Her open hand shot out at lightning speed, striking Vincent hard across the side of his face. He reeled back a step, shocked by the suddenness of the attack ... and the force of the blow ... staring at the woman he loved with incomprehension and hurt in his eyes.
Stunned by the realization of what she had just done, Catherine stepped back as well. She looked down at her hand and felt the sting in her palm, then looked up and met his gaze. Unprepared to face the hurt she saw there, she staggered back another step, closed her eyes and leaned against the cool tunnel wall.
"Oh, Vincent " she whispered, more to herself than to him.
She reached deep for her practiced control, but could find within herself nothing more than a stillness that mimicked calm. Now is not the time to lose it, Chandler ... get a hold of yourself ... She drew a deep breath, filling her lungs with the moist subterranean air, biting at her lower lip before releasing a barely audible sigh and opening her eyes. In the moment necessary to regain her composure, Vincent had turned away from her and was already several paces down the tunnel path.
In this one word ... his name ... spoken by the woman he loved more than anything in this world, Vincent heard her pain, her sorrow, her plea for forgiveness ... and her desire. He stopped mid-stride and waited, silently. He sensed uncertainty in her pace as he heard her approach from behind. Then her hand touched his shoulder. He tried not to react, but his muscles tensed under her touch and her hand fell away.
"Vincent ... please ... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to strike you. So many times I've had to defend myself ... It's become a reflex. I never want to hurt you, Vincent. Can you forgive me?"
"There is nothing to forgive, Catherine." His words were soft and measured.
"Nothing to forgive?!? I struck you ..." she exclaimed, reaching for him, but hesitating not wanting to feel that tension again, reserving her touch for when it might be more welcomed. Vincent turned to face her, pain evident in his expression, the pain she had caused.
"I frightened you," he said. The emotion in his eyes betrayed the evenness with which he made this statement. "I am a monster. You have every reason to fear me, Catherine," his voice dropped and his head lowered in shame.
She closed the gap between them and took his hands in hers, relieved to find no resistance to her touch. With a pang of guilt, she noticed a reddened area on the side of his face. Gently freeing her hand from his, she reached up and touched the spot, bringing her palm to rest upon his cheek and savoring the warmth of his skin. Then she slid her hand down to his chin, grasping it and directing his gaze towards hers.
"No, Vincent. You are not a monster, and if you continue to speak that way I may feel the need to strike you again," she said with a glint of apologetic humor in her eyes. She had confused him, she knew, with this statement and her half-smile, but was relieved to note that the tension in his brow had eased as he cocked his head with a questioning look. "Oh, Vincent ... I'm so sorry," she slid her arms down around his waist, pulling closer to him as she felt herself enveloped by his strong arms. There, encircled by his warmth, she let her mind return to the incident that had brought them to this point.
"We can never be together the way that you want, Catherine," he had said with finality in his voice.
Her frustration grew as they continued what had become an ongoing disagreement regarding their future.
"How can you say 'never'?" She grasped his hand, pulling him towards her. Holding his hand against her heart, she tried to further her argument calmly. "Vincent. You speak of our love in absolute terms. Always ... Everything ... Forever ..."
"Yes," he replied.
She released his hand and took a step back so that she could take in the full extent of the man standing before her. "How can you speak of the love we share in these terms and then speak just as absolutely against the possibility of our ever being together ... truly together?"
She watched him as she spoke ... his anxiety was obvious as he closed his eyes, shook his head, and began to pace. She followed his movements ... waiting. He turned abruptly ... with eyes fixed and dark with agony, he thundered "Because ... There Is No Possibility!"
And that's when it had happened. "Because there is no possibility." Those words hit her with more force than any blow she had ever received. Cut more deeply than any knife ever would. And she responded to this attack instinctively ... she struck back as if fending off an attacker ... as if defending her life. Defending her life.
"Vincent," she said, bringing herself back to reality. "I'm sorry ... but you have to understand that what we share, our love for one another, is everything to me. And when you place limitations on that love, you threaten my very life. It threatens me no less than a gun to my head or a knife to my throat ..." her voice trailed away and she searched his eyes for signs that he understood what she was trying to say.
Vincents breath caught as Catherine's words echoed in his mind. No less than a gun to my head or a knife to my throat He shuddered and looked away, shaking his head to clear away the offending images. Feelings of sorrow and guilt washed over him. She had given him her heart, and he held it so carefully too carefully. The limits all the walls so painstakingly constructed to protect her had cut her off from what she needed most.
He turned and looked into her beautiful eyes, so full of eagerness for him to understand, so full of love, and he struggled to find the words to convey to her that he did understand. He understood everything she felt and everything she wanted, and although he had tried not to want the same things . . . had tried to protect her from hurt ... he realized now that in trying to protect her, he had caused them both great pain.
"Catherine " he said, his hand moving to her cheek, an unconscious mirror of her earlier touch, her skin soft and warm under his caress. "No more limits," he said, as his hand drifted down to her chin and his thumb wandered across her lips. She trembled under his touch as he applied gentle pressure to her chin, lifting her face towards his. He lowered his mouth to hers and placed a soft and lingering kiss on her lips.
No more limits, she thought happily to herself, as he gathered her into a warm embrace.
No more limits