Ray of Light

Demian

Part One

Vincent found himself humming as he walked the tunnels that night. Beethovenís Pathetique, the first movement. Heavenly, he mused. He smiled to himself, thinking of the time he and Catherine had heard this piece in the park, months ago. She had never heard it performed in concert and was entranced. Vincent had loved watching heróher excitement, how the music affected her. He knew she understood the beauty and power of music and felt blessed to share that love with her.

He was deep in the tunnels, walking off some extra energy, and was lost in his thoughts when his senses alerted him to an irregularity in the environment. He immediately stopped walking and cocked his head. All was quiet; he took a step to resume walking when he heard a sound. He couldnít tell exactly where it was coming from; the tunnels here were numerous and intricate.

Another soft sound urged Vincent forward into the next tunnel, which forked. He paused again and strained to listen. He was beginning to get frustrated when he heard a louder sound, most definitely human. He immediately veered left and almost stumbled over a body that lay in the middle of the pathway. Instantly, he jumped back. Slowly, cautiously, he bent down and put a hand on the figure, who moved away from him, moaning.

Vincent stepped away and paused, unsure of what to do. His senses were telling him there was no threat here. Finally, he spoke.

"I wonít hurt you. Are you ill? Injured?" he asked, staying where he was.

No answer.

"I can help you. Please talk to me," he said.

Again Ö silence.

His sense was one of, what was it? Sadness? He slowly walked toward the figure and once again put his hand on what he perceived to be the shoulder."Are you hurt?" he said, keeping his voice low.

He heard a whimper, but again the person shrugged him off.

She was femaleóVincent was sure of it. Now, he was concerned. How did a woman get down so far into the tunnels? And so obviously injured? "Please," he implored.

"Go away," she said, flatly.

"I canít do that," he said, gently. "Please, tell me whatís wrong."

She didnít answer.

"Wonít you say anything?" he asked.

"Iíll leave in a minute. I just need ... to rest," she broke off. He could hear that her breathing was laboredóalmost wheezy.

"My father is a doctor," Vincent said, quickly, silently cursing himself for revealing anything to this stranger. "If you are hurt, he can help you. Please, let me get you to him. I can carry you if you canít walk."

"I donít want your help!" she tried to scream, though it came out rather weakly.

He froze, surprised. "Iím sorry, but you have no choice. I doubt even if you were healthy you could find your way out of here again. You are trespassing; I cannot allow it," he said firmly, hoping to reason with her.

He paused then; she was crying. He frowned; he hadnít meant to further upset her.

"Just tell me whatís wrong," he tried.

She didnít speak for a while, but when she did, it was softly.

"Iím sorry Iím trespassing. I ... I didnít mean to. I just needed a place to hide, where no one would find me. I had to be alone ... safe ... Iím not a bad person. I would leave right now if I could, but Iím ... Iím hurt. Just let me rest and Iíll be gone as soon as I can."

"Tell me your name, at least," Vincent requested.

"Look, Iím sorry," she whispered. "I came here because ... because I want ... I found a door in the basement and I came down here and just kept walking. I just want ... I want to be in the ground. I ... I want to die. Please leave me alone. Please! Itís what I want."

He was shocked by her words. He wanted to reach out to her and offer some comfort, but he knew she would only get upset, so he stayed where he was and sat down on the floor about five feet from where she lay, still turned away from him. He didnít know what to sayóhe wished Catherine were here.

"I am Vincent," he said. "Please, your name ..."

He thought she might have passed out, she took so long to answer him. He heard her sigh.

"Ray."

"Ray, I am very worried about you. I wish you would let me help you. No one here will hurt you. This is a safe place. Please, just tell me how you are injured."

"Please ..." she replied. "Please leave me alone."

"I canít do that. I know your name; you are not a stranger to me. I cannot stand by and do nothing while you are suffering. I promise I will not touch you. Just tell me whatís wrong."

Again, she lay silent. He found he was holding his breath.  Suddenly, she heaved herself over, rather violently.

"Fine," she said. "Here ..."

He was devastated to see a knife sticking deep into her ribcage, on her right side. It wasnít a big knife, but it was big enough. He saw a small pool of blood surrounding her and was horrified.

He forgot his promise and immediately lunged to her side. He placed his hand over the wound to see if he could stop the bleeding. Thankfully, it was slowósteady, but slow. He was running all of his options through his head when awareness slowly dawned on him. In his concern, he had forgotten his caution and revealed himselfóto a stranger.

He could feel her eyes on him and he braced himself for her fear, her disgust. He made himself look down at her. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw. She was pale, her blue eyes very dull. She had bruises on her face and her lip was bleeding. She was probably about eighteen. Her dark, long hair was all over the place. She was very thin; he could see her ribs through her t-shirt. But he saw all that after. It was faint, and she appeared very near unconsciousness, but she was smiling at him. Once he stopped reeling, he realized he was smiling back at her. He tried to compose himself as he looked down at her.

She reached up and suddenly grabbed a handful of his hair and clung to it.

"I have dreamed about you ..." she whispered, relaxing.

"You have?" he replied, finding himself almost delighted.

His excitement crashed when he quickly remembered how injured she was. Her hand dropped and her eyes closed and he immediately went into action. He picked her up with one arm, his other hand still on her wound, and ran as fast as he could to Father.

Ö

Father was dozing in his chair when Vincent rushed in.

"Father! Quickly, please!"

Vincent waited for Father to push the books off the table and then laid her down.

Father came to her side, pulled out his stethoscope, and immediately listened to her heart. "Well, what happened? Who is this, Vincent?" He sounded annoyed, but he was worried.

"I found her very deep in the tunnels, about halfway to the Crystal Cavern. I have no idea how she got there. She said she had found a door in a basement and just started walking. I canít imagine how she got past all the sentries."

Father nodded as he continued to examine her. Jamie suddenly came into the room, there to return a book.

"Go get Mary, Jamie. Please! Now."

Jamie turned and ran out of the room.

"Continue ..." Father said.

"I was on a walk and I stumbled upon her. She was ..." Vincent paused, thinking maybe he should keep some things to himself.

Vincent felt Mary at his side and stepped back to let her take his place.

"Vincent, we need to get her to a hospital. This is a very serious stab wound; it must be hours old. She has lost a lot of blood. She needs a transfusion. She will die unless we get her to a hospital."

"How, Father? I canít take her. She will surely die before we can come up with a plan. You have to do what you can. You must!"

Father shook his head angrily, frustrated.

"All right," he said after a moment. "Get Peter down here, immediately. Tell him what we are dealing with. We will stop the bleeding and keep her comfortable until he can get here. Then, we will take it out."

Vincent had left at the word "Peter."

Ö

Peter and Father were able to remove the knife and close the wound. They were concerned about infection and knew she needed blood, but she had pulled through so far. She was sedated and resting peacefully, though her breathing was shallow.

While Father, Mary, and Peter sat resting at the table in the hospital chamber, Vincent watched Ray for any sign of trouble and tried to process all he had witnessed in the last few hours. The stab wound and the bruises on her face were the extent of her injuriesóotherwise she would have died from the loss of blood. They had found some cuts on her arms; they were faded, but to all of their great sadness, most definitely self-inflicted. Her clothes and hands were covered with grime and blood. Once she was stabilized, they would bathe her, but they couldnít move her now.

Vincent hesitated, but ultimately decided that he should look through her bag. He felt terrible for the invasion of her privacy and the violation of trust, but they needed to know as much about her as they couldófor her sake and theirs.

He had found a wallet with her ID and a picture of a dog. She was from South Carolinaóshe was seventeen. There were some extra shirts and socks, a worn and marked copy of Romeo and Juliet, a binder with lyrics and chords to songs she had written, a pack of cigarettes, pens, and a muffin rolled in a napkin. There was no money, no keys, and no other personal information. They had to search for a few minutes on a detailed map before they could even find the town she was from. Her clothes were of semi-expensive quality, but they were too big. The bag had a keychain on the zipperóit was a picture of a lion.

Vincent had started at that, remembering her reaction to him. He still hadnít spoken of it to any of the others.

Vincent sat down in a chair beside her bed and took out her book of songs. He read a few and was moved. She could write. He didnít understand all the chordsóthey were more scattered about and seemed to be in shorthand most of the time. They looked like guitar chords. The words, however, were thoughtful and poignant, expertly crafted. Vincent made a mental note to borrow one of the childrenís guitars for her.

It was then that he came upon a letter. It was short:

Ray, Iím sorry, I canít. Iím just not as strong as you. Please donít hate me. I love you.óAllison

Mother, sister, friend all passed through Vincentís mind. But as he re-read, he felt such desperation in itóa desperation that could only be caused by love. He laid the letter back down and closed the book.

Ö

Nearly three hours later, Vincent was roused awake by a slight movement. His eyes flashed open.

"I canít sleep on my back," she said. Her voice was even, but he could tell she was in pain.

Vincent stood up. Her eyes were barely open, but she was squirming. He laid his hand on her arm. "You mustnít move," he told her, gently.

She stopped moving. He heard the slightest sigh come from her. "I told you I wanted to die, but you saved me. Why, Vincent?"

He was surprised at the directness of the question. "Ray, you are so youngóa child. You have your whole life ahead of you."

"Iím old enough to make decisions for myself," she replied.

"Yes, of course, but ..." he faltered.  Her strong will reminded him so much of Laura. How he missed her. That kind of iron will had seen Laura through many trials. It was a rare thing to possess. It saddened him that someone with that will could be so ready to give it up.

"You said you dreamed of me, Ray. What did you dream?" Vincent asked.

Rayís eyes were closed, but he saw a weak smile. "I dreamed you saved me."

"What do you mean?"

She smiled againóshe was losing consciousness. "The dreams ... Iíve had them forever. Iím dying and you save me," she muttered.

Vincent watched her, his heart racing. How was it possible that a young woman from South Carolina had ended up in the tunnels, dying, and then rescued by himóand she had dreamed it all?

Vincent turned away from the bed and began pacing slowly. This was an extraordinary experience for him. To find a person who did not cringe at his face, but actually smiled. He felt clearly that this was meant to be. Maybe he was here to help her; maybe she was here to give something to his world. He didnít know. But somehow, she had found a way to reach deep inside his most private place, his aloneness, and heal some small part of it. To be accepted immediately, without question, without discomfort or hesitationóit was so simple, but it resonated so soundly within him.

He decided at that moment that he would help Ray; whatever she needed, he would help her achieve. He would give himself as a friend, a brother, and be the one person she could trust. How many people had done that for him? Many. Father, Devin ... Catherine. He smiled then and sat back down in the chair beside her bed. Catherine. She would be touched by this girlís effect on him. He sighed wistfullyóhe wanted to go Above and tell her right now. He knew she would be so happy if he did, so happy if he did something spontaneous, like coming Above without a date; he knew his excitement and elation would elicit that warm smile, the one that made him forget every single thing in the world but her.

But he held back, as always. He sighed.

Though both of them suffered for his denial, he could see small parts of her fading every time he disappointed her. The last time he had seen her, Catherine had hung onto him when he pulled away from their embrace. It was slight, but he felt it, and he continued to pull away even as he sensed her deep sigh of resignation.  He didnít want to slowly chip away at her hope and optimism. He didnít want to bring her any pain, much less dim the light she radiated. The sad and brave smile she gave him as she turned to the ladder wasóa dagger.

He should have stopped her from going up that ladder, pulled her back into his arms, and held her tightly, cherishing her presence in his life. But he didnít move and she ascended into the light. She belonged there. He belonged here, in the darkness. How could she belong to him? It was impossible; he had to maintain what they had. He shook his head. Love was pain, but also the sweetest joy. It was so fragile and precious, yet he let more and more of it slip away every single day.

And now, this young girl in front of him, suffering from a knife wound, alone, hungry, and terrified. He knew that despite all of that, she was probably suffering the most because of the woman from the letter. How can we die from physical injury, but not die from the pain of love? He had felt bothóand love had cut him deeper than any injury.

He nodded off, dreaming of lions.

Ö

Mary came in early to check on Ray. Vincent stood up and gave her room. She took her temperature and checked other vital signs.

"Did she wake up at all, Vincent?"

"Yes, Mary. Maybe four hours ago? We spoke briefly."

"Did she complain of any pain?"

He smiled. "She does not like to sleep on her back, but she was reasonable and gave up on the idea of moving."

"Mmmm ..." Mary replied, pausing to listen to her heart. "She is stableóall her vitals are rather strong, actually. And lookóshe has some color back, donít you think?"

"Yes," he agreed.

"We really need to clean her up," she said.

"Of course," Vincent replied.

Mary prepared bowls of hot water with clean towels in them. "I think we should just get her out of these clothes ultimately. I will have Jamie help me do that when you leave. Why donít you clean her face? Make sure there are no cuts and get that terrible grime out of her hair, poor girl."

Vincent set about his task, but in a heartbeat, his mind flashed back to the time he was tending to an injured Catherine. He remembered wiping his eyes with the back of his sleeve, brushing tears away so he could finish washing the blood from her face, all the time horrified that someone would do this to her, feeling a lump in his throat when he thought about how broken she was, and vulnerable, only consoled by the fact that he had found her. Even at that dark moment, he had felt their connection.

Father had been pacing about the room, running his fingers through his hair, mumbling to himself, trying to determine the best course of treatment. Vincent had been staring at her face, his heart sick with worry. He remembered holding her in his arms as Father examined her and lifting her, as gently as he could, while Father bound her ribs. He remembered pausing, considering, and then proceeding to remove her clothes and check her entire body for injuries, forcing himself to concentrate on the inspection and forcing down the concern, the love, he felt rising in him. He remembered brushing some hair from her face, his thumb glancing her lips, his heart beating harder than he ever remembered in his life.

He remembered holding her face as Father stitched it back together and then wrapping her face in the bandage and carrying her to his bed, despite Fatherís protests, and, in meticulous detail, making her as comfortable as he could. He remembered taking books from the shelf and settling in his chair and he remembered waking up countless times, a book still open in his hands, after having spent the whole night there, and starting to read where he had left off, never leaving her side.

Never, in all the time he had known her, had he let himself think about that moment.

Why? Because at that moment, he would have done anything, promised anything, faced anything, to have her in his life. It was before he had built all the walls, when he wasnít mired in the obstacles or their differences, when he didnít even think about who he was and the limits to what he could offer to her, when he simply loved, without thought, without reason.

If he had let himself think about that moment, how he felt, the spaces she filled in him, without ever having said a word, if he had allowed himself to re-live the first moments in the creation of the Bond, he would never be apart from her. He never thought about that moment, because if he did, Catherine would be here, with him, always, and he would never let her go.

He finished washing Rayís face and was relieved there were no more injuries. He was working on her hair when she woke up.

"Whatís your name?" she asked Mary.

"Iím Mary. Iím taking care of you. Would you feel better if you were bathed and put into clean clothes, dear?"

"Yes, maíam," Ray replied immediately, reverently. Vincent smiledóeveryone was Maryís child; she just had that effect.

"What happened to you, Ray? Who hurt you?"

Ray closed her eyes. "Iím sorry, but is there any way I could have some kind of pain medication?" Ray whispered.

"Oh, child, of course! Can you swallow something or would you prefer an injection?"

"I hate needles and Iím thirsty anyway," she replied.

"Vincent, go get her the pill that Father left out last night. Itís there, on the table."

Vincent went to retrieve the pill. Mary looked down to find Ray looking up at her.

"Who are you? Do you guys live down here? Are there more people who look like Vincent? This place feels so surreal, though I do like the candles. I think everything looks better in candlelight."

Mary nodded then grimaced when she saw Ray wince in pain.

"Never mind, Vincent," Mary called out. "She needs something faster."

Vincent returned. Ray was slowly shaking her head back and forth across the pillow; her fists were opening and closing. She was in pain.

"Ray, I promise you wonít feel this needle and you will feel better immediately instead of waiting for a pill to work."

"You promise?"

Mary was already at her arm. "Yes, I promise you, child."

"Okay, then ... go ahead."

But Mary was already done. Ray closed her eyes.

"Will she sleep now?" Vincent asked.

"Yes, soon. But many times, people respond to the drug like they would a truth serum. It might be a good time to get some answers from her. Sheís a tough little thing, isnít she?" Mary whispered.

"Mary you never cease to amaze meócaring and clever."

Mary laughed and resumed washing her.

Ray stirred again.

"My dear, who hurt you? What happened to you?" Mary asked her.

Vincent saw Rayís eyes go dark, like a shadow had passed over her.

"I was in a fight ... and I lost," she said matter-of-factly.

"With whom, Ray?" Vincent asked.

"Some guy. He was just this guy I met and I was staying with him after I left home ..." she trailed off before continuing. "I did something for him and he was supposed to give me some money and he didnít and I fought back and then he pulled out a knife and it was in me before I knew it ... it happened so fast ..."

"What did you do for him? For money?" Vincent asked, concerned.

"Nothing scandalous," she giggled, obviously from the drug, before getting serious again. "I helped him write a letter and fill out a couple of job applications. He promised me ten bucks. He refused to pay me and tried to bully me out of his place. But I needed the money and it wasnít fair, so I wouldnít leave. He just pulled it out and stabbed me. It really hurt."

"Is the pain better now, dear?"

"Yes, Mary," she answered, visibly groggy now; she was about to fall asleep.

Mary lay her hand across Rayís forehead. "Dear, we just want you to know that you are safe here. No one will harm you. Know that, child," Mary told her.

Ray nodded and fell asleep.

Ö

Once Jamie had come to help Mary, Vincent headed toward his chamber to bathe and change. He sat down with his journal for a moment, but realized he needed to talk, and set out for Fatherís study. He instead ran into Father, who was on his way to breakfast. Vincent helped Father to the dining room.

Once they were seated, Vincent began. "Father, what is your impression of Ray and her appearance in the tunnels? Do you have any theories about her life, what might have happened to her?"

Father put down his mug of tea, but kept his hands on it to warm them. "My theories? Well, I wouldnít call them that exactly, Vincent. More like impressions."

"Please tell me, Father; I am anxious to know your thoughts," Vincent told him.

"Well, to start off, I talked to Mary about what the girl told you and I see nothing that would suggest she has misled us in any way. She has obviously left home, but sheís old enough to do that. Sheís just gotten into a big city and knows no one and got into some trouble. The same thing happens every day in this city."

"What about the cuts on her arms?" Vincent asked immediately.

"What can I say, Vincent? She has obviously tried to injure herself. It may or may not be suicidal behaviorósome people cut to relieve emotional pain. The markings were more along those linesóshallow and systematic. They are maybe two months old."

"Father, I have to tell you something," Vincent said in a low voice.

"Yes, Vincent?"

"It was the most amazing thing. The moment she saw me, she ... there was not a moment of fear or rejection on her face. She actually smiled at me ... smiled! She told me she had dreamed about me, that I am here to save her life."

"And you believe her, Vincent? I mean, how is that possible?"

"I believe her and it is possible, though impossible to explain, I know. It is a sense I have, a feeling. Ray has been brought here for a reason. I do not know what the reason is, but I feel strongly that it has to do with me in some way."

"Well, Vincent, I have never been one to question your empathic powers. Your Ďfeelingsí are quite dependable."

Vincent nodded.

Surprisingly, Father changed the subject. "And how is Catherine?" Father said, looking down at his plate.

Vincent looked at him to ascertain his motives for that question. The last time they had spoken of Catherine, they had argued. Vincent had stayed out especially late one night, on a night he had promised Father a chess game. Though he was truly sorry for forgetting their appointment, he did not appreciate being treated like a child late for curfew. Father thought he was too preoccupied with Catherine; Vincent didnít think it was his concern.

He had, in fact, been with Catherine, but not the entire time. He had left her balcony around midnight, after they had finished another chapter from Danteís Inferno. The ninth circleóthe traitors, the worst of them all, the circle of treachery, fraudulent acts between people who share special bonds of love and trust. How could that be any different from what they were doing, what he was doing, by constantly denying his feelings and dismissing hers?

He had closed the book and jumped up quickly.

"What is it, Vincent?" she had asked.

He had barely uttered a goodbye before he had left her that night, distracted and distraught. Again, he should have stayed, comforted her, opened up to heróstayed, instead of leaving. But he was overwhelmed. He spent the whole night on the roof over Catherineís balcony. It was torture, but he wouldnít leave. He had to give her something, even if it was only his silent sacrifice. He had been agitated and exhausted when he came home around dawn. Father had been sleeping in Vincentís chair and launched an attack the moment he had returned. They had exchanged words, and had not discussed Catherine since.

"Catherine is well, Father. Thank you for asking. I will be seeing her tonight for a concert. Would you please sit with Ray in my absence? I will come to the hospital chamber after I have escorted Catherine home."

"Yes, yes, of course, Vincent. Maybe I will have a chance to talk with her myself."

"Thank you, Father."

"Yes, well, letís finish up here and see how sheís doing. Peter will be coming down before he goes into his office," Father told him.

"Thatís good to hear. I am so relieved she has survived the night."

"Well, sheís not out of the woods yet, but yes, itís a good sign."

Ö

Peter was already there when they returned. Mary was brushing Rayís hair; the girl was quiet, but awake. She was watching Peter examine her wound, but closing her eyes slowly every once in a while, obviously enjoying Maryís touch. Satisfied with the look of the wound, Peter moved to set up an IV and Father took his place, wanting to check his stitching.

"Are you Vincentís father?" Ray asked as Father examined her.

"Well, yes," Father replied. "I am."

"But everyone else calls you Father, too, right?" she followed.

Father chuckled. "Yes, thatís true, too."

"Are you anyoneís real father?"

Father winced. "Well, if you mean biologically, yes, I have a son."

"Vincent?" she asked.

"No," Father continued. "My son is named Devin. He lives Above now. However, I have raised Vincent since he was an infant, so he is very much my son. Mary is my friend, and so is Peterówe went to medical school together."

They were all a bit stunned with her directnessóit wasnít exactly sharp, rather, pointed. She asked in a way one wouldnít even hesitate to answer. It wasnít rude; it was endearing. They knew the next question before she even asked it. "Then why does everyone call you Father?"

No one had ever asked Father thatóVincent smiled. He saw a brief grin on Maryís face, though she quickly buried it. They knew the story, but the words that Father would choose would certainly be interesting.

"Well, Ray," he began. Vincent smiled againóthe storybook voice was out. She was in for an earful.

"I was one of the founders of our worldóour society. In the beginning, it was very rough and ... uncertain at times. I was the eldest male in the group, and a doctor, so I helped lead the group and ... well, the name just came up ..."

They jumped when Mary laughed loudly, startling them.

"Father," Mary said kindly. "Why are you lying to this child?"

Ray laughed when Father blushed. He cleared his throat. "Ray, I apologize, that is not the whole story," Father sighed, glaring at Mary. "I ..."

Mary quickly jumped in. "In the beginning, we had a teenage couple with us and well, one night they wanted some privacy, so they went somewhere else for the night. Father was frantic, worried that something had happened to them since no one had spoken to them before they left. When they finally came home, Father, well ... he scolded themóin front of everyone."

Vincent was transfixed; he did not know this part of the story.

"The whole time, under their breath, they were saying, ĎYes, Father. Yes, Father. Of course, Father,í and all of us were giggling."

"Mary, please ... can we do the IV?" Father interrupted.

Mary winked at Ray and moved to help Peter.

"Father, is this true?" Vincent asked.

Father glanced up at him with a look that begged they not continue this conversation. Convinced that this might be the only chance to get the real story, Vincent held his gaze until Father dropped his eyes.

"Yes, itís true. I suppose I went a bit too far," he conceded, securing the bandage. "Still, the name stuck. Once they started calling me that, others did, and then children did, and then everyone. Itís an honor and a role I take very seriously down here."

"I can tell it means a lot to you," Ray told him.

Just then Mary appeared at her arm with the needle and Ray reacted by jerking away from her, which pulled at her side, and her wound. She cried in pain.

"Vincent, hold her still," Father ordered. Mary was talking to Ray softly. Vincent reached around Mary and held Ray down. He tried not to show his worry when he saw blood beginning to soak through the bandage.

"She cannot afford to lose any more blood. Ray, please calm down and stop moving," Father said loudly.

Ray immediately stopped moving. "The needle ... it scared me and I jumped, Iím sorry ..."

"Itís okay, dear," Mary soothed her.

She was about to say something else when she fell asleep. The drugs Father had administered had taken effect.

"Well," Father said. "Letís see what damage has been done."


Part Two

The notes from A Midsummer Nightís Dream wafted down through the grate as they listened in silence. Though Vincent normally felt very much at peace in Catherineís presence, he was restless, constantly changing positions and sighing heavily. Finally, she spoke up.

"Is something wrong?" she asked him quietly. "Are you not enjoying the music?"

"I apologize, Catherine," he replied. "I was going to tell you after the show, but ..."

"Is something wrong?" she asked again, pulling away from him slightly so she could see his face.

"No ... yes ..." he told her.

"Which is it? Youíre worrying me."

"Two days ago, I was walking in the tunnels, very far down, and I came across an injured girl."

"In the tunnels? How did she get there?"

"She was lying on the ground and wouldnít speak to me at first. Finally, she began talking to me and then turned over to face me. She had been stabbed, Catherine, in her ribcage."

"Oh, thatís terrible, Vincent. What do you know of this girl?"

"Her name is Ray. She is from South Carolina, a teenager. She is malnourished and has lost a lot of blood. Father and Peter have tended to her injury. She is still in a great deal of pain, but is surviving."

"Who hurt her?"

"A man she did some work for who then refused to pay. When she confronted him, he stabbed her."He paused then, so angry and disappointed in a world that would permit that to happen. Swallowing hard, he continued. "She stumbled upon an entrance to the tunnels and had been lying there for quite a while before I found her."

"Have you talked with her?"

"Briefly. She is still in a lot of pain and has been sedated for most of the time." He paused after that, looking down.

"What is it?" she prodded gently.

"Iím not quite sure," he said, after a moment. "I feel a connection with her."

"How so?"

To her surprise, he grinned. "Catherine, when she first saw me, it was like ... it was like she was seeing any other man. She wasnít scaredóshe actually smiled at me!"

She nodded and dropped her eyes. If only she had reacted to Vincent that way. He seemed to read her thoughts.

"Please, donít be upset. You were startled; I never faulted you for that ..."

She nodded, solemnly. "Iím sorry, Vincent, please continue ..."

"Catherine, it was the most amazing thing. She told me that she had dreamed of me. She reached out to touch me, like I was a vision she needed to know was real. She told me she dreamed I would rescue her!"

Catherine smiled brightly. "That is amazing, Vincent. How that must have made you feelóto be instantly accepted."

"Yes," he nodded. His face darkened.

"What is it?"

He sighed and pulled her closer.

"Two things weigh heavily on me ..." he trailed off.

"Yes?"

"Catherine, she has cuts, on her wrist, they seem to be ..." he paused again, not wanting to say it.

"Self-inflicted?" she replied, quietly.

"Yes," he whispered.

"And the other thing?"

"I went through her belongings. I regret having to violate her privacy, but under the circumstances, I felt it necessary. What I found ..."

She waited for him to continue.

"I found a letter, from a woman named Allison."

He told her what the letter said and waited for her reply.

"Hmmm ..." Catherine considered. "What do you think it means?"

"I think they were in love. I think Ray left and wanted Allison to come with her, but Allison couldnít ..."

"Wouldnít Ö" Catherine replied.

Vincentís heart constrictedóthe meaning of her response not lost on him.

"Yes, I suppose," he finished quietly. "You would like her, Catherine. She has fire; in the few hours she has been awake, she persuaded Father to tell her about how he came to be called Father."

"Really?" she laughed. "I donít even know that story. She must have guts ..."

"Yes," he agreed. "Her will is strong and she is very stubborn. She reminds me of someone ..."

She hugged him tighter. "You really have a talent for finding injured, stubborn women, donít you?"

"It would seem that way," he replied, as they both laughed softly.

"She writes, Catherine," he continued. "Songs, beautiful songs. They are all about love. They must be about Allison. Nothing else makes sense. Ray had very little with her, only items of great importance or necessity. The note is significant; I am sure of it."

From nowhere, some lines from one of Rayís songs came to him:

I knew it thenóthis will never end
We will stand on the edge forever and never think to just jump in
We know itís ours to take, but we never even reach ...

Suddenly, Vincent jumped up and stood facing the tunnelís entrance, his back to Catherine. His mind was spinning. How had this lost and broken teenage girl managed to capture the very essence of the impossible dream he and Catherine shared? It was like that night they had been reading Dante all over again. He couldnít shake this feeling of treachery. Every time he pushed her away was another lie. Catherine wanted honesty, wanted open expression; it was he who denied them.

I guess you could sayóitís better this way
Better safe than sorry and safer to remain
In a space where hope is always stronger than the pain ...

Did Catherine even have hope anymore? Had his endless rejection of her finally worn her down? All the times he had left her without saying a word of goodbye, all the hopeful glances he had turned away from, all the times he had stepped away from her arms when that was the only place he wanted to be ...

He felt her hand on his shoulder. "Are you all right, Vincent?"

All these thoughts were overwhelming and confusing. He loved her and wanted her more than anything in this world, but when she was near him, his only impulse was to run. Whenever he felt the most for her, the furthest he wanted to be from her. Whenever his hands wanted to touch her, his mind begged for solitude ... to think. It was maddening. And most maddening of all was the knowledge that even given years to think and ruminate on the subject, he knew he would never find the answer, never feel certain about what to do.

Were their obstacles really so insurmountable? Were their differences so irreconcilable? Was their dream impossible? And if so, was it anyoneís fault but his own? He slowly turned to face her and gently put his arms around her.

"Can I help?" she whispered. He could feel her concern through the Bond.

To her surprise, he pulled her closer and laid a kiss on the top of her head. She pulled back and looked at him.

"This girlís plight has moved you ..."

"Yes," he agreed softly.

She reached for his hands and held them lightly. "Do you need some time to think?" she tried.

He looked at her. She was so selfless and understanding. She deserved every happiness in the world. She deserved a man who could tell her how much she was loved. She deserved better.  Would he be that man, in time? Should he finally let her go? And even if he decided to ... could he really do it? Sometimes he barely managed to get through a night without her ... could he really live a lifetime without her?

"Yes, Catherine. I need some time. Thank you for understanding."

She smiled at him warmly. "Of course," she replied.

She made to move away, but he held her hands tighter. He wanted to show her something, give her something that exemplified the depth of his feelings for her. He let go of her hand and reached toward her face. Then catching himself, he dropped his hand and began to turn away.

She gripped the edges of his cloak, confused. "What is it, Vincent?"

He turned back and found the courage to lift his hand once more. For the briefest moment, and so lightly, Catherine wasnít entirely sure if he had or not, he ran his fingers lightly down the side of her face. "I only wish you could know my heart," he whispered.

Catherine was stunned; she didnít know what to say. Her skin was burning where he had touched her; she couldnít imagine what it would feel like if he ever touched her for real. She wanted to tell him that she understood, that she wanted to know his heart and have him know hers as well.

But Vincent immediately shut down after revealing that to her; the air between them changed. He turned away and the moment was over. He took her hand; by then, the music had concluded, so they began the journey to the threshold.

Ö

Father was dozing by Rayís bedside when Vincent reached the hospital chamber. Exhausted, Father headed off to bed. Vincent took his place beside Ray. She looked better, he discovered, to his relief. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully and more color had returned to her face.

Satisfied with her condition, he turned his thoughts to Catherine. They had not spoken again. They had reached the threshold, embraced, and Catherine had ascended without another glance. Every fiber of his being had wanted to cry out to her to come back, to tell her of his heartóbut he had done nothing. Would he really let his whole life slip away due to inaction and silence? Would the words always go unsaid until the day she herself slipped out of his life?

He sighed, shaking his head. When he looked at Ray again, he was surprised to find her eyes open. She smiled at him.

"Hi, Vincent," she whispered.

"Hi, Ray," replied. "Are you in pain? Can I get you anything?"

"Nope."

"How are you?" he asked.

"Better," she yawned. "Everyone here has been so wonderful, so ... nice."

"Is that uncommon for you?"

"Pretty loaded question, Vincent, donít you think?"

He blushed, embarrassed. "Iím sorry, I didnít mean to pry ..."

"Yes, you did," she said, smiling. "Itís okay. I know I can trust you. I know you have questions, but I have questions, too. Are you up for it? You can go first ..." she teased.

He laughed. Her familiarity and ease with him was a bit disconcerting, but also refreshing.

"All right," he agreed. "Where are you from? How did you get here? Are you in trouble?"

"Thatís three questions, but whatever. Iím from South Carolina. I wanted to get out. I always wanted to get out, always ..." she trailed off. "It was just time. I finished high school, but couldnít find a job and couldnít afford school. I was staying with my mom, but her new boyfriend ... well, he just doesnít like me. Heís a jerkóracist, super religious, violent, drinks a lot. We donít get each other, him and me, so he made my mom choose and, well, itís pretty obvious who she chose ..."

"Ray," Vincent began.

"No, itís okay. Like I said, it was time for me to leave. I thought I had enough money to get to New York and find a job and a place to live, but itís way more expensive up here. I ran out of money a while ago, so Iíve just been scavenging, you know, just trying to scrape by and I ran into some bad luck. But Iím not in trouble. Iíll be okay ..."

Vincentís heart went out to her. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. Seriously. Anyway, my turn ... how did you get here? Whatís your story? Where are you from?"

"I was found as a baby, outside St. Vincentís Hospital. I was brought here and raised by Father. I know nothing of my parents or where I came from. But this is my home. I am safe here, and loved."

Ray nodded. "Okay, your turn ..."

He sighed and looked at Ray seriously. "Ray, when I found you, you were very insistent about being left alone. Do you remember what you said to me?"

"Yeah," she said, softly. "I told you I wanted to die ..."

"You were very convincing, Ray. And then, we found ..."

"The cuts?"

"Yes, Ray. We saw the cuts on your arms," Vincent said, gently.

Ray sighed and looked away for a moment before continuing. "Not something Iím proud of, Vincent. Iím ... Iím a sensitive person, emotional ... I struggle with things. I got really hurt when I was still back home ... got my heart broken, you know. I had to keep going, but I just couldnít find my way through the pain and then all I felt was numb. I needed to feel something again. Itís not something I do all the time and I know itís not a healthy way to deal with my problems, but I was lost and I needed to be strong and move on. Itís like it wakes me up or something. Like some people punch a wall when they are hurting ... this is my way."

Vincent never expected to understand why Ray had done this to herself, but he was surprised to find that he did. Hadnít he inflicted pain upon himself in his darkest moments?

"Can you promise me something, Ray?"

"I wonít do it again, Vincent," she said, quickly. "I promise."

"Good," he replied.

"My turn. Did you look in my bag?"

Vincent was taken aback, then resigned. He knew this moment would come.

He nodded and looked away. "Are you angry with me?"

She sighed. "I know you feel guilty for invading my privacy, Vincent, but I know why you did it. Iím not angry at you. I think I would be at most anyone else, but I know you did it because you were worried ..."

She paused. "What did you see?" she asked.

"Ray ..." he began.

"Everything?"

"Yes," he told her.

The silence was longer this time.  "She was my best friend ..." Ray whispered.

"Allison?"

Ray nodded. "We have known each other since we were kids. And then one day, everything just ... changed. I fought it ... I actually stopped talking to her, started avoiding her, but she wouldnít let me. She had the patience of a saint. I pushed her away, wouldnít listen to her, didnít want to know how she felt ..."

"Because you felt it, too ..."

"Yeah ... I was scared. I didnít want things to change because I was afraid of losing her, because ... I ..."

"Because you loved her."

"Yeah. I was such an idiot. Who pushes away the person they love? It doesnít make sense. And the more I realized I loved her, the more I ran from it."

"What happened?"

"She wouldnít give up. The more I pushed, the more she pushed back. The more I hurt her, the more she loved me. I am so ashamed of that ..."

She paused before continuing. "And then one day, I just couldnít do it anymore. We were out in a field near her house; it was covered with wildflowersóyellow, blue, pink ... it was windy, so it looked like an ocean. It was so beautiful ... and she was crying. I had made her cry. I told her I was in love with someone else. But I wasnít. It was a lie. She was so sad, Vincent. She told me to go to hell, that she was done, that she never wanted to see me again. I looked at her and something inside me just broke. She started to run away and I ran after her. She wouldnít stop, so I pulled her to the ground. She ..."

Ray sighed and turned away from Vincent. She was silent for so long, Vincent had begun to think that she had fallen back asleep.

"Her eyes were puffy and red, her sundress was torn, her knee was cut up and bleeding. I ... I was scared and didnít know what was going to happen, but Iím not a monster. I loved her; I couldnít hurt her anymore. She was glaring at me, so angry; she looked like she wanted to kill me. So I closed my eyes and kissed her. We stayed until dark, just lying in the field, crying and ... holding each other. Iíve never been so happy ..."

"Ray, where is Allison now?"

He watched her entire body stiffen at that question and was sorry he had asked. She wasnít here nowóthatís probably all he needed to know.

"Things were great for six months ..." she began quietly. "And then we got caught, by her mother. Her parents locked her in her room, wouldnít let her out, wouldnít let us see each other. Her familyís wealthy. They planned to send her to some college out in California. I panicked. Things were awful at home; I had lost her. I had lost everything. I packed all my things and went to her house in the middle of the night. I wanted us to run away together ..."

Ray rolled back over to look at Vincent.

"But she wouldnít come with me. She was afraid of ... the unknown, having no money ... I understand now, of course. But then ... I just thought she didnít love me enough, you know?"

"She did, Ray. She loved you very much. Look how she fought for you all that time."

"Yeah, well, it doesnít matter now. I left that night. I donít know whether she went to California or if sheís still home. All I have is that note ... and the keychain. That was hers. We always wanted to go to Africa and look at the lions ..." she smiled, dropping her eyes.

"Iím sorry for your loss, Ray."

"Itís okay, Vincent. Really ... anyway, itís my turn to ask you a question."

"Of course, anything," he readily agreed.

"Who is Catherine?"

Vincent felt as if a thousand stones had landed on his chest. "How? How did you ..."

"Mary told me about her, only a little. Is she your ..."

"She is my friend," he interrupted.

Ray looked at him, surprised by his sudden change in demeanor.

"She lives Above; she works for the District Attorneyís office," he said, quickly.

"How did you meet?"

Vincent suddenly stood up and walked away from Ray. He put his hands down onto the examining table and leaned over them, silent.

"I have obviously touched on a sensitive topic for you, Vincent, but you can trust me. I trusted you. I feel connected to you."

"There is nothing to talk about. Sheís a helper and my friend."

Ray sighed. "Look, I have told you more about me in five minutes than I have ever told anyone in my whole life. I know she is more than a friend, and I know you probably never get a chance to talk to anyone about her ... just come over here and sit back down and tell me about her."

Vincentís anger waned; disarmed, he slowly returned to Rayís side.

"Trust me," she repeated. "What do you think I am here for? Donít you remember?"

"The dream ..." he whispered.

"Yeah," she replied. "You save me, I save you. Can we get to it already?"

Vincentís eyes were wide in shock. "This was in your dream?"

"Yes," she told him. "We were meant to be here ... youíre supposed to tell me. You saved me ... let me do my part, okay?"

"But I donít understand ..."

"Yes, you do, Vincent. You feel it too; you just didnít understand why ... but this is why."

Vincent collapsed back into his seat.

"I found her one night in the park. She had been attacked, left to die. I brought her here, to Father. We tended to her wounds ..."He looked at Ray, who nodded at him. "She had bandages over her face; she didnít know about ... the way I am. I tried to stop my feelings, but I couldnít. When she was well again, I took her home and tried to forget being a part of her. But I couldnít. I was changed. I went to her one nightóto say goodbye. That was almost two years ago ..."

"Why isnít she down here with you?"

Vincent sighed. "She has a life Aboveóher work, her friends ... she does not belong in the darkness."

"She said that to you?" Ray asked, incredulous.

Vincent shook his head.

"What did she say when you asked her to move down here with you?"

"I ... I havenít ..." he stammered.

"You havenít asked her?" Ray asked.

Vincent shook his head.

"Why?"

"Ray, I ..."

"Have you kissed her?"

Vincent flushed visibly. "No, I ..."

"Have you even told her how you feel about her?"

Vincent looked up at her, begging her with his eyes to stop.

"So, let me get this straight ... you love her, right?"

He nodded.

"She loves you, right?"

"I donít know ... I ..."

"Oh, I see ..." Ray replied. "You know she loves you and that scares you, so you push her away. Am I warm?"

Vincent felt miserable. Having it laid out before him by a teenager who obviously understood love infinitely better than he did was disconcerting at the least.

"Itís complicated," he began.

"No, itís not. Itís actually quite simple. You love each other. You should be together."

"Weíre too different ... she deserves better."

"Iíll say. She deserves the truth."

"She must know ..."

"You canít take that chance! What if something happened and you lost her? What if she leaves because she thinks you donít love her?"

"I have nearly lost her ... many times ..." he explained.

"Jesus, Vincent, youíre worse than me!"

He looked at her, and sighed.

"Donít you see? You are doing exactly what I did to Allie. You are pushing her away. Do you want to turn out like we did?"

"Itís different," he started.

"How? How is it different?"

Vincent didnít know how to answer. He was starting to believe that she had been sent here to make him face his feelings for Catherine. No one had ever spoken to him in this way before; he felt exposed and raw, turned inside out.

"You have to tell her, Vincent, before you donít have a choice."

"I know," he whispered.

They heard voices down the tunnel. Within moments, Father and Mary came into the room.

"How are you feeling, my dear?" Mary asked, going to Rayís side as Father began examining her vitals.

"Better, Mary. Thanks," Ray replied. Vincent made to leave, but stopped when he saw Ray glaring at him.

"I would say you are doing a lot better, Ray," Father told her. "You are getting stronger. How is your wound?"

"Itís itching," she replied.

"Excellent!"

Ray looked at Mary, confused.

"That means itís healing," she told her, smiling.

"Oh, okay. Great."

"I would still like to give you something to help you sleep. I donít want you waking up in the middle of the night in pain. You need your rest."

"I understand," Ray sighed. "Go ahead and break out the needle ..."

Mary gave her the injection as Father gathered his things.

"You will stay with her tonight, Vincent?"

"Yes, Father."

"Okay then, we will send breakfast in early. Is it okay if we send Kipper again?"

Ray and Mary laughed. Vincent looked at them, a question in his eyes.

"Kipper has a ... well, how do you say it?" Father asked.

"A crush, Father," Mary finished. "Kipper has a not-so-secret crush on Ray. He read her half of Frankenstein this evening!"

Ray laughed. "Heís a sweet kid."

"Okay, Mary, weíre finished here," Father said.

They said their goodbyes and were gone.

"Vincent," Ray said, quietly, reaching for him. He went over to her and laid his hand on hers.

"In the dream ..." she started, before yawning.

"Shhh ... you need your rest. Weíll talk tomorrow."

"In the dream, you go to her now."

"Now? This is in the dream?"

"Yes," she replied, her eyes getting heavy.

"I canít. Someone should be with you."

"Iím fine. I am going to conk out in a minute. You really donít need to watch me sleep all night. Go!"

"But ..."

"Look, you can come back after you go see her, that is, if you donít end up staying ... but the longer youíre gone, the happier youíll make me," she smiled.

Vincentís cheeks turned crimson.

"Youíre hilarious ..." she said, before getting serious again. "Go; go now. Tell her."

"Ray, I ..."

"The dream is real, Vincent. Please believe me."

"But what do I say?"

"Youíll know ... please, promise me youíll go ..."

Vincent was paralyzed with doubt.

"The dream has a happy ending, Vincent. Please, go ..." she managed, before her eyes closed.

He looked down at her. He couldnít disappoint her.

Just then, her hand turned over and he felt her push something into his.

"Trust me," she whispered.

Vincent looked down and found the keychain in his palm. Without a pause, he grabbed his cloak and ran out of the chamber.


Part Three

He must have hovered above her roof for hours; in truth, he couldnít even remember coming here. It was a blur. Had he ever been so afraid in his life? Is this what pure fear felt like?

He couldnít stay here much longer. He had already waited too long; she had gone to sleep hours ago. He didnít know what to do. He hated to wake Catherine, and he didnít know what he was going to say to her if he did, but he had made a promise to Ray, one that she only insisted upon in order to urge him toward love. It was the right thing to do, to tell Catherine the truth.

When he finally dropped to her balcony, the sky was blue and pink; dawn was slowing walking across the sky. He was cold, and disoriented; every part of him ached, but his mind was clear and quiet. He padded up to the door and tapped softly against the glass with his nail ... click click click.

He stepped back and waited for her. This time of morning was familiar to him. Before he had met Catherine, he would stare out the drainage tunnel into the eerie early morning light, watching black birds against the soft colors. This was an empty space in time. The nightís sins had been washed away with the stars, the dayís had not begun.

Catherine pushed the doors open slowly and stepped out. She was extremely sleepy and confused.  "Is this a dream?" she asked, pulling her robe around her.

"No."

"Youíre here?" she replied, her eyes getting a little wider.

He took a quick step toward her and pulled her into his arms.   "Iím here," he breathed into her ear.

She held him tightly. "Is everything all right?" she asked.

"Yes, of course," he replied. For a brief moment, he held her tighter, and then pulled away and stepped back to look at her.

She was silent, nearly asleep on her feet. He wanted to take her inside, lay her down in her bed, and curl up beside her. Then do it, part of him said. There was nothing stopping him, and it would make her so happy.

"Vincent, are you all right?" she repeated, more urgently.

"Iím sorry I woke you," he sighed.

"Itís okay, but I donít understand ..."

"This dream of ours ..."

She came awake when he said that. Her green eyes were still heavy, but he sensed her heartbeat pick up.

"Sometimes I wonder ..."

"Wonder what, Vincent?" she replied softly.

"Our dream is so big, Catherine. Sometimes I wonder if hope alone can fill it."

"Is hope all we have?" she whispered.

"No ..." he started, before trailing off.

"Why are you here, Vincent?" she said after a moment.

"I came here tonight because ..." he sighed.

She took a step toward him and pushed herself into his arms. He clung to her.

"What is it?" she whispered.

"Donít you see? You are doing exactly what I did to Allie. You are pushing her away. Who pushes away the person they love? It doesnít make sense."

Vincent gripped her upper arms and gently nudged her backward, across the low precipice of her bedroom, until she was seated on the bed and he kneeled before her, his head buried in her lap. His arms wrapped around her hips. They stayed that way for a long while, he trying to find the words, she softly stroking his hair, comforting him.

"Vincent," she said softly. "Do you need to tell me something?"

He nodded.

"Do you need me to help you?" she asked him, kindly. He gripped her tighter. To have her understand ... meant everything.

"Can you look at me, please?" she asked.

After a moment, he raised his head and looked into her eyes. To her surprise, tears were streaming down his face. Just the sight of them made her chest tighten and her own tears welled up. She didnít think she had ever seen him so sad, so ... uneasy.

"Tell me, Vincent ..." she whispered.

We know itís ours to take, but we never even reach ...

"Do you still have hope ... for us?" he managed.

"Yes, Vincent. More than hope. Please donít doubt that ..."

Vincent nodded and looked away from her. She waited patiently for a moment before speaking again.

"Is there something else?" she asked.

He nodded. "Yes ... Ray ... her dream ..."

"The dream where you save her?"

"Yes. Ray said ..." he started. "In her dream, I come to you ..."

"Now? This is part of her dream?" she replied, touching the side of his face, thrilled when he pressed into her touch, however briefly.

"Yes, Catherine ..."

"Does her dream have a happy ending?" she asked.

"I believe so."

Catherine paused for a moment, looking into his eyes for answers, but he could barely look at her and the tears were only increasing. What could all this mean?

"Am I supposed to do something, in the dream?" she tried.

"No ..." he sighed. "I am ..."

"What then?" she asked, reaching out again to run a few fingers through his hair. She couldnít recall ever having been this close to him for this long. She wasnít sure he wouldnít spring to his feet and run away even now.

"I need to tell you ..." he pressed his lips together and she saw a slight tremble.

"You can tell me anything ..." she gently reminded him. Inside, her heart was pounding in her chest. What would he say?

"Before ... I couldnít tell you ... I wouldnít tell you ... because I was afraid ..."

"Donít be afraid ..." she whispered, running her fingers over his brow.

Vincent looked at her, his eyes ablaze, a bright blue flame dancing in the middle of a roaring red fire. He leaned in toward her and for a moment, she thought he might kiss her, but he turned his head and buried his face against her neck. His hot breath swirled against her skin, causing chills to run the length of her body. She felt his lips lightly touch against her and then he dropped his head into her lap again. She was barely breathing. It was a moment before he spoke again.

"Ray has helped me see that my fear has been holding me back from ... from telling you ... certain things ..." he began, barely in a whisper. Catherine leaned over him to hear him better and his arms snaked around her again.

"I donít want you to lose hope. I know that my ... hesitation ... is hurting you."

Now the tears surged to Catherineís eyes. It was hurting her; and even though she would never give up hope, she was struggling. She loved him too much to be apart from him anymore, too much to have to hold everything back.

"I understand itís hard for you, Vincent ..." she told him, even though sometimes, she didnít understand. She could barely hold it all in; she didnít understand why it was so easy for him. It was killing her; it had been for so long. More and more these past few months, she was waking up in the middle of the night, cryingófor all they didnít have, crying because she didnít understand why. She had promised herself she would respect his pace, that she would be strong and accept whatever he gave her, but it never stopped her from wanting more.

When she finally shook herself out of her reverie, she found him looking right at her. "Thatís how I am making you feel ..." he said. It was less of a question, more of a statement.

She looked away from him, nodding. He sighed heavily, looking away too. A moment later, he spoke.

"If you could say to me ... what I have made you hold back ... what would it be?"

She shook her head. "I canít ... you would only push me away, Vincent."

"If I promised I wouldnít?" he asked her.

She sighed then, and doubt rushed through the Bond.

"If I promised to tell you ... all that I have held back?" he continued.

But Catherine was terrified. She didnít know what would happen after she told him. What if he did pull away? Maybe not at this precise moment, but later? Could he really hear what she had to say and not run from her? It was all he had ever done. Yes, she wanted to tell him, but now she was afraid of losing what they already had. She didnít want to give that up; what they had was beautiful and pure ... precious. What if the truth drove him away?

"I canít," she cried. "Please, Iím sorry ..."

"Please, Catherine, you have nothing to fear ..."

But she only shook her head, sniffling.

Vincentís heart was breaking. He had instilled this fear in her, encouraging her to think there was a line that, if crossed, would lead to his abandonment of her. He was starving her, only letting her have a small part of what was possible between them. Whatever his fears, whatever held him backóher happiness mattered more. How could he have failed to realize that for so long?

"Catherine, please look at me ..." he said softly.

"I canít, Vincent, please ..."

But Vincent couldnít let this go on another moment. He reached out for her, gently turning her face toward his. He could hardly bear to look at her now, she was in such pain. Still, he forced himself to continue.

"Catherine," he began quietly. "I truly regret the pain I have caused you ..."

She nodded, looked away again, and suddenly tried to stand up. Alarmed, he held her tighter.

"No, please donít ..." he said.

She looked so upset. He needed to find the wordsónow.

"Catherine ... my heart ... only beats for you. I canít remember what it was like before you ... I donít want to ..." he told her. "You breathed life into me when you came into my world. Itís too late for us to turn back now. I know that. And the way forward ... terrifies me ... I do not know what the future holds for us, but I am willing to face it ... with you."

He paused then, taking a deep breath.

"Please look at me, Catherine ..."

She turned to him, but her bottom lip was quivering and her eyes were still closed to him.

"Please, open your eyes ..." he asked gently.

When she did, his breath was stolen from his chest. How could such small things hold such magnitude? He brushed the back of his hand lightly against her face before holding both of her hands.

"Catherine, I cannot wait anymore Ö"

Her eyes burned with understanding. He was still when she took his face into her hands, leaned forward, and placed a light kiss on his cheek. She kissed him again, on his cheek, his brow, until he moved his lips toward hers to accept the next one she offered. They kissed lightly, chastely. In mere seconds though, the years of denial spilled through and unleashed the full power of long-denied feelings. They kissed harder; it took all his strength to pull back.

"Catherine," he said, breathlessly. "The dawn ..."

"I know," she replied.

He lifted her hand to his lips, gently kissing the tips of her fingers.

"Will you come Below?" he whispered.

She nodded.

"Iíll meet you at the threshold ..."

Ö

Twenty minutes later, she was descending the ladder and Vincent, without a momentís hesitation, pulled her into his arms. She twisted to face him as he stumbled backward into the wall. She fell into him and he pulled her higher and closer to him. With her lying flush against him, he kissed her. She gripped the edges of his cloak as the kiss deepened, his tongue shyly, then urgently, pressing against her lips. She opened her mouth, pulling him in as he tilted his head, reaching further into her, coaxing out moans that made his knees tremble.

"My God, Catherine ..." Gasping for breath, he retreated momentarily before her tongue came out to reclaim his. Sighing with pleasure, his joined hers until they forgot where they were, forgot their fears, their pain, everything but this moment. But when her hands tugged his shirt from his trousers and crept onto his bare skin, he was shaken from the moment and stepped away from her.

Staring at him, breathing heavily, he could feel her disappointment turn into anger, and then resignation. Gritting her teeth, she shook her head at him and turned back to the ladder. But before she could ascend, he reached for her again, turning her around.

"What?" she asked miserably, tears dotting her lashes.

He touched her face, wiping them away, trying not to lose his courage when she turned her face away from him. He lowered his head, his cheek pushing against hers, nuzzling her. She sighed, and he could feel her resistance fade. For a moment, they stood there, silent, unmoving, until he gripped her shoulders again, and gently pushed her against the ladder.

He lifted her up and her arms shot above her, gripping one of the higher rungs for support. His hands came up the sides of her slim body, his thumbs moving over her breasts as he kissed her again, teasing kisses that made her whimper. Her legs wrapped around his waist, her arms shaking above her head. His hands covered her breasts, first reverently, then boldly.

"Please, Vincent, I need you ..."

"Catherine ..." he managed, his chest heaving.

"I need you now ..."

"Here? But ..." he replied, mentally trying to cool his body down, even as his hands moved under her blouse, pushing away all the fabric he encountered, until the soft flesh of her breasts rested in his palms.

"I donít care. I canít wait anymore. Please donít make me wait."

The truth was, neither could he. It would take every vestige of strength he had ever known to pull away from her for even the slightest second. However he had envisioned this moment before was irrelevant. If it was to be hereóhe would not refuse them any longer.

He pushed her skirt up to her waist, tore off his cloak, and fumbled with his clothes until nothing stood between them. With both hands holding her up and open to him, he entered her, and they moaned loudly. Moving his face to nuzzle against her again, he felt her tears hot on his skin as she answered every thrust with the sweetest sounds he had ever heard. Her hands retreated from the top rungs and her fingers forced their way into his hair, which she gripped tightly, pulling him even closer. And then they were kissing again, until it was too much and their faces pressed against each other as they both cried out over and over, constantly searching for breath.

"Oh, Vincent, I canít believe ..."

"I know ..." he managed.

As they approached completion, she worked her way under his shirt and dug her nails into his back. He growled in delight, his teeth finding the supple skin of her neck and clamping down firmly. He felt a ripple of energy radiate through her at that touch and it pushed him over the edge, pulling her along with him. He marveled at the intensity of their release, reveling in the climax that stretched forward in time, that pulled them along with such tenacity, until he had emptied himself entirely into her.

Her head fell forward onto his shoulder, her body like liquid in his arms. He dropped to his knees, until she was sitting in his lap, both too overcome to move or speak. And then she started crying softly and he couldnít stop his own tears. He held her tenderly as she trembled in his arms. One hand searched for his cloak and upon finding it, wrapped it around them, pulling her tighter to him.

"Catherine, I love you ... so deeply ... I love you," he whispered to her, stroking her hair and kissing the top of her head.

"I love you, too," she cried, softly.

Their surroundings crept back in gradually as their breathing slowed. She raised her head and looked at him, her skin flushed and warm. He managed a small smile before dropping his head shyly. She brought her arms around him, pulling his head to her chest.

"Are you embarrassed?" she asked gently.

"A little ..."

She smiled and stroked his hair.

"Are you?" he asked.

"A little ..." she admitted.

"I know Iím not an expert on the subject, but I am guessing this was slightly unorthodox," he said, looking up and kissing her brow.

She smiled. "You could say that ..."

He stared at her in awe, silenced by her beauty and the intimacy of this moment. How could he have imagined the moment after touching her, after seeing passion surge across her face, knowing he was the cause of it, after total completion and fulfillment of their desire for each other. She was so soft and unbelievably real in his arms. Their impossible dreamóculminating at the threshold between their two worlds, meeting in the middle of impossibility.

"Well, if it makes you feel any better, Iíve never done anything like that before," she told him.

"Certainly not at this threshold ..." he teased.

They laughed softly together as Vincentís fingers absentmindedly dragged across her breast. Her hands reached for his face and they were kissing again. Vincent stood up, pulling her to her feet. When she pulled away again, they were in a daze.

"This is the most incredible feeling I have ever known, Catherine ..." he said to her.

"Vincent," she said, tears coming to her eyes. "You have taken me from the darkest moment in my life to the brightest ..."

He leaned forward and kissed her again. "No less than what you have done for me ..."

They stood still, holding each other, slightly swaying back and forth.

"Catherine ..." he said after a moment.

"Mmm?"

"It would bring me great pleasure if we could spend the day together, perhaps a walk, or we could go to my chamber ..."

He blushed when she laughed. "Of course we can. Iím not ready to be apart from you ..."

"No ..." he agreed, kissing her lightly on the lips. "Would you mind if we made a stop first?"

"Canít wait to tell Father, huh?" she laughed, as he blushed again.

"No," he replied, finding he couldnít stop smiling. "I need to ..."

"You want to thank Ray?"

He nodded.

"I think I do, too."

Ö

When they approached the hospital chamber, Kipper was leaving with a breakfast tray.

"Hi, Catherine! Hi, Vincent! Sheís awake ... you can go in!" he said before rushing off.

When they stepped inside, Ray was reading a book Vincent had left for her.

"Man, this protagonist is really a glutton for punishment, all pining away for his woman, sounds like someone I know, huh, Vincent?" Ray asked, her nose still buried in the book.

"Ray ..." Vincent said. Holding Catherineís hand, they came forward.

"Holy shit!" Ray exclaimed. "Is this Catherine?"

"Hi, Ray. Iím very pleased to meet you ..." Catherine laughed, extending her hand.

"I am really pleased to meet you, Catherine," Ray said enthusiastically, shaking Catherineís hand.

"How are you feeling?" Vincent said.

"Better. Much better. In fact, Father thinks I can start moving around in a few more days."

"Thatís excellent news, Ray," Vincent replied. He looked at Catherine, who looked back at him and nodded. Vincent began to speak.

"Ray, Catherine and I want to thank you for ..."

"I know," Ray said matter-of-factly.

"You know?" Vincent asked, not understanding.

"The dream?" Catherine inquired.

Ray nodded.

Vincent was stunned. "This is part of the dream as well?"

"Yep. I donít need to hear all the gory details, but yeah, you two do end up here, all smiley and googly-eyed, like you are now ..."

Vincent blushed as Ray and Catherine shared a laugh.

Ray looked at Catherine. "So, he told you how he felt?"

"Yes, he did. And whatever you did to help him get to that point ... thank you," Catherine told her.

"I didnít do anything ... just gave him a big shove and told him he would be crazy to lose you."

"Well, thank you, Ray. You have no idea how ... how much this means to me, how happy I am right now."

Ray smiled at her. "Itís nothing. You two belong together ... Iím really happy for you guys."

Vincent stepped forward and took Rayís hand. He looked at Catherine. "Can you give us a moment, Catherine?"

"Of course," she replied. "Ray, I am sure we will be seeing more of each other soon. Thanks again, for everything ..."

"You bet!" Ray replied.

Catherine briefly touched Vincentís shoulder before walking out. "Iíll be in your chamber, Vincent."

When Vincent looked at Ray again, she was grinning.

"Sheíll be in your chamber, Vincent ..." Ray teased him, winking.

Vincent helplessly blushed again.

"Seriously though, everything went okay?" Ray asked.

"Yes, Ray, I donít think you understand how deeply your words affected me. I am indebted to you ..." Vincent told her, tears forming in his eyes.

"You would have done the same for me, Vincent. Besides, weíre even now. You saved me, I saved you ..." she reminded him.

"You did so much more than save me. What you have given me ..."

"Vincent, you gave me my life back. When you found me, I wanted to die. Now, well, I have a long way to go, but Iím gonna be okay. And seeing you guys, what you have ... youíre so lucky to have the kind of love that you do. I hope I find half of that one day."

"You will, Ray. I believe that. You deserve all the happiness in the world ..."

They heard Mary and Father approaching. Vincent squeezed her hand and stepped back as they entered the chamber, arguing about the kind of ointment to use on her wound. They didnít even say hello, they were so consumed in their bickering.

"I think there are others who could use a little push toward admitting their feelings, donít you, Vincent?" Ray asked, grinning.

Vincent smiled back at her.

"Go to her, Vincent," Ray told him. "Get out of here ..."

Vincent nodded and then leaned down to kiss her forehead.

"Thank you ..." he said, before stepping back.

"Father," Ray called out, smiling brightly. "Why are you even arguing with Mary? You know sheís right. Women are always right. You should know that by now!"

As Vincent left, Ray winked at him and waved him out of the room.

Vincent felt as if he were walking on air as he made the short trip to his chamber. When he walked in, she was standing in the middle of the room, waiting for him.

"Catherine ..." he whispered. He reached behind him and pulled the heavy curtain down to cover the entrance.

"Vincent ..." she said.

He unconsciously took a step forward.

"Rayís dream, our dream ... theyíve come true."

"Yes ..." Vincent replied.

"Vincent, before ... when we were ..." she paused, still trying to talk about this delicately. "What happened ... how it felt ..."

"Unparalleled ..."

"A dream come true."

"Yes, Catherine ... what you gave me ..." he replied.

She shook her head slightly. "What you gave me ..."

They both smiled shyly and within three quick strides, they were face to face.

"Catherine," he said in a low voice, his hands gripping her upper arms. Desire pulsed between them.

She looked up at him, slightly nodding her head, lost in his eyes.

"Catherine," he said softly, dropping his cheek to hers, nuzzling her again. "I want more of our dream ..."

Vincent growled softly into her ear as he gently lifted her up and carried her to the bed.

Ö

It was nearly a month later when Ray stood with Vincent and Catherine at the drainage tunnel in Central Park.

"Are you sure youíre ready? You could stay until the winter is over, have more time to heal."

"Iím fine, Vincent. Itís time."

Vincent nodded.

"Man, Iím going to miss you ..." Ray confessed, quickly stepping toward Vincent. He hugged her tightly as tears came to his eyes.

"You always have a home here," Vincent whispered to her.

"I know and thank you," Ray replied. Vincent reluctantly released her and she went to hug Catherine.

"It was so great to meet you, Catherine," Ray said, giving her a hug.

"You too, Ray," she replied.

"Okay, well ..."

"Not so fast, Ray. I have something for you ..." Catherine told her.

"Cool. What?"

Catherine reached into her pocket and pulled out a small velvet bag.

"First, my card with all my information on it. If you ever need anything, please just call me."

"I will. Thanks, Catherine," Ray said, reaching out for the bag.

But Catherine held onto it.

"Please promise me you will accept this gift. You have given me everything, more than you will ever know. I want you to have this. Promise me you will accept it."

"Jeez. Okay, Catherine. I promise," Ray replied, taking the bag. When she opened it, her eyes got huge.

"Are you sure, Catherine? This is a lot of money!"

"Please, Ray, I want you to have it. Itís the least I can do."

"Wow. Okay. Thanks," Ray said, stuffing it into her bag.

"Well, I guess this is it ..." she sighed, looking out into the park.

Catherine stepped forward and hugged her again.

"Goodbye. Please be safe. If we can help you with anything, please let us know," Catherine told her.

Ray hugged her back. "Just take care of him. Please ..." Ray whispered.

"I will," Catherine assured her, letting her go again.

"Crap, Vincent. Donít start crying ... youíre going to make me start ..." Ray sighed, as she looked at the ground.

Vincent went to her and gathered her in his arms again. They stayed that way for many moments.

"Iíll miss you," he whispered.

She nodded and stepped back from him. He reached out for her hand and dropped the keychain in it.

"For your journey toward love ..."

Ray smiled and accepted it, and started walking away.

"Where will you go?" Catherine asked.

Ray turned around one last time. "Iím going to find her."

And then she was gone.

Catherine went and put her arms around Vincent.

"Youíre going to miss her ..."

"Yes, Catherine," he admitted, accepting her hug. Suddenly he pulled away from her.

"Catherine, look ..."

In the spot where Ray had last stood, a sunbeam pierced the darkened tunnel.

"Catherine, that has never happened. How is it possible?" he asked.

Catherine took his hand and squeezed it.

"She was truly special, Vincent. She was ..."

"A ray of light," Vincent whispered.

Catherine nodded.

"Come, Vincent, letís go home Ö" she said, starting to head down the tunnel. "Maybe we could stop by the threshold ..."

He blushed, in spite of himself, and set off after her.