From Whence Comforts Have Increased

Sigyn

"I just canít, Tom."

Tom pulled away from Cathyís beautiful neck. The scar on the edge of her cheek was the only visible remnant of her attack. Yet there were scars inside he couldnít see. "I know itís been hard, Cathy," he said. "I know things arenít quite right yet, and Iíve been generous, giving you time to heal. But Cathy, itís been eight months! You need to help me. We need to go forward together, or you wonít go forward at all."

"Iíve been going forward, Tom," Cathy said. "But Iím not ready for this."

Tom sighed, his hopes dashed yet again. He pulled away from Cathy and started to readjust his clothes. He tightened his tie, straightened his jacket. "Fine," he said. "If youíre ever ready, you know who to call."

Cathy was left alone on her couch. "Tom," she called, trying to get him to understand. "Tom!" But he was already collecting his briefcase.

"How long do you expect me to wait, Cathy?" Tom asked before he opened the door and strode out.

Catherine sighed, disgusted with herself as much as him. It had been a perfect evening, and Tom was acting like a gentleman for once. And yet... and yet.

Ever since her attack, (and those ten days she was missing, hissed a part of her) she hadnít wanted anyone to touch her. No, more than that. It was as if her body was repugnant to her. She didnít enjoy being inside it, and she didnít want anyone to violate it again.

Violate. Catherine sighed. She began to wonder if there was more to her attack than she remembered. There was something inherently sexual in the parts she could remember, the knife, the men, the tone of their voices. But even as her thoughts traveled that road she slammed the brake on them. If she had forgotten some of the particulars of the attack, her brain had done it for a reason. Why open up a can of worms if she didnít have to? If the men were ever caught they would get a stronger sentence for aggravated assault than they would for rape. The laws in New York still werenít up to her standards. There was no way to prove it anyway. She didnít even know what state her clothes had been in, as by the time sheíd woken up... she had been tenderly bathed and changed into warm, clean clothes, and tucked into a bed with a wild, tangy scent... And the Voice was ready to soothe away the pain and the fear.

Vincent. Her first memory of him was always the voice. Intermingled was the scent which permeated his bedclothes, himself, heady and male. Then his gentle touch as he smoothed her blankets or helped her to the toilet. Then he would draw the curtain, (the curtain, not a door) and wait for her to tell him she needed help again. Only then his face returned to her, the wild soft hair, the soft blue eyes, and... the rest of it. As impossible and beautiful as it was.

She was becoming more and more convinced she had imagined the whole thing. She had returned to her sub-basement and wandered for approximately ten minutes before realizing she would become hopelessly lost in those tunnels before she found her way back to... where ever she thought she had been. If it existed at all. But if she had imagined it, then what had happened to her for those ten days?

Again, her mind stopped traveling down that road. In truth, it didnít matter. The attack had happened. Someone had tended her (the stitches on her face had proved that.) She was whole and healthy now, eight months after. Nothing mattered but getting her life back on track.

She missed nothing. She was starting self-defense classes, she had fought her way into the DAís office, her face was healed, her life was settling back on track.

But Tom was right. There was one part of her life she had closed the door on, and couldnít seem to open it again. She no longer seemed to own her own body.

Cathy sighed. Very well, then. Memories didnít matter. The truth didnít matter. Her life was organized, and she felt good about herself. Whether Tom was involved or not (and she felt very ambivalent about him) she needed to take control of her own body again.

Her first step was a bath. She lit some candles, started a tape of cello concertos, and turned off all the lights. The heat from the water eased the tension from her muscles and wiped the memory of Tomís disappointment away.

(And hundreds of feet below, her peace and comfort conveyed itself to someone who fell blissfully asleep. )

An hour later Catherine got out of the bath, and dried herself luxuriously with a fresh towel. She rubbed lavender body lotion into her skin, touching almost every part of her. Her calves, her ankles, her instep, between her toes. This is mine, she told herself on every part she touched. This is my own. My own to enjoy as I wish. She massaged her stomach, her forearms, up and over her shoulders, her neck. It was working. For the first time she was beginning to enjoy her skin again. Her hands traveled down her breasts, massaging them gently with the lotion. Lightly, deliberately, she circled her nipples and then ran her fingers sensuously over them. A gentle shock of pleasure rippled through her, and she smiled. Yes. She would be whole again.

(Below, someone groaned in his sleep, shifting restlessly on the pillows. )

Catherine abandoned the bathroom and slipped a sensuous silken nightgown over her head. Preparing to sleep after, she slowly put out every candle, enjoying the scent of smoke and ozone as each tiny flame sputtered into darkness. This too was hers, the joy of scents, of music, of the taste of food. She could feel herself anticipating, her body slowly swelling under her carefully sensual thoughts. She was ready.

She retreated to her bed and ran her hands over the silk, enjoying the feel of her body beneath her fingers, the feel of her fingertips rippling her skin. Slowly she lifted the silken gown and traced her fingers up her thigh. When she found the damp fur between her legs she hesitated, making sure her body was ready. First she rubbed her outer lips, reveling in the smooth skin she found beneath her fingertips. A droplet of moisture squeezed out and she rubbed her fingers in it, leading the slippery bead up to the knot of her clitoris, which seemed hungrier than she had realized.

It didnít take long before her patience and fear faded before urgent need. Her gentle ministrations turned to a deep pressure, and then to a fast and rough demand, as if she would turn herself inside out in pursuit of a single goal. As the first wave of orgasm washed over her the Voice came to her. "Catherine!" Her eyes opened in shock and she continued to push on the spot. A vision of his face swam before her in the darkness, and she wondered at it. As the final waves of pleasure drifted away, she let herself lie bonelessly on the bed.

A wave of remorse followed the pleasure. Not for what she had just done, but for Tom. No wonder she hadnít wanted him to touch her. It wasnít Tom she wanted. No matter how many times she had tried to avoid it, it was Vincent who dominated her waking thoughts. Vincent who wormed his way into her dreams. Vincent.

Oh, God, Iím in love with him, she realized. Iím in love with him and he might not even exist.

She sighed. As she had abandoned the road her thoughts had traveled on her attack, she had turned away from the road which held her feelings for Vincent. She could do nothing about it. Instead she smiled in satisfaction at her success. Her body was her own again, and in the pounding of her blood in her ears she knew no one would ever take it from her again. It was a good thing, too. No wonder she had been feeling antsy. She had badly needed release. She flipped over and snuggled happily into the sheets. She had changed, she was not the same person she had been before the attack. But now, even though she was a different person, she was fully and finally herself again.

***

Vincent woke up as wave after wave of pleasure washed through him. He raged against it without success. He was hard against his nightclothes, and his sense of Catherine was so strong he could almost taste her. "Catherine!" He rolled onto his stomach, his claws ripping gouges in his bedclothes. Another wave hit him and his reserve broke along with a surge inside his clothes. He roared into his pillows in ecstasy and rage, angry at himself for his weakness.

Spent, every muscle aching, he panted into his pillow, chastising himself. He hadnít had a dream like that for years, not since he had told himself he could no longer indulge in them, and all thoughts of women were abandoned to the realm of the theoretical.

He had to stop thinking of Catherine. It was getting dangerous. At the moment she felt satisfied, contented, and completely alone. She did not feel that way when with her fiancť, so he knew his dream had been just that; a dream, concocted only from his own imagination. It could have nothing to do with Catherine, so pure, so perfect in his mind, in his heart. Stop it, he told himself. You canít love her. Let it go.

But he couldnít.

So why did he feel so content all of a sudden?

He set out to wash his clothes immediately, before anyone could discover his shame.

***

Two days passed, and Vincent did not succumb to any more wet dreams. He drew his thoughts away from Catherine, even when she was at her happiest, or most confused. The only time he couldnít distract himself from her was a moment during her self-defense class when a surge of pure power rushed through her, and made him chuckle in sympathy. He knew how that felt.

Tonight he was playing chess with Father, and his thoughts were, he believed, as far from Catherine as he could get. She was home, filled with sleepy thoughts and emotions. He could Ė almost Ė forget her.

"Check," said Father with triumph, which Vincent had expected. Without waiting he moved his bishop, which both captured Fatherís knight and protected his own king. Father sighed and reassessed the board.

And Vincent gasped. What was this? A tingle of pleasure tickled his brain, and his senses were overwhelmed again with a sense of Catherine. He could feel himself swelling as he realized Catherineís desire and pleasure grew. "Father, excuse me."

He stood up so quickly that the board overturned, and Father jumped back in alarm. "Vincent?"

"I just... excuse me." He fought against the feelings as he blindly sought the exit from Fatherís library.

Once he was safely alone in the tunnels he leaned against the wall, gasping, as pleasure rippled through his mind, echoing into his body. He gasped and grunted as his groin swelled in an attempt to find friction against something that wasnít there. Finally he felt a climax, but not, this time, in his body. Relief and release shocked through him and he grunted. When it stopped he found he had gripped four even puncture marks into his arm. He hadnít noticed the pain amongst the wave of Catherineís pleasure.

Because it had to be Catherine this time. He wasnít thinking about her, and if anyone drove Catherine and physical pleasure from his thoughts it was Father. He slid down the wall of the tunnel. One of the soft lights which tapped into the city electricity glowed before his eyes, and he focused on it. "Catherine," he muttered, but his thoughts were a whirlpool. What am I going to do?

He paused only to stop off at his chambers and retrieve his cloak. It did not take long to find his way through the newly opened tunnels that led to Catherineís apartment building. After arranging for their placement so that he could return her to her world Above, heíd been avoiding them for months. Now he slunk down them, hoping no one would see him.

His body hummed as he made his way to the ladder that led to her apartment building, bathed in a pool of light from a grate overhead. He hadnít dared touch it before now. It was late. There was no one nearby to see, but he didnít dare travel up to her apartment through the halls. He shook his head. It wasnít his place to bother her, anyway. He just... wanted to be close to her. He crept his way to the elevator shaft and used it to bring him to the roof of her building. There. That was all he needed.

But it wasnít. He paced atop her roof, feeling as constricted in the open air as he was Below in the tunnels. He could feel her. She was Right There! Not more than two floors below him, so close... not close enough....

He wasnít even sure what he was doing as he climbed over the side of the building. Preparing to throw himself off, perhaps? But, the rough brick was as easy to climb as a ladder for someone with his agility, and he climbed down beside the darkened windows to the balcony which his senses confirmed to be hers.

The lights were off, but she was in there. Sleeping. What was he doing here? Did he mean to wake her? To draw her down into the darkness to which he was condemned? No! As he stood there, trying to build the courage to knock on her window, she shifted in her bed. The blanket slid off the fine silk nightdress she was wearing, revealing a hip and most of an exposed thigh. Vincentís breath caught, and he fled.

What was he doing? This was madness! It was evil, a stalking, hunting predator, lurking on her balcony. He fled Below as quickly as he could, but it felt constricting. He ran to the park and tried to block out his confusion with the wind on his face, the sound of the night, the smell of the trees. It failed. As when Catherine had a nightmare, as she often did, his hands clenched.

This had to stop. He would stop it. He would sever this connection he felt, he would free her of this unintended voyeurism. He tried to narrow his senses, to block her out, but he knew it was fruitless. Heíd been trying that, on and off, for more than half a year. If either of them had power over this bond he suffered from, it was Catherine. The only way he would stop feeling her feelings was if she was capable of severing from him.

And how could she sever from him if she didnít know he was there?

But how could he let her know without admitting to this unintended crime he was constantly committing, of stealing her life and her feelings from her?

How could he endure it if she came to hate him? If the emotions did not stop, and all he felt was a constant hatred and fear of himself?

He wanted to tear his face off. If he was a normal, ordinary man, this problem would never be his to endure. He wouldnít feel peopleís feelings, and would never have ended up linked in this way to a poor, innocent victim. If he had come to love her, he could have wooed and (if she felt the same) wed her, like any normal man. But he was himself, and it was impossible.

This was going to drive him mad.

 

***

 

The next time it hit him he was asleep. It had been nearly a week, a week of constantly trying to sever the bond, and failing again and again and again. He was raw and stressed and tense, Pascal had even accused him of being snappish. He had had nothing to ease the tension.

The sensations were a slow, even trickle through his mind. He flickered slowly awake, not wanting to believe in what was happening to him. "Catherine," he whispered. He considered fighting, considered trying to disconnect himself from what was pouring through him. But he had been fighting all this time, and he had no fight left in him. Rather than fight it, this time he simply rode the crest of her orgasm until it crashed through him, the pleasure in his mind and emotions transferred physically to his body.

Again he took himself to the laundry in the middle of the night, but as he washed out his clothes he surprised himself. He felt little shame this time. This wasnít his weakness, it was her strength. She had the right to enjoy herself. In fact he reveled in the fact that she was becoming whole again. He just hadnít understood what that would mean for him when he first realized he was still feeling her emotions. He couldnít stop her. No one should be forced to live as celibate as he had sworn himself to be.

The next time it happened he was by himself, reading in the cavern of the falls. When he first noticed it coming he smiled to himself, closing his eyes on his book. His lips parted in anticipation. This time it was pure, sanctified even. He did not fight it, but directed it, and his body barely twinged in response. The quiet bliss which washed through him was no less powerful for all that. In fact, it might have been more so, undiluted by the urgent needs of his flesh. It was as if a blessed angel had directed a beam of golden sunlight to pierce through the tunnels to bathe him in blissful warmth. He let out a single, awed sigh as it finished, and was rewarded after by a gentle peace as Catherine drifted to sleep.

He had been telling himself he was enduring this. He realized now he had been anticipating it. And knowing that, he knew he could no longer go on this way.

Long ago, at the risk of hurting those he loved, Vincent had separated himself from any sense of physical, and therefore romantic, feelings. He had conditioned his mind and his body away from such thoughts, punished his young body for betraying him in his sleep, disciplined his mind into poetry and science. But now Catherine was cutting through all of these carefully formed protections and gifting him with a pleasure he thought he could never have. A closeness he thought he could never feel. And safely! Alone but connected, he could feel her, relish her delight in her body, in her life, without any danger to anyone!

Heíd loved her from the first, but he wouldnít let himself admit it. He had wrestled with his feelings even as he had tended her wounds. Now he had to admit to his feelings, if only to himself. He owed her so much. He couldnít go on accepting this great gift without giving something Ė anything Ė of himself in exchange.

He told no one, not even Father, that he was going Above to contact her.

***

Great Expectations came to a close, and Vincent opened his eyes. Catherineís gaze was fixed upon him, her eyes stark in her face. "Is this the end?" she asked. She meant of everything.

"It must be," he said automatically. Then he paused. "It should be." He looked away, over the city lights. He could hardly bear to look at her face. He hated himself for his feelings of disappointment. She was beautiful, so beautiful, so perfect. Her unmarred face shone like the moon. He wanted to be glad for her, as he knew how hard it was to live marked. But he was crushed. Malformed, she might be more open to him. He had half a chance of being needed, of her needing a friendly ear, an unflinching eye she could not easily find in the world Above. But she was perfect, hale and whole, an angel.

He wanted to run away, but could find no excuse. She wanted him to stay. They were on the last chapter of Great Expectations... and he knew she wanted to finish it. It was one of the clear thoughts which had come to him. He could smell the morning in the air, although there was as yet no lightening to the sky. He had two hours before it grew too light for safety. She had stayed up all night; she who lived in the day, had forsaken her sleep to spend those hours with him. What was he doing?

He had told her, all those months ago, Below, that he had never regretted what he was until he met her. And it was only because he could feel her love for him growing, and then, in that terrible moment when she had first seen his face, that love blinked out like a blown candle. The burgeoning hope of Happiness Forever had at that moment been crushed. After long minutes of grief for that false dream, the love had returned... tempered with pity until it was stronger than before.... But the dream of Forever had still not resurfaced.

"I wanted you," Catherine said, unexpectedly. A thrill passed through him at the words, and he stared at her. "In the hospital," she continued, and he tried to tell himself she meant nothing by it. "I wanted your voice, I missed you."

"I know," he said after a moment.

"How do you know? Not how, why," she corrected, "I can understand how you couldnít answer that. How what. What do you feel, how... can you describe it?"

He shook his head. "There are no words," he said. "I feel emotion, mostly, sometimes flashes of thoughts." He searched for the words. "If you could imagine your feelings as sound, and your own as the sounds of your own room, where someone is playing music, perhaps a child is laughing or crying, the pipes sound..." he paused, remembering that she wasnít used to such. "That is my own mind, my own... heart. But there is a window in my room that leads me to yours. A window I cannot close. And in the background I can hear your music, your laughter... your tears. And sometimes, rarely, Iíll catch glimpses, through this window, of your thoughts. But your feelings are...." Words failed him. If it wasnít for the fact that the feelings were hers in the first place, he would have thought it too private a matter to discuss. "Never before... has any voice, any sound, been so loud to me."

"You mean this has happened before?"

"Always, with me," he said. "I feel what those around me feel, know what they need, what I must say. With some it is stronger than others. With those I care for, it is stronger still. But always faint, a small... sound, as if from a far distance, down a distant tunnel. I have to concentrate... to hear it accurately."

"But not with me...?" Catherine asked. The hope in her voice was terrible. He stood. He should leap off this balcony immediately. The love he felt in her was so dangerous. They were as close as they could ever get, and there was such a fond dream he could feel growing in her. One which could shatter her very life... and his own.

"Vincent?"

Almost against his will, he answered her truthfully. "I have to concentrate... to not be overwhelmed... by you." He turned back to her. "I must go."

"You must..." Catherine hoped the crushing darkness which she felt at his words was communicating itself exactly as he had said. "You tell me this... and then vanish again? If it feels as if we were one..." she shook her head. "How can you just go away? I was this close to convincing myself Iíd imagined you. Do you know how frightened that made me?"

Vincent looked away at her words, torn. "Yes," he whispered.

Catherine searched for anything she could say to keep him. She wanted him to come back. Despite his words, despite his vanishing every time she turned around, she could see and feel the hunger in him. He was starved for her touch, she could see it in his face, feel it in the gentle touch of his fingers, hear it in his breath as she embraced him. His hunger burned from his eyes. He needed her, needed her as much as she had needed him. Now, she realized, she was whole again. But Vincent wasnít. Perhaps he had never been. If it wasnít for him, she wouldnít have ever become what she was. "Vincent, youíve helped me so much. So much. Isnít there some way I could help you?"

A Helper. She could be one, he supposed. Yet there was such danger in every moment they spent together. He could feel her love for him, and he had to battle every moment not to catch her into his arms. No. "You already have, Catherine. I came to you because I wanted you to know... I canít... sever this connection. If I ever learn how..."

"No!" There was pure panic in her voice. "No, Vincent..." She could sense he was ashamed, at some level. "If this is happening... why should you want it to end? Is my world that disgusting to you?"

"No, Catherine. You canít know what youíve given me. What freedom I feel from your thoughts, your feelings. I donít want to loosen this bond, but you... should have the right for your thoughts, your secrets, to be your own..."

"Vincent... youíve shared the secrets of your world. Do you expect any less from me? Iíll gladly share my secrets with you." She looked away then. "Unless you want to close the window... block out my music."

"No," he said. "You canít imagine what itís like. Youíve opened the world for me, Catherine. These last months..."

"Take it, then," Catherine said. "Take my world, and gladly. Itís my gift to you."

He had no choice, but she had said the words. He was no longer taking without permission. "Thank you," he whispered. He raised his eyes to her face as he backed away toward the edge of the balcony. "Goodbye."

"Wait!"

He waited.

"Will I ever see you again?" There was a deep hunger in her words, hunger for the strength and wonder he represented.

No. He meant to say no. He opened his mouth to say no. "Only if you need me, Catherine," he said. He turned to go.

"Vincent?"

He paused.

"How do you define need?"

The blatant bargaining in her voice cut through his resolve. He laughed. He was surprised by it, as he rarely laughed aloud. It took him a moment to realize he had revealed his vicious fangs to one he hoped would never see them. He covered his mouth with his hand until he could control himself. He pinched his chin as he regarded her. Her eyes were canny. With a flourish and a bow he spread his cloak as he bent to her face. "I am at thy service, milady."

Her eyes were still shining when he vanished into the night.

 

***

Despite everything, time passes. Worlds collide with effects both benign and malignant. History changes course a dozen times an hour, and hope springs eternal, only to sink again in the mire.

Love blossoms with the sharp sweetness of the rose.

***

"Look!" said Catherine. The rosebush she had planted had bloomed, twin flowers, white and red from one bush. She pressed herself to him, squeezing him tightly in a familiar embrace.

Vincent sighed in contentment. The shadow of Elliot Burch had darkened his mind for days, but it barely mattered so long as Catherine was there, her arms tight around him, her scent filling him with peace. "Itís beautiful, Catherine."

"Itís us, Vincent," she said, as they held each other. "I wanted something for us. That would grow..." She did not say as our love will, but she might as well have. There was a long moment when all they did was hold each other, but he could sense she was pensive. "Vincent?" He nodded in response. "When I was planting it... do you remember?"

The heat between them had been palpable; how could he have forgotten? She had pricked herself on a thorn, and he had been compelled to kiss the wound, and the blood, away. She had been taken aback by the uncharacteristically physical gesture. With the taste of her still on his tongue she had caught his chin, refusing to let him pull away. As if gravitational force were drawing them together she had leaned forward for a kiss, only to have the moment completely shattered by two men who barged into her apartment and thence to the balcony, forcing Vincent back into the earth. He had not returned that night, unwilling to face what had nearly transpired between them.

"Yes," he whispered.

"Would you have let me?" She didnít have to explain what.

Vincent closed his eyes, trying to say "no". But it would have been a lie. "I donít know," he said.

"So close," she whispered. "Never to be closer. Side by side, yet apart. Why should it be such a struggle for us? Does love always bring such pain?"

He sighed. This kind of complaint was rare for Catherine. He wondered if the shadow of Elliot Burch had been darkening her mind as well. "You would know better than myself."

"Why do you say that?" Catherine asked, genuinely confused. She pulled away to look at him.

"So many loves youíve had in your life, Catherine. Who couldnít love you?"

"So many incomplete and selfish relationships which had greed or fear or... ennui at the heart of them. The word love is so empty in my world."

"Elliot Burch loves you," Vincent said. "As selflessly as he can."

Catherine sighed. He was still on about that kiss that Elliot had planted on her at the docks. In the heat of battle, while she and Vincent were teetering on the edge of the kiss sheíd been aching for, her body had responded to Elliot as the next best thing. But Vincent still didnít understand. "Iíve never wanted Elliot beyond something very basic," Catherine said. "I met him... when you still pulled away, and vanished so quickly when I turned my eyes.... You were still almost a fever dream, Vincent. Some feral, wild shadow, so hard to find when I... needed you."

"And he was there for you. When I could not be."

She stared at him. Was he still obsessing over that? It was over a year ago! As strong as he seemed, he was so fragile, wounded so deeply, so easily. "It wasnít love, Vincent."

"Wasnít it?" he asked. "No flavor of love, when he heated your visions, touched you in your dreams, both asleep and awake? When your pleasure was directed toward him?" While the words seemed harsh, his tone was almost casual, as if he was discussing an academic issue. "When he can still heat you even now?"

"Thatís completely different from... love..." she trailed off, wondering if she had just heard what she thought she had heard. She had fantasized about Elliot when she had first met him, more as an experiment than anything else. Vincent had been so distant then, such an impossible contradiction. "You felt that?" she whispered. "Then?" Heated her, touched her. Vincentís words were uncharacteristically sensual. The full implications of what Vincent had just told her dawned slowly on Catherine. "You mean... you can feel... when I..." Both hands clapped over her mouth in stunned eloquence.

There it was. The truth was out blatantly, now. Rather than acknowledge it he turned away from her wide eyed stare, speaking volumes more in his silence. He bent his head, gripping the edge of her balcony. Such a posture of submission hurt Catherineís heart. But her thoughts were a whirlwind of turmoil. She should feel violated, intruded upon, stolen from, but the shoulds had never meant much to her. She did feel hurt. When she could speak she pulled her hands away. "Why didnít you tell me?"

"I couldnít," he said hesitantly. "I did. I tried." When she said nothing he finished, "I suppose I did it badly."

There had been so much turmoil and danger and near-death experiences between them that she supposed it was possible, and sheíd simply lost it in one of her myriad concussions. "When was this?"

"When I first came to find you," he said. "Here. On this balcony. I told you. Or I thought I had."

"Eight months!" she hissed. "After eight months you cameĖ" Itís been eight months, Cathy. How long do you expect me to wait? The realization hit her like a blow. "You came... because I had begun to make myself... whole again. Thatís why you came to me at just that time. You wouldnít come before. Not for any other reason, but that." He hadnít come when she was frightened just before her surgery, he hadnít come when she returned to her apartment which felt so lonely, he hadnít come when the drugs they gave her failed and the constant aching burn of her face was so bad she couldnít sleep, he hadnít come when she was seized with a resurgence of her childhood fear of the dark, he hadnít come and he hadnít come and he hadnít come for her. Armed with only a memory of his supposed strength, and a dream that he existed, she had to climb her way out of that dark pit by herself. For eight months she stood alone. And in the end, it was only sex that called him.

And she was still standing alone. The years of waiting for him felt like ice water in her veins, and she felt cold and bereft. "You feel what I am feeling, know what Iím thinking," she said. "I didnít know that meant you could feel when I... Oh, God!" All of the secrets sheíd been keeping, about how deeply she felt for him, how desperate she sometimes became for him, how she dreamed of and fantasized over his touch. How pointless all her attempts not to frighten him had been. He was immersed in her, more truly a part of her than she had ever realized. Embarrassment flooded through her.

"Iím sorry!" he cried, whirling to face her. He held his hands out in supplication. "If I could have closed the door, left you your privacy, I would have. Surely you must know that."

That he would have severed himself from her for that made it all even worse. "But Vincent, I wanted you there!" She let the desperation color her words. There was no point in hiding it. None at all. "Iíve always wanted you there. >From the first time." Tears stabbed her eyes and she let them fall.

With a sigh of despair Vincent opened his arms to her and she fell into them. "I didnít mean to make this harder on you," he whispered into her ear as he let her cry into his chest. "I came to you at the first because you had to know. Not because you needed me, because you didnít. It hurt me how you didnít. But I owed you. I had to give myself back to you, for all you were giving to me. All of it, not just... that. I owed you. I owed my life, in exchange for yours." He pressed his lips to her hair, breathing in her scent. Lavender shampoo. Her favorite scent. And underneath, his own favorite scent, the musky smell of his woman, his love.

"I was more likely to after nights when you visited me," Catherine said, her voice thick.

Vincent nodded. "I sometimes stayed away because of that." When she cringed at the rejection inherent in this he decided to tell her the whole truth. "And there were times I came more often. Iím not always a saint, Catherine."

"All this time Iíve been expecting you... to want me. But youíve had me all along, so you couldnít."

Vincent pulled away and gazed into her eyes. She had to know. "Catherine, I want you. You wouldnít believe how much. It gets stronger every moment I spend in your presence. That constant Ďnoí is only bearable becauseĖ"

"Exactly!" She pulled away and sat down against the wall, curled up on the floor of the balcony. She hugged her knees and stared at him. "And all this time Iíve been making love to you, and I didnít even know it." She covered her eyes with her hand.

He stood over her now, in a dominant stance. She had put him there. Rather than tower overhead, Vincent insinuated himself onto the ground before her, just out of reach. "Iím sorry," he said at last.

"Donít be sorry," Catherine said. "This bond is beyond both of us, and we both knew it. I just didnít realize how far it went."

The turmoil and confusion inside her was subsiding enough for Vincent to not be inundated by it, but he still couldnít sift it into comprehensible form. He wasnít sure Catherine could either. There was anger, but he wasnít sure where it was directed. He tried to make sense of it for a while, but had to give it up. "Are you angry with me?" he finally asked.

"Donít you know?" she asked pointedly. He looked down, and she sighed. "No. I feel... cheated out of something. But Iím not sure what it is. If I had known... but I know why you didnít... make it more explicit. Itís a sensitive subjectĖ in more ways than one. I was a fool not to have realized what you were telling me."

"No," Vincent said. "I wasnít clear enough. How could you have anticipated what I was trying to say? Itís impossible. Everything between us is impossible."

"But that doesnít mean it doesnít happen," Catherine said with a smile. She hesitated, then looked down. She took a deep breath. "I want to know what you feel. What it feels like. I think Iím entitled to that."

Vincent closed his eyes. This was not the kind of conversation he was used to having. When boys, and girls, in the tunnels needed to understand such things he sent them to Father or Mary or Lena if they tried to approach him. No matter how empathic he was, sexuality was a realm that was closed to him. Other than through Catherine. "I canít... exactly," he muttered.

"Try." Catherine gazed at him earnestly, her eyes intense, and... accepting.

"It isnít physical," he said. "Not really. I donít feel your form, your touch. But what that touch does to you... that I feel." He looked away from her, turning his head to the sky, hoping to see the stars. They were obscured, as always, by the bright lights of the city. "It isnít always overwhelming," he continued, scanning the sky. "Sometimes I can continue with whatever Iím doing... just let it wash through me. Most of the time I can prevent my body from reacting."

"But not all the time."

"No," he whispered. "Not always. Particularly if I should be asleep. I... can anticipate, mostly, when... and arrange to be alone. If not I can usually... step aside for a moment. Return before Iím missed. It has made for some awkward moments." The unspoken words hung between them, "but I wouldnít trade it for anything."

"Do you enjoy it?" Catherine asked. She knew the answer, but she wanted him to say it.

"Yes," he whispered.

Silence hung between them then as they stared at each other. He wished fervently that he could speed through time, be finished with this conversation, back Below in the tunnels, and that Catherine had already accepted it. But all he could do was press on, and tell her all she needed to know. "I locked myself away from such thoughts. I canít indulge in fantasies myself. They... they turn dark. But with you... You control where the fantasies go... and I canít hurt you." But even as he murmured the words, the truth came from him in an anguished whisper. "But I am right now. What can I say?" He sighed, bemused. "All my life, Iíve been gifted with the ability to never have to ask that question. And now, the one time it really matters, thereís too much turmoil in your emotions to sort through."

"Iíve tried to keep things from you," Catherine admitted. "Pointlessly, it seems. But I thought you only felt emotion, not... physical reactions."

"Pleasure has emotion as its root," Vincent said. "As does delight. Desire. Release, fulfillment, satisfaction."

Catherine shrugged. "Thatís about self-fulfillment in a nutshell," she said flippantly. Her next words stabbed like knives. "How about loneliness?"

Vincentís blue eyes were soft as he gazed at her. "I feel that, too. I can never be sure if itís mine or yours."

Catherine considered this. "Is that why you keep pushing me away? Is that why you keep telling me to find someone, another man, to fulfill me? So what you receive will be more complete?"

The words raked him as deeply as if Catherine had her own set of claws. Even when her drug poisoned mind had dragged the words "I hate you" from a nightmare hallucination, Vincent had never felt so wounded. He was stunned into silence for a full minute. He expected to be fighting tears, or a battle roar, or something, but all he felt was numb emptiness. "What do you think I am?" he finally whispered. "I said that for you, Catherine. The thought of you in the arms of another man, your time gifted to him instead of myself, your lips," he swallowed, "... your beauty against another tears me..." His words were fading fast. "...with burning rage and a pain..." Fazed, he gripped his arms, digging holes in the thick fabric of his shirt. "I can barely control," he finished, once the pain in his arm had distracted him from the pain in his heart. "I half expected that the moment you took another man to your bed that our bond would be severed..." A growl escaped from his carefully constructed voice, and he forced it back before it became a full throated roar. "...or I would lose myself entirely. And that all that followed would be madness, death or emptiness."

"And you believed I would be happy having caused such anguish?" Catherine asked. "What do you think I am, Vincent?"

Vincent sighed. At least she understood. "I can give you nothing else, Catherine. All you have already is all I have to give. And you deserve everything."

Catherine shook her head. "Why is this all you can give me?" Catherine pleaded... again, she felt.

Vincent stared at his hands. Proving his point in mute eloquence, his claws were tipped with blood. His own, tonight, but that made no difference. He held his bloodied hand to her and rested it on her knee. "To keep you safe, Catherine," he said quietly. He gently curled his fingers around her knee, letting her feel the sharpness through the silk, then again, and again. It was a gesture he loved, but rarely indulged in, a feline kneading of the flesh beneath his hand. He allowed it to continue for a few precious seconds before he felt her pleasure at it, and forced himself to cease. Heíd left trails of blood on the pale silk, and he was half convinced he might have torn it, perhaps even her flesh. But it didnít seem to matter. She believed him. She leaned her head back against the wall and stared at the sky, in a gesture similar to his own a few moments ago. "So now?" he asked.

"Now what, you mean?" Catherine asked the stars. She shook her head. "Nothing."

"Nothing?"

"Nothing. Nothing has changed. Thereís nothing different. I should have known... I would have known that you could feel me, if I had only bothered to think about it." She looked back at him. "What happens now, Vincent, is you leave."

He thought for a moment she meant it, and that she meant forever. And he expected nothing less. Before the blackness set in, while he was still numb, now was the time to obey.

"If you have to," she continued. Her hand slipped down the silk of her dress along her calf, to her ankle. "What happens now, is I stop trying to shield you. It was a lost cause all along." And without taking her eyes off Vincent, Catherine sensuously ran her fingers along her leg, lifting the skirt until it revealed her knee, the one Vincent had been kneading a minute ago. With her perfectly manicured nails, she repeated the gesture, again and again and again. "Hmm..." she murmured after a moment. "Thatís nice." She ran her nails gently down her thigh, once, twice, three times, and a ripple of pleasure washed through him.

He gasped. "What are you doing?"

"What does it look like?" Catherine asked, running her hands up her torso to her breasts. "Moreover, what does it feel like?"

He turned away from the image of Catherineís fingers fondling her nipples. But he could not turn away from the delicate pleasure she was experiencing. It was stronger than ever before. And he knew without a doubt that it was strong because she knew. She knew what she was doing to him, and wanted him to feel it.

"Please stop," he whispered. He wasnít sure he had the power to climb from the balcony while his senses were inflamed like this.

Catherine was running her fingers down her collarbone now, sending ripples of shivery pleasure through her body, through his. He thought he had tamed his body, but it was betraying him again, swelling as it consumed every nuance of what Catherine was sending him. "Why havenít you asked me that before?" Catherine said, not ceasing her deliberate, sensual movements. "Why havenít you asked me to lead a celibate life, as you do?" Her breath was coming harder now as her desire mounted.

"It wouldnít be fair to you," Vincent groaned.

"This isnít fair to me, Vincent," she said, and she pushed a hand between her legs, hard.

He grunted and whirled to her. "This must stop!" he growled through clenched teeth.

Catherine took pity on him and ceased her ministrations. They stared at each other from across the balcony. Her cheeks were flushed with desire, and his breath came ragged in the aftermath of her assault. He couldnít read her face. Her emotions were still too complex to organize. He sighed, almost a sob, and buried his head in his hand. A moment later Catherineís warm fingers pulled his hand from his face. She stared up at him, their hands intertwined between them. "Now I know..." she said gently. "How should I warn you? So I donít create any more... awkward moments."

Vincent considered this for a moment, then shook his head. His flesh felt tender beneath his clothes, and he could still feel her unfulfilled desire. "Iím used to it by now," he said. His voice trembled. "There havenít been any awkward moments for a long time."

Catherine nodded. "Then I want you to know. There will never be anyone else. The only real people in the world are you and me. If I can only make love to you... apart from you... than I shall. Every time I have felt... pleasure." She didnít feel the need for euphemisms, but she knew he wasnít comfortable with this kind of talk. "Ever since I met you, even if I tried to redirect my thoughts toward something sensible, the only feelings I had were only ever for you. And I want you to know that Ė now that I knowĖ all that I feel is for you. Only for you."

He looked down shyly at her exhibition. "I will accept any gift you offer me, Catherine," he said quietly. "With a grateful heart. And with all that I have to offer in return."

When he left, she took a hot bath and took herself to bed. She did not try to touch herself for fear of making him uncomfortable. She was looking forward to later evenings, though. Sheíd show him, she would let him know, again and again and again how deeply she felt. But not now.

Not yet, anyway.

***

 

Ten nights later, Catherine grunted in frustration as she rolled in bed. They hadnít discussed their new revelations, and for a few days Catherine simply waited in comfortable silence, waiting for the perfect evening, the best moment. Maybe after a concert, or an evening together with a book, punctuated at the last by her final gift.

But then her body rebelled.

And now, once again, she lay shattered, spent, and completely unsatisfied. Exhausted, Catherine slumped to the bed, past trying further.

It wasnít fair. Why was her body betraying her?

Sweating, heart pounding, tense, she lay in her bed and begged her body for at least sleep. But it wouldnít comply.

Finally, a merciful tap at the window gave her the excuse to rise and abandon her bed. She slipped a robe on over her pajamas before opening the French doors to the terrace. Without even a word of greeting she fell gratefully into Vincentís arms. His scent was always so comforting. His arms rose slowly to embrace her. Now she finally felt tired. If she could sleep standing up, sheíd be grateful to sleep right here. She knew she stank of sweat and of fruitless exertion, but he didnít seem to mind. "Youíve taken to torturing yourself, Catherine," Vincent said finally.

Her head muffled in his cloak, Catherine muttered, "Not by choice."

Vincent pulled away a little and looked down at her. Her eyes were weary and her skin pale, still with a sheen of sweat along the forehead. "Tell me," he said.

Always, those two little words had the power to draw intimacies she had never imagined from her. But tonight they opened a wound she would have been glad to hide from him. "I donít know why... I do know why. I donít like why. Ever since I knew... ever since I realized Ė fully Ė what this bond between us means... Iíve been waking up at night consumed with insatiable lust." It wasnít the sort of thing the two of them usually talked about, but she kept a firm hold of him. "But Iím so tired. So tired. Iíd just as soon go back to sleep, but I canít. And when I try to do something about it, fight through my exhaustion to satisfy it... it doesnít work. Iíve worn myself ragged, until my skin itches with friction and my heart pounds with the effort... but nothing comes of it." She buried her head back into Vincentís chest, feeling another twinge of unsatisfied desire. "Iíve wanted so much to give you so much," she whispered. "And now that it seems that I can, I canít. I just canít." She squeezed him tightly. "It isnít fair."

Vincent was certain it was his fault, that she felt violated, spied upon. Even if she said she wanted to share, no one could want an audience at a time like that. "Donít worry about me, Catherine," he said. Of course he would say that. "As before, the power to enjoy your body will return to you."

"It isnít like before, Vincent!" Catherine said, pulling away. "Before I felt trapped, as if this body wasnít my own. I felt no desire at all, I didnít want anyone to touch me, not even myself. I had to make myself feel it! Now Iím just burning with it. But I canít do anything about it." She couldnít keep the intensity out of her voice. She wondered if this was how he felt, all the time.

Vincent gave a great sigh, one she recognized. The hopeless one.

"Iím not asking anything of you," she said quickly. Her voice fell to a dark whisper. "Itís just not fair."

He turned to look out at the city. "I donít know what to do," he said softly.

One of the rare, clear thoughts came to him over the bond, in the form of three distinct words. Yes, you do. But she was too kind to say them. He closed his eyes. That door was closed, impossible. Which meant... what? Allow her to suffer? He suffered with her, but his own was nothing. He could endure... despite the fact that heíd spent the last four days mending all the blankets and bed sheets he had rent in unspent desire.

"Thereís nothing to do," Catherine said, sliding her hand beneath his arm to hold on to him.

"Iím so sorry, Catherine." The weight of the world was behind that anguished whisper.

"Itís not your fault," she whispered, always forgiving, always accepting. She sighed. "I just wish I could get some sleep, is all."

It was risky, but heíd done it before. He had to offer her something, anything. "Can I help with that?"

She was already hanging from his shoulder like Spanish moss. Without a word he scooped her up and carried her back to her bed. After arranging her carefully on the pillows, he pulled the bedspread up around her shoulders and curled up beside her... atop the covers. "I wasnít trying to call you, Vincent," Catherine mumbled as she snuggled her head against his chest. "My body betrayed me."

Vincent stroked her smooth head. "Itís all right," he whispered. "Sleep now."

"The alarm clock goes off just before dawn," Catherine murmured. "In case you were wondering."

"Sleep," he said. After a moment when she squirmed he asked, "Would you like me to recite something?"

"Mm hm," she hummed.

Vincent considered, and found some Blake in the back of his head.

The wild winds weep,
And the night is a-cold;
Come hither, Sleep,
And my griefs unfold:
But lo! the morning peeps
Over the eastern steeps,
And the rustling birds of dawn
The earth do scorn.

Lo! to the vault
Of pavíd heaven,
With sorrow fraught
My notes are driven:
They strike the ear of night,
Make weep the eyes of day;
They make mad the roaring winds,
And with tempests play.

Like a fiend in a cloud,
With howling woe
After night I do crowd,
And with night will go;
I turn my back to the east
From whence comforts have increased
For light doth seize my brain
With frantic pain.

 

By the second stanza he was no longer sure it was the best poem to recite, but she was asleep by the time he had finished. He was more tense than he realized, after these last nights. There was nothing peaceful in his mind. The last couplet bothered him particularly, as he always thought of Catherine as Light. He meant to sneak away, but feared to abandon her. He knew it was his fault she was so tormented. So quietly it would take his own ears to hear it, he whispered into her hair. "Forgive me, beloved, for all the things I cannot give you. Would that my love could make up for it." He never said how much he loved her to her, not in his own words. With otherís poetry, with words like "dreamed" and "wished", but never with the word "love". He felt as if it would bind her, trap her into darkness, quench her light. But he said it now.

He was tired too. He had slept restlessly, if at all, for the past four days. And lulled into peace by her presence, his eyes closed.


***

Catherine awoke two hours later, her insatiable lust poisoning her sleep again. But even upon waking she was half satisfied by the heavy warm body which cradled her. She heaved a sigh of relief that he had not yet gone and shifted her gaze to watch him.

He slept, his eyes closed. Even sleeping what she read in his beautiful, terrible face pained her. He was careworn. She remembered what he had said when he came this night. Youíve taken to torturing yourself. She was torturing him, as well.

She cursed and blessed their love at the same time. It made no sense. It was as if they really were on the border between two worlds, a single entity torn by patterns beyond their control. So much death and pain and danger followed them. They were fighting fate, and they were fate, at the same time. A fulcrum of events, their love. A sink into which everyone elseís lives revolved, everyone Catherine and Vincent touched. And the weight of all those lives was breaking them.

The problem was, their love was so tenuous, so intangible. A strong and powerful thing between them without a union at its heart. And her body wanted him, so strongly that she began to wonder if it knew something she didnít. Was she being too careful? Too cautious, too accepting? Vincent would not make love to her, in order to keep her safe. If her safety was the priority, she thought, it can be dealt with.

Vincent wore one of his renaissance ruffled shirts tonight. She was grateful it wasnít the layered sweaters, because she couldnít do what she wanted with them. Fortunately, Vincent had not been overly careful when he tucked her into bed. The covers were only partially trapped beneath him. Gently, oh so gently, Catherine pulled them out from under him and tucked them around his sleeping form. Now she was curled against him, only their multiple layers of clothing shielding them. She lay quietly then, relishing his nearness, until her body twinged, demanding attention. She kept herself from rubbing against him, and started slower.

Untying the laces at his throat, Catherine revealed a few scant inches of the golden fur on his chest. She marveled at it, running her fingers lightly through it. With a deep breath Vincent awoke. It took him a moment to realize that what Catherine was doing was real. When he did he gently lifted his hand to stop her fingers. "Catherine. You mustnít do that."

"Why not?" she muttered. She sounded half asleep.

"You know why not," he said quietly.

"Youíre afraid youíll hurt me?"

Vincent closed his eyes, but opened them again as he realized he had somehow gotten under the covers. He wasnít entirely convinced this wasnít an elaborate dream. "Yes."

Catherine resumed the gentle fondling of his chest. "Do you feel like you wish to hurt me?"

Vincent wondered at her question. It was legitimate, and in truth what he really felt was peaceful. "No. Not yet."

"Promise me," Catherine said quietly. "Promise me..."

"What?"

"Promise me if you feel like youíre going to hurt me youíll leave."

"I promise," Vincent said easily.

Catherine nearly grinned at the easy victory. "Then you wonít leave if you donít," she said in conclusion.

He stopped her hand again.

Her voice still even, half whispering, her eyes still closed, Catherine said, "You say itís to keep me safe, Vincent. Iím safe. If you feel like hurting me, I trust that you will have the power to leave." She unlaced another loop on his shirt. "But I donít think youíll feel that."

What he did feel was a rising panic. "Catherine!" he choked.

"You promised," she said, so quietly and serenely, and what she was doing seemed so innocent that he almost found himself thinking he had promised not to leave.

"Catherine!" he whispered urgently. He didnít know why he was panicked. He didnít fear hurting her in this peaceful state. But he felt fear.

"Your fur is so soft," Catherine muttered, running her fingers through it. "Most men have such wiry fur."

"Men donít have fur," Vincent said, his fear abating.

"You must not have seen many naked men," Catherine said mildly. "Iíve always thought of it as fur." She hummed gently in contentment. "What on earth could make you sound so panicked?" she asked. "Do I frighten you?"

As his fear faded, Vincent realized the reason for it. He felt ashamed of himself. "I fear... myself. Your response to myself." He feared rejection, and that galled him. Ever since that first moment of shock, when her growing love had flickered, he had feared showing her even a portion of what he was.

"Donít you trust me yet?"

"I thought I did," Vincent said. "I thought it was myself I didnít trust. Now Iím not so sure."

"Do you feel like hurting me?" Catherine asked again, leaning up on her elbow.

Vincent shook his head. "No."

Catherine nodded, expecting his answer, and unlaced his shirt to the waist, pulling it from his waistband. She opened it as the door to a shrine, and indeed what she saw there she almost wanted to worship as if divine. He was not much more thickly furred than some of the men she had seen at the company swim party for her fatherís firm, and much more attractive. It was soft and golden, straight and smooth as a Dalmatianís pelt. She buried her hand in the fur of his stomach, reveling in the feel of it. He sighed, his head thrown back, eyes closed. Her hand was so warm. She massaged his well muscled chest for a moment before asking, "Do you feel like hurting me?"

"No."

Even as he said it her fingers found his nipple beneath the fur and gently caressed it. Tiny electric sparks shot through his body. It was a feeling he had never experienced before, even through his bond with Catherine, which always left the pleasure defused from its source. He gasped, and felt it rise toward her fingers, as if trying to bridge the gap between them. "There," she said, gently bending down to kiss his other nipple while her nimble fingers refused to release their newfound toy. Her mouth was even warmer, and the moisture her lips left behind them left a delightful tickle of coolness. His body was no longer his own. He was merely inside it, and she washed over him like a sea. "Proof that youíre a man," she finished when she lifted her head.

It took him a moment to understand what she had said, and a further moment to pull words out of his swirling thoughts. "What makes you say that?" he gasped.

"Because you only have two of these," she said, circling them once with both finger and tongue. "Not six or eight." She ran her fingers down his side and back up.

He shuddered with the sensation. The words were coming easier now. "And if I had?" he said quietly.

She sighed, as if disappointed. "Then I would have had so much more to pay attention to."

He found himself chuckling, which was not something he ever thought he would be doing in this situation. A small part of him wanted to grab her and wrestle her to the bed, but moreover he was curious as to what she would do next.

"Do you feel like hurting me?" she asked seriously.

"I think a little," he said honestly. "Do you want me to leave?"

"Not if you think you can handle it," she said, and began kissing her way up toward his neck. She paused at his collarbone. "Do you?"

"Yes," he said softly, and he felt the compliance in the word. He was hers, to do with as she pleased. Unless it was imperative for the sake of her life, he was not leaving this bed.

She went for his throat then, her breath sending hot waves across his body. She traveled up, under his hair, breathing gently into his ear, and began kissing her way across his cheek. When she came to his lips she hesitated. "Will you let me?" she breathed into his mouth.

"Yes." The whispered word was barely audible, but it was enough. At the first touch the world held still, and there was nothing but the strength of a long overdue kiss. She did not open her lips, and he didnít dare, but it hardly mattered. For a slow, chaste kiss it was heady and passionate, as perfect as a cold drink on a hot summer day.

She pulled away and he felt as if darkness descended. His lips followed her of their own accord, pulling his head with them. When they joined again a wonderful fire began to build, and he tasted her lips thoroughly as a cold buzzing turned to a roaring in his ears. He realized it was his breath a moment later and pulled away, his heart racing. His hands were clenched into her bed sheets. "Too much?" she whispered, her voice raw. Sheíd felt it too.

Vincent nearly wept then, afraid this was the end. He knew he should leave, he knew it was time to go, past time to go. But Catherine had insinuated herself back against him, laying her head peacefully on his chest, and the fire was fading to its customary warm glow. He lay there gasping for long moments, wondering if he had the strength to continue, wondering if he had the strength not to. He didnít know what to do. He knew what common sense and Father would say, but his heart said something different. He tried to leave his body out of the equation, despite its vociferous opinion on the matter.

"I can hear your heart," Catherine said from her position against his chest. "Strong heart."

"It has to be," Vincent replied.

After a few more moments Catherine asked, "Do you feel like hurting me?"

"Not now," he said carefully. He was beginning to realize that Catherine asked that question before she tried something new.

"Good," she said, and it took Vincent several seconds to realize that she was unbuttoning her pajamas without changing her position. With her robe untied she shifted a little, and suddenly they were lying skin to skin. The heat of her was electric, but rather than a jolt it felt like a steady charge. He closed his eyes until he thought he could endure the burn of it. When he opened them he was half surprised not to find themselves glowing with a radiant light.

Finally he understood Blakeís assurance that eternity could be held in an hour. He felt they had never been apart. The moment was eternal.

Catherine shrugged. He didnít realize at first that she was shrugging out of her robe and shirt. The garments fell over his hand, and he tossed them aside. As if the movement had animated his hand, he reached up to caress Catherineís bare back. He felt for the first time how small she was, how skinny. He could feel every vertebra under her smooth skin. I should make sure we feed her up Below, he thought. He knew the social poison of the world Above that said every woman had to be toothpick thin. He hated to think Catherine might be poisoned by the thought.

Catherine hummed under his hand. "Do you feel like hurting me, Vincent?" she murmured.

He didnít, but he wondered. "If I say yes?"

"Than I do nothing more," Catherine said into his chest.

"No," he breathed.

She turned over and allowed her unbound breasts to fall under his caressing hand. If he had before thought her skin was smooth, his fingers were enveloped now in warm silk. "Oh," he marveled. He pulled his hand away a moment and was surprised to see that it was shaking. The rough, bestial hand looked strangely beautiful against her bare skin. He returned it to her breast and gently tickled the nipple with his thumbnail.

She groaned, and a ripple of pleasure carried to him from the bond. He wanted to kiss her breasts, but he was afraid to change his position, afraid to shatter this most fragile of dreams. She buried her nose in his fur, breathing deeply of his scent while his touch drove her to distraction. Suddenly he pulled his hand away and caught her up, pulling her face toward his. "Why?" he asked.

"I think my body knows something we donít, Vincent," she said. "Canít you feel it too?"

"Iíve been feeling it," Vincent said. Four days of unspent erections had taken their toll on him. "But..."

She cut him off. "Do you feel like hurting me, Vincent?"

"Yes!" he groaned.

She stayed very still. "How?"

He didnít know. All he knew was that the power of his body, which was most geared toward violence, was so firmly attuned to her that he could almost taste blood. Gently, she took hold of one clawed hand. He did not fight her. She kissed it softly then set it on the bed, and did the same with the other. Then slowly, deliberately, she went back to their old embrace, running her fingers through his fur.

It was so familiar, her head nestled against his chest, that he couldnít help but feel its normalcy, and the urgency faded again. He took a deep breath. "Iím frightened, Catherine."

She was silent for a moment. "So am I."

"I should go."

Catherine held him tightly. "Thatís one of the things Iím frightened of," she said.

He swallowed. "One?"

She nodded against his chest, causing little ripples of electricity to travel along his skin. "Iím frightened youíll abandon me in the middle of this." She took a deep breath. "I think it would break me."

"What else?" he said. He thought sure she was about to say she feared his strength, or feared his claws, or feared the violence in his soul. She was in bed with a multi-murderer. Of course she was frightened.

"I fear the strength of what we have," she said. "This love we share is stronger than me and stronger than you, and Iím afraid it might be stronger than both of us. Weíve been living in the fire. I fear being burnt up." She looked up at him. He was all in shades of blue in the distant light of the never-sleeping city. "Thatís why I havenít tried this before," she said. "Thatís why Iíve been letting you run. I havenít been strong enough to want to hold you." She swallowed. "But now I feel like Iím being forced to this. That this love has lost its patience and is telling me, in no uncertain terms, get on with it. Get on with it, or I will make both of you suffer."

No. This was wrong. "I donít want you to feel forced, Catherine."

"Vincent... I donít want to suffer any more."

He growled. "No!" He sat up, letting her fall on the bed. His hands were shaking too much to allow him to lace up his shirt, but it didnít matter. "Catherine," he said. "Not like this, not under duress."

She cringed. "Youíre leaving."

"I have to," he said. "This has already gone too far." He moved toward the window.

"Iím sorry!" Catherine cried out to him in a voice that felt like knives. "I shouldnít have, please! Please, donít leave me!"

He turned back to her, but continued to move toward the window. "I could never leave you, Catherine. Iíll always be there when you need me."

"Iíve been trying to tell you since the beginning," Catherine said, leaving the bed. "I always need you!"

He swallowed back the pain. "Farewell, Catherine."

She made a sound as if sheíd been stabbed. "You will come back?"

He took a deep breath. "Just give me time, please."

"Iíll give you everything," Catherine whispered.

He couldnít stay another moment. Her pain and his pain compounded together until they multiplied a thousand fold, and he felt in a whirlpool of anguish. There was only one way to end it, by giving in, and there was only one way that could end. With her death. And that would be the end of him.

Catherine shut her eyes to force back the tears, and when she opened them again a second later, Vincentís dark form had vanished like a shadow.

She flung herself onto the bed and wept as if the world had shattered. Her world had. Vincent had fled again. They had come so close. Too close, Vincent would say. But to have it within her reach and have it snatched away again was more than she could bear. And that insatiable desire sheíd been battling for days was still burning her. She lay there sobbing until her pillow was soaked and itchy, and she threw it across the room. She grabbed the other pillow and forced it beneath her head, and groaned. It still held his scent, the wild, tangy, musty scent that sent her heart pulsing and made her insides squirm.

Her heart began to flutter now, and her blood quickened in her veins. She could feel her capillaries open and her fingertips tingled. A sudden pulse between her legs shocked her tears back a bit. She blinked into the darkness. What was happening? The insatiable, unquenchable lust she had suffered for the last days was growing worse? Oh, that was all she needed!

But another sudden surge beat through her and she grunted. And another, this one slow and measured. She licked her lips. This was the closest she had come to an orgasm since this whole mess started. She tried to move her hands between her legs to further the sensations, but another surge beat her fingers, and her hands clenched. What was happening to her?

Realization forced her eyes open wide. Vincent! Another wave of pleasure coursed through her, spreading from her groin through her chest. She could almost picture him, Ė probably an image from her imagination rather than any psychic vision, Ė but she saw him curled in the dark in his room, the light from the stained glass wall lamp, linked to the city mainframe, the only illumination. She envisioned him naked, mostly because that was how she wanted to see him, his hands exploring his body in a way they had never before dared. She groaned as another firm pulse rocked her.

Then the pleasure simply mounted, steady, growing stronger and stronger, readying her for the release sheíd been desperate for. She moved her hips, trying to find someone who wasnít there... but was there, in a way she would never have been able to picture before. Was this what he felt when she fulfilled herself? Such intimacy! She felt she was inside him, in a way that was beyond physical. It was ten times more powerful than any sex she had ever had with any boyfriend in her past. No doubt if the two of them had actually been together it would be more powerful still, but she could not discard the potency of this one-sided physical interconnection.

When the climax finally came she screamed into her pillow, which still smelled of her feral shadow lover. Her throat was raw when the waves of overpowering ecstasy finally subsided. She couldnít move. It took her a minute to find her breath as her body, finally satisfied, let itself relax.

A single word came to her. She was not an empath, she had no latent power to feel anotherís feelings, or to catch a glimpse of their thoughts. But whatever bond Vincent had toward her had occasionally communicated itself back to her, when he was in danger, or hurt. And apparently sexually aroused. This was not pain, and it was not danger, but for one second she caught the strongest thread she had ever received through this inexplicable, magical link.

There, Vincent thought.

***

There.

The thought was vaguely triumphant. He could feel her satisfaction, the cessation of the torture theyíd both been suffering. It likely wasnít enough. She still wanted him, as much as he wanted her. She still wanted to feel his flesh, to feel him deep inside her, to consummate this overpowering, supernatural love which both of them were powerless against. But he would never let her be forced into something, and if the consummation finally came, Ė when it came (or so he wanted to believe,) it would not be because they were forced into it.

He stared down at his own naked body. He had never considered this before, that he could return to her the gifts sheíd been giving to him. His own thoughts were already dark; indulging in a fantasy tonight could not possibly have made things any worse than they were. He couldnít risk returning to her, despite her tears. Although it meant stripping away layer upon layer of physical training and abandoning his own self-loathing, he could ease her suffering.

Not to mention his own.

As he took his sheets to the laundry that night he felt rather pleased with himself. Nothing was settled. Nothing was perfect. Everything was still impossible. But at least, for tonight, they would both sleep comforted.