She stares through my shadow
She sees something more
Believes there’s a light in me
She is sure
And her truth makes me stronger
Does she realize
I awake every morning
With her strength by my side
Vincent closed his journal carefully, resting his hand on the leather cover. His attention was caught by the familiar, yet still disturbing, sight of the appendage. His eyes traveled over the rust-colored hair, the pointed nails, and became riveted on one nail-tip as a stray glint of firelight shone off it. The contrast of the bright, sharp nail-tip against the soft warm brown of the journal’s leather cover seemed familiar to him. He glanced around his chamber until his gaze was caught by Kristopher’s painting.
He almost smiled as he saw the image that had arrested his attention. In the painting, his right arm wrapped possessively around Catherine’s right shoulder, his gloved hand resting intimately against her chest and left shoulder. As he focused on the contrast of Catherine’s hand and nails against the soft brown leather of the glove, he was struck almost breathless at the similarity to his earlier observation. His eyes moved back to regard his hand resting on the journal, and suddenly a small voice seemed to whisper in his head These hands are my hands…
A shudder ran through his body, and he closed his eyes to both images. She should not say things like that, he thought vaguely; the feelings it aroused in him were too strong, too dangerously alluring. Almost unconsciously, as if the mere thought of her conjured the need, he reached out through the bond, striving for more than the constant presence he felt. He felt drawn to that connection—it was like an addiction, a physical requirement—he would die without her.
From her state of mind, he thought that she must be getting ready for bed. He had a hard time getting more specific than that, as she seemed to be in that not-thinking state brought about by physical and mental exhaustion and the familiarity of habitual motions.
He withdrew his more intense probe, letting the bond relax back into its normal less-invasive state. He could still feel her in the back of his mind, and was aware of the change to her mental state when she finally laid herself down on her bed. She became more relaxed as she mentally let go of the stresses of the day, and Vincent found himself focusing on the feel of her heartbeat. Sometimes that was all he needed to calm himself—knowing she was there, that she existed, that she cared for him. He took a deep breath, feeling his heartbeat match her rhythm. His eyes still closed, he fell into a meditative state that once again brought him into Catherine’s fading consciousness. Her thoughts were his thoughts, her feelings were his feelings.
All-consuming love…aching tenderness…molten desire…sadness tinged with a tenuous hope…
With a gasp, Vincent opened his eyes and pulled his consciousness back from Catherine’s. Her last thought before unconsciousness overtook her had been—him.
* * * * *
Vincent woke the next morning with a feeling of well-being that had him puzzled, until he remembered Catherine’s emotions from the night before. Of course, intellectually he knew how she felt about him, but he wasn’t usually so attuned to her feelings as she drifted into sleep. Catherine was always on his mind as he fell asleep, but he hadn’t known that he was on her mind the same way. He closed his eyes to savor the feeling of amazement and love that this realization brought to him, holding his breath like a child waiting to be surprised. He felt her presence in that moment of internal silence; it sang through him like the clear tone of a bell.
After an eternal moment, he let out the breath he had been holding and tipped his head back, his eyes still closed. She was there, above him, loving him—always.
He opened his eyes and took a deep breath, then took another to clear his mind. Yes, she loved him, and the knowledge of that love gave him the strength to go on every day. Before Catherine, he had lived a life filled with the love of his family and friends. He had been content in that life, he supposed, as one is content in a room warmed by the small braziers that could be found scattered here and there around the Tunnels—surrounded by bits of flame that brightened and warmed, but with never more than a temperate heat, or a subdued light.
Catherine’s flame, though, was neither temperate nor subdued. Hers was a blazing hearthfire, her heat fierce, her light intense. With her, he felt powerful in a way not related to his physical strength—and that power gave him a vitality that allowed him to be ever so much more than content. Her heat and light filled him to overflowing, until sometimes he thought he must be glowing. His happiness in this respect was tempered only by one thing, and that one thing, when he thought about it, filled him with shame.
He was selfish. Selfish for accepting that love, for feeling so powerful in it, for encouraging it, even in such small ways as he did. He knew what he was. Or rather, what he wasn’t. And Catherine deserved so much more.
He took another deep breath, pushing aside the feeling of shame, and allowed himself to draw strength from the Bond. Surely today he could be permitted some happiness without dwelling on his dark nature. Surely today, of all days, he could allow himself to bask in the warmth of Catherine’s love. It was Winterfest, after all.
This world keeps on spinning
Only she stills my heart
She’s my inspiration
She’s my northern star
I don’t count my possessions
But all I call mine
I would give her completely
‘Til the end of all time
Vincent had finished helping decorate the Great Hall and was thinking about making his way back to his chamber to change his clothes when he sensed Catherine begin to make her way Below. He abruptly made the decision to meet her instead, and turned to follow the path that would lead to her threshold.
The trip didn’t take long; the happiness and anticipation he was feeling from Catherine served to lighten his feet and distract his mind, so he was pleasantly surprised to see Catherine making her careful way toward him before he even realized how far he had gone. He stopped moving and let her close the distance between them.
"Vincent." She spoke his name tenderly, as if the very syllables were precious to her. Every time she said his name like that, he felt as if she presented him with a piece of her heart.
"Catherine." All the reverence he felt for this beautiful woman was carried in his voice.
She took the last few steps toward him, then bent down to place the packages she carried on the ground beside her. Vincent opened his arms, and she stepped into them.
As she settled her arms around his waist, he closed his eyes and rested his cheek on top of her head. This is right, he thought. This is utterly, completely, right. Nothing else in this world could ever feel so right as having Catherine in my arms.
After a few blissful moments, he pulled back from her, but allowed his hands to remain resting gently on her forearms. For the first time since he saw her walking toward him through the tunnels this evening, he really looked at her. She was wearing an evergreen dress that reached to the middle of her calves. The top section appeared to be made of some shiny material with tiny flowers embroidered on it in the same shade of green. It had a low scoop neck and long sleeves. The bottom portion, which began just under her breasts, was velvet in the same evergreen shade. It clung to her waist and hips, then continued in a smooth line to mid-calf, leaving the admirer in no doubt that she kept herself in shape.
Vincent brought his eyes back to her face, noticing that the dress made her eyes seem even more intensely green than usual.
"You look lovely, Catherine," he whispered, overcome by her beauty and the love that flowed across the Bond.
"Thank you, Vincent," she replied equally softly.
They remained in a silent tableau for a few seconds, then Vincent released her arms and gestured at the packages Catherine had set down earlier.
She gave a slight shrug to indicate unimportance. "Just some little gifts for the children."
The corners of Vincent’s lips curled up in a small smile. "That is very generous of you, Catherine. Especially since you supplied William with so many ingredients for our dinner."
He bent down to retrieve the packages, stopping Catherine from assisting with a gesture of his hand and a shake of his head.
Catherine sighed, then picked up her purse, daring Vincent to deny her that with a lifted eyebrow in his direction.
His chuckle seemed to surprise her into a grin of her own, and Vincent’s heart turned over in his chest as he sensed her delight at this show of humor.
She asks for so little, he thought, and gives so much. And I—I have so little to offer her. His thoughts drifted to his chambers and the miscellany of cast-offs that made up the sum of his possessions. It would all be hers if she asked for it.
They walked in comfortable silence for a few minutes, until Vincent glanced over and met Catherine’s eyes. "Is Jenny still going to meet you later?" he asked softly.
He could see happiness and anticipation shining in her eyes a moment before her lips curved into a slow smile. "Yes, she’ll be arriving with Peter."
She stopped walking for a moment, placing her hand on his left forearm, and he, too, stopped. "Vincent, I can’t tell you how much it means that you and the Council have offered this chance to me—and to Jenny. You won’t regret it."
He smiled before answering, marveling once again at how appreciative she could be of so small a gesture. "No, we won’t." He held his only-somewhat-burdened right arm out in front of him in a "shall we?" gesture and inclined his head forward.
"Oh, of course," Catherine replied to his unspoken invitation, moving forward again as she spoke. "I guess you still need to change, don’t you?"
"Is that your way of saying I am not presentable the way I am?" Vincent’s lips quirked in a teasing smile, and Catherine’s deep, delighted chuckle at his question was yet another gift that he held close to his heart.
In her eyes I see the sky
And all I'll ever need
In her eyes time passes by
And she is with me
The shifting of Kevin McGee’s eyes from Vincent’s face to a point just below and to the side of his right shoulder would have alerted Vincent of someone’s presence if he hadn’t already known. But despite the close attention he had been paying to the new helper’s conversation, Vincent was as aware of her presence as he was of his own. Kevin finished his sentence, moving his eyes back to meet Vincent’s, and Vincent took a step backward to include Catherine in the group.
"Kevin, may I introduce you to Catherine Chandler? Catherine, this is Kevin McGee, one of our new helpers."
Vincent noticed a marked rise of interest in Kevin McGee’s face as he heard Catherine’s name. He was somewhat amused, and more than somewhat embarrassed, that Kevin had apparently already heard about Catherine. He wondered who had told him, and what they had said. He was uncomfortably aware that his relationship with Catherine had become something of a tunnel fairy-tale…despite its lack of a happy ending, a tiny voice added in his mind.
His attention was drawn from his musings when he heard Catherine welcoming Kevin to Winterfest and Kevin’s reply. He focused on Catherine and realized that she was feeling very happy and slightly mischievous.
"Did you need something, Catherine?" he asked, deciding to play along and see where she went.
"Oh, no, Vincent. Nothing important. I was just wondering if you could answer a question for me." Her eyes sparkled with anticipation.
"Well, I seem to be having trouble with my memory. I know you’ve answered this before…"
"Yes, Catherine?" he prodded.
"Do you dance?"
Memories of Catherine’s first Winterfest, when she had first asked him that question, intruded on his reply for a moment. They had indeed danced in the Great Hall that night, but only after the festivities had concluded, and to music that only they could hear. They had even danced one other time since then. But he had never before had the chance to answer that question at Winterfest.
He swallowed, trying to rid himself of the tightness in his throat, then looked in her eyes as he replied. "With you, Catherine? Always."
Vincent’s empathic sense was sometimes able to pick up faint echoes of emotions from other people, and in this instance he felt sparks of surprise from the group of people that had included Kevin McGee; however, they quickly faded into insignificance as he clasped Catherine in his arms. Astonished by his own assertiveness, Vincent nonetheless angled the two of them out into the area left mostly empty for dancers.
They danced. It was like nothing Vincent had ever felt before—the two times they had danced in the past, he had kept Catherine at arm’s length, moving in the steps of--in Father’s words--the "scandalous" waltz. But this time, he held Catherine’s body close, closer than any but the fiercest of their past embraces.
He could feel Catherine’s heart thumping wildly against his own chest; his fingertips tingled where they met the smooth surface of her dress and pressed into her incredibly giving flesh; the wild, flowery fragrance of her hair enthralled him but could not mask the underlying, intoxicating, scent that was her own; he could feel her warm breath wafting oh, so sweetly against the ruffles at the neckline of his shirt and trickling up to caress the exposed area of his throat; his ears vibrated with the notes of the violin, but the music rushing through him, through the Bond, was stronger still, and it was that internal melody that finally carried the two of them to a place in the shadows at the very edge of the room.
All Vincent knew was Catherine. Catherine. She flooded his senses, overtook his heart, inundated his soul. She was the reason he could draw breath into his lungs. She caused his heart to pump blood through his veins. He looked into her eyes and gasped.
Everything, everything he was feeling was reflected there as well. Needing the confirmation, he made the effort to separate Catherine’s feelings from his own in the Bond. It was all there. Every emotion he felt for Catherine was turned and reflected, full force, back at him. Every thought, every dream, everything he needed in his life; from the past, to the future; from the deep recesses of the Tunnels to the far-flung reaches of the sky; it was there in the Bond—it was there in her eyes.
They heard the call at the same time. Vincent felt Catherine pull herself from the intensity of the moment, felt her brief despair at the loss of a chance to pursue those emotions, as Jamie rushed up to the couple.
"Catherine, Peter’s here," Jamie announced excitedly, and looked at her expectantly.
"Peter?" Catherine looked puzzled for a moment, until awareness made its way through the emotion-induced fog in her brain. "Peter’s here?! Jenny!"
Vincent bemusedly felt himself dragged along in Catherine’s wake. He vaguely noted surprise and amusement in the faces of those he passed, but was pulled past each person too quickly to do anything about it. He realized that Jamie, too, was held in Catherine’s grip, but was pushed ahead of her, not dragged behind. He understood at that moment that Jamie was the compass that would lead them across the sea of Winterfest guests to Jenny.
He looked ahead in the direction that Jamie was leading, and saw Peter standing with a woman he had never seen before. The woman was turned away from them but facing Peter, apparently taking in her surroundings with some enthusiasm, if Peter’s wide grin was any indication. Suddenly Peter’s eyes shifted and met Vincent’s, and Vincent saw him make a comment to the woman.
The whole scene seemed to move in slow motion. He preferred to meet people gradually, let them get accustomed to him, but Catherine’s headlong journey across the room was about to bring the woman, who must be Jenny, into an immediate confrontation with him. He tried to pull back, slow them down, give Catherine a chance to explain to Jenny first, but Catherine wouldn’t allow it. He saw Jenny begin to turn. Saw her meet Catherine’s eyes with a welcome smile. Saw her eyes travel along Catherine’s arm where it was stretched behind her. Saw them follow the path up Vincent’s arm, to his shoulder, to his face. Saw the surprise that sparked in her eyes. Was surprised himself when she simply turned back to Catherine and quirked an eyebrow, waiting for an introduction.
Catherine pulled him forward until he was standing beside her, and her voice penetrated his preoccupation and brought time back to its normal pace.
"Jenny, this is Vincent."
He was conscious of nothing but Jenny’s considering gaze and Catherine’s love flowing to him across the Bond. He stared into Jenny’s eyes, and a part of him waited for the inevitable disgust, distrust, and fear that his countenance inspired in others. The other part of him dispassionately noted the changes he saw as she contemplated him. Her eyes swept over him from head to toe, then centered back on his face. They narrowed in thought, then opened wide in surprise, then crinkled up at the edges as she smiled. He was taken unawares by the hand that was thrust toward him.
She grabbed his hand (which he had not offered in return, so taken by surprise was he) and began to shake it. But she apparently reconsidered, because then she released it and threw her arms around him in a vibrant hug.
A moment later she pulled back and crossed her arms on her chest, regarding Catherine with pursed lips.
"So this is your mystery man, huh, Cath?"
I am not a hero
I am not an angel
I am just a man
A man who’s trying to love her
Unlike any other
In her eyes, I am.
Winterfest was beginning to wind down. A few of the older helpers had already left, and the musicians were putting away their instruments. In just a few minutes, Father would officially close the celebration with his traditional words. Vincent was standing with Catherine, Peter, and Jenny. The woman had had many questions throughout the evening, and Vincent had done his best to answer them. Now, however, he was mostly just listening as Catherine caught up on the latest happenings in her friend’s life.
A comfortable silence settled over the group, and a question that had been niggling at the back of Vincent’s mind since meeting Jenny surfaced.
"Jenny," he began, "I have a question for you."
"Go ahead, Vincent," she replied.
"You were obviously not expecting to meet…someone like me. And yet," he paused and took a deep breath, "you were able to welcome me with no reservations. How could this be?"
Jenny smiled, glanced over at Catherine, and then focused back on Vincent. "I’ve known Cathy a long time, Vincent. She’s been there for me when I needed someone, and I’ve tried to do the same for her. I know about all her quirks. I know that she always underestimated herself before—well, I guess now I know the thing that changed that about her was meeting you. I know how stubborn she can be. I trust her. And I’ve known about you for a while now."
Vincent’s eyebrows rose in bewilderment. Surely Catherine hadn’t—
Jenny rushed to reassure him. "Oh, no, Vincent. She didn’t tell me about—" she gestured at him, unable to find the words—"you." She breathed out and glanced back over at Catherine, Vincent’s eyes following the same path.
He saw Catherine’s gentle smile and her nod to Jenny to continue. He was pleasantly surprised to feel Catherine’s hand claim his and squeeze. When his eyes returned to Jenny, he noticed that she was looking at their joined hands and that there was a smile on her lips.
"She didn’t really have to say anything, Vincent. I can tell when she’s happy and when she’s not. God knows I’ve seen her go through enough relationships that made her unhappy." Jenny gently placed her hand on Vincent’s and Catherine’s joined ones, and Vincent’s eyes flew to meet hers.
"I did manage to pry your name out of her, at least, Vincent. As well as the fact that she loves you. And that you are the gentlest, kindest, most intelligent man she has ever known…"
There was no end to the surprises of tonight, apparently, he thought vaguely, but Jenny was still talking.
"…and she was absolutely right when she said how gorgeous you are…"
Vincent’s eyes flitted in astonishment to Catherine’s, where he saw a small amount of embarrassment but no regret or disagreement.
"…and how amazingly sexy your voice is…"
Vincent opened his mouth, thinking that maybe he should interrupt here, since being the topic of this conversation was making him uncomfortable, but Jenny bulldozed on.
"…and she should be glad that she saw you first, or I would’ve snapped you up myself!"
Jenny grinned at Vincent, who was struck speechless. After a moment, she took pity on him and broke the silence.
"In all seriousness, Vincent, the answer to your question is simple. I trust Cathy. We don’t lie to each other. So if she says she loves you—that you’re gentle, and kind, and the man she’s meant to spend her life with, then—" She shrugged. "You are. That’s the truth. That’s her truth—the only one that matters."
Could it be as simple as that? He had denied it for so long, refused to accept that she could be truly happy with him, but if she was so sure…
He turned and looked at Catherine. She was already looking at him, and he noticed as he met her eyes that there were tears shimmering in them. He was abruptly reminded of the emotional interlude that had occurred after they had danced, and her moment of despair when it was cut short by Jamie’s arrival. He was determined that the chance to pursue those emotions wouldn’t be lost this time, that she would never despair of losing them again.
"Catherine…" His voice was soft, as were the fingers he raised to her cheek to wipe away the one tear that finally fell.
"Vincent, I love you," she whispered, and he knew that she whispered them not because she was ashamed or that it was a secret, but because the words were so precious and reserved for him, alone.
His blue eyes locked on her green ones, and he was oblivious to the room and people around him. Even Jenny and Peter faded into the background. Only Catherine mattered.
He brought his other hand up to frame the other side of her face, and felt Catherine hold her breath at the intensity of his eyes. Slowly, but with the utmost surety, he brought his mouth to meet hers.
It was, indeed, as simple as that.
Author’s note: The song lyrics found throughout the story are from In Her Eyes by Michael Hunter Ochs and Jeff Cohen. The song can be found on Josh Groban’s album Awake, and is one of my favorite songs.