PROLOGUE: ‘THE ONE’

Within each of us there are images we dare not confront, fears and yearnings beyond concepts we can openly admit to being part of who and what we are. The edicts of society keep us from freeing ourselves from such constraints; to truly live our lives without boundaries of any kind.

With the moral standards of our forefathers still coloring our behavioral patterns, many of us don't have the courage to live or love beyond our own self-imposed limitations. As we mature, we convince ourselves that love, in the truest sense of the word, is merely an illusion--something we read of once, in a book, or saw on a movie screen.

Is that depth of longing merely a dream? Is it? Or does thinking it is keep us within the narrow confines of our own ‘safe places’? What we don't believe exists, we don't have to search for, do we? What we haven’t allowed ourselves to feel, cannot be missed.

Have you let your dreams of true passion wither and die, or do they still glisten like tiny points of hope just at the edge of your consciousness? In a special place within you, do you wish you could reach out and touch those emotions with all that you are--with your soul?

In my heart, faith exists that somewhere out there, there is such a thing as perfect love, one that knows no boundaries. Oh, there has to be. Do such dreams still live within you, too? They exist within Catherine, and although in this story he isn't aware of it as yet, the dream of loving with all that he is also exists within Vincent.

In that intuitive place inside each of us that we give the name ‘soul or 'heart’, there are images, expectations, that encompass what many would consider to be the darker side of physical nearness. Fearing to divulge our own passions, even to ourselves, we negate those needs, which in turn paralyzes us emotionally, as well as physically, into what is deemed by society to be ‘acceptable behavior’; into what is considered to be ‘the norm’.  The unexplored part of our own sexuality feeds on our fear, thrives on it, until it becomes an intrinsic part of who we are, or what life has led us to believe we are.

Although Vincent has learned to exist within his own limitations, as he perceives them, Catherine hasn't--not quite. For the wondrous and oh, so vulnerable being she loves, as well as for herself, she wants a full and complete life, with all that that phrase implies. She especially wants those freedoms that we take for granted, for Vincent. She wants him to realize what it would be like to seize his freedom as the individual that he is; to capture life by the throat and wrest whatever joy he can from it. Vincent deserves that, doesn't he?

By keeping within certain boundaries as far as loving her, Vincent has rejected the side of himself that he cannot trust, and in doing that, is certain that he has found his own ‘safe place’. Has he, or can there be a more ideal existence for him, if he had the courage to reach out and take it for himself, and for Catherine? Does this extraordinary man have the courage to follow wherever she would lead him, down ALL of the paths that comprise a unified and joyous life? Is it possible for the woman he loves to guide him beyond his foreboding, towards a truth, a place, he'd never have dreamt of going before knowing her? Is his destiny truly in Catherine's keeping?

Using her strength as his citadel against his own inhibitions, could he fling wide the doors only she could unlock for him and explore his own sexuality freely, with no inhibitions? If he can, he'll discover what Catherine has known all along--to her, he is and has always been a man; a different and uniquely beautiful human being.

If anyone can bring this depth of serenity to him, or guide him toward a reconciliation with what he considers to be the ‘baser’ side of his nature, it would have to be Catherine, because for Vincent she is, and will always be--The One.

            ‘I saw you dancing out the ocean, running fast along
         the sand, a spirit born of earth and water, fire flying
         from your hands.
           In the instant that you love someone, in the second
         that the hammer hits, reality runs down your spine, and
         the pieces finally fit.
           And all I ever needed was the One, like freedom feels
         where wild horses run. When stars collide, like you and
         I, no shadows block the sun. You're all I've ever needed,
         baby you're the one.
           There are caravans we follow, drunken nights in dark
         hotels; when chances breathe between the silence, where
         sex and love no longer gel. For each man in his time is
         Cain, until he walks along the beach, and sees his future in
         the water--a lost heart within his reach. And all I've
         ever wanted was...’

THE ONE

 Trisha Kehoe

 

ECHOS…

The dream came more often now; nearly every night. Flinging one hand over his eyes, even in sleep unable to find respite from the visions tormenting him, Vincent's expression twisted into a mask of foreboding as the hunger reached for him again. Taunting him, desire lured him to a place within himself he knew, even now, in dreams, was somewhere he must never go. In these last months, the nightmare always began in the same way…

He would be standing on a shell-strewn beach. The sun was blazing hot, like teeth biting into his flesh. Throwing back his head, he closed his eyes, inhaling the unique aroma of a majestic ocean. High above him came the high pitched screams of sea birds. Shrieking as they rose in the air as one body, their noise disrupted the stillness of a glorious summer day.

Glancing up, eyeing tiny wisps of clouds as they shimmered along the edge of the sun's path, Vincent smiled. Closing his eyes, he inhaled again. Ah, the smell of salt air was delightful--extraordinary! Then, anxiously, his expression changed to one of restlessness. The wonders of nature surrounded him with so much beauty, yet he was strangely uneasy. Why?

Looking out to sea, he scanned the horizon for any signs of life. But other than the gulls that still hovered overhead, he seemed to be alone. There were no ships, nor was there any evidence of this area being inhabited. There was no one here--no one but him. Yet he knew he wasn't alone. Although the presence wasn't visible, Vincent was certain that something, someone, was here on this beach with him, watching him.

An ominous shiver swept through him. With guarded, vigilant eyes, he scanned the beach. Such a wondrous place. It appeared that a long cherished dream had at last been fulfilled, enabling him to stand here at sunrise.

But, how did he get here? Indeed, where was ‘here’? Staring out over the waves, he disregarded the surging, white-capped foam, taking no pleasure in the sight of an ocean he had so long yearned to see for himself, nor did the sky's myriad hues of green and gold command his attention, or bring any aspect of serenity. Within him, there was only a portent of menace.  As tranquil as it appeared, to him this region was fraught with peril. Moment to moment, an unknown maliciousness was moving nearer--he could feel it. Preparing to do battle with whatever, or whomever, awaited him, Vincent sniffed the air repeatedly, testing it. Probing for danger, his eyes shifted to left, and then to the right.

As fear gripped the pit of the stomach, he announced, "I sense your presence. Be you demon or specter, show yourself!"

‘I sense…’ His words reverberated in the stillness. ‘…demon…’

Shaken by the unnatural intonation in the echoes, Vincent instinctively dropped to a crouched position. Snarling a warning, he pivoted to face inland. With his heart thumping against his ribcage, his hands curled into weapons that could wrest flesh from bone when, or if, necessary, demanding, "What are you? WHO you are? And why have you brought me to this place?"

This time not even an echo rebutted his challenge. The only sounds Vincent could hear were the whoops of the gulls overhead and the frenzied crash of waves as they impacted against the shoreline. Was he alone? Was he hallucinating? A shudder tore through him. Dear God, what was happening here? Tilting his head to the left, he glanced upward, his eyes scanning the jagged cliffs that encompassed all earthbound sides of this bizarre site. Although he felt another presence, his eyes encountered none. Was his mind playing tricks on him?

Still wary, but relaxing his guard slightly, Vincent slowly flexed his legs and knelt in the sand. Splaying one hand out, he dug his fingers into it, relishing the texture. It brought to mind the grains caught in the shell Catherine had so graciously sent him from California years before. Wishing to savor the smell of it more closely, he dug his fingers into the gritty substance again, intending to lift a handful of it to his nostrils.

As he dug deeper into the sand, the feel of something abrasive slid across the center of his palm. Flexing a nail, he scratched at the damp earth and freed a small conch shell from its sandy dwelling place. Cradling it between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, Vincent examined the shell intently, running his eyes over the whorl of varied patterns and the muted tints of beige. Although the fragile shell was empty now, at one time something alive, something vital, had existed within its fragile core.

His mouth curled into a slight smile at that analogy. The shells' former occupant had existed as he himself had for far too long a time. For too many years he'd also lived within a shell--of sorts, within a prison of his own making, until finding Catherine. Her love and acceptance had drawn him out of his shell, for the most part.

Lovingly, he caressed the surface of the mollusk with the pads of his fingers as though it were her flesh. Catherine. The mere thought of her brought not only the sense of nearly overwhelming joy it always did, this time it also renewed his feelings of apprehension. Shivering as icy fingers seemed to clamp around his soul, Vincent swept the pieces of grit from his fingers and stood up. Searching the beach expectantly, he looked for her, but she wasn't here. Where was she? Why wasn't she sharing this moment with him? Why was he here at all, without her? As far as he was concerned, to be unable to experience this extraordinary time with the woman he loved, made being here utterly pointless.

A scowl deepened the furrows running along the sides of Vincent’s mouth. Where in the name of all the Gods was he? Although the beach and the scorching sun were invigorating, why did this site strike terror to the depths of his soul, nearly unnerving him when accompanied by thoughts of Catherine? Grinding his teeth, he snarled in frustration. Where was she?! The life force he sensed wasn't hers--it couldn't be. What he felt inundating him was a malevolence that could never be a part of Catherine's essence. Was it something near her he perceived as the threat? He had to find her, he had to make absolutely certain that she was safe.

Striding up the beach towards the rocks, hoping to find some answers there, Vincent froze mid-step as a familiar voice called out, "Hello!"

Waving to him from the far shoreline, Catherine laughed as she danced along the edge of the sand and played tag with the waves. "Here I am, my Love! Oh, this is fun!" Smiling, she beckoned, "Come, take my hand and walk with me? I've wanted to share a day like this with you for so long."

As Vincent's head snapped up and his eyes met hers, the pounding of his heart eased to a calmer pace. She was safe. Thank God, she was here with him after all.

Returning her wave, he called out, "I've been searching for you!" Unable to control the urge, he began to spin around and around until he grew dizzy, laughing aloud as he tried to capture the setting of her, the beach, and the sun within his heart--to bind the image there forever. "Oh, to be here like this, with you, Catherine! It’s wondrous, a miracle!"

Eyes darkly somber only moments before brightened to crystal pools of azure. To see her moving towards him, calling out for him to join her, brought tears of joy to Vincent's eyes. This beautiful woman waited for him. For him.

"I have to show you what I've found!" Holding the shell tucked carefully against his body, wanting to divulge this small treasure to his greatest one, Vincent lifted his foot, but he couldn't…move. Something was holding him fast, preventing him from closing the distance between himself and Catherine! "Release me!" he bellowed.

"No…"

From behind him, a hand, a clawed hand, reached out and gripped Vincent by the left shoulder. Clamping down, the curved nails held him completely immobile. No matter how desperately he strained to break the hold, he couldn't; his body refused to obey him.

Roaring, "Let me go!" he twisted his body from left to right, fighting to get free.

"Not this time, my old FRIEND," the voice sneered, conspicuously snide. "This time, you stay here."

Sensing all at once precisely what and who stood just behind him, Vincent stiffened. The voice brought back horrific memories as it continued, "Greetings. Yes, it's me. Did you assume I’d deserted you? Oh, I’m so sorry to disappoint you."

"I must..." Struggling with all of his might, Vincent tried again to break free and failed. "Release me, damn you!"

"Ah, so you do know how to curse, after all." Laughing at his futile attempts to escape, knowing full well where Vincent wanted to go, the darkling sneered, "Never again will you touch her unless I allow it. Catherine belongs to me. She's mine! You don't deserve her. You haven't earned her love, I have!"

Aware that it was his own voice he heard, merely thoughts from within his own perceptions, didn't matter. Vincent was truly frightened as a face he despised, yet knew as his own, came into view at his left side. As the ‘other’ confronted him squarely, the detested part of his being challenged again, "I’ve earned the woman’s love, not you! It's me who protects her, me who has always protected her! I give all of myself to keep her safe. All you can give to her is TENDER adoration," the voice sneered.

Fighting the antagonizing words, Vincent curled his hands into fists and clamped them over his ears. "I will hear no more of your vile taunts! Be gone! Leave me!"

Yet still, the belittling accusations continued.

"Oh, such gentle ‘endearments’ you whisper to Catherine in the night; soft nothings-- signifying nothing! I would give her everything, all that I am, all that I could ever become, with her at my side. I'd take our pretty Catherine down from the pedestal that you've kept her on for so many years and show he what true and unrestrained passion can be. My passion."

"Never!" Vincent snarled. "Although you are part of me, I would gladly take us both to Hades before allowing your profane flesh to ever touch hers again!"

"Oh, would you now?" Came the sneered response.

Intense blue eyes met dusky, knowing ones. "In an instant. Never doubt that I would destroy both of us to save Catherine. I thought I proved that to you in the cave?"

The beast grinned. "Ha! I learned a lot more about you there, than you learned about me. A lot more than you may ever realize." Acceding to his fate, he shrugged. "You want my death and your own? Go ahead then, kill me. I might as well as be dead, for the so-called existence you ‘allow’ me isn't life."

A deep, abiding sadness filled his eyes as the ‘other’ resigned himself to whatever would happen. He was so tired of fighting, so tired of being so alone. "So let us die here, now, and be done with it. Are you prepared for that, Vincent? I am." Somber eyes flashed menacingly. "It's always degraded you to know that I'm part of who you are, hasn't it, my oh, so noble antagonist?"

"Yes," Vincent agreed, "For all you have ever brought me is pain."

"You feel pain!" The words were hissed scornfully as dispirited eyes met Vincent's, daring him to deny the truth. "Just once, feel what I feel, know my pain, what I've suffered because of you! Know my humiliation in being considered only the bestial side of the exalted, omnipotent being known as Vincent!"

A clawed finger reached out to poke at Vincent's breast. "All of your strength comes from me. From me! It's also MY blood that's spilled every time YOU defend your world. Your world, never mine--never ours! For a so-called MAN known for his fair treatment of others, do you consider that fair?" As he glared at his gentler self, the beast's tone of voice was at the edge of control, turning more spiteful with each passing moment. "Our blood drips into the earth when you bleed. Every time you were hurt, I felt the pain, too. Did you know that? Did you care?" Eyes ablaze with hate locked to Vincent's. "I feel the pain too!"

Turning aside his own anger momentarily, Vincent felt a sense of remorse, a pitiable sadness towards this unwelcome, unwanted being. "I never imagined for a moment that you could ‘feel’ anything in quite the same way that I do."

"I don't need your pity, you condescending bastard!" He threw Vincent a sinister glare. "Save it for yourself. You'll have need of pity soon enough. Very soon, you'll need all of the pity you can get!"

Knowing the heart of this creature, for it was his own--no matter how much he wanted to deny it--Vincent also knew his thoughts. They sickened and horrified him. "What…" Alarm overwhelmed him as his thoughts locked to that of his own private demon. "No! You shall not harm Catherine!"

The beast smirked at him. "Oh I would never ‘harm her’. She trusts me, even if you won't." The tip of a pink tongue darted along a leering mouth. "But I will love her, I WILL take her away from you."

"Please, don't touch her? You cannot, you must not!" Vincent pleaded, unnerved as he grasped the creature's intent.

"Why not? I've been patient long enough--too long! I have needs too, and I'm sick of denying mine! You won't let yourself love Catherine as she deserves to be loved-- with all that you are--because what you are includes me. You can't give her passion. I would, I will, and there's not one damned thing you can do to stop me. Not this time."

Loosening his grip on Vincent's shoulder, the beast continued, "I've waited long enough for you to smarten up. If you'd let your…OUR…body rule your DAMNED intellect just once, just ONCE, that would have been enough for me. If you'd been able to do that much, I'd have stayed away. But, you couldn't. You're a puling coward when it comes to love. You know it, I know it, and so does Catherine!"

The cloaked form pulled back and eyed Vincent arrogantly. Backing away, he made an impatient, crudely suggestive gesture towards his gentler side. "I'm tired of standing here debating this with you! There are better, nicer things to be done. Much nicer things. It's past time, and I need her."

After spitting those words at Vincent, the shadowed figure strode away, heading down the beach towards Catherine. Nearing her, he swept the woman he hungered for into the folds of his voluminous, ebony cloak and touched his mouth to the nape of her neck.

"Catherine," Vincent roared, "No! Don't trust him!"

Powerless to stop what was happening, he watched, devastated as his Beloved smiled, wrapped one arm around his waist, looked up into those eyes, and then stood on tiptoe to kiss the side of that face in welcome.

As she snuggled into him, the beast swung her up into his arms, laughing triumphantly, and started towards a cave at the edge of the cliffs.

"No. No!"

As his legs gave way, Vincent sank to the sand. Seizing it between his fingers, he watched in despair as they faded from view.  At that moment, the ground beneath him seemed to tilt to one side, threatening to hurl him into the sea, as the woman he cherished beyond life disappeared from sight into a salt-blue mist, her body held fast in the predatory embrace of a Being he despised.

"Damn you to the confines of everlasting Hell!"

Keening into the wind, Vincent howled his anger and grief towards the heart of Heaven itself, feeling as though his very soul had just been raped. A part of him that he considered base had not only taken his pride, he'd taken all that was most dear in the world. He'd taken Catherine!  Why…WHY did she go with him? Couldn't she tell who it was? Didn't she realize exactly who was embracing her, or did she truly see no difference at all?

No difference?

Like a tempest, the beast's thoughts ripped through Vincent's mind as bitterness and regret tore at his soul, rending it in two. ‘So, now you sense it in Catherine at last, do you? Yes, allow yourself to know her heart, as you should have known it years ago, and see what a fool you've been. Now, it's too late—you’re too late!’

A gray mist closed in around them as the mockery continued, ‘When Catherine looks at me, she sees you! To her, we're one being, one heart--we always were! She wants me, needs me, and now, she belongs to me!’ The beast's voice grew less harsh, almost tender. "Because she trusts me, and truly has no fear OF me, I would never harm her. Catherine knows that; she believes it with all of her being. Such a woman as this can't be yours. She's too spirited for your gutless kind of affection. The woman needs me! She's mine, Vincent, and now I'll never give her back to you. Never! Catherine is mine, MINE…"

"Curse you for the revolting thing that you have always been!"

Finally tearing free of the forces binding him, Vincent charged down the beach. Raging, eyes blood-red, wild with fury, he roared, "Before I allow you to have her, I'll tear you apart with my bare hands…"

Always beginning in the same way, the nightmare also ended as such. As Vincent lashed out at the madness before him, it would fade.  Sitting up in bed, he’d find himself staring into the shadows as the nightmare ebbed; awake, terrified. The visions drained him of all energy, leaving him weak, disoriented. His lungs felt as though they were on fire. Gulping rapidly, he put one hand to his chest. Had he screamed aloud this time?

With his mouth dry beyond belief and his heart pounding in his ears, he looked over and found Catherine next to him in bed, as she always was, tranquilly asleep.

And no matter how desperately he tried, Vincent could never remember very much about the nightmare, except for the fact that it always left him feeling as if he were about to retch--which he usually did.

DISCORD…

Near the grayish hue of water-spattered rocks, a being with piercing blue eyes and great, muscled limbs trailed his fingers through a misty pool. Staring down into it, he seemed to seek answers there to exasperating and unfathomable difficulties.

There was a majestic quality about this individual. Completely vulnerable in all ways at this moment, nude and solitary, he was beautiful beyond envisioning. Man, yet more than that--more than human--Vincent was the ideal specimen of what it meant to be masculine. Whatever genus he was, he was extraordinary to look upon, although that concept would have been immediately negated by this creature who imagined himself some-what…less…than human.

Gazing down into the steam rising to meet his eyes, Vincent flinched as Catherine's sadness twisted through his soul again like an assassin's dagger. This was to be a night of celebration for he and his Beloved, yet at this moment, his thoughts weren't oriented towards any perception of joy. He was focused on Catherine's heart, on the cadence of its beating; a sound only he could feel externally, yet encompassed within him.

Tonight was their fourth anniversary. Four years ago this very night, he'd discovered her in that dank, mist-laden park, torn and bleeding--near death. A terrible, yet wondrous night four years ago, Vincent knew for certain that he'd found the missing piece of his soul: Catherine.

Still lying on his side facing the bathing pool, his eyes warmed with emotion as he contemplated his good fortune from that night until this. He shared his existence with an exceptional, courageous woman, and an amazing son. A life he had thought never to know, nor dared to dream of having as his own, indeed belonged to him.

Yet, mingled with the sweetness of his imaginings was a disturbing unrest, and it was emanating from Catherine. In these last months, he'd sensed a growing despondency in her. Although he was well aware that she made a concerted effort to conceal her thoughts, he could still feel them. Why was she trying to shield her emotions in such a way, knowing how it distressed him when he couldn't read her heart, especially when the pain within it kept her isolated from him? If she couldn't, or wouldn't, share her distress, then how was he supposed to help her to resolve it?

Examining their connection, Vincent gasped aloud, grabbing at the center of his chest as their minds touched. Oh, such sadness! What was causing such turmoil just at the edge of Catherine's heart? Even now, laying here alone by the bathing pool, he felt her turbulent emotions. They were viable--hurting her--hurting him.

Exhaling roughly, confused, again he focused on the pool just below him. He must speak to Catherine of these sensations, of the unrest that seemed to come over her more and more lately. At those moments, an unendurable stillness from within claimed her essence, sealing her off from him, leaving him numb, unnerved.

Sighing, Vincent stirred the water of the bathing pool with the tips of his fingers. Was Catherine angry with him? Had he done something to cause her vexation? Was there a tangible need she wouldn't speak of, or perhaps a physical one that he hadn't met? Vincent's heart lurched against his ribcage.

A physical need? That notion brought back a flash of something sinister, but as he attempted to capture the thought, reaching towards it with his mind, the knowledge danced away from him like the petals of a rose upon a storm-tossed sea. The sea?  Frowning, he searched his consciousness. What about the sea? In his minds-eye, he could see an ocean. There were gulls crying overhead, and something else, something familiar, but what? It was hopeless, he simply couldn't remember.

"Oh, blast this quandary!"

Slapping at the water, Vincent sat up.  Leaning against a rock, he flung his hair back over his left shoulder and pondered what to do, how to best approach Catherine on what he decided had to be a need she hadn't been candid about in the year they'd been intimate. Dear God, had she been keeping this distress to herself for that long?  If there was some specific female requirement that he hadn't met, he must know what it was, then he could try to do whatever was needed to compensate for his lack of knowledge in such matters.

He gulped nervously. How to ask these kinds of questions defeated him. Even after a year, for him, sexuality was still a complicated, as well as a highly personal matter. Making love—sex--was a miracle to be savored, not discussed! How could he broach such intimate subject matter to Catherine? Indeed, did people openly converse on such things at all?

Vincent admitted to himself that her innermost thoughts were really none of his business. Women had the right to have secrets from even those they loved. But for him, with his years of aloneness still gnawing at his soul like salt at an open wound, when Catherine shut him out, it was not to be borne!

In this last year, they had shared so much, so much, yet she was entitled to privacy, as were all people, but…  Exhaling roughly, he lowered his head to rest against his bent knees. When Catherine was troubled as she was now, why didn't she come to him and discuss it? Was she afraid of embarrassing him, or wounding him emotionally? As he lifted his head, an attitude of stubbornness shadowed his eyes. Did she think him a child then; one who needed to be protected from hurt feelings?

"Uh!" His mind a whirl of conflicting emotions, he leapt to his feet, disgusted with his lack of sexual enlightenment. Catherine always seemed satisfied with him in every way, but was she? WAS SHE? Or was he a complacent dunce, smugly stumbling along, thinking that all was well, when it truly wasn't?

Imbecilic dolt! Silently chastising himself roundly, Vincent picked up a towel and began to scrub at his damp skin with unnecessary force. The furrow running along the center of his brow deepened as he focused all of his thoughts on his lady again.

She was Above in her…in their…apartment. He could feel her despair. This must stop! If in some way he was at fault, he couldn't rest until he put matters between them to right.

"Go to her, you coward", he admonished himself. "FIND the damnable words!"

Dressing hastily, he stomped out of the bathing chamber.  With his jaw firmly set, Vincent's expression was one of grim determination. Regardless of how embarrassing this might be for him, he would speak to Catherine of her most intimate needs. She must tell him exactly what was wrong, and she would tell him tonight!

CONFRONTATIONS...

As he reached the pipes he had to climb hand-over-hand to reach Catherine, Vincent paused, startled as he sensed her mood shift again, smoothing in intensity as she realized he was on the way Above.

"Catherine…don’t," he whispered, dismayed by her sudden mood wing. "Why do you feel the need to hide your thoughts from me? Do not DO this!"

Annoyed with her to depths that truly surprised him, he was more determined now than ever to resolve this discord. Why would she feel it necessary to conceal her true feelings from him in this manner? Aware that he was on the way to her, Catherine had changed the ebb and flow of her motions on purpose--she had consciously shut him out!

"NO!" The word exploded from him like the crack of a rifle. Uttering quite viable curses under his breath, Vincent began to climb faster and aster, pleading silently, ‘You mustn't do this. Catherine, you must tell me what is amiss, before my own apprehensions crush both of us…’

***

Above, in the apartment, Catherine had indeed sensed Vincent's nearness. Turning off the shower, she sniffled into a cold washcloth, then patted at her tear-stained face, hoping to alleviate the puffiness around her eyes before he cleared the terrace wall.

What in the hell was wrong with her? She had a man who loved her beyond belief, a beautiful son, now in the care of his Grandfather, and a life that was rich, filled with love and family. What was tugging at her heart, intimating that there should be…could be…more than she already shared with Vincent? How selfish was she? More? For the love of God, she already had everything!

After toweling herself dry, she stroked scented oil over her body, knowing how much Vincent loved the fragrance of it on her skin. Slipping her new negligee over her head, she stepped into the matching lace panties and smoothed the outfit down over her hips. Perhaps this outfit would…

Crimson stained Catherine’s cheeks as she examined her feelings more closely and came to terms with them. That reality embarrassed her. Aware of Vincent's feelings in the matter--his fear that the disparate side of himself he called the 'darkness', would bring her offense should they ever meet again, especially while making love--she still wanted to learn more about that side of him.

Perhaps if they confronted what he feared together, they could cleanse the memories of a time that taxed his soul away a bit each day, a little every time they loved? They must try. How could either of them be certain if what would happen if Vincent refused to even let her try?

She wanted him to be complete; to feel whole. Even though he would lave refuted the notion, Catherine knew that he was still plagued by his inability to reconcile the complex sides of his nature. Well, if asking him to confront that would help to overcome his fears and ease his self-doubts, then by God that's what she'd have to do. She'd ask him to trust her in this, but would he? Could he?

Staring into the mirror, it wasn’t her face that Catherine saw, it was Vincent’s; such a truly magnificent face. No matter how many times she tried, he'd never been able to really discuss what happened between them in the cave. Every time she broached the subject, he would shake his head emphatically. If she persisted, he'd either leave the room, or leave the apartment altogether.

Remembering that time humiliated him, this she knew, and no matter how hard she tried to reassure him that he hadn't hurt her in any way, Vincent never seemed able to completely believe her.

Making a face at herself in the mirror, Catherine sighed, at a loss on how to best approach him on this extremely sensitive issue. Who was this mysterious Being that was disclosed only when safeguarding her life, the lives of others he loved, or as he had been that night in the cave? At that time, Vincent had truly wanted to die--that much he'd told her. Thinking he'd lost everything, he sought death openly, waiting for it to come and take him, and end his anguish forever. Knowing that, and not wanting to die himself, had the other protected him from choice, or because he'd been forced to?

Vincent thought he could never come to terms with all that he was. Yet, did the entity he feared truly hate him, as he seemed to think he did, she wondered, or was he jealous of him? What was ‘he’ like? Did he still exist at all? If he did, what price did Vincent pay emotionally to keep him concealed and away from her…in bed? Years before, Father had told her that a delicate balance was all that kept his adopted son focused as the person they knew. What was this doing to him mentally and physically? What was it doing to his soul to divide himself in that way?

If another personality did indeed live within the man she loved, why did she feel it was imperative that she get to know him better? Yet, to ask Vincent to share such a thing could cost her much more than she could ever hope to gain. Was what she wanted him to consent to worth the possibility of losing far too much, or was Vincent's unity and peace of mind worth gambling everything on? Catherine searched her heart. Yes, to have him accept himself without question was worth any price that she'd have to pay--any price.

But what price would Vincent have to pay? Someday, would he be able to understand and forgive her for what she'd been doing to him these last months? Catherine swiped at her tears. Someday he'd have to forgive her, wouldn't he? She knew what she wanted might cost her not only his trust, it could forge a rift between them that might never be healed as well as push him beyond endurable limits. Had she earned the right to know all of what he was no matter what it cost them…no matter what it could possibly cost HIM?

As she dried her hair, Catherine stared into the bathroom mirror. Was she being selfish? Was this arrogance on her part? She considered that. No, it wasn't selfishness or arrogance. Then, did she think she was omnipotent, that she could control that side of Vincent if he ever allowed it even a shred of consciousness? Wasn't it presumptive to think that she could restrain what he himself couldn't at times?

Flicking off the bathroom light and stepping into the bedroom, she thought of all they'd gained this last year. Yet, there was so much more to be shared; she knew this even if he didn't. Vincent was still so endearingly shy. He had to learn that with her, he could loosen the tight control he always maintained when they made love. Was it worth any risk that might be involved to ask him to bare his soul to her without his customary inhibition?

In the past, more than once she'd restrained that part of Vincent he was unable to, but that had been only at times of menace to both their worlds…Above and Below. Could she do it again if necessary when only love was at stake? What would it do to both of them to learn exactly what, and who, made Vincent the extraordinary person that he was? What if…

Catherine lurched forward against the bedroom vanity as the thought struck her full force. Dear God, what would happen if he ever did feel secure enough within the shelter of their love to attempt what she wished him to do? What if he shared that part of himself with her and did accidentally hurt her! No, that must never happen…never! It would ruin everything. It would destroy Vincent! Better to continue as they were than to ever jeopardize his well being again. He couldn’t withstand another assault on his sanity as he had a year ago in the cave.

In the cave…

Recalling that night, Catherine's eyes swept wistfully down over her breasts and then lower. She wished Vincent would agree to have another child. She wished for so many things that he hadn't found the courage to share with her, at least not yet. Someday he would. Someday…

Enough, she silently admonished herself. Stop now, before he senses your thoughts.

Forcing aside her strange moodiness, Catherine dabbed a bit of perfume behind her ears, and then stood in front of the vanity. Spinning around, she admired the cut of her new negligee. You could see right through it, to the silk panties beneath. Yes, this outfit was well worth the money she'd spent.

"Oh!" Spinning around again and coming full circle, Catherine found herself nose-to-chin with a exceedingly annoyed-looking man clad in tightly fitting corduroy pants.

With his hands clenched at his hips, Vincent began in a rather unyielding voice, "There is something we must discuss…"

Focusing on her attire, he hesitated, and then completely lost his train of thought as a most sweetly-scented lady smiled up at him, waiting patiently for him to finish whatever he'd been about to say. He frowned. Say? What had he been about to say? His gaze drifted down over Catherine. She was barefoot, which made her appear even more petite and delicate than she actually was. Her hair had just been freshly washed. Ah, her perfume! Her essence was like no other. The color of her eyes… Vincent blinked once, twice. He was drowning in an emerald sea.

When it appeared that he wasn't going to finish his thought, Catherine kissed the side of his face. "Hello, Love."

"H…hello." For the moment at least, the look of adoration she gave him smoothed the ragged edges of Vincent's highly emotional state. Having her this close always defeated the best of his intentions--it always would. Oh, how he adored her.

Bending slightly forward to stand nose-to-nose and toe-to-toe with Catherine, lost in her eyes, Vincent's breath came hard and fast as he searched for the words he needed. The heady scent of her perfume, her womanliness, and the diaphanous lilac gown she wore, stole his senses. She was radiant, so much so that he found it hard to remember his own name, let alone speak rationally right now on any subject.

Rising to her toes, Catherine wrapped both arms around his neck. "So, tell me, how was your swim and your time with Father?"

"It…it was lonely there without you. Nothing brought me even the slightest amount of s…solace," he stammered. Succumbing to her allure, Vincent enfolded her into an ardent yet gentle embrace. "Even when I was playing chess with Father, my thoughts were with you, as was my heart."

Shivering as the ache to get even closer to her overwhelmed him, Vincent tightened his arms around her and then moaned softly, lost in the pleasure of being with her. "Oh, I've missed your warmth so much." Burying his face shyly into her neck, he felt his blood heat as it rushed through his veins. Of its own volition, his pelvis thrust against hers, instinctively seeking a response.

"I've missed you, too." Fusing her needs to his, she arched against him. "It seems like days since we've been together, instead of mere hours."

"Yes, a few hours…an eternity."

Holding his love and his life in his arms, Vincent's body yielded to the cravings of a uniquely primal sex drive. He was potently aroused, utterly undone. His head drifted back as his eyes closed. Catherine's need of him spread throughout his body, igniting a hunger from within that would not be turned aside. Leaning forward and nipping the nape of her neck as intrinsic urges overran his usual sense of caution, he curled his pelvis forward and straddled her body. Moving his hips against hers, he welcomed the tender ache that was building heartbeat by heartbeat, centering in his groin. He pressed closer. Ah, the hunger, the hunger…!

Vincent's eyes flew open. "No! Not like…this. I…we mustn't, we…can't."

Stumbling back, away from Catherine’s embrace, he fought to temper his passions with control; the control he knew must be regulated at all times when near her, but especially…especially…when he wanted to join his body to hers.

But passion can set the most beguiling of snares…

When he thought himself more focused, he centered himself between her legs again. Flattening her body against his, he rocked against her small frame, groaning, "Oh, how I need you…how I want you…"

As Vincent's desire solidified like forged steel against her belly, she held him tighter. "As I want you."

"Yes, Beloved," he rasped throatily, "Want me as much, need me as much."

As a static charge seemed to electrify the air around them, he curled his slender fingers into the curves of her hips.  Against his will, the hunger built, growing stronger, ever more irreversible, until it became a living thing between them.

He wanted her so badly, and in so many ways, Vincent knew that it might someday be the end of him. But to die in the throes of making love to Catherine seemed a quite fitting death, as far as he was concerned. Quite fitting, indeed. At the moment of ejaculation, more than once he'd imagined he'd truly died from the sheer ecstasy of experiencing that sense of completion. To disperse his seed in the act of love…could any other occurrence be as exquisitely shattering as sexual climax--even the unusual one he allowed himself to experience?

Cupping trembling hands around Catherine's tensed bottom, he lifted her off of her feet and pressed her into his already pulsing length. He felt as though he'd been parted from her for infinity, that he'd been starving to bury himself within her for at least that long. As her fingers edged down to softly caress and encourage him, Vincent's maleness curved away from his body, seeking the heat of her hand. As the ache between his legs became intolerable, he panted for breath, and slowly began to undulate his hips.

Swaying back and forth in cadence with her fingers, he spoke quietly; hesitant even now to voice many of his needs aloud. "Don't stop touching me. Never stop. Yes, there…" he groaned, "There…along the…base…"  As Catherine moved her hand, Vincent shuddered. He couldn't endure this! "More, please, more," he begged, the words small rumbles of yearning thundering upward from the depths of his belly. "Again…again…"

Awash in a sea of pleasure, he tried to remember his earlier thoughts. There had been something he'd wanted to ask her. Later. He would ask the question later. Right now he needed to love her, to hold her, to lose himself IN her. He wanted so much, so much. Too much…

Lifting Catherine against his chest, he spun on his heel. Taking the few steps necessary, he sat on the bed with her in his lap facing him. Staying the stroking movements of her hand by bringing her fingers to his mouth and kissing them, he held her slightly away from his body and tried to calm his eagerness.

But, even for Vincent, not all things could be disallowed simply because he wished them to be. Even for him, there were moments when undeniable longing overran patience, moments when ardor defeated even the most judicious of thoughts. This was such a moment. The touch her hand was driving him toward a madness he'd come to know quite well in this last year. Desire! Part of him needed to take her without caution, without the usual delicacy. The part of himself that Vincent excluded from any contact with Catherine was reaching out, attempting to gain control.

No. Clenching his teeth, Vincent quickly set her on the bed and lunged away. No! Breathing raggedly, he strode towards the opposite end of the room. Bending his head and swaying back against the wall, he gripped his thighs firmly between his fingers. Curving his nails into them to the point of pain he struggled to rein in his hunger…to control his thoughts and the images they were provoking.

Through eyes glazed with urgencies he'd always managed to suppress in the past, but could no longer turn aside, not here, not now, Vincent glanced down at what he was wearing. His clothing felt like shackles. At this moment, his shirt and pants had no value, no place on his body. He wanted desperately to be free of them!

His skin felt as though it was burning. A fire raged through him that wouldn't be contained. Stripping off his clothes, he flung them to the carpet as excitement edged along his spine all the way down to his groin. He needed Catherine's mouth pressed against him…there. He was nearly frantic to feel the coolness of her tongue on his overheated flesh.

From across the room, wild, desperate eyes blazed into hers. A force within him called to her from those beautiful eyes--someone she didn't know well, but had secretly longed for, sought recognition and acceptance. ‘Yes, look at me, see me.’ Remember the cave? Remember how I loved you? Yes, my sweet Catherine, remember ME.’

To Catherine, it was Vincent's face she studied, his eyes, his mouth. That was
all she saw, what she'd always seen…Vincent. As she smiled at him, her gaze took in no threatening gestures, nor was there any forewarning of possible danger. Staring at her through eyes dusky with passion was the man that she loved. Thinking that she knew the look in his eyes, she opened her arms expectantly, urging, "Come to bed?"

Swallowing with a concerted effort, he managed to gasp, "Give me a moment, Catherine, please…"

Nodding, she sat up. Holding his focus, she drew her nightgown up over her head and off, allowing it to flutter toward the floor. "Vincent, I need you. Let me love you?"

Maintaining eye contact with the beautiful woman pleading for his love, something long dormant within him seemed to crash upward from Vincent's soul. Obliterating rational thought and concept, a surge of forbidden, yet innate yearning erupted to life, conquering all of his deep, self-imposed restrictions. With his body rigid, throbbing with the need to be sated, his eyes turned dark, almost ebony, as they blazed into Catherine's.  With a crimson mist blurring his vision, somewhere in the recesses of his mind, Vincent realized what she’d done. Yet, even then, knowing what, and who, was controlling his actions, he couldn't deny the excited state he was in.

Accepting that, he realized that this time he was indeed losing both the struggle and himself, for much of what he was feeling--the need, the hunger itself--wasn't his. It wasn't coming from him at all, it was emanating from Catherine!  In the moment it took to draw a solitary breath, Vincent knew why she'd been so unhappy these last months, and that knowledge caught him completely off guard. She'd been using their bond, their connection, to draw him out; to induce him beyond the boundaries he'd thought necessary to set for them. Panting to breathe normally, he swayed on his feet as her longing raced through his consciousness.

As he searched Catherine's heart, Vincent was unable to believe what she was asking of him. She wanted him in a way that he'd never been able to share with her. She was seeking a part of him that he’d never given her of his own free will. To his way of thinking, the night in the cave had been…forced upon him. She wanted ‘him’? ‘Him’?!

Shaken to the soul, he turned away, unable to speak. Moving to the terrace window, he stared glumly out into the darkness, but he truly didn't see the lights of the city directly below him, nor did he hear the din of the evening traffic through the partially open window. He saw nothing, heard nothing, but the past. It inundated him with memories, some serene, some agonizing. Demanding acknowledgement, they called to him until his entire focus was on events, places and happenings buried within his subconscious since the night he'd truly joined his destiny to Catherine's.

Time and again, she’d reassured him that the night in the cave had been wondrous…a time of unconditional love. Vincent swallowed the sob that threatened to burst from his throat. If it was so magnificent, then why couldn't he remember it? Was it because something despicable had happened that she wouldn't speak of, something ‘he’ had done to her that was beyond definition?

A deep shudder ran the length and breadth of his body. Had he completely blocked the act of consummation from his memory because he'd injured her in some way he couldn't bear to ever relive again? Had he hurt her? He had the strength to, and the power. He had the…hands.

At that moment, Vincent wasn't in the confines of the bedroom. He was looking into faces, seeing images he had turned away from for so many months. The times of killing, of his hands rending flesh from bone, rose in him as would nefarious specters. Disgusting and degrading, they reminded him of what he was, of what he'd had to become to protect his world and those he loved.

In the midst of those tormenting visions stood the ‘beast’, poised for battle as he always was. Acknowledging him, Vincent remembered the smell of blood in his nostrils after each…decimation. Tears welled up in his eyes as he though of the times he'd considered himself little more than a killing machine, an…animal. Flinching, at that moment he not only remembered the past. In the time it took to draw one anxious breath, he also recollected the dream, the beach, and what had happened there!

As he did, something he considered ominous, sinister in appearance, stared back at him through the windowpane. As a smirking grin was mirrored in the glass, a grating voice mocked, ‘At last you confront the truth! She wants me, too. That—and me—are the realities you can't face! Because I'm part of you, Catherine loves me as much as she loves you, in every way!’

The shaded voice reverberated inside of Vincent's head. Try as he might, he couldn't turn it aside; it wouldn't be dissuaded. ‘You must share her with me. I need her, too. I love her. I always have. That's why I protect her, you shortsighted fool!’

The face confronted Vincent, daring him. A voice, his own, yet not quite his, growled challengingly, ‘Listen to Catherine, feel her heart, trust it. Hear beyond her words. She wants me because I'm a part of you, not in spite of it!’

"Vincent?"

"No…" Slowly shaking his head back and forth, Vincent's eyes glinted with unshed tears as he turned to face Catherine. "I don't have the courage to do what you would have me…do. It mustn't happen. I…can't. I can't!"

"You still fear him…that much? Oh, my Love."

Although she tried very hard to conceal it, Catherine’s disappointment cut through Vincent’s soul, nearly making him cry out. Through their Bond, he knew exactly what she wanted--a part of him that he simply had never learned to trust.  Closing his eyes for a moment, he searched his emotional unity with this fearless, beautiful lady. Startled, his head snapped up as the truth hit him full force. Catherine wasn't asking him to share all of what he was with her, she was demanding it!

Glancing over, Vincent was unable to acknowledge the look of hope in her eyes. Baffled, he turned back towards the window, considering her needs as well as his own. How could she want that part of him that he himself despised? How could Catherine want…that…touching her, or near her in any way? Yet, this is what she did want. He knew it, he felt it!

As he bowed his head and touched her heart with his, Vincent's eyes went widely startled. She…she loved ‘him’? No, that couldn't be. He searched their connection more closely and at last faced the truth. Oh God, she did love him, and she wanted him desperately.

Finally able to acknowledge that to himself, Vincent's heart thundered against his ribs, astounded by the depth of her determination, how she indeed accepted all of him. The woman he adored was asking for total openness between them, and in a loving way was being quite adamant about it.

Despite the nearly palpable tension in the room, his mouth curved into the smallest of smiles. Dearest Catherine, he knew her better than she might assume he did. While trying not to overly pressure him, or put him into a position that afforded no retreat, she wasn't backing away from this issue either. His Angel could be a very determined woman at times, as well as a most disconcerting one.

Profoundly moved by her complete faith in him, Vincent continued to peer out over the brightly illuminated city through melancholy eyes. What could he say to her that would not bring pain? He admitted that he too wanted to know all of what made him who he was, and had for many, many years. Was this the time? Was it? How could he permit Catherine to endanger herself in this way on his behalf? It was inconceivable. Yet…

As the need to hold her ran the length of his body, he tensed, but didn't fight it. Yes, he wanted her as much and in the same way that she wanted him. How was he to deny this? How could he forbid her something he also needed to the depth and breadth of his soul?

In the year since they had become lovers, Catherine had never asked him for anything ‘specific’ by way of intimacy. She accepted the quality of love he offered her without question, knowing that it was the only kind he was capable of giving freely. The fears of a lifetime are not quickly or easily overcome. She knew that and accepted it, or had seemed to until tonight.

As much as he wanted her without the usual limitations, what she was asking seemed insupportable. The possible danger to her could not be disregarded; it was all encompassing. Sadly, Vincent hardened his heart, knowing that he must discourage her from the dangerous journey she wished to take with him. What Catherine wanted to share with him must remain a dream for both of them--mustn't it?

Tensing his hands and struggling to center his thoughts, he gripped the wainscoting that encircled the windowpane in front of him, searching for answers. Well aware of what was involved if he tried to love her while under the influence of his less ‘benevolent’ side and failed, Catherine still wanted to attempt this. Why? For him? Did she imagine he was worth the possible loss of her life? Nothing was worth that much…nothing.

In four years, he still hadn't truly come to terms with her utter faith that he could never harm her, even unintentionally. How could she be so certain that no part of him could injure her, when the thought of doing it terrified him? She wanted him to love her with no impediments or boundaries of any kind. How could this be? How could she put her very life so completely into his hands with no assurance of the possible outcome?

He sighed heavily, knowing that he would never find the answers to many of his questions. There were times, he knew, when people had to rely on their instincts, or more importantly on the instincts of those they trusted. Was this such time? Did Catherine ask to share what he was out of love, hoping to encourage him into becoming a cohesive identity? Was that it? Vincent knew that she believed in him without question. Oh, what he wouldn't give to have her kind of courage!

Negating all of the justifications he might have offered in an attempt to dissuade her, that was the one unalterable truth that he couldn't deny--this woman loved and believed in him past all doubt. Had the time indeed come for him to trust her to that same depth, unconditionally? Would he be able to strip his soul bare and lay it before Catherine, disclosing all of the hidden, fiercely primal urges that haunted his dreams night after night, year upon year? Would she understand the sensual side of him that he himself didn't know, nor thought he would ever have to confront? Could she accept what he truly was, with all that that might entail for her in the physical sense?

Exhaling slowly, awash in a sea of possibilities, Vincent closed his eyes. Ah, to be able to give every part of himself to her, to be brave enough to show her the depth of his need, to share it with her without fear. To love her fully, without restraint, to take her in…every…way…

The highly stimulating images of joining his body to Catherine's without restriction caused an explosion of prickling heat to build to one of urgency in the center of Vincent’s belly. Moaning aloud, he pressed his forehead against the coolness of the windowpane, trembling as the phenomenon raced through his body.

To take her. The thought seared his soul.

No matter what happened, or didn't happen, tonight, he knew that Catherine accepted him as he was. But what was he? God in Heaven, how many times had he asked himself that damnable question? Was he a man as she believed him to be, or was he indeed, not quite human as he thought him-self to be? Was there something, some one, within him that must never be trusted near her? Was part of him a brute waiting to unleash his selfish lusts on a woman who sought only his love?

If he harmed her, Vincent knew it would be the end of him--that it would well and truly kill him. Uppermost in his mind as somber images and fears raced through it was one prevailing certainty…Catherine must be kept safe at all costs. Should he be able to yield to her desires, and his own, that surrender must never bring her pain.

At the moment of ejaculation, when there was only the sensation of ecstasy, could he control himself within her? Could he yield to Catherine in every way without distressing or disgusting her? A whimper of uncertainty tore from his throat as Vincent curled his hands into fists. Curse this indecision! What was the answer?

Loving him as much as she did, Catherine also knew Vincent better than he than he knew himself. She always had. Hearing his quiet sob, though he tried to suppress it, she spoke softly, seeking to reassure him.

"Love, don't be afraid to want me, or to need me as you've always needed me. I understand what you're feeling, but please believe that with love, there is no fear--there is only love. I want you to learn that here with me, in our bed, for you there are no limits, none; not with me. I know you. I do know who you are."

Her words were a balm to Vincent's battered psyche, warming him, tugging at his soul. "In my arms you're safe. Learn what desire can give to you, not take away from you. Please?"

"Oh my Dear…" Barely lifting his head, he glanced sideways, his look one of utter vulnerability, and sweetly eager. "…To love you with all that I am, fully and without any fear…" As he hesitated, Vincent's gaze met that of the woman waiting patiently for him to come to terms with his need to protect her, and his own passions. "If you could know how long I've wanted to love you with…every part of myself. But to allow you to see that side of me again…shames me."

"Please don't feel that way," she begged, dismayed at the depth of anguish in
his tone of voice. "I've told you again and again what happened that night, all of it. How can I make you believe that I said was the absolute truth? That night was beautiful and very, very special to me."

Wanting to run and put her arms around Vincent, but knowing that this time he had to take that first step and come to her, Catherine rose to her knees on the edge of the bed--as close to him as she could get. "Why can't you understand that the first time you loved me was right for then, for those…circumstances. Vincent, no part of you could ever, EVER, hurt me."

"So you would have me believe." Blinking back tears, he stared at the ceiling, his words grating, seeming to be torn from him, "Yet, to not remember that time is tearing me apart." He shook his head dejectedly.

Catherine tried again to make him truly hear her. "Have I ever lied to you?"

He didn't meet her eyes. "No," he whispered, adding silently, But, have you been completely honest in the things you have told me?

Struggling to find the right words, she went on, "I've known you for four years. Yet only at times when those you love were threatened, or when Paracelsus used his vile drugs and lies in an attempt to degrade you, have I been allowed to encounter the side of you that safeguards ALL of us."

Vincent's jaw tightened visibly. "That is as it should be."

"No, it isn't!" she insisted. "I cherish every part of you, and I know, I know, that all of you loves me. Don't you see? Don't you realize that the part of you that protects me, must love me to do that? Look into my eyes and see the truth of what I'm telling you? Can you do that for me? Won’t you try?"

Gathering his courage, Vincent straightened to his full height as words echoed in his mind, words from a letter he'd written to her years before. ‘Do I have the courage to look in the mirror? Do I have the courage to look into your eyes? In your eyes, Catherine, I see not only myself, in your eyes I see the truth of what can be…of all that is truly possible…’

Other words also echoed from within his soul. ‘One either moves toward love or away from it, Catherine. There is no other direction.’

Grunting in self-mockery, Vincent reflected on those words. Were they merely platitudes, or had he considered them to be a truth she must be aware of; a warning perhaps, that someday he would move ‘toward love’? Near the end of his life that night in the cave, Catherine had to move toward him, for he'd never found it within himself to take that first step and claim her as his own. Yet, she was his.

He recalled Father telling him a story of a man that couldn't divulge his feelings openly to the lady involved, because he lacked the courage. In the end, she'd been lost to him. Would his own lack of resolve cost him Catherine's devotion one day? As unlikely a prospect as that was, it could happen.

Taking a lingering breath, holding it for the space of a heartbeat, and then releasing it slowly, Vincent resolved himself to the fact that—yes--it was time for him to take the leap of faith he had written of so long ago. It was time to move…towards love. He could do this for Catherine, and for his own peace of mind. He must. He must. But how was he
to find a way to her beyond the fear--to walk the path that would lead him from the darkness into the radiance of her truths?

In Catherine's arms, he'd found a serenity and depth of commitment that had eluded him for over thirty years. Did he dare to hope for more than that? Could his desires finally be explored, surrendered to, and irrevocably sated if he had the daring to reach for what had been his to take from the beginning?

As he turned from the window, his eyes were troubled, yet filled with hope. He spoke so quietly the words were nearly inaudible. But Catherine heard and felt them to the bottom of her soul. "How can I deny you what I have longed to share with you for so long a time?" When he lifted his head, the hunger in Vincent's eyes stole her breath. "If you would have me love you in…that…way, then I must…try."

The saffron tinge to the moonlight seeping into the room made her eyes appear luminous. "I'll help you," she vowed. "I'll be here for you, always."

Vincent looked at her, his eyes softly reminiscent. "Always?" he echoed, smiling. "Remember? ‘Such a father's word--always.’ The week your father died you said those
words to me. Oh, Catherine, how I wanted to hold you then, to take your pain as my pain, but I couldn't hold you. I couldn't!"

"Why?" she asked, wanting him to say the words. "What stopped you?"

Vincent's face turned unyielding. "’He’ did. I felt him reach for you and I wanted to kill him for daring to do that! How can he be a part of me?!" His voice turned harsh. "It's as though one half of me is Cain, jealous, envious of what he cannot have, and the other half is Abel, the amiable brother who struggles to live an honorable life."

He cast her a defeated look, uncertain that she’d be able to understand what he was trying to say. Could she comprehend the animosity that ate at his soul? "I feel the part of me that’s Cain rising from within and I hate him! I despise that part of myself. There are no words loathsome enough to define my bitterness towards him."  Slamming both fists against the wall, he exclaimed, "Out of malice, Cain slew Abel. In jealousy and rage, he viciously struck him down! Is that what will happen to me one day? Will ‘he’ win after all, will he destroy everything?"

"No, he won't, he can't. Vincent I know you're in torment, but you must find a way to make peace with yourself. You're not Abel, but neither are you Cain. You're not perfect, nobody is, but you're not evil, or a man without a conscience. When my father died, you wanted me you wanted to hold me, that was all."

"Oh, I wanted to do much more than ‘hold’ you that night, Catherine." The words were almost snarled. "I wanted to make love to you!"

"And now you can do just that in any way you choose, whenever you choose. Can't you?" Her eyes bored into his. "My Love, you know I'm here, waiting for you. When you find the truth within yourself and are ready to join me in bed, you will." Smiling with great tenderness she added, "I can be very patient, you know."

The affection Vincent saw there, in Catherine's eyes, buttressed his resolve. What a miracle she was. His miracle. His Catherine. He'd always vowed to deny this woman nothing within his power to give. What she asked of him now was a thing only he could grant, if he had the courage to walk over to that bed. He knew that this time, he didn't want to leave her when she needed him the most, as he had always done in the past.

Although she'd never reproached or blamed him for having to do it, when he pulled away from her at the moment of release, he knew Catherine was well aware he'd had to interrupt the spontaneous sweep of his passions, once again denying both of them a tender moment of unity. At those times, he’d always reproached himself, certain that once again he'd both disappointed her and left her unfulfilled.

Not since the night of Jacob's conception, in the cave, had he ever again expelled his seed within her. Fearing the loss of control that deeply, that strongly, he always lifted away from her just before achieving ejaculation. Aware of his own frustrations at those times, as well as hers, he would tense his body, focus his control, and then spill his semen onto her breast or stomach. In that way, he barely managed to shield Catherine from what he deemed his vulgar, more…bestial urges.

Tonight would be the first time since fathering Jacob that he must try to give her all of the pleasure he'd been denying both of them. Ah, to know the ecstasy of giving himself to her completely, withholding nothing… Merely thinking such thoughts nearly unnerved him. How would it be to cast aside all of his inhibitions, to fling them away forever? Forever. Not for the first time, he wondered what it would be like to release that side of his personality when there was no threat involved?

With all of his heart, Vincent wished he could remember the night of Jacob's conception. What had ‘he’ been like that night? Had he shown her any tenderness at all, or had he savagely taken what he wanted as most males of any species did the first time they claimed a female?

The concept of the less-than-gentle part of himself sheathed within Catherine caused
Vincent to sway unsteadily on his feet. He grabbed at the terrace door for support.
Had she truly welcomed ‘him’, or had she merely…endured him? Had she cried out as he impregnated her? Had he? Had his mouth bruised her tender skin, had his hands torn the clothing from her body? Vincent ran the tip of his tongue along his sharp incisors. Had he bitten hungrily into Catherine's flesh?

Oh dear God! Biting down on his lower lip so hard he tasted blood, Vincent fought off the urge to scream. Shutting his eyes, he turned away from the revolting imagery of biting Catherine. How animalistic had he been? To his shame, he'd never been able to discuss that night with her. It still wounded him to the core that she'd seen him in such a state of rutting, orgiastic lust. What else could it have been in the condition he was in that night but an act of avarice on his part? A puzzled scowl washed over his face. Yet, how could that be, if Catherine sought to have him in that way again?

Vincent swallowed the pain that threatened to engulf him. As he'd thrust into Catherine's womb on the floor of that bleak cavern, had it been an act of love, or more one of mating, without gentility; giving no thought to her needs? Whatever it had been, the act had produced Jacob. That side of what he was had indeed given them a wondrous child. Envy consumed him as he thought of his son being conceived by the ruthless side of himself that he loathed. What had that moment been like? Was it as extraordinary as Catherine vowed? Would he ever know the truth of it!

The details of that night were recollections his more covetous side never deigned to share. More than once, Vincent had tried to draw him out, but the ‘beast’ held the beauty of loving Catherine for the first time greedily to himself, vowing maliciously that when and—if--Vincent deserved to know everything, then he would, and not a moment before.

DAMN HIM.

To imagine that…rough beast…joined to Catherine infuriated Vincent; it sickened him. It also made him want desperately to know the truth of exactly what had occurred in that shadowed cave. He glanced over at her and then quickly away again, degraded by poisonous thoughts, by his feelings of envy and fierce possessiveness. Jealousy, his own private demon, now tormented him beyond the edge of reason. ‘He’ would never have her again--never again!

‘Oh, no?’ A voice sneered from within.

Hearing it, Vincent jerked up straight in the air as a depth of covetousness he'd never felt before reached out and smashed the facade of reserve lain so carefully, end-over-end, through the years. Gasping to breathe, a frenzied look came into his eyes. Rage swept through him as his consciousness screamed to the darkness, ‘Catherine belongs to me, not to you…never to you! To me!’

‘Oh, you think so? Well pal, she didn't belong to YOU that night…’

With a malicious smile, the ‘beast’ began to weave images as only he could. Mental impressions of his body joined to Catherine's in ways and positions that in the past had always seemed barbarous, sheared away the veneer of control Vincent always maintained, particularly when he wanted to make love.

Already rigid with desire, his body throbbed mercilessly, rebelling against his attempts to prohibit a potent erection. He tensed all of his muscles as his penis distended. Curving outward and upward magnificently, away from his body, the rigid flesh betrayed the enormity of his need. He wanted her so much…so much. He thought he would perish if he couldn't hold Catherine in his arms soon and cradle himself in the sweet refuge of her womb.

Standing there, trying desperately to regain his inner focus, Vincent's mind whirled with images of carnality. Passion and desire were natural urges, weren’t they? Normal, healthy, masculine…

Like the driving force of a hammer, the truth hit, staggering him. Masculine. He longed to make love to Catherine in ways that weren't demeaning, they were merely his ways--part of who and what he was. And whatever else he was, he was male.

As he assimilated that insight and finally accepted it, an intuitive sexuality heightened. Reality coursed through him, giving him his answers, at last fitting all of the pieces of the lifelong puzzle neatly together. Devastating in intensity, needs long submerged at a conscious level stirred, arousing every fiber of his personality. As desire gnawed at him, Vincent felt as if he would explode. Forces long kept to a shadowed level of existence, ones that went beyond intellect, beyond domination, worked their way upward from within, towards the miracle of being. At that moment, for the first time that he could remember he felt completely alive.

Along with the comprehension that he wasn't an animal, came the wanting--a seething, unconquerable hunger. A man's hunger. Although he'd buried the need deeply, Vincent had longed to take Catherine in ways he'd never dreamt of asking her to endure, or to submit to. Until now, he'd assumed that it was the ‘darkness’ who wanted her in that way, and he vowed never to allow that to happen again.

But he was the darkness and the light; he always had been.

There was nothing else, no one else here except him. There was no separate ‘beast’, no other entity or individual in this shadowy place. Here, in the darkness of his soul, there was only him. Fortified with that knowledge, Vincent began to explore that somber region more closely and found what he knew he would find--himself. He met his phantoms face-to-face and came to know them as a part of himself, part of what he had always been and would always be.

As dual halves of the same heart finally pulsed in cadence with each other, he stared into the somber eyes of his other self, and for the first time found no malice there. There was no threat or any sense of rage as he looked into the face of his contradictory identity.

Vincent eyed the swarthy face warily, suspicious as always of his intent. Leaning against the opposite side of the bedroom window and folding his arms over his breast, the creature of twilight arched one eyebrow and grinned back. ‘Well, it's about time. I'd just about given up on you, pal. You've got more balls than I gave you credit for. So Vincent, what say you and I claim…really claim…what has always been yours anyway?’

‘Mine?’

‘Sure.’ The darkling shrugged. ‘I can admit that now. Catherine belongs to you, and that's the truth of it. But you'll share her now and then, won't you? Can you?’ he challenged, obstinate to the last.

‘I can…try, but only on my terms,’ Vincent answered, his intent explicit. ‘I have to learn if it's possible for me to trust you as much as Catherine does. Mine shall always be the dominant personality. It must be. Is that clearly understood?’

The beast looked resigned. ‘Oh, all right. You've always been in control anyway, haven't you? That's why you nearly went over the edge when I finally did get out last year. Sure scared the hell out of ya, didn't I? Ha! Well, if you hadn't been so damned stubborn,
it wouldn't have nearly finished both of us! It's a damned good thing that Catherine was there.’

‘Yes, she saved us…both,’ Vincent conceded. ‘So now, I'm willing to try and live in peace with you, for her sake, if you can make peace with me…’

‘For Catherine, I'll try.’ Eyeing Vincent, the beast admitted, ‘I really do love her, you know. That wasn't a lie. You still can't believe it, can you? Cripes, you're a stubborn son of a bitch.’

At that moment, Vincent found this side of himself surprisingly droll. ‘As are you, my friend,’ he retorted.

‘Friend?’ the ‘other’ echoed skeptically. ‘Truly friends? Can we be that, you and I, after so many marvelous battles?’

Shuddering, Vincent remembering those assaults. ‘The choice is yours. You can live my life on my terms, or go on living as you are now.’

‘Ha!’ the creature sneered, grimacing. ‘Some choice! Aren't you just too, TOO generous?’ Pursing his lower lip, he tilted his head, looking Vincent up and down. ‘I suppose we can be friends, although you have been a quite worthy opponent.’ Cautiously, he extended his hand toward Vincent. ‘I'll miss our…debates.’

‘Will you?’ Clasping the proffered hand, Vincent eyed the other presence with a slight hint of sarcasm curving his mouth upward. ‘I shan't.’

As their hands touched, the tranquility of spirit so long denied him encompassed Vincent's soul. Washing away the pain as well as the fear, the calm he felt was nearly overwhelming. In that instant, he realized that it wasn't the darkness he'd been so afraid of all these years, it was losing himself in it. Now he would never lose himself there again, for the shadows were gone. GONE.

Taking a deep breath, he realized that Catherine had been right in her supposition.
As much as he had feared the bestial side of his nature, that side had envied him,
and had yearned to be joined to him. She'd known that all along, and that was why
she wanted him reconciled to his differences. His Beloved knew, she had always known,
who he was, what he was, and she loved him as he was.

Unique? Definitely. Filled with conflicts? Oh, yes. But, no matter what else existed within him, Vincent realized that in his own distinct way, he was a man. The miracle of his son was living proof of that fact. Jacob was a human child. A human child.

‘So’, a voice whispered from within his mind, "You've finally grasped the truth of that too, have you? Shall I show you more? Can you handle more of what we are, hm? Let's find out. Come on, you can do it, with MY help. You have to trust me now, or we've truly gained nothing.’

‘Yes, I know…’
 
 

THE QUICKENING…

Vincent leaned against the door as erotic images evolved into beguiling scents. The essence of Catherine's delicious, womanly places wafted towards his nostrils, making them quiver expectantly. He could feel her hands stroking him; feel her mouth on his body. He could see her around him, beneath him, above him, loving him, opening herself only to him.

Consumed with desire, an irrepressible excitement constricted to a pulsing, uncontrollable ache in Vincent's groin. The eagerness built, rushing through him in a torrent of sexuality. Ah, to stay within her as he attained release, to withhold nothing of himself, nothing…

The colors of passion exploded into shimmering hues of crimson and silver inside his head. To position himself carefully behind Catherine and slip one finger into her warmth, readying her, and then to lean forward, center himself, and penetrate her with one forceful thrust, with one solid drive of his pelvis…

Vincent's body began to tremble, jerking violently as a quickening he'd denied for over thirty years reached out and took him without warning. Pushing into the sensation full force, welcoming it, his body ached with anticipation as his thoughts went to the woman on the bed. To at last allow her to know all of his appetites…

As the pounding of blood thundered in his brain, stripping away a lifetime of hidden, disallowed urgencies, the words were torn from a place within him that Vincent recognized and had always feared. He didn't fear it now. Resolutely meeting Catherine's eyes, he asked, "You would accept me in whatever way I chose? You would have me unite my body to yours with no restrictions, knowing what could happen; realizing full well who and what might be liberated if we dare to do…this?"

Catherine's response was in as encouraging a voice as she could muster. "Yes. I want you to share yourself with me tonight with no walls or barriers between us. Don't…leave me this time. Please?"

"As you wish." Unable to disguise the eagerness in his voice, he put both palms flat against the windowpane and propelled his body away from the glass. "I won't leave you, Catherine. Not this time." He moved toward her. "I want you to know me, to learn with me at the same moment the truth of what I am. I want to relive that night in the cave, and how it felt to give you everything I have to give."

As he neared her, Catherine swung her legs over the side of the bed and opened her arms. Moving to stand with his legs imprisoning hers, Vincent gently cupped her breast in one hand and the back of her head in the other as he bent towards her. Attempting to move her hair aside so he could touch her more fully, he snarled impatiently as his fingers became tangled in the silken strands.

Twisting his hand slightly to the left, he yanked free and looked down, horrified as he beheld the lengths of Catherine's hair that now rested in his callused palm. That small act of ferocity pulled him up sharply. "What have I done!" Horrified at his display of impatience, he sank down to the edge of the bed.

Moving to kneel in front of him, Catherine spoke soothingly, telling him, "I'm not hurt. Vincent, it's just hair. I pull yours all the time."

"Yes, I know that you do." He smiled at the memory, but apologized anyway, afraid to touch her again. "I did not mean to do…that." An air of defeat colored his words as Vincent's shoulders slumped. "Catherine, now you've seen with your own eyes what can happen. One touch and I've already hurt you! I don't know if I what you ask of me is…truly possible. It's something I had not imagined you would ever seek to know…again."

"I want this for your sake as well as my own." Urging him closer, she wrapped one arm around his waist. "I want you to learn once and for all, that no part of you frightens me. I don't want you to ever feel shame again in who you are! You're Vincent, the man that I love."

"Not who I am…" Hesitating, Vincent stared down at his hands. "…What I am."

Releasing his waist, Catherine took the hands he hated, the hands that she loved, and brought them to her bare breasts. "Who you are is everything to me, and your hands…"She kissed the pad of each finger delicately, "…your hands are beautiful. In the cave, they brought me a depth of joy I'd never thought to know."

Fighting back sobs of relief, Vincent swept her into his arms and searched her face. "I pray that you are right, for once this begins, this time I don't think I could stop, even if you asked it of me. Not this time…not now. I need you too much, I want you too much."

First kissing the side of his face, Catherine moved her tongue to the edge of his ear. "As I want you, my love. I do understand how difficult this is for you."

"Do you? Can you?" Gripping her face in his hands, he shook her as hard as he dared, trying desperately to make her fully aware of just how unsettled he was emotionally; how afraid he was. "Have you any conception of how excited I am at this moment, or how desperately I want you; the ways that I want you?"

Nuzzling into his hand, she nipped the center of Vincent's palm. Startling him, the love bite also thoroughly aroused him. "Maybe I don't know as much as I think I do. Show me? Let me know all of you again?" She looked very determined. "I wasn't afraid of him, and to be honest, I…I miss him…"

"Miss…him?" Vincent stared into her eyes hard for a moment, and then a fiercely resolute look came over his face. "So be it. I must trust you to do what is best, for…both of us. God help us if we falter this night."

"We won't fail, Vincent." Catherine gripped him tightly around the neck.  "Together we can dare anything."

"Yes, with you, I can dare…anything." His tone of voice changed to a raspy whisper, settling into her womb like a physical caress. "At this moment, I am no longer able to deny either of us this pleasure."

As she looked into them, Vincent's eyes turned sultry, provocative. They were a strange, ebony color; not his eyes at all. As he smiled at her, his teeth gleamed in the half-light of the bedroom. "Ah, I have missed you…"

Gazing into his eyes, she saw something there that she recognized instantly, but had no fear of. Loving him as she did, Catherine didn't fear of any part of this intensely beautiful man. At the beginning of their relationship, she'd suspected Vincent when the subway vigilante was on the loose, but she'd never truly feared him. How could one be afraid of the center of their world?

"And now…" He tipped her chin up until his mouth was mere inches from hers,
"…Open your mind and body to me--to us. Yield all to me, Catherine, for from
this point, I shall not be denied." He griped her possessively and leaned toward her. "Know this, my beloved, tonight you shall be mine in every way…

Pressing her down into the mattress, Vincent began kissing her wildly, until she couldn't think of anything but his tongue, or feel anything but his mouth and teeth. Moving to her breast, he suckled hungrily, as if starved for a taste long denied him. For this part of his secret self, Catherine's taste had been denied for far, far too long.

When she finally managed to find her voice, she gasped, "Lord, you're quick!"

A rumbling chuckle filled the air over her head. "Quick? Yes." Fierce eyes that were synchronized bursts of blue energy claimed her as his soul mate. Vincent's smile was seductive, beguiling. "I can be very quick when I wish to be." Moving his mouth to the edge of her chin, he worried the soft flesh with teasing, nibbling bites. "But I can go slower if you ask it of me."

Placing one hand at her waist, Vincent pulled her up firmly to his chest. Eyes sooty with promise challenged hers. "How do you wish me to be, Beauty? It is your choice. Remember? In the cave, I gave you that choice. And now, I must see your face as you say the words aloud. Catherine, tell me what you want…"

Sliding one hand between them, she trailed her fingers along the edge of his scrotum, kneading the weighty sac with the tips of her fingers. "I want you, as you were that night--completely aroused, utterly fearless, and as eager as I am."

"Are you eager?" Shifting his weight onto his knees, he straddled her hips. "You’re already prepared to receive me, then? Let me see…" Placing one finger at the edge of her femininity, Vincent brushed the furred side of his hand across her thighs, stroking lightly back and forth. "Hmm, yes…" His eyes never left her face as he moved his hand lower, deepening the touch.

When her satiny wetness flowed down to coat his fingers, he grunted, "Ah, your desire undoes me! I feel how ready you are to accept me, as I am just as eager to be accepted, to sheath myself within you." Although the voice was his, the words weren't ones Vincent would ordinarily have used. "I have waited so long for this. I want to bring you pleasure, and rediscover my own in your body. It's time…"

With a twist of one hand, Vincent removed the tiny lace panties from Catherine's hips. As he rose to his knees over her, unbridled passion had altered his expression from one of loving patience to one of necessity. "Accept me as I am, for who I am. Anything I do to bring you pleasure from this moment, also brings it to me."

Dismissing the trembling in his fingers with a snuffling grunt, he moved Catherine's hands back to the headboard of the bed. In a tone that would not be disobeyed, he commanded, "Keep them there."

Holding onto the bed, Catherine looked up into his face, waiting for whatever would happen next. Wriggling her hips against his slowly probing finger, she challenged, "What if I need to touch you? I'll want to, you know that."

The look in Vincent's eyes was loving, but one that would brook no disobedience. "Do as I ask, please? Do not tease or test me, not now. If you do, I promise…"

"Promises, promises," she murmured willfully. Doing exactly what he'd warned her not to, she gave Vincent a very determined look, and then slowly let…go…of…the…bed.

"So, you would tease me then!" Pushing Catherine's knees apart roughly, he kept her body trapped between his thighs. "Promises, you say? Oh yes, that and more; a pledge. You wanted me, so shall you have me, and this time there shall be no doubts…no reticence."

The look that washed over his face told Catherine that this was not a time to play with Vincent in any way. This was not a game. The hunger in his eyes, the look of eagerness there, told her to do as he asked without question. As she watched, his passion seemed to heighten moment to moment, for his needs went beyond ordinary mans--they always had. Putting both hands at her hips, he breathed, "Stay still. I want to feel your response with my mind as I enter you. Don't touch me yet, please? You must be quiet as I center my thoughts."

Gripping her by the ankles, Vincent kissed each one, and then rested them on his broad shoulders. "How I need this…" Gripping her wrists firmly in one hand, he yanked them back over her head. "This time, you will keep them there…"

Tipping his body, keeping her caught between strong but trembling legs, he slowly drifted down to cover her, flattening her beneath him. Then, shifting his pelvis, he lifted away from her for a moment, smothering her cry of disappointment with a fiercely penetrating kiss.

Clasping his phallus firmly between his fingers, Vincent began to glide his tongue in and out of Catherine's mouth in tune with the prodding motion of his hips. At that same moment, he inserted just the tip of his maleness inside her. Pressing forward a little, then easing out again gradually, he moved in her slowly, sensuously.

Then, without warning, Catherine's inner muscles spasmed, clutching at him, taking him much deeper than he was prepared to go. "Yes," he hissed, "It feels so good…" Eyes wide, staring, he began to rock into her wildly, seeking the source of her heat. He was at the edge, nearly there…nearly…

No! Barely in control, Vincent's head jerked back as he tried to slow his movements. Catching himself just in time, he groaned, "Not yet, not…yet…" Squeezing his buttocks tightly together, he withdrew until only the crown of his penis remained embedded within her.

"Stay?" Gripping him with her ankles, Catherine tried desperately to draw him back.

Tensing his body against the need for a swift penetration, Vincent growled, fighting off the pressure to loosen his control. Starved to scatter himself completely within her for the first time in a year, he couldn't remember ever wanting anything—anything--this much. Battling the need to thrust one more time and reach orgasm, he tensed his knees and lifted himself slightly away from her, panting roughly. "Temptress, is this how you wanted me?"

"Yes…" Bringing her legs up, Catherine tried to get even closer to him. "Oh, yes. Don't leave me," she moaned.

Smiling devilishly, doing a bit of teasing himself, all at once he withdrew altogether, loving the wet sounds their bodies made as they separated.

"Vincent!"

Gripping the bed tightly, she arched against him. As she did, Catherine noticed that his usual breathing pattern had intensified to sharply rasped sobs. She became aware of an energy, a vitality that seemed to permeate the air around them.

Putting one hand at the right side of her head, he leaned into her until their mouths touched, and began urgently rocking his moist shaft against her, whispering, "Shall I deny you what I have yearned for myself for such a long time? Lift your hips toward mine…now…" As she did, he wrapped both hands around her bottom and sank into her full force. Thrusting deeply, his eyes flashed, growing more and more expectant as he felt the beginnings of release just heartbeats away.

As Vincent's head went down to watch their bodies meld together, and then part again and again, his tone suddenly turned frantic. "Catherine, let go of the bed!"

The instant she did, he pulled away, captured her by the waist and rolled her over onto her tummy. Licking the curve of her ear, he gasped, "To be free, in all ways. from the fears of a lifetime. To dare dream of loving you like this…"

First skimming his teeth along her shoulder, he then put the sharp tips of them against her neck and nipped her gently. When Catherine trembled beneath him, he knew it wasn't in fear. She was warm, so willing, her voice soft and impassioned. "Vincent?"

His tone was soothing…seductive. "I'm here, my Rose. Now I shall love you without limits. All of what and who I am, I give only to you…"

Meeting her moan of expectancy with a determined groan, Vincent ran his hands over her belly and edged lower on the bed. Moving one hand to the center of her heat, he smiled at finding her quite ready for him indeed. His smile widened, becoming earthy, more sexual, until its glory was an entity unto itself; victorious, dauntless.

For a moment Vincent pulled back as though his minds-eye saw something visible only to him. He did see something—himself, as he'd never allowed himself to be before. Feeling the ‘beast's’ passion blaze up from the dark places within him, this time he didn't forbid the intrusion, he welcomed it. After all, a promise was a promise.

As he caressed Catherine, an almost ethereal hand also reached out to touch her.  Hovering over his for a moment as though even now fearing rejection, the hand then slowly merged with Vincent's. For the first time he and the more sensual side of his spirit were one in the act of love, and they celebrated the revelation.

Although they were his hands that stroked, his fingers that claimed Catherine, they were also those of a duality Vincent had rejected his entire life until this moment. He would never reject him again. No more conflict, no more pain. There had been enough of that between them for two lifetimes. At long last, an entity that had known only the pitiable existence of maiming and loneliness was shown what was truly possible--even for him--with love.

Wrapping the woman he loved in his embrace, Vincent lifted Catherine to his breast. Pressing closer, his words were grunts of pure pleasure, his intent markedly obvious. "Do you wish me to continue?"

"Y…Yes," she stammered, unable to forbid him anything he would have; sensing that within him something wonderful had happened. With each pass of his hands on her skin, each touch of his mouth to her body, Catherine felt his self-confidence growing. To even try to stop him now would defeat all they had gained tonight. Never would she do that--to him. "Love me…"

"Oh, I shall…" Slowly easing into her body, Vincent fought the need to immerse himself fully and take his pleasure. Turning aside his hunger momentarily—longer would have destroyed him--he resisted an instinctive craving to let himself be consumed in the flames of this woman’s love.

Still, there comes a time when desire defeats the noblest of intentions. For Vincent, this was such a moment.

When Catherine leaned forward and balanced on his tensed thighs, offering herself to him, the angle of her pelvis induced a tightness that raced along Vincent's length. Wide-eyed, he tossed his head frantically from side to side and clenched his teeth. Groaning, he fought for a mastery over his desires that had disintegrated as bits of paper would in a consuming heat, leaving only the ashes of the gentle being who'd always put the needs of others before his own.

It was time…it was past time…for him to confront, accept, and finally assuage his own needs. Biting his lower lip to the point of pain, Vincent closed his eyes and settled his hips down onto the mattress, waiting…waiting… Knowing who and what had risen and was controlling him, a whimper rose from deep in his soul.

As he struggled not to fight that side of his spirit, a shimmering heat enveloped him, guiding him towards a vortex of ecstasy he'd never known. ‘Yes,’ urged a voice only he could hear, ‘Feel the power of what we are—together! Feel our connection and accept it. Now…NOW…do you understand?’

Vincent's eyes flew open. Yes, he understood…now. Gasping, he stared into nothingness as a new and unexpected aggressiveness swept through his tensed frame. A need to seize his own pleasure blazed up, unswerving and potent, from the hidden places of his psyche. As an explosion of pure, uninhibited sexuality raced through his blood, he opened himself to the sensation, welcoming it as a part of all he was, freely, without misgiving.

In that moment, in the measure of a single heartbeat, Vincent became all that he’d never thought to be. He was sunlight and shadows, angel and spirit of twilight, a soul older than time itself, as well as an innocent lover on the edge of sexual awakening. He was poet and scholar, passionate and patient. And he was simply a man, yet more, oh, so much more.

Wrapping both arms around Catherine, he pleaded breathlessly, "Help me? I must learn how to control…him, if he can be controlled, for I doubt that it will be possible to dominate…this…much longer." Warm tears dripped down onto Catherine's shoulder. "I still fear the hunger he causes to rise in me. His craving steals my will, it crushes my judgement." Feeling the beginnings of a thunderous snarl rise in his throat, he buried his face into the nape of her neck. "The way that he…the way that I want you, robs me of all patience."

Running her hands down his muscled forearms, she laced her fingers through his. "Please don't be afraid? He is a part of you; he's all of the emotions that you've kept bottled up inside you for too many years. Don't deny your own passion. Let it happen? Stop struggling against him and yourself. Let him free, allow him to exist, for it also frees you. If you trust him, it will free you!"

Vincent didn't answer--not right away. For a moment, there was only the harsh sound of his breathing, each expulsion of air gently stirring the hair at the back of Catherine's neck. From this position, she couldn't see his eyes, or the darkly reflective look that came into them as he eased his hands from hers.

Finally responding, his tone was sensuously explicit, making her giddy with anticipation. "Do not fight him, you say?" Stroking softly back and forth, powerful fingers lingered at the underside of her breast. "Don't you see that the battle has already been fought? And the garland of victory, Catherine, is…you."

Cupping her breast firmly, Vincent ran his thumb along the crested peak. Her eyes drifted shut as a low chuckle stirred the air. In the dark-ness there was a flash of beautifully pointed teeth as he began to nibble on her ear lobe.

"You are the prize, my lady, and I always claim what belongs to me…" That said, he gave himself up to passion. As the force of an innate eroticism never before acknowledged obliterated the last remnants of his fear, the one she loved began moving his hands over her body. "I adore you." A look of promise slowly spread across his intensely beautiful face. "And now, I shall have you…"

Vincent began to stroke her almost lazily. Gently rolling one taut nipple between his fingers, he gave himself up to the sensation it brought. Yes, this was what he’d needed…this. He felt swollen with love, with eagerness; somehow invincible--like a warrior who had battled his dragons, his demons, and at long last beaten them at their own game.

Searching his feelings, he admitted to himself that whatever else he was, he did have a pride inborn in his own particular species. This woman had given this to him. Her love gave him the courage to accept what he was, her devotion gave him the confidence to disregard the things about himself that couldn't be changed, no matter how much he would want to change them--for her.

Catherine’s words were true--life was something that one must live in whatever form it was given you. She wanted him as he was, loved him as he was, and now, here in this bed, Vincent finally accepted the fact that to her, he was a man. And that was the ‘truth beyond knowledge’, the one he clung to now with his heart and soul.

Abruptly, the need for release obliterated all other, more rational perceptions. "Catherine…" Pulling her back against his chest, Vincent rose to the full extent of his knees. Embracing her tightly, he moved his mouth over the soft flesh of her upper arm. "…I need you. I want you…now…" Centering himself beneath her, he brought her down forcefully as he arched upward, crying out, "I have no more patience!"

Pounding into her without restraint, again and again, he whimpered as erotic images swept through his mind, luring him, enticing him onward. Pumping forcefully, he knew he was at the edge of release. "The feeling," he gasped, "…the sensation! Open your soul to mine. Hold on to me. Tighter, tighter! I don't want to hurt you, Beloved, but I can't stop moving!"

Sobbing his name, Catherine flung her head back against his breast. "Give your body what it seeks. Satisfy your needs, and mine. I love you, I'm waiting for you…"

Her beseeching cries released Vincent from his tormented juncture between heaven and hell. As her womb clutched at him relentlessly, his body jerked forward, startled. "Dear merciful God," he gasped, "What is this sensation? What’s…happening?!"

This was completely new to him, and magnificently sexual. He'd never stayed within her long enough in the past to be fully aware of the all-encompassing moistness of Catherine's femininity. Now he felt everything, and strained to lose himself in it; wanting joyously to drown in the heat of it. As his body angled upward, finding its own rhythm, the excitement became a sea of longing. He moaned, waiting for release, desperate for the totality he'd been denying both of them for so long.

Grazing Catherine's ear with his teeth, Vincent tipped his pelvis up, sobbing hoarsely, "This time I must finish within you. Oh, I need this, I need you! Let me guide your body,"  he pleaded, fighting to rein in his hungers. "Let me…"

"Vincent, hold me!" As a clutching sensation rose from Catherine's womb, he rocked to his knees. Yanking her back to his chest just in time, he tensed his pelvis as she dug her nails into his knees. Sobbing his name, she buckled forward in his embrace.

As his beloved attained fulfillment, her rapture clenched along the width and breadth of Vincent's aching flesh. And that quickly the boundaries of constraint were merely a memory. Holding her firmly, frantic to have her yield to both his advances and to him, in every way, Vincent prolonged each exquisite thrust. Struggling to move slowly, he edged his hips from side to side. Loving the feeling it brought, he tried desperately to delay his climax. But the urgency to achieve ejaculation was too powerful to be endured--and it refused to be contained. Without caution or warning, passion ripped through him.

"Uh!" Shouting in incomprehensible joy, he shuddered, aware of what was about to happen. Desperately gulping air into his lungs, unable to dominate the spilling of his seed, or to forestall it, he wept as desire reached out and pounded at him relentlessly. All control dissipated like dust in a storm as hunger, absolute and indescribable, took him body, mind and concepts. Fighting to satisfy his ardor, yet sustain the moment, Vincent took short, jabbing thrusts, hoping to delay his orgasm for one more second, one more stroke, for one more lunge of his pelvis. But it was not to be.

Eagerly, his fingers tightened at Catherine's hipbones. "Be still a moment longer, just for a…" Suddenly, his eyes darkened. "Now…" Shaking his tousled mane out of his eyes, he lurched upward. "It begins. Oh yes…yes! I’m…"

Groaning her name twice, once in disbelief, and then triumphantly, Vincent pitched forward into a whirlpool of colors, scents and imagery, his back hunching convulsively as a potent explosion of semen spilled from his body into hers. Nourishing Catherine's womb, the orgasm completed him as he shuddered and rose to meet it once, twice, thrice, and then a fourth and final time.

"Oh!" Collapsing sideways on the bed, Vincent was a little unnerved at finding himself so utterly spent. His bones were liquid, there was a fire under his skin. He simply could not…move. Groaning in disbelief, wonderfully, utterly depleted, he wrapped Catherine into a loose embrace. A wry chuckle rumbled up from his breast. He was dead from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, and he reveled in it. Damn it, he'd earned it.

The lovers lay motionless for some moments, unable to move, gloriously sated. Then, still joined, Vincent turned Catherine to face him. He groaned as his phallus convulsed, tiny aftershocks winking out all along its still pulsing length.

"I never knew anything could be so…so…"

Unable to find the word he wanted, he put the palm of his hand to the side of her damp face. His eyes were glowing with both love and a sense of recollection, for at the moment of ejaculation he'd remembered everything.

As he told her, his voice was velvet soft, almost a physical caress. "My Love, I know what happened in the cave." Ducking his head, he whispered, "It was like…this, wasn't it?"

"Yes, and it was wonderful." Cuddling down into him, Catherine tightened her inner muscles around him, loving it when he grunted. "You were wonderful."

"That night, and…this, I brought you no pain, none," he stated matter-of-factly.

She kissed his firm jaw. "No, I told you that."

"Thank God." Burying the tip of his nose into her hair, Vincent inhaled deeply. "…And you." Sighing wearily, he snuggled closer to her.

Kissing the bridge of his nose, Catherine peeked up at him. "You're very, very welcome."

"And I am very, very fortunate." Settling one leg possessively over hers, he held her to his breast as they both drifted off to sleep.

***
An hour later, as Catherine shifted restlessly against him, Vincent was instantly awake. "What’s wrong?"

She sighed and slowly eased away from his warmth. "I'm uncomfortable." Gesturing to her breasts, she grimaced. "Without Jacob here, I have to express my milk, or I’ll never be able to get back to sleep."

Vincent’s face was bathed in an expression of yearning. "I could ease your distress, if you would…allow it."

Glancing at him, Catherine wondered how someone could look so shyly hesitant and at the same time so utterly sensual. She knew what he wanted. She’d known for a long time of this ‘need’ he had never expressed aloud. Smiling at him, she waited for Vincent to ask the question, wanting him to feel secure enough with her to ask for anything.

He tried. "I want… I would like to…"

When he looked away sighing, defeated by his own shyness, she finished the thought for him. "You want to know the taste."

Silently thanking God for this woman, he breathed, "Yes, I…do. Please?"

"Vincent, you can ask me for anything, you know that."

"Oh, my Beloved…" Easing her back to the pillows, he rubbed the downy tip of his nose across one puckered nipple, and then peered up anxiously. "Is what I would do considered…normal? Is it allowed?" Swallowing hard, he whispered, "It shames me to admit that here have been times when I have envied our child his sustenance."

"I know." Catherine traced the curve of his hip with her finger. "It happens sometimes to most fathers, I would imagine."

Vincent looked extremely surprised. "Truly? Then, it's not unnatural for me to want you in this way?"

"Of course not," she calmly, reassured him. "It’s purely instinctive, although I’m sure there are those who would say otherwise."

Watching her from beneath his lashes, his voice was unsteady, tremulous with yearning. "It is what you would say or think that matters to me." He put one hand to her breast and ever so gently pressed his callused palm against it. "No one else’s opinion matters in the bed, except yours."

Looking at her, his longing explicit, Vincent trembled as his judgment tried to override his heart. Why had he asked to do such a thing? Even though Catherine didn't seem offended, was she? Why had he asked! Surely, she would think him…

Before he could finish the thought, Catherine tucked one finger under his chin. Urging his head up, she met his embarrassed expression with one of tender understanding. "When you were a baby, you didn’t have a mother’s love, or the contentment and protection that goes along with it. Although Father satisfied your intellect and guided you, he couldn’t nourish your body as a mother would have." She stroked his forehead. "Do you know if you had a wet nurse?"

He shook his head slowly back and forth. "At the time, there was no one available, or so Father told me some years ago, when I questioned him on that particular subject."

"What!" Catherine snorted. "You asked him THAT? I’ll bet he was a bit--taken aback--shall we say?"

Vincent fought off the urge to chuckle, and failed. "He seemed to take my inquiry quite seriously, and he answered my question. Or I should say he answered it once he’d stopped choking on the mouthful of tea he’d just swallowed the wrong way." His chuckle turned to a husky laugh.

Giggling with him, Catherine sifted Vincent’s hair between her fingers, recalling the times she’d been nursing Jacob and would look up to find his daddy staring down at them wordlessly. Although he'd watched the scene with interest, the look in Vincent’s eyes then had been unreadable. Now, she knew why.

As their child rooted at her breast, the sounds Jacob made as he fastened his bow-like mouth around one nipple were gently sucking noises. She tried to remember--had Vincent seemed jealous or envious? No. But he had looked just a bit covetous.

Hearing him sigh, she pulled back to look at him. "You really would like to taste the milk?"

He nodded slowly. Struck speechless by diverging emotions, Vincent licked his lower lip as though already savoring what was being offered him. Oh, how he wanted this.

Catherine realized that with one word or even a look, she could wound him to the heart right now, but to hurt this man was unthinkable. He looked almost childlike in his innocence. Openly, artlessly, his eyes begged her to satisfy him in a way that only she could. He was like a little boy who needed mothering, one who needed understanding and comfort; a comfort only she could provide.

Opening her arms, Catherine drew him towards her. "Don’t be shamed by your need, Love." Settling back into the pillows, she rubbed one hand over Vincent’s broad shoulders, waiting patiently for him to conquer the last of his inhibitions.

With a sound between a sigh and a whimper, he nestled against her, promising, "I won’t hurt you, and I shall try to give you pleasure as I take…my own." Hesitantly, gently, he nuzzled against her left breast. And then, gasping hoarsely, he opened his mouth.

Tiny prickles of heat raced through Catherine’s womb as he delicately teased and curled his tongue across her nipple. Stopping for a moment, his eyes flashed with hope as they met hers. "What depth of touch is acceptable and what is disallowed? I must know this."

"You can touch me in whatever way you want to." She caressed the curve of his lower jaw lightly. "Nothing is forbidden--not to you."

"Nothing?" The look Vincent gave her as he parted his lips, exposing long incisors, made Catherine feel as though her entire body had liquefied beneath a scorching gaze of blue.

"Remember, Vincent? I told you once that you deserve everything."

As he glanced up, the smile on his face and in his eyes was beyond definition. "But I have everything, Catherine. I have you and Jacob."

Purposefully shifting lower on the bed, Vincent lapped at her with renewed energy. As he tugged more and more forcefully, she felt his body go momentarily rigid, then completely limp as her milk spurted into his questing mouth.

"Hm…yes…"

Keeping his lips firmly pressed to her, he moved one hand to her leg. As he suckled fervently, kneading the softness of her breast with the pads of his fingers, he moved his free hand between her thighs. Curving one finger slowly in and out of her damp curls, he emulated the movement of his hand to those of his mouth and tongue.

Swallowing the delicious elixir with satisfied groans, Vincent closed his eyes, relishing both Catherine’s taste and the sensation of drowsiness that had enveloped him. Nudging his nose repeatedly against her, he rooted energetically while his hand kneaded and stroked her sensitive flesh. When a low rumble welled up from his throat, he didn’t try to confine it nor to conceal it, for this too, was part of what made him who and what he was. The reverberations intensified, vibrating against Catherine’ breast with each lingering, exceedingly contented swallow.

As the reality of what he was doing overwhelmed him, he found himself completely and fiercely aroused. This, he hadn’t expected. Oh, yes, yes. Highly stimulated, he murmured love words deep in his throat. Rubbing the crown of his phallus excitedly against her thigh, he tried easing his aroused state, but attempting to relieve his erection in this way only served to inflame him. Unable to stop himself, he strained toward her, rolling the engorged width back and forth across her vee-shaped portal.

When Vincent grunted passionately, Catherine felt the crown of his penis swell against her. It was already magnificently swollen, and incredibly wet. His warm fluids dripped down the side of her leg as she urged him onward with a softly prodding motion.

Vincent’s breathing pattern intensified to tenderly measured groans as he drained one breast of its milky flow. Tilting his head, he nuzzled the delicate skin between her breast, licking daintily. Then, shifting his weight, he fastened his lips to her right nipple, indulging in a banquet that was, this time, only for him.

As he sucked vigorously, she stroked his tousled hair. Sighing in contentment, she cherished the moment; celebrating the fact that only she would ever bring such nurturing to this wondrous being.

When she moved slightly, easing a kink in her back, Vincent whimpered, "No, not yet," and tightened his hold on her, as though fearing she’d leave him before he was finished. When she spoke to him, he didn’t answer, but his fingers relaxed again slightly.

He didn’t hear what Catherine said to him--he truly didn’t. A bombardment of feelings, love and passion, urgency and patience, satiation and appetite were crashing headlong against one another. Sweeping through him, they’d lulled him into a nearly trance-like stupor. At this moment, lost in the taste and scent of Catherine, he felt only deep pleasure coiling through him, along with a sexuality he’d never known he possessed.

Aware of each contraction of her womb as he feasted at her breast, Vincent wrapped one hand around Catherine’s hips. Urging her legs apart with his knee, he pressed closer, feeling safe and secure; feeling wanted. When the last droplet of her warm milk beaded on his upper lip, he licked it off slowly, resigning himself to the fact that for now, there was no more.

Blinking himself back to reality, Vincent’s lower lip curled into a sensuous pout as other needs took the place of the one for nourishment. His penis was rigidly forged as he moved one finger gently into Catherine’s velvety channel, readying her. At this moment, nothing and no one could have stopped him from having her. When she arched her back, seeking more of his touch, he was undone.

"At this moment, I want you so much, I…" Unable to finish the entreaty aloud, he inhaled, and then blew the breath out roughly, the sound one of tense expectancy.

Unable to prevent it, still braced on his hands and knees, Vincent swayed unsteadily. Thinking to perish of the need if he didn’t unite their bodies soon, he rocked up and down, parodying the act of love before they were even joined. Checking himself just before claiming her mouth, he demanded, "Accept me, yield to me…" Crushing her lips beneath his, Vincent buried himself within Catherine in a single flawless thrust.

This lovemaking was as no other before it--rough, unyielding, and totally fulfilling. What this impassioned being wanted, he would have. Each solid drive of Vincent’s pelvis against her was accompanied by words of love he’d never used before. Glittering in the dark room, his eyes were comparable to the bluest of gems. "Do you like me in this way? Does having me take you as I am now, bring you pleasure?" Not waiting for a response, he snapped his hips from side to side frantically. "Do I please you? Do WE?"

Raking her nails along his tensed arms, Catherine tried to respond, but his passion took her voice, his desire took her senses. She was lost, floating in a world that consisted only of this special man’s eyes, tongue, teeth, and body.

As he curled both of his hands into her hair, impassioned eyes met hers. "Feel what I feel at this moment. Catherine, look at me." Each roll of his pelvis tugged them closer and closer to the edge of his passion. He hovered there breathlessly, watching her. "Tell me what you see now," he commanded, remembering the night she had insisted on calling him a ‘man’. Was he still a man even now--even NOW? At the height of lust, fully aroused, unrestrained, was he still a man, to her? Struggling against the pressure building along his scrotum, he repeated, "Look into my eyes and tell me what you see?"

As his weight pressed her down into the mattress, Catherine managed to gasp, "I see the man that I’ll always love. Always!"

Gulping, fighting anxiously to breathe, Vincent fought to steady his wildly pounding heart. His eyes filled with tears of gratitude. Even now, when his nature was wholly primal, she considered him a man. To her, he would always be a man, no more, no less. Never less. Even as he yanked her hips toward him, Catherine would not disallow or retract one word of her ‘truths’.

Turning her in his arms, he settled her on top of him as tremors of relief shook his frame. Any other response right now other than the one she’d given would have indeed destroyed him. He needed to hear the words again. Drawing her down onto him, Vincent began pumping wildly, uncontrollably, pleading, "Again? Tell me again!"

Catherine’s eyes were luminous as they locked to his. She knew what he was doing. He wanted ‘him’ to hear the words, too, and finally believe them-- totally, unconditionally; to believe that no matter what he did, or how he behaved, he WAS loved. She loved all of him as the being he was; man, more than man. Whatever Vincent was, she did love him.

Collapsing forward onto his chest, she sobbed, "You’re the man that I love!"

Unable to forego the ecstasy for even a single breath longer, Vincent’s pelvis jerked off of the mattress. Tensing his thighs, he brought his knees up. Spreading them further apart and lowering them to the bed again, which served to lift Catherine forward, he impaled her on the rigid banner of his passion. Oh, the hunger, the hunger!

Gripping her firmly around the bottom and arching toward her, he coursed into the woman he cherished in a jetting expulsion of seed, crying joyously "Yes, I’m the MAN that you love! I am!"
 
  REVELATIONS...

Burrowing down into Vincent's chest, Catherine twirled tight, amber-toned curls around her fingers. She was stiff all over, but oh, what a glorious ache. Giving her an abashed look, he rolled over onto his side, facing her. "I feel what you feel, my love. I know that I've caused you distress with the heat of my…my desire."

Putting one finger to his lips, she shook her head, smiling. "I adore every tingle, so hush." She arched an eyebrow at her thoroughly exhausted looking mate, and pointed to his hairy arm. "Besides, I think I gave as good as I got, don't you?"

Glancing down, Vincent inspected the long scratches covering his forearm. Swallowing the laughter rumbling up from within, he winced, the gesture widely dramatic. "Oh, such affliction! It seems that I've been assaulted by someone's pitiless nails."

Rasping one nail lovingly from the center of his chest all of the way down to his puckered ‘innie’ of a naval, she eyed him. "How did it feel?"

"To be attacked so passionately?" Tensing his stomach as her finger drew lazy circles around his belly button, Vincent chuckled in spite of himself. "I think it was quite marvelous."

"Good." Rubbing her throbbing bottom, Catherine grinned at him. "After all, fair is fair."

A flash of confusion surfaced in his eyes. "How is it possible to love you as I just…did…and not hurt you beyond…acceptable…limits?" he asked, still truly an innocent.

Pondering the question, she shrugged. "I only know two truths--you love me, Vincent, and because you do, you can't hurt me." Smiling, she added, "At least, not beyond ‘acceptable limits’."

"Even in the cave, I gave you no cause to fear me, or brought you any pain," he stated matter-of-factly.

"Only when you…had…to leave me. Oh, it was such a night! I wish you could see how you looked to me then…"Catherine hesitated and then eased away from him. Sitting up, she urged Vincent to sit beside her as she slid into her nightgown. Reaching for his hand and tugging him to his feet, she whispered, "Come, there's something that I want you to see…"

Moving to stand in front of her dressing table, Catherine invited him to sit down facing the mirror. As she turned on a small boudoir lamp, Vincent glanced at her, unsure of her intent, but he did as she asked. Easing down stiffly onto the small, brocade covered bench, he kept his eyes averted from the glass.

"Please look into the mirror? I know what I'm asking makes you uncomfortable, but will you do it, just for me?"

His stomach was churning. Swallowing hard, Vincent fought off the bile rising in his throat. What did she expect him to see but…himself? He already knew what he looked like, and he abhorred mirrors. But because it was Catherine who asked this of him, he looked…

"Oh!" Jerking back in the chair, startled by his reflection, he exclaimed, "What alchemy is this!" Leaning slightly forward again, he stared at the image reflected in the glass. Could this be him? Him? The face peering back at him was completely relaxed, the eyes soft with the tenderness of love's afterglow. A ghost of a smile curled into the corners of Vincent's mouth. So, this is how Catherine saw him then? He looked again. Why, he wasn't all that repulsive to look at after all—not…really.

Cupping his chin in the palm of her hand, Catherine smiled into the mirror with him. "Yes Dearest, see yourself as I see you; as I've always seen you." Bending forward, she kissed the side of his bristled cheek. "This is how you were in the cave after you made love to me that first time. Now do you understand? Do you see why I could never fear you, or deny you anything? Vincent, you are truly beautiful."

At last seeing himself through her eyes, Vincent felt a tiny smile tug at the corners of his mouth. Smiling shyly, he brushed his lips over the tips of Catherine's fingers. "Very well, my Love, whatever you…say."
 

COMPLETING THE CIRCLE…

The same night, Vincent had the dream again, but this time, it was very, very different…

He was walking along the beach, listening to the sounds all around him--the gentle swell of Catherine’s laughter as another gull dove for the bread she was offering, the sound of the sea as it crashed against the rocks. So many sounds, so many sights…

"Spare me this cloying sweetness, will you!" thundered a voice on Catherine's right--a voice that she couldn't hear.

Glancing over the top of her head, Vincent’s eyes met a darker, slightly bemused pair. "Are you…displeased?" he asked, curious to know why his less gentle side was sneering at him.

"Yeah, you could say that." A rumble of displeasure rose from his chest as the ‘beast’ glared at the wimp who was now a part of him forever. Forever…how completely wonderful. "I never thought to be walking along a beach with YOU, feeding the birdies’," he observed snidely.

Vincent frowned, the look penetrating. "You choose to live life with me, in my way." His eyes went from Catherine, to the sky, and then the beach. "This is my way. It is my life."

Smirking, the darkling hunched his wide shoulders. "I suppose one can get used to anything.’ Adding maliciously, "After all, I got used to you."

Laughing aloud, Vincent stopped, waiting for Catherine as she knelt down to dig a shell from the sand. Helping her back to her feet--she was extremely pregnant --he brushed the sand from the hem of her loose-fitting cotton dress. "How are you feeling, Beloved?

She patted her tummy. "WE are very well, thank you." Linking arms with him, she looked up and smiled. "And how are you?"

"Deliriously happy."

"Oh, PLEASE." Sneering, Vincent’s less humorous side looked just about ready to upchuck all over this BEAUTIFUL sand. "You do love pushing your luck, don't you?" As he nodded towards Catherine, chuckling, dusky eyes twinkled in a swarthy face. "She seems to enjoy having both of us, doesn't she?"

Vincent’s eyes met the darkling’s candidly. "What do you think?"

Lifting a few strands of her long hair to his nostrils and inhaling appreciatively, the ‘other’ winked at his gentler half. "Me? I think she’s quite the one."

Glowing eyes met shaded ones of the same shape and alignment.

"Oh, yes," Vincent agreed, his voice gruff with joy, "Catherine most assuredly is…the One."

***

‘…when stars collide, like you and I, no shadows block the sun.
You’re all I've ever needed--baby, you're the one…’   *

*The One by Elton John