There Is Only Love

Demian

 

Iíve known good loving and Iím a friend of pain,
But when I read between the lines, itís all the same.

óDavid Coverdale

 

"What a week ..." Catherine sighed when she finally got home around 4 a.m. She threw her jacket and purse onto the couch. Her keys followed.

She was exhausted. The tower, the threat to the tunnels, Elliotís proposal ... her acceptance.

When she had told him yes, she had never felt so hollow inside. When his lips had touched hers, she had done everything in her power not to pull away and run. To be put in a position where she had to kiss one man because of her feelings for anotheróit had nearly killed her.

And having to tell Vincent ...

Catherine, no ...

I have to. Itís the only way.

Even now, it seemed like those words had come from anyone but her. She had never realized just how deeply her love for him ran, so immense that she would sacrifice it and condemn them both to lifetimes of misery, all to save his life.

I cannot allow you to sacrifice yourself in such a way.

She paused for a moment, hearing him say those words again. She shook her head and went into her bathroom. She stared at herself in the mirror while brushing her teeth.

All the time he had spent pushing her away, encouraging her to find love with a man who could give her the life she was "meant" to have, all of that time had been a waste. He had been devastated with the newsóhadnít even tried to rationalize with her, hadnít accepted it for a moment. She wished she would have told him then how much she loved him. But, as always, she held back, never giving him the words stacked up inside her, waiting for release.

Catherine pulled the nightgown down over her head and turned the covers back. She was so relieved it was Friday; she could sleep in and she needed sleep.

To dream, she thought, remembering her conversation with Elliot. He had lost his dream; she couldnít decide what he missed most tonightóher or the tower.

Catherine rolled over on to her side, facing the balcony. The moonlight was soft and beautiful, but Catherine barely noticed it through her tears.

What was she crying for? She didnít have to marry Elliot; the tower would not be built. She should be happy.

But they werenít tears of happiness and she knew it. She felt sad and something else, something uglier. Humiliation, she realized, her eyes burning with that knowledge. Elliot had rejected her and after all that, after wounding Vincent and crushing her own heart, she had still not been able to save his world. She had never felt so helpless.

What if they hadnít traced the money back to Elliot? What if the tower had been built and the world Below destroyed? Would she have lost Vincent forever? Let him go and never know what became of him?

Catherine wiped her eyes, trying to think better thoughts. She thought of the painted tunnels, and Elizabeth, but started crying again when she realized that even the evidence of their world would have been destroyed.

She flipped over onto her back and sighed.

What is wrong with me?

It was all of it she supposedóElliot, the proposal, the kiss, the tower ... Vincent. Him most of all.

He had walked her back from the painted tunnels. Once they had reached the ladder, he had paused and turned to face her, grabbing her hands.

"Thank you," he had said. "For saving our world. For saving my family." He squeezed her hands in his own and she had smiled at him.

"Donít thank me," she had told him. She hadnít done anything really. She hadnít come across the incriminating evidence; it had been dropped in her lap.

But he had insisted that she accept his gratitude, so she had acquiesced.

Then, he had looked down and it was a moment before he spoke again.

"Catherine," he had said. "The sacrifice you meant to make ..."

"I didnít have a choice."

"Yes, you did and Catherine ..."

He had trailed off then. She didnít even want to look him in the eye. Where could this conversation really go? He would never admit his feelings for her and she would never force hers upon him.

"To have lost you ..."

She had looked at him then and was surprised to see him looking right at her, his face close to hers. Her tongue had felt like lead, heavy and thick in her mouth ... weighted with what she wanted to tell him. To come so close to losing him and not be able to tell him how much he meant to her ... she wanted to say itóloud and emphatically. She wanted him to know.

But he had backed off then, sighing, dropping her hands. She had almost reached back for his, but he had taken a step away from her.

"Thank you," he had said again. She had forced a smile to her face before turning toward the ladder. She was afraid if she didnít leave right then, she might really tell him.

They could fill volumes with all that was left unsaid between them. She didnít fully understand why they couldnít talk about their relationship, but it was crystal clear that he did not want any discussion of it, at least not now. Every once in a while, she doubted his feelings for her, but then he would smile at her, or say her name, or hold on to her just a moment longer than usual, and she would know that what they had together was extraordinaryóand that he felt it, too.

As Catherine stared up at the ceiling, she grew more and more despondent. Yes, she had been humiliated when Elliot had turned her down and taken from her the chance to save Vincentís world, but there hadnít really been a happy ending after that. Once she had found out that the tower would stop, she had flown to the tunnels, desperate to see him and fall into his armsóshe needed to feel his arms around her.

But it had not happened that way.

The tears started afresh and her jaw clenched tightly. She loved Vincent so muchóthe thought of living her life with Elliot had nearly destroyed her. She couldnít be with anyone else. She had known that for the longest time, but to come so close to losing him just made it more realóand the pain of not being with him, more agonizing.

But he felt no sense of urgency, quite the opposite, in fact. He didnít speak that much, they didnít have much time together, and much of their time together was spent in the company of the people Below. Sometimes he stayed late with her on the balcony. She loved those nights, but much of the time they would read to each other.

We need some time alone, she thought. What she wouldnít give for a day, a night, alone with him. The mere thought of it made her twist with frustration. To have one night with him where they could have a meal and talk and be close to one another. She thought about her past with other men and how that kind of time was brief, just a prelude to getting physical. It was brief and rushed, discarded.

To have even an hour of time like that with Vincent, to lean against him, to talk to him and feel his warmth, she would literally do anything. Would they ever be able to steal a moment like that? It was such a simple request, an honorable one, a small one; why were they forbidden to enjoy even the smallest fruits of their war with impossibility?

Sometimes she wondered if he was even real.

...

When she awoke the next morning, she was surprised to find a note slipped under her door; it was from Vincent. He wanted her to come Below that morning. Her heart skipped a beat as she held the note to her chest. What could it mean? He rarely asked her Below, and when he did, it was for something specificóa concert, a play by the children, a birthday party.

But this note didnít say and she knew she would drive herself crazy thinking about it, so she tucked it in her purse and started to get ready.

...

Vincent wasnít there when she stepped down the ladder, but Geoffrey was. He led her to Vincentís chamber, where some children had gathered. He was reading and nodded at her when she came in the chamber; she gave him a brief smile before standing against the back wall.

"One more, Vincent!" the children begged.

"Alright, one more," Vincent agreed.

He turned to another page in the book of stories and began to read.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl. Her name was Love. She liked to sing. Every day, she sang in a field filled with roses.

One day, she saw a dark figure at the edge of the field. Intrigued, Love called out to the figure, beckoning him to come closer.

"I am Love," she said when he reached her.

"I am Pain," he replied.

"I donít know you," Love told him.

"Not yet, but you will," he answered.

"Do you want to sing with me?" she asked.

"I do not know how to sing."

"Do you want to dance with me?"

"I do not know how to dance."

"Then I will teach you!" she said, grabbing his hand.

But when she touched him, he stung her and she began to cry.

"What is happening to me? What is wrong with my eyes?" she asked.

"You are crying because you hurt. I am Pain, I make you hurt."

"But why would you want to hurt me?"

"I donít want to. I have to."

"That doesnít make any sense," she replied.

"It doesnít have to. Only know that we are tied together for eternity. No one can know either of us and not the other. If someone knows you, he will eventually know me."

"I donít understand," she replied.

"There is nothing to understand," he told her.

He turned, still holding her hand, and began walking across the field again. On his side, the black sky loomed with thunder and lightning and the roses wilted and turned black as he passed them. On her side, the deep hues of the roses shimmered under a crystal blue sky.

"I donít want to go with you!" she cried suddenly, ripping her hand from his.

When she did, they both fell to the ground in agony.

"What is happening?" she begged, writhing in pain.

"We are connected now. If we are separated, we will die. You are dying," he told her.

Love tried to endure the pain, but it was too much for her. All she had ever known was happiness and light.

She reached back and took his hand and immediately felt better. They stood up together and began to walk again. When they reached the end of the field, a thick, massive forest stood before them, both beautiful and ominous.

Love paused at the edge of the field and picked up a red rose.

"This field and these flowers are all I have ever known. Please, may I take one with me?"

He picked up a black rose.

"We will each take one," he told her. "Mine will be called Mercy."

Love glanced back over her shoulder, feeling fear and sadness and despair for the first time.

"I will call mine Hope."

And then they entered the forest.

The End.

Vincent closed the book, glanced up at Catherine, and was alarmed to see her face was ashen. The children didnít notice, but Vincent saw it immediately. He wanted to go to her, but the children ...

"That story is awful, Vincent! Love and pain connected forever with only mercy and hope?" Samantha said, disgusted.

"Yeah! Isnít that pretty dismal? I thought love was everything!" John interjected.

"Yeah, Vincent ..."

The children started grumbling and debating the topic and he glanced once more at Catherine. She had turned her head; he felt and saw a sob wrack her body. And then, she raked her fingers through her hair stiffly, and he saw the scar.

That scar. It was astonishing to him that she still bore it. Every time he saw it, it reminded him of that night, that terrible wonderful night he had found her and carried her into his world and ultimately, into his very soul.

It was a night of violence, of pain. And yet, it was the night he had found her, broken and beautiful. He had been split in two with emotion that nightóhorror and wonderóand the scar was evidence of the connection between love and pain, how each had vied equally for dominance ever since that night.

Vincent bent down to tell the children that story time was over and there were chores to be done. The older children shuffled out the little ones.

"Catherine?"

Catherine started, like he had knocked her out of a daydream. She looked up at him and he winced when he saw the look in her eyes.

He started to walk toward her, but she turned away, so he stopped.

"Catherine, please ..."

"That story was terrible," she said softly.

"Catherineó"

"Do you even understand why that story is so terrible?"

Did he understand? Really understand? Now he didnít think so. He thought the story was powerful, something that made its listener pause and evaluate what love truly was ....

And then Vincent understood immediately. This is how she saw them, what they hadólove, but not without pain, and only hope to cling to. Is this how he saw them?

Vincent looked at her again, but she was still turned away from him. She looked defeated and so small all the way across the room from him. He didnít want her to hurt, but what comfort could he really offer her? Their love might always be incomplete in some way.

Anguish snaked around his heart, constricting it. Still, he had to do somethingósay something.

"Catherine, itís only one story. Surely there are more ... optimistic stories. Ones where ..."

"They live happily ever after?" she finished.

"Yes."

"Do any of those ever come true, Vincent? Isnít that why theyíre called fairytales?"

"Some dreams come true," he said, looking away from her then. She looked away too, and dropped her head to her hands.

This had to stop. They were ten feet apart, but a million miles away from each other, deserted islands separated by treacherous oceans of pain.

It had to stop. He had to stop it.

He started walking toward her, bumping into a chair and then his own desk, which slowed him, as if he were wading through a rushing river. She started again at the noise and turned to face him.

When he was three feet from her, he stopped. She noticed his breathing was labored and his fists were clenched. He looked ... upset.

Before she knew it, his arms were around her, and he pulled her close to his body.

"Iím sorry," he whispered to her.

She pushed away from him and waved him off, walking toward the desk.

"Itís nothing, Vincent ... I just overreacted."

Her rejection stung him. She had never spoken that way to him before. Unsure of what to say next, he turned immediately to a safer topic.

"Did you sleep well?" he asked.

"Yes, fine," she said quickly. "And you?"

He looked at her for a moment, like he didnít believe her, but soon averted his eyes.

"I slept well, thank you. Everyone slept soundly last night, now that the threat is gone," he told her.

"Good. I am glad everyone is safe."

"Because of you ..." he reminded her.

She shook her head, not wanting to talk about it.

"Catherine, what is it?" he asked, concerned.

"Itís nothing, Vincent. Iím just glad itís all over."

"Yes," he replied softly. "Come ..."

He offered her his hand and for a moment, feared she might not take it, but finally, she did. He led her out of his chamber and started down a tunnel.

They walked in silence for a long time, but inside, Catherine was raging. She could have been waking up to Elliot this morning, the tunnels destroyed, Vincent forever taken from her life, and she still couldnít tell him how much she loved him, couldnít cry in his arms and have him promise they would always be together. And that storyóif he believed that love was impossible without pain, did that leave them with any other alternative but to accept and endure it?

Get yourself together, Chandler, she told herself, and then panicked when she felt tears come to her eyes. She couldnít start cryingónothing was wrong, nothing he would understand, nothing she could explain.

Just then, Vincent stopped walking and Catherine ran into him. Embarrassed, she turned away quickly, but he pulled her back until she stood before him.

"Catherine, please," he said. "Tell me ..."

"Where are we?" she managed, keeping her face down.

"We are close to the Mirror Pool."

She nodded. "Where are we going?"

Vincent sighed.

"I wanted your company today."

The slightest admission of his desire to be with her brought fresh tears to her face. She turned away immediately and walked a few steps away from him. Her back was to him, her hands on her hips.

"Catherine, please ... what is wrong?"

She shook her head and forced a laugh.

"Nothing," she answered. "Iím just tired, I guess. All thatís happened ..."

"Why wonít you look at me?" he asked, quietly.

She sighed, angry at herself for letting her emotions overwhelm her.

"Catherine," he started.

"Iím sorry, Vincent. I donít have the words ... maybe I should go back ..."

"Iíd rather you stay," he replied, softly.

She wanted to tell him to stop being nice to her, that it wasnít helping her get control. But part of her didnít want him to stopó

"Catherine, please just look at me ..."

She clenched her teeth and turned to face him.

"Please donít cry, Catherine. Please tell me what is wrongóI know something is wrong. I can feel your turmoil. Please explain it to me," he asked her.

She shook her head.

"Try!" he implored.

She looked at him; his eyes were burning bright. For the first time, she noticed that he looked upset himself. He looked like he hadnít slept well at all.

"Do you have something you want to say to me, Vincent?" she asked.

At that, he sighed heavily and dropped his eyes.

Weíre quite a pair, she thoughtólike two teenagers.

"We ..." he started, before trailing off.

"What is it, Vincent?"

"We should talk ... about what happened ..." he added quickly.

"About the tower?" she tried, avoiding the issue. "I told you that we got the injunction ..."

"No, not about the tower," he interrupted. "Well, yes, but not about the tower ... about ..."

Catherine was puzzled. Vincent seemed ... speechless, uncomfortable even.

"About Elliot?" she tried.

For a moment, they held each otherís eyes. Vincent seemed to be pleading with heróthe look in his eyes was very intense, probably the most emotion she had ever seen expressed upon his face.

"About us," he said, quietly.

Catherine nearly fell over. Had she heard him right?

"I brought you here so we could be alone," he continued, his voice gruff. "Well, not here exactly, further ahead there is a place, the tunnel opens up to a large room with a vaulted ceiling. There are arches carved into the wall surrounding the entire room. Itís beautiful and quiet there ... we can talk, undisturbed."

She stared at him, practically in shock. Hadnít she prayed for this very thing the night before? Was she still dreaming now?

He held out his hand to her.

She felt like she was in a trance, but she started walking toward him and took his hand. He turned and headed forward. They hadnít walked more than ten minutes when the tunnel opened up to the room he had described. It was beautiful ... and immense. She and Vincent were dwarfed by the emptiness above and around them.

Catherine walked into the center of the room and looked above her, awed by the rounded ceiling carved smoothly into solid stone. When she looked down again, he was standing about ten feet in front of her. The light from four torches illuminated his face.

She stared at him; his expression was indescribable. He was such a contrast in power and vulnerability. He seemed large, even in this monstrous room. It was completely silent; she could hear his cloak sway lightly around him.

She brought her arms around herself, not cold, just nervousóunsure.

The light from the torches left a light glow on his face and he looked so soft to heróhow she longed to run her fingers over his furred nose. How she longed to lay her hand gently upon his muzzle and feel his face close to hers.

Heís so beautiful, she thought, and extraordinary. She had never thought of him as anything but a man, but in this light, with no other distractions, she realized how lionesque he truly wasóand so much more than a man. She wondered whether his muzzle was soft to the touch.

She heard him sigh and his face dropped into a half shadow.

"May we speak now?" he asked her.

She nodded, swallowing hard.

"I ... I couldnít sleep last night," he admitted. "There was sadness within my heart. All I could think was that I had left something undone. But what, I do not know."

She heard him begin to pace, his boots softly echoing in the stillness.

"I know you were troubled last night too, Catherine. I felt it."

She nodded and to her horror, the emotions from last night finally poured into her, unfettered. She tried to stop them, but they were like sand through her fingers. It felt as if she had been holding them in for centuries. She heard him stagger and then stop, taking a quick breath.

"Yes, Catherine, that is what I felt ..."

"It was me, Vincent, what I was feeling. Iím sorry ... I should have been more careful," she interrupted, ashamed.

"No, Catherine, that is not what I meant."

"I donít understand ..."

"Itís what I was feeling, too. Catherine, I know you are confused and upset. I can feel your sadness. Iím not merely feeling what you are feeling, I am feeling it myself. And I am just as lost trying to find the words."

Her breath caught her throat. She couldnít believe this was happening. It was so surrealóthis room, his presence, his words.

"Please say something," he insisted.

She broke from her reverie to realize that she did need to say something to himóbut what?

He was standing still, waiting for her.

"Vincent, I ..." she started. "I know I should be happyóthe tower has been stopped, everyone Below is okay ... you are okay ..." she trailed off. Every time she thought about losing him, her heart seized up.

"And I am happy," she continued. "I just feel like something was lost and I donít know if I can get it backóor if I am supposed to."

She saw him nod.

"What is it, Vincent? I am at a loss ..." she broke off; tears were starting to fill her eyes.

"Thatís it, Catherine," he replied. "We were at a loss ... we were ... almost lost to each other."

"I know!" she cried softly. "I donít know if I did the right thing by offering to marry Elliot. I donít understand why I feel so angry about it."

"It was an impossible situation, Catherine. Your anger is understandable."

"I just ..." she started. "I really felt as if I had to choose between your life and my heart. I just wanted to do what was rightófor your world, for your family, for you ... but I failed, really. Elliot rejected meóand I was relieved, Vincent. But if Ronni hadnít found that money trail, you would have lost your home. Vincent, I wasnít able to save youóand the thought of you in the tunnels somewhere, not knowing if you were dead or alive ..."

"Catherine ..."

"And when you ... cried out, after I had left ..." she told him, crying now. "My chest turned to stone; I couldnít breathe. I donít know how I managed to walk away. I donít even remember ..."

"Catherine, your actions saved us. The tower will not be builtóplease donít feel like you have failed in any way."

"Vincent, you could have been killed!" she said, her voice rising.

"I know, Catherine! Too many times we have chased down death ..."

"We have to stop ... we canít keep tempting fate," she said.

"Youíre right. This ..." he sighed. "We have to stop this."

"What do you want us to do, Vincent?"

She half thought he would end things between them now and braced herself for it. He had never been this open and honest with her before. Could this have really affected him as profoundly as it did her? He couldnít still want her to find someone Above? She couldnít tell if all her dreams were really coming true or if the glass was about to shatteróhim walking her home, giving her that brotherly hug, turning away from her and heading back home without saying a word.

"Catherine, to have had you in my life at all ... just to lose you," he trailed off.

He was standing before her now, but his head was down so she could only see the shadows on his face. Whenever he looked like that, she wanted to run to him, push his hair back, and kiss him.

"Catherine," he said, softly. "Iím afraid of losing you. I canít ... lose you."

"No ..."

"A world without you ..."

She nodded and stepped away from him again.

"Is there a reason you will not be near me?" he asked.

"I canít ..." she whispered.

She wanted so badly to be in his arms right now, but this conversation was not to be believed. What was he telling her? She held herself back, knowing she would melt in his arms if given the chance.

"Vincent," she said softly. "Why have we never talked this way before? I believe you have said more to me today than in the past year."

"I couldnít speak this way to you before because ..." He sighed heavily. "I know that I would have only been able to tell you ..."

"What?" she demanded.

"The truth ... of what I feel for you," he whispered.

"Vincent, if you had only talked this way with me before, I would have understood, but you never said anything. Sometimes you didnít even say goodbye, times I thought I would never see you again. Even now, every time you come to my balcony, I am ... surprised. I never wanted to hold all of my feelings in; I always wanted to tell you."

"But I wouldnít let you."

"No, you would push me away and I would push all of my feelings for you back down inside me. I canít do it again, not this time, Vincent."

"No, no longer ..."

"Vincent?" she asked quietly. "Do you love me?"

"Catherine, please. How can you even ask that?"

"Then why canít you tell me?"

Vincent stiffened, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

"Those words, what they mean ..."

"They mean everything, Vincent," she whispered.

"Yes, everything," he sighed. "But those words bind, Catherine."

"You donít want to be bound to me?"

"No, Catherine, I didnít want you to be bound to me!"

"Why, Vincent?"

"Catherine ... it matters no longer. My heart is already bound to you."

He turned away, frustrated. He wanted to pace, but he stopped himself. Finally he spoke.

"I have wasted too much time already denying what you mean to me. Even if I had been crushed by stone beneath the city, Catherine, know that my heart stopped when you walked away ...

"I canít let you go, Catherine, not now, and I know you need the words. I know I have kept you mercilessly in the dark. I know I have hurt you ..."

Stopping herself from going to him was taking everything she had.

He turned around to face her again.

"Catherine," he said, taking a step toward her.

She froze.

He raised his hands, curling them into fists as he stared at her. Then they dropped to his sides.

"I love you, Catherine."

The words were a ribbon, pulling her to him. She didnít know if she ran or if he did, but they soon crashed into each other. He wrapped her in his arms, slightly bending her backward. Her arms were locked around his neck, her face buried in his shoulder.

"I love you, Catherine," he repeated.

"Oh, Vincent," she whispered, moving her face next to his.

"I love you so deeply," Vincent told her.

She rubbed against his cheek, relaxing into his warmth and his strength.

He pulled back from her and, with unsteady hands, reached for her face. He cradled it gently. He half looked like he was smiling and the other halfóit was like fire, heat, she felt it more than she saw it.

"I love you, Vincent, I have for so long," she told him.

His eyes closed for a moment and when they opened again, his face was moving toward hers. She saw his throat thump when he swallowed.

He softly brushed his cheek against hers, making her sigh. She reached up and touched his muzzle and smiledóit was soft. She moved her cheek to the side of his throat and he slightly tilted his head for her. His hands left her face, dropping to pull her closer, and as she moved into them, he reflexively held her tighter. She felt a slight rumble in his chestóit felt like a hum.

She pushed her fingers into his hair and softly rested her lips behind his ear; his hands gripped her tighter, pulling her closer. She opened her mouth and slowly exhaled, her breath warm and heavy.

"Catherine ..." he whispered.

She reached around his neck and pulled him to her until their foreheads were touching. Their breathing was ragged now.

"Iíve waited so long for this," she admitted, her hands on his cheeks now.

"Too long," he echoed.

His hands slowly moved to her face, his thumbs arching over her brow before drifting down. When his thumb caught her full bottom lip, she pressed a kiss into his palm. As she looked up at him, she took his hand and placed it on her chest, over her heart.

He dropped to his knees, pulling her down with him. He moved his lips over her throat and she threw her head back and opened her eyes as he paused to take her in.

How could she explain this? The two of them, alone, in the middle of this great stone room, on their knees before each other. She was spinning. He began kissing her jaw line and she moaned, not caring about the echo, grateful to finally get it out, all she felt, how much she wanted him.

He pulled back again and held her face in his hands.

"Catherine," he said softly.

She nodded, her head feeling heavy in his hands, her eyes barely open.

"May I kiss you?"

The way he said it broke her heart. No one had ever asked her beforeóthey just took it.

"Yes, Vincent, please ..."

She caught the barest glimpse of an innocent smile in his eyes as they shyly dropped for a moment. But when he raised them again, they were filled with desire and knowing. He took a deep breath and moved toward her.

Her eyes were closed and her mouth open when suddenly, he turned his face away from hers and pulled her to his chest.

"What? Vincent?" she asked confused, about to cry.

She pulled away, devastated that he had changed his mind, scared that things hadnít changed at all. But when she looked at him, his head was cocked to the sideóhe looked like he was listening. He gave her a little squeeze to comfort her and when the tapping stopped, he looked at her.

"What is it?" she asked. "Is something wrong?"

He nodded. "I am so sorry, Catherine; I am needed immediately. One of the children is trapped beneath some fallen rocks ... they were playing in an area that used to be safe until ..."

"Until the tower," she finished for him.

"Yes."

"Then letís go ..." she said, trying to hide her disappointment.

He jumped up and grabbed her hand, pulling her to her feet. He took one more moment to look at her.

"We will finish this later," he promised. "Please donít worry."

She smiled, gratefully, and they took off running.

...

A crowd had already gathered, worry coating everyoneís faces.

"Vincent, thank God!" Father said, waving him over.

"Brian, tell Vincent what happened," Father instructed.

"We were playing hide and seek near the old laundry chamber ... David went to hide in the drying room and we heard a big boom and then he screamed and then we ran to get Father ... and ..." Brian started crying, out of breath. Mary pulled him into her arms, whispering words of comfort.

"Is everyone else accounted for?"

Brian nodded.

"We heard David crying," Kipper spoke up. "But we havenít heard anything for a while."

Vincent sighed and began to pace in the small space; everyone cleared to give him space to walk, to think.

"There is no way into that room from the other side; we will have to go in through the laundry chamber."

"Vincent, I think the rocks fell in the doorway between the two rooms. If we start moving them out ..." Kanin said.

"No," Vincent said, roughly. "Itís too dangerous ... this section was never stable to begin with. It could all collapse."

"Then what are we going to do?" Mary asked, tears streaming down her face.

"I will go in and get him," Vincent said, pulling off his cloak.

"Vincent, no! Let us help," Cullen replied.

"Itís too dangerous. If more stones fall, at least I have the power to move them. There is no need for anyone else to take the risk. I will get David out."

Everyone moved aside as Vincent went to the doorway of the chamber. He took one brief look at Catherine and then headed inside.

It was deathly quiet, all of them waiting for any sign. They heard Vincent moving rocks, but they could not see inside, as the dust from the collapse was thick in the air. They heard Vincent call out to the boy, but did not hear a reply.

"Damn Elliot Burch and his tower!" Father exploded, breaking the tension and regretting it immediately when he saw Catherine blanch. Her eyes filled with tears as the others glanced at her before lowering their eyes.

She knew this wasnít her fault, not at all, but Father knew about Elliot, from before. She knew that was when Fatherís mistrust of her gained ground. She felt sick with humiliation and guilt.

Suddenly Rebecca was behind her, rubbing her back, silently telling her it was okay. Catherineís heart was pounding in her chestójust twenty minutes ago, she and Vincent were ... and now this.

More noise was coming from inside the chamberórocks were moving, Vincent was calling out for David, and then finally, they heard David cry out for Vincent.

"Oh thank God," Mary cried, relieved. They all looked at each other, hopeful.

After a few more moments, they heard David and Vincent speaking to each other.

"Father, heís coming out," Vincent called.

The collective relief was nearly palpable.

"His arm is broken and heís in shock. I have cleared a path for him; please have Kanin come halfway to meet him."

"I am on my way, Vincent," Kanin answered.

Kanin had just stepped inside the doorway when they heard a horrible creaking sound followed by a thunderous bellow; it seemed as if the ground was shaking beneath them. They heard David scream and Cullen had to hold back Mouse from going in. A moment later, Kanin rushed out with David in his arms, who was wailing and screaming for Vincent.

"What happened?" Father demanded.

Kanin handed David to Mary and then looked at Father, his eyes filled with fear.

"Where is Vincent?" Father yelled.

Kanin looked at him helplessly and then his eyes turned to Catherine. He was shaking his head.

"I donít know, Father. I think David was trapped under a wooden beam and Vincent held it up so David could escape. I saw David scampering toward me and then the noise and the dust ... I lost sight of him, Father. I grabbed David and I ran."

"A rock fell on his head!" David cried out, refusing to be consoled. "He told me to be brave and run. When he moved the wood, a rock fell on him!"

"Did he say anything to you?" Father asked.

David was sobbing now. "No, his eyes closed! The rock hurt him! He fell down!"

Mary and some of the teenagers wordlessly collected David and the younger kids and began leading them toward the home tunnels. All that remained behind were some of the men, Father, and Catherine.

She hadnít spoken this entire time and was frozen in place. If she could have moved, she would have thrown herself into that room.

Pascal put his arm around her shoulders and for a moment, she wanted to hold onto him and cry, but she couldnít do that. She couldnít lose it now, not when Vincent needed her the most.

She stared at the remaining men, feeling as helpless as they looked. Somebody needed to say something, figure out what to do. She looked at Father and he dropped his eyes.

"We have to do something!" she said suddenly.

The men looked at her with surprise on their faces. She clenched her fists and took a deep breath.

"Mouse, go get flashlights ... and water ... we may be here for a while and Vincent will be thirsty when he comes out. Do we have a map of this section? What else?"

"Weíll need to move many rocks," Kanin said. "We should have gloves ..."

"And a medical kit," Pascal said from behind her.

"But do we have a plan?" Father interrupted, exasperated.

"The plan is we go get him. Thatís the plan," she stated firmly.

"Immediately," Kanin agreed. "I know he is at least free from being inside the drying room because he was standing on the outside of the doorway. He had cleared a reasonable path already. We have to start moving rocks."

"Now!" Catherine ordered.

Within twenty minutes, they were all hard at work, slowly moving forward. They were completely quiet. The danger loomed.

...

Vincent woke suddenly, gasping for air. He was on his back, settled almost comfortably in a pile of rocks. He turned his head quickly, looking for David, and a sharp pain tore through his head. Vincent groaned audibly, and his breath seemed to hang on the dust that permeated the room, thick as fog.

No, David was okay; Vincent was sure of it. He had nearly thrown him clear of the falling rocks, that he remembered clearly. But the rest ... he wasnít sure.

He tried to shake his head, to clear his mind, but the pain shot through him again and that was when he realized he was covered by a thick slab of stone. It wasnít laying directly on his chest, thank God; he could still breathe, but he was trapped. His arms were pinned by more rocks, slanting downward, robbing him of his strength. His legs were hyperextended and also immobilized. There was no way he could get this stone off. Panic swelled inside him; he fought it bitterly and forced it back down.

But there was nothing he could do. He was completely trapped.

The others? Would they come for him? Cathó

And suddenly, his heart seized up. No ... this couldnít be. This couldnít be happening.

How was he going to get to her? How was she going to get to him? Impossibleóand the others knew there was no coming in on the other side.

The frantic beating of his heart brought Vincent into another sense of being and suddenly, he felt intoxicated.

An image flashed before himóCatherine, many months ago, at the reception after Lin and Henryís wedding. He was there again, by her side in the candlelight. He was looking at the two lovers, transfixed. A happy endingólove had triumphed; he couldnít look away.

When he turned to Catherine, he had caught her between emotions. She had been smiling, softly, obviously moved by their happiness. But that smile had faded and her eyes dropped, and through one of the most intense threads of the Bond, her feelings had been voiced to him as if she herself had whispered them into his ear, as if a scroll unfolded before him, the words crystal clear.

... or bring them together when itís impossible.

In an unguarded moment, he had visibly winced, physically affected by her words, but she never saw it, and he buried it as quickly as he could.

She had been so beautiful that night. The lavender dress, her hair curled, the crystal ... his eyes had dropped and despite his nobler intentions, he had been looking at the crystal where it lay between her breasts. His mouth had gone dry. It had taken a tremendous amount of strength to pull his eyes away from her.

But before he did, she had caught him looking at her, and for the first time, they stared at each other, naked, exposed, desire like black ink in their eyes. Her hand had drifted up to his face and for a heartbeat, her fingers fluttered by his cheek. And then their surroundings had invaded and it was over.

That moment had flash frozen in his mind. It was the moment that his limited experience of love moved from his head to his gut and he knew that whatever he felt before was only one star in a constellation of what was possible between them, that he had no idea what love was until this very moment, with the briefest feather touch of her soft, soft skin.

Suddenly, Vincent was aware of the silent gray room again. He coughed, his throat dry from the dust.

He stopped when he heard Catherine calling for him.

"Catherine?" he called out.

She didnít hear him though. She kept calling for him.

"Catherine, Iím here!"

She kept calling for him and he for her until ...

For clarity of mind, Vincent shook his head again, and a rush of blood rolled through.

He seemed to "wake up" and was puzzled by the feeling. He closed his eyes and when they opened, Catherine was there.

"Catherine!"

"Iím here," she told him, smiling.

"Youíre here," he repeated.

She nodded.

"How did you reach me? Where are the others?"

"Vincent, this isnít real ..."

"But youíre here ..."

"Iím just here to say goodbye."

"Goodbye?" Vincent asked, alarmed.

"Yes, Vincent, goodbye ..."

"I donít understand ..."

"Vincent, you died."

"No!" he insisted.

She sadly shook her head.

"Itís only a dream," she reminded him. "You called me to your dream."

"Catherine ... Iím confused ..."

"Iím sorry, Vincent, but I have to go ..."

"Go? Where?"

"Home ... to my husband ..."

"Who?" Vincent asked, suddenly breaking out into a sweat.

"Elliot."

"Elliot? Catherine ... no ..."

"I donít understand, Vincent. This is what you wanted ..."

"No, I never wanted this ..."

She laughed then, in an uncharacteristic way, and Vincent was terrified. What was happening? None of it made sense.

"Of course you wanted this, Vincent. This is what we agreed on."

"No ... the tower ... construction was halted ..."

"Yes, because I agreed to marry Elliot ..."

"No ... that is not what I remember ..."

"Vincent, it doesnít matter. Whatís done is done ... and I have to go now."

"No!" he shouted. With all his strength, he tried to move, to push the large stone off of him, but it was useless.

"Vincent," Catherine said, quietly. "Thank you for everything. I will never forget you."

"Catherine, please! Please donít go!"

"Iím sorry, Vincent. Itís time ..."

"But ... I love you, Catherine! Please, donít leave ..."

Catherine looked down and when she looked back up again, she was the Catherine he recognized. She had tears in her eyes.

"You never told me, Vincent ..."

"Iím telling you now!" he implored.

"Itís too late ..." she replied, shaking her head.

"No ... it canít be ... no, Catherine, donít go ..." he begged.

"Iím sorry, Vincent."

"Donít you love me?" he cried out, desperately.

Her bottom lip trembled. "Yes ... but ... Elliot is my husband."

"But you do not love him!"

"Vincent, he is my husband ... this is what you wanted ... you always told me to find another ..."

"A world without you, Catherine, I canít bear it ... please ..."

She smiled at him sadly, with pity. She leaned over and kissed him lightly on the brow.

"Goodbye, Vincent ..." she said.

He blinked and she was gone.

"Catherine!" he roared. "Catherine!"

Another arrow of pain shot through him and his hands flew to his head; how it ached.

Wait. Wasnít he trapped?

To Vincentís great surprise, he was lying on the floor, only covered by a few stones and aside from his head, generally unharmed. He tried to stand up, but was too lightheaded.

"Catherine?" he whispered, even though he knew he was alone.

Vincent lay there, confused, angry, and overwhelmed with sorrow. Maybe he was dead. Maybe she was with Elliot right now. He couldnít be sure. He couldnít remember how he had gotten here anymore. Looking for an anchor, his hand sought out the leather pouch that always hung from his neck and brushed against something unfamiliar.

Coughing, he pulled himself up to a sitting position and drew out a pen and paper. When had he stored this in his pocket? But when he tried to remember, the pain clamped down like a vise and he let it go.

Suddenly, he had an idea. He would write her a letter. Yes! He would tell her ... everything. Then, she would know ... and she would stay.

He began writing and the words exploded out of him, a flock of birds startled from their perch. He didnít pause; he didnít even have to think. It was as if the words had been there all along, lined up, confirmed, just waiting to be written.

She was right. That story was terribleóthere is only love. Love is all that matters; love is everything.

When he finished, he signed his name at the bottom, and though it probably wasnít appropriate to feel pride at a time like this, he did. It was the lifeblood of a hundred sonnets, a dozen epic poems, cascades of love letters, and the deepest look into his heart he had ever sought out. This is how artists and poets felt, he thought, when their heartís language was finally translated into something one could see and touch. It was a triumph. If he died, these would be his final words to her; if she was gone, they would bring her back.

Determined to live and see her again, he jumped up to begin moving rocks and blackness poured into his vision; he fell to the floor, unconscious.

When he awoke again, the gray, dusty silence was thick. He made to move, but couldnít. When he realized he was once again trapped, tears began to fill his eyes. He was hopelessly confused. Catherine ... the letter ... how he got here in the first place ... all of the answers were out of his reach.

He didnít want this world ... a world without her. He closed his eyes again, howling for her, for once letting it all come out of him, all he had never told her or even let himself feel, all of it, with no holding back ... and no shame. He roared until he was hoarse and then let the tears take over. When the blackness returned, he did not fight it.

Ö

After hours of painstaking and backbreaking labor, they finally reached the back wall. Though it was dim and dusty, Catherine finally saw a flash of golden redóit was him!

"Vincent!" she cried out, scraping her hands as she navigated the remaining rocks.

Vincent stirred, but did not answer.

"Vincent! Can you hear me?"

"Catherine?" he whispered, realizing he wasnít pinned underneath the stone.

"Vincent!" she cried.

He forced his eyes open and saw her scramble over to him. She collapsed on him, wrapping her arms around his neck. His hands came up to hold her.

She immediately pulled back and started examining him.

"Where are you hurt?" she demanded, running her hands over his arms and legs, desperately searching for any injuries.

"Catherine, Iím fine." He couldnít believe it.

"No, youíre hurt. Iíve been calling out for you ... you didnít answer me ... you didnít answer me!"

"Catherine, I am unharmedó"

He remembered the letter and realized he still held it in his hand.

"No, Vincent, you have been unconscious! You never answered me!" she said, practically hysterical. Finally, her hands made their way to his head and she found the bump. He winced when she touched it.

"No, I wrote a letter ..." he whispered, suddenly feeling lightheaded.

"Iím so glad youíre alive," she told him, clutching him again.

He was feeling nauseous now and he had a coppery taste at the back of his throat. Was she right? Had he been knocked unconscious? But what about his thoughts, all his soul searchingówas it merely a dream?

No, the letter!

"You must have this ..." Vincent replied, pushing the letter into her fingers.

Catherine took it from him, but did not look at it. She was holding him, crying quietly.

"I canít believe I almost lost you again ..."

"Catherine, the letter," he managed. "Please, you must ..."

She nodded and pulled away from him for a moment. She opened it and immediately started crying harder.

"Oh, Vincent ..." she whispered, pressing a kiss to the side of his face.

But he was confused. That wasnít enough time to read what he had written. He took it from her hand and read it.

There is only love ...

What? How was that possible? Where was the letter he had poured his heart into?

At that moment, flashlights invaded the perimeter and within seconds, Mouse and Kanin were by their side.

"Is he okay?" Kanin asked.

"His head ..." Catherine answered.

"Vincent, you okay?" Mouse asked tentatively.

"Yes, Iím fine ... please ..." he said, feeling suddenly claustrophobic. He stirred and tried to move, but he was weakened by a painful bolt of pain that seared the back of his skull and he stilled again.

"David was right," Catherine said. "He was hit on the head ..."

She looked at him then and he was staring directly in her eyes.

"Vincent, I ..." she started, but then stopped.

He looked at her helplessly, wanting it to just be the two of them again.

"We need to get you out of here, Vincent," Kanin said. "Come on, letís go ..."

He shoved an arm under Vincent and helped him up, with Mouse on the other side, and they started off. Vincent looked behind him, at Catherine. She looked so small. She was covered with dust, and it made a darker gray where her tears forged trails down her cheeks, but she was smiling at him.

...

Later, when they were back in his chamber, Catherine couldnít stop hugging him. Touched by her concern, he held her tightly.

"I was so scared," she whispered.

"I know, Catherine," he replied.

She pulled back from him and smiled. "But youíre okay ..."

"Yes ..." he told her, returning her smile.

Just then, David exploded into Vincentís chamber, with Father and Mary coming up behind him. Vincent and Catherine parted to face him.

"Vincent!" he screamed and, despite his injury, threw himself into Vincentís startled arms.

"Wow," Catherine laughed.

"Vincent, we are very sorry to intrude; we were putting this young man to bed when he leapt up and took off. We could barely keep up with him ..." Father explained, out of breath.

"Oh, the poor dear!" Mary giggled, putting her hand on Catherineís shoulder.

Vincent looked up at all of them quizzically. Father shrugged.

"What is it, David?" Vincent asked the boy.

"Every time I close my eyes, I think I am under the rocks ..." he cried, clutching Vincent.

"Shhh ... youíre safe now, David. Nothing will hurt you," Vincent comforted him.

"Vincent, can you come to the boysí room and have a sleepover?" David whimpered.

They all smiled.

"Would it make you feel better?" Vincent asked him.

"Yes, Vincent, please."

Vincent carefully set the boy down on the floor and immediately looked to Catherine, who nodded. He dropped to one knee in front of David.

"You go get everyone into bed and pick out the book you would like and I will be along shortly," Vincent told him.

"Yes!" David exclaimed. "And the bunk beneath mine is empty, so you can sleep there, Vincent!" Then he dashed off.

Father and Mary said their goodbyes, leaving Vincent and Catherine alone.

"Thatís very sweet," Catherine told him, touching his arm.

"Hmm ... yes ..." Vincent said, a little distracted.

"What is it?" she asked.

He looked at her and rolled his eyes with a sigh.

"Those beds, the bottom bunk ... not exactly built for a man like me," he admitted.

Catherineís breath caught on his words. She stared at him, transfixed.

"A man like you ..." she repeated, and only then did Vincent realize what he had said and to her utter surprise, he smiled.

"Yes," he replied. "A man like me."

Without a pause, both of them covered half the distance between them, clumsily bumping into each other. Smiles flitted across their lips and they both blushed. And then, just as she sought out his lips, his glanced hers and they both moaned. Their hands flew to each otherís face and their mouths pushed open. Within moments, they were gasping for breath.

"Oh, Catherine," Vincent sighed, burying his face in her neck, his hands coming up her back to embrace her.

She pulled him into her arms and laughed. "I donít think either of us will be sleeping tonight."

"Iím afraid you are right," he agreed.

They disengaged slowly, reluctantly. He reached up and touched the side of her face.

"Catherine?" he said.

"Yes, Vincent?" she replied, gently turning her face toward his hand.

"Will you come Below? Tomorrow? Will you ..." he trailed off.

"Will I what?" she replied, taking his hand and bringing it down to join with hers.

"Will you stay ... for a while?" he asked, softly, dropping his eyes.

This was true happiness, she thought, as if every star in the sky was within her reach.

"I would love to, Vincent," she replied, trying to dampen her desire to kiss him again.

He pulled her into his arms.

"Thank you," he whispered.

...

Catherine was so happy, she was humming as the elevator went up. She couldnít wait for tomorrow. She would call Joe and get the week offóno doubt he would be happy to oblige her considering she helped blow the top off the case. Then she would take care of all the little details in her life and head Below for some time off, that she would spend with him. It felt nearly decadent. What so many people took for grantedótime with the ones they lovedóshe now understood to be the most precious thing of all.

And their conversation and what had happened after that. How many times in oneís life does one get everything she wants? She was positive she wouldnít be sleeping tonight.

She turned the corner and was pulling out her keys, when she gasped, "Elliot?"

"Cathy ..." he said softly, looking up at her.

"What are you doing here?" she managed.

"I want to talk to you," he said, standing up, taking a step toward her.

She took a step back. "I think weíre done talking, Elliot."

"Cathy, please, I need to talk to you," Elliot repeated.

"What is it, Elliot?" she sighed.

"Please, Cathy," he cried out. "I love you. I miss you ..."

"You donít miss me, Elliot, you miss your tower," she told him, softly.

"I do love you, Cathy! You have to believe me. Yes, I was distracted. Yes, I went too far ..."

"You broke the law. Thatís more than going too far."

"I know. Youíre right. But Cathy, I need you in my life. I love you. I know now that I always will."

"But I donít love you."

"What? I donít understand ..."

"Then listen, Elliot. Listen to me!" she told him. "There is someone else. I love someone else. I have for a very long time."

"He canít love you as much as I do, Cathy," Elliot pleaded.

"No, Elliot. He loves me more. He loves me in ways that you have never even known, ways you never will Ö heís my life," she finished quietly.

It felt so good to say it, to say it to Elliot, yes; but to say it aloud at all, to hear the words hit the air sent her spirit soaring.

Elliot was frozen in his tracks. He had gone pale. Catherine sighed heavily, reluctantly bringing herself back down to earth.

"Now you understand," she said.

He raised his eyes and held hers for a moment, until he looked away.

"Yes, I understand."

"Good, now please leave," Catherine said, moving past him and unlocking the door.

"Cathy, Iím sorry, may I just trouble you for a glass of water. I need ... a minute," he admitted. "Please, just a glass of water and a moment to gather myself. You donít even have to talk to me."

Catherine looked at him, so many emotions tumbling through herópity for him, anger at him. But she couldnít be heartless. No, the good did not outweigh the bad in Elliot, but there was still some good. She sighed and gestured for him to come inside.

"You wait in here and I will get your glass of water," she stated, already heading toward the kitchen.

He stepped in, his brown leather gloves in his hand, and surveyed her space one last time.

"Here," she said, quickly handing him a glass half full with water.

"You know itís not like me to give up so easily, Cathy."

"No, Elliot, we are not talking about this," she reminded him.

"Who is he?" Elliot demanded.

"That is hardy relevant ..."

"I have to know!"

"No, you donít, and it doesnít matter. He is the man that I love."

"But you were going to marry me!" he exclaimed, setting the glass down.

"Elliot, I donít appreciate being manipulated like this. Finish your water, you are leaving," she replied, exasperated.

"If he really loved you, he would have never let you go!" Elliot cried. He stepped quickly toward her, grabbing her by the elbows and pushing her gently backward against the wall. His face was very close to hers.

The next few seconds were a haze to Catherineóevents occurred, time ticked away, but it was a blur. Elliot tried to kiss her and she flung her head to the side. Her eyes popped open and she saw Vincent, just beyond the curtain; he was on the balcony! And he saw her, and his eyes were just as wide. His eyes filled with tears, with surprise, confusion. Catherine felt the moment his heart plunged him down to the place where he would see the worst possible explanation for Elliotís presence there.

"No!" she cried out.

She pushed Elliot back hard and stormed to the door, flinging it wide open.

"Leave. Now!" she demanded.

Elliot sighed. He paused for a moment, looking around the room, and then he silently stepped out the door. He quickly turned around, but the door had already been shut. Catherine launched herself toward the balcony, pushing the doors out and away.

"Vincent!" she cried out. "Vincent!"

But she was too late; he was gone.

She immediately went back inside, grabbed her purse and keys, and rushed to the elevator, relieved Elliot was already gone. When the doors opened into the lobby, she burst out and began running. She ran past the startled doorman and hit the sidewalk.

She never noticed Elliotís limo still parked out front.

When she reached the park entrance, she ripped open the gate, found the secret lever, and the stone slab slid open. She was about to start running again when she saw him standing a few feet inside the tunnel, his back against the wall. She stopped in her tracks.

"Listen to me," Catherine said. "Elliot was there when I got home ..."

"What did he want?" Vincent said softly.

"He wanted ..." she sighed. "He wanted to talk, and I told him that I wanted him to leave."

"But you let him in ..."

"Yes, he manipulated his way in and then he tried Ö" she rushed to explain.

"To kiss you ..." Vincent finished for her.

"And thatís what you saw, Vincent. And then I made him leave. Iím sorry. I never wanted him to come inside."

She threw herself into his arms then, and he accepted her warmly.

"Iím sorry for doubting, Catherine ... I panicked ... I ..."

Suddenly, Vincent seized up and growled. Just then, Elliot came running into the tunnel.

"Cathy, what in the world?"

"What? Elliot?" she asked, confused, and angry.

Vincent quickly stepped back into the shadows, but did not leave.

"Get out of here!" she screamed. She lunged toward Elliot and pushed him hard. She had never been so angry in her entire life.

"Cathy ... what? Who ... is that?" he stammered.

"Get out of here!" she repeated.

"Is that him?" he asked, confused.

Vincent was dazed ... his head hurt again, and he felt threatened and cornered. He couldnít control himself and growled again, this time louder.

"Cathy, what is that? Is that an animal?"

"Dammit, Elliot, get out of here!"

"No, Cathy, I am not leaving until I hear the truth," he told her, backing up to the opposite wall.

Catherine frantically looked back and forth between them, frozen in place. She felt the energy radiating from Elliot and it terrified her. He was angry and jealous and scared, an awful combination.

As much as she wanted Elliot to leave, she feared he would only return and wouldnít stop until he had uncovered all there was to know. It was too much of a risk; maybe if he understood ...

Vincent seemed to read her mind. This would not go away; he would not go away.

"Tell him ..." he whispered.

"Yes, Elliot. This is the man that I love ..." she said, softly. She started to cry; this was her worst nightmare. She had led someone straight to the tunnels ... straight to Vincent! Why had she taken the park route? What hadn't she gone to the threshold?

Suddenly, she felt Vincent beside her. He slid his arm around her and pulled her close.

Elliot stepped forward and grabbed Cathyís arm, pulling her. "Come on, youíre coming with me!"

Vincent growled again, but Catherine spoke.

"No, Iím not, Elliot," she replied, snatching her arm back.

Elliot let out a nervous laugh and ran his fingers through his hair.

"This is what you left me for?"

"I left you because I donít love you ..." she stated firmly.

"What, do you live here in the sewer? Cathy, what the hell are you thinking? Heís an animal, a monster!"

Catherineís heart broke when she felt Vincent flinch.

"Youíre the monster, Elliot! Not Vincent ..."

"Vincent? Jesus, he has a name?"

"Of course he has a name, Elliot!" Catherine exploded, exasperated. She didnít know what to say anymore. She just wanted this to stop.

"I know what I am, Elliot. I realize my appearance is Ö unexpected," Vincent said, softly.

"Unexpected? Unexpected? How you can put those hands ... those claws ... on her beautiful skin? Jesus, you could tear her apart! Cathy ... please, you belong with me!" he said, his hands out in supplication.

"She belongs with me," Vincent replied.

"The hell she does!" Elliot yelled. He reached out and grabbed Catherineís arm again, this time pulling her roughly away from Vincent, who felt the stab of pain run through her shoulder.

"Let go of her ... " Vincent warned, breathing through each word, trying to remain calm even though every part of him wanted to rip Elliot to shreds.

"No, you leave us alone ... go back to your sewer!"

Vincent took a deep breath, fighting his anger, trying to calm himself down, but the sight of Elliotís hand wrapped tightly, and possessively, around her arm was too much. He stepped physically between them and put his hand around Elliotís, applying pressure. Elliot immediately let go of her and fell back to the wall, clutching his bruised hand.

"Catherine, please leave us alone," Vincent said softly, but firmly.

"Noó"

"Please, Catherine. Trust me," Vincent said. He looked down at her, straight in her eyes, entreating. His hand glanced hersóthe slight touch disarmed her.

"Okay," she said. She turned and walked deeper into the tunnels and around the corner. Not too far, but not close enough to hear. She sat on the ground, hugging her knees. This was torture. How could she have let this happen?

...

After Catherine left, Elliot and Vincent were silent and eyeing each otherótwo powerful men who wanted the same thing. Even though Vincent wanted to avoid violence at all costs, this was a duel ... and one he must win.

"I will have her ..." Elliot said, breaking the silence.

Vincent sighed. "She doesnít want you ..."

"Sheís not thinking clearly. Why would she choose you over me?"

"I donít know why, but Catherine loves me ... if you really love her, you will leave us now, and speak nothing of this."

"I know what you have done," Elliot spat at him. "My men at the apartment building a few months backóyou killed them. I could have the whole police force here in five minutes."

Vincent bristled at being threatened, but tried to remain calm. At least Elliot did not know about the world Below.

"I could kill you right now," Vincent countered.

"Is that a threat?" Elliot asked.

"Summoning the police would surely mean my death; is that not a threat?"

Elliot glared at him.

"How can you live with yourself?" Elliot demanded. "How can you touch her? She is beautiful, exquisite ... who are you to destroy ... to disgrace ... her like this? What kind of life can you offer her? Youíre not even a real man!"

Elliotís words cut through him and he stepped back. Hadnít he asked himself those same questions a thousand times? Wasnít everything Elliot said true? He had never been able to shake the conviction that if he touched Catherine, he would, in some way, disgrace her. She did deserve more Ö she deserved better.

But despite his doubts, Catherine knew what she wanted, and she wanted him. Even if he didnít understand, he would do everything in his power to give her what she truly desired and if she desired him, he would not let anything come between them.

He took a step back toward Elliot.

"Catherine is staying here, with me," he said, evenly. "If you do anything to hurt her or prevent her from finding happiness, I will come after you and I will kill you."

Vincent took another step toward Elliot, who jumped back from him. Vincent stepped up to face him and paused. Elliot was breathing heavily.

"Do you understand?" Vincent asked him.

"I understand," Elliot simply replied with the tone of a man who knew when he was beaten.

Vincent stepped back, giving him some room. Elliot stood up straight, adjusted his tie, paused, and then walked out of the tunnel.

Relief crashed over Vincent. He had defused the situation, achieved his desired outcome, and had not hurt Elliot. It was astonishing. He had wanted to rip Elliot apart, but he knew Catherine would have been horrified. He knew heíd had to hold himself back, and he had. And Elliot was gone. And she wasó

Catherine!

He pulled the gate shut and took care of the door. He started to walk down the tunnel when she came up running from the other end, straight into his arms.

"Is he gone?" she whispered.

"Yes."

"Oh Vincent, Iím sorry I was so careless. He must have followed me from my apartment building. Iím so sorry ..."

"Please, Catherine. No apologies are needed."

"What happened?"

The next question popped into their heads at the same time. Had he hurt Elliot? Vincent prayed she wouldnít ask him, that she believed he was capable of ending things without violence. Catherine was mortified that he might doubt her. They hugged each other tighter.

"He left ..." he said, finally.

"Will he be back?" Catherine asked him.

"No."

Vincent let go and took a step back.

"Vincent, why did you come to the balcony? I thought ... I mean, with David ..."

"Father explained to David that I could not go to sleep for a while, due to my injury. Father promised David I would watch over him, no matter where I was."

"Really?" Catherine laughed. "Father?"

"Yes. Really," Vincent smiled.

Vincent reached out for Catherineís hands.

"Catherine, would you like to return to your apartment?" Vincent asked.

Catherineís eyes got huge; he felt her emotions plummet.

"With me?" he finished quickly.

Her smile returned immediately.

He stepped toward her and pulled her into his arms. He kissed the top of her head as he stroked her hair.

"I wonít leave you again ..." he whispered. "I promise ..."

...

When he dropped from the roof onto the balcony, she was there. She stepped toward him, laid her hands upon him, and pushed him back against the wall; he offered no resistance. He tried to slow his breathing down, his hands fanning out behind him, gripping the brick.

She stood right before him, not looking at his face but at her eye level. To his amazement, she removed his cloak and started loosening the leather laces on his vest until it fell to the side. Due to recent warm weather, he only had a button-down shirt beneath, but his discomfort evaporated when she realized there was nothing else between them and her pleasure rolled through him. He watched her hands creep toward the top button and begin to unbutton his shirt.

She stopped midway down. She still hadnít looked at him. He wasnít sure he could even face her. Her hands now rested upon his chest and his breathing increased rapidly until he was nearly heaving before her. She waited patiently until his heart slowed.

He closed his eyes and sighed, still trying to calm himself, when he felt her fingers pull apart the fabric. And then her face fell forward, nestling into the very center of his chest, her warm breath pushing trails through the hair. It tingled and though he was reserved and shy, to a fault, so much that he would be horrified at any loss of control, before he could catch himself, he moaned with passion, aloud, for the first time in his life.

She stayed there for many moments simply breathing against him. When they were both weakened and impatient, he felt her fingers undo the rest of his buttons and then her hands crawled up his naked ribs.

"Catherine!" he said, roughly.

Her hands reached around his back and she lightly dragged her fingernails down his spine. When she was done, he could barely stand.

Tenderly, he pulled her closer to him. Her head fell gently backward and he pressed his face into the soft creamy skin of her neck.

"My God, Catherine," he whispered into her ear as her hand came up to grip the front column of his throat. He gulped under the pressure and her head fell forward again. Their lips found each other quickly.

Catherine suddenly pulled back and they stared at each other.

"What you wrote Ö" she said, breathlessly. "Did you mean it?"

"With all my heart Ö" he whispered.

Before they even took another breath, Vincentís lips were on hers, urgently. Their mouths opened, searching for the other. As Catherineís tongue brushed by his cleft, he groaned and fell back against the wall again.

Vincent pulled away and dropped his eyes. Slowly, almost painfully so, he began to unbutton her shirt. He paused midway down and pushed the fabric away.

He lifted her gently toward him and buried his face between her breasts, inhaling deeply. She was trembling slightly, her chest rising every time he inhaled, rising toward him, her hands pulling his hair when he exhaled. He stayed there until she completely enveloped him, her scent, her warm skin.

She felt open ... and cherished, adored. Her head fell back, eyes closed, reveling in this longed-for bliss.

When his lips brushed her neck though, she couldnít wait anymore. She tore herself from his arms and grabbed his hands, pulling him through the open door, into her bedroom. He was surprised, but did not resist, even when she began to push his clothes off. Within seconds, she had taken her shirt and bra off and was fumbling with his belt buckle.

A soft voice inside him told him to stop, that it was happening too fast, that it wasnít supposed to happen like this, but his body didnít heed it, choosing instead to listen to their mutual desire, churning through the Bond.

Vincent nudged her hands out of the way and took off his boots and socks, and then his trousers. Catherine removed her remaining clothing and suddenly, they were standing before each other, naked.

Vincent wanted to look at her, but was too shy to ask. Seeming to read his mind, she took a step back from him, and then another.

His eyes roamed her body as the light from the moon and two bedside candles painted her skin a creamy white. He took in everythingóthe slight swell of her belly, the delicate heaviness of her breasts, the tips of her pelvic bone, her slender calves. He wanted to touch everything; he wanted to navigate every inch of her beautiful body.

Suddenly, he remembered his state, and blushed, looking away. What did she think of him? Lacking the courage to look her in the eyes, he searched the Bond and finding not only acceptance, but desire, he finally looked up at her.

She smiled softly at him, and he returned it.

"Do you want me, Vincent?" she asked.

"I want you," he replied.

"Do you want to touch me?"

"Yes, I want to touch you," he told her, hypnotized.

"Do you wantó?" she started.

"Yes, I want ..." he finished.

He lifted her up and gently laid her down on the bed. He paused, watching her, overwhelmed by her skin shimmering in the soft glow. She watched his eyes dart down her body and felt heat burn through the Bond.

She held out her arms to him. "Please, Vincent ..."

He opened her like a sacred text and lowered himself until their chests were touching. They both moaned at the first touch of their skin and seemed to melt into each other.

As he rested between her legs, he lowered his head and nuzzled her cheek.

"Are you sure, Catherine?" he whispered.

"Oh yes, yes Iím sure ..."

"I love you," he breathed into her ear.

"I loveó"

She cried out suddenly, as he entered her.

She tugged him closer and then turned, crawling on top of him. His hands flew to her breasts and he kneaded them over and over again.

"Oh, God," she panted. She gripped his shoulders and threw her head back.

All he could do was stare at heróin wonder, amazement. The lines in her face, her eyes pressed shut, sweat drenching the hair around her neck, tears on her skin, biting her lower lipóshe was beautiful. Her face twisted into what looked like pain, but he knew it wasnít. All he could feel was pleasure. He had never seen that expression on her face before. It left him breathless.

She opened her mouth and cried out his name and then collapsed on him again and kissed him wildly. She rocked against him faster and he could feel her fingers grip the sheet by his head, feel them opening and closing to their rhythm. His hands came to her hips and he pulled her against him.

She fell forward onto his chest then and she was whispering to him of her love, her happiness. The sounds seared his heart, branding him deeply.

Tiring, she stopped moving against him. Their faces were pressed against each otherís, their perspiration like liquid heat on their skin. She was trembling, shaky with desire, overwhelmed by it all.

"This is really happening?" she said in the sweetest voiceóit made his throat tighten.

Vincent held her, his eyes filling with tears. Her small body pressed against himóit was too much.

"Yes, my love," he told her, smiling. "It really is ..."

"Then donít stop, Vincent," she said, softly. "Donít stop."

Vincent rolled over on top of her and rocked against her, over and over, a tumbling rhythm that built in intensity like a low flame. He never moved slower or faster, and the constancy hammered through her until it was all she felt, him crashing against her time and time again, like waves against rocks, until the tide receded, and there was only them, and there was only love.