears, her voice turned frantic.  “Now you show up, weeks later, telling me it’s over!  Go forth and forget!  I’m not some child you can dismiss from your life because I’m unruly and ill-mannered!  You can’t just pack me up and send me home like an unwelcome guest who has overstayed their visit!”

“Catherine, I never said....”

“Don’t you dare interrupt me!  I love you.  Nothing will ever vanquish that love.  It will endure beyond time.  I loved you without reservations when we walked into that cavern, and I’ve loved you eternally since that night.”

He clutched his chest, unwilling to believe she could conceivably continue to love him.  “Don’t love me, Catherine,” he said wearily.  “What I am is not worthy of your love!  Please,” his voice became a whisper, “...leave. I’m tired.  I must rest.” His legs buckled, and swaying precariously, Vincent sank to the bed.  His eyes burned into hers, his voice filled the chamber, “GO! Leave me!”

Involuntarily, Catherine jerked at his harsh tone, her body trembling.  “I can’t!  Don’t do this.  Please, Vincent, don’t send me away,” she sobbed.  “We are empty shells, people imitating the motions of living without each other.  Without each other, we may as well throw ourselves into the Abyss!  Together, we have everything, apart we have nothing.  You are everything to me, everything!”

“Please, Catherine, leave.” Fingers pressed to his temples, his hands trembled violently, “I must be alone.  Don’t make this any more difficult than it already is.”

“Difficult?  Oh God, Vincent, don’t you realize this isn’t difficult, it’s impossible!  How,” tears streaked her face, “...how can you tell me to leave?  Why won’t you believe I love you?”  Desperately, she moved toward him, boldly grasped his hand before he could snatch it away and placed it on her rapidly beating heart.  “Can you deny what you’re feeling or what my heart tells you?!”

A burning energy seared his flesh, sending flames racing the length of his hands.  Vainly he tried to pull away.  She swayed towards him, pressing her body firmly against him. The bond opened further, surging with her unshakable love and belief that there was no life without him.  A swell of hope fluttered in his heart.  Again, he heard Narcissa’s words and his battered soul longed to believe, but his wounded mind denied everything.

He turned away, hiding the feelings his eyes clearly revealed. Seeing the pain and self-doubts he tried to hide, Catherine’s heart ached for him, and that ache filled their connection, searing him anew with its intensity.

Quickly lifting his head, he stared at her.  “How can you love me Catherine, after all that happened in that chamber?  What was said?  What I did?  How?  It is not possible to love what I am.”

“Will you never believe?  Must my love always be invalidated by what others say or think about us and what we share?  Words, Vincent.  What they said were only words!  Yes, they were ugly, painful damning words.  But no words can negate our love or what we share.  I would give anything to change what happened, the suffering those words caused you, and the pain they continue to inflict.  I can try to help you overcome those words, help you move through them, but I cannot change them.

“I never wanted you to know such pain.  My heart breaks knowing that others have taken what was beautiful and tainted it within your mind and heart. I don’t honestly know,” she shook her head slowly, “if I would change what happened.  You tell me I must leave, that what we share must end.  Selfishly, if you force me to walk away, I’ll forever carry in my heart the joy of having known your love, how it felt to have your body love mine and the completeness having you inside me gave.”

She sighed sadly.  “No, I don’t think I want to live without you and that memory.  I grieve that you were not allowed to experience that same joy of release and completeness that I found within your arms, but never for a moment have I ever regretted loving you.  Never!

“If you force this separation, then those people who would destroy or mock what we share will have won.  Please, Vincent. I love you.  You are my life.  Don’t send me away.  Don’t make me spend the endless days of my life waiting for death, because there is no life, not for me, without you by my side.”

Silence. It filled the chamber, obliterating even the ever-present tapping noises.  Time ceased and still the terrible silence continued.  All they had been to each other and all they hoped to be, stood as an insurmountable chasm between them.  His shame and humiliation filled the chamber, creating a gulf deeper than the Abyss.

Catherine sobbed; releasing the hand she still held and turned, moving from his side.  Bending over, she retrieved her purse from where it had fallen and made her way on stiff, wooden legs towards the passage.  The hollow tapping of her heels striking stone echoed in the stillness.

“Please, don’t go,” he whispered brokenly into the empty chamber.

Blinded by her tears, Catherine stumbled and clutched the stone wall for support.

“CATHERINE!”

Vincent’s anguished cry reached her, sending shivers racing up her spine, and her heart constricted in pain.  Spinning on her heel, she rushed towards the sound of his voice.

JOIE DI VIVRE

“Catherine?”  Struggling to rise, Vincent fought the waves crashing against his psyche.  He sought the sea of serenity and tranquility that flowed within his soul with the whispering of her name.  She would come to him, he knew, across time.  Never failing him, she would come, if he called to her. Again he called, “Catherine?”

Coolness bathed him, taking away the deep burning that seared his flesh. “I’m here, Vincent, I’m here.”

Bewildered cobalt eyes searched for her, and finding what they sought, the fear faded from them.  Closing over their diminutive counterparts, Vincent’s hands encircled Catherine’s, clutching and curling her fingers to lay tucked beneath his chin and against his throat. “Never leave me.”

“I’ll never leave you.  I’m here.  Sleep.  I’ll watch over you.  You’re safe.”

The coolness surrounded him, gently absorbing the fevered heat and he slept.

*****************

The chamber and its occupant were her world, the hours blended into days and Catherine focused her energy and strength on Vincent’s healing.  His body burned with a mysterious fever and his dangerous dehydration alarmed Father.  Vincent’s stamina weakened and his normal capacity to heal was threatened by the weeks of physical abuse and malnutrition.

Peter Alcott, life-long friend and physician, and trusted helper in Vincent’s world, was called to assist Father.  Seeing the dark circles and sluggish movements of his medical team, Peter ordered all of them to bed.  Overruling their objections with irrefutable medical logic, Peter dispersed Father and Mary to their individual chambers.  Trusting that he knew best, as he had in all medical matters in her life, Catherine lay beside Vincent and was quickly asleep.

Refreshed after twelve hours of rest Father returned to his son’s chamber, “Has there been any change, Peter?”

“Jacob, my friend, your condition looks considerably improved.  I feared I’d need to move all of you to the hospital chamber.”  Deep brown eyes smiled warmly and grey ones returned the warmth that accompanied a long enduring friendship. “Vincent’s fever seems to have abated and I’ve managed to get three glasses of water into him since your nap.  His vital signs are normal and stable.  He’s been restless, but quiets immediately when Cathy speaks to him.”

Vincent’s physical healing progressed rapidly after the fever ebbed.  He chafed at Father’s imposed restrictions, but understood the loving heart which posed the limitation. Three weeks later, Vincent resumed most of his teaching duties.

Shuffling between the two worlds, Catherine tried to adhere to a regular schedule.  Apart from Vincent during the day, she was filled with anxieties and periods of deep despair. Returning Below, those feelings dissipated.  Slowly, she became aware that those feelings weren’t hers, they were Vincent’s.  Their empathic connection had become stronger, and now the current of these emotions created a growing sense of uneasiness.

She slipped quietly into the library, glad to see that Father was alone for she needed to speak to him.  Greeting him warmly, she took the chair Vincent normally occupied.

“Have you noticed a change in Vincent, Father, a growing sense of urgency and unhappiness?”

“So, you’re aware of it, too.”  There was no question in Father’s response, just a simple acknowledgement of the truth of her statement. “Vincent has always been prone to moodiness, but he has never been anxiety ridden or nervous; two conditions that clearly come to mind when I think of my son’s actions over the last few weeks.”

She grasped Father’s hand and leaned toward him, quietly explaining the peculiarities of her own emotions when away from Vincent. “The feeling of anxiety,” she concluded, “disappears quickly when I am here with him.”

Father looked down at the worn rug beneath his booted feet. His silence lengthened, and sighing deeply, his focus returned to Catherine.  “Forgive me for prying, Catherine, but since Vincent’s return you have continued to occupy his chamber and are, I assume, also sharing his bed?  May I also assume you share a conjugal relationship?”  Father’s normal ruddy complexion flushed warmly under Catherine’s intense gaze.

Her cheeks burned and anger consumed her, then abruptly faded. “Our relationship is private and I don’t appreciate your prying,” she responded coolly.

“If you had answered otherwise, I would have serious cause to doubt the validity of your love.  Yes, your relationship with my son is private and no, I find no joy in asking you such questions.  If I’ve offended you, then I humbly offer my sincere apology.

“Believe me, this is not a subject I ever thought to be discussing with you or anyone.  Vincent has been the zenith of my world since he was brought to me.  My dreams for him were of such proportions, I dare say, not even Vincent himself, knew the extent of all I hoped for him.  But, not even in my dreams did I envision that he would find a beautiful and compassionate woman who saw beyond his obvious differences and would love him with such tenacity.  In spite of his obvious physical strength, my son is a very fragile, complex person.  He struggles to be the person we all see and love.

“Until you came into his life, I thought no one would ever fathom him as I do.  Now I realize my understanding pales in comparison to yours, Catherine.”  Father smiled at her warmly. “Part of what you give is because you are a woman, but a great part lies beyond that, extending to your holistic view of him.  You are able to grasp the inner core of the man.”

He stopped, his shoulder shaking visibly.  “Fool!”  What you share with my son defies words and is beautiful beyond language.  You speak to his soul, loving him without reservations, and to Vincent that is his universe, his reason for being.”

“If a fool has spoken, Father, then the fool possessed an excellent teacher named Margaret.”  Catherine moved to embrace him, placing her cheek against Father’s damp one.

He straightened, giving his shoulder a slight shake, and stood momentarily more erect, re-assuming the mantle of competent and wise leader.  “Vincent’s strength can also be his greatest weakness.  The circumstances surrounding his sexual awakenings have not been the best.  I realize how badly I handled the situation with Lisa.  As a man and Vincent’s father, if there are problems I would like to help resolve them in a manner that will not leave my son as scarred.”

Green eyes met grey in mutual understanding, their silence conveying more than words.  “Perhaps together, we can avoid the mistakes of the past.”

Smiling, Catherine responded. “Yes, hopefully we can.  If you will excuse me, I’d like to see Vincent.  Today the hours we have spent apart have been interminable and I’ve felt his anxiety.”

“Yes, yes, of course, go along.”

**********************

Vincent lay asleep on his side, a pillow clutched to his chest. The book he’d been reading lay opened on the floor.  Smiling to herself, Catherine bent to retrieve the fallen book.  She noticed the way he clung to the pillows she’d brought Below while he’d been away and her smile widened.  She stood silently looking down at him, awed by his masculine beauty, more profound and breath-taking with his features relaxed and softened in slumber.

Slipping off her heels, determined not to awaken him, Catherine padded to the large armoire and removed the trappings of the business world.  Grabbing her running suit and clean underwear, she walked over to a basis of water.  Securing her hair with two pins, she scrubbed her face clean. The cool cloth felt refreshing as she sponged away the grit from her skin.

Unfastening her bra, she ran her fingers gently along her breast, loving the freedom of being unencumbered.  Unconsciously, she continued to rub at a slightly tender spot of dry skin that had been chaffed by the bra.

“You are hurt, let me see,” Vincent’s concerned voice gently surrounded her.  Dropping to his knees, he lifted her hand away and peered at the spot she rubbed.  Seeing only a faint mark, he raised perplexed eyes to hers. “I felt pain.”

“It’s nothing,” she explained. “It’s a woman thing.  A bra isn’t always comfortable, but it does feel wonderful when you can remove it.  Perhaps,” she offered, looking down at the bra she still held, “I didn’t remove all the soap from the fabric and it irritated my skin.”

“Nothing shall mar your skin, nothing,” he hissed.  Fixing a look of disdain on the offending object, Vincent tossed it into a nearby wastebasket, making Catherine smile.

Lips soft and warm nuzzled tenderly against the fading pink mark. Vincent’s hands gently encircled her waist, the silky texture of her half-slip bunched beneath the questing fingers that drew her closer.  Moist and sweet, his mouth laved her delicate skin.

Tangling her fingers through his hair, Catherine held him firmly when she felt him begin to draw back. “That felt heavenly,” she breathed.

Rocking back on his heels, his powerful thigh muscles rippled as he gracefully stood.  Vincent’s eyes swept her face in a loving caress.  “I must allow you to finish bathing.”  He turned, moved toward the bed, retrieved his book and lay down.  Opening the book, Vincent tried to concentrate on the words, but they blurred as his eyes constantly darted towards Catherine.

Removing the remainder of her lingerie, she completed her ablutions, well aware of his eyes on her.  Stepping into pristine white bikini undies, she then tugged on a rich, aqua velour jogging outfit.

Watching the tantalizing sway of Catherine’s breasts under the clinging fabric as she moved toward him, Vincent felt his body stir.  His blood pounded in his ears and he shifted uncomfortably, trying to ease the urgency building against his tight, confining jeans.

“Vincent?”  Seeing his desire clearly revealed in his eyes, she smiled softly.

Haunted, hunger-filled eyes openly worshipped her, and Catherine’s desire rose joyously to match his own; eager and greedy to know again the wonder of his loving.  They had clung in despair and relief since his return, but their relationship had remained chaste.

Pulling off the aqua pants and tossing them across the chair, in a single nimble movement, Catherine removed her shirt and sent it flying to join the pants. 

Incredibly gentle eyes spoke of his faith.  Warming her, the radiance of Vincent’s face was glowing testimony of his love. His lips parted and his tongue moistened dry lips, “Catherine, I need...want to touch you... there.”  His head moved towards her, eyes burning as he stared at her breasts.

“Yes.” Kneeling, Catherine straddled his body, her fingertips flicking lightly over his face.  Leaning over, she offered what he needed and wanted.

Cupping one breast in his large hands, Vincent inhaled deeply, nuzzling against her.  Her velvety, petal soft skin encircled him in sensory delight, his breath was hot as he moved over her flesh.  His mouth moved repeatedly against rapidly hardening nipples, hungrily and greedily suckling.  Opening his mouth wider, Vincent pressed Catherine closer.  Her breast filled his mouth as he swirled his tongue over it in a teasing dance of passion.

Unable to stand more of his taunting and teasing, she pulled away and eagerly sought his mouth.  Drinking in the taste of him, probing, seeking, she explored, branding him with her heat until his own answering moan filled her throat.

Fumbling, eager fingers sought to banish the clothing separating them.  Struggling to free himself from the confines of his shirt, Vincent sat up, his mouth fused to hers.  Catherine’s breasts slid invitingly along his furred chest, fueling a fire that burned from within him, searing him with the flames.

Slipping from his lap, her tongue wetting his chest, Catherine slid down his legs.  He gasped as she gently rubbed her face over the rough fabric of his jeans, then moaned audibly as her breath burned him through the cloth.  Eyes wide, he watched Catherine free him from the painful restraint of his jeans.  Gently, her hands moved eagerly over the turgid length of him and instinctively he parted his legs, inviting her touch.

Surrendering himself to her hands and mouth, soft sounds of pleasure filled his throat.  Delicately, like the touch of the wind, Catherine’s breath teased over his pulsing erection and slowly laved the length of him.  His hips thrust toward her, his hands guiding her towards the throbbing head, and she opened her mouth, taking him inside.

“Catherine...” He breathed her name, needing her mouth.  He yanked her towards him, his tongue finding hers, stroking, feasting, drinking deeply to quench his thirst.  Sliding his hands between her legs, his fingers frantically pressed against her moisture dampened bikini.  Rolling her to her back, Vincent whisked the garment away.

Sensitive, loving fingers sought her moisture as Vincent’s erection nudged against her stomach.  Beads of sweat glistened on his face, dripping down to wet his chest.

“Take me, Vincent,” Catherine implored, her words lost in his mouth.

Moving over her, Vincent slowly lowered himself toward her undulating hips.  Suddenly he groaned, then rolled away from her, his erection flaccid and weakening.

Catherine lay away from him knowing now, after so many attempts and failures, that he couldn’t bear her touch.  “This happens to many men, Vincent, not just to you.  Perhaps if you talked with Father, he...”

“NO!” Rolling from the bed, Vincent pulled on his pants, thrust his bare feet into his boots, grabbed his cloak and angrily strode from the chamber.

Burying her face in the pillow, Catherine sobbed, “Oh God, what can I do, how can I help him?”

********************

“Pardon me, what did you say?” Surprised and positive he hadn’t heard correctly, Pascal turned to stare at Vincent.

Bristling with repressed anger, Vincent bore down on Pascal. Three steps brought him to stand scowling over his life-long friend.  “If you need new students to learn pipe codes, then recruit them!  You’re responsible for maintaining communications.  It’s your job, handle it.  Don’t expect me to do it for you!”

Spinning sharply on his heel Vincent stormed from the communications hub, hitting a glancing blow against Mouse’s shoulder, whom he hadn’t even seen, as he rapidly exited the chamber.

“What’d you do to make Vincent so mad?”

Fixing the young genius with a look of disdain, Pascal swore loudly. “Some people get grouchy, and then they dump on everyone!  What makes you think I did anything?  He’s been a bear for weeks!”

*****************

“Catherine, please, sleep on your side of the bed.  How can I sleep with you sprawled all over me?”  The sharp words echoed in the late night stillness.  The biting words wounded beyond physical pain, a searing, soul stabbing rent that left a gaping, raw festering laceration.  Pin needles of pain shivered, creating ghostly images made real by the sound of Catherine’s sharp intake of breath.  It shimmered, alive and throbbing and as its source, Vincent was ashamed.

Weeping, she rolled away from him.  Clutching her pillow, she folded her body into his desk chair, drew her legs up and wrapped her arms around her pillow.

The seething fury that had been building within Vincent instantly died, leaving him regretful.  (’It has come to this!  How could I be so harsh?  Her warm silky skin soothes me; her body welcomes me, never turning from me.  My frustration is destroying Catherine.’)

Padding silently to stand beside her as she cried, the knowledge that he’d caused such tears broke his gentle heart. “You’ll catch cold.  Please, come back to bed.”

Her heartbroken sobs were muffled by the pillow. “No...”

“Catherine, please.  I am sorry.  I didn’t mean to hurt you, forgive me?”  Vincent dropped to his knees before her, one hand darting to touch her mussed, dark honey hair, then quickly withdrew, fearful of repulsing her.

The thin gown offered little warmth and Catherine shivered in the coolness and hugged the pillow closer.  Lifting her tear-stained face, she searched his haunted eyes.  “Perhaps it would be best if I returned Above to live.”

“No!” Vincent gasped as his own eyes suddenly filled with tears.

“Our being together is destroying you.” she stuttered, her voice shaking uncontrollably. “You don’t want me to touch you, but I can’t control what I do in my sleep.  I love you, unconditionally.  I’ll never stop trying to fulfill our love, not as long as you want to try.”

Sobbing bitterly, she swiped her nose against her sleeve, struggling to continue.  “You are my life.  We were happy before, but sex or the lack of it isn’t what’s tearing us apart.  It’s remorse and guilt.”

She looked at him, her chin trembling. “Every time we try to make love, you feel guilty because you can’t satisfy yourself or me. The more we try, the worse it gets, and you feel guilty, thinking yourself less of a man.”

Vincent bowed his head unable to respond.

She spoke quietly. “And, I feel guilty because no matter what I do, I can’t help you resolve this. It’s made you short-tempered, you snap at people, then die inside because you’ve been less than the perfect person you’ve always felt you must be.”  Shaking her head, confused and distressed, Catherine sobbed, “Maybe I don’t excite you or I’m not appealing enough.”

“No, it’s not you, Catherine, it’s me.”  Sliding his arms beneath her, Vincent lifted her and carried her to the bed.  Nestling her into the warmth of his arms, he tried to soothe her.  Clinging desperately to each other, their tears mingled as they sobbed in their combined anguish.

******************

As Catherine let herself into her apartment, the stale air combined with dust created an unpleasant odor and she immediately moved to throw open the balcony door. Rubbing her temple, she walked into the bedroom to open those doors, too, hoping the frigid air outside would freshen the dank smell of the closed apartment.

Swallowing two pain pills, she changed into sweats and returned to the coolness of the living room.  Closing the terrace doors again, she sat at her desk, took out a sheet of paper and began writing.

“Vincent, this just arrived for you.” Father handed his son the thick, pale grey envelope and diplomatically withdrew from the chamber.  Recognizing the handwriting, Father knew Vincent would be eager to read Catherine’s missive.

Vincent slit the envelope and withdrew the letter, settling back against the pillows.  His heart filled with a sense of foreboding as he began reading....

“Vincent, my heart’s dearest treasure, nothing has changed between us.  I love you and will continue to love you with all that I am, but we must be apart.  There is a soul deep ache within me as I write these words.  I want to return to our chamber and sleep within the warmth of your arms.  The selfless part of me, the part you helped me to discover, knows that for now, I cannot return.

“Please believe and know within the deepest part of you, how much I love you and long to be with you.  This is a journey you must make alone.  You must find that part of you the voices destroyed and believe in yourself and in the validity, the righteousness of our love.  Whether we become physical lovers again is not the issue; it is the question of your whole hearted belief in our love.

“Believe and know that there is nothing missing or lacking in my life because I love you.  Believe the truth of my words when I say I love you, all of you, the gentle scholar as well as the part that shames you; the side you seek to deny.  He is you, and if you truly love yourself, you must believe and accept that I also love him because he is you.

“You are my destiny. I have no regrets.  With you, through you, and in you I have found all I could ever wish to know in my life. In the days to come, know I’m with you.  My love is without limits; it surrounds and holds you always.  My heart lies within the warmth of your being.  My soul is with yours. Be well, my love. Be well.  All my love, Catherine

Closing his eyes, Vincent felt Catherine’s presence and the warmth of her arms holding him. “I love you, Catherine,” he whispered into the stillness.  Within, he knew the wisdom of her words and the courage it took to leave.  He had known she would not return and he shared the pain of her heartbreak.

Getting slowly to his feet, he carefully folded the letter and placed it alongside the others she’d written.  Sitting at his desk, he took out his antique silver fountain pen and began writing.  Cleansing his mind of the thoughts that had bombarded him for weeks, thoughts too long denied that filled his soul with pain, he leaned over the sheet of paper before him.

The clattering of distant pipe conversations slowed and faded into faint night tapping’s and still he wrote. He filled one journal and taking a new one from the shelf, returned to the task.

**************

“Father,” Vincent lopped easily down the spiral staircase, having returned his third load of books to the upper regions of the library, “do you have a moment?”

“What? Yes, of course.  When have I not had time for you?”  Warm grey eyes peered inquiringly over the top of smudged reading glasses.  “Come, sit down.  Tell me what’s on your mind?”

“Father, could we go to the hospital chamber?”

Alarmed, Jacob stood up and reached quickly to touch his son’s forehead, seeking some sign of fever. “Are you ill?”

“No. It’s merely that in the hospital chamber there is less likelihood we will be overheard or interrupted.”

The determined jut of his jaw clearly indicated to Father that Vincent would reveal nothing further until they were assured of privacy.  Accepting the arm Vincent offered in support, Father mounted the stairs.

Once inside the hospital chamber, Father sat on the stool looking expectantly at his son.  Vincent easily hopped onto the examining table.  The silence continued for several minutes before he looked up from beneath the hair that hid his features.

“Vincent, what’s troubling you?  Your restlessness since Catherine went Above is very apparent.”

“Father, would you examine me, and tell me if you find anything physically wrong?”

“You have never volunteered to be examined so I can only surmise there is something specific you wish to know about your physical condition.  Would you be kind enough to tell me what information you seek?  You’ve spent three weeks pouring over the medical section of the library, and while your zeal for knowledge has never been questioned, I’m curious about your subject matter.”

He slide from the table, pacing the small chamber, the sound of his boots striking stone echoed softly.  His pacing continued unabated, his fists tightly balled, then he turned, head down, hair veiling his face, and through clenched teeth, he whispered,  “I need to know if there is a physical reason why I can’t maintain an erection.”

Honest, straightforward eyes met his, bearing no sign of shock or revulsion, and Vincent’s shoulders dropped, the burden of his fear lifted by the kindly unwavering gaze that met his.

“Would you undress and get on the table, please?  I’ll just be a moment in washing up, and then we can proceed.” Father pulled the screen around the table, then moved to the nearby kettle, hoping the water was hot, and began preparing the equipment he might need.

Snapping off the rubber gloves, Father nodded solemnly. “You can get dressed now, and then we’ll talk.”

Vincent emerged from behind the screen, folded it away and waited as Father closed and locked the medical file.

“Come along, let’s get a cup of tea and then we’ll go for a walk.”  Father turned, saw the look of fear in Vincent’s eyes. “I’m not, in spite of what you may think, biding for time, trying to think of a way to soften any blow.”

He looked at Vincent intently. “You are not impotent.  There are just a few things I want to discuss with you, and since I anticipate our talk will be lengthy, I’d like a nice cup of hot tea.  And, I think our discussion would best be suited to a place removed from the community, where we would have absolute privacy.”

“Yes, Father, I agree.”

They returned to the library without speaking again, each man seemingly lost in private thoughts.  After their tea, Father filled a thermos with what remained, handed it to Vincent and they left the library as silently as they had entered.

**********************

“No, Father, please, anyplace but here!”  Vincent stared after the retreating figure that proceeded steadily forward in spite of the impassioned plea.

Father sat and struggled momentarily, then, finding a comfortable spot, he leaned back against the stone wall and waited.  He could see Vincent silhouetted in the light near the entrance.  “This is really quite lovely.  I suppose you and Devin found this during your explorations of the forbidden areas of our world?”  He eyed Vincent intently. “Until Catherine led me here, I had no idea of its existence.”

“Father, please.  There are many places of beauty in our world.  Can we find another place?” Vincent stood stiffly against the entrance, his head back as he dragged in a ragged breath, his body rebelling in harmony with the fear that clawed at his mind.

“Come here, please, and sit beside me.  It began here Vincent, and it must end here.”  Unconditional love filled Father’s voice, “I’ve never purposefully hurt or harmed you and would not presume to inflict you with pain greater than what you’re already experiencing.”

Blind trust led Vincent forward, faith in the man who had nurtured him even as an inner voice screamed for him to run, to flee this place and the memories that mocked him and his love for Catherine.  He stared at the man who demanded so much of him, more than he thought it possible to give, and seeing only love and acceptance staring back, Vincent slowly slid down beside Father.

“When you were a young boy and something frightened you, you would always come to me and we would sit together in the rocking chair, tightly holding each other, until the fear passed.”  Father covered Vincent’s larger hand with both of his, bringing them to his lips in a gentle kiss.  “I’m not so certain I could still hold you on my lap, but I can hold this much of you.”

His eyes darted to the large hand he still held. “That is, if you would allow me.”

Vincent’s eyes smiled and he returned the firm grasp of Father’s hand.

“I can find no physical evidence that would impair normal sexual functioning.  There is nothing physically wrong with you.  The tests I performed were all typical.”

Vincent’s breath exploded loudly and it was only then he realized he’d been holding it since he sat down.

The silence lengthened and Father continued to regard his son.  “Every man fears the day he will be impotent.  At some point in life, it happens to most men; although we all loathe discussing it openly, or admitting when it happens, it is a fact.

“When I was a younger man, it was expected that boys would be boys’, that they would sow their wild oats, and then settle into marriage.  Marriage and those wild oats weren’t necessarily the same thing.  Men were expected to be wise in worldly ways, but women were to be pure and chaste.

“Women were, in the majority, cheated because men are not patient, generous teachers, when it comes to matters of sex.  More in my day, then now, we expected our woman to be innocent, and we sometimes failed to give them pleasure before seeking our own.  There wasn’t the open communication between the sexes that is the custom today.  Sex just wasn’t discussed.”

Father looked a bit chagrined. “Indeed, the first time. Margaret initiated sex, I was shocked.  And when she told me, none too shyly, that she thought our bathing together would be abundantly pleasant, I was speechless.  Until then, I hadn’t imagined that Margaret had sexual fantasies.  Yes, she loved me, but I couldn’t believe she would fantasize about it!  Foolishly, I believed I was the only one that would do that!”

The corners of Father’s mouth twitched upward, then he visibly edged his mouth down, frowning, forcing the obviously pleasant memory away.  “There is other than the standard male dominates position which is beneficial and pleasurable, when a man has difficulty in maintaining an erection.

“Physically you are as strong and healthy as you have always been.  Men have a tendency to be easily aroused, often simply by a look, the sway of a woman’s hips as she walks, the caress of her hand or the touch of her lips.

“Sex can be purely physical for men; a release of tension, a need to feel the vitality of life flowing from you, the wild rush of blood and adrenaline at the moment of ejaculation.  Women feel sex and love are synonymous.  They like, want and need foreplay, to be told you find them beautiful and loved beyond the physical expression of that love.

“Most of what I’ve told you probably isn’t new to you.  At least I assume this is knowledge you’d probably already gleaned from your reading over the past three weeks.  Were there actually any books on the subject that you didn’t read?” Father’s smile was tender, his eyes gentle as he studied his son.

“I shall endeavor not to embarrass you overly much, but there are however, certain questions I need to ask.  Would I be correct to assume this has happened more than once, perhaps several times?”  At Vincent’s slight nod Father continued, “Given the circumstances of your sexual awakening, I’m not surprised you’re experiencing some sexual dysfunction.  I was not the best father to you when you were a teenager; having badly botched the experience you had with Lisa. I never meant to leave you with such deep emotional scars and fears, yet in trying to protect you, I did the very opposite. I wounded you.”

“Father, you only tried to...”

“No, please, don’t pretend or gloss over what I did.  It’s been between us for years and it’s time I acknowledged my culpability. Sex means different things to different people. Two people can copulate and it’s sex, but to people such as you and Catherine, it is the ultimate expression of your love, and that can be beautiful beyond words.  When you were here with Catherine, were there any problems in maintaining an erection?”

“No.”


“Were you able to climax?”

A deep breath passed clenched teeth as soulful eyes beseeched Father not to continue his questions. Vincent’s mane cascaded forward, and the silence lengthened.  Finally, he whispered, “No.”

“Your feelings for Catherine, have they changed because of what you’ve shared and this hindrance to your loving?”

“What I feel for Catherine could never change.  She is everything, Father, everything.  Until I found her, my life was filled with service to the community. Yes, I had family...,” those eyes that spoke most eloquently of unequivocal love caressed the older man, “...a Father and brother who nurtured me and friends who cared for me, but there was always something missing.

“I’d witness couples pledge their love before our world, look around at each naming ceremony, a voyeur to the happiness of others, and I’d be filled with a need so sweet and rich it defied words.  Catherine gave richness to the word love, I never thought to know. And, to have my love returned so abundantly is a source of profound wonder to me.”

“When Catherine returned without you, she steadfastly refused to reveal to me what you actually heard, what the lost voices said.  Could you tell me, Vincent, because I think that is the key to your dilemma.”

Vincent sat staring at the hands that held his and he began to tremble, his large shoulders shaking uncontrollably.  In a bare whisper, he repeated the damning words that were burned into his soul.

Father gasped, visible shaken by the brutal, depraved words applied to his beloved son.  Outraged, indignant, he swore. “Did you recognize the voices?  Do you know who would utter such filth?”

Bitterness filled his voice, “They were the voices of people who departed the tunnels months ago because our world was too passive for them.”

Releasing his firm grip, Father eased one hand free and gently stroked Vincent’s tumbled mass of golden hair.  Sad, stricken eyes searched for words of comfort and finding none, he could only offer, “Vincent, I am so sorry, so terribly sorry.”

The calloused fingers that soothed frightened sick children and eased the fears of the dying, stroked tenderly, and as his heart shattered, Father drew Vincent to his chest.  Empathic to the sorrows and wounds inflicted by cruel, painful words hurled at a small, unique child more than thirty-four years previously, Father held his son close, aware of the barbarity thoughtless words still caused.

“Words, they have such extraordinary power.  The right words are spiritually rewarding, creating beauty, broaden the expanse of our world, taking us far from our safe places into boundaries unmatched in majesty.  Perhaps it is simply that there are no wrong words, only unconscionable individuals who take perverse pleasure in wounding with their thoughtless chatter.

“Those words, vile as they are, have no meaning to you, no connotation to your love of Catherine or what you share.  That love has warmed all of us, bringing a joie di vivre unknown to these cold walls.  Allowing your love for Catherine and the extraordinary love she has for you to be tainted or ridiculed by mere words, is inconceivable.”

He paused. “Vincent, forgive me. My words implied the problem was of your own making.  That is not the case and I humbly apologize.”

Vincent stirred, easing himself from Father’s chest.  His compassion and caring surfaced, sensing the depth of emotions that had prompted Father’s words. “Father, there is nothing to forgive.  Your love for Catherine and me fills your heart and I know where your anger was directed.  Please, do not berate yourself.

“How can I forget those words, Father?  They haunt my every moment.  I desperately want to love Catherine, to be her lover in every sense of the word.  Each attempt leaves us frustrated and empty.  It’s an agony beyond anything I’ve ever experienced!  I feel the ache inside her, yet she comes joyfully into my arms, despite the failures and frustrations, never refusing me.  Now she doubts her appeal, wondering if she no longer pleases me.”  Frustration touched his velvety voice, edging it with harshness, shattering his outward facade of calm.  “What am I to do?”

“Your questions, even as a child, were never easily answered.  Your eyes reveal the depth of your pain now, as they did then.  There is no easy answer or solution.” Father shifted, flexing his leg in an effort to ease his arthritic hip.

“What was said about you and Catherine was irremediable.  But, they were words, only words, Vincent.  Vile and reprehensible damning words, yes, but still they are just words.  In our world, they are unspoken, but in places in the world Above, they are a part of common, every day language.

“What I’m about to say, the questions I shall ask, are highly personal. I don’t need nor do I want you to answer. They are questions which may hopefully allow you, in private, to find resolutions to the doubts that haunt you.  I’ll try to be fair because what I say can be applied equally to you and to Catherine.  As my son, you and your healing are naturally my first concern, but I am aware she’s been very hurt as well.

“It was several weeks after your disappearance before I found forgiveness in my heart toward Catherine.  During that dreadful time, I tried to hold on to the anger I felt following your disappearance.  I blamed Catherine, but as time passed, I witnessed the depth of her suffering, and realized how deeply she loves you.  There were moments when I was not proud of my actions or words.  Yet, when I attempted to apologize, to right the terrible wrong I’d done her, she brushed aside my words, telling me it was not necessary to apologize for loving you, and that my actions were prompted by that abiding love.”

Vincent’s eyes warmed, the hidden fire within their depths burned brighter and a gentle breath escaped his lips.  “Yes. Even under duress, Catherine is unfailingly kind and aware of the suffering of those around her.”

“It’s dreadfully unfortunate the lost voices were heard at the moment when you were most vulnerable.  I’m not sure any man, however skilled in the art of love, could have recovered and continued in that particular situation, but for you it was especially tragic.  Hearing such vulgarity applied to yourself and the woman you love at the precise moment of climax is untenable.

“There is great vulnerability in being naked, even with the woman you love, because nothing is hidden.  For you, with your unusual physique, it was probably more difficult.  Catherine was not repulsed by your differences, was she?  Did she accept you and find you physically pleasing?  Was there difficulty for either of you in penetration?   Did Catherine achieve orgasm?”

Taking a deep breath, Father paused, knowing his questions could possibly damage Vincent, if they continued much longer. Yet; he had to finish. “What offended you the most, Vincent?  Catherine being called a bimbo or the act completed by rear penetration, a position associated in many minds with animal mating?  Does the gutter term for copulation offend you?  Are you shocked that the expression of physical love could be reduced to such a vulgar term as ‘fucking’?  Or, is it offensive to find others saying what you have privately said about yourself when you are consumed with doubts; that you’re not a man, but a beast?”

The look on Vincent’s face changed dramatically at Father’s harsh words, and he inhaled sharply, his breath hissing in the stillness. Stunned, stricken to the core, he gasped, “Father!”

“Perhaps I left your education too much to the lofty ideals of Shakespeare and Chaucer.  Bodies are sold every moment of the day in the world Above.  Women spread their legs and men lie between them, spewing their seed.  Sex is a business to some poor souls.

“Vincent, you love Catherine and she loves you.  Any relationship is beset by doubts and problems.  The only solution to this problem is to look deep within yourself.  Time heals the harsh reality of even the worst pain.  Determine what has wounded your mind and the solution will follow.  As your physician, I can reassure you that physically you are capable.  Sex is 90% mental; images that cause the hormones to race, the blood to be stimulated.

“The words were only that, words, and of themselves, have no power.  Your mind gives them the power to emasculate you.  Speaking as a man of science, I feel it imperative that you stay here while I return to our world.  Stay within the chamber you shared with Catherine and think about what I’ve said.  Find out by self stimulation if, without Catherine, you can sustain an erection.  You ran from this place in fear and shame, come to it now as a place of self discovery and pride.”


Blue eyes rose to search grey ones, their questions more profound in the silence than if they’d been spoken.

“Yes, pride.  You have overcome more than most, remained kind and generous to a fault, always giving to others so that they might not see your differences, but what lies beneath.  The doubts that have plagued you need to be put aside, and you must learn to accept yourself whole heartily as Catherine - and I - have accepted and loved you.”

Father hunched his back uncomfortably. “Now, if you’ll help me stand, you will have my thanks. These bones protest the long hours we’ve spent in conversation.  I’ll send Mouse with food and supplies for a weeks stay.”

Effortlessly, Vincent helped Father to his feet. They embraced, holding each other firmly, wrapped within their mutual love and respect.  Offering his arm for support, he walked Father to the entrance of the cavern.

“Shall I walk you home, Father?”

“I’d be glad for your company, but no. I saw your trail markings along the wall.  There is only one incline and the rest is fairly easy.”

“Then I shall walk with you past the incline in the event my arm is needed.  Father, there are no words to thank you.”

“I need no words, my son.  Know that I love you and wish only happiness and pleasure in your life.”

Gathering Father against his chest, he pressed a kiss against his forehead, responding, “I love you.”

The week within the cavern proved challenging, but rewarding. Father’s words echoed constantly within Vincent’s mind, lifting his self doubts and clearing his cluttered thinking, giving sharp focus to his deeper feelings.  The bitterness buried within his heart slowly began to shatter and the words of the lost voices became as other taunts hurled at him during his life; the words of small minded, unhappy individuals whose world revolves and feeds off the unhappiness they are able to inflict.

He lay beside the pool, relaxed and comfortable with his nudity, and allowed his hands to freely trace his body. Closing his eyes, he recalled the feel of Catherine’s silky skin against his and the touch of her mouth traveling the length of his body.  The vision of her grew, enlarging until the image of Catherine’s loving filled his mind and he groaned softly, his pleasure increasing.  His eyes flew open as the milky essence of his seed spread warmly over his thigh.

Soft gentle laughter burst from his chest, filling the cavern, and he stood, knifing cleanly into the pool.

Today

Catherine’s nose burrowed against his arm as her hand slid to rest more firmly against the sensitive flesh of his inner thigh.  “Is anything wrong?”

Her soft sleepy voice coupled with the actions of her hand broke Vincent’s reverie.  “No, nothing is wrong.  I was just remembering the last five months, all we have been through and how grateful I am for you and your love.  Our tribulation has proved the depth of our love and commitment, leading us through a purifying fire into this world of beauty beyond imagining.

“I’m grateful and humble.  Loving me has not been easy and the fears that I have were not easily overcome.  Yet, you stayed with me and loved me when it would have been easier to have given up.” Sliding his hands beneath her warmth, he lifted her against his chest.

“Giving up was never an option, Vincent, never.  Loving you was and is, the easiest of all,” her smile was tender and she pressed several kisses to his chest.

Sliding his fingers into her sleep tousled hair, Vincent lifted Catherine’s face towards his, kissing her gently. “Catherine, if it’s easy to love me, would you mind showing me all over again?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

Their soft laughter floated gently, and then the chamber grew silent as Vincent’s voice intoned the vintage poem, “the best is yet to be*.”


THE END


* Grow Old Along With Me by Robert Browning

Revised August 2012