Desire Fulfilled

J Ecris


“Vincent!” Samantha said sharply. “Vincent, you missed your cue.”

Vincent had not heard Samantha’s words. His feelings were Catherine’s, and his thoughts were terribly confused. When Samantha touched his arm, he gasped and instantly withdrew from her.

Surprised and a little hurt, Samantha repeated, “You missed your cue.”

Enough of Vincent’s conscious mind understood her words to reply, “I’m sorry, Samantha. I must go. Please excuse me.” He got up and left hurriedly, leaving the children puzzling over how to continue their rehearsal.

Vincent went immediately to his chamber. Over the last hour, Catherine’s feelings had become increasingly stronger, until he could no longer set them aside or ignore them. He was aroused. He was confused. What was happening? He tried to make sense of what she was feeling. He paced, concentrating carefully on the emotions carried to him over the bond. Her feelings were most decidedly of a sexual nature, but... not like what he’d felt before. Her feelings of desire, of longing, had traveled along their bond before, sometimes in a trickle, sometimes in a tidal wave.

But this was different. This was... desire fulfilled! Vincent’s breathing was shallow. How could this be?! There was no one in Catherine’s life who.... He would have known if there was someone she felt that way about! Wouldn’t he?

He sat down on the bed, rocking back and forth, his head in his hands, trying to understand. Part of him felt vaguely sick, but another part reveled in sharing these feelings with Catherine. He stopped rocking as her feelings became even more intense. He stopped trying to block out her feelings, and they suddenly washed over him, taking his breath away. A moment later her feelings intensified again, tenfold, and he heard her call to him. Vincent gasped. He trembled. After a few moments, Catherine’s feelings quieted.

Vincent lay back on the bed. He turned on his side, brought up his feet, and lay in a fetal position, stunned. He closed off the bond as thoroughly as he could. He didn’t want Catherine to notice any of his own feelings. The sick feeling had returned. Along with jealously, anguish, rage, sadness, and fear. And after a few moments, Vincent felt ashamed as well. He had always wanted her to find someone who could give her what she needed, the life she deserved. Now that she had, how selfish he was to feel this way. And yet... oh god, how could he bear it?

How could he live without seeing her, without holding her in his arms? But then perhaps she would still want to be his friend. Tears flowed freely now. Would it be so much better to still see her, and know that... that she belonged to another? Oh, Catherine....

Why hadn’t she told him when she was here last night? Perhaps he could have prepared himself for this. Perhaps it might have been less painful. But then perhaps it was worth the pain. He and Catherine had never shared feelings of such intensity. He had thought they never would. It was, at best, bittersweet to share them this way. No, it definitely wasn’t worth the pain.

He had to get away, to run. He left his chamber, bound for the lower tunnels. He stopped when he reached the newest chambers, the ones still under construction. The logical part of his brain asserted itself long enough to tell him that if we was going to expend a lot of energy in an effort to crowd out his feelings, he may as well accomplish something useful in the process. He poured all of his energy into the work, and not until he was near exhaustion did he return to his chamber, falling into bed without even changing his clothes.

***

It was early morning when he awoke suddenly. He’d been dreaming, dreaming of Catherine, and it had been one of those dreams. Satisfying and calming, of course, and completely natural, as Father had explained so many years ago, but disturbing nonetheless. Those dreams always reminded him of things that were better left unconsidered. He cleaned up and changed his clothes.

Vincent spent the next several days wearing himself out with physical labor. He’d asked Father to take his lessons with the children and to offer his apologies for dropping out of their play, and he’d tried hard to avoid conversation of any kind with anyone. His life had begun with Catherine, and he was afraid now that his life was at an end. He could not go to her. And he felt sick and weak with fear whenever he let himself dwell on his feelings. He had kept the bond closed off. He didn’t want his reaction to affect Catherine’s happiness, and he was also afraid of what else he might feel from her.

He’d had two more of the dreams too. What could that mean? They’d always been relatively infrequent before, weeks or months apart. Why did they torment him so frequently now, now when he didn’t want to be reminded of such—‘possibilities’ no longer seemed an appropriate word—impossible dreams. Foolish yearnings.

He sat at his writing table, his journal closed, his pen lying on the table. He wanted the catharsis of releasing his feelings to paper, and yet... writing them would make them more real, and he didn’t think he could bear it. He put his head on his arms on the table. He didn’t know how to escape the despair.

He must have dozed off, for he didn’t notice Father’s presence until Father touched him lightly on the arm.

“I don’t want to talk, Father,” he said at once, sitting up.

Father looked into Vincent’s eyes, his concern obvious. He looked at him for a long moment. “Well, you know where to find me if you change your mind.” He paused, then handed Vincent an envelope. “You have a message.”

Vincent stared at the envelope in Father’s hand. It was Catherine’s handwriting, but he’d known before he saw it that it would be from her. He was afraid to take it, afraid of what it might contain.

“Vincent?” Father said, puzzled. He’d been relatively sure that Vincent’s recent emotional turmoil had Catherine at its center, but he was also certain that Vincent was thoroughly and irrevocably in love with Catherine. What might have happened between them to cause him not to want her note? If he was worried before, now he was overwrought. He put the envelope on the table, and put his arms around Vincent.

Vincent held on to his feelings tightly. He didn’t want his emotional turbulence to upset Father, and he didn’t think he could possibly get the words out anyway. He didn’t return Father’s embrace. Finally, he said, “Thank you for your offer of comfort, Father, but I am not able to accept it right now.” Father withdrew and stepped back.

“Vincent,” Father said quietly, tears gathering in his eyes for his son’s pain. “What troubles you so?”

Vincent couldn’t answer. He was trying to calm the storm raging within him. When he looked down, he found that he was holding Catherine’s envelope. He sighed heavily. “Father?” he asked, “would you do me a favor? Tell me what it says?” He held out the envelope.

Father was stunned again. He took the envelope reflexively. What news was Vincent expecting? By his reaction, one might think he was expecting a Dear John letter. Oh, dear god, no! That would kill him. He opened the envelope. The message was short. Relieved, Father breathed out, only then realizing he’d been holding his breath. “Catherine wants you to meet her at the threshold tomorrow at 7 pm.”

Vincent’s emotional state was such that he couldn’t tell if this made him feel better or worse. “Is that all?” he asked finally.

“Yes,” Father said, deeply troubled. “Vincent, what’s wrong? Please, let me help you.”

Vincent shook his head. “You can’t.” He leaned forward onto the table again, his head on his arms.

Father set the letter on the far side of the table. He stroked Vincent’s head gently several times, then let his hand rest there a moment. “I love you, Vincent,” he managed to say, his voice nearly breaking. “Good night.”

***

Vincent felt like one very large raw nerve as he paced the tunnel near the threshold of Catherine’s subbasement Friday evening. He was nearly an hour early, but he couldn’t wait any more. He’d thrown himself into his work again this morning, but had reminded himself mid-afternoon that he should attend to his personal hygiene. He had let that slip these past few days, along with all the other social niceties. While he was bathing, his stomach reminded him noisily that he’d been neglecting it of late as well, and he forced himself to have something to eat in spite of not being hungry. Afterward, he’d tried his best to meditate and center himself, to prepare himself for whatever would happen tonight.

As he paced, he tried again to calm his feelings, but calm was elusive. What would happen? What would she say? If the worst happened, would he be able to properly quell his feelings? Perhaps he should rehearse a scenario or two. Yes, that was a good idea. He continued pacing, summoning words he thought would be appropriate to Catherine leaving him or telling him she wanted only his friendship. These were painful words, and he didn’t how he would be able to say them without killing his own heart. At last he could think no more on them.

He paced. Perhaps, he thought, he should open the bond, to try to get a sense of Catherine’s feelings. He grappled with this idea for a few moments, before deciding he should indeed proceed. He squeezed his eyes shut, took a deep breath, and slowly opened the bond. Irritation. Frustration. Hmm. Catherine sometimes had these feelings at work. Was she not yet home? He examined his directional sense of her. No, she was home. Vincent wasn’t sure what her feelings meant, but their simple familiarity, their normalcy, was a comfort.

He paced, somewhat calmer now. Suddenly, Catherine’s feelings changed to comfort and relaxation. Vincent stopped pacing for a moment. These feelings were familiar too. She was probably in the shower. He didn’t allow himself to mentally paint the image. He let Catherine’s growing calm encompass him, and he started to feel better than he had in days. His chest was suddenly less constricted, and he began to breathe more normally.

Still, he paced, but more slowly and with frequent pauses. He began to feel Catherine’s anticipation and joy. She nearly always felt this way when she was on her way Below. Dare he hope? She had not yet begun her descent. He sensed in her a moment of indecision, then suddenly she closed off the bond. What could this mean? What didn’t she want him to know?

He paced more vigorously again. It had to be nearly 7 by now. He sighed, and tried once again to calm himself. Suddenly he stopped his pacing. The bond had opened slightly, and what he felt... he groaned. It was happening again. She was... he couldn’t put words to it, and refused to let himself picture it. He leaned against the wall. “No....” he whispered plaintively.

Catherine’s feelings grew stronger, and as they did the bond opened wider. Vincent slid down the wall to the floor, leaning forward to put his head against his raised knees and covering his head with his arms. He was in complete despair. How would his world ever be right again?

As Catherine’s feelings peaked, he once again felt her calling out to him. No! he thought. How could she be with someone else and think of him? This was torture. Abruptly, Catherine’s feelings changed again. Joy and anticipation had returned, stronger now, and in a short time he sensed her approach. She was in the elevator.

He deliberately opened himself to her feelings, letting them blot out his own. He sat up straight and wiped the tears from his face. He took several deep breaths, trying to stop himself from shaking. He forced himself to his feet, told himself to be strong, that Catherine’s happiness was of paramount importance, and that he should say or do nothing to cause Catherine unhappiness. He focused on her feelings again, still anticipation and joy, still growing stronger as she approached. He heard her on the ladder and told himself to go to her. But he could not. He remained where he was, leaning against the wall, trying to concentrate on remaining calm.

Catherine finished her descent, a little surprised he wasn’t waiting to help her down. She spotted him in the shadows, her face blossoming into an enormous smile, and hurried over to him. She wrapped her arms around him and pressed her cheek against his chest. A small moan escaped her. She realized a second later that Vincent had not returned her embrace. Reluctantly, she released her own hold and stepped back. She found his hands and took them in hers. “Vincent, what’s wrong?” she asked.

Her feelings had overwhelmed him when she’d embraced him, and he’d had to fight to keep from completely losing himself. Catherine was filled with love and joy and peace and something else, something physical. These feelings were clearly directed at him, and he didn’t understand. He stared down at her. She looked slightly flushed, and there were small beads of perspiration at her hairline. At a loss for what to say, Vincent decided to remain silent; he dropped his eyes.

All of Catherine’s internal alarms were ringing. “Vincent, what’s wrong? Has something happened? Is someone ill or...” she inhaled sharply.

Vincent looked up again. “No, nothing like that,” he said softly. “Everyone’s fine.”

“Thank god,” Catherine said, relieved. She paused, looking into Vincent’s face. He dropped his eyes again, unwilling to meet her scrutiny. “Vincent, what’s wrong? Please tell me.”

Vincent removed his hands from Catherine’s, and put them behind him, against the wall. Finally, in a very quiet voice, he ventured, “Catherine, you didn’t have to come, if there is somewhere else you’d rather be.”

Catherine was completely dumbfounded, and it took her a moment to come up with a coherent reply. “Vincent, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. You know that.”

“Catherine, why are you here? You should be with him.” Again, Vincent spoke softly, evenly. He did not raise his eyes to meet hers.

The distance Vincent had put between them was almost physically painful, and his words made no sense to Catherine. “Who?” was all she could manage to say.

There was a long pause before Vincent replied, “Catherine... I feel your feelings. I know you have... taken a lover. Go to him. Be with him. He can give you what I cannot.”

Catherine was shocked, but at least now she understood his reaction. She shook her head and placed her hands on his chest. Vincent breathed out heavily and turned his head aside.

Oh god, she’d never meant to hurt him. “Vincent, I’m sorry.”

He inhaled sharply, her words seeming to confirm the worst. He struggled to keep control of himself.

“Vincent, it’s not what you think! There is no one else! You are my only lover.”

These words tore at his heart. Now she was lying to him. He was in anguish.

“Vincent, I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you.”

“You owe me no apologies,” Vincent interrupted.

“Please, let me explain!”

“You owe me no explanations, and I don’t want to hear them.”

“Vincent, you must!” She gripped his vest in her hands. “You’ve misunderstood the situation! You must give me a chance to explain! Please!”

He leaned his head back against the wall in resignation and sighed. “Very well.” His eyes were closed.

Catherine removed her hands from him. He obviously did not welcome her touch. She had never been so mortified or disappointed in herself. She had been selfish, and she had deeply hurt the person she cared more about than anyone else in her life. Tears began to fall. “Vincent... I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I...” She took a deep breath and lowered her eyes, afraid of what she might see in his eyes during her confession.

“Vincent, it’s been a long time,” she said very quietly. She paused. “Since before I met you.” Another pause. “This has been the longest dry spell of my life, and...” she buried her face in her hands. “It was starting to make me a little crazy,” she squeaked. She tried to compose herself better, and removed her face from her hands. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I...” She took another deep breath. This was easily the hardest thing she’d ever had to tell him. “Vincent, there is no one else. There is only you.” She paused. “And me. I’m so very sorry I’ve hurt you. I never meant to. I love you; I never want to hurt you. But I’ve... well, I couldn’t stand it any more and I... I’ve...” She took another deep breath. Oh, just say it! He hasn’t led that sheltered a life! “Vincent, I’ve... I’ve taken up...” She sighed again and very quietly said, “masturbation.” There, it was out. She sighed again. What would he think?

Vincent opened his eyes at her last word. It was certainly not what he’d expected. He was surprised, but relieved. This was much better than he’d hoped.

Catherine chanced a glance upward, and seeing that Vincent did not seem horrified, she said, “I’m sorry. I’m weak.” She looked back down. “Saturday night was so beautiful and so special. I went home and couldn’t sleep all night. And finally I just couldn’t stand it any more. I... I tried to keep it from you, but I guess I didn’t do a very good job. Tonight I... I wanted to spend the afterglow in your arms. It was selfish, I admit.” She looked up again. “Please forgive me for hurting you. I’m so sorry, Vincent.”

Vincent chided himself for his own selfishness. He had promised himself earlier that Catherine’s happiness was first priority, and now he had let her apologize to him repeatedly, when she hadn’t even done anything “wrong”; when even if she had, she was not obligated to him in any way. He had no right to these apologies. He parted from the wall at last, wrapping his arms about Catherine. She reciprocated immediately. “There is nothing to forgive, Catherine. I apologize for jumping to conclusions.”

“Oh, Vincent! I love you!” She held him tightly, relieved, and then, after a minute, began to try to recapture the feelings she’d had earlier, briefly, when she’d first hugged him. Then she did something she had never done before. She deliberately channeled her feelings of desire through the bond. He had thought there was another man, and she wanted to make it very clear to him that all of her passionate feelings were for him. She moaned softly. Now that he knew her feelings, how could she ever hide them again?

Vincent had put his mouth to Catherine’s hair at ‘I love you.’ Everything was right with the world again. But Catherine’s sudden outpouring of passionate feelings caught him off guard, and her feelings almost instantly became his own. He gasped, and pushed Catherine away, afraid of what might happen. He held her at arm’s length, his hands on her shoulders. He shook his head slowly.

“I want you, Vincent.”

He continued shaking his head, looking at her unbelievingly.

“I do, Vincent. I want you. I can’t say it any more clearly. I’ve tried to be patient. I’ve tried to... hide my feelings from you, but... Vincent... I can’t hide them any more. I can’t... I can no longer deny what I feel for you! I want you. I need you. Please.”

“Catherine... you mustn’t.” He lowered his head, his hair obscuring his face. “I can’t. It’s impossible.”

She shook her head, and then for a moment she wondered.... “Vincent... you don’t mean... you can’t?”

Her eyes were wide, and Vincent felt her fear and denial. That she should have such feelings for him! It shouldn’t be! Tell her that is what you mean, he told himself. Say it. Say it’s true. But some proud masculine part of him wouldn’t have it. He shook his head. “It’s not that,” he said softly.

Catherine was filled with relief, and suddenly she was in his arms again. Now how had that happened? he wondered. He had been holding her apart from him deliberately. Catherine held him tight, her arms beneath his cloak. He was astonished that she felt so... possessive! He felt like he was drowning in desire, his own combined with hers. No! This mustn’t happen! He pushed her away again, again holding her at arm’s length. “Catherine, no!” he said sharply, very nearly shouting.

He had never spoken to her in that tone of voice; she was hurt. She looked into Vincent’s face, her desire dissolving into sadness. She took a step back, and another. She felt... forlorn. She continued backing away until she was against the opposite wall. She turned and clung to the wall. It, at least, would not push her away. What would become of them? Tears flowed down her face.

“Catherine, I’m sorry.” Vincent was miserable at having caused her this pain, and he longed to go to her, to comfort her, but he dared not touch her.

Catherine didn’t know how to reply. Without thinking, she used the words Vincent had used moments earlier. “You owe me no apologies.”

Vincent was stung. Had she felt this way when he had said that? Of course he owed her an apology! He loved her more than life, and he had hurt her. He suddenly found his face wet. He had thought before that Catherine was not obligated to him in any way, but that was a lie. Their bond, whatever it was, wherever it came from, obligated each of them to the other.

Catherine turned and leaned against the wall, suddenly bone tired. She slid down the wall, too tired to hold herself up any more. She wrapped her arms around her knees. She had bared her soul to him, and he had pushed her away.

He took a few steps toward her. “Catherine... please understand. I cannot give you what you want.”

Catherine looked up into his eyes. “Vincent, I understand that you can and you choose not to.” She put her head down on her knees.

Vincent began to pace. He was at a loss for what to do, what to say. So many thoughts swirled through his head, he thought he would explode. His frustration mounting, finally he stopped his pacing, turned to Catherine, and asked, “Catherine, how can you want this?” He held his hands at his sides, palms facing her.

Catherine looked at him and sighed. “Oh, Vincent.... How can I not?” Her eyes were full of love. “Vincent... you are... the kindest, gentlest, most sensitive and caring man I have ever known. You are patient and loving and thoughtful and so... unassuming and undemanding and unselfish.” Her tears were falling again. “Vincent you live in my heart. You are my soul. I feel you with my mind. How could I not want to join with your body as well?” She wiped away the tears.

Her poetic answer was not, somehow, the answer Vincent had expected. He began to speak, to protest, but Catherine held up a hand to stop him.

“Let me finish,” she said. “Vincent, I am attracted to you. I lose myself in your eyes, they’re so incredibly lovely. I love your hair, so wild, yet so soft. I love the shape of your face. I love the feel of your muscles against my body.” At this her eyes caressed his legs, his arms, his chest. “Although you wear so many layers of clothing, it’s rare that I get to actually feel that. I love the feel of your fur against my skin. It feels so... oh god... wonderful. My heart skips a beat every time I see you, Vincent. You’re so special, so beautiful. And your voice! Oh my god, sometimes it still sends shivers through me. You have the most incredible voice, Vincent. And your lips...” she sighed, “call to me. I long to kiss you, Vincent. Your mouth is... sensual and exotic and so beautiful. So many times I have almost kissed you, and I stopped because I thought you didn’t want it.

“I don’t think I can do that any more, Vincent, now that I’ve told you my feelings. How can we go back? How can we pretend our love is pure and chaste?” She paused, momentarily struck by a possibility. “Well, maybe yours is, Vincent. Maybe you’re not attracted to me as I am to you.”

“Catherine!” he interjected. “How could you possibly think I am not attracted to you!?”

“Because you hide it so well. You’re so... noble and chivalrous and gentlemanly. And I admire those qualities, Vincent, I really do, but...” Her eyes clouded with tears again, and she wiped them away. “Vincent, you hold me in your arms, and—and incidentally, you’re the best hugger ever—and you hold my hand, and you’ve even kissed the top of my head, but Vincent...” She sighed. “My own father was more physical with me than you are! What are you so afraid of?”

He looked away and sighed deeply. Could she really not know? He began to pace again. What could he say to her? How could he mend their relationship? This was not the conversation he’d prepared himself for. “Catherine,” he said softly, turning to face her, “if I ever hurt you, I could never forgive myself.”

Catherine sighed again. “Vincent, you could never hurt me. You never have in the past. Why would you think that?”

“Catherine, you have seen what these hands can do!”

“Yes, I have,” she said tenderly. “I’ve seen those hands tuck children into bed. I’ve seen them touch my face and hold my hand. I’ve seen them give pats of encouragement. I’ve seen them caress my rose. I’ve seen them carefully turn the pages of ancient books. I’ve seen them help and nurture and love in a thousand ways, Vincent.”

“You’ve seen them kill, Catherine.”

“Do you think less of me because I have killed, Vincent?”

“Catherine, you were being shot at! You were only defending yourself! How could I think less of you for that?”

“But you expect me to think less of you for doing the same.”

“Yes, but...” He resumed pacing, trying to sort out his thoughts and feelings.

Catherine waited patiently, watching him, devouring his body with her eyes. After a few minutes, she said in a low voice, “I can think of better outlets for all of that nervous energy, Vincent.”

He stopped pacing and stood very still. Catherine instantly regretted her words. She’d thought them and they’d just tumbled out of their own accord.

“Catherine, I think you should go home. We can continue this conversation when we’ve both had time to think.”

“No,” Catherine said flatly. “I’m not leaving. We need to resolve this, and running away from the problem won’t help.”

Vincent began to pace again, out of habit. He was even more agitated than before. His breathing was heavy, and when he caught Catherine’s eye in mid-pace, he remembered her remark and stopped pacing once more. He couldn’t contain his feelings any more. He lifted his face to the ceiling and roared.

“I feel the same way, Vincent,” Catherine said softly. He glanced at her briefly, and bolted down the tunnel.

Catherine sighed again. She put her head to her knees. She could wait.

***

Vincent ran. He told himself again to do something productive with his energy, but he couldn’t take his own advice this time. Catherine’s words kept coming back to him. He tried to put the thoughts out of his mind, running faster. He ran for what seemed hours, and finally, exhausted, he stopped at the Mirror Pool to rest. His thoughts were calmer now. He lay back on the cool floor.

She had said such beautiful things to him tonight. Oh, he loved her so. Her offer was so tempting, but it wasn’t right. They were so different. She was so delicate and petite and beautiful, and he was...well, he didn’t know for sure if he was even in her species. And yet she was willing to completely ignore this. She would overlook his violent side. She would point out his gentler nature. Ahh, what had he done to deserve her in his life?

What would he say to her when next he saw her? Would she still be upset with him? It had been rude of him to run off, but he had needed the physical release. He hoped she would understand. How would they get back to the way things were? Catherine was right; that was a problem. Was it possible to go back? Going forward hardly seemed an option, and staying where they were... was too painful, for both of them.

Vincent’s thoughts continued in this vein for some time, going round and round, not reaching any conclusions. Abruptly he started to feel cold, and he got up and began walking back to his chamber. He stopped though, as he realized that he felt cold when he was not. Catherine? He followed his sense of her, finding her exactly where he’d left her, still sitting on the floor.

“Catherine!” She looked up at him, and he pulled her to her feet and enfolded her in his arms, wrapping the cloak around her. She was freezing. He chided her, “Catherine, what were you thinking, sitting here in the cold all this time?!”

“I was thinking that if I waited long enough, eventually you’d come back to me. And you did.” Her teeth chattered, and she luxuriated in his warmth.

“Catherine,” Vincent asked, “if you wanted to speak to me again, why didn’t you wait for me in my chamber?”

“Under the circumstances,” she replied quietly. “I thought entering your world might be an invasion of your privacy.”

“Catherine, if there is ever a choice between invading my privacy or putting your health in danger, please, invade my privacy. Please.”

“Ok,” she said quietly.

”Catherine, is there any possibility of my persuading you to go home and have a warm bath?”

“I’m not leaving, Vincent. Not until we’ve figured out where we go from here.” She shuddered, and she thought it had nothing to do with being cold. Vincent tucked the cloak more tightly around her, holding her more closely. He put his cheek to the top of her head. It was so safe and comfortable in his arms.

“Vincent,” Catherine said softly, “I owe you an apology. I said something earlier that wasn’t true. My father never held me as intimately as this. I’m sorry for my hyperbole. And thank you.”

Vincent didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t sure this was a good thing. He responded by kissing the top of her head. After a moment, he suggested, “Catherine, we should get you out of this drafty tunnel.” He released his hold on her, removing his cloak and placing it around her shoulders in the same motion. He raised the cloak’s hood and pulled the cloak more tightly around her, giving her the edges of the cloak to hold closed. He briefly considered scolding her again for her behavior, but decided against it. He looked into her eyes, and what he saw reminded him of her earlier words about not being able to resist his lips. He quickly stepped to Catherine’s side, putting his arm around her shoulder and urging her forward.

They walked in silence, the path familiar. Catherine was pleased that he’d brought her to his chamber. She was afraid he’d want to send her to a guest chamber; perhaps he’d realized she wouldn’t have accepted that. Now that they were here though, what would happen? She didn’t want to argue with him any more tonight. She wanted to fall asleep in his arms, but she didn’t think he’d permit it. Vincent had apparently not planned in advance what they would do when they arrived here either, as he was pointedly looking at everything in the room but her.

She sat down on the bed. “Vincent, will you read to me?” She thought the familiar activity would put them both at ease.

“Certainly,” Vincent agreed, grateful she wasn’t asking for more. “What are you in the mood for?” Oh, dear, he thought, that wasn’t the right thing to say. He amended, “I mean, what would you like me to read?”

Catherine tried to hide her smile with her hand. “Oh, I don’t know, Vincent. You have excellent taste in literature. Surprise me.”

Vincent selected an old book of fairy tales. She’d heard him read from it to the children. It was a favorite bedtime story book. And yet it also contained some very erotic symbolism, which naturally always went way over the children’s heads. She had once walked in on Vincent and one of the older children, who having recently spotted the references, was trying to convince Vincent the book was not appropriate for children, as if Vincent had never noticed these things himself. Vincent had replied that young children were incapable of noticing such symbolism, that they only heard its literal sense, and that the stories were thus perfectly suitable to young children. He had finally asked, “Did you find the story in any way inappropriate when you were younger?” The argument ended when the boy admitted he had not.

Catherine brought her attention back to the story. She was beginning to feel sleepy. She wondered idly if he’d chosen this book for its effectiveness as a bedtime story. She opened her eyes when Vincent stopped reading, not knowing when she’d closed them.

“Lie down, Catherine. You’re tired.” She began to lean over, but he stopped her. “Under the covers. I’m afraid you might still be chilled.” She stood, and he turned down the covers. She climbed into the bed, still keeping the cloak about her. Vincent removed her shoes. She moved to the far side of the bed, but tried not to get her hopes up too much. Anyway, she was too sleepy to think much about it. She fell asleep within moments.

***

She was slightly disoriented when she awoke, but all became clear when she opened her eyes to the stained glass window. She turned over, hoping to find Vincent had joined her, but no. He was asleep at the table, using his arm for a pillow. She sighed.

She reluctantly rose from the warm bed, as she needed to visit the restroom. She was carefully quiet, not wanting to wake Vincent. She wondered if he might be cold. She took the quilt from the bed and draped it gently over him. She wasn’t ready to give up the cloak. Wearing his clothes might be the greatest intimacy he would ever allow between them, she thought wistfully. Then she chided herself. She had slept in his bed. He had even insisted she sleep under the covers. That was a new intimacy between them, even though he’d had a practical reason for suggesting it. Hmm. She wondered if she could come up with a practical reason for them to make love. Except for creating a child, she couldn’t think of one, and she thought that would probably be a whole separate struggle if the time ever came.

After her visit to the restroom, she decided to take a little walk. She wound up in the kitchen, the noises and smells drawing her there. “Good morning, William.” She smiled.

“Catherine! You’re here early this morning,” William remarked.

“I spent the night.”

William did the slightest of double takes, which Catherine nonetheless noticed. She realized she was still wearing Vincent’s cloak, and that it could look like... something more had happened. “Are you wondering if that was a euphemism?” she teased.

William raised his eyebrows, knowing it was none of his business, but as long as Catherine was teasing, he teased back. “Was it?”

She sighed, the teasing gone. “Sadly, not.” She paused. “William, is there anything I can help you with?”

“No, I have everything under control.”

“Please? I think it might help me to keep my hands busy.”

“Well, all right. That dough over there is just about ready to be made into loaves.”

Catherine removed the cloak, washed her hands, and punched down the dough. Making bread was something she hadn’t done since she was a child. She kneaded and separated and made the dough into loaves, a host of pleasant childhood memories temporarily displacing more recent ones. She was working on shaping the last loaf when she drifted back to the present and realized her loaf was a bit on the narrow side and too long and she would have to try again. But she paused with the dough in her hands, noticing for the first time that it was warm, like skin, and this particular loaf rather resembled a portion of the male anatomy she’d been missing of late. She sighed, dismissing the thought, shaping the dough back into a ball and starting over.


 

“William,” she asked, on a whim, “Can I ask you something? If you think it’s too personal, you certainly don’t have to answer, and I won’t be upset or anything.”

The way she’d phrased the request made William a bit apprehensive, and he shrugged.

“Have you ever seen Vincent naked?”

That was not the question he’d expected. “Uh... yes...” he answered hesitantly. “Not often, and not recently.”

“Is he...? Does he have...? I mean... is there any reason, from what you’ve seen, that he and I wouldn’t be able to...?” Her behavior was scandalous. She wouldn’t finish the question. “I’m sorry, William.” She shook her head. “I shouldn’t—”

William interrupted, “He has the usual equipment.”

Catherine blushed and smiled. “Thank you. I’m sorry, William. I shouldn’t have asked such a thing. I don’t know what came over me. Please forgive me.” She placed the last loaf into a pan.

“It’s all right, Catherine. There are a lot of people praying for you and Vincent. Hoping. You’re such a cute couple. Some people think you and Vincent are already... well, you know. And more than a few people are expecting the two of you to give us children some day.”

Catherine smiled: William had validated her feelings. “Does anyone ever mention any of this to Vincent?”

“Oh, no!” William shook his head. “Course not!”

“Well, I sure wish someone would. Vincent likes to use the word ‘impossible’ when he refers to such things. Maybe if he realized that I’m not the only one who can imagine it, he’d be a little more open to the idea himself.” She sighed again and went to the sink to wash.

“Catherine, will you be staying Below today?”

“I expect so. Why?”

“Well, Vincent hasn’t exactly been himself the past few days. He’s been up early, working like a fiend all day until he’s too exhausted to do anything but fall into bed. He doesn’t talk to anyone. Father’s taken over his lessons. And he’s hardly eaten. It’s not healthy. I know Vincent is strong, and I probably shouldn’t worry about him. But... I would hate to see anything happen to him. I was thinking maybe you could get him to eat something.”

Oh god, what had she put him through? “Thank you, William, for letting me know, for everything. I’ll see that he eats.” She put the cloak back on and returned to Vincent’s chamber.

***

Vincent was still asleep at the table. On the one hand Catherine hated to wake him, but on the other, he couldn’t be comfortable. “Vincent?” she said softly as she touched his shoulder. He was instantly awake and as he sat up, the quilt fell to the floor. He glanced at it.

“I covered you before I went out a little while ago. Vincent, come to bed. You’re going to be sore from sleeping like that.”

He shook his head slightly.

“You have the bed then, and I’ll take a turn reading, all right?”

Vincent climbed into bed after removing his boots, and settled in near the edge, facing her. She spread the quilt over him. She pulled the chair close to the bed and put her feet up, burrowing them under the covers and closer to Vincent. A little intimidated, he moved to the far side of the bed, which was just what she wanted. She stretched her legs out and began to read. It wasn’t long before Vincent seemed asleep, but she kept reading, making her voice softer and softer. Finally, she started skipping parts and adding in sentences that weren’t in the story. Vincent took no notice, and she concluded he was really asleep. She put the book down, removed the cloak and her jacket, and ever so gently slipped into bed next to him. Mmmm, he was so warm. She snuggled a little closer and put her head on his shoulder. It wasn’t long before she was asleep again as well.

***

Vincent awoke to such a strong sense of Catherine that he whispered her name before he was fully awake. He was startled to hear a soft noise of acknowledgment near his ear. His eyes flew open and he turned his head to find Catherine’s face next to his. He breathed out slowly, and smiled slightly. He thought he should be outraged, or at least mildly exasperated, but he felt neither.

He felt... completely at peace. This was heavenly, having her so near. He loved to watch her sleep. Suddenly he was overcome by a need to hold her. He turned to face her, slipped an arm carefully beneath her, and gently pulled her to him. He kissed the top of her head. She smelled lovely, as usual. He relaxed into the feel of her body against his. He sighed. This was bliss.

If holding her sleeping body could feel this pleasant, what was it going to feel like when they made love?

Vincent had shocked himself. Going to? Going to?! Had he really phrased it that way? He had. How had that happened? Wasn’t this still just a possibility he was considering?

Yes. He had made no conscious decision about taking that step.

And yet... holding her in his arms.... It felt so... so right, so natural. Some deep instinct told him there was nothing to fear. He rubbed his mouth gently against her hair, planting further small kisses here and there. He stroked her back, her shoulders.

“Mmmmm.” Catherine emitted a half-asleep moan of pleasure.

“Good morning, Catherine,” Vincent said softly.

Catherine didn’t open her eyes, but a smile spread across her face as she turned it upwards toward Vincent’s. “Morning,” she said dreamily. Catherine was fairly certain this was really real, and not just a dream, but she was afraid to open her eyes all the same.

“Catherine, you said I could have the bed and you would read.”

Uh-oh, she thought. “Mmmm. You fell asleep, and I was cold. And sleepy. And lonely. Don’t you think this is nice, Vincent?” She wasn’t completely awake yet, or she might have realized by the way he was holding her that the question was unnecessary. Still, it turned out to be worth asking just for the answer.

“I do.”

Those particular words uttered in his voice were enough to make her completely melt. She moaned softly, and moved her right arm to Vincent’s back. She began to tremble.

“Catherine?”

She didn’t want to answer. She was afraid he was about to send her away, or disappear himself.

“Catherine?” he repeated.

She sighed. “What?”

“Open your eyes. Please.”

She moaned again softly. “If you promise this won’t turn out to be a dream.”

“I promise, Catherine.”

She could hear humor in his voice. He couldn’t be too angry with her. She made a face, and opened one eye to see Vincent smiling. She opened her other eye and lost the silly face. “What makes you smile, Vincent?”

“You. Catherine...” He looked into her eyes. “I love you.”

“Oh, Vincent...” She felt the beginnings of tears, but she didn’t want to cry. She moved her hand to his face. “I love you.” Vincent turned his head and kissed the fleshy part of her hand below the thumb. She inhaled sharply, and looked at him longingly.

Vincent leaned toward her to gently kiss her. He pulled back to see her face. She hadn’t opened her eyes, but breathed softly through her mouth, her lips parted. He kissed her again, daring to run his tongue along her lower lip. She moaned. He kissed her more deeply. Her mouth opened wider and her tongue met his. Her moans grew louder. She tugged at his vest with one hand and gripped his arm with the other.

Vincent broke the kiss, hesitant, not opening his eyes. Catherine exhaled into his mouth. He was lost. He kissed her anew, more passionately still.

Catherine wanted him so much, she thought she would die if he turned away and denied her. She longed to undo his clothing, to touch him everywhere, to feel his skin next to hers. She shuddered and moaned again. It was all she could do to hold back and let him set the pace.

Vincent rose on one elbow while at the same time rolling Catherine onto her back and then moving to partially cover her body with his. Catherine gasped, and as he kissed her again, she wrapped her arms around him. She couldn’t stop her hands from burrowing under his vest. She needed to be closer to him. Her moans continued; she didn’t think she could stop them if she tried. Oh, god! Oh, please!

Vincent stopped again. The kissing was wonderful, but he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do next. “Catherine, I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Oh my god, how can you say that? You’re doing wonderfully so far.” The desire in her eyes, and through the bond, was unmistakable.

Catherine wondered if perhaps she had been wrong in thinking she should let him set the pace. She was the experienced one; perhaps he wanted a little guidance. “Vincent,” she said, tugging at his vest, “can we take this off?”

He looked at her shyly and dropped his eyes. “If you like.”

“Oh, yes!” She untied the lacing and loosened it. She thought she could feel Vincent’s eyes caressing her face, and when she looked up, that’s what she found. She smiled. “I love you.” She pulled the vest upward, and Vincent rose to his knees to pull it over his head. Oh, what a lovely view! Her eyes raked his body.

The vest removed, Vincent towered over Catherine. He suddenly felt very awkward. Catherine smiled again and reached her arms toward him. He returned to her embrace, and sighed with pleasure at the feel of Catherine’s fingers on his back through the thin fabric of his shirt. Catherine moaned again. “Can we take this off too?” she asked softly, her voice husky.

Vincent found this slightly amusing. He looked into Catherine’s eyes, his own twinkling, and said, “I thought perhaps we could remove an article of your clothing next.”

Catherine was clearly thrilled at this idea. Her eyes and mouth opened wider in surprise, and she said, “Oh... please.” Her breathing quickened.

She had apparently missed the humor, but no matter. Vincent began unbuttoning her blouse, pleasing them both. Catherine’s chest rose and fell heavily. Vincent’s anticipation grew as he glimpsed slivers of her skin. He finished all the visible buttons, and gently pulled at the blouse where it was tucked into her pants. She moaned again, and began to squirm out of the blouse, finally throwing it at the chair.

Vincent’s eyes roved over her body. “Can we take this off too?” he asked, touching the strap of her bra.

This time she caught the humor. She smiled and said mischievously, “Ok, but that shirt’s coming off next.”

“Agreed.” He smiled.

Catherine arched her back, put her hands behind her and removed the bra, aiming it at the chair as well, and not caring if it got there. She was intent on watching Vincent’s face. She could almost feel his eyes on her. She put her arms above her head to provide him unrestricted access to her breasts. “Touch me?” she whispered. “Please?” She tried again to fight down her wild desires.

Vincent breathed out heavily. “Catherine... you are so beautiful.” He couldn’t believe this was happening. He had never thought to receive such an invitation. Very carefully, very gently he touched Catherine’s stomach with the back of his hand and slid it upward until his finger barely touched the lower curve of her breast. She gasped and moaned. Quickly, before he lost his nerve, he moved his hand to cup her breast. She cried out. For an instant Vincent was alarmed, but he realized through the bond that this was a cry of pleasure, not of pain. Encouraged, he squeezed gently, eliciting another moan. So soft, and yet firm, the feel of her breast in his hand was irresistibly pleasurable. He thought he could touch her this way forever.

Noticing the other breast, he turned his attention to it, squeezing gently, and was rewarded with another moan of pleasure. He took the nipple between his thumb and forefinger, rubbing gently.

“Oh god,” she whimpered, “Vincent!”

He kissed her again, still continuing his gentle exploration of her breasts. Catherine kissed him hungrily, almost greedily. Her fingers found his shirt buttons and began undoing them. Vincent got the impression, through the bond and also from her actions, that her needs were immediate. He pulled away from her and said, "Catherine, I'm sorry this is not progressing as quickly as you would like."

She was surprised, and it took her a moment to form a reply. She took his face in her hands. "Vincent, I don't want you apologizing for that." She paused, considering her actions of a moment ago. "Should I have checked with you before opening those buttons?"

"No,” he said dismissively. “We agreed the shirt would be next.” More intently, he said softly, “Catherine, I feel your urgency.... I'm sorry I cannot..."

Catherine put her finger to his lips, and she shook her head slightly. "Vincent, I have feelings for you that I can't control, or hide from you, under the circumstances. And even if I could hide them, I don't think that would be a good idea. But please don't think I want you to rush. What you're doing is..." She sighed gently. "wonderful. If you feel my urgency, you must also know how much I'm enjoying this.”

He smiled shyly. “Yes...”

Catherine returned the smile. “Vincent, I love you. I love you just the way you are. I wouldn’t change a thing. Your natural pace suits me just fine.”

Vincent blushed and was at a loss for words.

There was a silence between them which Catherine thought might become awkward if left to its own devices. She didn't let it. “May I open the rest of those buttons?”

“As you wish, Catherine.”

She finished the remaining buttons, and pulled the shirt from his pants, suppressing another moan. She put her hands to his chest, caressing, exploring. “Oh, Vincent.” His soft fur felt wonderfully sensual. She was anticipating again, and she told herself to stay in the present moment, not to rush him. She moved her hands to his back, under the shirt, caressing and pulling him closer. When their bodies touched, she gasped and moaned again. Her breathing was ragged.

Vincent was surprised, flattered, and pleased that Catherine was so enjoying his body. Her feelings were almost overwhelming. A groan escaped him, and he felt Catherine’s pleasure increase. He sought her mouth again, losing himself in her kiss. He carefully reached beneath her to hold her tightly.

Catherine moaned again, the kiss continuing. Oh, so long she’d wanted this! To feel his mouth against hers, his tongue dancing with hers, the taste of him unlike anyone else. She stroked his back gently, delighted by the firm warmth of his muscles, exploring every curve. She pulled the shirt up to his shoulders so it wouldn’t be in the way.

Vincent broke the kiss finally, and proceeded to press small kisses to her cheek, her nose, her forehead, her temple, her cheek again. Catherine turned her head to offer her neck, and Vincent accepted it gratefully. She gasped. Vincent couldn’t decide if his own feelings were more pleasurable or Catherine’s reactions bombarding him through the bond. Since they were inextricably linked, it scarcely mattered.

As Vincent attended to Catherine’s neck, her caresses of his back changed to long, firm strokes, both hands beginning at his shoulders and pressing downward, savoring the feel of his muscles. Then she would quickly return her hands to their starting point, trailing her fingers gently along his spine to begin again, with each stroke daring to go lower, to feel more of his buttocks beneath her fingers. Finally, yielding to temptation, the stroking of his back ended when she grasped his buttocks firmly.

Vincent gasped as he rose to look at her. “Catherine!” His eyes were wide.

“No?” she asked gently. She released the squeeze, and changed to soft caresses. “Better?” She slid one hand gently up his back to rest on his shoulder. She stilled the hand on his bottom and waited for his reaction. His eyes journeyed across her face, lingering on her mouth for a long moment, then traveled around the room, and when they finally returned to her eyes, he said, very softly, “Catherine, would you put out the lights?”

Slowly, she smiled. “With pleasure, Vincent.” Vincent turned and sat up, removing his shirt. Catherine watched, and then got up to blow out the candles. Before she did the last one, she picked up a chair and carried it to the doorway, blocking the path.

“What are you doing, Catherine?”

“Impeding the progress of anyone who might happen by.” She disappeared into the tunnel very briefly, squeezing past the chair, and the dim light was extinguished. She returned to the room, blew out the last candle, grateful for the dim light of the stained glass window, and slipped back into bed. She shivered. “I got a little cold, Vincent. You’ll have to warm me up.” She smiled as she slid under the covers and into his arms.

“With pleasure, Catherine.” He smiled in return, before burying his face in her neck and stroking the soft skin of her back.

“Mmmm.” Catherine leaned forward to kiss his shoulder. Vincent resumed kissing her neck, his mouth becoming more insistent. Catherine continued placing small kisses on his furry shoulder, the delightful differentness of him assailing her senses.

Vincent’s mouth on her neck opened wide and she felt his tongue and teeth against her skin. She gasped and left off her own kisses, too overwhelmed with pleasure to even be able to move.

Vincent was enthralled with this newfound method of pleasing Catherine. Her happiness was important to him, but up to now he felt that he’d had very little ability, much less opportunity, to make her happy. Catherine’s mounting pleasure urged Vincent’s own passionate feelings to rise, and too quickly for his comfort level. He must maintain control of his feelings, and more especially of his actions. He discontinued his adoration of Catherine’s neck and pulled back to look upon her, needing a break.

Further opportunity to please Catherine was certainly an advantage of pursuing a physical relationship with her, he thought. Her happiness was more important to him than almost anything. Except her well being, of course. If only he could know what the outcome of their union might be. Well, he thought, nothing remotely dangerous had happened so far; he would monitor the situation closely and discontinue their activities if there was any hint of his losing control.

Catherine’s hand had risen to stroke Vincent’s face, and she looked at him lovingly. Her lips looked so inviting, Vincent couldn’t resist them. He kissed her once again, and within moments they were back to almost exactly the same place they were before they’d put out the lights, the kiss almost taking on a life of its own, with Vincent’s arms wrapped around and beneath Catherine, and Catherine’s arms stroking Vincent’s back. Only this time when her hands ventured below his waist, she found warm furry skin instead of the pants he’d been wearing.

She cried out in shocked delight, and Vincent released her mouth. “Oh, Vincent!” The urgency had returned, even stronger, along with... expectation.

Vincent shook his head. “Catherine... please... I’m glad you like my surprise, but... I can’t promise... I’m trying, but I don’t know... if I can... do everything you want.” His voice grew quieter as he spoke, and he dropped his eyes at the last phrase.

“I understand,” she said, and Vincent’s eyes returned to hers. “Vincent, it means so much to me that you’re trying. However this ends....” She sighed and smiled. “It’s wonderful. Thank you.” She paused. “Don’t get me wrong. I still want to make love with you, as you are well aware, but if it doesn’t happen right now...” She shrugged. “It’s ok. It will happen soon enough.” She paused again. “I love you.” She gave his buttocks a squeeze, as her hands still rested there.

Vincent brought a hand to her face and caressed her cheek. “I love you, Catherine.” He moved his face closer to hers, his thumb now gently rubbing her lower lip. She could feel his breath on her mouth, and before he could eliminate the possibility of words, she asked, “Vincent, do you mind if I take my pants off too?”

He pressed his forehead to hers for a moment, then kissed one cheek while stroking the other with the back of his fingers. Finally, he said, “As you wish, Catherine.” He kissed her briefly on the lips and turned on his side to give her room.

Catherine quickly unzipped and pulled off the pants, underwear and all. Then she reached down to remove her socks. This happened under the covers, but Vincent’s eyes tracked the movements, letting himself imagine.

Catherine turned to Vincent, pressing her hands to his chest and moving her knee to touch his legs. She hoped he would permit their legs to intertwine; she prodded his thighs gently with her knee. Yes! Oh god, it had been so long she’d almost forgot how wonderful it felt, and even more so with the strong muscles of Vincent’s thighs and his soft luscious fur. She moaned softly. She wanted more. She wrapped her arm around him and pulled him to her. Vincent continued the motion, rolling Catherine onto her back and lying above her. She gasped and tried to get control of her feelings.

She stroked his face, knowing they were so close, not wanting to do anything to frighten him away. She looked into Vincent’s eyes, and he returned her gaze, for long moments. Finally, Vincent turned his head to kiss her hand. Slowly and gently, Catherine moved the knee that rested between his to press against his thigh. Vincent pressed a finger to her lips, his eyes taking on a faraway look for a few moments. His focus returned to her, he moved his hand to her jaw, regarding her intently, and then moved his other knee between hers.

Catherine shuddered with pleasure, imagining what she fervently hoped would come next, but made herself hold still. She moved her hands to Vincent’s back, stroking gently. He continued to gaze intently at her. She wished she could sense him better through the bond. Picking up his emotions was not yet something she’d properly mastered, and with her own feelings in the state they were, it was a virtual impossibility. Was he waiting to muster his nerve, or waiting for her to make the next move, or... something else entirely?

Vincent closed his eyes. If only he knew for certain it was the right thing to do. Catherine kissed his cheek. He sighed and opened his eyes. “Catherine.”

Slowly, very slowly, he lowered his hips to meet hers. His warm hardness gently contacted her warm wetness, and Catherine’s feelings exploded. She cried out and held him tightly, her breathing suddenly rapid and ragged. He felt her inner thighs rub against his outer thighs as she raised her knees. Not yet, Catherine, he thought, I’m not ready!

Catherine tried to settle her feelings. She knew her outburst of action and emotion must have left him feeling rushed again, but to have him finally touch her in this way, to know that such a small motion was required for him to finally be inside her! How could she suppress these feelings? She clung to him, needing him desperately. “Oh, Vincent,” she murmured.

Vincent was drowning in her emotions. They were so strong, begging, demanding that he continue. His desire to please her and, not to mention, himself warred with his fears and inhibitions. Desire won the initial battle, as he tentatively moved his body against hers, his flesh convulsing against her warm, and oh, so inviting body, but the ensuing tide of feelings, both hers and his own overwhelmed him, took his breath away and he realized he was on the verge of completely losing his capacity for conscious thought.

“No!” he cried softly, anguished. He gasped. “Oh, Catherine, I’m sorry. I can’t.” He lifted himself away from her, moved to his former position beside her, and then turned to face the stained glass window, one hand on his forehead, the other at his heart. He wanted her so much, but....

“Vincent,” she said plaintively. “Please don’t turn away from me.” She was on the brink of tears. If he really wasn’t ready to make love, she could accept that, but she could not accept him abandoning her again.

Vincent felt her feelings and turned back to her, and Catherine put her arms around him. “I’m sorry, Catherine. I didn’t mean to....” His voice broke, and he put his face to her shoulder, wrapping his arms around her.

“Shhh,” she said softly, “it’s all right. It’s all right, Vincent.” She rubbed his back gently and softly kissed his temple.

Vincent was disappointed in himself, but he sensed no disappointment in Catherine, only unselfish concern for him. He was humbled by the depth of her feelings for him. “Oh, Catherine, I wish....” He moved away again, lying on his back, one arm beneath Catherine, the other hand moving to cover his eyes.

Catherine followed his movement, covering his body with hers, and by instinct, before she could stop it, her leg moved over him. Her intent had been only to hold and comfort him, not to mount him. What price would she pay for this impulsive action? She ardently hoped he wouldn’t think she was trying to take advantage of him in his vulnerable state. She briefly considered moving her leg back, but that didn’t seem right either—he might interpret it as rejection. While these thoughts flashed through her mind, her body was enjoying the position it had taken, and her growing feelings soon superseded her tumultuous thoughts. Her fears and indecision were supplanted by love and desire, by unfulfilled longing. Her acute concern for Vincent’s state of mind remained, however. She watched Vincent, waiting for whatever would happen next.

Catherine’s actions had caught Vincent completely off guard. Apart from his surprise and abruptly renewed arousal at finding Catherine suddenly astride him, he was touched by her generosity of spirit, as he felt her intense concern for his well being. He had moved away from her in part because he felt unworthy of her love, in part because he had rejected her and by remaining near didn’t want to lead her to believe there was yet hope for them to fulfill their love now. Yet here she was, reaffirming her love for him, refusing to accept his rejection. He felt blessed. His fears dissipated.

He put his arms around her. “Catherine.” He touched her cheek, looking into her eyes. “A day does not pass when I do not wonder how the Fates saw fit to bring you into my life.” He stroked her hair. “You are my world, Catherine.” He moved his hand to her neck, and raised his lips near hers. “I love you,” he said softly, and their lips met in a tender kiss.

Relieved, and feeling blessed herself, Catherine relaxed her body onto Vincent’s. They continued to sprinkle brief, gentle, tender kisses over one another’s faces. Catherine then turned her attention to Vincent’s shoulder, beginning near the neck and working her way outward, placing small, gentle kisses. When she reached his upper arm, she reversed her course back toward Vincent’s neck.

“Oh... Catherine....” he breathed. He felt safe in her arms, as if nothing bad could ever happen in her care. He diverted her mouth back up, and opening his own mouth, captured hers in a deep and passionate kiss. His mouth possessed hers, his tongue caressing hers, gradually falling into a stroking rhythm.

An achingly familiar rhythm to Catherine. She wondered if he realized they were making love with their mouths. He stroked her back in curved movements, alternating from palm side to fur side with each turn. Her passion began to rise again, and she released some of it by squeezing his shoulder.

Vincent’s exquisite caresses of Catherine’s back gradually traveled downward to her bottom. Catherine made a small noise of pleasure, her mouth still enveloped by his probing kiss. The caresses changed to firm strokes and then began to alternate with firm squeezes. The first of these elicited a small, muffled cry from Catherine, her desire growing stronger. His hands ventured lower, to her thighs, rubbing them gently. When he reached between them to further separate them, Catherine groaned and pulled out of the kiss, staring at Vincent in astonishment and gasping for breath.

Vincent put his mouth to her neck and began to suck, and Catherine gasped and groaned. His hands were still at her thighs and again, more insistently he pressed them outward. Catherine cried out again, shifted her weight to her forearms momentarily and brought her knees forward. Vincent’s hands came to rest on her hips. She buried her mouth on his shoulder, Vincent releasing her neck.

She whimpered, wanting him desperately and afraid he’d need to retreat again.

“Catherine,” he said softly. When she didn’t raise her head, he lifted it for her. Her eyes were closed and she hesitated to open them, finally doing so. “Yes,” he said to her.

Catherine stared at him blankly. Had she asked a question?

Vincent tightened his hold on her hips. “Yes, Catherine,” he repeated.

Oh god, could he mean what she thought? Oh please! She shifted her body slightly to rub against him, afraid his hands, still on her hips, would stop her. But no! He was pulling her to him! Giving her passionate feelings free rein, she sat up, her hands on his chest and maneuvered herself above him. She made contact, gasping and whimpering at each of several failed, but nonetheless exquisitely pleasurable attempts at penetration. Finally, she found just the right angle and at long last felt him within her. She sank slowly down his length, savoring every inch, and then immediately fell into a slow rhythm, gasping, moaning, groaning, or crying out at each thrust.

Catherine leaned forward and moved her hands to the bed, to get a better view of Vincent’s face in the dim light. What she saw in his face mirrored her own feelings: joy, rapture, ecstasy. He brought his hands to her face for a moment, caressing her cheeks, then moved his hands to cup her breasts. He squeezed them in time with her thrusts, and she suddenly was so overcome with pleasure and desire and, not to mention, incredulity, that her movements began to slow. She felt like she was melting. Vincent thrust into her, and she stopped altogether, crying, “Oh god.” He thrust again, and she buried her face in his neck, moaning.

After several thrusts more, Catherine had still not moved, but clung to him, still gasping and moaning at each thrust. After verifying that Catherine’s emotional state was still a very positive one and that he was still well in control of himself, Vincent decided to take matters into his own hands. He rolled them over, but not without slipping apart. Catherine whimpered loudly, raising her hips to find him again. After a moment they were again united, and Vincent’s long, delicious thrusts stilled her own movements. She yielded completely to his rhythm, her arms around his furry body, her noises of pleasure continuing. Oh god, how long she had waited for this!

Vincent moved his hands beneath her, still thrusting vigorously, and Catherine responded by wrapping her legs around his back, the minor change in position setting off new waves of passion. The rhythm between them changed slightly, and Catherine sensed that climax might be near. She wanted to play a more active role in bringing it. She put her feet back down and raised her hips to meet his. Each mutual thrust was now met with two voices. Catherine reveled in the audible evidence of Vincent’s enjoyment, the sounds he made similar in nature to his roars, but much gentler and quieter. Their erotic beauty stirred her own passion even higher and she knew orgasm must be only moments away. Oh, she didn’t want it to end yet! She stroked her hands along his back, his bottom, his shoulders. She moved her feet to stroke his calves. She returned her feet to the bed, spreading her legs further apart, gripping his bottom, pulling him to her, still meeting his hips with her own, loving the feel of his furry thighs against hers. That was her last conscious thought before she felt him convulse within her, bringing her along, their mutual cries of ecstasy a beautiful song.

***

Vincent drifted gradually back to Earth, completely in awe of what had happened. He looked into Catherine’s eyes, and she smiled, saying, “I love you, Vincent.”

He smiled in return. He couldn’t remember a time when he’d been happier. He sighed. “Oh, Catherine, I love you.” He kissed her tenderly, and pulling back he saw a smile grace Catherine’s face again. Through the bond, he felt her complete and utter happiness and love. He was so overcome with emotion he was compelled to release it; he raised his head and roared with joy.

Vincent’s feelings, in turn, bombarded Catherine. His feelings had never been more open to her and she rejoiced in their new closeness. She looked up at him, teasing, “And you said it was impossible.” She couldn’t stop smiling.

“I’ve never been so happy to be wrong, Catherine.” He stroked her cheek with the back of a finger. He couldn’t stop smiling either. He planted small kisses all around her face, neck, and shoulders, and she responded by wrapping her arms and legs around him, repeating his name. Abruptly he stopped, listening, and then raised his head and turned it toward the door.

“Father,” he called, “do not come in!”

“Vincent, are you all right?” Father called in return. “And why is this chair in the corridor?”

“I’m quite well, Father. I will explain later.”

“But what upset you, Vincent?”

“Nothing, Father. I’m not upset.”

“But I heard you.... I’m worried about you, Vincent.”

Vincent sighed. “Do you mind?” he asked Catherine softly. “I’ll only be a moment.”

“No, go ahead,” Catherine replied, reluctantly releasing him from her embrace.

“Vincent?” Father called, his voice muffled.

“Just a moment, Father,” Vincent replied. He rose, wrapped his cloak around him, and went to the door. “You see, Father, I’m fine. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Father inspected Vincent’s face, and indeed found that he looked not at all upset. In fact, he looked quite happy. “You’re feeling better?”

“Much.” Vincent smiled enigmatically.

“Your problem...?”

“Solved.”

“Is Catherine well?”

Vincent smiled mischievously. “Quite.”

Catherine, eavesdropping and sharing Vincent’s mischief through the bond, decided impulsively to reveal their new intimacy. “Vincent,” she called, “come back to bed!”

Father looked stunned. His eyes wandered into the darkness of Vincent’s chamber, finding nothing, and then back to Vincent, who Father only now noticed seemed to be wearing nothing under his cloak. Vincent smiled openly. “Yes, Father,” he explained, “it is what it looks like.” Father was speechless. “Be happy for me?”

Father glanced momentarily into Vincent’s chamber again, and then nodded absently. He patted Vincent’s shoulder and smiled ever so slightly.

“Thank you, Father,” Vincent said softly. He hadn’t expected wild enthusiasm and gratefully accepted Father’s small gesture of affection.

“Well...” Father said awkwardly, “I’ll leave you to it then. I mean! uh... I’ll leave the two of you alone. Uh, I’ll... leave... I’ll leave now.” He turned and began his retreat.

Vincent was amused. He couldn’t remember when he’d seen Father so flustered. He watched him fondly for a few moments before returning to Catherine.

“Now, where were we?” Vincent asked softly, as he climbed back into bed.

“I think we were about to live happily ever after,” Catherine replied, wrapping her arms around him.

And so they did.