They Shall Rise Again
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
Growls reverberated down the dim tunnel, amplified and magnified by the acoustic properties of the rocky passageway into an unearthly sound that send a chill down Catherine’s spine. It sounded like an entire pride of lions was fighting over a kill in the chamber next door. She clenched her teeth, took a deep cleansing breath, and kept walking. "Get a grip, Chandler. He needs you."
"Need" didn’t come close to what she was sensing from Vincent, not by half. His usual gentle innocence was unreachable now, masked by remembered violence and overwhelming self-loathing. All she could feel from him were violent emotions—bitter anger, utter despair, wild frustration—that and sexual arousal, smoldering for years despite his denial and stoked to fever pitch by his emotional breakdown.
Father was right. What she was doing was deadly dangerous. If her presence couldn’t sway Vincent from his present course then there was a good chance that he might kill her. She understood that intellectually—and yet she kept walking, pushed by her own urgency, drawn by his torment through increasingly smaller and smaller passageways, moist and dark.
I’m coming, my love. Hold on.
"Without him, there is nothing," she whispered under her breath. It was true, but repeating the words didn’t stop the fear. Was she too late?
The growls increased in volume, practically vibrating the air around her, and suddenly she was at the threshold of a chamber barely lit by the phosphorescent fungus that lined the tunnel walls this far Below. He was crouched beneath a rocky outcropping on the far wall. She could feel the terror emanating from him. Before she could say anything he launched himself at her, a wild animal with his canines bared and one clawed hand poised over his head to strike.
"Vincent!" she cried out, a frantic desperate shout. He would know her, even in the darkness, even in his madness. He must know her.
She saw the horror on his face at the moment sanity returned to him. He froze mid-pounce, and then his eyes rolled back into his head. She reached for him as he collapsed to the sandy cavern floor, carrying her with him to land across his body. Immediately she laid a hand on his chest, caressing it gently and whispering his name, but he didn’t respond. Suddenly, she recalled what Father had said about Vincent’s heart and the strain on it, and she thought to check his pulse. She pressed her fingers to the side of his neck, but there was nothing.
Denial filled her. He could not be dead. She would not allow it—would not concede it.
"No! No!!" she repeated, shaking him with increasing violence, her tears running unheeded. She put an ear to his chest. The deep thrum of his powerful heart, so comforting to her in times past, was stilled.
"Vincent, you can’t!" she insisted. "You can’t! Not without me!" The situation was impossible, she knew, even if she’d known what to do. There was no ambulance to call, no hospital he could go to. But her heart had other ideas. "I won’t let you!" she cried. "I won’t let you!" She pressed her lips to his, caressed them, whispering denial. And still he lay there, motionless.
With tears streaming down her face, Catherine pulled away to stare down at him. Okay, Chandler, don’t be an idiot. You’ve taken CPR. And there was something she’d read about—something about heart rhythms being reset in the absence of electric shock by a forceful blow to the chest.
Without further thought, she sat back on her heels, clasped both of her hands together in a double fist, and, using her entire body weight, swung both arms in a wide arc to strike her love in the center of his chest with all of her strength. Then she reached down, tilted his head back, and placed her mouth gently over his to breathe for him, a kiss much more useful than her previous frantic efforts. Twice she did this. Twice she watched his chest rise and fall.
Holding her breath, hoping against hope, she felt for a pulse again. She began to sob when she found one, faint but definitely present. But he still wasn’t breathing.
She set aside panic, grief, hope, joy—everything—and focused on counting. Breathe for him every five seconds.
One-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-breathe. One-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-breathe. The fifth time she did it—or maybe it was the eighth, she’d lost count—she felt his lips stir beneath hers. She smiled through her tears. Joy filled her chest until she felt like it might burst.
"Welcome back, love," she whispered into his mouth. Then she pulled back to gaze into his brilliant blue eyes. His pupils were dilated, his breathing blessedly unlabored. She rested a hand on his dusty cheek. Her eyes drank him in.
Vincent stared back at her with a hungry expression. His nostrils flared. She felt a vibration transmitted through her hand where it rested on his cheek. It passed up her arm and into her very bones. He bared his canines and a strange noise began to issue from his mouth. Halfway between a growl and a purr, it awakened something within her, a burning heat best left quiescent. He’d just died in her arms. How could she possibly have such urges at a time like this?
"Vincent? Are you all right?" she whispered. Suddenly she became acutely aware of the darkness surrounding them and of their isolation. The bond between them allowed her to feel a hint of the emotions he was experiencing, and all she felt was his hunger. It wasn’t for food.
Abruptly, he gripped her by both shoulders and rolled, pinning her to the sandy floor with his weight. If it had been anyone else she would have been terrified, would have struggled, perhaps, and fought to get free, but she was so worried about him that it didn’t occur to her to be afraid. He lowered his head and began nuzzling her neck, sniffing deeply as if her scent were the only restorative he needed. He still hadn’t spoken. Catherine closed her eyes and shuddered at the sensation of his softly furred cheek against her skin. When his mouth closed upon the side of her throat she gasped. The pleasure-pain of his sharp teeth pressing against her skin, the rasp of his wet tongue on her pulse point, elicited a moan. Heat blossomed in her belly. The ache between her legs, so long suppressed and firmly ignored, was a hollow pain crying to be filled with his body, with his love. She closed her eyes, firmly pressing her lips together. He was ill. Her physical response was obscene and entirely inappropriate.
"Vincent, love. Father is worried about you." Vincent ignored her. With his mouth buried in the crook of her neck, he reached for the hem of her sweater and pulled up. "You’re ill. Let Father check you…" She gasped, then, suddenly losing the power of speech as his hands made contact with her abdomen. Claws lightly raked her bare skin. She felt a pull, heard a rip, and his warm leathery palms were cupping her bare breasts. His purr became a guttural growl, his hips pressing her into the sand with an urgent grinding motion, and she could feel his growing arousal against her thigh through the layers of fabric separating them. "Vincent!" she gasped. She realized, then, that her gentle poet was not in residence. This Vincent had only one thing on his mind. The thought nearly drove her wild with wanting him, but her grief was just as strong. If she allowed this to happen, what would he think of himself when he recovered? What would he think of her?
"You know I would never refuse you, my love," she pleaded. "But you aren’t well. Please…" She reached up to stroke his head, to cradle it against her in an attempt to soothe him while he ran his tongue behind her left ear, but he would not be soothed. Instead, he pulled away from her, shoved her sweater up to her armpits, and latched on to her right breast with the avidity of a starving infant.
The sweet tug of his lips and tongue upon her nipple drove every other thought from her head, and when he began tugging on the waistband of her sweatpants she shed them without hesitation along with her underwear. On his knees before her, Vincent struggled with the waist ties of his suddenly too-tight trousers, growling in urgent frustration, and so she helped him with those, too. Eagerly.
Still mostly dressed, Vincent gripped her by the hips and flipped her face down in one easy motion. Her trench coat was in the way, and so she shed it. Clad now only in her oversized sweater, Catherine glanced over her shoulder at him. His expression was completely absorbed, his attention entirely captured by the sight of her unclothed body. She craved the sight of him, but there was no time to remove any more clothing. His need was too urgent for that, and she was, after all of her efforts, wholly unable to refuse him.
Tears blinded her, and she turned away. I’m sorry, my love. I’m weak. I’ve failed you.
He reached for her hips, pulled her toward him, and with a possessive growl, sheathed himself in her. The sensation was so exquisite that Catherine nearly reached her climax in that one motion.
"Yes…oh…yes," she gasped. His breath was warm on her bare back, gusting rhythmically over her skin with each of his thrusts. He reached around her to cup one breast in the palm of his hand. She rested her hands on the rocky wall in front of her and pushed back against him. Her gasps blended with his guttural growls. He filled her to the utmost with each firm stroke, seeming to fill every empty part of her at the same time. There was no more grief, no regret, nothing but joy in her, and no room for anything else.
It wouldn’t last long. She knew that and regretted the knowledge. In his current state he was very single-minded. Foreplay was optional. She didn’t care, and even welcomed his directness. They’d waited so long—too long for his sanity, she realized that now. Her climax was so near. She craved it, craved sharing it with him, and so she reached between her legs and rested a hand on the place where she was joined with him. She felt his hot, moist shaft sliding along her fingertips. The heel of her hand rested on her center, her lover’s thrusts providing the impetus that drove her, finally, over the edge along with him.
Her shrill cry nearly drowned out Vincent’s deep roar. He drove into her spasmodically, wildly, claiming her as his own with primitive thoroughness. And then he collapsed upon her.
They lay together on the sand, gasping. Tucked firmly against Vincent back to front, held tightly in the circle of his arms, Catherine felt safe and completely loved. She could sense Vincent’s deep contentment, but she was still afraid to say anything, afraid to break the spell, afraid to discover that he was still not himself.
She took a shuddering breath. No. He was himself, now, not just the civilized part of him that he allowed others to see, but also the wild part, the part he kept hidden from everyone but her. And both parts are mine, she thought with fierce protectiveness.
Catherine tightened her inner muscles, trying to keep him within her, to make the moment last, but, inevitably, she felt him slip away. His breathing smoothed, became calm. His hands, wrapped around her, loosened their grip. Eventually, she could tell that he was sound asleep. Only then did she gently extricate herself from his arms and dress herself.
Reluctantly she rearranged Vincent’s clothing as well; planting a gentle parting kiss on his softly limp and vulnerable member before tucking it back into his trousers. Then she sat beside him stroking his brow. She didn’t really want to call Father and the others even though she knew that she should. He was so beautiful lying there with his luxurious hair spread over his shoulders, like a prince from one the fairy tales he was so fond of reading to the children. His well-loved face was peaceful in sleep.
It wouldn’t be once he woke. She knew that, and dreaded it. She almost wished that he might forget this time, forget what they’d done together. His moral code was so strict, so Victorian sometimes. She’d enjoyed their lovemaking immensely, but Catherine had doubts that she would easily be able to convince him of that.
She heard voices in the corridor beyond, and composed herself. Father and the others were coming. There will be time now, time to deal with anything, she thought, and smiled. My love is alive. Nothing else matters. He is everything.