BREATHING NEARER HEAVEN

 

Jo Fredericks

 

She stood where she had so many times before, just beyond the ragged break in the bricks below her threshold.  She would be leaving him in just a few moments.  From here she would turn and disappear through the shaft of light which fell from above, climb the metal rungs and emerge back into “her” world.  Alone again. 

Catherine felt the old familiar surge of desire rise within her - the need to do more than merely enfold Vincent in her arms for a brief embrace.  What she wanted so badly to do was to stand on tiptoe, to raise her face and press her lips to his, to share the sweet delight of intermingled breath, to savor the taste of his mouth, to impart the depth of her love in a way words and glances just could not express. 

It was getting harder and harder to control that impulse, triggered as it was by feelings so long pent up they threatened to explode.  Yet always, he expected her to control it, just as he did.  And it must be just as difficult for him as for her. For what shone from his eyes when he looked at her was a tenderness more intense than any she’d ever known, and she knew it couldn’t exist without an element of desire. 

Her lower lip began to tremble violently with the effort she was making to repress the instinct to reach out for him.  Her eyes betrayed her anxiety, the anguish in them nearly palpable as Vincent regarded her.  He felt the sweep of emotion flood over him through their Bond; so sensitive to her slightest emotional turmoil, it was fairly roiling now with the impact of her desire, sparkling bursts of magenta and piercing yellow flashes intersecting with rippling waves of deepest scarlet and glowing amethyst.

She knew, even as she gazed up at him in unspoken despair, how much her distress was affecting him.  She could see it clearly in the sudden tension in his shoulders, in the mingled agony and ecstasy reflected in his unique visage, in the tormented eyes which stared back at her, mute and beseeching.  God, what were they doing to each other?

Suddenly she’d had enough of the constant holding back.  Grabbing onto his cloak with both hands, she shook as she tugged at him, her intent clear: she wanted him to close the gap between them.  But instead of responding as she’d hoped, he raised a hand and covered one of hers with it.  Shaking his head with regret, he begged her, “Don’t.”

Catherine used her other hand to defy that request, lifting it to cup the side of his face as lightly and tenderly as she could given her overwhelming desire to crush herself against him.  She could feel him tremble at the touch, his eyes closing as if in pain. But she held him still by the force of that delicate touch, and she marveled at that, just as she also marveled at the surprising texture of his cheek and chin against her palm.  She had always imagined his beard would be rough, scratchy, as similar growth on another man might be.  But instead she found it soft, pleasing, like warm velvet  - and she longed even more to experience the feel of it against the bare flesh of her body. 

The desire she’d felt before paled in the face of what this discovery had done to her.  Imagining his face buried between her breasts, the downy feel of his cheeks tickling and soothing them, the fire of her passion built, coloring her face as the longing flamed within her.  Her own eyes closed as the image rose before her, and her head sank back as she let the thrill of that image fill her.


 

She was brought sharply back to the present by Vincent’s other hand gently disengaging hers from his cheek.  As she looked at him in dismay, he whispered hoarsely, “Please, Catherine.  Please...stop.  This cannot be.”

Catherine bit her lower lip to still the words of protest that would come so easily if she allowed them.  Searching his face, she saw the grim determination, coupled with the unspoken entreaty.  After a long moment, she nodded her head and sighed, resigned once again to the inevitability of his response to any inroads toward a physical relationship.  She let her hands fall to her sides. Casting him one last apologetic look, a sad smile on her lips, she turned to face her threshold. 

She walked forward the few steps that took her to the shaft of light, then reached out to grasp the metal rungs.  They lay beneath her hands - cold, hard, unyielding - so different from the warm, beloved face that just moments ago she had held with so much tenderness.  She thought of that metal - it had no choice but to be unyielding: it had to hold her weight...sometimes his...and it couldn’t show weakness or it would have to be replaced. 

What was so prized in this lifeless metal was so very unworthy of a heart.  Yet Vincent insisted on hardening his heart to the thought of yielding to her - and to his own - desires. And she conspired with him; however unwillingly, she consented to his insistence that no further intimacy was appropriate between them. 

The rough edges bit into her hands, chilling and scraping her palms as she squeezed the rungs convulsively.  So...was she going to allow her heart to become as cold and lifeless as this metal, to keep denying, subsuming, repressing all her natural impulses until the ability to do so became second nature, until the last light of possibility drained out of her?  Was she going to be complicit in allowing Vincent to do the same to his?

No.

Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Catherine turned away from the threshold and stepped back toward the tunnel entrance.

Vincent was surprised to see Catherine re-emerge from the shaft of light, and the look on her face stunned him.  Her forehead and mouth were set with firm lines of resolve, her lips uncharacteristically pressed thin, emphasizing her clenched jaw. 

Catherine walked back to where Vincent stood, coming to a stop just within his personal space, enough to invade it and throw off his sense of apartness, but not enough to force him to pull back.  Gazing up at him, a steely look in her green eyes, she regarded him analytically, as if calculating how best to begin whatever she apparently needed to say. 

Whatever it was, it wasn’t going to be pleasant.  He could tell from the colors rippling through their Bond - all greys and deep indigos - that she was preparing to confront him.  His breath began to quicken, and he clenched his fists in preparation for an argument he dreaded. 

“That was the last time, Vincent,” she warned him.  “Tonight you stopped me yet again from expressing my love for you in an intimate, physical way.  You won’t get away with it again.”

He opened his mouth to explain, but she wasn’t going to let him stop her.  She continued to speak, her voice strong and clear, impassioned yet calm.

“Listen carefully.  I’m going to say it as plainly as I can, so there can be no possibility of misinterpretation. 

“I love you.  I...love...you.  That’s a fact.  No, it’s more than that - it’s my reason for being.  And it won’t change, no matter what. 

“If you think that by allowing intimacy between us it will somehow make it harder for me to find someone Above to love, you’re wrong.  Because that will never happen - whether you allow my touch or not.  I am committed to you, now and forever.  For the rest of your life...for the rest of mine...there can be no other in my heart. 

“Hear me: if something were to happen to you today, my heart would go on loving you until my last breath.  It would make no difference if you were by my side or not.  Do you understand?  This is real, it’s forever, and it exists with or without touch or words or proximity.  It just is.  Trying to keep it at bay or locked up isn’t doing either of us any good.  And it’s futile, because whatever you mean to gain by it isn’t a possibility.” She stopped speaking, but her eyes pinned him, boring into his soul, willing him to accept the truth of all she said. 

Vincent realized he hadn’t breathed once since she’d returned from her threshold, and now he took a harsh, ragged breath, pulling the needed air deep into his frantic lungs. The woman standing before him looked small and fragile, but she was like a force of nature, a whirlwind in his soul.  Their Bond thrummed with the intensity of her fervor, her love washing over him in deep, shimmering crimson hues even as the profound conviction within her wove through his heart with bands of glowing sapphire. 

He was desperate to free her, to give her back to the world of light from which she came - a world he could have no part in, but which was her natural element.  Every instinct within him cried out against this, for how could he live without her sweet presence in his life?  But he had always felt it was the best thing for her - and if he loved her...and he did, intensely...he must strive to do what was in her best interests, disregarding his own. Yet she stubbornly refused to go, doggedly resisted his resolve, striving always to deepen their connection, to tie herself ever more firmly to his life, his world, despite what was best for her.  And now...this - her adamant demand that he cease the struggle, that he give way, yield to an inevitability he had fought against since....

The realization came over him then: it was too late.  Whatever his noble intentions, however much she would benefit by searching for a better life Above - none of that mattered.  It had been too late the moment their paths had crossed, when she had lain nearly lifeless on the ground and his hand had first reached out to her.  Their lives since had been an inexorable process of weaving together, of converging in a thousand different ways, until they were so inextricably interlinked by bonds of love and devotion, of admiration and respect, of faithfulness and commitment, that it was truly impossible to tell one heart from another, his soul from hers, her destiny from his.

Catherine was right.  The battle he had waged had always been so painful because it had been doomed from the start - somewhere within him he must have known that.  Yet long-ingrained assumptions had overridden his own soul’s desire and hers, forcing him to attempt the impossible. 

She had tried before to go, in unspoken compliance with his will: Elliot was all he could have wanted for her - someone who could protect and provide for her, someone who could give her the kind of home and family she so richly deserved, someone who could grow to love her as she needed to be loved - yet he wasn’t enough.  Vincent understood now that no one else would ever be enough for her, not when her heart already knew who it loved, not when her soul already lived within his own.  As unworthy as he felt, as many compromises as she must make, the footprints of her heart were firmly planted within his own. 

Vincent sighed heavily, looking down at his feet, away from the intensity of Catherine’s gaze.  He shook his head as if clearing it.  Then, letting the tension leave his body, he unclenched his fists and raised them to her shoulders as his eyes again sought hers. 

“I...don’t deserve you, Catherine.”

She took in a breath, intent on protest, but he stunned her into silence when one long, claw-tipped index finger pressed gently to her lips.

Smiling slightly, he cocked his head to one side and remarked, “It’s my turn now.”

When he saw she wouldn’t object, he removed his finger and replaced his hand on her shoulder, squeezing her lightly.  The feel of her beneath his hands was exquisite - he captured her shoulders more firmly in his cupped palms and increased the pressure until he heard her sigh softly in delight.

“You must be formidable in court, Catherine.  You make such compelling arguments,” he said wryly. The smile then faded, his eyes and his voice growing more serious. 

“I’ve tried...so hard.  You deserve so much more than I can ever give you.  I never meant to....”  Before she could voice an objection, he silenced his own last, desperate rebuttal.  “But I see now how futile it all has been.”  Taking a deep breath, he continued, “I know your heart, feel every nuance of your love, every shade of it.  It’s astounding... staggering... overwhelming.  That you could love me...want me...out of all the men in the world....  But I know it’s true.”

Her eyes, fearful before at what he might say, had melted into a look of surprised relief.  Tears now pricked the corners of her eyes, and she blinked rapidly in a futile attempt to keep them from falling.  She felt the pressure of his fingers as his hands left her shoulders to brush the tears from her cheeks.

“Don’t cry, Catherine.  Or I will.”  His voice was thick with the emotion he made no attempt to conceal.  “I....”  He shook his head again, as if amazed at what he was about to say.  “I love you...more than my life, more than my world, more than my next breath.  I would give anything to make you happy.”  He didn’t seem to notice the tears which now crept down his own high cheekbones, losing themselves in the soft stubble of his beard.  “I love you, Catherine.”

Slowly he lowered his head.  He met her expectant lips with his own searching ones. 

His first kiss was a pressure so light it felt as if angels’ wings fluttered against her mouth - a faint brush, no more. Catherine closed her eyes in ecstasy, her mouth opening as she sought to take in the air perfumed by his sweet breath - her first taste of heaven.  She could feel the heat of him, hovering so near, and she lifted her face closer instinctively, her mouth finding his and pressing her own moist adoration upon it.  She let the pressure of it linger, and was rewarded when he returned the pressure with more urgency, emboldened and hungry now for more of her delectable essence. 

As if coming home, Vincent took a step toward Catherine, letting his own body mold to hers.  The sudden sensation of her curves pressed against him drew a loud groan from him, which he quickly suppressed.  She could sense his mortification, even before he pulled his mouth roughly from hers and began to turn away. 

Throwing her arms around his waist, she stopped his retreat, urging him back to her until she once more could nestle into his warm embrace.  When she had him close again, Catherine murmured throatily against his ear, “That sound you made...it sent a thrill down my spine.  To know I can affect you like that - the way you affect me - it’s wonderful.”

He lifted his head and gazed at her with a look that was so open, so vulnerable, so grateful, it made her heart break.  She opened her mouth to speak again, but no words would come.  She couldn’t concentrate on anything but him.  So she used their Bond as she never had before, concentrating on sending her empathy and understanding to him in undulating turquoise waves.  When Vincent’s gaze shifted in mute surprise and his eyes took on a dazed look, she knew she had gotten through to him.  Her smile was meant to encourage, and he smiled slightly in return, nodding once to thank her. 

One of her hands crept up to his face, still not completely sure he wouldn’t try to stop her caress.  But he stood still, just holding her, and when her fingers slid gently across his jawline, he tilted his head slightly to deepen the touch.

Vincent felt her fingertips upon him and for the first time allowed himself to embrace the tenderness and love her touch communicated.  His very flesh seemed to vibrate in response, treasuring the caress she so tentatively offered.  When he could bear being still no more, he turned his face into her palm, nuzzling it, drinking in her scent.  His tongue flicked out once - quickly, furtively - to taste her flesh, and he was astonished to hear a moan of ecstasy rise from her throat.  He looked up in wonder to catch the sublime expression on her face, and understood that what he’d thought in himself to be a coarse reaction to her touch was in fact an involuntary response to an overwhelming stimulation.  That sound resonated in his bones, electrifying him.  He understood now what Catherine was trying to convey to him before.  His response had not been vulgar or off-putting, and it was not only acceptable, it was arousing to her.

Reassured, he lifted one hand to capture hers, holding it still, while he did what he had long desired to do: he pressed dozens of kisses upon her palm, her fingers, her wrist - moist, ardent kisses which expressed his devotion and awe that such a beautiful, exceptional creature as she would grace him with her love. 

Vincent’s courtly yet erotic actions both charmed and moved Catherine.  She felt adored in a way no other man had ever made her feel.  Yet implicit in his actions was an overt sensuality which enthralled her.  Just considering the possibilities was dizzying.  He was not only accepting the idea that they could truly be everything to each other, he was proving that that “everything” would be incredible.  How she wanted to confirm that...for him.

Gently she disengaged her hand from his, taking his in her own before he could worry that somehow he had again done something improper.  She gazed down at the hand she held - it was large, fearsome, powerful, dangerous...yet all she could see was the hand of her beloved.  She let him feel that within her - her incredible rapture that his warm palm was resting upon her own, that he was acknowledging her right to hold him this way.  Lifting his hand to her face, she rubbed her cheek against it, delighting in the texture - like raw silk - of its furred covering, then buried her nose in the thickness of it to inhale the unique musk of his skin.  His scent was heady, intoxicating - she wondered if he knew how much she craved that scent upon her own skin, mingled with the aroma of their lovemaking. 

But she was getting far ahead of herself.

Concentrating on the here and now, Catherine turned his hand palm upward and pressed reverent kisses there, to show him that she cherished him as well.  But she didn’t stop there.  She grew bolder, her tongue peeking out to taste him, but not with furtive licks as he had done.  No, she tasted him daringly, flicking her tongue along his fingers, lightly suckling on their tips, claws and all, pressing gently sucking kisses across the callused skin of his palm.  She felt him shudder against her, and she knew he was transported by the intimate contact.  And more - he craved it, longed for the sensual bliss her mouth promised. 

Looking up at him, she saw that his eyes had darkened until the blue was almost lost to the black.  She knew the undisguised hunger she saw was reflected in her own eyes, for his widened when their eyes met as he recognized the passion in hers. 

Why was he so astonished to find within her a need which equaled his own? she wondered.  He must have felt it all these many long months, must have been aware it existed, simmering just below the surface. But then she realized he had probably never trusted what he felt, never truly believed those feelings could be for him.  Or if he did, he never imagined that if she were faced with the reality of intimacy with him, those feelings could long remain. Well, then she would have to prove to him that her need, her desire, could only grow and deepen with expression and opportunity.  She would make sure that he could never doubt their reality again.

Catherine cradled Vincent’s hand against her face, never taking her eyes from his.  “You taste so good,” she whispered, watching for the surprise to light his face, then allowing her eyes to focus on his lips, ensuring he understood the implication of her words. 

He did.  His hand turned within hers to cup one cheek and his other hand followed suit.  He held her that way, as if her face were a crystal chalice from which he was about to sip.  His eyes - luminous, full of wonder - took in every feature, never lingering for long anywhere, until his gaze eventually rested upon her mouth.  There the intensity of his gaze hovered as if memorizing every subtle nuance of her lips.  Finally he closed his eyes and lowered his mouth once more to hers, capturing her lips in a gentle yet stunningly sensual kiss.

“Ummmmm.” Catherine’s mouth watered, and she parted her lips under his so that she could taste him more fully.  Her small tongue lapped lightly against the tender pinkness of the cleft in his upper lip, drawing a half-growl, half-whimper from him.  She continued to lick lazily against that slick flesh, until his jaw dropped open, his stunned gasp music to her gratified ears.

His hands fell away from her face so that his arms could slide around her in a powerful, possessive embrace. He held her completely - one arm high around her shoulders, drawing her into himself...one lower, tightening around her waist, nestling her against his torso, while his mind whirled and his blood surged with the unleashing of his sensual potential.  He had never known that hated cleft could be the source of so much pleasure, such sweet torment.  Now Catherine made him cherish even this despised part of his body by anointing it with the lightest of touches, the most delicate of caresses, until he would praise the heavens for endowing him with that unique and wonderful patch of flesh so that Catherine’s tongue could play there.

 She could feel how his full lower lip quivered where it pressed now just below hers, and she delighted in the hot raspiness of his tongue as it tentatively searched across her lower lip, then descended within her mouth to feast upon the supple, satiny flesh of it. As he tasted her, she continued to lave the sensitive flesh of his cleft, knowing how he loved it. 

Her breasts ached for more intimate contact - too many clothes were in the way, yet she tried what she could to get closer to him.  She arched her back, crushing her breasts against his chest, glorying in the feel of his hard pectoral muscles meeting her yielding flesh, even through the layers between them.  Her nipples were taut and so sensitive - she could feel them pressing yearningly against his chest, and she wished their clothes could suddenly disappear, so that their bare, hungry flesh could meet and merge.

Vincent nearly wept when he felt Catherine press herself closer to him. If he’d wanted proof, this was it: it wasn’t just his need - she wanted this, too...wanted this incredible electric sensation which was devastating to him, of their bodies so tautly aware of each other.  He felt the changes in her - her nipples now aroused and erect beneath her blouse, her skin so hot it nearly scorched his palms even through the clothes she wore, her eager mouth....

Her tongue, repeatedly stroking against his sensitive cleft, was driving him wild with longing.  The heat of her mouth intoxicated him, its lush textures compelling him to taste her again and again.  He was ravenous, his earlier hesitation deserting him as his blood quickened and every atom of his body cried out for more of her.  Impulsively, his arms tightened further, holding her so close now that he knew she could feel the throbbing steel of his erection - but he was beyond fearing what it revealed of his need. He wanted her to feel it, to acknowledge the power she had over him.

And if it was somehow...too much for her?  His mind spun.  Would it be like it had been with Lisa? Would he be able to let her go, to pull back without harming her?  His arms trembled with the force of his desire.  All they seemed capable of doing was holding her close...he couldn’t remember how to open them anymore.

Catherine felt the rushing force of Vincent’s hunger, the kindled flames of passion at last unbanked and raging free...and most of all, the pulsing, demanding urgency of his manhood pressing deeply into her abdomen.  It galvanized her into action.  She wanted to meet that demand with one of her own.

Crushing her mouth against his, she intensified their kiss even further, offering him everything, tasting him deeply, voraciously.  She lifted one leg, wrapping it around one of his rock-hard thighs, melding herself more solidly into his torso, allowing his erection to press more intimately against her body.  She heard his groan of mingled relief and excitement, which impelled her to brush her lower torso hard against his, nearly crying out with the euphoria of the sensations that movement inspired. 

Suddenly, they heard noises overhead.  Soft shuffling footsteps and muffled voices passed by the door of her storage compartment, along with the sound of something heavy being dragged across the floor.  Workmen?  Movers?  Whichever, there were people close by, people who might hear even their smothered sounds of passion.  Panting, breathless, they clung to each other, despair at their thwarted ardor evident in every line of their bodies. 

Catherine, hot tears of frustration splashing from her eyes, hissed a heartfelt “Damn it!” and lowered the leg she had twined around his.  Then she gazed at Vincent with a look of sad perplexity on her face.  “I don’t want to stop!”

Vincent’s eyes were distracted, dazed.  He focused on her only with great effort.  “Nor I,” he admitted in a husky whisper, still gasping with the struggle to control his body’s reactions.  “Perhaps....”

Here it comes, she thought, bracing herself for the inevitable “it’s for the best” comment she could already imagine following that one irritating word.  She absolutely did not want to hear that particular phrase now.  But she was wrong, and what he said instead stunned and delighted her.

“Perhaps,” he continued, “we could...go to a place I know.... A quiet place...well-hidden.... No one ever goes there and we would not be disturbed....”

“Will you take me there...now?” she begged.

Staring at her in rapt wonder, he paused for a moment to absorb her words, to ensure he had not misunderstood her in his overwhelming desire to continue what had been so abruptly interrupted.  She was waiting for his answer, her hands clutching his shoulders so fiercely she was actually hurting him.  “Yes,” he replied finally, then reached up to grasp one of her hands tightly in his own.  “This way.”

He led her down corridors and tunnelways with which she was not familiar, away from the Central Hub, deep within his world, far from the sounds and sights of regular habitation.  As they walked, Vincent took a torch from a wall sconce to light their way as they continued into the farther passageways for which such lighting was not available.  Finally he halted their progress, ducked his head and entered sideways through a rough-hewn gap in the solid bedrock.  Catherine could hear something - rushing wind? running water?  She wasn’t sure, but she followed immediately, her trust in Vincent implicit.

After traversing a narrow passage, they emerged into a wider space, so dark Catherine could see nothing beyond the light cast by the torch.  Vincent whispered, “I’ll be right back,” then left her side.  He moved away and she heard him walk several paces and stop.  Another torch set in a wall sconce flared into life.  More steps, then another torch was lit.  Eventually, she could see that the space they were in was a large cavern, enormous at its furthest end, its ceiling lost in the darkness.  The sound she’d heard was a small waterfall about ten feet in height gushing out of the wall off to her left into a shallow pool; from there the water drifted lazily away through a deep recess at the other end of the cavern.  There was a high natural shelf of flat rock near the falls, just out of the spray’s reach, with step-like formations leading up to it.  All around them there was nothing but bare rock wall, lit now at irregular intervals by the torches.

“I brought the torches myself,” Vincent explained as she looked around.  “Long ago, for when I wanted to come here.  I used to come quite often...before....”

She looked up at him.  “Before...me?”

He nodded.  “To be alone with my thoughts.  To...gather strength.  I haven’t needed to as much...since.” He smiled shyly in acknowledgment of his admission.  She had made such a difference in his life, banishing the loneliness which had become a constant, dulling ache in the center of his existence.  He had never truly expressed his gratitude to her for the simple gift of friendship she had blessed him with - although it had grown into so much more.  Yet just that gesture, so early in their relationship, had been a godsend, a treasure beyond price.  Places such as this - places where, in unbroken solitude, he had cried out his despair and agony to an unfeeling universe - were places from his past now.  But perhaps today...this place could serve a different purpose.

  It suddenly occurred to him that the spartan accommodations of the cavern, which had never bothered him, might not be considered acceptable by someone of Catherine’s sensibilities.  “There are few comforts, but....”

Just as he was about to curse himself for having given no thought to what she would expect, Catherine banished his concerns.  “It’s perfect,” she sighed, and he could sense from the rippling warm colors which permeated their Bond that she was telling the absolute truth.

Turning to each other, they melted into a fervent embrace which lasted for a long, exhilarating time. Relief coursed through Vincent, but it was quickly replaced by an echo of those sensations which had so recently been foremost in his mind.  Her supple, pliant body hugged him close, her soft curves molding to his hard planes so deliciously, it made his head spin with wonder.  She was so warm, so vibrant, so lovely - and he could feel a corresponding desire welling in her breast as it did in his. 

That she could desire as deeply as he did amazed him.  He could understand his hunger well enough.  She was so beautiful she took his breath away; any man would crave her at first sight.  What he couldn’t understand was how she could ache for him as well.  What was he, after all?  He never looked at his own reflection in a mirror if he could help it, his differences mocked him so mercilessly when he did.  How could Catherine see beyond them into his soul?  How could she excuse the poor, misshapen clay within which his heart was wrapped?  Yet it was true - he could sense her desire for him as truly as his own for her.

Catherine leaned back to regard him, her eloquent green eyes telling him all he needed to know.  Whatever she saw, it was enough.  Since she loved him, he would be grateful and no longer wonder at it.  If she could love him despite his fearsome visage, his grotesque hands, his densely muscled, hirsute body, he should get on his knees and weep in gratitude for her sufferance, not probe her reasons too closely.  Even if it was pity that motivated her, her tender charity was still a consolation to be cherished beyond measure.  But...how could she pity him...and yet desire him so utterly?  He had opened their Bond as wide as he’d dared, and there was no sensation of distaste, not even one quickly masked, when he touched her, when he kissed her.... He sighed.  She was a puzzle, a beautiful mystery.

Catherine couldn’t tell what was going on behind those lustrous blue eyes, but she had an uneasy feeling that a subtle shifting had taken place in him since their passionate encounter below her threshold.  He was looking at her with something akin to gratitude - not exactly with servility, but definitely not as an equal partner.  It was almost as if...as if...as if he were a dog who expected to be kicked but was grateful that instead its master had deigned to pet him.  This wasn’t her ardent, brave, invincible Vincent.  What was happening inside him?

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” she asked, concern coloring her voice.

He shook his head and pulled away from her.  Striding over to the stone stairs, he placed one foot on a high step and, leaning back, looked up at the falls instead of at her. 

“Vincent?”  She came up behind him and reached around him, hugging him at the waist.  His hands came down to grasp hers and hold her close.

“I was just thinking.  Of how beautiful you are, how easy to love.  And of how...I look, and what you must...overlook...in order to...desire me.”

“You think too much sometimes,” she countered, then turned him to face her.  “I don’t have to ‘overlook’ anything, Vincent.  I find you exceptionally beautiful...and incredibly desirable.”

He leaned his head back to stare into the blackness above their heads.  “I know what I am, Catherine.  I am not...beautiful...not anyone’s ideal.”

“You’re mine,” she avowed.  “Look at me, please, Vincent.”

Slowly he looked down at her.  There were tears in his eyes. 

“Don’t.  I can’t stand it.”  Her own eyes began to fill.  “Your pain is so unnecessary!  What do you think I’m doing - loving you out of pity?” 

The sudden tension in him made her realize she’d guessed right, and the thought first wounded, then angered her.

“I’m not that noble, believe me.  And how dare you question what I think of as beautiful?  When I have your child, if he looks like you...would you call him ugly?  If you said that to my face, it would be the last thing you’d say.  I don’t think I could forgive something like that.”

She was still talking, but her words became mere buzzing in his ears as his startled mind focused on one phrase: when I have your child.  That assumption, so baldly stated, so obviously accepted as a possibility - a probability - that she didn’t even qualify it with an “if,” did more to assuage his concerns about her motivations in loving him than any other protestation she could have made.  If she would willingly bear a child, knowing how he might look....  She couldn’t want to bring an abomination into the world, so she truly must feel that what he was...was beautiful.  The realization staggered him.  He looked down at his hands in awe, turning them over, bending his fingers to stare at the thick, sharp nails, the fur covering their backs.

She’d noted the glazed look in his eyes, and rightly guessed that something she’d said had made an impression on him.  Falling silent, she allowed his thought processes to continue, and she watched in puzzlement as he lifted his hands and stared at them as if seeing them for the first time.

After a time, he lowered his hands.  When he looked up again, his whole demeanor was different.  She had her ardent lover back - the one who’d practically dragged her to this place so they could be alone...completely alone...to love one another as they’d always dreamed.

Hoping her point had been taken on the former topic, Catherine changed the subject by  offering her hand to him and asking,  “Help me up to that wide ledge near the falls?”

He nodded and together they mounted the step-like rocks to the broad ledge.  The light from the torches barely reached this far.  It was dusky, shadowy - not to Catherine’s liking at all. They were going to love each other, and she wanted them to experience it fully.  Even though his eyesight was far more sensitive than hers and he could see perfectly well in this dim light, she was feeling a bit selfish - she want to see him clearly, to see his pleasure, to see his reaction when he experienced hers.  “Can we get more light?” she queried, spreading her arms to indicate the area before her.

He thought a moment, then descended and strode over to a large rock fall by the entrance.  He disappeared behind it and emerged shortly with a lighted lantern which he brought back up with him.  As he approached, she noted that under his arm he carried an Army surplus blanket and what looked like an old, worn afghan.  Vincent smiled shyly - was he blushing? - and nodded at the flat, hard stone surface of the large rock shelf they were standing on. 

Catherine held out her hand and he gave her the blanket, then turned to set the lantern aside where it would be out of their way but still give off adequate light.  She shook out the blanket and laid it on the ground, and Vincent bundled the afghan into a makeshift pillow.  Then he swept off his cloak and laid it on top of the blanket. 

When they were done with their impromptu housekeeping, they turned to look at each other once more. Vincent’s gaze was solemn, but his eyes betrayed a hint of the excitement he was feeling.  Catherine’s heart was hammering in her chest and she knew her face was flushed.  She hoped he wouldn’t notice the blush in the light cast by the lantern, but he stepped over to her and cupped her cheek in his palm, running his thumb tenderly over her flushed cheek. 

“You are so lovely, Catherine,” he murmured, and before she could react, he bent to kiss her, drawing her face nearer while his other arm drew her close at the waist.

Suddenly it was like they had never left her threshold.  Their passion flared into immediate life, their bodies seeking each other to press as close as they could.  Catherine entwined her fingers in the lush profusion of Vincent’s red-blond mane and crushed her lips against his, her hungry mouth devouring the heavenly taste she’d so recently discovered.  She rubbed herself sinuously against him, anxious to feel the corresponding pulse of awakened flesh as his erection grew in potency.

Vincent’s mouth left Catherine’s to trace a searing path of kisses across her jaw and down her throat.  She gasped at the intoxicating sexuality of his actions, so bold and demanding.  Each kiss was punctuated by gentle nips of his sharp incisors, leaving a trail of highly sensitized flesh in its wake.  When he came to the neckline of her blouse, he hesitated only a moment, then reached down to tug firmly at the buttons, pulling the fabric apart effortlessly until the blouse fell open to her waist. 

Catherine’s chest rose and fell rapidly with her heavy panting, and Vincent’s eyes gazed raptly at the heaving swell of her breasts above the edge of her delicate lace bra.  He could see the puckered flesh of her nipples clearly through the lacework, and he bent lower to nuzzle against her there.  Catherine’s heart now fluttered violently against her ribcage as she took in the so-longed-for sight of her beloved at her breast.  Her legs grew weak, and she sagged heavily against his solid strength, the tumult within her blood too intense to be borne.

Suddenly, she felt her legs slip out from under her, and Vincent’s strong arms carried her down to the blanketed expanse of stone beneath them.  He knelt and laid her gently upon the ground, his eyes blazing with the intensity of his desire.  One of her arms snaked up and curled around his neck, urging him down to her.  Unable to resist the invitation, he followed where she led, lying on his side so he could look down on her. 

Catherine’s eyes were heavy-lidded, smoky with desire; her seductive smile spoke volumes, hinting at pleasures to come.  Vincent bent forward to meet that promise, taking her mouth with a growl of impatience.  His free hand crossed to Catherine’s shoulder, where it pushed and tugged at her jacket and blouse, attempting to free her from them.  Catherine responded by lifting her shoulder and shrugging off the offending articles of clothing.  Between them, they pulled the jacket and blouse away, never breaking from their impassioned kissing.  When her clothes lay on the ground, Catherine began to work at the topmost button on her jeans, then slid the zipper down impatiently.  Vincent pulled back from her mouth reluctantly, but anxious for her to disrobe, and he slipped the boots off her feet and pulled off her socks as Catherine peeled her jeans down her trim, shapely legs. 

She lay before him now with only her lacy bra and a scrap of silk underwear between him and heaven.  But before he could move to caress the rosy skin he had longed to touch, small fingers began their eager exploration of the lacings on his vest.  He, knowing the intricacies of the ties much better than she, helped her, making short work of the unfastening.  As Catherine sat up and began to yank at his sweater where it was tucked into his jeans, he worked to loosen the buttons on his jeans.  She pulled the sweater off him from behind, tugging it over his head and into her lap, then she folded it quickly into a pillow and lay it beside the afghan - now they both had a place to lay their heads.

Then, before his astonished eyes, she unhooked the tiny clasp which held her bra in place.  It fell open to disclose the small but delectable breasts which had tormented his dreams for so long. The ripe, dusky nipples seemed to call to him, begging to be caressed, and he longed to encompass the delicious heaviness of her breasts in his eager hands.  But before he could become fully mesmerized by their beauty, Catherine slid her underwear off and tossed the bit of cloth aside.  The suddenness of her actions left him unprepared for what he now faced - his beloved, completely and utterly naked, her hunger obvious, her desire plain. His nostrils twitched as the scent of her arousal reached him - a heady musk that was both compelling and mouth-watering.

Realizing he had stopped undressing while Catherine removed her remaining garments, he revived enough to undo the remaining buttons on his pants. As his jeans fell open, Vincent felt the cool air of the cavern waft over his heated arousal, which made him realize how chilled Catherine must be getting, sitting beside him with nothing on.  His arms and chest were warm, but he had a thick covering of short, soft fur to keep him that way, while Catherine had only her bare, tender skin...so lovely...so delicate...and so exposed. 

He stared down at her for a heartbeat, staggered by her beauty. Her skin glowed in the flickering lantern light - a blushing pearl set against the dark fabric of his cloak and the shadowy dimness beyond their perch.  There was no sound except for the splash of the falls out of sight below them.  There was nothing and no one...but her.  She was everything he desired, and she was so close...and she wanted him so much. With a muffled groan, he stripped his jeans and boots from his body, no longer afraid of revealing himself to another.  This was Catherine, the woman who cherished him so completely he could no longer doubt his own worthiness to be loved. 

He gathered his beloved into a fervent embrace, soothing the gooseflesh on her arms with the heat of his body.  She embraced him fully in return and began to lie back; he followed her, covering her at full length, nearly overcome with the sensation of his bare flesh pressed against her own bareness.  He could never have imagined a joy as intense as this, holding her with no constraints, no barriers - only their own essences intertwined.  Every soft curve of her nestled within a place in his body which seemed to have been made for her; every ounce of him cried out to become one with the treasured creature within in his arms.

Catherine had left reason and rationality far behind once Vincent’s arms encircled her naked, sensitized flesh.  Everything she’d dreamed of through long, lonely nights was within her grasp now.  All she had to do was reach out for him, and he would be there - in full and glorious reality, not as a phantom of her fantasies.  And what a reality he was, his hard-muscled body so firm and delicious, his manhood so impressively heavy, his body so ripe for the love she longed to shower upon him.  She clung to him without thought, without concern, knowing he wouldn’t pull away - not now...not ever again.  The intensity of her need vibrated through her as his arms tightened around her; she barely retained the power of speech, but there was something she had to say.

He felt her shivering and thought at first that she was still cold.  But her words left no doubt that was not the case, as she gasped, “Oh, God...you feel...so...good,” and he realized she was trembling in ecstasy.  Shamelessly she pressed herself against him in a full-body caress, wanting to touch him everywhere at once, with every part of herself. 

Vincent was rendered nearly paralyzed by the acute sensations coursing through his body - the physical act of embracing a lover, so new to his comprehension, was by far the most intense experience he had ever had.  But it became even more than merely incomprehensibly wonderful, it became sublimely transcendent when it was Catherine who touched him, Catherine who held him, Catherine whose body proclaimed its wanton desire for him.  As she entwined her legs around his, he felt the slick wet warmth of her arousal pressing intimately against him, and his own body responded instinctively, nudging into that warmth, the broad, distended head of his phallus nearly penetrating her.  He’d never been so fully aroused before; it frightened him, that his body could respond to hers in such an intensely powerful way, his erection so thick and engorged, almost to the point of pain. 

She’d planned this in her mind a thousand times - the slow seduction, the progression of ever more delectable intimacies, until finally she had them both so feverishly excited that any awkwardness they might feel over their first time together would melt from the intensity of their need.  Those plans were apparently as unnecessary as they were unremembered.  All it had taken to light the fire was being together...alone...and the spark had engendered a roaring blaze that threatened to consume them almost before the match had been pulled away.  She didn’t care.  It was all too wonderful, too incredible to be believed.  Thought and planning were superfluous - all they ever had needed was...each other.

This was all happening so fast...too fast.  He wanted to take things slower, to savor her and this moment.  But Catherine seemed to be past the point of rational thought already - her head thrown back, her nostrils flaring, her breath coming in small, panting gasps, her body arching to meet his.  He gazed down in amazement at her - if he’d had any lingering doubts about her desire for him, they would have been vanquished by this evidence of her intense and feral need.  Her small hands were clutching at his back and shoulders feverishly, and nearly breathless moans escaped from her throat in a hypnotic rhythm.  And he was in as distracted a state as Catherine - he was panting wildly, with something like a rumbling growl reverberating from the back of his throat, and his own hands were wrapped around Catherine possessively.  He could barely hold himself back from just burying himself within her and pumping his essence deep inside her body.    

Catherine was ready...he was ready.  The time for savoring might come...but now was not that time - not when their hunger was so intense, so overwhelming. He stopped fighting the instinctive impulse then, lowering his mouth to her bared breast, taking it deep into his mouth and tonguing and suckling it, drawing groans of ecstasy from his beloved.  He let his hands take possession of her, caressing her with a sensual force that left no room for refusal. 

As she shared his discovery of the depths of his own ravenous need, Catherine was astounded.  The pure eroticism of his actions, the staggering virility, the matchless power of his sensuality, left her breathless.  She could deny him nothing - she willingly gave him everything, even before he asked.  His mouth and hands read every inch of her - her trembling readiness, her supple curves, her tender flesh. Vincent cherished Catherine until her taste, her textures were firmly imprinted on his fingertips, his palms, his tongue - until her essence became his own. 

When he could hold back no longer and his body at lasted requested entry, Catherine was already begging in a throaty whisper, “Please...please...please....”  Closing his eyes, he gave himself up to her, driving deep into her silken channel, letting himself be rapturously engulfed in the flame of her passion.  She climaxed almost simultaneously with his first thrust, and the rippling of her inner muscles tugged at his tortured flesh past bearing.  He thrust once more and his own consummation was upon him.  He realized only afterwards that he had roared out his defiant joy to the universe as her sweet body compelled his first orgasmic spasms, the roar changing to one of triumph as he sated himself within her, emptying his seed into her womb even as he merged his soul with hers within their Bond. 

 

Vincent didn’t remember exactly what had happened next, but eventually he found himself lying beside Catherine, one leg thrown possessively over hers, an arm draped over her torso.  His head was lying upon her breast, and her arms held him close, one pressing his cheek softly against her bare skin, the other wrapped around his shoulders, hugging him tightly.  Sighing, he lifted his head and gazed up into the tenderly smiling face of his beloved.  Her hair was a tousled mass of honey gold, one stray tendril falling gracefully across her cheek.  He reached up lazily and brushed it behind her ear, lingering to play his fingers through her hair and down the glowing, slightly damp skin of her dear face.  Her smile widened.

“Hey, you,” she murmured. 

He lifted his head and pressed a kiss to her chin in response.  “I love you,” he said, so simply and so eloquently it made her heart stutter in her chest.

“I wish I could tell you how much....”  She was at a loss for words.  How could she begin?  What they’d shared had been so much more than merely a physical joining.  She felt as if she were a part of him now..and he a part of her.  As if, should she look in a mirror now, she’d see two pairs of eyes staring back at her - one pair her familiar green, the other - startling blue.

He closed his eyes and shook his head, then rested his face in the hollow of her neck.  “There’s no need, Catherine,” he whispered, the hoarse, velvety tone of his voice causing a tremor of delight to course through her.  “What you’ve given me...it can’t be measured in words, can’t be described.” 

He lay still upon her for a long time.  No words were exchanged.  They both listened to the waters singing to them in the darkness beyond their lantern light. Catherine stroked the lustrous golden tendrils of his hair where it splayed across her chest and shoulders, so grateful for this peaceful moment and for the glorious moments which had come before that she had no desire to speak.

Finally, lifting himself from her with difficulty - for he longed to remain there forever - Vincent rose to a sitting position, cross-legged, his penis still impressively engorged despite his so-recent fulfillment.  She sat up, then knelt beside him, wanting to maintain the physical closeness they had shared a little longer. 

“Why did you leave?”  She couldn’t believe he wanted to part from her so soon, not after what had gone between them.

“I didn’t...leave.  I only....  I.... Oh, Catherine!”  He reached for her, gathering her up in his arms and guiding her onto his lap, folding her legs around his waist so that they were as close as before.  One of his hands cupped her bottom, the other the back of her head.  He held her still and just stared into her eyes for a moment.

“What have you done to me, Catherine?  I’m not the same person I was an hour ago.”  The look on his face betrayed his confusion.

“I don’t understand,” she replied.  “You’re still you...still my wonderful, extraordinary Vincent.”

“No.”  He shook his head.  “No longer.”

Puzzled, her brows furrowed.  “Why do you think that’s so?”

His breathing began to sound shaky, unsteady, then he began to pant, then gasp.  Suddenly, tears began to course, furious and hot, down his cheeks.  The sudden change in him startled Catherine.  His distress was evident, but she didn’t know what was causing it. 

Taking his face between her hands, she begged, “What is it?  Tell me!”

He closed his eyes tightly, as if in pain. His gasps turned into sobs, and he laid his head on her shoulder and began to cry so violently that his shoulders, hunched and trembling, pounded against hers as she held him. 

The storm of weeping continued unabated for long minutes.  Catherine didn’t know what to do except to hold him close and murmur words of reassurance and love.  But whatever pain was being expelled from his deepest soul was harsh and intense, and her consolation did nothing to ease it.  Finally, she just lay her head against his and rocked him gently, trying to absorb his anguish through their Bond, conveying her love to him in soothing rose-hued waves of comfort.

With agonizing slowness the storm passed, until once again Vincent’s breathing regained a semblance of normalcy.  But he didn’t lift his head from where it rested; if anything, he sought to burrow deeper into her embrace.  Catherine gathered him to her with all the strength she possessed. 

“Just hold on to me, Vincent.  Just hold on,” she whispered.  He responded mutely, tightening his arms around her.  She heard him murmur something, but the words were smothered, unintelligible.  Ever so gently, she urged his head up.  “I didn’t understand.  What did you...?”

His eyes were swollen and red from weeping, and Catherine’s heart clutched to see the naked vulnerability on his face.  Sympathy caused tears to prick in her eyes.  What could have caused such trauma to him after the beautiful experience they had just shared?

“I’m sorry, Catherine.  I....  I’m sorry,” he mumbled, a slight lisp betraying the depth of his distress.

“There’s no need to apologize,” she reassured him. “Just tell me what I can do to help.”

He shook his head, then let it hang down, his endearingly disarranged locks hiding his face from view.  She cupped his cheek in one hand to lift his face to hers and with gentle, compassionate kisses, began to nuzzle the tears from his face.  She felt his warm breath as a deep, shuddering sigh escaped him, but he didn’t offer any resistance. 

Catherine licked the salty traces of his tears from his eyelashes, his cheeks, his chin.  When all vestiges were gone, she continued to press soft, consoling kisses upon his face, determined to kiss him out of his disquietingly somber mood.  After a while, she could feel the stirring of his penis where it pressed so tightly against her thigh. 

However low his spirits were, she felt his mood was about to change.   

Finally, Vincent emerged from his brooding shell enough to capture her face between his hands and stop her gentle assault.  He stared at her as if seeing her for the first time.  “Why are you so good to me?” he rasped, the words coming out half-strangled.

She shook her head as if admonishing a child.  “What kind of question is that?”

His stare deepened in intensity.  Suddenly, he crushed his lips against hers in a desperate kiss, then pulled back abruptly.  Again he stared into her eyes, grappling for some indefinable answer.  Once more he kissed her, passionately, voraciously, and once more he retreated suddenly, leaving her gasping in mid-kiss.  He was panting heavily again, and her own heart was now pounding at a rapid pace. 

“What is it?” she begged, afraid for him.

“You...  Why do you...”  He pulled in a ragged, harsh breath.  “Why do you love me like you do, Catherine?  What am I, that you could love me this way?” His eyes glowed with a strange, savage light, punctuating the intensity of his questions.

Confusion creased her brow.  “I’ve already told you - I love you...as you are, for everything you are.  There’s no mystery here, Vincent.  I’m just a woman in love...with the man of her dreams.” 

“There must be...more.  Must be....”  He searched for the words.  “Is it me?  Our Bond?  Do I...force this upon you?  Do you truly...have any...choice?”  The pain in his voice was evident, each word wrenched from his throat as if by force of will.

“Stop it!” she cried.  “What you’re feeling - I don’t know what you’re feeling.  But trust me to know what I’m feeling, what I’ve felt for you for so long.  I am here with you entirely of my own free will.  I loved you with my body as I have always longed to do.  And you are the same man now as you were an hour ago, a day ago, a year ago.  You didn’t change, Vincent - and you didn’t change me.”

He stared in incredulity at her.  “But...it cannot....” Once again, the words would not come. “I’m not the same as I was.”

“Can you explain what you mean?  Please, I want to understand,” she implored him.

He sighed gustily, frustrated by his unaccustomed lack of intelligibility.  “Before....”

“Before...we made love?” she asked, trying to be helpful.

He nodded his head.  “Yes.  Before...then... I...I knew...who I was.  Now....”

“You’re the same man,” she affirmed.

“No.... Before... I never felt.... I wasn’t....”

“You always were,” she contradicted.

He shook his head, adamant, anguished.  “No.  I merely...existed.  I was...alive....but I only...just was.

Resigned to accepting his own view of himself, as much as she disagreed with him, she merely prompted, “Just was...what?”

“Just was....”  He let the words die away.  His eyes lost their focus and he seemed to stare away into the blackness of the cavern, into a part of himself she wasn’t allowed to share.  “I was never...quite sure.  What I saw when I looked at myself...when others saw me.... It wasn’t...a man.”

“Even when you looked at yourself through my eyes?” she asked, honestly curious.

“I...couldn’t.  I was so grateful that you...cared for me.... I was afraid to...examine it too closely.” His admission cost him - he looked away, unable to meet her eyes.

Catherine tilted her head, forcing his eyes to meet hers. “But you said that was before.  What about now?” 

Again he looked away.  The conversation was agonizing for him, she knew, but she had to discover what was causing his soul to bleed or things could never be right between them.

Vincent struggled to find the words. “What I was before...and what I am now....”

“They’re the same thing,” she avowed.

His eyes found hers again, a confused disbelief in them. “How is that possible?”

“It is.  I know it.” Her words were unequivocal, forceful.

“How can you...know it?”

She smiled tenderly, then slipped one hand down between them to capture his semi-erect penis and cradle it against her palm.  It took no more than that small measure of stimulation for him to become firm again, and a few short strokes of her hand brought him pulsingly, throbbingly to complete life.  His eyes closed as amazing sensations washed through him, careening through his veins with a rapturous heat.

Whispering seductively into his ear, Catherine replied, “Do you think I could make love to a...creature?  A mere...being?  Don’t you know I’ve always seen you as a man in every way?  Trust me, beloved.  You are a man.” 

Her hand continued its insistent caress, her fingertips grazing the broad head of his erection, then gliding down to stroke the steely length of him.  His body shuddered in ecstasy at her so-intimate touch.

“Making love didn’t transform you, Vincent.  Perhaps it altered your own awareness of yourself, but that was only the scales falling from your eyes.  What you are has never changed.  You’ve always been a man...and now I’ve claimed you forever as my man...just as you’ve claimed me as your woman for all time.”      

Her words penetrated his stunned brain.  He felt so...different now - but perhaps it was as she said, perhaps it was only his perception of himself that had changed so radically.  Every qualm, every barrier, every apprehension - would he lose control and hurt her, would he be able to respond to her physically, was he something she could desire, could he satisfy her needs - was now indisputably swept away.   Suddenly he knew what had changed.  For the first time in his life, he was sure - there were irrefutable proofs where soul-chilling questions had been.  All he’d doubted about himself had been shown to be groundless.  Catherine was right - he was a man.  Whatever else he might be, he was...at the very least....a man.

Pulling her back into his arms, he clasped her to his heart.  “You’re mine,” he whispered fiercely. “And I’m yours - always, Catherine.” 

“Do you know who you are now, Vincent?”  She uttered the words softly against his ear.  The warmth of her breath sent a tingle down his spine. 

“Yes,” he murmured back.  “I’m yours.  Your...Vincent.”

She smiled at that, then pulled back and emphasized, “My man?”

“Always, Catherine,” he vowed, then took her mouth in a voracious kiss. 

 

 

From The Lover’s Tale by Alfred Lord Tennyson

 

The path was perilous, loosely strown with crags:

We mounted slowly; yet to both there came

The joy of life in steepness overcome,

And victories of ascent, and looking down

On all that had look’d down on us; and joy

In breathing nearer heaven; and joy to me,

High over all the azure-circled earth,

To breathe with her as if in heaven itself;

And more than joy that I to her became

Her guardian and her angel....