He held her trembling body against his heart, feeling her fear wash over him.
He tightened his arms, his heart aching, wishing with all that he was that he could take her fear away. It had been close this time. Too close. Far, far, too close.
She had not let herself crumble before. She had fought to survive and held onto the faith that somehow he would come in time. That faith had driven him even when it seemed most hopeless, when he …
"I felt you go," he said, not even aware he had spoken aloud. Oh, the pain of that moment, when she had slipped away and his anguished cry had echoed off the surrounding hills. He remembered thinking his own life had ended at the same moment, but somehow his voice had reached her and she had turned back. When he gathered her limp body out of the water and desperately given her mouth-to-mouth, between breaths he had begged brokenly, "Don’t leave me! Dear God, Catherine, don’t leave me!"
She had come back Against all odds, she came back. And now, holding her, feeling her heart beat with his and her tears wet the front of his shirt, his own tears fell afresh.
"Don’t cry, my love," he whispered, his voice trembling. "You’re safe now. Thank God, you’re safe."
Still she trembled and sobbed, until Vincent scooped her up in his arms and took her inside. He nudged the door closed behind him, carried her to her bed and gently laid her on it, with her clutching him like a lifeline the whole time. He murmured softly, nonsense words to calm her, but she would not let go. Her hands were cold and he wanted to turn up the heat and find her a blanket, but she refused to release him.
"My poor darling," he said, choking. The only way to warm her, he realized, was with his own body. He shifted so he could lie beside her and drew her against him, tossing the edge of his cloak over her for extra warmth. She wrapped her arms around him and burrowed her face into his neck. He held her tight, and gradually her trembling ceased.
"Oh, Vincent," she said, her voice muffled and still shaken, "thank you." She raised tear-swollen eyes to his. "I love you. God, I love you so much!"
Her face was so close, so frightened, so beloved, that before he realized it, he kissed her. She gave a suppressed cry and clutched his face between her hands, returning the kiss almost desperately.
Lost in the warmth of her arms and her love, he forgot himself and held her almost as desperately, whispering her name, tangling his hands in her hair, until his hands wandered and he touched bare skin. He froze and pulled back.
"No, Catherine, no, we mustn’t," he said, trying to put distance between them.
"I need you, Vincent!"
It almost broke his heart to refuse … and he felt the burning flush infuse his blood, as she looked up at him with smoky eyes … but he must. He couldn’t risk it.
"Catherine, I … can’t. Don’t ask it of me. Please," and this last word came out in a choked, broken voice. She was frightened, vulnerable, she did not know what she might be unleashing. He wanted to – oh, how he wanted to – but he had wanted this for a very long time and had learned to suppress it and would continue to suppress it, forever if need be. If ever they were to … this would not be the time. She wasn’t thinking clearly. He knew.
"Why? Oh, why, Vincent? I need you, please. If ever I needed you, it’s now."
"You’re only in need of comfort and sleep," he said, trying to convince himself as much as her. "It wouldn’t be fair or right and I … I can’t."
"I think you can," she said, her voice quivering and fresh tears coming to her eyes. "You just … you just won’t."
The pain in her heart tore at his and he couldn’t bear it. "Do you know what you ask?"
He closed his eyes, his thudding heart audible in his own ears, but hers was calling to him so pleadingly, her pain so palpable … he pulled her close again, bent his head to hers and held her against his shaking body while he breathed in her scent and tried to calm himself. If he were to give in to her request now, after so long denying himself … and her, he had to admit that, too …
She held onto him, her breath stirring the hair at his neck, coming and going in quick little sobbing pants.
He was undone, and turning his head, he captured her mouth with his. In some part of his mind, he promised himself he would remain in control. He would only go as far as necessary to satisfy Catherine’s need, and his own would remain leashed and bound, as it must be.
She clung to him with soft little whimpering cries, her hands tangled in his hair, stroking the back of his neck. She kissed his cheeks, his brow, his throat, and answering sighs were torn from that throat against his will. When her hands fumbled at his clothing, he helped her, without conscious thought, and helped her with her own as well. Neither of them had paused to put out the lamp burning on the night table and he realized, belatedly, that he had never let her see him, had not prepared her for what lay under the layers of clothing he always wore in deference to the chill of the tunnels and -- he didn’t flinch from the thought – her possible rejection of him. He had seen far more of her. He often came to her balcony late in the evening, when she had changed for bed, and he had seen bare throat and arms and legs and oh, how he had wanted to stroke the velvety softness of her skin …
She seemed to have no reluctance to stroke him. Her hands roamed freely over his body, stroking through the hair and seeking the skin beneath, while her mouth explored his face and neck and even dipped to kiss his chest and shoulders. All the while, her breathing increased along with her heartbeat. Tentatively, he let his hands slide down her arms, around her back, and when she arched her back and pressed against him, he let out a helpless moan.
As always, he knew her feelings as well as his own and what she wanted was his touch, his hands, his mouth … and he gave them to her. With each touch, her skin heated beneath his hands and his own desire to know all of her rose in answer. He rolled her onto her back and bent to kiss her throat, the soft skin between her breasts, and when she guided his head to her breast itself, he obeyed, unable to resist. She gasped at the touch of his lips and tongue and clutched both hands in his hair.
Vincent knew nothing of physical love between a man and a woman except what he had read and without the bond he would have thought he was causing her great anguish. Her breath came and went so quickly, her moans and cries sounded like discomfort and even pain at times, but through the bond he could feel the truth. And the only face in her mind was his.
The wonder of that. She wanted him. It seemed she had long wanted him, wished for him, dreamed of and anticipated this moment. Not with the slightest fear or trepidation but with longing. With hope.
While he, on those very rare occasions when he permitted himself to picture the scene at all, had thought of it with something akin to terror.
He paused, lifted his weight off her and rested on his arms, looking down at her with astonishment. Catherine opened her eyes and met his, somehow realizing she must. She put one trembling hand on his cheek and he closed his eyes at her touch and drew a shuddering sigh.
"My love," she breathed, "I’m yours. Don’t pull away. Please."
"Never," he answered, and lowered his head again, pushing away the last doubt with the strength born of the love that surged through the bond.
Slowly, gently, he began to explore her, with tenderness instead of the wild need that had briefly consumed him a few moments before. Their first time should be special and he would make it so. She relaxed slightly; he felt some of the tension ease under his hands, and sensed that she knew he wouldn’t stop now.
He was appalled, and hid it from her, when he saw that the Watcher had left marks on her – none that required medical attention, but they had caused pain, and Vincent resolutely fought back the anger that rose in his throat at what that … that …
That beast, a voice said in his mind.
Yes, the man was a beast. Vicious. Caring nothing for anyone except himself. And now he was where he could no longer harm Catherine.
While in Vincent’s arms, Catherine’s warm heart beat only for him. Her kisses, her embrace, her very breath rose and fell for him.
He was amazed. He was humbled. And, he admitted it, he was proud. This woman he loved more than his own life loved him, too. Trusted him. Believed in him. And deserved his full attention and devotion now. He should not be thinking about anything else.
"Are you all right?" she whispered, and he realized she had noticed his moment of inattention.
He gazed down into her eyes, so full of love just for him, and he smiled at her – the real smile no one ever saw, because he had always tried to hide the sharp teeth so unlike other men’s – and he said, "My heart, I have never been more all right in my life."
In that moment of realization, he put aside the reserve, the self-consciousness and the pain of all those years before she had come and brought him light, and gave himself fully to her.
Casting his fear away, Vincent drew his hands through Catherine’s tumbled, still-damp hair and kissed her with such longing and abandon that it took both their breaths away. He no longer knew which moans were his and which were hers as he let his hands freely wander over her soft skin and gladly accepted the same from her. When she reached for the swelling evidence of his desire for her, and he felt her first touch in that place so in need of her, he drew a sharp, almost sobbing gasp.
"Vincent?" She released him and he firmly placed her hand back where it had been.
"Sssh," he said, claiming her lips again and giving himself – and her – over to nothing but sensation. Through the bond, he felt the surge of relief she felt that he intended to allow every intimacy.
How long had she wanted this? How had he denied her? What had he been thinking? He no longer knew. Emboldened by this knowledge, he reached for her warm and moist center. Almost as soon as he touched her, she came, clinging to him and gasping his name.
"Don’t stop," she whispered, when she could speak again. "I’ve been saving up a long time."
He couldn’t stop the pleased chuckle that escaped him at that, and positioning himself over her, gently parted her knees. He gave her one long, loving look before guiding himself into her waiting warmth.
The feeling of her surrounding him was like nothing he had ever imagined and he drew another sharp breath, perilously close to falling over the edge. He must not … not until he had drawn this moment out as long as he possibly could.
"Oh, Vincent, how I love you!" she sighed into his hair, her hands tangled amongst the strands.
He couldn’t speak and answered instead by raining kisses over her face and forehead. His heart beat so fast he knew she could feel its pounding against her own as he held her trembling body against his and loved her with everything he had.
Suddenly his own strength to resist failed him and he clutched her close, burying his face in her hair as his breath left him. She held him tightly, and when he sank onto the bed beside her, spent, she curled around him, gently stroking his chest as his breathing gradually slowed.
"How do you feel?" she asked softly.
He smiled. "Blessed."
"Not afraid anymore?"
"No." He kissed the top of her head. "Are you?"
"I never was," she said, glancing up at him with dancing eyes.
"I meant … "
"I know what you meant," she said, sobering. "And no, dearest love of mine, I’m not afraid anymore. You make everything all right. Everything."