Such Stuff as Dreams
by Valjean

Vincent sat down at his desk and opened his stationary box to draw out a single sheet of writing paper. He held the inked pen over the blank page, composing his thoughts. The Tunnel pipes were silent as the hour was late.  He closed his eyes for a moment thinking what he would say to Narcissa – if she were here. Then he began to write.

Narcissa, I do not understand why you had to leave us, yet I respect your decision. You have always been my mirror – someone able to reflect me to myself and to guide me to my own awareness. This has been, at times, comforting … at times terrifying … always enlightening - opening me to myself, to Catherine and to our possibilities.
I cannot remember, though I believe, that you knew of my coming … my circumstances … my lack of parentage… and my adoption by this family. You knew me.
I was orphaned and I was taken in and I exist as I am.
Narcissa, a great weight is upon me. I will inscribe it here – I suspect, I imagine, I fear – that I have lived before. Before this time, before this life.
How am I to know?

He sighed deeply, folded the letter and tucked it into the box beneath the blank pages. If he ever learned where Narcissa had gone, he would attempt to have the letter delivered to her.

*  *  *
Above, in her apartment, Catherine stirred slowly in bed. Outside, the day was dawning as was her waking state. Drowsily, she allowed herself to think …. She thought about late last night when Vincent had lingered the longest he ever had upon her balcony, at her bedroom door. Sleepy and lazy, she rolled onto her belly, bunching the pillow beneath her cheek. Their love had made everything possible so far. Their defenses were falling away. Maybe they’d been lovers back among the pharaohs. Eyes still closed, she smiled at this last imagined idea.

She felt very close to her wishes being fulfilled. Vincent had lately been more receptive to her advances, caresses and whispered desires. They had planned to be together tonight in Vincent’s chamber and Catherine was warm with anticipation. “Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm,” she intoned dreamily, further imagining his big body in the bed next to her; so much so that she stretched out her hand to touch him there. At this, she came fully awake and sat up in bed fingering her hair back from her face and opening her eyes to the day – and the potential for tonight. 

Moving at the quick step now, she tossed aside the bed covers and went to start the shower. She fished in her closet for the large tote that she always packed for visits Below. Everything must be perfect …

*  *  *
 “Ah! There you are!” Father pushed himself up from his chair and stepped across the chamber to embrace Vincent. Drawing back to look into Vincent’s face without releasing his shoulders, he asked, “Where have you been, my son? The past three days …”
Vincent gently pulled away and strode over to the bookshelves where he pensively placed a hand upon the Norton Anthology. He paused a beat, thinking, then slowly recited: “I saw new worlds beneath the water lie, New people, and another sky.”

“Are you contemplating leaping over the moon?” Father asked, smiling at his own pun.

Vincent sighed lightly and asked, “Father, are you able to say where Narcissa has gone?”

“Oh – that …,” Father sat down, drew off his eyeglasses and folded them in his hands. “Vincent,” he said, looking up at him, “you, of all people, know how private she is.”

“Yes …” Vincent replied, taking a seat opposite the old gentleman. “I am …. in need of ….. her counsel.”

“Well, you wound me, Vincent,” Father replied, being only partially facetious. “You know I am always available to you. And, of course Mary is here – and we could call on Peter as well.”

Concerned now, Father changed seats to sit in a chair beside Vincent. “You went to her chamber, didn’t you?” he asked, trying not to judge.

“Yes,” Vincent looked down at the worn Persian carpet overlying the stone floor studying its faded floral design. “I could tell she has not dwelt there for some time.” He lifted his head to look into his father’s eyes. “Will she return to us?”

“Yes, I believe so —”

“How did she go from here? What means did she have?” Vincent asked pointedly, suddenly becoming alarmed for Narcissa’s safety.

“Vincent, I know you don’t mean to pry …. She – she needed to travel – out of the country – and Peter, well, Peter was able to help her – with that. Please don’t worry. Narcissa is capable of looking out for herself.”

“But, you are worried, are you not, Father? I can see it in you.”

The old doctor exhaled and placed his hands upon his knees. “Of course, any time any one of us is Above – I fear – until they are safely returned. Home again.”

Vincent rose abruptly. “I will discuss it with Catherine,” he said.

“Oh,” replied Father, reaching for his cane and standing up, glad for a change of topic. “Is she coming Below today?”

“Tonight,” Vincent answered softly, turning to leave, preoccupied.

Father watched Vincent’s exit, struggling to sort out the mixture of emotions he had detected in his son’s response.

*  *  *

“Peter, thank you for coming,” Father said as he poured tea for the two of them. “You’ll stay for dinner?”

“Naturally! It’s William’s beef stew tonight, isn’t it?” said Peter and the two old friends shared a laugh at their knowledge of the Tunnel community menu.

Growing sober, Father asked, “Did you hear? Has Narcissa made it safely?”

“She did,” Peter confirmed. “I heard from Marcus through his contacts just this morning that she did arrive safely and is being accompanied to Port-au-Prince, probably as we speak.”

“Her finances are sufficient?” asked Father.

“Quite,” said Peter, “though I feel terrible about her selling her gem stones.”

“I know,” sympathized Father, “but she insisted.”
“Yes.  It was a small fortune, actually,” Peter assured his friend.

The two doctors sipped their tea in silence. Both were lost in their own fears regarding Narcissa’s travels to Haiti to bury her son.

*  *  *

He felt her presence in Tunnels and went to meet her.

“Vincent!” she cried as the two embraced in greeting. Her beautiful face glowed even more as they touched, quickly separating, at once self-conscious, as if they were being watched and evaluated.

Diverting his emotion, Vincent reached for her tote and gestured with a sweep of his hand the direction to his chamber – though Catherine knew the way.
She caught her breath at the sight awaiting her. “Vincent! Oh, it’s beautiful! Thank you! Thank you so much!”

Catherine stepped into the chamber where candles blazed and a table was set with a sumptuous meal. Vincent drew a velvet tapestry across the opening to the chamber, sufficiently signaling the need for privacy. Catherine blushed as she looked around the cozy environment, fantasizing about events to come. She pulled off her gloves and jacket and turned to reach for Vincent. He indulged her affection, allowing her hug and kiss. She felt the restraint in him and attributed it to his usual reluctance.

Forcing herself to be patient, Catherine approached the dinner table, exclaiming over the bill of fare. “Oh, beef stew! Fresh bread! A beautiful citrus salad! Vincent, it looks delicious!”

“There is wine – if you wish,” he said, presenting a linen-wrapped bottle, somewhat awkwardly.

Her heart went out to him. He was trying to make the evening special. She sensed the hesitancy in him – the distraction.

“Vincent,” she said, placing the wine bottle on the table and taking his hands, “let’s sit a moment and you tell me what’s on your mind.”

“Catherine …I do not want to --”

“To – what? You should know you can tell me anything!”

He sighed and motioned for her to sit with him at the table. “Narcissa ….,” he began, “she has left the Tunnels. I do not know why – Father knows – he says she is safe. It is only – only -- that I need her guidance. And I fear for her.”

“Vincent, you must know you can trust me with all your feelings. Tell me ….”

As Vincent beheld her honest, lovely face, he felt a curtain lifted. Even so, “Let us eat now,” he said abruptly and Catherine allowed him the time he obviously needed.

At the conclusion of the meal and with a few sips of wine, Catherine reached across the table to take his hand. “Now,” she prompted gently, “tell me...”

Emboldened, he stated bluntly, “Catherine, I have lived before.”

“What do you mean -- how do you know?” she asked, incredulous.

“I cannot be sure – it is the dreams that lead me …..”

“Tell me about these dreams.”

Vincent rose from his chair and began to pace in the chamber. “I remember, but I cannot believe …” he started. “I am confined in a dark and damp place with others set close against me, chained together, miserable, in pain. Everything that surrounds us is unstable, pitching and rolling ….”

“A ship …” Catherine offered, rising from her seat to stand beside him.

“Perhaps … yes …” Vincent stopped pacing suddenly and pressed his hands to his forehead. He was visibly distressed and Catherine was full of empathy for him. She caught up his hands in hers and kissed them.

He looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. “You are there!” he exclaimed, his eyes wide, suffering the memory. “Which came first --  you or the dreams?”
“Oh, Vincent!” she cried. “Let me help you!”

She fell against him and his arms encircled her. She felt his cheek against her hair and pressed her face into his chest, breathing in his fragrance of leather, smoke and earth.

The couple separated briefly and something changed in the air. They clashed together again, clutching one another, their lips meeting in passionate kisses and their hands exploring each other in an urgency that demanded satisfaction.

In rapid chorus they stepped across the chamber and tumbled as one onto the big bed. Their clothing fell away as eager hands swept over willing bodies. The briefest thought flashed across Catherine’s mind of the embroidered cotton gown she had brought to wear this evening. Forgotten now, as her bare skin thrilled at the cool cavern air.

She was silken rose petals to his dense pelt and she welcomed the difference, relishing the contrast, nuzzling his warm throat as her soundless cries spilled out against the beat of his pulse.

Their kisses were deep and insistent, almost alarming, so great, so untested was their mutual need, as their bare bodies pressed one upon the other.

Suddenly, Vincent swept the bed sheet up and around Catherine’s nude form, wrapping her like a gift. He gripped her against himself, the sheet like a shield between them.

His voice was a rasping whisper as he said, “I love you. Between the shadow and the soul, I love you!”

“I love you!” she responded, as her hands twisted in his lush mane.

They subsequently lay still, heart beats and respirations returning to normal, body heat dissipating, their clutching embrace loosening, muscles relaxing. At some point during these long moments, they slept.

*  *  *

Deep into the night, Vincent dreamt. “Dreams come easier when all is dark and still,” he heard himself say. He saw himself walking, clouds or mist or steam swirling everywhere. A roaring, rumbling sound crowded the dream, competing with his memories. Suddenly, the wicked visage of Paracelsus appeared, contorted with rage.

“All these visions are the work of tears!” cried the Evil One. “Your memories and dreams -- like little foxes born dead in their traps!” At this, Vincent missed the next step and plunged into the Abyss, maniacal laughter chasing his descent.

The dear peace of Catherine’s presence shattered by the nightmare, Vincent sat up in bed shivering and wet with sweat. As Catherine still slept, he got up to dry himself. He struggled to calm his thoughts. He was terrified of the past and of the future.

*  *  *

Catherine awoke, to her delight, in Vincent’s bed. The impression of his large body in the bedclothes next to her confirmed her memories. She thought about late last night when he was impassioned and willing …. “Oh, Vincent! When will you trust us – trust yourself – enough?” she thought, almost speaking the words aloud. “No matter,” she told herself, “our love will go on … from here…..”

Snapping back to the present, she heard the sounds of a fully awakening Tunnel community, the music of the tapping springing messages along the pipes. She felt the need to be with Vincent and hurried to get dressed.

Catherine first went to the dining hall and lingered in the doorway, looking for Vincent. Not seeing him, she continued along the passageways to the Library. No sign of him there. She went farther to Father’s chamber where she heard the bass notes of Vincent’s voice before she actually reached the entry. She slowed her steps and stopped just outside to listen to Father, Vincent and Dr. Alcott who were conversing heatedly inside the chamber.

“Yes,” Peter was saying, “more than twenty killed at the election polls! It’s the priest, Jean Aristide, who’s convinced the people to fight against the government.”

She heard Vincent’s voice next, full of anxiety. “How can Narcissa travel safely through such a place? Who is there to help her?” Catherine could tell he was standing, probably pacing, as was his way when distressed. She held her breath. Surely, Vincent was not contemplating going to Haiti?

“Narcissa is respected and known in the community. She won’t come to harm,” said Father soothingly, hoping to convince all three of them. “She’s gone to pay the burial expenses … for Josué …. her son.”

“It’s important to the family that Josué have a kav, an elaborate tomb, and no one has the means to afford it there,” explained Peter.

“And how has Narcissa the means?” Vincent demanded to know.

“She’s always been in possession of a collection of precious stones, some rare for their size. Peter arranged for her to sell them to raise the money,” Father offered, already bracing for Vincent’s reaction.

But Vincent merely sat down and said softly, “I have never thought of money in my life.” This felt like the one area in which he would be powerless to help someone he loved.

Catherine was ashamed of herself for eavesdropping and turned to leave. Quickly, she retraced her steps back to the dining hall where she obtained a bowl of raspberries and two boiled eggs, though a happy-to-see-her William attempted to ply her with platters of more food. She blushed at the realization that William must have guessed why she was here so early in the morning – that she had stayed the night.

*  *  *
Back in Vincent’s chamber, Catherine lit candles to brew a pot of tea and arranged the berries and eggs on the table. She poured water from the porcelain pitcher into the matching bowl then turned to pull the covers up over the bed, unable to keep the image of their lovemaking from her thoughts. Thus, she was seen by Vincent as he stepped to the entryway.

Catherine startled to see him there, quickly recovered, and offered, with a smile, “Room service, sir?” She dropped a little curtsey and he gave a nod, placing his hand over his heart.

She was glad for this light moment and pushed worry from her mind. “Come have some breakfast,” she entreated. “The tea is almost ready.”

He crossed to the washstand and refreshed himself then sat at the table. He began shelling the eggs, placing hers upon her plate first, then his own. Catherine poured the tea and took her seat wondering if they would pass the meal in silence.   

Her answer came when Vincent remarked, “It appears that I will not be able to seek Narcissa’s counsel. She has traveled to Haiti.”

“Yes ….. I heard, um, overheard” Catherine remarked, feeling the guilt rise up in her. “I was there in the passageway this morning.” She kept her eyes cast downward, waiting for him to speak.

He only tilted his head and murmured, “I know when you are near. It gladdens me, comforts me.”

Catherine felt obligated to rescue him somehow. “Is there another way, another person, you can seek? Perhaps you could talk to me about your dreams, and I could…. research,” she offered. “Since Narcissa is not ….available.”

Vincent looked kindly at her. “Yes, it may help to learn more,” he said. “Yes, I could talk….to you, Catherine.”

Just then, Vincent shifted mood, finishing his meal quickly and getting up to fill his backpack with tools. “There is excavation today,” he explained hurriedly, “I am meeting Kanin and the others beyond the waterfalls. It will most likely take into the night --” He stopped short, realizing what he was saying and how the situation between him and Catherine had been transformed in only the last few hours.

He stepped to her courteously, drawing her head onto his shoulder and pressed his cheek against her hair. He rocked her gently for a moment. “There are changes between us,” he stated theoretically. She nodded against his chest.

“Come Below tomorrow evening. Plan to stay …. a while. We shall work on ….my memoires then.” What he left unsaid spoke volumes and Catherine was touched by his reserve. He sat down to pull on his boots.

“I intend to make even more memories, Vincent!” she teased, struggling with herself to wait till then.

He showed his small smile and ducked his head charmingly. He was so engaging that she almost leapt into his lap, so much did she desire him.

Standing up, he indulged her in a kiss, holding her head in his strong hands and tilting her face up to his. She clutched his leather vest and enjoyed the press of their bodies as they bid goodbye – for now.  

*  *  *

Catherine took her project very seriously and the next evening she brought a notebook to his chamber in which to record Vincent’s account of his dreams. She also brought a tote with enough clothes and personal articles for several days …

The dreams had been occurring over the past three months and he described their content as Catherine took notes. She spent another hour after he finished talking to organize the notes into themes.

Vincent brought their teacups to the bedside and sat on the floor at her feet. “As we embark on our journey of interpretation, Catherine, please be aware that, to my mind, these dreams are actually memories, not conjured from my fears and fantasies, but true experiences through which I have lived – endured.”

She nodded, sitting cross-legged on his bed with her note pages spread out around her.

“The ideas that seem to repeat are those about being held captive,” she said. “Being in an unstable, dangerous environment, the music of drums, the presence of large animals, pain and fear … loss ….” Catherine looked up from her paper with tears in her eyes. The thought of Vincent suffering in a past life was agonizing. 

She swiped at her cheeks, and busied herself with shuffling the notes.

“I also seem to recall some situations of a …pleasant nature,” Vincent said slowly, as if just now realizing this. He furrowed his brow and braced his forehead with one hand as he leaned forward, concentrating on the memories. “There is food – delicious food – cooked over a fire. I remember the smell of the smoke. And many people – their faces …………. I cannot clear the image of their faces, though they were, I believe, happy – celebrating something.” Though he continued to look downward, there was a little lift in his voice that cheered Catherine’s heart. Perhaps Vincent had known happiness after all.

“I’ll add that information to the notes,” said Catherine picking up her pen. As she wrote, Vincent got up and crossed over to his bookshelves. Selectively, he drew multiple volumes from the shelves and stacked them carefully on the table. He seemed deep in thought, conflicted almost.

Catherine stepped up behind him, gently encircling his waist with her arms and settling her head against his back. To her pleasure, he took her hands in his, bringing the left one up to his kiss.

He turned to face her, keeping their hug intact. He looked down into her face and made a request. “Catherine, I need your help with … another matter.”

“Of course!” she assured him. “Something with the books?”

“Yes,” he answered, gently extricating himself from their embrace to take up two of the books. He turned them over in his hands, studying them, as if appraising them. “What do you think these are worth – in money?” he asked her.

So surprised was she by this question that Catherine’s words did not immediately come to her. After several beats, she said, “I don’t know, Vincent. A significant amount I would say – they’re first editions.” At this she noticed the entire stack, about two dozen books, were all first editions. Their leather or cloth bindings in perfect condition, some with gold or black lettering, the authors’ names – Hemingway, Dickens, Darwin, Dante, Joyce, even Dr. Seuss!

“Are you … thinking of selling them?” she asked doubtfully.

He sighed heavily. “Please find out for me, Catherine – the amount – they would bring.”

“Certainly, I will,” she said, fetching her notepad to make a list. She had never heard Vincent, or any of the Tunnel dwellers, for that matter, mention finances before.

She placed the list with her other notes, then reached for her tote. She stopped, abruptly wondering if she would, indeed, be staying Below tonight …. and other nights. Sweet recall of the recent intimacy warmed her to her bones, though no mention of it had been made thus far.

Just then, from behind her, his voice was heated honey as he said, “Catherine, would you join me for a swim?”

Flustered, she stammered, “I – I didn’t bring a bathing suit --”

Rarely did Vincent laugh outright, but at this comment, he did.

Catherine turned on him, crying, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh - you!” with mock ferocity and lunged toward him.

He caught her in his arms and lifted her off her feet to swirl her around while chuckling softly. “No one here wears a bathing suit,” he growled into her ear.

He set her on her feet and went to pull the tapestry across the chamber entry.  He returned, took her in his arms and began to lick her. His wide, hot tongue caressed her jaw and neck, her throat and lower, to her cleavage. She moaned, her breaths becoming ragged, panting.

Her fingers thrust into his thick locks, guiding his head, though he seemed well intent upon where he was going. Thankfully, she had worn a blouse that buttoned up the front! Because now Vincent was slowly, maddeningly pushing the little ivory buttons through the buttonholes. The blouse slipped from her shoulders with only a slight shrug though it caught at the cuffs.

Vincent deftly gathered the silky fabric of the blouse in one hand effectively restraining her hands behind her. With the other hand, he cupped her left breast and tugged the lacy bra down to expose her dark pink nipple, rigid with pleasure.  

She was at his mercy. With one arm he kept her gently pinned, her wrists behind her. The other hand grasped her breast lifting it to his suckling mouth. Somewhat off balance, he waltzed her backward to the bed, where he dispensed with her blouse at last and tugged at the straps of her bra. She immediately obliged him by reaching in back to unclasp the flimsy garment which she quickly shook off.

He continued to lick her. Nothing had ever stimulated her so much! She would go insane if he did not stop – if he would never stop! He suckled her passionately, lifting and caressing her breasts from beneath. She could smell herself – her arousal was intense. She was damp between her legs and yet prayed he would never leave her breasts, never take his sweet rough tongue from her hot, hot nipples.

As he nuzzled her, he moved one hand to her waist, though she was there before him pinching the hook-and-eye open at the waistband of her slacks. With the flat of his palm, he slid his hand under the material and tracing the shape of her hips, pushed the pants down her thighs.

At this point, Vincent rose to draw off his boots and trousers. He shed his vest and tugged off his tunic.  The sight of his arms, chest and belly as he drew the clothing off over his head gave Catherine yet another thrill. In the low candle light his furred body shone gold and red and his masculinity was firmly displayed.

She spent the time repositioning herself on the bed and discarding the rest of her clothes whilst never taking her eyes from the magnificent body before her. He climbed onto the bed beside her and drew her into a loving embrace.

He continued his passionate licking, adoring her with his tongue. She writhed beneath his heated ministrations, her belly concaving with pleasure. Gently he pushed her thighs apart and nuzzled the heated space in between. Now she was keening, now she was crying out, as he lapped at her satin tissue, coaxing her to the conclusion of her joy.

As she continued to quiver, he gathered her in his arms, folding her into himself.  Slowly, she stilled and her breathing returned to normal.

“Now, for you,” she said, preparing to climb up his large body.

“Now, we swim,” he corrected, and once again came his infrequent laughter – a sound she was beginning to live for.

*  *  *

These days, Catherine was the happiest she had ever been. The only concern was Vincent’s impinging memories. His memories were coming more frequently and more strongly every day and she was furiously taking notes to research the meanings.

They sat together in his chamber, he speaking, she writing. “I have eaten with a group of others from a tub with wooden spoons. We have collectively feared our oppressors,” he told her. “We have lost many of our number, yet we are survivors.”

“How long did all this go on?” she asked him.

“I know I have calculated the time by the lunar phases. The time seems infinite,” he said. “All my companions seem connected, though not related – they speak similar and different languages.” He closed his eyes and his hands curled into loose fists.

“The words are coming,” he said softly, then he uttered, “Ma maison est perdu pour moi.”

“My home is lost to me,” Catherine translated in a whisper.

Vincent went on, pronouncing unique syllables that Catherine tried to write down phonetically.

“op soek na my ma - pou chèche manman m ' - ucwaninga umama”

“Ek is op soek na my vrou. Ek het 'n familie wat vir my lief.”

“su – toh tsih -- khi -- oiyanica – wiokile”

“I only recognize the French. The other language, or languages, I don’t know. There sounds to be more than one,” said Catherine.

“Vincent,” Catherine said, placing her arms around his neck, “I will stay Above for the next few days … to research these words and get more information on the value of the books.  Let me take them with me.” She kissed his face and stroked his long hair. “I’ll return as soon as possible.”

“Of course,” he answered her, pulling her close, loving her.

They parted and Vincent tapped on the pipes for Catherine to be met for escort to carry the books. He watched her go along the passageway, wondering how long he had known her.

*  *  *

Vincent received Catherine’s note from a poised young Kipper, very pleased at being chosen and rewarded to deliver the message. He proudly displayed the wooden spinning top painted in gilt with white trim that Catherine had given him. Vincent ruffled the boy’s hair, thanking him, then turned to read the message privately.

Vincent, I have learned the monetary value of the books and I have located a buyer. The purchase price will be substantial. Shall I proceed? Also – will you come here tonight?   C

Vincent went out to the pipes and tapped a message for Pascal to relay to Laura who he knew was going Above today. Please tell Catherine ‘yes’ and ‘yes.’

*  * *

Catherine had left the balcony doors open in anticipation of Vincent’s visit and she occupied herself inside the apartment rearranging the teapot and cups on the wicker tray. Candles provided the only light and she hoped the apartment felt inviting and relaxed. She placed dried fruit on a wooden platter and poured a mound of almonds in the center. As she was evaluating her attire for the tenth time that evening, she heard his arrival on the outside.

She went to the doors and held out her hands to him. “You look beautiful,” he said. As he remained on the balcony, she stepped out and performed a little pirouette for him, the colorful folds of her long velvet skirt flowing out around her bare legs and velvet slippers, the opened neckline of her long sleeved satin peasant blouse revealing a slight décolletage boosted by a black embellished vest. He stepped forward and touched the jade and topaz earrings that framed her smile.

“Good evening,” he said casually and leaned into a kiss. She shivered slightly in his arms from the emotion and the night air.

Thankfully, Vincent asked her, “Shall we go inside?”

Catherine wanted to scream, “YES, OF COURSE!” but she managed to nod and take his hand to lead the way.

 She pulled the doors closed as he shed his cloak and Catherine turned to pour the tea. He accepted the cup from her hands, then set it aside and took her hands in his. He brought her hands, palms up, to his face and pressed them to his lips. The heat of his mouth was exhilarating and Catherine could only hold her breath, anticipating and remembering.

He turned her hands over in his own and kissed the backs, then the wrists. Then he slid his hands up over her arms across her shoulders to cradle her head. She in turn placed her arms around his neck and they kissed, kissed with all the quiet ardor and sweet devotion between them. There was world enough and time ….

They stepped apart and there was an assurance between them, this passion that simmered and would be fulfilled.

Vincent broke the silence. “The books ….?” he asked her.

“Yes,” she replied, going to fetch her purse. She drew out a bank envelope and handed it to him.

He accepted the envelope without looking inside. He turned it once in his hand then held it out to Catherine. “I want you to give this money to Peter and arrange to purchase back the gem stones he sold for Narcissa – if it is not too late.”

Touched by his sacrifice, she accepted the envelope and crossed the room to her wall safe where she stored the money. “I will,” she said simply, understanding his love. She took a seat on the sofa and motioned for him to join her as she opened her file folders. He brought the tea cups with him as he settled in beside her.

“The words are a mixture of Native American tongues and African languages,” Catherine began. “The themes are looking for your mother …. and your wife. Also, being beaten and kidnapped and in anguish because of it.”

She regarded him with gentle emotion as she said, “One phrase means: ‘I have a family who loves me’.”

Vincent sighed heavily and sat without speaking. He got up and walked back out to the balcony where he rested his hands upon the low wall, staring out over the sleeping city.

She was not sure she should disturb him, then thought better of it and went outside.

She stood quietly behind him, knowing that he knew she was there. “It now comes as a dark surprise to me that I would work this hard … to discover what I will never truly know at all,” he said into the night air. He sounded not resentful but resigned and she went to him and tucked herself under his left arm.

She felt him lean upon her, physically and emotionally, as he said, “Are you the wife of my past, Catherine? Has our bond opened my past lives to me – or has my past led me here to you …. to us … now … this moment?”

She looked up at him with undefeated eyes. “Vincent,” she said resolutely, “come to my bed.”

With no further words, the couple entered Catherine’s bedroom through the balcony door. She unclasped her vest and dropped it on the floor. He dispensed with his upper layers of clothing and pulled off his boots. She thrilled at the sight of his bare chest made visible only by the moonlight diffusing over the balcony into the room. His sculpted physique was softly furred and so available to her now.

As they embraced, they each unfastened the other’s remaining garments until they stood naked in the near darkness. Vincent kissed her face, her mouth, her throat, the tops of her breasts. As he felt her knees sway, he lifted her off her feet, continuing to kiss her everywhere he could reach, and carried her to the bed.

He laid her diagonally across the bedspread and lowered himself to lie beside her. They stroked each other, amazed and excited, building their passion.

“Catherine,” he whispered, “I will never hurt you.”

“You will never hurt me,” she answered, capturing his mouth with hers, her fingers at work in his body hair. Her hands explored down to his pubic thatch then upward to his rigid phallus, as his belly muscles contracted beneath her caress.

She rose up on her knees and turned to kiss him there, but he stopped her. “Vincent, I want to,” she said softly “for you.”

He lifted her instead to straddle his body. She was positioned across his thighs, his erection against her heated core. She felt her moisture bathing the base of his hot column and she longed to have him inside her.

He held her by the waist and lifted her slightly so that she was able to position his swollen sex for entry. Looking into his blue eyes, she saw the pupils widening as she knew her own must be. Her heart hammered in her chest – or was it stopped? She could not be sure. The universe was suspended. Nothing existed except Vincent’s amazing body.

Her womanly capacity adjusted to his length and width as he unhurriedly penetrated her silken sheath. His large hands supported her as she moved over him, satisfying herself. She moaned in ecstasy and her head lolled as she was overtaken with pleasure.

At this, he lifted up from the bed and turned her over to lie on her back without separating from her. She parted and lifted her legs and he fit between them, filling her completely.

With loving insistence their fire swept through them as they settled into a modified heat, their movements purposeful and considerate. They made their way through the intimate moments breathing in and out, learning each other until they were knowing one another.

He was deep inside her, the tops of his thighs against the backs of her thighs, keeping his great weight off her body, looking down into her face as she looked up at him. His wild mane swirled and his teeth slightly bared and he emptied his passion into her as her body convulsed blissfully.

In afterglow, the lovers rested until they slept. At some point during the night, they managed to crawl between the sheets. Hours later, as only the faintest streaks of dawn emerged across the sky, they stirred.

Catherine’s first thought upon opening her eyes and seeing Vincent there was: “It’s real!”

Vincent stretched slowly and pulled her against him, nuzzling her sleepily. “Shower?” she invited. His voice smiled at her as he answered, “With pleasure.”

They visited the bathroom separately then together as Catherine doled out towels. She reached to turn on the shower and Vincent caught sight of her in the mirror. “My beauty,” he murmured as he turned her to face her own reflection.

Catherine did not usually spend much time looking at herself in the mirror, especially not naked. Though now, she seemed a different woman, one worth admiring. Her eyes took in her smooth skin, her firm round breasts and rose colored nipples, beginning to peak up with arousal. She saw her rounded belly, her dark triangle and sturdy thighs. Her mouth opened slightly and she moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue.

In the mirror, she saw Vincent behind her. His height and bulk so much greater than hers. There was no fear in her but a slight astonishment that the act of love could even be accomplished by these extraordinary and willing bodies.

He was close to her, so close she could feel his furred belly, and his rising excitement. Ruled by her desire, Catherine thrust out her hips and Vincent took hold of her on either side. He entered her smoothly as she gasped and caught herself against the sink.

Neither could take their eyes from their image in the mirror. Steam from the shower filled the air and Catherine reached out assertively and wiped the mirror. She wanted to see!

“Vincent! Love me, Vincent!” she cried out as she felt her climax beginning. Feeling her becoming unsteady, he wrapped his arms around her waist and chest and supported her even as he pushed into her.

Regaining herself, Catherine pushed back with equal intensity, such that Vincent reached the peak of his passion, the golden head dropping forward as he panted against her throat. He shuddered, clutching her against himself, spending his last.

Watching themselves in the mirror, the couple slowed their movements until they disengaged and Catherine turned off the shower and draped a towel over the edge of the bathtub for them to sit down.

“Perhaps a bath is in order,” Vincent said with a straight face, “I may not be able to stand.”

* *  *

Vincent paused in the entry to Narcissa’s chamber. The old mystic was standing at her cooking area stirring a large pot that was bubbling slowly over the fire. It seemed not so much a food dish as an offering. Narcissa wafted the cooking fragrance with waves of her hand, sending the aromas into the chamber air.

 “My gems were delivered to me today,” she said, stirring the cooking pot.

“I am glad,” Vincent responded, stepping into the chamber.

“I was not there for the veye – the ceremony before the burial. I did arrive by the sixth day of denier priye and was there to join the prise de deuil – the burial,” she continued, never turning from her cooking.

“Was there a kav?” Vincent asked.

“Yes, child. How did you know of it?” she asked, turning now to face him.

“Through our friends,” Vincent replied. He took a seat. “I have kept you and your family in my heart,” he said. “And I …. if it is not too soon, I have need of your counsel,” he went on.

“Tell me, child,” Narcissa answered him, arranging herself on a cushioned settee.

Vincent described his memories and dreams, then waited for her response.

Narcissa smoothed her skirts and titled her head back as if looking into the sky. “These thoughts have been an aid to your survival, Vincent. Once you remember, then you will forget. It is the forgiveness of the memories.” She got up to stir the pot. “Through dreams, we learn not to forsake a quest – to go on.”

“Narcissa, have I lived before?” Vincent asked emphatically.

“Don’t you see, Vincent? Yes, you have lived before -- in everyone who has ever struggled and survived, who has been filled with regret, who has accepted love and felt that love go and come again.”

Narcissa stepped close to him and placed her hand upon his heart, saying, “You are a living soul, Vincent, and this is the body you have now.”

“You know it is difficult for me to believe … in magic,” Vincent said.

“Maybe the belief in magic is hers,” Narcissa responded, turning back to her cooking. 

*  *  *

Back in his chamber, Vincent lit candles in preparation for Catherine’s visit.  This visit would be the last, as she was officially moving Below.

Sensing her arrival, he met her halfway, scooping her up in a loving embrace.

“Catherine! Welcome home!” he exclaimed as he hugged her.

“My darling!” she answered. “I love you so!”

“Please forgive me for all the … efforts … I have put you through --” he said imploringly.

“Vincent,” she responded, so grateful for their love, “your life contains multitudes. I am more myself now than I have ever been without you. And so, for the rest of our days --”

“And the rest of our nights --” he added.

“We will never dwell alone.”

“And that will be enough.”