TOLD YOU SO!
Vincent stepped down on Catherine's balcony. The sight of light inside relieved part of his anxiety. Approaching the window, he saw her, sitting on her couch. Still the bond was silent, as it had been all day, to his great anguish. There had been only the tiniest thread of their connection left to tell him that Catherine was alive, but all her feelings and emotions, the warm continuous current he had come to take as much for granted as his own heartbeat, had been lost to him, leaving him in a cold, empty loneliness he could not bear. Worse still, he knew Catherine was responsible for it. She had closed the bond, shut herself away from him. She had done it before, when she had been abducted by Paracelsus, but he knew this was different.
He recalled the events of the previous night.
He had come to see her, as he did almost every night lately. He didn't seem to be able to stay away from her, and he knew she enjoyed those visits. They had talked, and read to each other for a while, sitting on the balcony floor, Catherine's head nestled on his shoulder. It had been a warm, sweet moment, and he didn't want it to end, but, knowing she needed her rest, he finally closed the book and said it was time for him to leave. That was not unusual for him, neither were Catherine's quickly suppressed feelings of loss and disappointment. But last night those feelings had been particularly acute, as if she had neither the strength nor the will to suppress them completely. She enticed him to stay in a pleading voice, which he gently declined, and when they came together for their parting hug, she clung to him with unusual strength, threatening to shatter the invisible barriers he had carefully set between them. Her hand rose to cup his cheek, pulling his face down to hers. Realizing she intended to kiss him, he panicked. This was a boundary he had long ago decided was not to be crossed, for Catherine's safety. He had to be strong for both of them. Resisting the siren call of her love and desire washing unrestricted over him, he gently pulled away from her, taking her hand from his face to keep it in his own.
She didn't answer. He felt her dismay, and then to his surprise, her anger, an anger soon building into exasperation. She opened her mouth as if to say something, something he strongly suspected would not be nice to hear, but she only shook her head, her anger suddenly giving way to discouragement and weariness. She turned her back on him and went inside, shutting the door and pulling the curtain. He started after her, but checked himself, he couldn't very well run after her after pushing her away one more time, could he? Still, seeing her walk away gave him a terrible feeling of loss, as if this time a door had slammed shut between them. You're losing her, you fool! What are you waiting for? Break that window, kiss her, make love to her, that's what she wants, that's what you both want!
Vincent came back to the present, his eyes on Catherine's tense and immobile silhouette, and he sighed. Maybe he should have listened to that voice and gone to her. Instead, he had chosen to listen to the voice of reason, to the voice of fear. With a heavy heart, he had gone back to the tunnels. Most of the night he had felt her turmoil, pain, anger and despair whirling in her soul. She had finally drifted into an exhausted, restless sleep, and he must have dozed off, too, to awaken in the cold emptiness of Catherine's absence. Only lifelong, deeply ingrained safety reflexes had prevented him from running to her in the daylight, and then just barely. He had spent the day roaming the corridors, pacing in his anguish and impatience, afraid he had lost her for good, by his own fault, and, while the voice of reason told him maybe this was for the better, it had quickly been silenced by another, stronger, voice: This cannot be! I won't lose her! She's mine! Mine!
As soon as it had been dark enough, he had hurried to her balcony, and now that he was there, he just stood, looking at her, uncertain of what to do next. Though only a few steps and a glass pane separated them, she seemed terribly far away, almost unreachable. He considered tapping on the window to attract her attention, but a subtle stiffening in her posture told him she was already aware of his presence, and chose not to acknowledge it. Tears welled into Vincent's eyes. Catherine! His beloved Catherine, who always ran to her balcony to welcome him, joy filling her heart! Now she was ignoring him, and it hurt so much he could not stand it. He almost gave up, then, almost turned away and left her, if that was what she wanted, but at the thought he felt a strong, rebellious current rise from deep inside him. NO! This is not what Catherine wants! You very well know what she wants!
As if by it's own will, his hand rose to the door-handle. The door opened easily - See! She didn't lock you out! - and he stepped into Catherine's apartment, stopping just inside the door. "Catherine!" he called urgently.
"Vincent." If she was surprised, or glad, that he'd just crossed one of his self-imposed boundaries, there was no evidence of it. The Bond didn't even stir, and she didn't turn toward him. She only acknowledged his presence in a calm, bland voice.
Vincent felt himself sink into a whirling pit of dark, cold dread. Too late! It was too late! Catherine didn't love him any more! From the bottom of his despair, a snarling denial rose. NO! This can't be!
He ran to Catherine and knelt down in front of her.
"Catherine!" he pleaded.
She looked away and he took her hands, trying to catch her elusive gaze.
"Catherine please don't!"
She granted him a brief look.
"Don't what, Vincent?"
"Don't shut yourself away from me! I can't bear it!"
She finally looked at him, without a trace of sympathy. "Oh, you can't bear it? But you shut yourself away from me all the time, and you expect me to bear it!"
Her words startled him. "It's not the same…" he began, but she silenced him with a hard look, and he lowered his eyes. Yes, it was the same thing, and however good his reasons were, his actions had hurt her deeply, day after day, until she could not stand it any more…See what you've done, you blind fool! And you claim you love her!
"Catherine, I'm sorry!" he pleaded "I never wanted to hurt you so." She didn't move, didn't even acknowledge his apology. Vincent felt a howl of despair rise from deep inside him. Too late… No! It couldn't be, he wouldn't let it! In an impulse, he circled Catherine's waist with his arms, holding her tight, and laid his head on her lap. "Oh, Catherine, can you forgive me? I know I don't deserve your forgiveness…I don't deserve your love, but I could not bear to lose it! Please don't leave me! You are my life!…." Come on, say it! Now! "…Catherine…I love you!" The voice deep inside him growled its approval, as the words he'd withheld for so long were finally torn out of him by the fear of losing her.
He felt Catherine's startled reaction at his unexpected move, and his words caused her to moan, as if in pain. There was a stirring in the bond, first he could faintly feel waves of emotion fighting the walls she had built, until the walls crumbled and fell, and the full strength of her emotional turmoil washed over him with a shock. Lingering anger, shy hope and wary joy caused by his words, along with awe and a hint of disbelief, drowned in overwhelming sorrow flowed through him as she clung to his shoulders, burying her face in his hair.
"Oh, Vincent, I'm sorry! I tried…I thought it would be better if I closed the bond. I can't stand it any more, it hurts so much when you push me away…I could not hide it any more…. I was afraid you would leave me… I tried…but I can't, I can't. It's too hard! I love you too much!" Her incoherent words blurred into sobs as grief overwhelmed her.
Vincent didn't try to answer. Words were not what she needed in her present emotional state, and he doubted his own turmoil would allow him to be articulate. He rose, lifting Catherine, and sat on the couch with her on his lap, warm and secure, allowing them both the much needed comfort of each other's closeness.
As the tumult of Catherine's emotions slowly receded, leaving him free to gather his thoughts he knew he had important decisions to make, and he had to make them quickly. Yet were they his to make any more, if they'd ever been? Did he have any choice left? Had he ever had any?
He recalled he'd once told Catherine that one either moved toward love, or away from it. That there was no other direction. Knowing that, he'd nevertheless fooled himself into thinking he could choose a third option, which was…not moving at all. He had managed to maintain that deception, but at what price! He realized now, with bitter shame, that it was Catherine who had willingly, courageously paid most of that price, hiding her pain, her frustration, her disappointment, to spare him. Until she could hold no more, and it almost destroyed her, almost destroyed them both.
Not moving at all was not an option any more, if it had ever been, and as to "moving away from love"…his whole being cringed at the thought. If once he had thought that parting from her might be a solution, now he knew with absolute certainty that it would kill them both…
That left only one direction:
The thought made him shiver with both fear and anticipation. In that direction lay his most cherished dreams, and his worse nightmares. Now he must find the courage to confront his fears, before the dream was lost for ever.
Catherine snuggled closer to him with a contented sigh. He could feel her peace, now, as she enjoyed the physical contact he so seldom allowed between them. He, too, reveled in her closeness. She seemed to fit so perfectly in his arms! He could feel her heart beating close to his, and breathed in deeply her familiar scent. She felt so good! He never wanted to let her go.
Why should you let her go? She doesn't want to go! You know what she wants! Kiss her!
He knew where that voice came from. It came from those dark, snarling depths he was so afraid to look into. It came from the same place as the bestial roars and the murderous violence that shamed him. And protected Catherine's life! the voice added with defiance. Reluctantly, he admitted that without that violent side of him, he could have lost her on many occasions.
But did that mean he could risk losing control of those emotions? He knew what else hid in those depths. The desire, the hunger. If he decided to move toward love, if he gave in to his passion for Catherine, wasn't there a risk that he might …Hurt her? the voice snarled. Why would you hurt her? Love her, hold her, keep her, yes! But hurt her? Hurt Catherine? Never! You think too much! the voice added with a snort. That hurts her!
Yes, Vincent reflected, he had hurt her. Deeply and more than once. By refusing to listen to that voice, and listening to his fears instead. Now the time had come to put those fears aside, and trust their love.
Carefully, but with determination, he lowered the barriers that locked away that part of himself. He felt the same surge of warmth and power as when violence engulfed him, and for a second he was scared. But there was no trace of that murderous rage rising to challenge his control. Why should there be? Catherine was not in danger, was she? She was here, safe in his arms, and he loved her. How he loved her! He loved her with all the strength, the confidence and the fierce possessiveness he now found in himself, as he accepted, embraced that stronger, wilder part of his emotions he used to call his "dark" side.
He felt a new awareness, both mental and physical, as if by forbidding that side of him to surface, he'd also given up part of his abilities. His senses seemed to be enhanced, as they were during his murderous rages, but this time it wasn't to help him fight more efficiently. Right now all his senses, in their new acuteness, were concentrated on savoring Catherine's presence. Her scent had never been so enticing to him, and the warmth of her scantily clad flesh burned his skin through his own multiple layers of clothing.
He felt his body respond to her, and, deep inside him, the demanding hunger grew, frightening him for an instant. But he was determined not to give in to his fears. Rather than shying away from his desire for Catherine, he faced it. A difficult thing to do, as it was contrary to almost all he had come to believe about himself. He had always thought that to desire a woman would never be right for him, that it could only lead to pain, as it had with Lisa. That his love for Catherine should remain pure, untainted by animal lust…A losing battle from the start. A stupid one! mocked the voice. She's your mate, she's always been yours, and you knew it!
Yes, and he had often felt Catherine's desire for him, as he now felt her growing arousal through the bond. She was the woman he loved, and she loved him. It was time for him to acknowledge the rightness of his own desires. This hunger in him was not the manifestation of his "inhuman" nature, but of his love for Catherine and he could control it, if he wanted. To get past his fears, he had no other solution than to trust himself, trust that the side of him that always protected Catherine would never hurt her.
Catherine had kept as quiet as possible, savoring Vincent's closeness, still half persuaded that it wasn't going to last. She tried not to think of how she'd feel when the step forward he seemed to have taken would inevitably be followed by three steps backwards, embarrassed apologies and a hurried departure. She stopped that unhappy train of thoughts, not wanting Vincent to feel it through the bond, and concentrated on the wonderful sensation of being on his lap, safely ensconced between his great arms. She knew how the manifestations of her desire disturbed him, and did her best to calm herself. Exhausted by her sleepless night and the strain of keeping the bond closed all day, she gradually drifted into a blissful drowsiness.
Suddenly a powerful wave invaded her soul, startling her back to full awareness. She knew it had to come from Vincent, and almost gasped with the force of it. It was unlike anything she'd ever felt from him. Unused to feeling his emotions, she tried to analyze the current flowing through her. It was…dark, yes, but not frighteningly so, wild, but not dangerous. Dark like a strong coffee or a rich wine, wild like the wind blowing through the grass. And it was so warm it made her whole body tingle in response. She wanted nothing more than to drown into that warmth, safely nestled in the strength of Vincent's love.
She became aware of the growing hardness against her thigh and tried to stifle her own surge of joy and desire. Still unsure of Vincent's reaction in spite of what she was feeling through the bond, she moved to shift her weight slightly. She feared the contact might embarrass him, and give him a reason to run away once more.
The reaction was immediate, and unexpected. With a muted growl, he tightened his arms around her to bring her even closer, and she distinctly felt the possessive thrust of his hips against her.
Her eyes snapped open and she threw her head back to look at him, unbelieving of what she saw, of what she felt. Raw desire stared at her through a darkened gaze, his mouth was open on shining white fangs, and his breath came in short hot pants, matching the short hot waves of desire that swept over her through the bond. She felt her body go soft like molten wax, around a tense, throbbing core.
When he spoke, his voice, too, was deeper, darker than usual, and his words surprised her.
"You're mine, Catherine!"
That he would claim her in so assertive a way was more than she had ever dared hope.
Deprived of articulate speech, she could only nod her agreement. Her tongue stole out to moisten her suddenly very dry lips in an instinctive invitation.
Vincent hardly needed the encouragement. He had stopped thinking coherently and relied entirely on instinct, trusting in their bond to keep Catherine safe. His lips came down on hers with a voracious abandon. How he had longed for her luscious, tempting mouth! So many times he had observed the movements of those full lips, when she talked, when she smiled, feeling his own mouth go very dry. Now her lips were under his, willingly, joyously offered, and he drank deeply. He had years of hopeless, desperate thirst to quench.
She tasted like heaven, and he thoroughly explored every corner of her mouth. Catherine was engaged in a similar discovery and on the way their tongues greeted and caressed each other. What was left of his conscious mind noted with pleasure that she didn't seem to be repulsed by his differences, laying another of his fears to rest. Your useless fears! snarled the voice. This is good! This is right! Feel how much she wants you!
And she did! To his wonder, the ferocious hunger growing in Catherine matched his own, that he'd always thought of as "animal". In the dim recesses of his mind, he heard another of his certainties crash noisily to the ground. Understanding that she, too, had long months of frustration to make up for, he joyously promised himself he'd compensate her for every second of it.
Their kiss would have gone on for ever, but after a seemingly endless time, they finally had to come apart for a much needed breath. Panting, they stared at each other in wonder. A tumult of emotions, awe at the enormity of what had happened, elation that it finally had, and overwhelming love was flowing freely through the bond. Vincent was the first to recover enough breath to speak.
"I love you, Catherine! I've always loved you!"
Unable to answer with words yet, she smiled and sent a warm loving wave back to him, her green eyes brimming with tears of joy and relief. At last! At long, long last! She raised a hand to caress his face, and finally found her breath to return his words.
"And I love you, Vincent, I've always loved you!"
He pulled her tight against him, nuzzling her hair as he spoke huskily. "Catherine, will you ever forgive me? For so long I allowed my fears to keep us apart and though I knew it was causing you great pain, I couldn't find the courage to move forward because…of what I am."
She drew away slightly to look at him. "Vincent, I love everything that you are!" she firmly stated.
"As all that I am loves you, Catherine, I know that now. But my hesitations have been the cause of so much useless suffering!"
She put a gentle hand on his lips. "Shh, it's over, now, darling! And there's nothing to forgive. Things happen in their own time, when we're ready for them. You said yourself that we were on a path no one had taken before us."
He smiled a little sheepishly. "I also remember saying something about courage, and care…I did indeed go with care, but seemed to forget the courage somewhere on the way."
"That's not true!" she protested. A hint of mischief in her voice, she went on. "And now,
Vincent, if you'll please stop apologizing, we've got much better to do!"
He cocked his head on the side to look at her with feigned innocence, a sparkle of humor in his blue eyes. "Oh, have we really? And what might that be?"
She giggled, delighted to find this light-heartedness in her once so solemn lover. "Hmm, let me see…well, you might kiss me again?"
A wave of heat answered her through the bond, the hunger back in his suddenly darkened eyes. He closed the distance between them, stopping just a breath away to speak against her lips, his voice like rough velvet. "To hear is to obey, my Catherine."
They took all their time to thoroughly explore and enjoy each other. It was all new to them, to both of them, as Catherine's previous experiences had faded to nothingness under Vincent's first touch, and they wanted to savor every moment of it. The gnawing hunger was still there, somewhere, but it could wait. For the moment, kissing was enough, and Vincent was fleetingly surprised to find that patience in a part of himself he'd always thought of as uncontrollable.
Emboldened by this discovery, he let his hands run on Catherine's lightly clad body, learning the curves and warmth of her, feeling her shiver under his touch as their kiss deepened.
With a moan, she snuggled tighter in his embrace, her weight adding pressure on his arousal, and his hips thrust reflexively in answer, seeking closer contact.
Catherine felt his need and moved to face him, shifting her leg to straddle his thighs, sharing his jolt of pleasure at that more intimate touch. She began to move against him, rubbing her hardened breasts on his chest, her tongue in Vincent's mouth matching the movements of her hips against his. More, she wanted more!
Needing to touch him, she deftly undid the lace at the top of his tunic and pulled it open to reveal a triangle of soft golden hair. Vincent's startled gasp ended in a whimper of rapture as he felt her first touch on his naked skin and her own pleasure overcame him, sweeping away any objection before it could even arise.
Catherine rubbed her face against him, enjoying the silky caress of his fur, and the warm, musky scent rising from his flesh. Her eager hands ventured under his tunic to claim more of him, while her hips sought his in an increased, deliciously tormenting pressure.
Enough…for now! Catherine needs to rest. Vincent was mildly shocked that this call to reason hadn't come from his "reasonable" self, that only the part of him most attuned to Catherine had felt her bone-deep fatigue under the burning arousal. He gently disengaged himself from her hold, sending a warm reassuring current to soothe the wave of panic rising in her, and met her wary eyes.
"Catherine, I want you! How I want you!" This was exactly what she needed to hear, and he felt her anguish ease down. "And there are no words to say what it does to me to know that you want me too," he went on, his voice deep and soft "but the moment is not right. You need your rest." She started to protest, and he gently silenced her with a light kiss. "I know you are afraid that I will change my mind, but believe me, I won't! You are mine."
She felt his determination through the bond and surrendered with a smile. "I know you won't. You're right, I am tired, and so are you. Neither of us got much sleep last night."
"Catherine, do you think I could…come and see you, tomorrow night?" he softly asked, amazed at his own boldness.
She smiled, delighted that he'd dared voice his desires so openly, then her smile abruptly turned into a dismayed frown.
She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Vincent. I'd forgotten about it, but I've got that trial starting tomorrow. A big case we've been working on for weeks. I'm afraid we won't be able to meet until it's over, as Joe and I will have to work every night. I won't be home until very late…"
"…And you will need your sleep. Catherine, don't worry, I understand." he gently reassured her, stifling his disappointment.
"It should be finished by Friday night, and I'll come Below for the week-end!" she promised. "Hey, I could even take a few days off!" She felt Vincent's pleasure and added. “A week! We'll have a whole week to spend together." She looked deep into his eyes.
He didn't flinch. "Truly together, my Catherine. At last." He sealed his promise with a sweet, lingering kiss and rose, easing her off his lap.
"Please, don't go right now!" she asked with pleading eyes. "Stay a little more!"
He sighed and smiled indulgently. He did owe her that, after all the times he'd ignored her requests. "Catherine, I will stay. But only for a little while, and you must promise…"
"…I'll behave, don't worry!" she giggled. "What about some tea?"
"Yes, please." Eager now to know the place where his Catherine lived, he followed her into the kitchen, puzzled by the modern furniture and equipment that made it so different from William's huge kitchen Below. He watched her put on the electric kettle and admired the grace of her movements as she prepared the tea tray. He knew she was aware of his perusal, and was delighted to feel her blush.
"Vincent!" she protested.
"Catherine, you are so beautiful! I could spend my whole life just looking at you!"
She poured water on the tea leaves, and wicked eyes rose to meet his. " Just as long as I can do the same." She let her gaze run up and down his body, lingering on the naked portion of his chest. " I just love looking at you, too, and I suspect I'm going to love it more and more!"
It was Vincent's turn to blush. Catherine's expressed desire to see him, all of him, evoked both a deep, exciting thrill and a profound uneasiness. His body was so big and hairy! What if Catherine… Oh, enough with that! What she knows so far didn't make her run away, did it? Bet you she'll love what she'll see! A wave of dark pride enforced the idea as a new, different vision of his own body rose in his mind. Definitely human-shaped, only in better shape than many others he'd seen, he admitted, stronger, more agile and reliable. Nothing to be ashamed of! Definitely masculine, too, as his still swollen, painfully constricted flesh reminded him. And Catherine certainly doesn't mind that either, does she?
Not only she didn't mind, but added to it by letting her eyes trail on the revealing bulge.
"And I do hope we'll do a bit more than just look, Vincent!" she said with an impish grin.
"Catherine!" he gently reproached.
All right, all right, I promised to behave." she amended, handing him the tray.
Before sitting down near him she pushed the CD player's button, trying to remember what she'd listened to last, hoping it wasn't Bob Marley. The first notes reassured her. Bach, yes, just right!
They sat in comfortable silence, enjoying tea and music together, the bond shimmering with joy and tenderness. Catherine put her cup down and snuggled close to Vincent, resting her head on his shoulder. He knew he should go now, but allowed them a few more minutes of that blissful closeness they had so yearned for. It felt so good! From the depths of his chest, a low, rumbling sound rose, delighting Catherine.
"Vincent, you're purring! That's lovely, please don't stop!"
He realized that it hadn't happened to him for many years, not since he was a child, and he had repressed it because he knew Father was ill-at-ease with that manifestation of his difference. But Catherine loved it, and he let the soothing vibration run freely in his throat, enjoying the deep, primal well-being it evoked.
Soon he felt Catherine drift into a peaceful sleep and cautiously rose, lifting her in his arms to carry her to her bedroom. With gentle, loving gestures he laid her on her bed, pulling the covers over her. He stood for a long time near the bed to watch her sleep, mesmerized by her beauty, hardly able to believe that he'd finally dared claim this woman as his. But claim her he had, and it filled him with a visceral, possessive pride he wouldn't deny, as he now accepted that part of himself that roared and killed, but also loved to cuddle, and purr.
Finally he bent to lay a soft kiss on his beloved's lips, and reluctantly left her to return Below.