Prelude: This episode expansion story begins amidst the trilogy, during TRIS (The Rest Is Silence). It is an adult story, and contains explicit material.
All That Glitters
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost...
* * *
It was hot... so hot. And then, suddenly, he was icy cold, shuddering shivers engulfing him entirely.
Vincent cried out to her in the depths of his fever, but he was alone, so alone, and yet... not.
The other was there, so close now, so very close. He could feel him breathing down his neck, as if he stood beside or behind him, just out of sight. No matter how quickly he turned, he wasnít quite fast enough to catch him. But he was there... Oh yes, he was definitely there. He had to be vigilant now, especially now. What might happen if he werenít? What might happen if he let go of the last threads of his control and the other was not contained, not held back? It was too awful to contemplate, too awful to imagine the consequences of such a loss. No, he must protect the others from this menace, must protect Catherine most of all...
The cloudy mist enfolding him began to clear a little and then before him he saw a hazy, angelic image. Catherine. She was so beautiful... so beautiful. He gazed up at her hungrily, the heat of his fever burning through him, a fire that scorched his body completely.
A movement behind her distracted him in an instant, sending a fierce alarm quivering through him. It was him! He was here!
The figure knelt behind Catherine and his dark visage peered at Vincent intently from around her shoulder. A moment later his eyes flicked down the length of her slender back assessingly, possessively.
Vincent tensed in protective stillness and a growl rumbled out from deep in his chest. The other turned his attention from the woman kneeling in front of him to gaze contemptuously at the weakened man lying so close, his glance both confident and mocking. Vincent read the emotions there so clearly, almost as if they were communicated to him directly, somewhere deep inside; this one had no doubts, no uncertainties. He knew what was his. A moment later he disappeared somewhere behind her.
Vincent tried to sit up, to peer about the room, but in his weakened state his muscles wouldnít respond - not at all. He fell back to the cushion and knew no more.
* * *
A sound intruded through the foggy haze and his heavy lids fought to open, then finally succeeded. That voice... It drew him from the sickly depths and his searching gaze found her across the room, talking on the phone. He scanned the surroundings with shocked amazement. Catherineís apartment! How had he gotten here?! A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention and he immediately focused on the louvered doors to her bedroom. A still figure stepped halfway out from around them, glanced at him dismissively, then scanned the length of the figure on the phone, his look measuring and sure. A confident certainty radiating off of him that terrified Vincent to the very depths of his soul. No...
Ignoring the protesting anguish of his quivering muscles he sprang with a snarling growl and burst through the doors, leaving them shattered in his wake. He found himself lying upon Catherineís bedroom floor, half-crouched and ready to attack when he found that hated enemy.
But he wasnít there. There was nothing there, though he still felt him close... so close. A dizzying wave swept over him and he collapsed to the floor.
* * *
A soothing warmth radiated through him and this time it didnít feel like before. He felt almost loosely relaxed, a tender weight pressed softly to his back that somehow assured him, though he was barely aware of anything at all on a conscious level. Words filtered through his sleepy brain, that soft voice one that instantly calmed and drew him.
"Though lovers be lost, love shall not..."
He finished the verse automatically, his voice a barely audible whisper, "And death shall have no dominion." A momentary pause, and then he spoke again; "You knew those lines."
"Youíve been repeating them for three days."
He didnít answer and Catherine couldnít tell if heíd heard her or not. Later he would have no recollection of that dreamy, momentary awakening.
* * *
The darkening sky painted a gauzy, almost dream-like pallet of peach, rose and plum. Vincent gazed out at it through Catherineís bedroom sheers with a heavy heart, dismayed that what should have been an exhilarating miracle of nature so rarely experienced by him must instead be lost to the restless fear within which could not be quelled.
His long thermal shirt hung down almost to his knees, untucked and flowing freely. He didnít know where his vest or cloak were and he was stocking footed. Somehow he knew he had been in Catherineís apartment for some time now, but he absolutely couldnít tell how long it had been, and he didnít have the courage to ask. A quiet stillness surrounded him, but it was an eerie calm. He had read many descriptions of sailing men who had survived great storms at sea. Men who fought raging winds and torrenting, battering rains, only to find themselves in the eye of the storm. There it was utterly still and peaceful. He knew how those events always ended, though. The eye shifted, the storm rose up again, as if borne from the bottomless depths of the sea itself, and the ships were once more engulfed in a fierce frenzy that threatened to consume them entirely. Often men and ships were dashed to the rocky sea floor during those foul tempests, the brief interlude at the center lulling them into a false sense of security. The center could not hold.
The center could not hold...
Odd, that thought.
But he couldnít focus on that now, for Catherine was here, beside him, her presence both a blessing and a curse. He had to get away from her, protect her... He had to leave. But oh, how he wanted to stay.
"Youíre feeling better."
It wasnít a question. He could tell she felt the calm stillness in him, but he also knew the danger of her misinterpreting that, though he didnít have the heart to speak of it, feeling unutterably weary and ashamed. He had intruded into her very home for god knows how long. She had been here the whole time, taking care of him, letting her job and her life Above go by the wayside during that time.
"Yes. Iím sorry."
Her hand came up to rest on his back, rubbing small, soothing circles there and warming him. He heard the sorrow in her voice when next she spoke.
"Oh, Vincent, donít be sorry."
Her tender reassurance flooded through him, loosing the words he had been trying so hard to keep from her. Catherine heard the sorrow there and knew that his tears were barely held back, yet so clearly present in his words.
"Itís been my struggle always. Now, when I have so much to fight for... Iím losing."
Grief flooded through him. So much... so much waited before him, tempting him, calling him, and yet he couldnít believe those things could ever be, not for him, never for him. Impossible... impossible.
"Maybe the worst is over," she said.
He wished he could give her an equal degree of assurance, but he couldnít. Yet he tried to leave her something of hope, though he could find none within himself.
"If itís not, itís best that Iím Below. I should go back."
After a pause he went on, needing to prepare her for the worst, though it tore him up inside to pass on the grief he felt, to cause her any pain at all. His sorrow for himself - for what was slipping away from him even now - was overshadowed entirely by the knowledge of the grief he knew awaited her when his struggle was finally over. How he wished he could spare her what was to come... But he could not.
"Catherine, I donít know what will happen now."
He hesitated, uncertain how to ensure the separation he knew must be for her own safety, but which, in its wake, cast him adrift. The thought of her absence actually made him dizzy, and he wasnít sure how he could do it - though he knew he must.
"You must promise me one thing, Vincent, that youíll share it with me, whatever happens, whatever comes."
His throat thickened with hot tears, and for once he gave her the words he had always withheld, afraid that it might be his last chance. His voice was a choked whisper, intense and low; "Whatever happens, whatever comes... know that I love you."
Vincent felt the response quiver through her slender body, felt the tearful stillness and then the soft, almost imperceptible collapse of her taut muscles. Her right hand came up to rest upon his abdomen and she leaned against his side, pressing her face against his chest, a soft whimpering sob buried there.
He was shocked, as he always was, at the blatant signs of her love. Often in the past he had convinced himself that he misunderstood or misread them. There was no chance of that now, though, and for once he didnít even try. Instead he pressed a fervent kiss upon the silky crown of her head, acknowledging her response and its meaning. He felt a shudder quiver through her at that poignant touch and pressed closer, giving her the comfort of his body in a subtle but telling moment of intimacy.
They stood that way for a long time, gazing out at the darkening dusk. Catherine felt a heaviness growing within her, wondering when he would pull away and leave, but that didnít happen. He was very weak - she felt it clearly through the muscles resting along her length - and suddenly a deep shiver passed down his body and a dizzying wave coursed through her, communicated from their bond. With shocked dismay she realized she had underestimated how weak and ill he really was.
He barely supported himself now, leaning against her heavily, and she wasnít even sure he heard her at all. She quickly guided him toward the bed and pushed him down. He collapsed onto the rumpled covers without a sound.
* * *
The doorbell startled her out of her still reverie and with a searching glance toward the sleeping form in her bed she jumped from the chair and flew out to the living room. She spared a glance of dismay at the broken louvered doors in passing, knowing there was no way she could block the view to her room. Glancing back from this angle though, she realized that no one could see any detail of the still figure lying within, and after another momentary pause she moved to the door and peered out of the small circle of glass resting at its center.
In a moment the locks were undone and they faced each other, a look of stunned surprise on the face of one, a fearful anxiety on the face of the other. He wore the Above clothes he kept stored away in the back of his wardrobe, the ones he had worn uptop that time he had gone in search of Margaret. He looked intensely uncomfortable in them, but she didnít have time to assess him too closely, for he immediately entered and pushed the door shut behind them with an audible sigh of relief. Catherine redid the locks and when she turned back he was already gone.
A second later she stood silently behind him as he sat beside his sleeping son, checking his forehead for signs of fever and his wrist for pulse. Upon the floor at his side sat two bags, one his old fashioned black leather doctorís satchel and the other a briefcase of sorts, made of thick, buttery leather with heavy clasps of dulled brass at the top. He withdrew his stethoscope from the black bag and pushed the loose-weaved collar of the thermal shirt back a few inches until he was able to place the cupped piece near his heart. Catherine found herself holding her breath anxiously as he finished that procedure.
She couldnít withhold the question a moment longer, needing to hear some assurances from him. When he turned to face her a gasping breath was released in a rush. His face told her clearly that at least for the moment there was no worsening of Vincentís condition.
Jacobís gaze did turn worried then, but it was clearly more at the sight of her own wan appearance. He stood up and she found their positions switched as he pressed her down on the edge of the bed, then quickly repeated the measurements he had made on his sleeping son just moments before, slipping the stethoscope into the opening of her cotton shirt. He listened a moment before removing the instrument and focusing on her face once more.
"Heís all right for now, Catherine, but Iím worried about you, too. How long has it been since youíve had any sleep?"
She began to shake her head in protest, but he continued on sternly, ignoring those motions.
"You wonít be of any use to him like this. Iíll stay here and watch him now - you get some rest."
She almost smiled at the hesitant glance of his eyes about the room, the furtive pause and quick darting away at the waiting expanse by Vincentís side.
"Iím glad youíre here, Father, but I canít rest, not yet. Peter just called and said they should have the lab results in shortly. I need to go down there and make a stop at a store for a few items on the way. Can you stay here with Vincent? I shouldnít be more than an hour or two at the most."
"Of course Iíll stay. But canít someone else do this? Really, Catherine, Iím serious when I say you desperately need to rest..."
"I canít Father - I canít! Not while heís like this..."
Her gaze had turned to the sleeping figure and her words trailed off in a low whisper, fear and anguish echoing in their wake. She turned back to the older man standing before her and met his gaze squarely.
"I know you understand."
He stared at her a moment and his rigidly controlled features suddenly melted, sorrow and love plain in every furrowed ligament.
"Yes, I understand. Go, and hurry back. You should be here in case he wakes."
She nodded quickly, turned to stroke a caressing hand along Vincentís brow, pressing a warm kiss there, then jumped up and left the room.
* * *
Once she was gone, Jacob couldnít resist glancing about Catherineís apartment with curiosity - he had never been there before. He pulled aside the bedroom sheers for a moment to stare out over her balcony. This was where his son spent so much of his time Above, he mused reflectively. But despite his curiosity his concern overrode all else and he quickly returned to Vincentís side. He moved about the bed, straightening the pillow, sheets and quilts as best be could beneath the large frame of his son, then stopped his restless motions, once again sitting beside the still form, one hand lying gently upon the softly rising chest. "Iím here, Vincent, Iím here," he said. His voice was pitched low, the tones meant for his sonís ears only. It had nothing to do with their location Above - he would have spoken thus even had they been Below, in Vincentís chamber.
The chamber about him was familiar, as were the treasures and furniture filling it, yet he found no comfort there. Catherine was gone now, left behind Above, in her apartment. He was alone once more. Despite the sapping lethargy filling him he had made his way Below, though even now that memory was leaving him, a confused anxiety in its place. How had he gotten here? The restlessness within him grew and he paced about the worn carpet with a growing sense of agitation. A sound from without caught his attention and he stopped abruptly, his eyes scanning the shadows along the wall before him. Suddenly the dark visage of the other was there, menacing and powerful. With a snarling growl he sprang down from the ledge toward his prey. Vincent rushed to meet his dreaded adversary, determined that it would end here. Their arms locked tight and neither would release the other.
Vincentís stillness ended abruptly and he writhed upon the sheets, kicking the blankets away. Jacob struggled to hold him still, terrified that his own strength would be nothing to that of the man he held tight. For a moment images scrolled through his mind, a memory of his young son in denim overalls, no more than a tot, swung high in the air by his fatherís strong arms. That vision changed to a decade past that time, the sight first one of Vincent as a youth, growing tall and long limbed at an unbelievable rate, the future potential there a sight Jacob marveled at daily, and from there to just a short time after that when, at the tender age of sixteen, he struggled in the midst of the illness which had almost caused his death. His strength had been by turns both overwhelming and yielding, the illness waxing and waning within his weakening body.
Now, lying before him, Jacob saw the man his son had become. A few days ago there would have been no restraining him, so formidable had he grown in the fullness of his manhood. But now... Now the illness had encompassed him completely, and though he struggled against that demon within, the motions which translated along his straining muscles to his fatherís restraining hands was a weak shadow of his full strength in good health. Jacob pressed him back and suddenly the tension along the body beneath him gave way and Vincent lay still before him. His eyes fluttered open for the barest moment, meeting his fatherís, an agonizing, yearning entreaty there that tore at the older manís heart.
"Father, I canít..."
The breathy words died away, followed by a whispered request whose urgent yet painfully clear meaning broke his fatherís heart.
Vincentís eyes closed almost immediately and though Jacob shook him in an attempt to rouse him, there was nothing. His trembling hands swept frantically over his sonís chest, the stethoscope forgotten. Finally he found a heartbeat, so weak and thready he almost missed it in his terror-filled urgency. A ragged sigh filled the room and Jacob now concentrated on calming his own heart. It beat a thundering tattoo in his chest, as if it sought to escape the earthly flesh enclosing it. Finally he had the almost overwhelming anxiety under control.
His purpose had solidified once more; Vincent, he would focus on Vincent. First things first... Thank god phones had changed relatively little throughout the years, he thought, as he picked up the one by Catherineís bedside. He dialed the number by memory - the children were not the only ones required to know the numbers of certain of their special Helpers. The voice that answered was professionally polite, and though she wouldnít confirm Catherineís presence in the office, Jacob gave her the message nonetheless, certain the receptionist would pass it on immediately.
His eyes never left the still figure of his son during those brief moments, and when he was through he sank down beside him again, stroking a trembling hand across the too-pale brow. He remembered that time in his sonís youth when that other illness had played itself out, how heíd talked to his unresponsive form for hours, reading and attempting a casual patter of conversation, hoping against hope that the words, or at least the sound of his voice was getting through. He fell into that long ago pattern again easily now, despite his fears.
"Look what I brought."
With hands that still shook, he reached into the larger, camel-colored satchel and withdrew several books. All but one of these he laid in a stack upon the bedside table. The last one, a worn leather-bound volume, he held up enticingly before the sleeping figure as if Vincent could see it.
"Itís ĎJane Eyreí. Samantha sent it up for you. She insisted. She says youíre reading it in your childrenís literature class and you might want to study up on the last chapter before your class meets again. She told me youíd better be ready because they have a lot of questions for you about it. She was very insistent, but then Iím sure you know that already. Samantha has always been a somewhat impatient child."
A bit of humor came through in his voice, and for a moment he was distracted by the comforting image of the children Below. That sensation quickly turned to painful regret as he recalled their growing anxiety at the absence of their friend and teacher. They were worried about him. Everyone was worried about him. He turned his thought out of that dark territory and back to his son with a sigh, opening the book to the ribbon marked page.
"Hereís the spot, I think."
A moment later his soothing voice continued on with the lovely story which had always been a favorite of Vincentís ever since he was a child himself. Vincent slept on, no outward motion at all evident, and no sign that he noted or heard his fatherís words.
He was tired, so tired. When would it all end? He didnít think he could endure much more of this. It was a constant struggle now, holding the other at bay. At least for the moment there was a slight lull, an emptiness that allowed him some respite from the clash of emotions which swung through him almost constantly now. The tunnels were quiet and still - quieter than he was used to. But he couldnít focus on that. All his attention was turned inward, to the restive stillness waiting there. An anxious expectancy filled him and he had to use all his strength to hold back the fear, to keep it and the other in check. He couldnít let go of that restraint - he absolutely must control it, must...
He looked up in surprise to see Samantha standing before him in the tunnels. How could he not have heard her approach, he thought with amazement?
"I brought it, Vincent, the book!"
His thoughts were a chaotic confusion, but in the midst of them a vague image crystallized, calling to mind Dylanís 'Anthologyí, though he knew that couldnít be what she referred to. That work was always left for the oldest classes, the often subtle symbols and themes of death, despair and rebirth too much for the younger ones to take in at their tender age. The layers of meaning within Dylanís words were well beyond a childís ability to comprehend - they were too young to view poetry in anything but a literal sense. When the cow jumps over the moon, the cow jumps over the moon - no more and no less. No, Dylan was much too complex for them and indeed for many of the older children as well... His thoughts trailed off confusedly, something pulling insistently at him at the thought of Dylan and his work. What was it?! Samanthaís response drew him out of his fretful musings before he could find what he searched for.
"ĎJane Eyreí. Remember? Weíre on the last chapter."
Recollection filled him. Thatís right. The younger children were reading that now - had almost completed it. He had thought that perhaps they were too young for Bronteís romantic work, but they had insisted they were not, and in this case he had conceded. Indeed they had shown an amazing amount of insight to that beautiful story of love and triumph, its simple lesson universal to both young and old - some things were meant to be, no matter how difficult people made them appear.
They were on the last chapter now. The last chapter... He thought on the irony of that with sorrowful regret, the allusions to his own situation painfully clear. He wondered how he could ever explain such a tragic possibility to this trusting child. It was such a heavy burden, and yet he felt a responsibility to her, to them all, for everything they had given him, for the amazing difference theyíd made in his life and in his world. He knelt down on one knee before her, and paused for a moment, wiping his sweat dampened brow.
"If Iím ever not there, Samantha, you read it in my place. You read the last chapter to the class."
But it was useless. It was too much for a child to take in, he knew it instantly, regretting the attempt in a moment, yet not having the strength to divert her attention to something else. Her anger erupted, though he knew it was just a manifestation of her fear.
"Just be there, Vincent!"
She ran off and he didnít even try to call her back. What could he say, after all, that would make it right? He was alone, the silence deepening to a hazy cloud which utterly consumed him.
* * *
Catherine waited anxiously in Peterís office, pacing about the well furnished room with a restless anxiety which refused to lessen. "Hurry, Peter, hurry..." She was barely aware that sheíd spoken the words aloud, her thoughts with Vincent, back in her apartment.
As if her plea had been heard, the door behind her opened and Peter stepped in. He paused for a moment, looking down at the stapled papers in his hand. Finally he looked up to meet her eyes, but just as quickly glanced away again.
"Tell me, Peter," she said, an urgent intensity in her voice.
"Cathy, the lab found some... abnormalities in the blood sample."
Peter spoke hesitantly, his discomfort plain.
"Apparently it has some components not typical of human blood. It would probably be best that we not pursue it any further."
A quivering emotion fluttered through her, both anger and love mixed there, and she spoke with a quiet intensity that brooked no argument; "He is the most human... the most human being Iíve ever met."
They stood in stunned silence for a moment longer, neither knowing what to say to comfort the other. Their awkward stillness was broken by a soft rap at the door and when Peter opened it he found his long-time receptionist standing there.
"When youíre finished here, Dr. Alcott, Mr. Dennison is ready in waiting room 3. Ms. Chandler? A Jacob Wells called for you. He said that you should return home as soon as possible - that you were needed there. I didnít tell him you were here, but I thought I should..."
She got no further with her explanation. Catherine started abruptly and hurried past them, exchanging an anxious look with Peter in passing.
"Cathy - call me if Iím needed, all right?" Peter called out to her quickly retreating form, a worried expression in his eyes. For a moment he considered leaving Alfred Dennison and all his other patients hanging, but no... Jacob was there, and Catherine would be there soon. Still... He chewed his lip nervously a few minutes more before he left his office and headed for waiting room 3.
* * *
Deeper and deeper he went, until he had reached that place of final rest. Catacombs, they called it. Here, yes, here... A vague image, barely even a concept, drifted upward, suffusing him, but he wasnít sure what it meant, or even if it had come from his own consciousness. He tried to concentrate on that flickering tendril of thought, but suddenly everything within him was overwhelmed by an emerging force. It shuddered through his body as if from a physical assault and he staggered back against the cold rock wall behind him, calling out to the one source of security that still existed for him.
But she was gone and he was alone with the darkness approaching.
Dear god! One moment he had been so still, and now this. Jacob struggled with the writhing form on the bed, trying desperately to hold him down. Vincentís arms swung out and one hand caught the loose edge of the sheet, shredding it to ribbons with his deadly nails. Jacob sprang away from the bed, instinctive preservation guiding him entirely. Vincent continued to writhe upon the rumbled bedclothes, his head thrashing from side to side and his hands grasping and tearing the covers about him. Eerie growls and cries rumbled through his chest and upward from his throat, menace inherent in every sound. Despite that frantic movement, though, he didnít leave the bed. It was as if the fight was almost completely internal, the thrashing motions and vague cries nothing more than the external manifestation of his struggle.
Jacob swung around in time to see Catherine entering the apartment, a shocked expression on her face at the sounds she heard within. She rushed toward the bedroom and he met her at the shattered entrance, blocking her access. She pushed against him and he knew he wouldnít be able to stop her with mere physical strength alone.
"No, Catherine, no! You canít..." His words were cut off by her own.
She stopped struggling and their eyes met in anguished understanding.
"Father, he is my life. Without him... there is nothing."
Her words were so intent, so sure. Jacob lowered his hands.
They both turned to look back at the feverish man upon the bed, his call to her so utterly compelling it was irresistible.
Jacob felt himself pushed aside and he watched in silent resignation as Catherine rushed by him to go to his son.
Terror and fear filled him as he grappled with a force almost beyond his comprehension. He slashed mindlessly at the other in a panic, and felt the answering strength in return, pain surging through him. He ignored it all, though, a single-minded focus driving him: he must banish this dark one once and for all. With a supreme effort of will he grasped the struggling form, flinging him into the darkened recesses of the chamber behind him, casting him off with rage and despair. For a moment it was quiet, but his eyes sought out the dark shadows there, certain the other would be back, knowing the fight was not yet over.
Suddenly his eyes widened. He turned abruptly, panting heavily, nostrils flared. That scent... A vision entered the darkened chamber, coming toward him slowly but surely. An angel, her silvery gaze drawing him, calling him... A sensation filled him. It came from within, swelling and burgeoning until it overwhelmed him entirely. She was there, and so too was he and his eternal love for her. He felt her love in return and there was no way he could deny what it meant, not now. But they were not alone. The force of the other was back, almost as if heíd returned in response to her presence. Vincentís eyes widened in shock and he let out an anguished roar, preparing himself for the final battle.
When Catherine reached his side she sank down to the bed and laid her torso upon his own, her arms resting along the length of his, her fingers entwining with his own. Suddenly Vincent let out a roar, his body arching up and carrying her along with him, his muscles taut and trembling beneath her. And then his frantic motions ceased abruptly and he lay utterly still beneath her. She pressed her ear to his chest, her own bodyís response tied to his, taut with a vibrating, almost motionless tension. She pulled away suddenly and began to trace her hands frantically across him, her eyes on his face.
It was a barely audible sound, little more than a moaning whimper. What followed was not.
Her anguished wail tore through the night, sending shudders through Jacob as he stood frozen in stunned stillness at the entrance. Time stood still and there was nothing but that sound, that word, his name. It echoed about the small space as if it hovered over and about the woman pressed close to his sonís still form, defining the darkness and all it encompassed. Her hands moved frantically over the prone figure but could find no heartbeat, he saw it clearly, then heard it in her voice.
She grasped folds of his thermal shirt in her knotted fists and shook him, her strength amazing in this moment of crises, but there was no movement, no response. Finally she pounded against his chest in a frenzy of fear while billowing waves of grief-stricken anguish washed through her, threatening to consume her completely.
"No! Not without me!"
She was sobbing uncontrollably now, her hands moving frantically along his arms and chest, desperate to feel some movement from him, some sign of life. But there was nothing.
"Vincent, my son..."
Jacob stood behind her now, watching his sonís still form, tears running down his cheeks, the words a whisper unheard by the sobbing woman before him. His heart had been so weak. In that instant he knew there was nothing he could do - nothing at all. Grief encompassed him, but there was one small corner of fear remaining despite his overwhelming sorrow - fear for Catherine, for the woman his son had loved beyond all thought and reason. He reached out for her, his hand pressed to her shoulder, but she didnít respond. It was as if there was room in her for nothing else but the man lying so still beneath her.
"Not without me, Vincent, not without me..."
Catherine, too, was still now, the words a quiet whimper in contrast to the terror-filled urgency of a moment before. They held a dreadful certainty that shook Jacob to the very core. Her torso rested atop his, her head pressed tight to the region of his heart, her hands clutching the now relaxed muscles of his upper arms. Suddenly Jacob saw her fingers tighten there and the stillness of her body took on a new tension that was clearly visible.
The whispered word was definitely a question and Jacob started. Was it possible?!
Something stopped him from any further action and he stood staring down, a foot away from the figures lying upon the bed. Their love had always had an otherworld quality to it, despite his repeated attempts to deny it, both to them and to himself, but now that knowledge was brought home once more. The two figures were still before him but suddenly he could swear he saw, for just an instant, a pulse of light shimmer about them. It was a fleeting glimpse, yet he was somehow certain, despite his previous obstinate blindness in this regard, that he had just witnessed a visual manifestation of their bond. Acceptance flooded through him, along with a tiny thread of hope. There was a destiny at work here beyond his ability to comprehend. Vincent and Catherine would survive together or not at all. He didnít know where that sudden, absolute certainty came from, but he didnít question it, despite his own fear and grief. He waited in utter stillness, whispering a feverish prayer that all would be right again. That they would all awaken from this terrible nightmare, complete and whole. That he would have his son back again.
Catherine turned her face upward to stare at Vincentís beloved features, almost, but not quite certain she had felt something. Her hands slid up from his biceps to his shoulders, pulling herself along his length, until she stared down at the stillness of his lips, looking for any sign that life breathed within him.
He had to know, didnít he? He had to know how she felt about him, how she needed him for her very survival, how she wanted him with an urgent hunger that consumed her. He had to know, despite the walls of careful constraint she had so thoroughly built by his own, unspoken demand. He had to know... didnít he? Finally her mouth lowered to his in a poignant kiss, the older manís presence in the room utterly forgotten.
All the love she felt for him was released in that kiss. And once released, nothing could hold it back. She kissed him feverishly, stroking his temple, neck, shoulders and chest, desperate to touch him, to give him the love sheíd had to hold back for so long, the love that belonged to him, only him.
Her kisses fluttered across his face and throat, the moisture there mingling with her tears, until there was no distinguishing between the two. Among those frantic caresses she whispered his name, her voice filled with an urgency that wrung itself deep within their bond. Suddenly a gust of breath pulsed upon her cheek and a sigh whispered out. She pulled back in shocked surprise and saw his head shift once upon the pillow, from right to left. With a gasping sob she threw herself down upon him, holding him tight and crying his name over and over again.
In the midst of that joyful relief a trembling hand hovered in her view, then came to rest upon the broad shoulder just next to where her cheek was pressed. Father. Her own hand came up to rest upon it and she pressed a kiss upon the gnarled tendons of his shaking fingers.
"Oh, Father, Father, heís alive!" she whispered.
"My son... my son... Oh, Catherine!"
Jacob was suddenly weak, his whole body shaking with relieved distress. He sank down to the bed beside them and gazed at the face of his son. The paleness of his complexion was shifting now, some of its normal golden glow returning. Vincent slept deeply, but it was a sleep, he could see that clearly. Tears rained down his face in grateful thanks. He stroked once more across the broad chest before him, feeling for himself the slight rise and fall of his breathing there and the stronger beat of his heart, which had certainly been absent just moments before. Jacob gazed at him for several long minutes, his hand still caressing him gently, then finally stood at the side of the bed and turned his attention back to Catherine.
"Take care of him, Catherine."
"He needs you now."
A sob caught in his throat, but Catherine could tell it was no longer in sorrow, but instead in vast relief.
"Iíll come back tomorrow to check on you both."
He stared at the still figure resting on the bed for another long moment, then leaned down to press a kiss upon his sonís brow, whispering out to him, "Be well, my son". Silently he turned away and left the room, and then the apartment, leaving them alone.
* * *
It was so quiet now. There were no sounds, not from within, and not even, or so it seemed, from the normally busy streets below. Catherineís concentration was focused entirely on Vincent. She wrapped her arms around him and held him tight. For many long minutes she rested with her ear pressed against his chest, listening to the blessed sound of his heart. So steady... it was so steady now. Not like before. She shuddered as the vivid memory of an hour before swung through her. Thank god, not like before!
He was so still and so quiet, and yet somehow she knew that this deep sleep was not like the sickly one which had enfolded him during the past few days. There was a difference, and she focused inward, trying to identify it, to put some quantifiable measure to it that would make perfectly rational sense to her. Much as she searched, though, there was nothing to grab onto. Nothing except that strange certainty that it was almost over, that all would be well again. And that was everything.
Hot tears burned beneath her lids and she brushed them away quickly, wanting nothing to distract her from the solid warmth of his body in her arms. For once there was no resistance in him, no struggle to distance himself from her, and thus no need to hold back the strong feelings that always waited deep inside. It mattered not that that lack of resistance was due to the lethargic aftermath of the violent illness which had consumed him. He was alive and in her arms, and that was all that mattered. It was everything.
They sat in their music chamber beneath the bandshell, listening to a concerto. It came from directly above them, in the park. A perfect peace filled him and he thought to himself that he couldnít ever recall experiencing such a state before in his life. The woman he loved rested beside him, the weight of her body a soft, silken warmth that soothed him utterly. Never had a moment existed in such perfection. The days past had flown into weeks, time somehow eluding him in its full complexity. Everything from that awful time before...
A shudder quivered through him, but was banished in an instant. Catherine didnít seem to notice.
Everything from that time was so hazy, so indistinct. It was impossible for him to remember much of it at all anymore, but he didnít care. Catherine was here, with him. They were together, and nothing could touch them when they were together - nothing. A sigh of contentment whispered through him, catching her attention.
"Tell me how youíre feeling?"
She never moved from his side, but he felt her gaze upon him, though his eyes remained closed, his face tilted upward as if the sounds he caught from above were sunbeams warming him.
"There are no words."
He searched within himself, trying to capture the essence of that peace, still amazed that the dark-spirited tension that always - always! - awaited him deep inside, especially when he was near her, was now so utterly quiet. Finally he found the word he was searching for.
The word whispered out into the darkening dusk, and Catherineís head jerked up off his chest. She shook herself out of the semi-sleeping haze she had drifted in and focused intently upon his beautiful face.
She whispered to him, watching for any movement, but there was none. His sleep was deep and still. Perhaps it had only been her imagination. Glancing at the bedside alarm she found it was early evening, almost seven oíclock. Her back was stiff and her arms sore - sheíd been half sitting, half lying beside him for several hours - and she sat up and stretched, trying to loosen the kinks out of her muscles. A pungent odor assailed her and she wrinkled her nose with distaste. She was almost grateful that Vincent still slept and didnít see - and smell! - her like this. A small smile graced her lips, the relief of this afternoon still filling her. With another searching glance at his sleeping form, she decided that she could safely leave him for the few minutes it would take to shower. Still, despite the close proximity of the bed and her bathroom door, she sat still beside him for many long minutes more, and only reluctantly left him.
* * *
She heard the low cry, despite the rush of the blowdryer. It fell from her suddenly lifeless fingers and dropped to the floor, the cord yanked from its socket. Catherine grabbed the silky robe hanging on the door hook and pulled it over her naked body, tugging it about her as she ran from the room.
She flung herself beside him, staring intently at the still figure before her. The dusk had deepened, and she reached out blindly to turn on the small bedside lamp, knocking something off the table in the process. His face flared into illumination and, barely breathing, she watched as lines of tension appeared, felt them in the sudden tautness of his muscled arms. His stillness ended abruptly as he tossed his head from side to side, and a groaning whimper escaped his throat.
"No, not again, not again! Iím here, Vincent, Iím here!"
She spoke to him urgently, shaking his broad shoulders, but it was as if he didnít hear her at all. The tension escalated and she knew immediately that he was in the midst of a nightmare, and that she could not wake him from it. Suddenly a tremendous, explosive burst of emotions washed through her, shocking her with their depth and clarity. The bond... she was feeling what he felt over their bond!
She watched as the emotions grew, playing out on his face and deep within in a feverish flurry of rapidity. Bewilderment came first, quickly replaced by outright confusion and doubt. Then came a stunned disbelief and cold fury. The intensity of those emotions gave way to a sorrow so pervasive she wept furious tears with him, though she had no idea what images had inspired such wrath and anguish. Then all else gave way to an intense focus. A concentration that would allow nothing to divert his thoughts and energies, though deep, deep inside, she felt a vast emptiness, an aloneness, pressing like a fist against her heart.
Oh, god, what could he be seeing?! It had to be bad, so very, very bad. And yet he made not a sound except for the occasional whisper of her name, as if he searched for her endlessly... vainly.
Then the emotions shifted. From a fierce fury of intensity everything stilled, then stopped. She watched him with a hesitancy that she couldnít explain, not even to herself, waiting for what was yet to come. The stillness exploded around her in a rushing roar, torn for his throat in such a painful outcry that her own wail couldnít be heard beside it.
His torso arched up, strung taut, as the tortuous, grief-filled cry filled the room, then he fell back to the bed, shuddering sobs jolting through him.
That one cry told her everything. The flurry of emotions disappeared, to be replaced by others, no less intense for their cold finality; soul-deep anguish and shattered hope, sweeping sorrow and endless despair. She needed to see none of it on his face or feel it over their bond, as the next few moments of the nightmare progressed, to know what it all meant. She was gone and he was alone - utterly, utterly alone.
He lay still before her now, lines of anguish and grief etched deeply into his face. Pain filled her, so dark and complete she didnít think she could survive it. Nothing could escape the dark hole of despair pulling her down. She felt what Vincent felt now, and sobs shook her frame in response. No matter how hard she shook him or how loud she called out to him, he didnít respond. She was gone from him and he was alone in that cold, dark place.
Catherine swiped at the tears running down her cheeks with a trembling hand and sat back, glancing about the room frantically. Her eyes fell on the phone and she wondered if she could leave him for just a moment to call Peter. Her foot brushed something on the floor and without thought she reached down to pick up the obstruction. In her hand, held to the open page as it had fallen from the bedside table, was Vincentís journal. Father must have brought it, along with the others, she thought. She glanced at it hurriedly, as she moved to replace it on the waiting stack, and the scrawling, frantic, graceless script there caught her eye. Hesitation tugged at her, but only for a moment. There was no entry date, but within a few short words she knew this had been written just moments before heíd left the tunnels to come Above in search of her. And unlike the meticulous formatting of his letters and notes, this entry had no salutation or closing. As she scanned the page she found that it contained only the frantic, unbroken body, the essence of his thoughts, written - spoken - directly to her.
Oh, my love, what will we do?! Iím trying to hold it back, but it wonít stop, Catherine, it wonít stop! It struggles to break free and I donít think I can hold out much longer. I feel so weak, now, so defenseless. That power overwhelms all else, and I am no match for it. You must be protected at all costs, you must! And in this state I am a danger even to those here Below. I must leave here, I must find a safe place, I must! Safe place. There is no safe place for me but with you, and I cannot be with you, I cannot. Oh, Catherine! I need you so, my love! I dreamt again that I left the tunnels in daylight... or was it a dream? Iím not sure I can tell anymore. It was so real, Catherine, so real, like the other dream I had, where I killed Father, no, Paracelsus. I do remember, I do! I was running, running through the park in the light of day, with no fear and no hesitation. An urgency like none other filled me. I had to get to you, Catherine, I had to! And then you were there. Oh, Catherine! I couldnít reach you! You stood so still before me, so calm, so distant. I couldnít reach you. I couldnít get through the others who stood between us. I tried, I swear I did, but I couldnít, my love, I couldnít. You must believe me - I tried. Oh, my love, my love, what will we do?! This force is pushing through. It seeks to gain dominance over me and over you. I know it, I feel it! What could survive this all encompassing power?! I donít think I can, Catherine. I donít think I can survive it. It is pushing through and I donít know what awaits me on the other side. Such strong emotions control me now. I no longer master them as I once did, and that must not be, it must not! You must be prepared, Catherine. I canít let this darkness touch you - I canít! Whatever happens, whatever comes, know that I love you. I love you so much, Catherine, so much. Youíre everything to me, my love, everything! Remember, no matter what happens to me, our love will always exist - always! Death shall have no dominion over us. Death shall have no dominion...
The scrawling words ended abruptly, sloping down and to the right, as if he had raced off from the table, his pen still in hand. The journal fell from her hands and she threw herself against him, desperate to end this torture.
"Wake up, Vincent! Wake up!"
Her cry was full of anguish, and she shook him with a frantic strength.
"Please, please wake up..."
Her plea was softer now and barely heard amid her own tears.
"Oh, Vincent. Iím here, my love. Iíll always be here. Iíll never leave you. You must believe that, you must! I love you, Vincent, I love you."
Her motions stilled upon those words, her gaze focused upon his grief-filled face. A sorrow too deep for words enfolded her. She couldnít bear the thought of him in that place, so alone, no matter how short or imaginary the time. She couldnít bear it. The furrows in his brow had deepened with suffering and she brushed soothingly against them, trying to banish that pain. She pressed light kisses along their length, lips following fingers, but it was futile - his features remained frozen with anguish. Her gaze drifted down to his mouth. It was compressed in a cold, hard line, an agony of emotions held behind it. Her fingers rose up to stroke along his lips, the smooth lower one and the silky upper, so unique, belonging only to him. She felt the tension there, and sank down against him to kiss it away, a deep, instinctive emotion driving her completely. Her lips moved upon him, urging his to heed her call. So soft, so compelling... She could kiss him forever, the thought drifted through her.
Lost in that hazy sensation, it took a moment for her to realize that his lips had opened slightly beneath hers, a soft breath pulsing against her own trembling lips. Then she felt his hands against her sides, slowly circling her body. They met at the small of her back, then wrapped around her further, tightening to an almost painful extent as he drew her down against his body fully. She gave a gasping cry and then all sound disappeared as he slanted his mouth open beneath hers, kissing her with a passionate intensity that was beyond description. Oh, god! So sweet... His kiss was the sweetest thing she had ever tasted.
How had he lived without this?! It was all he needed, all he had ever wanted - Catherine, warm and yielding in his arms, the taste of her unimaginably sweet... so sweet... The nightmare fell away, for the moment forgotten completely as the sensation of Catherineís kiss held him in its thrall. Nothing could take precedence over her, nothing in this world or beyond it.
She heard her name whispered out in the night, low and urgent. It rode another sound, a continuous, low, throaty growl, almost subliminal in its erotic intensity. He called her to him with his body and through their bond and she had no choice but to go. It was the thing she wanted above all else. Then he was tugging at the covers frantically, pulling her beneath them and close to him. She struggled, not to get away, but to press closer still. She tore at the fabric of her robe, desperate to press her naked body against him, despite his own clothing, and his hands joined with hers, ridding her of the unwanted barrier between them.
Oh yes... her satiny skin, soft and warm...
He held her tight, then rolled them over, pulling her beneath him. His weight was heavy and hard upon her, but it was what she craved above all else, his body upon hers. She moaned loudly at that contact, wanting more, needing more.
A low growl answered in return. No word was spoken, but she heard her name, nonetheless, vibrating through her from their bond, repeated over and over again in urgent supplication. He was moving upon her frantically now, seeking her softness, but his own clothes thwarted him at every turn. The quiet rumble escaped his throat and erupted in a louder, frustrated growl. His teeth were bared, his head thrown back, and she watched the virile response with awe. Oh, how she wanted him!
She couldnít help herself then, though later she would be shocked and appalled by her bold aggression. She pushed against his shoulder and he responded immediately, falling to his side, his weight releasing her. Her hands went to the waist of his trousers and fumbled with the clasps there in urgent haste. He didnít try to stop her. Finally they were undone and his steely strength surged into her hands, hot and hard. He cried out again, this time at the unbelievably erotic sensation of her tender touch upon his body, a touch he had never thought to experience. She easily read the intermingling emotions of stunned amazement and lusty desire in the wordless rumble of his voice.
"Yes, oh, yes..."
The words were barely audible, barely more than thought, more a moaning whimper of need as she caressed him. How she had craved this from him, the release of his needs, the vulnerable exposure he had dreaded for so long, given over in trust to her. His hands roamed her naked body eagerly, insistently, touching her everywhere, compelling a response she was incapable of withholding. The world tilted dizzily and she found herself once more on her back, his hard weight upon her, pressing her down. She drew her legs up and wrapped them around him, holding him tight, pulling him to the heated juncture of her thighs and groaning in blissful triumph when she felt his hot flesh rubbing against her silky wetness. Oh, yes, yes...
And now she laid absolutely still beneath him, quivering with anticipation, waiting for him to take the final step, waiting for him to take her and make her his. His arms bracketed her face, his palms cupping her cheeks, fingers twining frantically in her hair, and a moment later he was kissing her with a fierce insistence that made everything in her go limp and loose. Her body called out for air, called out for him, and she pulled her mouth from his even as she pulled him closer, her legs tightening about him. She cried out to him in urgent need, desperation in her voice.
"Now, Vincent, oh, please, now!"
The sudden sound, so loud and clear, echoed through the room and he jerked back, his eyes meeting hers. The expression of passionate desire gave way to a tentative hesitation and confusion and then finally shifted to a stunned disbelief.
He stared at her intently, then his expression changed once again to horrified comprehension. He jerked away from her, cowering beneath the covers on the far side of the bed. His abrupt motion broke the hold of her arms and legs upon him, leaving her naked, trembling and alone, with an endless three feet separating them.
She implored him, desperate to calm the fears surging so strongly in him now, in blatant contrast to the ecstatic joy of a moment ago. She could see the demon of those fears, his certainty that the other, darker side of him had been in control, had gained dominance over him once more, bringing that dark, destructive power to the one he loved and feared for most. She wanted to tell him that it wasnít true, that it wasnít what he feared, but the words wouldnít come, because she wasnít so sure anymore. That darker side had been present. The realization burst upon her then that the darkness in him wasnít something they needed to fear, but rather something to be embraced. The certainly filled her with a stunning force and everything dropped into place.
Before she could find the words to tell him of her revelation, though, another emotion swept over him, filling his face and the swirling maelstrom of their bond. Terror. Depthless despair, utter and complete. All that had come before gave way to the burgeoning memory filling him; the memory of his nightmare. The memory of her death.
He grasped her strongly and pulled her back to him, heedless of her nakedness and his own disheveled, vulnerable state.
"No, no! Donít leave me, Catherine, donít leave me! I wonít let you go!"
The words were a frantic, desolate plea, a moan of anguish and grief tearing at them both.
"I wonít leave you, Vincent, I wonít! It was just a dream, only a dream, but itís over now. Iím here, my love, Iím here."
Absolute terror filled him and she wasnít sure he heard her, even when he called out to her in the depths of his despair.
"Oh, Catherine, Catherine!"
He collapsed against her, his chest heaving in gasping sobs, tearing at his throat. His hands swept over her frantically, assuring himself that she was here, that she was all right. She felt real, she felt solid against his hands and body, but oh, god, what if this were the dream, and the other the true reality?! No, no! He couldnít bear it, he couldnít bear to lose her again. This time, responsibility or no, he knew he couldnít go on without her.
"I love you, Catherine, I love you. Iíve always loved you!"
He couldnít tell her fast enough. Heíd always held the words back in the past, afraid for what they might mean to her future - one heíd been certain held no room for him. But all that meant nothing now. Nothing could frighten him as did that dark dream, with its lonely, desolate destiny. He couldnít survive that, he knew it in the deepest part of who he was. All that waited there was death and despair for them both. No, anything but that, anything! And so he didnít let his fears hold him back this time, telling her of his desperate love, and gasping in shocked surprise when she answered in turn.
"I love you, Vincent! I love you, I love you!"
He was shivering as if heíd just come in from some arctic storm and she slipped her leg over his thigh, drawing him close, this time to comfort and console him. The words continued, almost of their own volition, telling him of her love and constancy, over and over again. She wouldnít stop until he believed it, until he accepted it all, until he accepted her love and her destiny, until he accepted her place at his side.
He pressed his face against her throat, burrowing against her as if he would hide them both from the world about them, protect them both from anything that would dare to threaten their love.
"Oh, Catherine, Catherine, you donít know! Is it really true? Are you really here? Oh, god, you donít know... Tell me it didnít happen. Tell me it was just a dream, just a horrible, horrible dream. Please, Catherine, tell me!"
His words struck her forcibly, bringing her back to a time more than two years past. Sheíd rested in his bed then, in his world and in his care. She had asked the same question of him, but his answer had been oh-so-different than the one she could give to him now, and her heart leapt with joy, tears raining down.
"I didnít happen, Vincent, it was just a dream, just a horrible, horrible dream. Itís over now and youíre with me. Itís over, Vincent."
Wet tears fell upon her neck and shoulders, slipping down her chest and bosom, a gentle rain that cleansed everything before it. Suddenly, to her shocked surprise, she felt his mouth press against her pulsing throat. He moved upward, trailing kissing along that curving length, then along her jaw and chin, until he finally reached her mouth. He didnít hesitate, covering her trembling lips with his own and kissing her with a desperate strength.
A moment later he pulled away, just a little, to meet her gaze. The terror and grief in his own was still there, but fading now, replaced with an acute relief. His hands cupped her cheeks once more, but this time, despite the recognition which flared in his eyes - the recognition which told he was well aware of their exposed state beneath the covers - he didnít leave her.
" You are here, you are!"
He buried his face in the crook of her neck once more and held her tight, pressing his partially clothed body intimately along the naked length of her own.
"Iím here, Vincent, Iím here!" she assured him over and over again.
A long time passed as he held her thus, and she waited for his pounding heart to calm and his tears to stop. When the tension in him finally began to dissipate she spoke, trying to draw him out of the introspection she felt deepening within him.
"Iím here, Vincent. It was just a dream. Itís over now, itís over."
His arms tightened about her at the mere mention of that nightmare, but she didnít stop, somehow sure that they had to discuss this.
"Tell me about it, Vincent. Tell me about the dream."
His response came fast and hard, then softened a moment later, his voice husky and weak.
"No. It was horrible, Catherine, horrible. I canít... Donít speak of it."
His plea touched her heart, but she pressed on, knowing this would fester, that it would never end until he met his demons head on.
"Vincent, I was here the whole time, taking care of you. I watched your face and felt your emotions, felt them through our bond."
He started at those words, but she pressed on, reserving that question for later.
"I donít know the details, but... Vincent, I know I died in your dream. You donít have to hide it from me."
He flinched in pain at her words and shook his head in anguished denial.
"Please, Catherine, donít..."
"It wasnít real, Vincent. Iím here," she insisted.
Reaching to her side, she grasped his hand, pulling it up to press it tight to the region of her heart, between her breasts.
She felt a tension in him at that first contact, but he held his hand there, indeed pressed down harder, sliding it slightly to the left and covering her breast in order to feel her heartbeat fully. A massive sigh of relief escaped him and his hand slipped away to once again wrap around her waist, holding her tight. He slid down her length a ways and laid his cheek against that warm hollow, his ear pressed directly over her beating heart.
"Youíre here," he sighed.
The whispered response vibrated through her chest to nestle directly in her heart, and one hand came up to stroke his tousled golden hair, while the other circled his shoulders, holding him tightly to her. But the fact that he touched her so easily, despite his fears, the fact that he held her naked body close, refusing to release her... What could he have experienced in that dream?! That thought frightened her more than anything else right now. She waited a few minutes more before pressing him again.
She felt the tension growing in the muscles along his back, but he didnít pull away from her comforting warmth. A moment later he began to speak.
"You were taken from me, Catherine. Abducted by a man whose case you were investigating."
His voice started out hoarse and low, but by the time he reached the end she felt the furious wrath building in him to a fever pitch. He held it in, though, and if it werenít for the unusual strength of the bondís presence in her this night, she would never have been aware of that rage at all.
"Somehow the dream was woven to my illness. After the catacombs... When I finally recovered and we returned...
He swallowed hard, but went on, not explaining the reference to the tunnel place of burials.
"Afterwards my memory was hazy, I didnít remember much, but I knew enough to finally know what was missing. Our bond, Catherine. Our bond was gone. When he took you..." He flinched and she the pain shuddering through him. "I searched and searched, but I couldnít feel you. I couldnít find you! Oh, Catherine!"
He shivered and held her tighter, and she felt hot tears against her skin once more.
"Itís all right, Vincent, itís all right."
He spoke rapidly then, the words spilling out of him so quickly she wasnít even sure he knew what he was saying.
"So long... I searched for you for months. Day and night I searched, Catherine. I wouldnít give up!"
He looked up at her and his eyes beseeched her to believe him. As if she could ever doubt his love or loyalty.
"I know, Vincent, I know. You would never leave me, my love. Donít you think I know that?"
"And then, finally, one night I..."
His eyes took on a hesitant, confused look, but finally he finished the sentence.
"I felt something."
She didnít answer, watching him closely. There was something else here, something beyond what he was telling her, but his eyes were turned away from her own, and she decided to leave it untouched - for now.
"I followed it. I followed it and finally... finally, I found you."
A sob broke through and he clutched her tightly to him.
"I found you, but it was already too late, too late..."
He wept freely, pressing his face against her soft breasts, drawing comfort from her closeness during this awful retelling.
"They gave you a drug. We were alone together for just a moment before... Oh, Catherine, Catherine!"
He broke down altogether at that, weeping as if he might never stop.
"Shhhh... shhhh. Itís all right, Vincent, Iím here. Iím here, my love."
Over and over again she crooned the words lowly to him, rocking her body against his, letting her love wash over him in billowing waves, praying the absence of their bond in his dream didnít extend to the here and now. The bond lived between them, she knew that with an absolute certainty. She had felt it only a few times during the past two years, but now it was a strong presence in her - one she could not doubt. If it was indeed missing, she knew it was just a temporary absence, an aftermath of his illness. Finally the tension eased somewhat and his tears slowed. His next words stunned her, accustomed as she was to the strength of his barriers where their relationship was concerned.
"I canít exist without you, Catherine. If that were ever to happen..."
He clutched her to him and she clearly felt his terror. He spoke the truth - without her, he would not survive. She gasped at that realization, the certainty of it filling her completely. And now... Now he wasnít hiding that need from her. He was telling her... What? What was he telling her? And what was he not telling her?
"Vincent, you said you searched for me for months. Why did they keep me so long? What did they want?"
He had grown absolutely still at her first sentence, and she knew this was the right question, that this would lead to the heart of his fears.
"Tell me, Vincent, please."
He was silent for a long time, so long she wondered if he would acknowledge her question at all, much less answer it. Other avenues presented themselves, and she began to consider them, but those musings were interrupted by his voice, the words slow and halting.
"They wanted... They wanted the child you carried."
She was stunned. His words were vague - purposely so if she but knew it - but she jumped directly to the heart of the matter in a flash, no other possibility presenting itself.
"I was pregnant?! We had a child?!"
Her eyes were round with astonishment and something else. Excited pleasure, yes, that was it. He was stunned by her response. Heíd assumed that she would not have automatically thought of him as the father, but it was obviously the first thought in her mind. He couldnít yet see or accept that it was the only possibility for her now. And despite the fact that she lay naked against him, with his own clothing strategically undone, a dark flush swept over his throat to cover his face. How in the world had they come to this?! All he could manage was the shortest answer, in a bare whisper.
He couldnít bring himself to add anything more, distressed by the very thought of such a thing, and terrified by what it had represented in his nightmare. At the thought of that horrific vision, he began to shake, its hold on him still fresh and clear.
"They knew you were the father. They wanted our child... your child" Catherine said.
Her voice was quiet, but her eyes gazed steadily into his and he couldnít deny the truth of them. All that had transpired swept through him once again, the part the child had played preying on his mind. He couldnít stop the words that burst from him then.
"Yes! They wanted the child because he was mine! I let something happen that should never have been, and I lost the bond, and you, because of it! Donít you see?! This must never happen between us - never!"
He held her shoulders, shaking her, his eyes burning with anxiety and fear. When he saw what he was doing he gasped in dismay and released her abruptly, scooting back a few inches. But he could not withdraw his touch from her entirely - he was still too shaken and needed her near. His fingers gripped her own and beneath the covers their bent knees just touched, completing a physical circuit that comforted them both. He didnít speak for a few minutes more, and she clearly felt him actively seeking control. A silence suddenly filled the room and their bond and she knew heíd been successful.
"It must never happen, Catherine."
His voice was low and hoarse now, but it held a strength and certainty that brooked no defiance. She had to make him understand that he was wrong - she had to! And yet she knew that if she were to succeed she had to have that same strength. She concentrated on her pounding heart, willing it to ease, then closed her eyes and sought out the force she felt surrounding them. Their bond had always been an elusive thing to her in the past, but tonight it was almost a physical presence among them. She sought it out and it flowed within her, filling her with its power. When she opened her eyes, he was staring at her in confused uncertainty. Had he felt the shift in the bond? Did he feel it now?
"Vincent, please listen to me."
She stopped and waited, and though he didnít reply, he didnít move from the bed, and she took that as an assent to go on.
"I have another theory about your illness, and your dream. Can I tell you?"
A long pause ensued, but he finally nodded warily.
"You think your illness has to do with a struggle against the darkness you perceive within. You think it was that other side of you, fighting to get out, to gain control. Thatís what you think, isnít it?"
"Yes. It has to be, Catherine..."
His voice was hoarse, a trembling timbre there, but she stopped him before he could go further.
"I think so, too."
His mouth snapped shut and he looked both surprised and somewhat discomfited.
"But I donít think your response to it is the right one."
He began to shake his head sadly and she quickly hurried on.
"Vincent," she said, her voice rough with urgency, "you dreamt of coming to me in the sunlight! You said you had to reach me, no matter what."
His mouth dropped open with astonishment.
"How did you...?"
She interrupted him hurriedly, firmly resisting the distraction giving in to guilt would bring.
"I read your journal entry. Father was here earlier today. He brought some books, including your journal."
She rushed on, determined to make her thoughts clear to him on this matter once and for all, knowing that his vulnerable state presented an opportunity that might be long in coming again.
"Donít you see what it means, Vincent? In an attempt to protect me from that darkness you closed off your connection to it. That darkness is the source of your most primal emotions, especially rage and desire, and thatís what youíve attempted to close off, all in the name of my protection."
He was watching her intently, and now he nodded in quick assent.
"Yes, thatís what I have to do, Catherine. That part of me must be closed off to protect you, to protect everyone Below. You must see how necessary that is now, you must..."
"No! No one can live without their primal emotions, Vincent. It was the forced containment of those emotions which brought about your illness - and the dream."
His eyes widened and he shook his head in fierce denial.
"Yes, Vincent, itís true. I see it all so clearly now. Your illness was the struggle for your psyche to reunite itself, to be whole again. The harder you fought against it, the harder it fought back. And the dream confirms everything. In it you were finally successful in blocking those dark emotions, and what happened?"
His reply burst out, his voice hard, the words bitter and grim.
"I took you, Catherine! I took you and you conceived a child. The bond was lost to me because of what I did and I couldnít protect you when you needed me most. Thatís what happened, Catherine! That was the result of allowing my primal emotions free reign!
"No, Vincent, it wasnít that."
She spoke softly, gently, and he stared at her in shocked fascination and trepidation, waiting for her to go on.
"We made love and I became pregnant - just as you would most fear in real life. In response you made sure that it would never happen again. You made sure those emotions would never have dominance again. You blocked that side off completely, and thatís what caused the loss of our bond."
The words were intense, but she could hardly hear them, so low were they whispered.
"Yes. The bond must be tied to us at the most basic - the most primal - of all levels. When you blocked off those dark emotions, you blocked it, too. Without your dark side you lost the bond, and without the bond, you lost me."
The words were cold and final and he gasped in pain, one hand pulling away to press trembling against his heart. She swallowed the urge to comfort him, and instead went on ruthlessly.
"You lost me because you cut off your dark side. Without your dark side we no longer have our bond to guide us. Without your dark side you canít protect me."
"No, Catherine, no! Please..."
And now she finally allowed her voice to soften and her eyes implored his.
"Your dream was the bond forcing you to face what you need to know. But you wonít hear it. You wonít listen. Please believe me now, Vincent, because I know itís true. You need your dark side, and so do I."
She stopped then and waited for him to absorb what sheíd said, certain that she was absolutely right about it all. The bond spoke through her, too. It always had. She watched him intently, and could easily see the trembling fear in his eyes, the need to deny it all. She watched and waited silently and it was as if he barely breathed. His eyes stared blindly, focused elsewhere, someplace deep within. Suddenly a shudder quivered down his length and a groaning gasp escaped him. He turned away from her and curled up tight, wrapping his arms about himself. The muscles of his back and shoulders shook violently, she could clearly see it. Tears sprang to her eyes and spilled down her cheeks at the vulnerable sight before her.
She eased closer to his trembling length, then hesitantly molded her body along his back and wrapped one arm around his waist, her hand coming to rest on his broad chest. He quivered in tension at her touch upon him, but didnít move away, and a moment later she tentatively began to stroke over the region of his heart, trying to soothe the tumultuous beating there.
"I love you, Vincent."
Despite the many times sheíd said so this evening, the words still affected him strongly. They always would. He shivered in response and his hand covered hers, pressing it to his chest.
"I donít know what to believe, Catherine. Is seems there is only death waiting, no matter which way I turn."
"Oh, my love, thatís not true. Our love and our bond are here. As long as they live, so do we. Will you turn away from those? Will you turn away from me?"
He shook violently, his body trembling against hers. His hand grasped her own tightly, twining their fingers together with a fierce urgency.
"Donít leave me, Catherine, please!"
She couldnít tell if he was talking about this exact moment, or the broader issue of their future, the possibilities of their life together. She doubted he could have found the courage or conviction yet to ask the latter of her, but it was what really mattered, and so she answered that one nonetheless.
"I wonít. Iíll never leave you, Vincent. I belong with you. We belong together!"
A gasping shudder quivered through him and he turned back to her, pulling her into his arms. He pressed his mouth against her ear, whispering frantically.
"I love you, Catherine, I do. And I need you. Stay with me, please..."
Tears of both sorrow and joy sprang to her eyes, blurring her vision so that she became aware of it only when it happened. His mouth pressed to hers with an urgent hunger and he kissed her as if he might never stop.
It was all too soon when they had to pull back to draw in a much-needed, gasping breath of air. Their eyes met and she clearly saw the emotions at war within him. His dark side was there. It waited, edging ever closer. She knew Vincent felt it too, by the flickering fear still present.
She waited to see what he would do, but her own eyes entreated him to let the other come, to let all those emotions free. In the moonlit darkness his pupils suddenly dilated further, almost covering the iris altogether, and his eyes glittered in the night. A rushing sensation swept through her and she closed her eyes for a moment, a dizzying wave engulfing her. She felt it then, the swelling power of their bond, surging about and within them. When she opened her eyes once more, she saw the decision was made.
It was Vincent before her, the Vincent she knew and loved - all of him. She saw the tender scholar and the warrior both, merged together in stillness, waiting now for her. A whimpering moan of joy escaped her and she pulled him close, letting all her passion loose, no longer holding back.
"Oh, Vincent, Vincent!"
A rumbling growl coated the word and she shivered at the erotic sound of it, pressing closer yet to feel the vibration against her own chest. His hands swept up her body, touching her intimately, then finally stopped to frame her face, tilting her up so that their gazes met once more. Oh, god...
The look in his eyes almost made her swoon. He was here now, with her, and he wouldnít leave her. He pulled her to him and kissed her again fiercely, his passion meeting hers, urging her higher and higher. He tasted every texture of her mouth, drawing her in to experience the very essence there, her silky lips and raspy tongue, slick cool teeth and heated flesh. She moaned in blissful delight as he shared himself with her in that tasting. When he pulled away, she gasped in shocked dismay.
She reached out blindly as he left the bed, then stopped abruptly when she saw him pulling at his clothes. He threw his thermal shirt from him in frantic haste, then pushed his loosened trousers down and off, tugging his socks away and throwing them aside in the process. When his tall figure unfolded before her again she gasped at the erotic sight of him, naked and golden in the moonlight. How was it possible that he could appear even bigger without the typical layers of his clothing?!
His muscles were tautly defined and his chest expanded mightily with each gasping breath. Passion infused him, and she couldnít help but stare at the beauty of his naked body. She could find no words to describe the joy that sight inspired, but she knew they didnít need them, not now. He felt it clearly, through their bond, just as she easily read his astonished relief in response. She held her arms out to him and he came willingly, sliding under the covers and pulling her close.
"Oh, Catherine, I was so afraid!"
"I know, my love, I know. But you donít have to be afraid any longer."
She stroked his trembling back, and this time she knew it was a sign of his passion for her, and not of his fear. His erection surged strongly against her thigh and she gasped with delight, reaching for that tender flesh. She couldnít wait to touch him again, the memory of those moments such a short time ago still singing in her blood. He was hot and hard and pulsing with desire, and she knew it was all for her, only for her.
A gasping groan escaped him, and the rumbling growl grew louder. His own hands moved frantically upon her, his agitation growing. He caressed her breasts then cupped one, leaning down to kiss her tenderly. The kiss changed abruptly as that new experience caught him in its snare and he drew her taut nipple into the heat of his mouth, suckling upon her lustily. Her hand tightened upon him and his erection surged in her fingers, the pressure of his mouth increasing in response. He pulled her hand away from his turgid flesh and she felt herself pushed back to the mattress, a whimper of frustration escaping her at the absence of that steely strength. But she was instantly diverted as he pulled her arms up above her head to hold her crossed wrists with one hand while he nuzzled at her breasts, loving her with such intense concentration she didnít know if she could stand a minute more of it. When his other hand probed at the juncture of her thighs she opened to him gladly, crying out in ecstasy as his fingers found the silky heat waiting for him.
He moaned against her breast, his mouth hot and wet, while his hand continued to explore and caress her quivering flesh. She couldnít wait a minute longer, she absolutely couldnít, and called out to him with the same words that had stopped them in this same endeavor earlier this night.
"Now, Vincent, oh, please, now!"
This time he didnít stop. His hands released her and he pulled his body over hers, positioning himself intimately upon her. She drew her legs up, as she had before, only this time he reached for her knees, pulling them higher yet about him, opening her further to his lusty desires. He rubbed his turgid flesh against the wet heat of her own, groaning with pleasure at the blissful sensation that contact inspired. She reached down to guide him, his thrusting urgency huge in her small fingers, and led him to where he needed to be. Then she wrapped her arms around him and urged him forward, writhing against him in desperation.
"Please, Vincent, please!"
He pressed forward and slipped within, just a bit, the evocative sounds from his chest and throat rumbling against her breast and filling the darkness of the room.
"Yes, oh yes..." she whispered.
Catherine lay still beneath him now, waiting. With a gasping groan he drew up upon his knees, his body brushing erotically against hers as he moved. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close and tight once more, and flexed his hips strongly, sinking deep within her in one desperate thrust. They both cried out at the sensation of him there, filling her. And then he was kissing her, his tongue probing deep, mimicking what was yet to come. She didnít have long to wait. A moment more and his body began to rock against hers. His thrusts were slow and shallow at first, but they accelerated rapidly, until he writhed against her, seeking to touch her as deeply and thoroughly as possible. She arched her back, lifting to take all of him with a moan of pleasure and he held her there, his arms pulling her tight. His movements were frantic now, and she met his every thrust with the convulsive, gripping caress of her body, welcoming him in the luscious depths of her silky heat.
The thought came to them both at the same moment - this was where he belonged.
Neither knew how much time passed - it might have been minutes or hours - when suddenly, almost without warning, their bond expanded about them, encompassing them completely, and their passions exploded. His lusty growls disappeared in a rushing roar, partially cut off as he pressed his mouth to her pulsing throat, his teeth grazing the sensitive flesh there as his body swelled and throbbed within her. That surging strength pushed her over the edge altogether and she screamed out his name, lunging beneath him as waves of passion radiated through them both. It went on and on. Finally their bodies collapsed in an exhausted heap and their bond contracted, tight and small, closing them in a soothing sphere of blissful warmth, together, alone.
* * *
The sunlight warmed her face and Catherine shifted on the pillow, turning toward the light. Still half asleep, her eyes opened drowsily and encountered a vision. Vincent. He sat cross-legged on her bedroom floor, four or five feet back from the paned glass of her balcony door. It was opened slightly, and the sheers drifted lazily in the morning breeze. More amazing yet was the fact that they had actually been pulled apart a bit, and a six inch wide beam of sunlight sloped through the opening and down to the floor where he sat. Though his back was to her, she knew he was utterly absorbed by that new experience. His head was tilted up and back, and he didnít seem to be aware that sheíd wakened. It was so easy to imagine him captivated by the sensation of that warmth upon his face, perhaps even upon his chest, though she thought that unlikely - his cloak was wrapped about him. Beneath him was the soft-knit afghan she usually kept folded on the long, cushioned bench which sat at the foot of her bed.
She stared at him in astonishment, the memory of their night together filling her with images she found almost impossible to believe this morning. Her emotions were held with a tight reign now, though, so that she could enjoy this precious view of him for a few more minutes unnoticed. After considering the fact that he was here, in her apartment - in her bedroom! - in the sunlight and that he would most definitely have to stay until quite late into the evening, her control was woefully difficult to hold on to. Finally she slipped from the bed and bent to retrieve her robe from the floor. Her eyes never left him as she pulled it on and belted it around her slender waist and he made no motion that he heard. A minute later, as she approached him, he whispered out her name and she knew that he had been aware of her all along.
His voice always spoke volumes with that one simple word, but she shivered at the emotion and intensity in his husky tones now. Only when she stood beside him and to his right did he open his eyes, and then, as if it were destiny - and she was certain it must be - their eyes locked instantly, and she fell into the cerulean depths beneath her. Without conscious thought she sank to her knees, and without ever breaking that gaze he reached for her, though she knew it only when his hand actually touched her, slipping around her waist to rest at the small of her back, guiding her down to nestle beside him, with her legs curled beneath her and her body half turned to face him. The window was somewhat behind her now and the ray of light glittered just beside her shoulder, falling directly upon him.
As sheíd suspected, the light illuminated his face, casting the soft down upon his cheeks into a golden hue with shades of bronze. The silky coating along the bridge of his nose almost appeared white viewed in the sunlight, highlighting his face in a way that drew her irresistibly. Slowly, carefully, so as not to startle him, her hand rose and then stroked lightly along that velvety surface. He didnít pull away from her and a small corner of her mind noted this change with delight. The rest of her was focused entirely upon the sight of his face and the feel of those wonderful textures beneath her hand.
He, too, was immersed in the sensation, and she clearly felt a shivery expansion of bliss float through her from him. His eyes drifted shut and she trembled at the open expression as he sat before her, so vulnerable, and yet so utterly masculine. Her gaze moved downward, tracing the beam of light upon him, and suddenly she gasped with astonished delight. His cloak had been pulled open slightly, baring his chest to that unfamiliar warmth. She couldnít help herself then - she absolutely couldnít - her hand sliding down from his face to stroke gently upon that broad expanse of muscle, liberally coated with a dense thatch of coppery hair. Beneath her hand his chest suddenly expanded deeply and she glanced up in surprise to see him watching her, a look of such tender, trembling yearning in his eyes her breath caught in her throat. She felt his right hand covering hers, pressing her more strongly against him to feel the beat of his heart.
The word trailed off and his eyes entreated her, but he was silent now, a bemused look on his face.
"Tell me, Vincent."
Finally he spoke, his voice a low, hoarse whisper, full of astonished incredulity and wonder.
"Last night, Catherine... I need to tell you what last night meant to me. Iíve been trying to find the words."
With his left hand he reached to his side and retrieved the journal that was lying there. It fell open to the last entry and he turned it to her. She looked down at the script and breathed a ragged sigh of relief at the graceful handwriting there. There was nothing left of the jagged scrawl so present throughout the entry just before this one. She sighed heavily, but turned away from the words to stare up into his face.
"Vincent, your private thoughts are your own. I read that other entry because I was so frightened for you, but now..."
He interrupted her with a shake of his head and there was a tinge of humor in his voice, with just a shade of irony.
"How can you think there is anything I donít wish to share with you now?"
The reference to last night was clear, and her eyes widened with shocked surprise. The humorous tone was gone completely in the next moment, though, utter seriousness there and in his expression as his gaze locked with her own.
"Ever since that night, more than two years ago, almost all of my journal entries have been written to you. Yours is the counsel I seek. You are the one, Catherine, the only one I can tell of my deepest thoughts and dreams. When I am torn by indecision and doubt and plagued with uncertainty, when I donít know where to turn, you are always there, guiding me."
His right hand still covered her own, and now he squeezed it again, pressing it to his heart once more.
Tears sprang to her eyes, but she was heedless of them completely, seeing only her beloved before her.
"I love you, Catherine."
The tears spilled over at that low utterance, and at the tender, poignant love so clear in his eyes.
"I love you, Vincent."
Tears were suddenly evident in his eyes too, and he blinked them away. He still held her fingers to his chest with one hand and the journal with the other, and now he offered it once more, silently, solemnly. This time, after just a momentís hesitation, her hand slid reluctantly from beneath his, the wonderful combination of coarse silk slipping away. She took the journal, accepting his gift.
My Dearest Catherine,
Today I think perhaps my thoughts are too large to be contained within this earthbound book. Surely the pages will float away or burst into flame at even the slightest description of my joy. What can I possibly say to explain the way I feel?
The light and dark within me have collided many times, but this time was unlike any other. There was no clash, but rather the most perfect merging. Amazingly enough I feel that dark side still, lying peaceful and close, and for once I have no fear or trepidation at its presence. For once I am grateful for his calm strength within me, close and soothing and safe.
You have given this to me, Catherine. You showed me what I would not see. You forced me to face my fears, and in that facing, I have found a joy so pure and a bliss so intense that it defies description, and yet I cannot stop attempting the impossible. Over and over again this morning, while waiting anxiously for you to wake, I have relived those hours we shared together last night.
How can I explain to you the terror I felt as you called to that deep, dark part of me hidden within, urging its release? The relentless fear and dread of that dark power held me frozen, and I wanted to run, to leave you before you felt its icy touch. I felt it, Catherine, as I have so often in the past. I felt its approach, a power swelling through me to announce his presence. How I feared for you...
And yet I could not leave.
So much of the recent past is just a hazy memory to me, yet I remember some things so very clearly. Twice, here in your apartment, I saw the other. He was here, and he was watching you. I was no threat to him then - that was clear. I could do nothing to banish him in my weakened state. But I saw his expression and knew his intent. You, Catherine, he wanted you. The rage I felt then...
I wanted to kill him for daring to think of you that way, for defiling the purity of our love, and yet... Somewhere deep inside, Catherine, despite my certainty that this entity was separate and apart from myself, I shared those longings and knew first hand the needs - the demands - of our love.
I hadnít been able to accept that you truly love me, afraid of what it would mean for you, for your life apart from me, but the other... He knew, Catherine, he knew! I could see it in his face as he watched you...
As I watched you.
He accepted your love. He accepted his right to it. He knew you were his.
Even now, as I write those words, a shudder fills me. This must not be! You must not be tied to me and to my world. You belong in the sunlight, Above. And yet I know you belong with me, too, and that I belong Below. We belong together, and somehow, someway, whether Above or Below, our lives are entwined. But that is not what I thought of then, while I watched him... watching you...
He looked at you in a way that shocked me. There was such certainty in his glance, such assurance. His eyes traveled over your body as you moved unsuspecting about the room. It was more than desire, more than lust, but rather a calm confidence that what he wanted was his for the taking. How I feared for you then. I was so afraid that he... that I...
Oh, Catherine, the very thought of such a thing is beyond bearing to me. What if I had hurt you? What if you struggled and I was unable to stop? Those thoughts almost overwhelm me, but I am caught by the knowledge that those things did not happen, that what we shared was beyond glorious, beyond ecstasy. Never in my life have I experienced such pleasure as you gave to me last night. Even now, just thinking of it...
When will you wake, Catherine?! I both dread and crave you beside me again. How will I look at you? What will we say? There is so much I want to share with you now. I want to tell you everything Iíve never been able to say before. I want to touch you, everywhere, and feel the tender caress of your fingers and mouth upon me again, bringing me to that peak of blissful delights once more. I want to be inside you, Catherine, to feel again the satiny heat of your most tender, hidden flesh, holding me tight, loving me beyond comprehension.
Oh, god, when will you wake?! Itís all I can do not to cast my thoughts to you through our bond, to draw you out of your sleepy dreams and pull you to me, into my waiting arms.
Catherine, there is more. But how can I speak of it? Just know that the bliss I felt in your arms was the absolute antithesis to what I experienced in my feverish nightmare. You were gone and I was utterly alone. I couldnít feel you, Catherine, not at all! I struggled so to find you and raged against the fates that had taken our bond from me, and you with it. I cannot begin to describe it, the agony of your absence. No, I canít speak of it. Perhaps one day I can look back on it and say Ďit was only a dreamí...
Perhaps one day, but not now. It is too dark and too dreadful for thought or words.
But I can tell you this, Catherine, you were right. I was afraid of the bond and all it represented - the potential and the power both. I was afraid that it would be used by that primal side of me to lure you to him for his dark designs. I closed it off to protect you from him, but I lost everything in the attempt. Now I see that those dark designs are nothing more than desire, and that that desire springs from my love. But I couldnít see it before, and in my dream I paid the ultimate price for that blindness.
Never again, Catherine - never again!
I will not deny my love and need of you ever again, not to you, not to Father and not to myself. I will love you always, Catherine, and I will take all that you offer me joyfully, willingly, with open heart and open arms. No more will I struggle against our destiny and our dream. I choose you. Everything in me, both bright and dark, chooses you.
And so I sit here, inside your room, watching the sun and clouds and sky, a growing warmth upon my chest that feels so foreign, and yet so right. The morning is waning and the sun is warm upon me, yet I feel a deeper heat within. I feel the heat of my desire for you, and if you donít wake and come to me soon I must go to you and take you from your dreams so that we might make our own - together.
Now and forever, you have my heart always,
Catherine sat facing him, at his side, the journal nestled in her hands, her head bowed over it, and yet he was somehow sure she had finished reading the words there. Throughout the last few minutes he had felt the chaotic churning of her emotions; blissful joy, love, terror, grief, relief and passion, all mixed wildly together as she read his most intimate thoughts. A stillness had supplanted those emotions now, though, and he held his breath, suddenly unsure of himself. Was he moving to fast? Assuming too much? His heart began to beat erratically, painfully, and he drew in a gasping breath, when her head rose and her eyes met his.
The light that shone there was almost too painful to look upon. She stared up at him with her heart in her eyes, and there was no denying the truth shining out of those silvery gray depths. Catherine loved him. Catherine desired him. Catherine wanted to be with him - always. She didnít speak, and he felt himself frozen within the spotlight of her gaze. When her hand reached up to stroke his cheek, he couldnít move at all, watching her with a fierce yet vulnerable intensity.
Her palm was silky soft and oh-so-warm upon him. She stroked tenderly along the satiny fine hairs there and then, without pause, slid down his throat to his chest, her eyes never leaving his. She held his gaze with a power that was irresistible, and though he wanted to look down to see the stunningly impossible sight of her hand caressing his muscled breast, he couldnít.
The hair upon his body was thick in some places, thin to absent in others, and he felt the difference acutely now as she touched him. Sliding beneath the edges of his cloak to slip along his shoulder and upper arm he felt the full warmth of her palm heating his skin, almost bare to her intimate touch. When she slid to the center of his chest, then stroked outward, fingers delving deep into the silky thatch of fur-like hair coating him there, he shivered in excitement, goosebumps rising along his quivered flesh. Her eyes held him still, but he blinked hazily, a shivery pleasure spreading through his whole body like wildfire. It filled his taut muscles completely until they trembled in expectation, heat radiating outward until he felt immersed within it. A painful, pulsing ache grew at his center, and he couldnít stop the low growl that escaped him, though his eyes never left hers.
Whether he felt her intention through the bond, or saw a flicker first in her sea-gray eyes, he wasnít sure, but he sucked in a gasping breath, his abdomen muscles rigidly taut, a fleeting moment before her hand slid lower. He knew without seeing it the instant her fingers disappeared beneath the edges of his cloak where they were pulled loosely together in gathered folds at his waist. Despite that forewarning, his mouth dropped open and his eyes flew wide in astonished disbelief when her hand closed about him.
Oh, god! He couldnít stand it... he couldnít! Her touch - so simple, so tender - was an ecstasy beyond belief!
The word was a groaning growl, a yearning, erotic sound that both pleaded and demanded, and Catherine answered that urging, her palm tightening about him for an instant before loosening again to allow her fingers free reign upon him. He felt her lovingly trace his taut, pulsing flesh and watched her face in astonishment, waiting for some sign of revulsion or doubt.
It never came.
The pleasure on her face deepened as her caresses grew, the intimacy of her touches shocking him. Her hand tightened again about him and began a stroking motion, and he couldnít contain the moaning cry that filled the room, lingering somewhere above them, echoing through their wildly aroused bodies. Her eyes closed languidly then and she leaned in toward him and nuzzled beneath strands of gold. She found his ear and pressed her lips upon him, breathing hotly, and he gasped in ecstasy, surging strongly in her small hand.
He needed her now - now! - but held tight to the last vestiges of his control until he felt the soft, wet tip of her tongue trace the inner curve of his ear. A rumbling growl erupted from deep in his chest and his arms swept about her and lifted her close. Her hand fell away from his aching flesh and he groaned loudly at that absence, desperate to regain the intimacy of her touch once more. He drew her to his chest, one hand drawing her knee to his side, clearly telling her what he wanted. Her arms grasped his shoulders, holding herself tightly to him as she slid her legs about his waist beneath the dark waves of his cloak. Her body sank down and his embrace tightened, guiding her. He felt her creamy warmth against his most sensitive flesh and they both cried out in joy, anticipation filling them. Slowly he lowered her upon him, impaling his steely strength within her tight, welcoming sheath.
Catherine moaned out and he knew it was a cry of pleasure, not of pain, and did not stop, pressing deeper within, filling her until he was immersed almost completely in her liquid heat. The silk of her robe rubbed against his torso but he needed her satiny skin touching him now and one hand slid between them to tug open the folds until her bare breasts nestled tight against his muscled chest. Her turgid nipples brushed enticingly through the velvety thatch of hair coating him as she writhed upon him and he cried out when they contacted his own taut peaks, shivery waves of ecstasy emanating off him. His arms tightened automatically in response, pulling her down, and she groaned fiercely as he pressed himself deeper within her silky depths.
A new sound rose up from her, vibrating against him, and Vincent pulled away slightly, his eyes anxiously seeking hers. Her own were open wide with stunned surprise and she panted heavily. Her muscles quivered about his invading flesh in sporadic convulsions, and a sudden fear filled him.
The urgent alarm in him communicated itself to her in an instant, both through his eyes and in the sudden tension of his body. She felt his intent a moment before he moved and tightened her arms about his shoulders, gripping him strongly. With a feverish intensity that shocked him she cried out in desperation, "No! Wait!"
Her eyes entreated his while at the same moment her legs tightened about him and silky muscles deep inside clenched fiercely, holding him captive. He gasped in astonishment, amazed that a body so small and delicately built could contain such strength. He felt huge within her, and yet even now he could feel her body adapting to his, taking him and drawing him deeper.
Too much... it was too much...
His head fell back and a groaning growl filled the room. Her silky flesh gripped him deep, deep inside and he felt the very tip of his pulsing sex press against quivering, ridged tissue. That flesh expanded and contracted quickly and he gasped in shock as he felt his sensitive tip intimately caressed by that movement. He shuddered fiercely and his turgid flesh surged wildly within her, the unbelievably erotic sensation catching them both by surprise. Their eyes met in stunned disbelief and he watched as she fell over the edge, her body convulsing ferociously about him.
Her whimpering cries, writhing limbs and churning muscles drew him instantly with their sirenís call and he followed. Though it seemed impossible, he tightened his hold upon her, pulling her closer yet, and a rushing roar of sound emerged. It threatened to break through the confines of the thin walls surrounding them, and with the deep, instinctive sense of preservation inherent in him, Vincent partially buried that erotically haunting sound, pressing his open mouth over the pulsing heat of her throat. He caught the scent of her warm blood just beneath the surface and a red haze washed over him as his swelling flesh erupted within her clutching core.
Liquid heat tore through him and he groaned heavily against her, hot torrents of salty fire licking his flesh and filling her. His arms grasped her tightly to him, holding her close. Finally he gasped in ragged relief and his muscles relaxed, loosening about her, though he still held her close and secure. She settled deeply to the vee of his lap, tiny spasms still wracking her from within. Shivery caresses trickled along the length of his thick flesh, which still nestled inside, unreleased, and low groans whispered out by both blended in the space between them as they absorbed the last erotic shudders of their bodiesí response to each other.
"I love you, Catherine. I love you!"
His husky whisper wove itís way to her very heart and shivers enveloped her once more as his mouth pressed a warm kiss against the side of her neck.
"I love you, Vincent," she crooned lowly to him, caressing his back to soothe the trembling still there.
She felt a shudder quiver down his length and trembled at the knowledge of the power those words from her held over him. She tightened her embrace about him and murmured soothing, loving words, deep and low.
"Always, my love, always! Forever and always I will love only you. You are the only one who will ever touch me like this, and I give you everything I have and am. I will always be with you, Vincent, and anything you want or need - anything! - I will give to you, freely and without hesitation. Body and soul, forever and always, I am yours, only yours."
He clutched her to him fiercely at those words, a groaning cry rumbling through his chest. Her eyes flew open wide with shocked disbelief as she felt him begin to grow within her again. Despite that incontrovertible evidence of his love and desire for her, he pulled back from her a little, and his hands rose to frame her face, his eyes entreating hers.
"Donít, Catherine, donít! Itís too much for you to give - too much! I cannot accept such a sacrifice from you. Donít you see? You must be free to live your life, here, in the sunlight, Above..."
He stopped abruptly, a flush sweeping over his face as the recollection of his journal thoughts, - of the resolute commitment there - so recently written, filled him. Nonetheless, he nodded out past her shoulder, to her right, and she suddenly noticed that he must have turned them slightly some time ago because now the sun, which had been striking him square on the chest earlier and so should be straight upon her back, now beamed down upon them both, on their sides, warmth and light illuminating them together. She sighed, trying to find the words to tell him that none of that mattered, that only he did. He had to know that, didnít he? He had to.
Suddenly she was sure that he did. No, she was through stating the obvious. If he could be obstinate enough to turn a blind eye to what they both knew so well, then perhaps a different tack was required. A quiver of humor shot through her at the thought, but she suppressed it tightly, unwilling to let him off the hook too easily.
"Donít you want me, Vincent?"
Her eyes gazed soulfully into his and he gasped with surprise and dismay at her words, blinking rapidly in shocked confusion. That he wanted her was undeniable. Even now, despite his words, his erection was surging within her, growing thicker and longer in an erotic attempt to touch her everywhere. She pressed on quickly, not letting him answer - yet.
"Would you have someone else touch me like this?"
He gasped loudly, and she could easily read his emotions at even the mere suggestion of such a thing; shock, pain, rage and a fierce possession flowing through him.
"Do you want me to touch someone else, Vincent? To love someone else like this?"
She tightened the muscles holding his pulsing sex and caressed him intimately with her velvety grip, deep inside, pushing her words home in the most dramatic way he could possibly have imagined.
His eyes squeezed shut at the erotic intimacy of that touch, a loud moan pulled from him in response. Behind closed lids he fought away the image she had built - that of another holding her, touching her, inside her, like he was now.
His eyes flew open wide and the answer erupted, unstoppable, and Catherine smiled.
"Then donít push me away any more. Donít deny what is undeniable between us."
Her next words shocked him. It was as if she knew of the very details of his imaginings of a moment ago.
"It doesnít matter what you say or do, Vincent. Itís not your choice. Itís not even mine - not any longer. No other man will ever hold me, touch me, or be inside me like you are now. Only you, Vincent, only you."
He stared at her in stunned disbelief, dazed by both her words and her actions, her sensual touches deep inside overwhelming him entirely.
A knock on the door shocked them out of their deep focus on each other and without thought Vincent surged to his feet, carrying her with him. Catherine groaned loudly at that action, his pulsing sex still hard within her, the precipitous action thrusting him deeper yet without his conscious intent.
He felt her response and heard her cry at the same moment, pressing her back against a wall in the bedroom with shocked dismay. He tried to use the leverage of the wall, his body and his arms to steady her and retract himself, but she held him tightly with both arms and legs and he couldnít release her. He scanned her face and their bond in horror, searching for any sign that she was in pain, but found instead an erotic passion building there, her mouth open in gasping pants, the lines of her face tense with arousal. Her breasts were pressed tightly to him and he felt their peaks grow taut and tight. He felt the aching there, the yearning for his touch. He craved the taste of her upon his tongue, in his mouth... He wanted her so badly... so badly. He had to kiss that luscious mouth, he had to...
Their attention was turned abruptly to the door in the other room and a second later the knock repeated itself. But it was the soft, tentative voice that shocked them both, surprising them out of their lusty desires in an instant, though their inflamed bodies still throbbed with unfulfilled need. Father!
"Oh, god!" Catherine whispered, recollection filling her, "he said he would be here this morning, but I forgot!"
Vincentís face turned from the direction of the door to meet her frantic gaze and his hands moved to cup her cheeks, their bodies still tightly joined.
"Shhh, itís all right."
He held her firmly for a moment, his gaze locked with her own, then his hands slid down her body to press at the juncture of her hips and thighs, urging her to loosen her grip. Her muscles quivered at his touch, then relaxed a bit and he resolutely withdrew himself from her tender clasp. Catherine whimpered as he left her, wanting him back with a hunger that was almost overpowering. He lowered her to her feet and held her close, his body pressed against hers, till the dizzying wave had passed. The knock sounded again and Jacobís voice called out a little louder, a tremor of fear there that neither inside missed.
"You have to let him in, Catherine, heís worried."
Her expression then was enigmatic but it gave him pause. Somehow he thought that perhaps his worries would best be reserved for himself once Father had left them alone together again.
Before he could form a thought more coherent than that she had slipped away from him. He watched from between the slats of the shattered louver doors as she walked slowly, pulling her robe closed and belting it firmly in the process. His own disheveled and vulnerable state was brought home in that instant and he pulled his cloak tightly about himself, desperately wishing the anxiety now filling him would extend to his body as well, subduing his raging arousal in the process. He glanced quickly to the bed and gasped in dismay at the rumpled bedcovers and his own scattered clothing on the floor beside it. There would be no hiding the events of this night from his observant parent, of that he had no doubt.
"Catherine! Is Vincent all right?!"
Vincentís attention was drawn back to the front door once more, in time to see Fatherís anxious expression a second before Catherineís hurried response.
"Heís fine, Father. Vincentís fine!"
Jacobís concern melted into vivid relief and his eyes flew toward the bedroom a moment before his feet could take him in that direction. In that instant Vincent stepped around the door and quickly moved to stand across the room from him, on the other side of Catherineís dining room table, using the high-backed chair as a shield of sorts, his cloak clutched tightly closed in clenched fists.
"Iím here, Father."
Father rushed to him, a wave of relieved distress proceeding him. Vincent had always been empathic, more so with Father than anyone else, until Catherine entered his life. The bond he shared with her was so far beyond those weaker sensations he received from others, though, including Father, that he never even considered it in the same category. But this was a strong sensation, and he knew it was indicative of the dread he had felt throughout his illness. Terror, despair, grief - he felt them all now as his father approached, and knew the depths of his fears for him. Those overwhelming sensations engulfed him, accomplishing what he had been unable to do himself a minute ago. His body cooled in an instant, all thoughts now focused on his approaching parent, and he moved to meet him, their arms reaching out for each other in a desperate, mutual need to comfort and be comforted.
They held each other tight, their embrace long and profound. When Father finally pulled away, it was only to urge his son down to the chair behind him and to look blindly about for his bag. He wiped at his eyes, brushing away the tears there in an unselfconscious gesture, and Catherine hurried to him, the bag in hand.
"Here it is, Father."
She held it out to him, but instead of taking it he pulled her close, hugging her long and hard.
"Thank you, Catherine. Thank you for taking care of my son. Without you..."
He couldnít go on, but everyone knew of the fears he could not name.
Catherine dropped the bag and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tight in return. Neither spoke, but it was a comforting, cleansing silence.
"First things first," Father said firmly, breaking the embrace. He opened his bag and brought out the ever-present stethoscope, slipping it on in a seamless, instinctive motion. He pulled the cloak aside to bare Vincentís left breast and paused for a moment, his eyes narrowing, as he took in what little he could see of the naked body beneath the dark fabric, the thick hair on his chest damp with sweat, his skin hot and flushed. The pause lasted only for a second, and Catherine did not note it, but Vincent did. He remained silent, however, his hands clasped firmly in his lap as Father proceeded to check his heartbeat.
After a moment he moved behind the chair and pushed Vincent forward a bit so that he could reach his back. Rather than attempting to maneuver through the neck of the cloak and the wild hair flowing over his sonís shoulders, he instead slipped his hand into the loose, open sleeve which left one arm mostly bare, sliding the stethoscope to the center of his naked back. He turned slightly, listening intently, and this time neither Catherine nor Vincent saw him glance surreptitiously into the other room to take in the disheveled scene about her bed.
Finally he moved around in front of his son once more and pulled another chair forward to sit before him. Taking his wrist in hand he opened his pocket watch to count out the pulse there. Everyone was quiet during this procedure and a moment later the watch clicked shut, the sound loud in the silence. Tucking the watch back in his vest pocket, his head still bowed, Father began to speak.
"Well, Vincent, you seem amazingly well, all things considered. One might almost call it a miraculous recovery, under the circumstances."
He looked up to meet his sonís eyes and Vincentís own widened in stunned recognition at the knowledge and humor there. He didnít know what to say, but his parent apparently was not yet through.
"I think itís safe to say youíve finally found what you needed - in spite of my own stupidity in this regard."
He glanced over his shoulder at the woman his son loved - whom he loved as the daughter heíd never had - and smiled affectionately at the stunned look of surprise that suddenly appeared on her face.
"In my opinion, I donít think weíll need to worry about this illness of yours ever repeating itself again - thank god!"
The humor in his voice was completely gone by the last two words - utter seriousness and grateful relief coating them entirely.
"Now, I see that I am completely unnecessary here, so Iíll leave you two alone to, er, finish whatever it was you were doing."
His chuckle then was decidedly on the bawdy side and both Catherine and Vincent blushed a deep pink, though it was admittedly more difficult to see it in his case. Jacob bent to retrieve his case, slipping the stethoscope back in and buckling the metal clasps firmly, before turning to leave them. Vincent found some remnant of composure in that moment, and stood, drawing the older man back into his embrace before he could move toward the door.
"Youíll always be necessary to me, Father - always. Without you I would have nothing, not my life Below and not Catherine. I owe you everything, you know that, donít you?"
Their gazes locked and held, and Catherine sighed at the sight before her - a father and son in complete understanding. Father chose not to let the moment slide further into sentimentality, though, and spoke gruffly, fooling no one, "All right, my boy, all right. Make sure no one sees you returning tonight - be careful. Youíve still got a bit of recovering to do."
He turned away and Catherine walked the remaining few feet with him to the door, her arm tucked in his. He stopped, his hand on the knob, and turned back to his son, who had moved toward the bedroom and was even now slipping behind the remains of the louvered doors, out of sight of any who might pass by for those few seconds while the outer door was open. The large figure stepped back out, halfway around the door, to listen attentively to his fatherís parting words.
"In fact, perhaps it would be best if you stayed here for a few days more. I really have so much to do Below and you would just be in the way, distracting Mary and the others unnecessarily. You have the weekend off, donít you, Catherine? If it would be no trouble, would you very much mind...?"
Catherineís merry laugh rang out and she hugged him close, watching Vincentís stunned expression over the older manís shoulder.
"No, Father, I donít mind. Really, it would be no bother - no bother at all!"
"Good. I thought not." He patted her cheek in a fatherly gesture then winked back at his son, before finally leaving the apartment.
Catherine kept the door open a crack and watched till heíd gotten on the elevator, then shut and locked it securely, finally turning back to lean against the door, an enigmatic look upon her face. Vincent recognized it as the one he had seen just after theyíd heard the knock at the door. He stood where he had been a moment ago, too stunned by his fatherís last suggestion to have hid himself completely out of sight - a telling sign of the degree of his confusion. His eyes widened at her expression, his bemusement deepening.
She didnít answer, but instead pushed away from the door and walked toward him slowly. When she was about midway to him she stopped and her hands reached up to undo the belt of her robe letting it fall open to bare her body to his hungry eyes. Her breasts gleamed in the sunlight, the nipples taut and high, as if begging for his touch. Her slim torso was a study in contrasts, both delicate and delightfully muscled, reminding him all too clearly of how sheíd met his every thrust with the vigorous energy of her own body. From there his eyes were drawn inexorably to the tangle of silky curls at the juncture of her thighs. The memory of what lay beyond that feminine spot made him shiver. The sensation suddenly swept over him of her velvety caresses against his taut flesh and in an instant his body responded in arousal.
Vincentís hands still clutched the folds of his cloak protectively about his body and her eyes were drawn down to that region instantly, knowing his response to her was as inevitable as hers was to him - their bond would always see to that. Moving forward once again, she finally reached him. She took hold of the rolled leather at the shoulders of his cloak and pulled him with her until they stood against the wall of her bedroom, where they had been when Father first arrived. Her hands brushed his, barely touching them, but he knew what she wanted and immediately released the tight grip he had on the woolen fabric. The cloak parted and his beautiful body was naked to her once more.
"Now where were we?" Catherine sighed lustfully.
* * *
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not touched by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be bond that was broken:
The crownless again shall be king.
With apologies to J. R. R. Tolkien - The Fellowship Of The Ring
(The Lord of the Rings)