by Valjean

“It’s beautiful!” Catherine exclaimed as Vincent moved the torch over the walls of the Crystal Cavern. All around them, the naturally occurring anthodites sparkled in the firelight.
They had come here to find an engagement stone.  They had agreed to be married.

A rainbow of glimmering, glinting, flickering colors and lights flashed through the chamber as Vincent’s instructive quality surged forward to say, “Anthodite is Greek for flower, describing the long needle-like crystals situated in clusters that radiate outward from a common base. The formations may be quill-like or feathery. They are composed of the mineral aragonite and calcite. It’s a type of dripstone.”

The Crystal Cavern was everything Catherine had imagined. It was magical, wondrous, setting the stage for a romantic encounter that Catherine had only fantasized about. The diamond points reflecting across Vincent’s beautiful face gave Catherine pause as she glanced upward to the cave’s ceiling to see the long growths varying in length from a millimeter to a meter. The clean white crystals included sea urchin-like formations and feathery, bushy varieties of frostwork in radiating clusters.  Their appearance could be compared to a cactus or a thistle plant.

“The helictites seem to defy gravity,” Vincent remarked, pointing out the twig-like projections of calcium carbonate in tangled masses with a tiny central canal.

“Look!” he continued, “here are the ‘cave flowers,’ growing from the attached end of the formation. And the ‘cave cotton,’ a thin, flexible filament of gypsum or epsomite projecting from the cave wall.”

Enthralled with the scenery, Catherine stepped forward to examine a formation. Reaching forward excitedly, she suddenly felt her footing give way ……

“Catherine!!” Vincent shouted, reaching, too late, for her as she slipped away from him and down an unseen ravine. Her cries faded away as she slid into the darkness, grasping unsuccessfully for Vincent’s hand. He instantly anguished over his decision to bring her here. She had pleaded so convincingly and he had agreed, against his better judgment. The journey was a perilous one and the Crystal Caverns were full of unknown dangers.

Cursing himself, Vincent gripped a stalactite for support and reached for Catherine who was sliding rapidly out of reach. His fingers snatched at her clothing and, miraculously, he was able to pull her back from the brink. Cradling her in his arms, Vincent assessed her for injury. Sure enough, her forehead was bruised and a small trickle of blood spilled over her right eyebrow. She lay limp in his embrace, her breathing shallow and rapid. “Oh, Catherine!” he agonized, guilt and worry crushing down on him. He carried her to the nearest passageway that offered pipes and tapped out a message for Father.

*  *  *

Resting in the hospital chamber, Catherine appeared at ease. Her eyes were closed, her breathing regular and unlabored. She did not respond as Vincent spoke to her. “She may have a concussion,” Father told a hovering Vincent. “Though, I’m not sure. Treatment involves monitoring, as well as physical and cognitive rest. She will need reduction of her usual activities. Her condition may resolve within a few weeks, or it may persist. She may wake with headache, forgetfulness or slowed reaction times.”

“How will we know?” Vincent asked with grave concern.

“We won’t know,” Father answered tentatively, “until she wakes … I’ll have Peter make an explanation to her employer and take care of her apartment.”

Vincent turned a look of gratitude upon his parent, who responded with a kiss of empathy, uncertain as he was.

*  *  *

Each day, Vincent went about his usual chores and activities. He assisted with excavations, procurement of supplies, and academic instruction for the children. He patrolled as assigned, attended Council meetings and lingered in William’s kitchen, peeling apples and tasting soups. At all times, his mind and his heart were focused on Catherine.

*  *  *

Observing Lena and Mary bathe Catherine and reposition her in her hospital bed, Vincent wrestled with his thoughts. He and Catherine had agreed to be married. They had gone to the Crystal Caverns to retrieve an engagement stone – a token of their commitment. The outcome had been the last thing he expected! Now she lay still and silent. Possibly fighting for her life. Vincent leaned against the far wall, suffering with his recurrent regrets over who he was, the life he must live, and what their relationship was doing to Catherine.

The women stopped to offer comfort to Vincent before leaving for the night. Vincent had assured them he would stay with Catherine overnight, excusing Jamie and Elizabeth from the duty. Lena and Mary departed the hospital chamber, leaving Vincent at the bedside, a lone candle burning.

*  *  *

The hour was late, after midnight.

“Well, Brother!” came the rough voice. “Let’s have at her!”

Vincent shook himself awake, sensing that the hospital chamber was dark and Catherine remained asleep upon her bed.

“Who’s there?” he queried into the darkness.

“Only … me … only you!” came the rough response, followed by coarse laughter.

One candle burned low on a far stand, and Vincent blinked in the dim light to visualize … the Other, his lanky body draped across the far hospital bed. He stood, nonchalantly shrugging his shoulders, ambling toward Vincent.

“What are we waiting for?” he asked, “she’s ripe for the plucking!” He leaned down over Catherine, his leering face close to Catherine’s cheek.

Vincent stood, instantly protective, defensive. “Keep away from her!” he growled, his claws curling into fists.

“Oh please, spare me!” came the sarcastic reply. “We both know what we want!”

The Other straightened to his full height to look Vincent in the face. Gold faced black as Vincent saw his own face staring back at him. The thick mane smoky and tipped with soot. The face drawn and furrowed, lips drawn in an obscene grin, fangs shamelessly exposed.

The creature moved stealthily, changing positions before Vincent even realized he had moved. He seemed to evaporate then reappear around the chamber, glancing sidelong toward the sleeping Catherine, threatening her serenity. The evil one stroked his chin, chuckling insultingly, leering and advancing upon Catherine. “You feel it in the hollow of your thigh, eh Brother?” he cackled, his indecent gaze sweeping over Catherine’s vulnerable, beautiful body under the sheets.

 “Do not profane …!” Vincent started.

“Oh, but don’t you see? It is profane, good Brother! It’s raw and base! That’s what frightens you!”  The phantom was now perched on an overhead ledge, glaring down at Vincent. “But there’s the strength of it! The power!” he crowed. “Power over her! We’ll be the ones to control it!”

 “Catherine and I share our love,” Vincent protested, “we respect each other!”

“She’s a little freak to love the Beast!!” came the offensive reply as the shadow leapt from the ledge to land against Vincent in a clutching attack. The two tumbled onto the cavern floor, rolling against the wall, claws extended, fangs bared. They broke apart, panting, facing one another.

Staring at Vincent through slitted eyes, the Other snarled, “When you first acknowledged me, that simple-minded Lisa was within our grasp! But you just wouldn’t follow through! I could almost taste that! Damn your honorable intent ….!”

Vincent felt at an extreme disadvantage. He had no retort to the Other’s accusations – they were all true.   

“Then, of course, there were various others throughout your adolescence, but you kept me down so far that I never had any chance!” the evil twin continued, circling Vincent, challenging, threatening. “Finally! Along came Lena! Ah ha! A woman with experience and still for whatever reason, you turned her away too!!” The shadow’s leer was right in front of him and it was all Vincent could do to restrain himself.

Casting a lustful gaze toward Catherine’s defenseless, sleeping form, the specter growled, “We could tear her wide open! You in front and me behind!”

“Noooooooooooooo!” Vincent’s roar filled the chamber as he leapt toward the Other.

“She’s tight!” laughed the dark one, easily eluding Vincent’s attack by disappearing and reappearing around the chamber. “She hasn’t been around …The physical act is the same,” the Other went on, “rape or looooovemaking!” He slurred the last word rudely.

“The difference is choice and consent!” cried Vincent, his heart breaking and his mind in utter confusion. “And … honor …!” he gasped, faltering.

“She’ll moan like any whore,” taunted the evil twin, “if she cries or struggles – so much the better! Oh, you’ll see! It’s great sport!!”

Vincent reeled back against the stony wall, devastated, unable to respond, his excuses exhausted. His guilt and self-doubt overwhelmed him and he felt that he was sinking, losing …..

“She’ll never know what hit her! You’ve got a hundred pounds on her!” the dusky wraith urged. “C’mon, Brother! Let’s have some fun!”

Just then, Catherine’s sweet voice penetrated Vincent’s awareness. “Vincent ….?”

The Other evaporated and Vincent rushed to Catherine’s bedside. Her hand was reaching into the semi-darkness and Vincent grasped it and kissed it. “I’m here,” he husked.

“Oh…..” she sighed, relaxing onto the pillows, “I knew you were near!”

At that moment, Vincent knew two things: his Catherine would live, and he could not marry her.

*  *  *

Above Tunnels, dawn was breaking. The tapestry was still drawn across the chamber entry. Catherine lay upon Vincent’s big bed where he had brought her to recover from her injury. Her strength had returned to her daily, under his loving care. Vincent had pulled his chair to the bedside where he had been sitting, watching Catherine sleep. The touch of his hand to hers woke her now. Before she was fully awake, she sensed his distress. The dark Other crouched in the shadows, waiting.

“We cannot marry,” Vincent murmured, his head bowed and his lips pressed against her hand. 

She looked upon him, adoring him, feeling his pain. Something told her to tread lightly. “Tell me ….” she said gently. “Tell me your thoughts, your feelings about this …”

“I cannot promise, cannot predict, how I will respond – react to your beauty, your sensuality ….” Vincent began.

“We decided – to commit – to marry, because we had decided to become … intimate,” he went on. “If there was a child … we would be a family …”

“Yes!” Catherine answered him, rising up from the pillows; then she reclined again, reconsidering. “Yes,” she said once more, pacing herself, “we made the decision to marry, to live as one …”

“There is another side to me, Catherine – you have always known it,” Vincent continued, “I cannot assure you – assure myself – that I will be ….respectful, careful … with your love …”

He rose and crossed the chamber to retrieve her bundle of clothing. He presented her belongings to her. “You must go back. Back to your life – without me,” he said.

Now Catherine did sit up in bed. She sought to make eye contact with him, but Vincent avoided her gaze. Reluctantly, she accepted the folded clothes. As she shook them out onto the bed, a small crystal fell out. “Oh, Vincent!” she exclaimed, “Look! It’s a sign – a sign that our mission was real! Our love is meant to be!”

They realized that the tiny crystal must have snapped off with Catherine’s fall and lodged in her clothing. Still, Vincent could not trust his intentions where intimacy with Catherine was concerned. His long hair shielded his expression and his voice was a pain-filled whisper as he said, “Catherine, I cannot be a lover to you …”

Catherine’s heart surged toward the man she loved. “Then let me, Vincent!” she asserted. “Let me receive you! Invite you! Rest now and allow me to take possession of you on my terms!”

Vincent was startled by her comment. He remained standing still, watching her. She rose up on her knees in bed to embrace him. The Other bristled and snarled.

Catherine reached for Vincent’s golden face, drawing him near. “I’ll capture your tongue,” she said, as she kissed his mouth, parting his lips. “I assume custody of your passion,” she said, as her fingers flexed under his tunic in his body hair, gripping his muscled flesh.

“NO NO!” cried the dark twin, undetected by Catherine. “That’s not the way! We are the ones in control! Show her who’s in charge! Who’s the commander here?!”

Vincent shut his eyes tightly, willing himself to trust Catherine. She tugged gently against his vest and he stepped to the edge of the bed, facing her.

Her soft hands caressed him, her fingers thrusting into his thick mane, drawing his head back for her sweet lips to travel over his face, his throat. "I'm wet for you, my lover," she whispered. He sighed from his soul.

“Stop it! Stop it!” hissed the Other, spread like a gargoyle against the chamber ceiling, looking down on them. “She’s taking our strength! Get her now – before it’s too late!!”

“Give me all yourself!” Catherine murmured passionately, as she dropped her robe and pushed Vincent’s garments back from his broad shoulders and his narrow waist.  He looked at her, and seeing such faith and love in her eyes, he sat down on the bed next to her. She positioned herself above him, her thighs opened across his lap.

Passively, he submitted to her advances. His body was fully reacted and she pressed completely onto him, relishing the long-awaited pleasure.  His dimensions called for patience on her part, as she gasped with the ultimate sensation. His bronze column seared through her satiny-slick folds as she filled herself, reveling in the liberation, her juices turning to steam around his hot core. The pleasure roiled through them, flesh swelling, senses cresting, the strength of their need fully validated. Vincent thrust upward into her, every inch of him deep within her, burning thick and hot.

At her climax, Catherine’s body convulsed with joy, extracting Vincent’s release in response. He dropped his face into the bend of her neck, kissing her passionately, clutching her body against his own.  The wicked doppelganger circled frantically in the chamber, grotesque and shrieking, gesticulating wildly, foaming at the mouth, his power lost, his evil intent turned to dust … like a candle extinguished, he fizzled out …

*  *  *

The joining ceremony had been well-attended and thoroughly enjoyed by all. Vincent’s chamber had been adorned with wildflower bouquets and candles; a new heavy velvet tapestry had been placed across the entry.

Catherine had worn a simple white tunic under a long white satin vest embroidered with violets and vines and leaves. Her hair had been upswept with white ribbons and tiny violets. Vincent had worn his ruffled shirt and military vest and thigh-high boots. The wedding clothes now lay draped across the chamber furniture and husband and wife sat au naturel upon their big bed. Settled and relaxed, Catherine and Vincent opened their wedding gifts.

“Oh, how pretty!” Catherine bubbled, holding up a sheer white lingerie set. Her crystal necklace sparkled in the candlelight matching the radiance of her wedding ring. The ring was fashioned of thin braided gold wire cupping the tiny crystal into a solitaire. Seeing Vincent’s gaze drawn toward the ring, Catherine said, “It was with me the whole time!”

“Yes,” he answered looking full at her, “as was I.”

“Vincent …” she said flirtatiously, “don’t you want to see me in this?” She gave the gauzy garment a little shake as she glanced up at him.

“I can admire it just as well in the gift box …” he purred.

“Vin-cent!” she admonished playfully. “Are you teasing me??”

His seldom smile appeared, much to her delight, and she said gently, “Is it just the two of us now?”

His expression changed to one of apology. “Have you known of the Other?”

“Only of your distraction,” she answered, loving him. “Only of your doubt and fear.”

She moved closer to him, snuggling into his embrace. “Anything that’s part of you – I love,” she vowed.

“You’ve loved the Other into oblivion,” Vincent confessed, tucking her into himself. “There is no one here except the two of us - as one.”

“I never lost my faith,” Catherine replied.
~  ~  ~