All Will Be Well

J Ecris


"Vincent... I need to talk to you."

"I can see that you do. There was a time when I would have come to you."

"What do you mean? I don't expect you to-"

"Catherine, I look in your face. I see your unrest." Their eyes met. He stood. "There was a time when I could have felt it, here," he said, his hand over his heart, "Feel what you are feeling - everything, across a city, across a continent. Now I have to wait for you to tell me." He sighed. "There was a time when I could feel you coming to me, feel you nearing the tunnels. It was a source of great joy radiating from you, filling me with joy. Tonight I waited ‘til the sentry sent me a message that you were here."

"What's different, now?"

"It's gone."

"What's gone?"

"The connection. Our connection. Our bond."

"It’ll return."

"No, I don't think so."

"Have faith that it will."

"It's lost to me, I know."

"How do you know? Why do you say that?"

"Because it is the price, the price I must pay for this... new peace, this contentment. But Catherine, what have I lost?"

"I don't think that it is lost. And even if it is, Vincent, it was a gift. That power was a gift. It came to you in a life when it was needed, and you used it, and perhaps it is no longer needed."

"More than once it saved your life."

"Maybe the gift will return to you in another form. Something you never even dreamed of. Vincent, your power was extraordinary. But... it has nothing to do with what we are together, what we feel for each other. That is our connection. And if one gift is lost, there are other gifts waiting to be found. Believe me."

He shook his head.

"Vincent, there are so many gifts waiting for you. All you have to do is... just open your arms, and receive them."

"I believe you."

"Just open your arms." He did and Catherine stepped into them.

"Now tell me. Tell me what is troubling you."

"Another time. Don't worry."

***

They held the embrace a long time. Catherine so needed to talk to Vincent, but debated whether to upset him further. Her thoughts and feelings were in such chaos that she was almost glad Vincent couldn’t feel them through the Bond. Almost. Finally, she admitted, "Vincent, there is something I need to talk to you about."

He pulled away gently and looked into her face. "Yes, Catherine?" She returned his gaze, and opened her mouth to speak, but no words would come. He waited patiently, love and concern clearly written in his regard.

"Vincent, I...." she trailed off, not knowing how to continue.

"Tell me," he said gently.

She tried again, to no avail. "Vincent, I... I can’t find the right words," she said softly, her lower lip trembling slightly. "Will you... will you walk with me, so I can have some time to think?"

Vincent studied her face, silently cursing the loss of their Bond, but he immediately set aside those thoughts, vowing that he would do what he needed to do to be there for Catherine. "Of course."

They walked a long way, holding hands in companionable silence, briefly greeting people they met in the passages. Finally, they arrived at the mirror pool. Catherine sat by the water's edge. Vincent sat a bit apart, thinking Catherine might like some space to continue her thinking. He positioned himself so that he had a clear view of the water, but could also easily look over at Catherine. They sat at the mirror pool for a long time, Catherine thinking in silence, Vincent letting her. He knew she would tell him whatever it was when she was ready, but he so wished to know her heart again.

Catherine's thoughts were a whirlwind. She thought about the night in that dark cavern, far below. She thought about Vincent's kind nature and especially about the way he was with the children. She remembered his embraces and smiles. The night he gave her the crystal necklace. She thought of the times he'd saved her life.

She thought about the baby, what it might look like. How she would explain her pregnancy. If the baby resembled Vincent, it would have to live Below. But how would she explain to those who knew her why, after giving birth, she had no baby? She didn't know what to do.

She thought about her life Above, how troubled she'd been in the past when she’d thought it was impossible to have a happy life. She loved Vincent and spent more and more time with him and his family here Below. It was so peaceful, with so little to worry about. Sometimes it seemed like it would be so easy to just not go back, to stay here with Vincent forever in his world. But still, she wasn't sure she wanted to completely give up her life Above either. She had friends she would miss if she were never to see them again. And if she just vanished, they would worry for her. She didn't feel it would be right to hurt and torment them so. And yet... how could she explain? She sighed. She turned her body from the water's edge so she could more easily look over at Vincent. He smiled at her, but said nothing. He just held her gaze, the picture of serenity.

Oh, how she loved Vincent! Before him, she had never known such love was possible or on how many different levels one could love. She couldn't imagine her life without him. He made it so rich and wonderful. Why couldn't she just tell him then, about that night, about the baby? She looked at him again, but this time he didn't notice. He was looking at the sky reflected in the pool. She couldn't tell him she was pregnant when he couldn't even remember the occasion of the conception. If he were to ask her who the father was, she was sure her heart would break. Oh, why couldn't he remember?! It would be so much easier if he did. She wondered why he had forgotten. But then, he had forgotten many things for a time; perhaps it wasn't so strange. But this, of all things.

After the fever, while Vincent had slept, she had entertained thoughts of the two of them beginning a new phase of their relationship, one that included all the kinds of touching appropriate to lovers. But it was not to be. When he awoke, he hadn't even remembered her name. His disorientation and amnesia had troubled him greatly and consumed much of his time, energy, and thoughts. Their relationship had just started getting back to normal in the last couple of weeks.

She had not broached the subject with him of what had happened in the cavern. If Vincent had had even a dim memory of it, she was sure she would have seen it in his eyes. They looked into each other's eyes so often. Perhaps if she could find a way to tell him what had happened that night, then it would be easier to say she was pregnant. He was so shy and reserved about such matters. Would she be able to tell him in a way that wouldn’t overly embarrass him? And yet, she was almost certain he desired her. Or used to anyway. There had certainly been moments in their past when it seemed they were about to kiss. And when she had come to stay Below for a while after her father had died - if he didn't desire her, why had he put her in a separate chamber?

She sighed again. She worried about their broken Bond too, despite what she had told Vincent earlier. While she believed what she had told him about their relationship being about their feelings for one another and not their mysterious Bond, she also knew that it was something special, and she grieved the loss of it along with Vincent. He had often been so in tune with what she was feeling, she thought that if they were still connected, he might intuit what she needed to tell him and spare her finding the words.

She looked at Vincent again. His eyes were closed now. He was so beautiful. She spent a moment just admiring him, as one might a work of art. His agitation when she had first come to him tonight was gone. Her words had helped calm him, as well as her embrace; the walk had done him good too, and the mirror pool was a common place for meditation here Below. Being here would have a calming effect on him just out of habit. He seemed completely at peace now. Catherine felt something stir within her. Sitting against the wall, he looked so... delicious. She was surprised that that particular word had come to mind. And yet she couldn't deny her feelings. She thought again about that night in the cavern. It had been brief, but lovely. For a moment she considered going to sit on Vincent's lap, facing him, her legs astride him. Mmm, she let herself savor the thought.

Not here, she told herself. Anyone might walk in. She wasn't able to quash her desire though, and she didn't want to. She revisited the thought that it would be easier to tell him about the pregnancy if he could remember making love with her. Maybe, she thought, if they renewed their intimacy, then she would be able to tell him.

She liked this idea. She would take him back to his chamber and seduce him. No! No, that didn't sound right at all! It sounded so callous, so cheap, like she was using him. That's not what she wanted. She sighed yet again. But still she wanted him, and wanted him to know that she wanted him. But would he want to know this? What would he think? They had never discussed anything remotely like this.

You're pregnant with his child, she told herself. Once he knows you're pregnant he will certainly know you want him, so there can be no harm in telling him that first. It would be more fun too, she though mischievously. Yes, seduce was the wrong word, but it wasn't that far off the mark. She would at least try to find out if he was interested.

"Vincent, let's go back to your chamber."

"As you wish, Catherine." He arose from his sitting place and approached her. "Are your thoughts more settled now?"

"I'm getting there." She smiled. Vincent held out his hands to pull her up. She took them, feeling lighter now that she at least had a plan in mind.

They walked back through the tunnels, hand in hand. Vincent remained silent, waiting for Catherine to speak. Although, truly, he did not expect her to bring up this subject which so obviously troubled her here in the public spaces of the tunnels. They were not densely populated by any means, but they did echo greatly.

Vincent wondered what could be bothering her so. He felt a fresh wave of frustration at the loss of their Bond, but willed himself to remain calm. He had realized by now that his outburst earlier had distracted Catherine from what she wanted to tell him. He didn't want to distract her again, now that she seemed more composed.

He was curious though. What could it be she wanted to discuss? Perhaps something about her work. It had happened before that her work had intersected with the lives of those Below. Then another thought occurred to him, and his heart sank. He remembered her despair of more than a year ago, when she had thought to try and live her life without him. Oh, how would he bear it? Vincent told himself not to jump to conclusions. He didn't know that's what she wanted to talk about. He should remain calm and try to be supportive to Catherine. He hated to see her in such turmoil.

It occurred to him that he hadn't told her he loved her in some time. He was sure she hadn't forgotten, but nonetheless it seemed a good idea to remind her. Perhaps it would make her feel more comfortable talking to him. He must try and make an effort to reach out to her more. She had been at his side almost constantly when he had felt so disoriented. She’d told him stories about the people in his life; it had helped him remember. She had been so kind to him, so patient and loving, never asking anything in return. He should do something special for her. Ahh, Catherine. He was filled with love for her and wished he could reach out to her through their Bond.

***

At last they returned to Vincent's chamber, still holding hands. Catherine sat down on the bed, Vincent following suit. He let go of her hand, putting his arm around her. "Catherine," he said, inviting her gaze, "I love you."

"Oh, Vincent, I love you!" she replied and threw her arms around him. He gently pulled her to him and enclosed her in his arms. Catherine relaxed, resting her head on his shoulder. Vincent's embrace had always made her feel so loved and so secure. After a moment she lifted her head and turned her face so that it was very near his. She didn't know if she could proceed with her plan. He was so innocent... but then that was part of what she loved about him. She closed her eyes, listening to his breathing and his heartbeat, inhaling his scent. It was subtle and unique and very pleasant. Catherine opened her eyes again and quickly, before she could change her mind, kissed Vincent softly on the cheek.

She waited for his reaction, looking into his eyes, her face still very close to his. He seemed surprised, but not shocked; he stared at her. She ventured another brief kiss, on the lips this time. Vincent breathed out hard. He had closed his eyes and didn't open them. She kissed him again, embracing his bottom lip between her own. This time she felt a response. She kissed him deeply now, passion quickly rising as he returned her kisses just as eagerly. She had wanted this for so long. The kisses they'd shared on the night of the conception didn't feel like they counted - he was so... not himself at the time. She made soft noises of desire. Their kisses continued, so sweet, so soft and warm and wet. She took her mouth away and settled it near his ear, pressing her cheek against his. She let out a tiny moan of desire. "Oh, Vincent," she whispered, "I want you."

She felt a shudder runs through his body and he moaned and inhaled sharply. Those sounds only served to intensify her desire, and she whispered, as softly as she could, "Do you want to make love?"

Vincent's breath came in hot gasps. He could hardly believe what he had heard. Her kisses had surprised him and he had reacted naturally, without thinking. He had never imagined how that kind of kiss would feel. He had wondered briefly while she kissed him if his memory gaps, which he thought he had almost completely filled in, had included some whole other aspect of his relationship with Catherine. But no, this felt new. He had noticed her hesitation in those first two kisses. They could not have had a physical relationship before.

He wanted her. It felt so right, so well, so wonderful. But a part of him said no, and he thought he should listen for the reason why instead of dismissing the thought. He held Catherine tightly, imagining making love to her. He groaned. He felt like he had wanted this forever. Why hadn't this ever happened between them before? He thought about ripping off her clothes, pinning her to the bed. But this idea startled him into remembering something. He had had erotic dreams about her, but had never let himself dwell on such thoughts while he was awake. It was too dangerous-if he should hurt her, he could never forgive himself. He released Catherine from his tight embrace and looked into her eyes. He had always kept himself in close check in the past and must continue to do so. "Catherine," he said huskily, "I'm afraid I would hurt you."

"You won't," she said firmly, looking directly into his eyes and with such certainty that she surprised Vincent. She was obviously captured by passion and not thinking clearly, to make such a statement. He must make her see reason.

"Catherine, how can you know?" His voice was still husky, filled with desire he could never share with her.

Here was Catherine's opportunity, the sort of moment she'd hoped for when she'd set out to solicit Vincent's interest in her. Her plan had worked all too well on herself though, and she had to take a deep breath to cool herself down a little and focus. She looked Vincent in the eye, and with as much meaning as she could add to the words, hoping she wouldn't have to elaborate, she said, "Because you didn't."

Vincent stared at her, confused. She couldn't mean what it sounded like.

Catherine could see she was going to have to go into more detail after all. She summoned her courage, looked in Vincent's eyes, and as gently as she could said, "Vincent, I wasn't able to tell you before now. In that dark cavern, far below..." She swallowed. "We loved."

No! He thought. No, it can't be! Vincent felt betrayed, not by Catherine, but by his own memory, and by himself-how could he have let it happen? He pulled away from her and sat further away on the bed. He wasn't thinking what effect these actions would have on her, so caught up was he in trying to remember. He searched his memory frantically, but to no avail. How could this be? How could he not remember that?

"Vincent, there's more."

"I don't think I'm ready to hear." He leaned forward, covering his face with his hands. He tried to remember and could not. He felt ashamed at this failure, and ashamed of what he had done with Catherine. It was bad enough that he had forgotten Catherine's name after his illness. But to forget being intimate with her? And to have let it happen in the first place? What was wrong with him!?

Catherine drew in a deep breath, and let it out heavily. Vincent was withdrawing from her- perhaps it wasn't a good idea after all, telling him gently and gradually. And he seemed upset; she had feared he might have that reaction. But she wasn't sure why; maybe he thought she'd... taken advantage of him. She started to feel despair creep over her. She'd looked forward to talking to Vincent about their encounter while waiting for him to awaken after the fever. When he finally had and could obviously not remember it, it had made her sad. Then she'd found out she was pregnant, had tried to get her mind around it, had tried to figure out how she felt about it, had finally decided that no matter what, she needed to tell Vincent. She needed to talk to someone. To tell someone. She needed Vincent, and he was shutting her out as he had rarely done before. She felt so alone. Unconsciously, she started to rock back and forth, hugging herself.

Vincent noticed Catherine's movement and looked over at her. He saw the tears on her face, could tell she was obviously in distress. He realized what he had done, pulling away from her during such an intimate moment. She must think he was rejecting her. Oh how he wished to have their Bond back! It was like the loss of a sense. He must set his feelings aside for the moment.

"I'm sorry, Catherine. Tell me." He moved closer, and put his arm around her. She looked up, noticing her tears and wiping them away. She put her arms around him, relieved that he wasn't upset with her. After a moment, she looked into Vincent's eyes, so open and innocent, so kind and loving. She tried to find the right words, but none were forthcoming. She looked down, wondering what to do next, what to say. She noticed his hand in his lap, and she had an impulse. She took his hand, pulling it near her with both of hers and brought it to rest on her lower abdomen. She looked into his eyes again.

Vincent was puzzled, thinking he should understand the meaning of this unusual gesture, but it eluded him. He looked more deeply into her eyes, trying to comprehend.

"Vincent," Catherine said in a very quiet voice, full of emotion, "there is a child." At this last word she pressed his hand more tightly to her belly.

Vincent was stunned. He looked down briefly at where their hands rested, and back up. He gazed at her in silence for a few moments; finally words congealed, and he spoke them in a low voice, incredulously, "Our child?" The words arrived on an outward breath, which he only then noticed he'd been holding. He breathed in again.

Catherine moved her head in a slow, slight nod, "Yes." Her eyes seemed to hold so many emotions. Vincent continued to look into them. He realized he was holding his breath again, forced himself to try to breathe normally. "Catherine, how can this be possible?" He paused. "You and I are so... different."

Catherine allowed herself a little smile. "Evidently not as different as we thought," she said, a bit of humor in her voice and eyes. She released her grasp on his hand, and put her arms around him. Vincent pulled her close and held her tightly.

He was still trying to reconcile this amazing news with everything he knew and felt, as he continued to hold Catherine tightly. He had not yet succeeded when she pulled back, looked in his eyes again, and whispered, "Vincent, do you want this gift?"

Her choice of words caused him to think back to their conversation hours earlier. She had wanted to tell him then, had come to him obviously in distress, in need. And he had waylaid her news by speaking of their broken Bond. If he hadn't been wallowing in self-pity, she would have told him then. She would have been spared these last hours of torment, trying to think what to say. She must have had words chosen to tell him this momentous news, and he had spoiled the moment.

He came back to the present, remembering her question. His heart swelled. He breathed out heavily, and then spoke, slowly, hardly able to get the words out. "Catherine.... I never dared to imagine...." He looked into her eyes, his own feeling as if they were about to start leaking. Catherine's eyes still held a question, though, and he answered it for her, "Yes. Yes, Catherine. I want this gift."

She closed her eyes, visibly relieved, and exhaled, her face still tilted upward toward Vincent's, her lips slightly apart.

Vincent felt an impulse to kiss her. The moment was filled with emotion-with love-a kiss seemed appropriate. But a kiss would lead to other things, and one thing in particular which he had vowed not to do with her. And yet, he had already done it. She seemed uninjured. She wanted him. She had said so, and he had felt her desire in their kisses. He closed his eyes and kissed her gently, overruling his doubts. She responded, squeezing his upper arms where her hands had been resting. She kissed him more deeply, and he responded in turn. She moaned, kissing him still more passionately, pulling him closer.

She wanted him, wanted passion to wash away her fears and problems, if only for a little while. And it had been so long. The first time with Vincent had been nice and exciting, but she hadn't been able to completely relax. She had been so worried about him, and the setting was less than romantic. Father and the others had been waiting only a short distance away, and she hadn't wanted to make noise. And probably because of his fever-weakened state, Vincent had been a docile lover, not as she'd imagined him in her fantasies. It had also been a rather brief encounter. Not that any of it mattered; Vincent was alive and that's what was important to her.

She wanted everything now, to undress him and touch his skin, to feel him removing her clothing, his hands touching her, to feel his furred body against hers. Still enjoying his mouth, she moved her hand slowly down his back, then around and onto his thigh. She squeezed. Vincent pulled away, broke the kiss. She opened her eyes to meet his.

"Catherine..." he breathed. He moved his hands to her face, one hand reaching back through her hair so that his fingers rested on her neck, his thumb on her ear. With the other hand he stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. "Catherine," he repeated, "I'm sorry. I don't think I'm ready for this. I love you, Catherine... but... I think... I need some time... to think...." Vincent dropped his eyes, lowered his head, and moved his hands to her shoulders. "Our love has always been... chaste."

Catherine felt a surge of longing and disappointment, but was more concerned for how Vincent felt. Vincent's reaction was not out of character, and reminded her of some of the reasons she loved him. He was so unlike any other man she had ever known, and his physical differences were just the tip of the iceberg. He was so honorable, so trusting and trustworthy, so unassuming and unexpecting. He was patient and so openly kind and loving. She smiled, feeling that her soul would overflow, she loved him so deeply and so completely. She thought about how he had always behaved as a complete gentleman with her until now; she could understand that this might be too abrupt a change. And after all she'd told him, he was probably feeling in shock.

She could understand his hesitation. And she appreciated the fact that he'd tried. Still smiling, she took his chin in her hand, tipped his head back up to look at her. "Vincent," she said softly. "I love you. If you're not ready, then we'll wait. I would wait for you for all eternity." She wrapped her arms around him, and he pulled her to him, resting his mouth against her hair, his breathing rough. They held the embrace for long moments, as they often did. Finally, Catherine pulled back, and with a twinkle in her eye and a half-smile playing about her mouth, she said, looking into his eyes, "But I hope it won't be quite that long."

Vincent smiled shyly, lowering his head. He moved his hands along her forearms, taking her hands in his. Still, he did not look up. Catherine bent forward, raising his hands toward her face and kissed them. Vincent met her eyes and sighed. "Catherine, I am so fortunate. All the things you've given me, all you've offered.... I don't know what you see in me. You are so beautiful, and I... I am..."

"Beautiful!" Catherine interrupted. "Vincent, I think you're beautiful! But even if I didn't, I would still love you. You are more beautiful on the inside than anyone I have ever known. The inside is what's important. I don't know how anyone who knows you could not find you beautiful. You're sweet. And kind. And gentle. Patient. And thoughtful."

Vincent shook his head, "But I have a dark side, Catherine. I am also brutal and vicious. Uncaring and selfish. Filled with rage and violence. Lust and despair. Frustration."

Catherine thought that a little lust wouldn't be such a bad thing, but she didn't want to seem to be making light of Vincent's concerns when he was speaking from such a deep place in his soul.

He continued, "Catherine, when I lose control, I am dangerous."

"Vincent, we all have a dark side. I've been in moods where I've felt all of those things too. It's normal. I've seen your dark side, and still I love you."

Vincent had been trying to take a step back, trying to tell Catherine that it would be better if their relationship remained platonic. He had listed important reasons why she should not want him, should not trust him, and she had tossed them aside as if they were nothing. But, a part of him countered, what she says is true, she has seen your dark side, in more ways than anyone else. She knows what you are. She’s had the courage to come to you when your dark side had taken over completely. Still, he decided to try once more to make her understand.

"Catherine, you have never killed anyone. You have never hurt anyone as I have. When you lose control, you don't have to worry that you might hurt someone or kill them."

"Vincent, that's not necessarily true. I have hurt people deeply when I’ve lost my temper, and the kind of hurts I’m talking about take longer to heal than a scratch. Besides, I have a gun. I can certainly imagine circumstances when I might use it. I don't want to kill anyone, but it could happen." She sighed.

"And anyway, Vincent, you've only hurt people who hurt others. It's not like you lose your temper and run out and kill innocent people." She paused, looking at him. "I know you. I love you. If what you're trying to say is that you're afraid of losing control with me..." She shook her head. "Even if you do, nothing bad will happen. There won't be any rage, Vincent, only love. You've never hurt me before, even when you were full of rage. You wouldn't hurt me when you're filled with love. I trust you. Why won't you trust yourself?"

"I hurt Lisa."

"Lisa was teasing you. Girls develop more quickly than boys at that age, and I would bet she knew full well what she was doing to you. She was playing a game, a dangerous game even if you didn't have sharp claws. I'm not saying it's right that you hurt her, but it’s certainly understandable. Any teenage boy would have tried to seize the moment. And in the end, you were hurt more than she was. Her scratches healed, she forgave you long ago, but you still carry the pain of her rejection, and the pain of knowing you hurt her.

"You're not a boy any more, Vincent. You're a man, and you've spent years thinking about what's important and what's right. You've spent years practicing restraint, and you succeed almost all the time. Don't dwell on those few isolated incidents where someone got hurt."

Vincent thought how much Catherine must love him to overlook his killings, to dismiss the incident with Lisa, to keep reminding him of his good side. Evidently, she would not be dissuaded. She would expect him to-he was unaccustomed to putting words to the thought. She would expect him to love her. In every way, and probably sooner rather than later now that their mutual passion was out in the open. She knew he desired her too.

He loved her too much to disappoint her. But it worried him to consider it. There was a possibility of hurting her, even if Catherine wouldn't acknowledge it. If only their Bond would return, he would feel more comfortable. If he should hurt her without realizing it, he would feel her pain through their Bond.

"Perhaps you're right, Catherine. But I need some time. I need to think."

"I understand. I don't want you to feel pressured, Vincent. When the time is right, it will happen, and it will feel right for both of us." Catherine felt relieved. Vincent seemed more calm. He had taken the news of her pregnancy better than she’d expected. He seemed willing to consider a change in their relationship. She felt like all of her worries were melting away. And she realized that she was suddenly very tired. The evening had been emotionally draining. She wanted to go to sleep, but she didn't want to leave Vincent.

She yawned greatly. "Vincent, can I ask a favor? After all that's happened tonight, I shouldn't ask so much of you, but I feel so close to you now, I don't want to leave you. Can I please stay here tonight? I promise I won't kiss you again, or... or anything."

Vincent considered her request. He was almost sure she meant she wanted to stay with him in his chamber, to sleep in his bed. He couldn't imagine getting any sleep at all with Catherine sharing his bed. But he didn't want to part from her either. And, it occured to him, he wasn't the least bit sleepy anyway. Even if Catherine went Above, he would be awake thinking.

"You may stay."

Catherine put her arms around Vincent again. "Thank you."

Vincent broke their embrace after a moment and stood up. "We can go and find you something more comfortable to sleep in, if you like. A nightgown?"

"That would be nice. Do you want to go and pick something out while I go down the hall?"

"All right."

They left Vincent’s chamber, each going their separate way, and when Catherine returned Vincent wasn't back yet. She sat down on the bed and felt like she was starting to fall asleep already. She pushed her shoes off and leaned over sideways towards the pillow, her legs still hanging over the side of the bed. She didn't know how long she’d been asleep, or even if she really had been, when she heard Vincent say her name.

"Catherine."

"Mmm."

"I brought you a nightgown."

"Mmm."

"Catherine, would you like to put it on? Or do you want to just go to sleep?"

She opened her eyes blearily. "No, I'll put it on. Thanks."

"I'll wait outside. Will you let me know when you've finished?"

"OK." She tried to wake herself a little more, but not too much more. She pulled her sweater over her head, unhooked her bra, and pulled the nightgown on. Then she lay down, bringing her feet up, and pulled off her pants, underwear and all, without thinking. Finally, she pulled off her socks. She started to drift off again and remembered she was supposed to tell Vincent she was finished. She sat up, called to Vincent, gathered her clothes into a pile, and put them at the bottom of the bed. Then she pulled the covers back and crawled under them, moving to the far side of the bed to leave room for Vincent.

Vincent sat on the bed and pulled the blankets a bit higher to cover Catherine's shoulders. "Good night, Catherine," he said softly.

"G’night," she said sleepily. "I love you." She started to breathe deeply at once and seemed to be asleep already. Vincent smiled slightly. She looked like an angel.

He sighed and sat down at his table to think. He positioned his chair so that his view ahead was of something that wouldn’t distract him, a bookshelf, but so that he could easily see Catherine too with a slight turn of his head. He took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair.

The first thought that came to him was their kisses, how wonderful they'd felt. Vincent shuddered, feeling the passion again. He willed himself to settle down.

His thoughts wandered then to that dark cavern. He wondered exactly how it happened and why. He could ask Catherine, and she would probably tell him, but it would no doubt be painfully embarrassing to hear. He couldn't ask her. He hoped he would remember it soon; perhaps if he went there, the memory would return.

Then he thought of the pregnancy. He hadn't had much opportunity to think about that. He'd been thoroughly distracted by their passion and subsequent discussion. He wondered why it had been so difficult for Catherine to tell him. "Vincent, I'm pregnant," seemed like a much more direct method of breaking the news. But then he wondered what his reaction would have been to those words. He probably would have assumed there was someone else. He'd been absolutely certain several hours ago that he had never been intimate with Catherine. And with their Bond gone, he couldn't know her feelings. Poor Catherine. He wondered how long she’d known, how long she'd struggled for a way to tell him.

He wondered how her pregnancy would affect her life Above. Surely if she continued her life Above, everyone would know of her pregnancy eventually even if she didn't tell them. What would the child be? Would it resemble him?

A clenching fear came over Vincent, as he remembered what Paracelsus had told him about his birth. Paracelsus had deliberately tried to frighten Vincent, to enrage him, to convince him he was more animal than man. The story Father always told about the way Vincent was found, wrapped in rags in the trash outside St Vincent's Hospital, was the truth. Too many people could confirm the story for it not to be true.

But still, no one knew how he had been born. What Paracelsus had said could be true. It was possible that he did tear himself from his mother's womb. If that were to happen to Catherine.... He couldn't bear to think about it. He didn't think he could let the child live, much less love it. The logical part of his mind told him that it was a lie and that he shouldn't believe it. But some dark corner of him feared it was true.

Vincent's thoughts went round and round. He reached no conclusions, except that he loved Catherine and they would get through as best they could. He was still thinking an hour later, when he sensed Father approaching.

Father entered the room, apparently pleased to find Vincent still awake. He smiled, walking farther into the room. He opened his mouth to say something and then noticed Catherine asleep in Vincent's bed. His jaw dropped.

Vincent was amused. Father had underestimated Catherine, as well as Vincent's relationship with her, from the beginning. He wondered what Father would say when he learned Catherine was pregnant, and he realized he wanted to tell him.

Vincent rose from his chair, and escorted his speechless parent from the room. A few moments later, Father found his voice. "Vincent," he said urgently.

"I will explain, Father, when we reach your chamber. Although I do think I am of an age and in such a relationship where I shouldn't have to explain."

"Vincent!"

"Come, Father."

They arrived in Father's chamber and sat at his table. Vincent still found Father's reaction amusing. Vincent was sure he was about to receive a lecture about the dangers of pursuing such a relationship. As conflicted as Vincent was about how to proceed in pursuing intimacy with Catherine, Father's likely opposition to the idea tended to tip Vincent's opinion in favor of the idea.

Father waited for Vincent to speak. "Catherine is here because she was tired and didn't want to return Above."

"Vincent, she's in your bed! Why didn't you give her another chamber?" He seemed quite agitated.

"Father you worry too much about me."

"Vincent, we both know how Catherine's presence affects you. What were you thinking? And what are you smiling about?"

"Father, I need someone to talk to. Given your biases, you're probably not the best choice, but there's no one better available. I miss Devin at these times. We talked of so many things as boys. An older brother to ask for advice is just what I need. Alas."

Father drew a deep breath, wondering what he was in for. Somehow this sounded ominous.

"Father, this will come as a shock to you. It did to me, as I still can't remember what happened in that dark cavern when I was ill. Catherine is pregnant."

Father stared at him, and shook his head briskly. "Vincent, I can't have heard you right."

"You heard correctly, Father. Catherine is pregnant. She is with child. She is going to have a baby. And in case I've left you with any doubt, I am the child's father."

Father looked beside himself. "But... how?" He seemed to be thinking out loud, but Vincent couldn't resist answering.

"In the usual way, I expect. As I said, I don't remember it."

Father took a deep breath, thinking of Catherine in Vincent's bed. "Have you and she resumed intimate relations then? Is that why she's here?"

"No. But she extended the invitation tonight."

"It’s good you refused. She must be made to understand the danger."

"‘Refused’ isn't quite the right word. ‘Postponed’ is more accurate. Father, Catherine doesn't believe there is danger in our love, and I was unable to make her see differently. She presented the evidence that I did not hurt her the first time. She also said that losing myself in love is not the same as losing myself in rage, and that nothing bad would come of it."

"Do you believe that, Vincent?"

"I don't know what to believe... what to think." He sighed. "But I love Catherine, and she seems to have her heart set on... furthering our relationship. And I want it myself. I cannot refuse her, Father. She said she trusts me, and implied that I should trust myself. I think I should take a leap of faith and trust Catherine's judgment." He paused. "I don't suppose you'd like to offer me advice on how to proceed?"

Father took in a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. He looked concerned. "I can't change your mind?"

"Father, I know what you would say. The same things I said to Catherine. Things she dismissed and set aside and invalidated."

Father took another deep breath. "I hope she's right." He paused, looking concerned. Then a look of resignment crossed his face, and he said, "I will pray for both of you." He looked into Vincent's face, hoping all would go well, and then suddenly looked away in embarrassment. He had visualized the two of them together. He felt himself go red. He lowered his head, put his hand over his eyes, and busied himself with coughing and clearing his throat when he didn't really need to.

Vincent caught this and understood and was amused again. This felt something like the mischief he would get into with Devin years ago-it was always funny before they got caught. Only now, as an adult, there was nothing to fear in Father's reaction. Father's lectures and tirades and explanations of why he should be careful were not a thing he dreaded any more, although sometimes he tired of them. Father could no longer make him feel guilty; Vincent knew his own heart, knew what was right. Father had taught him well. He found Father's concern for him very endearing on this occasion, but scolded himself for enjoying Father's obvious discomfort a little too much.

Vincent put his hands to his mouth to try chase the smile away. Oh, poor Father. He'd tried so hard to protect Vincent. He'd been such a good parent, not perfect of course, but who was? He thought of his own child-to-be and remembered his dark thoughts.

"Father, something else troubles me."

Father looked up. "Tell me, my son."

Vincent arose from his chair, and started to pace. After a moment, he spoke. "It's something Paracelsus told me. While he was masquerading as you." Vincent was silent again and continued to pace. These thoughts were so disturbing-he didn't want to face them again, to voice them to Father, but he had to know, had to talk about how he felt.

"Vincent, Paracelsus was mad. You mustn’t take anything he told you at face value." Father was concerned. John Pater had terrorized the tunnel dwellers while he was alive and now apparently still tormented Vincent from the grave. "What did he tell you, Vincent?"

"He spoke of how I came to be and of my birth. He said that Anna was my mother. He said John had performed medical experiments on Anna and that's why I am the way I am. He said I wasn't born like other children, that my mother had died in childbirth, but not like Devin's mother did." He stopped pacing and turned to Father. "He said I tore my way from my mother's womb."

"Vincent... that's a horrifying story, but you must know it isn't true. Anna found you in the trash, wrapped in rags, outside St. Vincent's Hospital. Ask Mary or Peter if you don't believe me. Or anyone else who's been here from the beginning."

"I believe you, Father. But no one knows how I was born. It could be true. Someone might have performed medical experiments on some other woman. Even Paracelsus could have-from everything I know of him he was certainly evil and disturbed enough to do so. And Father, there's a small grain of truth in the story. I am... my nature... is violent." Vincent began pacing again.

Father was frustrated. The story was preposterous, a lie carefully concocted to have this very effect on Vincent, who was sensitive and ashamed of his violent tendencies. Well, if Vincent would not see with his heart that this could not be true, he must find a way to convince his head instead.

"Vincent, nowhere in nature does a helpless infant destroy the parent it needs to care for it." Vincent stopped and looked at him. Father could see he had started to get through. He continued to speak of science. "There are instances in much lower life forms where the mother sacrifices herself for her children, but these are species which have only one batch of offspring and very many of them at once. And they are born already able to survive on their own.

"You were weak and defenseless when you came to us. You were ill - we didn't think you'd survive. You could not have done what Paracelsus said."

"Perhaps I was weak because of what I had done." He paced again. "And Father, I am not in nature."

"There may not be anyone else like you, but you are in nature. Surely, you must realize, Vincent, if you were outside of nature, Catherine would not be pregnant."

Vincent stopped pacing. He sat down again. He hadn't thought of that.

"I wouldn't have thought it possible that you and Catherine could conceive a child together. I can't remember ever being more surprised about anything. But Vincent, don't you see? This means I've been wrong about you all along. You're not so different after all." Father sighed, hoping he could finally banish Vincent's doubts.

"You once asked me if you're a man. Well, if Catherine is a woman, and if she is pregnant and if you are the child's father, then obviously, you are a man."

Vincent was deep in thought. Father's words had obviously had the desired effect. He pictured Paracelsus’ description of Vincent's birth. What a gruesome image! No wonder it had tormented Vincent so. But suddenly something struck him.

"Vincent, look at your hands."

Vincent looked up from his reverie. What did Father mean? He raised his hands, palm side up, looked at them and then looked at Father. He was puzzled.

"Turn them over."

Vincent looked back down at his hands and did so.

"What do you see? At the ends of your fingers?"

"Claws, Father." He felt ashamed. What was Father's point? He continued looking at his hands.

"What are they made of?"

Vincent was bewildered, and started to become annoyed that Father was pointing out differences Vincent would prefer he not mention. "Is this a science test?"

"Vincent, they're made of the same material as ordinary fingernails. Fingernails become very soft when they get wet. You and the others would swim for hours on end in your youth. Did your nails become soft in the water?"

"Yes."

"Then, Vincent, I think we have the definitive proof that what Paracelsus told you is a lie. The womb is a very wet environment."

Vincent exhaled. He visibly relaxed, very obviously relieved of this terrible burden. He leaned his head back on the chair.

"I'm sure you were born in the same way as all the rest of us."

Vincent stood and approached Father's chair. He dropped to one knee and put his arms around Father. "Thank you. Thank you, Father. Thank you for finding the truth for me."

"Any time, Vincent. I love you." He kissed the side of Vincent's head, holding his special son. "I wish you'd come to me sooner about this. How long has it been tormenting you?"

Vincent broke the embrace but remained where he was. "I just remembered it again tonight, after Catherine told me everything, after she'd gone to sleep and I could be alone with my thoughts."

"Good. I would hate to think the idea had been tormenting you all these many weeks."

"Thank you, Father. Thank you for your counsel. I appreciate it." Vincent stood up. "Good night."

"Vincent, why is it that when you come to me for advice, it is invariably I who learns something, I who feels counseled?"

Vincent smiled and tilted his head to the side. "It would seem our conversations help both of us grow. I love you, Father. Thank you. Good night."

"Good night, Vincent."

Vincent headed for the door, but turned before reaching it. "Father, when you came to see me earlier, what was it you wanted?"

"Oh, nothing important. I've been having a bit of insomnia lately. I was tired of reading. The pipes were quiet, so I knew even Pascal would be asleep. I know you're sometimes awake at night, and I wondered if you might indulge me in a game of chess."

Vincent smiled again. "Another time. Good night."

"Good night, my son."

Vincent felt lighter than air and reviewed his feelings as he walked. Paracelsus’ story of his birth had affected him more than he’d realized. It had invaded his subconscious. He had told Father the truth-he had only remembered the story again this evening. But he had a feeling his subconscious had remembered all along. There had been a vague feeling that he was evil, a monster, which he couldn't confirm with logical reasoning. His dark side was strong, but he was not, at his core, evil.

He was a man. What Father had said rang true. If Catherine carried his child, then he was far less different than he had imagined. Unless Catherine was lying... but the very idea was ludicrous. She may have withheld the truth from him on occasion, but she had never lied. He knew Catherine loved him. And anyway, she had spent so much time here Below since his illness, as well as during it, she wouldn't have had time to have a relationship with anyone else.

Vincent arrived at the bathroom near his chamber and stopped to use it. He had an impulse while he was there to soak his hands in water. It had been a while since he’d spent any significant length of time in the water. He felt a need to verify the fingernail theory. He filled the basin with water and submerged his fingers. Now to wait. He looked up, not thinking. He usually tried to avoid looking in the mirror. He too often saw his dark side there. He meant to immediately avert his gaze, but the glimpse of his own face wasn't his dark side. It was just him. He continued to look.

He had rarely studied his own face, had not done so since he was a boy. He liked to forget he was different. He looked now. Without his snarling dark side glaring back at him, he didn't look so bad. In fact... if he set aside the expectation of looking like a normal man... his face wasn’t evil; it was kind. He asked himself if he found lions beautiful. He did. He thought of other creatures.

He had been very interested as a young boy in looking at faces-human faces, animal faces, it didn’t matter. He had looked through thousands of magazines, looked at hundreds of thousands of faces, perhaps more, but he'd never found one similar to his own. What he did find though, was that almost every face had its own beauty. Animal faces were especially lovely; they never contained hatred or guile.

Most human faces too, were beautiful. Sometimes he had to search for the beauty, but he could usually find it. Especially when the face was more than just a face, when he knew the owner of the face, it was so easy to see loveliness.

He focused his attention on the mirror again, examined his own face. Catherine had said he was beautiful. He was naturally inclined to believe everything Catherine told him, and he looked more closely, dismissing the feeling he always got when seeing his own reflection: the wish to see something else. He breathed deeply and accepted himself for what he was. No, truly, his face was not so horrible. Different, yes, from all those other faces. But it occurred to him suddenly that part of the beauty of human faces was that they were all so different.

He accepted himself. He remembered suddenly what Charles had told him, Charles who had once been called the Dragon Man. He had said that Vincent had a good face, a kind face. On the surface, Charles’ face was not beautiful, but he had such a kind spirit, that Vincent did indeed find him beautiful and smiled at the thought of him.

If I can find virtually every other face beautiful, Vincent thought (the evil that shone on some faces prevented them from ever being truly beautiful, even if, at first glance, they seemed so), then shouldn’t I find my own face beautiful too? From a logical standpoint, he thought he should, and accepting this, he did start to see beauty in his own face. This embarrassed him somehow though, and he looked away.

He had been so lost in thought, he had lost track of the time. He thought at least half an hour must have passed by now. His fingers were starting to have that wrinkled feeling. He removed his hands from the water and examined his claws. They did indeed seem softer. He scraped one across his palm, pressing hard. It made an indentation, but didn't break the skin. He was overjoyed. He emptied the basin, and left the bathroom.

Vincent smiled as he walked the rest of the way to his chamber. So lost in thought had he been, that he had forgotten for a short time that Catherine was here. He thrilled to see her, asleep in his bed. He went to sit next to her, facing her, one knee on the bed, the other foot on the floor. She was so lovely. And he loved her so thoroughly. He could hardly remember what his life had been like without her.

It was very late. He should try to sleep. But he didn’t think he would be able to sleep with Catherine beside him. The very idea was erotic. He started to push away the feeling, but then asked himself why. He had told Catherine earlier that he needed time to think. Could it be that these few hours were all the time he’d needed? He certainly felt attracted to her, and no lingering doubts intervened to spoil the moment. He let his desire increase, let himself truly feel it. He sighed with pleasure.

He looked at Catherine again. She was still sleeping, like an angel. He couldn't wake her. Catherine had said the moment would come when it would feel right for both of them. This obviously wasn’t it. Still, the prospect of lying beside Catherine in an aroused state was very appealing. He could sleep some other time.

Vincent changed out of his clothes and into his nightshirt and slipped into bed. He moved close to Catherine so he could feel her warmth. This was bliss. He listened to her breathe, gazing at her. Catherine took a deeper breath and shifted in her sleep. She was facing Vincent now, her hands close to her face. A shiver of desire ran through his body. Catherine's eyes twitched and she opened them. She saw Vincent and smiled. "Vincent," she murmured, closing her eyes again. "I love you."

"I love you, Catherine," Vincent said softly. He thought he should feel sorry he had disturbed her sleep, was disappointed in himself that he didn't. But only for a moment. He gently kissed Catherine's forehead.

Catherine smiled again. She put a hand to his chest and began to move closer to him, but stopped short, took back her hand, and looked at Vincent's face. She seemed more fully awake now.

"Is something wrong, Catherine?" Vincent asked, reaching out a hand to her shoulder. He was a bit puzzled by her hesitation, remembering her earlier enthusiasm.

"I made you a promise earlier, Vincent, and I think I was about to break it. I'm sorry."

Vincent smiled. He stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers, then moved his fingers to touch her neck and ear, his thumb still caressing her cheek. Catherine had closed her eyes. He kissed her gently. She returned the kiss. He put his tongue to her lips and she opened her mouth, kissing him eagerly. She again moved her hand to his chest, but again, she suddenly pulled away.

"Vincent...." she whispered.

"Catherine, I release you from your promise."

She breathed out heavily and in the next moment had her body pressed close to his. Vincent reached beneath her to put his arm around her, and this seemed to excite Catherine. She moaned. He kissed her again, from his very soul.

Catherine was surprised and delighted at this sudden turn of events, but she was afraid Vincent would bring their embrace to an abrupt end again and was therefore trying to hold back. Vincent was still making love to her mouth with his. He began to stroke her back, his other hand caressing the back of her neck through her hair. Catherine moaned again and released her passion. She moved her knee forward to Vincent's thighs, tried to wedge it between them. Vincent let her.

Now he began to pull her nightgown upward. She moaned and moved about, helping him to remove it. Their kisses stopped so the nightgown could come over her head. She pulled urgently at Vincent's nightshirt, and he sat up and pulled it off, then quickly returned to her, looking at her intently.

Such intense anticipation Catherine had never felt before. Vincent put his hand to her shoulder, and pushed it back to the bed. She groaned, her lower body flattening against the bed as well, and put her arms around Vincent, pulling him to her. He planted wet kisses on her neck now, and she cried out with desire, holding him tight.

Vincent was overwhelmed at how strong these feelings were, and how pleasurable. In spite of his all-encompassing passion, however, he felt slightly apprehensive. He really didn't know for sure exactly what to do. Pushing Catherine to the bed had been an instinct, something he just found himself doing without thinking about it. He hoped the rest would happen as naturally. He continued kissing Catherine's neck, her throat, her chest. Catherine pressed her knee against his thigh insistently. He raised his leg and moved it between hers. She shifted her body closer to him and invited his other leg into her embrace. Vincent accepted this invitation, and Catherine shifted again so she was directly beneath him. She raised her knees.

Vincent’s kisses stopped before reaching Catherine's breast. He moved his hand to caress it instead. Catherine cried out again, her breathing very heavy and fast and ragged. She had never reached such heights of desire. She couldn't remain still any longer. She began to gently kiss his shoulders, to move her hands up and down his back, to raise her hips toward his. Her moans and gasps were continuous now. If she didn't feel him inside her soon, she thought she would burst into flame.

Vincent brought his face close to hers. Her eyes were pleading. He lowered himself to her, felt her moist warmth, probed about.

Catherine moved her hips, seeking him, his hard warmth touching her. She spread her legs further apart, tilting her pelvis up as far as she could, needing him with every fiber of her being. At last feeling him at the threshold, she moved her hands to his buttocks, and he thrust inside her. Catherine groaned, bringing her hips to meet Vincent’s with each new thrust, and a fresh groan escaping her throat each time. The thought briefly crossed her mind that she was probably making too much noise, but she couldn’t help it. She had waited so long. It was a dream come true.

A few minutes of this passed, her initial passion quieted, and she turned her attention to pleasing Vincent, pleasuring herself immensely too into the bargain. She raised her feet to his buttocks for a time. Gasps and groans escaped him too now, and throaty, almost-growls as well. She met his eyes and held them, he holding her gaze as well, as their passion mounted, both of them breathing heavily, making love with their whole selves. He kissed her again so deeply, and she felt her body beginning to spasm slowly, mounting gradually to full, mind-bending, soul-touching orgasm.

Vincent felt completely at one with her. His body tensed and suddenly released in wave after wave of exquisite, merciless pleasure. As it finally began to release him, he looked into Catherine's face. What he saw reflected what he felt himself. Joy, contentment, love. Satisfied exhaustion. Slowly, gently he kissed her lips, her cheeks, her neck, her forehead, her lips again. He exhaled.

"Catherine... there are no words."

She smiled her most beautiful smile.

"I love you," they both said at once. And both smiled.

She hugged him tightly. He put his face to her shoulder, and relaxed, his body sinking onto hers.

His warm weight made her feel so secure, and it made her feel something else too, that she couldn't quite identify yet. She turned her head and kissed the side of Vincent's head. From his breathing it sounded like he was falling asleep. She began stroking his hair, gently massaging his scalp. Completely at peace.

Several minutes passed, and the feeling Catherine had noticed before solidified into a tangible thought. Vincent had obviously lost his fear of hurting her. She nestled her head closer to his and gave him another brief squeeze. She felt something almost like triumph. She tried to enjoy lying here like this with Vincent for a little while longer. He was starting to be too heavy, and she would have to ask him to move. She closed her eyes and started to drift off to sleep. After only a few minutes she awoke to Vincent lifting his weight from her.

"Catherine, I’m hurting you. Why didn’t you say s-" He stopped, staring at her in wonder. "Catherine! It’s back!" he exclaimed. "Our bond. It’s back!" He wrapped his arms around her, weeping with joy and relief.

She returned his embrace, as joyous as he. "Oh, Vincent! I’m so glad!"

He pulled back to look at her. "Catherine, you’re as pleased about this as I am?"

She smiled and nodded.

"But you said earlier that our Bond didn’t matter."

"That’s not exactly what I said. I said the important thing about our relationship is the way we feel about each other. I believe that. I tried to downplay our connection because I didn’t want you to worry. I’m sorry if I misled you. Our Bond is special to me too."

Vincent smiled, gazing into her eyes and caressing her face. "Catherine. Can you know how much it sets my mind at ease to have our bond restored? I have felt so... so apart from you these last weeks. So... vulnerable. What if... what if..."

"Shh," Catherine touched a finger to his lips. "Don’t think about what ifs tonight. Our bond is back. What better proof could we have that we are meant to be together in this way? We love each other. We are together, and all is right with the world. Whatever happens, all will be well."

And so it was.