What Love Is
Catherine crept down the tunnel with the echo of the constant roars coming from Vincent surrounding her. She was afraid Ė not of Vincent, for he would never hurt her, no matter what internal demons he might be battling Ė but for him.
Father hadnít wanted her to do this. She had seen the fear in his eyes, the pleading as he tried to stop her, and also the love for both of them. It had taken Father a long time to love her, but now that he did, that love warred within him with the love he had for his son, and the knowledge that Catherine was the only person to go to Vincent now.
As she drew closer, the roaring diminished to soft growling, and to her it sounded as if he had grown too weak to do more. She could see his shadow moving restlessly back and forth, and she hurried.
He was in a cavern so small it barely contained him, and as she turned around the final bend, he saw her. His eyes were glazed and there was no recognition in them Ė the expression was hardly human. Her heart ached at the sight and she rushed toward him. He drew back, lifted his hand Ö and collapsed.
Down the tunnel, the anxious knot of family and friends heard that anguished cry, and Father took an involuntary step.
"No, Father!" Jamie grabbed his arm. "Wait. Sheíll call if she needs us."
Catherine fell to her knees beside Vincent. In the flickering torchlight, his skin was ashen, his eyes sunken. She laid her head against his chest and couldnít hear his heart Ė and he wasnít breathing.
"No! No! You canít. You canít. I wonít let you! Not without me!" She had learned CPR at work, a requirement she had resented at the time, but now the training came back to her and she began working over the still form, choking back the sobs that threatened, concentrating only on her task. There was no response at first, and Catherine worked even more desperately, wishing she could spare the breath to call for help.
Father couldnít stand it any longer. It was too quiet. "Iím going," he said, pulling away from Jamieís restraining hand. "Pascal, come with me."
The two men rushed down the passageway as fast as Fatherís arthritis would allow, and when they reached the cavern opening, Pascal drew back, allowing Father to go first. Father took one look at the scene and tossed his cane aside.
"You breathe. Iíll do the chest compressions."
Catherine nodded, unable to do more, and finally, Vincent gave a gasp.
"Keep it up," Father ordered, the physician taking over and the fatherís desperate worry pushed aside for the moment. He bent his head to listen, laid his fingers across Vincentís wrist, and when he glanced at Catherine and saw her eyes, he called to Pascal. "Come in here. Take over."
"No, I can Ė"
"No, you canít," Father countered. "Pascal!"
But at that moment, Vincent gasped again, and then once more, and though his breaths were shallow and panting, they were regular. Father bent his head again, and sat back on his heels.
"We must get him home," Father said to Pascal. "Send for a stretcher."
Pascal nodded, touched Catherineís shoulder and hurried off.
"Heís alive," Catherine said, stroking his hair. "Oh, Father, I was so scared."
"Heís not out of danger yet," Father said grimly, still holding Vincentís hand and keeping his fingers on the weak pulse in his sonís wrist. "But your quick thinking saved him, Catherine. Thank you." He reached for her hand with his free hand, and squeezed it. His was shaking.
Catherine squeezed back, but never took her eyes off Vincentís face.
Pascal returned with three other men bearing a stretcher. They eased Vincentís unconscious form onto it and gently carried him through the tunnels toward home, with Kipper leading the way holding a powerful flashlight. Catherine wanted to stay with Vincent, but forced herself to lag behind and help Father.
"Can you save him?" she asked, her voice trembling.
Father laid his hand on her arm. "My dear, you did that. Now he must heal. Itís not over, but if love can bring him back, he will come back."
A tear ran down her cheek, now that she could afford the luxury, and Father stopped walking and put an arm around her shoulders. "Catherine, please donít. Be strong. He needs your strength. Come now." He kissed her temple, as he often did Vincentís, and she was comforted enough to give him a trembling smile.
When they reached Vincentís chamber, he had already been put to bed, and Mary was hovering over him. Father became businesslike again. "We must get these dirty clothes off of him," he said. "Catherine, his nightshirt is in the wardrobe. Mary, fetch my bag. Whereís Kipper?"
"Here, Father." The boy had been in the corridor.
"Run to Peter," Father said, taking a pad of paper from Vincentís desk and writing on it quickly. "Tell him I need these things immediately. Run."
Kipper took the list and ran.
Following Fatherís orders, Catherine and Mary removed Vincentís filthy outer clothing. Mary bathed his face while Catherine built up a fire in the small grate and then, at Fatherís direction, fetched more blankets.
"Heís in shock," Father said. "We must keep him warm. I wish we could get some soup into him."
"How long will he be unconscious?" Catherine smoothed the soft golden hair away from Vincentís eyes.
Father shook his head. "I donít know. Last time Ö" He stopped and rubbed his eyes with one hand. "I donít know."
The three of them took turns watching over Vincent, whose breathing had at last settled into a natural rhythm. Kipper returned with a box of supplies and the news that Peter would come as soon as he could, and Father gave Vincent an injection.
"What was that?" Catherine asked.
"An antibiotic we know he can tolerate," Father said. "Heís running a fever. We must be sure. This one," he prepared a second hypo, "is vitamins. He hasnít eaten for days. Beyond that," he finished giving the second injection, "and prayers, thereís not much else we can do."
Father dressed the various abrasions and cuts Vincent had sustained -- none, thankfully, very serious -- pulled the covers up over him again, and sat down.
"Catherine, you might as well go home and get some rest," he said as the night wore on. "Iíll stay with Vincent."
"I canít leave him."
"My dear, you canít help him if youíre exhausted," Father said gently. "He wonít awaken for some time yet, Iím sure. And wonít your friends and employer wonder where you are?"
"Not for a while yet," she said, glancing at her watch. "Iím not due in to work until eight and itís only a little after three now Ė"
Father put a hand over hers. "You canít work with no sleep."
"Iíll call in sick," she said. "I only have to get to a phone in time for that. Really, Father, I want to be here."
"Then at least take a nap," he urged. "Mary will find you a spare bed. You know," his eyes twinkled, ever so slightly, "Vincent would never forgive me if I allowed you to make yourself ill."
Catherine smiled wearily. "You must be tired, too."
"Not really," he said. "I often stay up late into the night reading. Sleep awhile and then Iíll let you take over and Iíll sleep. Go on, now."
Catherine gave in, mostly because he was right and she was barely holding her eyes open. She knew her way around this area well enough to find an empty chamber and collapse onto the bed, and then she knew nothing more for several hours.
One of the children awakened her shortly before 7 so she could call in to work, and led her to a nearby Helperís home Above where she could use a telephone rather than have to make the long trek back to her apartment. She told the receptionist she had "a bug" and asked her to pass the message to Joe and that sheíd call in later, then returned to Vincentís chamber. Mary had taken Fatherís place and told her Father had gone to bed.
"How is he?" Catherine asked, reaching for Vincentís limp hand and shaking her head at the heat there.
"He hasnít stirred," Mary said. "Not even when Father gave him another injection a few minutes ago. But his breathing is steady and look, his color is better, too."
"Heís still too hot."
Mary nodded. "But thatís to be expected, Father said. He ran a much higher fever Ö before Ö and recovered. Father is encouraged, Catherine. Donít worry so much."
Two days passed with no change in Vincent. Peter came Below and brought an IV to keep him from becoming dehydrated, and only shook his head when Catherine asked when he thought Vincent would awaken.
"Cathy, I donít understand his physiology even as well as Jacob does," he said. "And Jacob is guessing as often as not. We just have to treat him the best we know how and leave the rest to him. Heís strong and heís healthy in general, and as long as he doesnít take a turn for the worse, I think itís just a matter of time. In all the years Iíve known him, heís hardly ever been sick. He did eat too much candy one Halloween," he finished with a fond glance at the silent form on the bed. "He and Devin and Mitch all kept us very busy for a few days."
Catherine smiled, too, imagining a small Vincent greedily stuffing chocolate into his mouth.
She had to return to work, though she wondered how much good she was doing, with her mind constantly on Vincent Below. Joe noticed her distraction and started to ask her about it, but changed his mind. He had learned that Catherine resented too much intrusion into her personal life.
But she had been thinking about that, and one day she came into his office and asked to talk. Joe sat back in his chair, puzzled.
It was horribly difficult, but Catherine finally told him, with very little detail, about Vincent.
"He isnít well," she got out at last.
"Iím sorry," Joe said, still trying to take in the fact that Catherine had someone in her life. It explained a lot that had confused him for some time. "Is there anything I can do?"
She tried to smile, but it didnít reach her misty eyes. "Iím praying."
She had to take a deposition that evening, and when she reached Vincentís chamber, most of the Tunnel dwellers had already gone to bed. Jamie was taking a turn sitting with him, with a book open on her lap that she wasnít reading. She was, instead, sitting with her chin propped in her hands, simply watching Vincent sleep Ė or whatever it was he was doing.
Catherine paused in the doorway, so as not to startle her. "Jamie? How is he?"
Jamie turned her head and Catherine saw the tears in her eyes.
"Jamie?" Catherine rushed to Vincentís side, but he looked no worse; in fact, he looked a bit better.
"I canít remember a time when Vincent wasnít Ö here," Jamie said softly. "Any time I ever needed someone to talk to, or a hug, or," she laughed a little through her tears, "a scolding, Vincent was there. Heís my big brother, my teacher, my friend Ö Cathy," she rubbed at her face with the edge of her sweater, "Iím scared."
Catherine sat down on the edge of the bed and wrapped Jamie in a hug. "I know. Me, too. I wish there were something more we could do."
That night, Catherine did not leave to go to a chamber to sleep or to go home. The next day was Saturday and she wasnít expected to work, and she, like Jamie had, merely sat and watched Vincent. He stirred a bit at one point, turned over onto his side, and for the first time in many hours and days, Catherine thought he looked as if he were sleeping instead of unconscious. She rested her hand on his hair and spoke softly to him, but he didnít respond.
At some point she must have dozed off, because she awoke to find their hands clasped, with her cheek resting on them. She raised her head and a burst of joy ran through her being when she met Vincentís open eyes. He looked confused and even a bit frightened, but aware.
"Vincent?" she whispered.
He blinked very slowly. "Am I Ö is it Ö over?"
"Yes," she said, not entirely sure what he was talking about, but anxious to soothe and comfort him. "Youíre in your own bed and weíve been very worried about you, but youíre fine now."
He rolled onto his back, but kept a grip on her hand. She saw his eyes travel over the shelves and walls before returning to hers. "How Ö long?"
"Three days or so," she said, not sure herself anymore.
He glanced at the IV taped to his hand and his eyes went up to the clear bag on the pole. "Is that Ö?"
"Itís to keep you from getting dehydrated," she said. "Peter put it there. We could probably take it out, but Iíd rather let him or Father do it."
"Father? Where is Ö ?"
"Heís asleep," she said. "My turn to watch over you tonight."
His eyes rested on her face again and stayed there, as if he were trying to memorize it. "I donít Ö I canít remember Ö "
"Donít try," she said. "Youíve been ill. You need to rest. Can I get you anything? Some tea? Water?"
"Water," he said gratefully. "Please."
She reluctantly released his hand and turned to the pitcher on the table. Pouring out a cupful, she wondered if she were strong enough to help him sit up, but he struggled up onto one elbow by himself and took the cup. He drained it in one swallow and mutely asked for more. She poured another cup and he drank this one a bit more slowly, closing his eyes as if heíd never tasted anything like it. She smiled at him.
He shook his head once and lay back down. "Thank you."
She stroked his hair and felt his forehead Ė cool now, thank heaven Ė and he allowed it, closing his eyes again. After a moment, he took her other hand in both of his and simply held it.
"You came for me," he said after a long silence.
"Werenít you afraid?"
"For you," she said. "Not of you."
"The others were."
She shook her head and continued to stroke his hair. "No. But they knew Ö" she hesitated.
"They knew what?"
"You needed me," she said. "Not them. Me."
He gazed at her face again and his grip on her hands tightened. "Thank you."
"Vincent," she said, quietly, but urgently, "you hold my heart in your hands. Youíre my life, my world. I came for you as you would have Ė and have Ė come for me. Nothing would have kept me away. Nothing."
His eyes grew moist and he closed them again.
Keeping his eyes closed, he said softly, "I know you. I Ö love you. But Ö "
"But what?" she asked when he didnít continue.
A tear escaped and ran down his temple into his hair. "I canít remember Ö your name."
Catherine was glad his eyes were closed. That stung deeper than she wanted him to know. But Father had warned her that the last time this had happened, when Vincent was very young, he had been confused upon awakening.
"Catherine," she said. "My name is Catherine."
"Catherine," he said, even more softly. He still did not open his eyes.
He had not forgotten her, she told herself. Only her name. After what heíd been through, it was only to be expected that it would take time for him to return to his former self. She knew she had to reassure him. Resting her forehead against his, she whispered, "Itís okay, Vincent. Youíve been through a terrible ordeal."
"So have you," he said. "Thanks to me."
She sat up. "Donít," she pleaded. "Donít blame yourself. All that matters is that youíre getting well."
At last, he opened his eyes and met hers. He raised her hand, the one he still held, to his lips and kissed it. Heíd never done that before, and she was stunned at the effect it had on her. Warmth traveled from the place his lips had touched to every cell in her body. He held their clasped hands against his heart.
"I would have died, if not for you," he said. "That, I did not forget."
Peter removed the IV in the morning and Vincent sat up to eat some clear broth Mary had made for him. He would have to begin eating again slowly after several days without solid food. It took only a few sips before he was drooping and had to lie down again, but Father told Catherine, out of his hearing, that he was much encouraged.
"Heís out of danger," Father said, and when that brought tears of relief to Catherineís eyes, he pulled her against him in the kind of fierce hug his son sometimes received. "My dear, youíve been so strong. Donít let your courage fail now."
"It hasnít, Father," she said, her voice muffled in his shoulder. "Iím just so happy to hear that. And," she pulled back and smiled at him, "to know that youíve finally accepted me completely."
"Catherine," Father began, and then didnít seem to know what else to say. Finally, he put a hand under her chin. "I accepted you long ago," he said quietly. "Vincent loves you, and you have done more for him and for the rest of us than we have any right to ask. You are part of the family. We all love you." He kissed her forehead, then turned her in the direction of her apartment. "Now go home, take a shower and a nap, and weíll see you for dinner." He smiled, adding, as the children did when all other arguments failed, "Father says."
Catherine chuckled. She, too, had heard that catchword. "Yes, Father. See you tonight."
Jenny had left several worried messages on her machine, and Catherine debated how much to tell her friend. She couldnít plead work commitments, because one of the messages included the information that Jenny had "tried you at work" and had not reached her there, either. And Jenny already suspected, with good reason, that Catherine had secrets.
When Jenny heard Catherineís voice, she immediately started firing questions at her faster than it was possible to answer.
"Jenny, Jenny, give me a chance, here," Catherine broke in, laughing.
"Why havenít you returned my calls?" Jenny demanded.
"A sick friend," Catherine said truthfully. "Iíve been helping take care of him, and itís meant a lot of time away in the evenings."
"Him?" Jennyís voice took on that note that said she wasnít going to accept an evasion.
Catherine sighed. She didnít want to lie, but she couldnít tell the truth.
"Who? Anyone I know?"
"No," Catherine said. "And donít start getting ideas, either."
"You sound exhausted. How sick is he?"
"He almost died," Catherine said, and couldnít keep the tremor out of her voice.
"Oh, Cathy. How is he now? Better?"
"Yes, he turned the corner last night. His Ö doctor said heís going to make it."
"So who is he? Why donít you want to talk about him?"
Damn. Jenny was far too perceptive. Catherine debated and finally said, "Iím not sure where this is going yet, Jen. I just Ö canít."
"Youíre close enough that you take care of him when heís sick and you donít know where itís going?" After a pause, Jenny said, more gently, "Okay. Youíll tell me when youíre ready. Iíll let it go for now. Iím glad everythingís all right."
Following Fatherís orders, Catherine took a shower and a nap, made herself a strong cup of tea and a sandwich, and spent the afternoon resting. When the shadows grew long, she headed back to the Tunnels, much refreshed. Father knows best, she thought with an inward grin.
She knew her way to Vincentís chamber now without needing a guide, and when she arrived there, she peeked in before entering, for fear of awakening Vincent. He was lying on his back, asleep, the covers kicked half off, his arms over his head and his golden hair in disarray. His shirt was off and though Catherine had helped remove his clothes a few days ago, heíd been so sick and sheíd been so worried that she had only been focused on his well-being. Now, with that worry mostly gone and Vincent unaware of her presence, she could really look at him.
He had lost weight during his ordeal, but the lean muscles of his torso had not yet begun to lose tone. Thick golden hair, a bit darker than that of his head, covered his chest and thinned on his stomach, letting her catch tantalizing glimpses of the skin beneath. His body was beautifully shaped, strong and muscular, slender and powerful at the same time.
He stirred, moaned a little in his sleep, and turned onto his side. The covers that lay across his legs shifted with him and tangled between his legs, clad in soft and well-worn sweatpants. The sight, the sound, made Catherine go warm all over, and unbidden, the memory of Vincentís lips against the back of her hand made her give an involuntary shiver.
She wanted him.
She always had, really, she realized now, but had resolutely refused to admit it even to herself, much less to him.
He opened his eyes and saw her there, and a soft smile lit his eyes. "Catherine."
Strangely, he made no move to cover himself. He shifted, scooted himself to a half-sitting position, and held out a hand. She went to him, sank onto the edge of the bed, and laid her head against his chest. His arm closed around her shoulder and she felt the brush of his lips against her hair.
"I dreamed of you," he said, so softly she would have missed it but for their closeness.
She smiled. "Did you?"
"You read to me," he said. "A poem Iíve always loved. I canít remember it all Ö" his voice trembled, just a little, "so many things I canít remember Ö"
"Can you remember any of it? Maybe I can find it for you."
"Come to me in my dreams, and then by day I shall be well again," he said. "And another line was, Ďand part my hair and kiss my brow, and say: "My love, why sufferest thou?"í
Catherine sat up, and with moist eyes, she parted the hair on his forehead, kissed his brow as the poem said, and smiled down into his face. "Thatís Matthew Arnold," she said. "I canít remember the title, but you told me once it was one of your favorites."
"Yes," he said slowly. "It is." He put a hand against her cheek and gazed at her so longingly that when he gently drew her head down, the kiss that followed felt completely natural, though the only time her lips had ever touched his had been after her fatherís death, and he had not kissed her back. Heíd been too surprised, she remembered fondly.
She was afraid to remark upon this change and decided to simply concentrate on enjoying it. She laid her head against his shoulder again, and his arms closed around her. He gave a long, deep sigh.
They were still lying like that when Father appeared in the doorway. He hesitated uncertainly, and his eyes went to Catherine. She could have sworn she saw a flush stain his cheeks. He recovered quickly, however.
"Some of the children are bringing your dinner," he said after a moment. "Vincent isnít strong enough to walk to the dining hall and we thought Ė" His eyes sought Catherineís again, " Ė that he would prefer your company to a solitary meal."
She sat up and ran a hand over her hair to smooth it. Vincent struggled to a sitting position. "Catherine, would you hand me a shirt, please?"
Catherine brought him a shirt and helped him into it, receiving a smile as her reward. He swung his legs over the side of his bed, sitting there for a moment with his eyes closed.
"Are you all right?" Catherine sat beside him and put her arm around him.
"Yes. Just weak, still."
"Food will help," Father said, coming close enough to touch his forehead and lift his hand to feel his pulse. "Donít sit up too long, son."
"I find myself growing tired of lying around," Vincent answered, with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Come," Father said. "Sit in a chair where you can lean back." Between Father and Catherine, they managed to get him to his desk chair. The effort made Vincent breathe heavily for a moment, but he smiled as he settled himself.
"Much better," he said. "Could the children eat with us? Iíve missed them."
Father glanced at Catherine. "Of course, Vincent. Iíll let them know."
The contingent who brought dinner consisted of Eric, Kipper, Cammie and a very small girl called Amanda, who carried only her favorite doll. Amanda hung back while the others fussed over getting the table set and making sure Vincent had everything he could possibly want. While that was going on, Amanda never stopped staring at Vincent, until he finally asked her why.
"Father says youíre sick."
"Iím getting better," he answered.
"Whoíll fix my dolly if youíre sick?" she said.
"Whatís wrong with your dolly?" Vincent spoke to her as gravely as if the "dolly" were a living thing, the same way he always addressed the children. It was one of the reasons they all loved him so.
"She needs a hug," Amanda said, holding it out.
"I can do that," Vincent said. "What I have is not contagious." When she stared at him blankly, his eyes twinkled. "Catching. Itís not catching."
Amanda handed him the dolly and Vincent smoothed its hair before giving it a gentle hug. Then he held out his arms to the child.
"Do you want one, too?"
Amanda nodded and tried to scramble up onto his lap, but she was small and needed a boost. Vincent automatically began to lift her but Kipper, perceptive, noticed his difficulty and assisted.
Catherine was dismayed and tried to keep that dismay off her face. Vincent, so strong, couldnít lift a 3-year-old baby? But his eyes met hers over the top of the childís head and he had seen her expression. He gave Amanda a hug, settled her more comfortably on his lap and said only, "Shall we eat?"
Resolutely, Catherine decided to follow his lead. Williamís excellent chicken and dumplings occupied everyoneís attention for some time, but once the first hunger pangs were gone, she said very casually, "I brought Father a present."
Vincent raised his eyes to her. "Indeed. And what is it, to make you look so mischievous?"
"A boom box," she said.
"No reception down here," Kipper said through a mouthful of food.
"It also plays tapes," she informed him.
"A boom box?" Vincent was clearly unacquainted with the term.
"Itís one of those big radio things, like a portable stereo," Kipper said. "I saw her stash it in the corridor."
"You get around, donít you?" Catherine teased. "I also brought several cassettes. Some for Father. Some for the children."
Kipper gave her a suspicious look. "Whatíd you bring for us?"
"Oh, Bruce Springsteen. Foreigner. Bon Jovi. Stuff like that." Kipperís face brightened more with each name.
"And for Father?" Vincent asked.
"What do you think? Beethoven."
"Heíll be pleased," Vincent said. "If he can keep this boom box away from the children."
Catherine gave Kipper a stern look. "You guys can only use it when Father doesnít want to, you got that? And donít play it too loud, either."
"We wonít. Promise."
"What made you think of this?" Vincent asked.
"I know Father misses music and while the childrenís orchestra is very good," Catherine paused to smile at Cammie, who played cello in that orchestra, "I thought heíd like to hear some recordings occasionally, too. And, I thought the kids would get a kick out of it. Are you all finished? Iíll help you get all this stuff back to the dining hall."
"Nope," Kipper shook his head. "Weíll do it. Part of our job. Come on, Eric, start grabbiní stuff."
Amanda showed no inclination to give up her seat on Vincentís lap Ė or to help Ė until Kipper simply picked her up and set her on her feet, handing her a stack of napkins. She took them, gave Vincent a smile and, as an afterthought, Catherine, then trotted off behind the others.
"Youíre worried," Vincent said.
Catherine opened her mouth to answer but found herself with nothing to say to that.
"Please donít be," he said. "My strength is returning day by day."
"Itís just that Iíve seen you do Ö so much more," she said, helplessly. "I guess it frightened me that you couldnít lift Amanda."
"I will lift her," he said gently. "I promise. Please, just be patient, as Iím learning to be."
Father came in to check on Vincent and offer to help him get back to bed, but Vincent refused. He said he wanted to sit up as long as he could.
"Would you like me to read to you?" Catherine asked once Father had left.
"Perhaps later," he said. "I would like to ask you to help me remember some of the things I cannot."
Uh-oh. "Like what?"
"Tell me about what happened. Before Ö this."
"Oh, Vincent, no. Why? Itís not important now."
"Just tell me if I Ö hurt anyone."
"No. You went off by yourself so you wouldnít." She slid out of her seat and knelt next to him, taking his hands.
"Catherine," he dropped his eyes to their entwined hands, stroking hers gently, "I have to confront what you have already confronted. When you came to me in that dark place, what was I doing?"
"Pacing." She paused. "You didnít know me, I donít think."
"I was lost inside myself."
She nodded, though he wasnít looking at her. She saw him swallow hard.
"I wish you hadnít seen me like that."
She reached up and lifted his chin, making him look at her. "It doesnít change anything. We all have dark places. When you love someone, you accept both dark and light."
"Your dark places donít endanger those you love."
"No? How about all those times I went into danger, knowing youíd be there to pull me out?"
His eyebrows rose.
"Vincent," she scooted closer, "Iíve had some time to think, too. Iíve realized how often I did risky things I should never have done, things that endangered you, because I knew youíd come after me. Iím so sorry."
"You have nothing to be sorry for."
"But I do!" Tears came to her eyes. "Maybe my actions helped drive you to Ö this."
He shook his head. "No, I have battled with my dark places for years."
"But have you had to confront those dark places day after day, constantly? No. You had learned to live with them. Until I came along."
"Catherine, you changed my life. I could not live without you." His voice trembled. "I would not be alive if not for you."
"Nor would I, if not for you," she countered. "Do you see, Vincent? We need each other. We accept each otherís dark places. We Ė"
"We are each otherís light," he finished for her.
She smiled. "Yes."
He lifted her hand to his face and held it against his cheek. "Then neither of us has anything to apologize for."
She found the book with the Matthew Arnold poem in it and read it to him, but she soon realized he was drooping with exhaustion. "Let me get you back into bed," she said. "Donít pretend youíre fine when youíre not."
He gave a rueful chuckle. "I would like to lie down."
"Come, then." She took his arm, and within a few moments, he was settled back on his bed, with the blankets laid across his lap. He sighed.
"Itís late. I should go and let you sleep. I donít suppose you need someone watching you every moment any longer."
"What day is today?" he asked.
"Then you are not expected at work tomorrow."
He raised his eyes to hers. "Will you stay, then? With me?"
She felt her face flush. He doesnít mean what it sounds like he means. But how wonderful it would be to sleep next to him, and wake up with him.
She had done that, when this ordeal began in her apartment all those days ago. But he had not been himself then. "Iíd like that. If youíre sure."
She blew out most of the candles, leaving one on the table, and curled up beside him. She lay her head on his shoulder, and his arms came around her as if theyíd always slept this way. She listened to his heartbeat and the soft sound of his breath and had almost drifted off when he softly said, "Catherine?"
"Will you tell me something?"
"What?" Uh-oh. Again.
"You seem uneasy. Have I done something to make you so?"
She smiled and snuggled closer. "Not even close."
"Then Ö ?"
She shifted so she could look at him in the flickering light. "Vincent, my love, until yesterday you would not have dreamed of asking me to sleep in your bed. At least, not while you were in it, too."
He clearly did not understand, and she wondered if she should let it go, for fear of making that reserve return.
"Until today," she finally continued, "you had never kissed my lips. I kissed you once, but you didnít kiss back."
The blank astonishment on his face made her want to smile. "Never?"
"Never. And," she couldnít resist adding, "you wouldnít have dreamed of letting me see you without a shirt."
"But Ö we Ö "
"Vincent, Iím so happy about it that words fail me," she said, giving in to an urge to kiss his cheek, "so letís just be content."
"Iíve never known," she confessed. "And you were so reserved, I didnít want to ask. I guessed it was because .."
"Because of what I am."
"I suppose." She sat up and said urgently, "But it was your choice. Not mine. I let you lead the way. I have never been afraid to be close to you. Never."
He closed his eyes, whether in weariness or something else, she could not tell. So she lay down again, curled up against his warmth, and his arms automatically drew around her in response. He kissed the top of her head. "There should be no reserve between lovers," he said, his breath stirring her hair. "I think this resistance of mine has caused you pain. Iím sorry."
"It doesnít matter now," she said sleepily. "Just hold me."
His hand came under her chin and he turned her face up to kiss her, so gently and lovingly it brought a mist to her eyes. "It appears," he said softly, "that I have to make up for lost time." He smoothed her hair, tucked her head against his shoulder and laid his cheek against her head.
Catherine woke up the next morning with Vincent curled around her spoon-like and for just a moment, didnít know where she was. But it took only one glance and the hand and arm that lay protectively across her body to remind her. He stirred in his sleep and she turned over so she could face him just as his eyes opened and he smiled at her.
"Not yet," he answered.
She accepted that; in the Tunnels, day and night were the same to her, but Vincent had uncanny senses. "Then we should go back to sleep, I guess."
Softly, he stroked her cheek, letting his fingers linger momentarily on the scar in front of her left ear. He let his hand move down her arm and rest on her waist, and she shivered.
"Are you cold?" He pulled the covers up higher, but paused when she gave a quiet giggle. She saw the flush stain his cheeks as he realized what had made her shiver. "I fear I am Ö inexperienced in these matters," he said. "From what youíve said, very much so."
"And youíre not well enough to worry about it right now," she said, touching the shadows under his eyes. "You really frightened me, you know. You were so sick. Father and Peter were beside themselves, not knowing what to do for you."
He was silent, for so long that she looked up to see if heíd gone back to sleep. But he had not.
"Our bond," he said. "When you said you had been frightened, I realized that I did not know. I donít know what youíre feeling now, unless you tell me or I can see it in your eyes."
It was Catherineís turn to be silent as she took that in. Their bond had always been mostly one way, though she had occasionally had moments when she could feel it, too. It was not surprising that she would not notice its absence. And their closeness, physical and emotional, these last couple of days, had probably kept Vincent from noticing its absence also.
"Perhaps that explains why youíre not so shy with me as before," she ventured at last.
"No, that doesnít make sense. I would think that sensing my emotions, youíd have known I wanted to be close to you like this," she said.
Another long pause. "I think I did," he said. "I was Ö protecting you. From me."
"And now," he said, "I no longer have the strength."
She knew he didnít mean only his physical strength. "Is that so bad?"
"I hope not."
Over the next week, Vincentís strength and memory returned a little more each day. By Friday, he was able to walk all the way to the dining hall for his meals, and when Catherine arrived for that eveningís meal Ė bearing an enormous chocolate sheet cake sheíd brought as her contribution Ė he gave her a mischievous look as he lifted Amanda into a chair.
She shook her head and laughed softly. "Canít resist showing off?"
"I wish only to remove the worry from your eyes," he said, far too innocently, as he took the cake and set it on the table. "Have you taken up the bakerís art?"
"Hardly," she said. "I cheated and bought it at a bakery. You donít think William will be insulted?"
"No," he said, seating himself beside her. "He wonít mind at all."
Dinner in the Tunnels was always a noisy affair, much like a huge family Thanksgiving, Catherine always thought, with the children chattering and the adults catching up after a whole day spent in their various duties. Breakfast and lunch were unscheduled meals Below, and only rarely did the entire community meet for those, but the evening meal was the one time of day when all ate together.
The children clamored for a bedtime story afterward, since theyíd been deprived of their favorite storyteller for so long, and Vincent, with an apologetic look toward Catherine, agreed.
"What shall we read?" he asked when they had all gathered around in Fatherís chamber.
That last suggestion seemed to meet with everyoneís approval, and when Eric had found the book and brought it to Vincent, Vincent opened it to the story of Tom and Becky getting lost in the cave.
It had been years since Catherine had read the book, not since she was a child, and Vincentís talent at bringing written words to life made her listen almost as excitedly as the children did. She shivered, too, when the townsfolk opened the front door of the cave and found Injun Joe lying there dead.
Vincent closed the book. "Thatís enough for tonight," he said. "Off to bed with all of you."
But each and every child had to collect a good-night hug first, and by the time theyíd all left, she could see that Vincentís energy was flagging.
"I think itís Ďoff to bedí for you, too," she said, smiling. "You look tired."
"I am," he said, laying the book on Fatherís study table, "but I am not as weary as I have been. Come with me. We have not had a chance to talk all evening."
They passed Father in the corridor, and he gave them both a smile, but to Catherine he also gave a questioning look. She paused to give him a hug before following Vincent on to his own chamber.
"You and Father," he remarked, "seem to have become quite affectionate recently."
"We have," she said, taking his arm and smiling up at him, "brought together by our love for you."
He put his free hand over hers and drew her into his chamber, leading her to his bed to sit. "He is still worried about our relationship."
"Maybe," she said. "But he has accepted it. He said so."
"Astonishing," Vincent said. "Apparently I missed that during my Ö illness."
"Not so astonishing," she said. "He recognizes inevitability when he sees it."
Vincent smiled, rose, and pulled the curtain across the doorway to his chamber. Catherine watched this with some puzzlement. He returned to the bed and resumed his seat, turning to face her. "No one will disturb us with that in place," he explained.
Catherineís heart sped up slightly at his words. There was a different light in his eyes suddenly, an expression sheíd not seen there before.
He took her hands in his and dropped his eyes to them. "Catherine, I want you to understand some things, and then you can decide whether you wish to .. proceed." He paused, thoughtfully stroking the backs of her hands with his thumbs.
She didnít speak; she thought he needed her silence now.
He drew a deep breath. "I was young, when I loved Lisa," he went on. "A boy, really, with no control over either heart or mind. I have often thought that what happened with Lisa doomed me to a life alone, that I could never dare to love another or Ö desire a woman again. That I am too dangerous in that state. That I would hurt a woman I loved."
She desperately wanted to tell him he was wrong, but something stayed her.
"I know that the consummation of our love would mean a certain loss of control," he said, his voice going so soft that even in the silence of his chamber, she had to strain to hear him. "I am still afraid. Yet at the same time, I can no longer pretend I can deny either you or myself what we both want." He looked up then, and she could see that desire warring with an equal amount of fear. "I love you," he said. "I would never hurt you. As myself. But I do not know if I would remain Ö myself."
"Vincent, when I came to you in that cave," she said, almost as softly as he had spoken, "you did not know me, at least on the surface. Yet you did not hurt me. You canít. It is not possible. I Ö am not afraid."
He gazed into her eyes for several moments, and she held that gaze steadily. Finally, he drew another deep breath, let go of her hands and rose. He blew out candles here and there, leaving a few, before coming back and sitting down. Mutely, he opened his arms, and she sank into them, resting her head on his chest and hearing the quickening beat of his heart. He turned so that she lay beside him, his arm under her head, and when he lowered his head to kiss her, his golden hair fell around her like a curtain. Eagerly she returned the kiss, wrapping her arms around his back and holding on as if she would never let go.
His hand shook slightly as he lifted it to stroke her hair back and when she opened her eyes, he was gazing at her as if she were a treasure. She smiled, a little tremulously, and pulled at the tie that held his shirt closed. It gave way, allowing the shirt to fall open. She raised her head and kissed his chest over his heart. He gave a soft moan at the touch of her lips.
She pushed the shirt off his shoulders and he allowed it, helping, until it lay in a pile on the floor. Her own followed a moment later.
"I want to feel all of you against me," she whispered.
He seemed incapable of speech, but he obeyed the wish, kicking off boots and wriggling out of his jeans and, amazingly, standing up, almost posing, while she gazed up at him in delight. She forgot to finish disrobing herself in the wonder of seeing all of him for the first time.
He wet his lips, then had to repeat the action before he could speak. "Youíre sure?"
"Absolutely," she answered at once, holding up her arms. When he lowered his body beside hers, the feel of his body against her made her shiver. "I have dreamed of this," she whispered into his ear, following that with a kiss.
"As have I," he said, his voice husky, his breath warm against her cheek.
He was tender as he explored her body, careful but with a barely-suppressed eagerness she found exciting. His hands were warm, and shook a little as he touched and kissed her. She delighted in discovering he was ticklish at the knees, and when she dared to kiss her way down his torso, the trembling sigh he gave made her own knees go weak.
He was breathing hard by the time he hovered above her, waiting for her signal that she was ready. In her need for him, she pulled at his waist and lifted her hips invitingly, gazing up at him pleadingly. He held his breath and closed his eyes and entered her, gently. She gasped his name.
All the dreams sheíd had, awake and asleep, of this moment paled next to the reality. It was as if their hearts and minds had melded as one. She could actually feel his emotions and understood, for the first time, what their bond was. She knew his thoughts, could sense his concern for her, his wonder Ö the depth of his love. And at the moment he crested the brink, she felt that, too, even before the sound of his "Oh, Catherine" reached her ears. She held him even tighter, and when his muscles relaxed, and he sank down next to her, she tangled her fingers gently in the tumbled golden hair.
Neither of them could speak, but speech was unnecessary. She knew what he was feeling and knew he felt the same connection. As their breaths and hearts slowed and returned to normal, that feeling faded, but it had been there. It had been real.
"Our bond Ö"
"I felt it, too," he said, his voice shaking. "Catherine, I had no idea. My dreams did not prepare me Ö "
"And," she said, turning so she could look into his wonderful and wonder-filled eyes, "we both came through safely."
"We did." He kissed her forehead. "You never doubted."
"Not for a moment."
He gazed at her thoughtfully. "The bond is fading, but I can still feel it."
"Maybe weíll just have to keep making love so it wonít fade," she said wickedly.
He chuckled, but that look of wonder remained. "Do Ö other people feel this way after Ö "
"After making love?" She propped herself on an elbow and stroked his chest Ė the wonder of having the freedom to do that! Ė and grinned when he gave a tremulous sigh. "Yes and no. The physical part, yes. But, my love, we are the only ones I know of who can feel each otherís feelings."
He blinked. "You felt mine?"
"Can you still?"
"Not really. But, Vincent, even if I can only sense your feelings when weíre making love, itís more than I hoped for." She laid her cheek against his furry chest and burrowed her face against him.
"Catherine, do you Ö "
She looked up. He was flushed and not all of it was afterglow. He seemed unable to continue. "What is it?" she asked at last.
"Do you Ö mind my Ö" Giving up, he mutely indicated his body.
"Vincent!" She sat all the way up at that. "I love you. All of you. This," she lifted his hand and kissed the palm, "and this," she stroked his chest. "Iíve never loved anyone as I love you. All of you. Just exactly as you are. I wouldnít change one single thing. Nothing."
Instead of answering, he reached up and drew her against himself and she felt his emotions again Ė perhaps because they were so strong Ė the love, the gratitude, the wonder. His breath rose and fell shakily.
They fell asleep like that, and sometime in the night, one or the other of them pulled the blankets up over them. When Catherine awoke the next morning, it was with her head on Vincentís shoulder, his arms around her, their legs tangled together, and one candle still burning bright.
I want to know what love is
I know you can show me
I want to feel what love is
I know you can show me*
*"I Want to Know What Love Is" by Foreigner.