Catherine sighed as she turned off her computer. It had been a stressful week, with a third of the office away with the flu; now she was having to take on other peopleís cases, as well as those assigned to her. She was exhausted.
"Cathy, are you still here?" Catherine looked up to see Joeís concerned face.
"Not for long. Iím so tired. Iím glad itís Friday. I think I might go home and sleep for the next two days."
"This flu has been a nasty one. Stay nice and warm and rest up on the weekend. I donít want you getting sick too. Have a good weekend kiddo!" Joe said.
Catherine gathered her coat and briefcase and headed home. She was glad she had decided to take the subway this morning. The last thing she wanted was to face the chaos that was city traffic.
As the train headed uptown, she started thinking of her love. Vincent could make her happy. Just picturing his face, those brilliant blue eyes, his silken voice that could melt her in a moment Ė gave her such joy. They had made plans to see each other the following week. She was sad for just a moment. Monday was three days away. Such a long, long timeÖ
As soon as she entered the apartment, she dropped her bag, coat and scarf and headed straight for the sofa. She sank into the soft fabric and slowly started to relax. She knew she should check the answering machine, make some dinner, do a bit of work, but she was feeling so comfortable. How could she do any of these things?
She drifted off to sleep.
Vincent was holding her hand, they were walking closely together, toward the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. It was cold, but having Vincent near warmed her. They sat on a park bench and admired the statue of Romeo and Juliet. Soon the Shakespearean play would begin Ė but for now they were happy just to sit close together. A cold breeze made Catherine shiver. She nestled her head against Vincentís chest.
"Iím cold, Vincent -"
She awoke shivering. She had been too tired to turn on the heating when she arrived home; now she felt the chill in the air. The dark apartment seemed ominous suddenly. She went to the kitchen and switched on the light; the shadows were swept away. She heated some soup and a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner. She was still very tired. Opening her balcony doors, she looked out on the beautiful lights of New York City. She never tired of the view from her apartment. She loved sharing it with Vincent Ė on the balcony it felt like they were the only two people in the world, safe and happy.
She was surprised to see Vincent standing at the far end of the balcony. They both stood silently, drinking in the sight of each other, than Catherine took two strides into Vincentís arms. She held him closely.
"Iím so glad to see you."
"I was concerned for you. I sensed your sadness. Is something troubling you?"
"Not really. This has been a very long week. Everyone is sick at work. I have so much work to do, I really should go into the office tomorrow."
At the thought of all those files, Catherine began to get a headache. She dropped her hand from Vincentís and started massaging her temples.
"Are you all right?"
"Iíve just got a little headache. Iíll be OK." She rested her head against his chest.
"I can feel how tired you are. Promise me you will rest tomorrow. You work so hard, sometimes I donít know how you keep going. Itís all right to take a rest every once in a while."
"Youíre right. I promise Iíll relax."
"Iíll say goodnight to you now. Be well." Vincent held Catherine close, then silently slipped away.
Each time they parted, Catherine was sad. Why did they have to part? It would be wonderful to come home to him each night, have dinner and share their day. Spend hours holding each other close.
Feeling tears come to her eyes, she decided it was time for bed. Her headache was getting worse. It was starting to make her feel nauseous. She lay on her bed and didnít remember falling asleep.
There were no pleasant dreams of Vincent. Fear, despair and anguish came in equal measure. She was reminded of all the times they had parted, the moments heíd saved her life, Vincent holding himself away from her Ė the worst was Vincent dying.
Catherine awoke in tears. She was feeling so anxious that she jumped when she heard tapping on her balcony doors. For long moments she tried to calm herself. She saw Vincent, moonlight surrounding him. This beautiful man was her world, her life. If anything ever happened to him, she knew she could not go on living.
Vincent was a little surprised when Catherine opened the doors and threw herself into his arms. He knew something was wrong. He held her, feeling her heartbeat, worried by her trembling. He kissed her head, soothed her with his words.
When she had calmed slightly, Vincent whispered into her hair, "I felt your fear. I havenít been able to sleep."
"I had terrible nightmares. They were so real!" She still held him, afraid to let him go.
He gently tilted her head and looked into her eyes.
"It was just a dream. All is well." This wasnít strictly true. He was worried about her. She was very hot, her beautiful face flushed, dark circles beneath her sea-green eyes.
"Catherine, come inside." She had come outside without her dressing gown, so eager had she been to see him. Vincent removed his cloak and draped it over her shoulders.
Catherine didnít move, just stood there, clutching his arm. She felt terrible. Waves of heat rippled through her. She felt like being sick. Moments later she was. She was embarrassed and starting shaking even harder.
"Do you feel a little better now?"
"NoÖyesÖno. I canít get sick, I have too much to do." She started to cry.
"Stay here for a moment. Iíll be right back." He gently removed her hand from his. He went to the kitchen and made some tea, put some crackers on a plate. Catherine watched from the sofa, feeling dreadful, but also touched that Vincent wanted to take care of her.
"Do you think you can eat something? Drink some tea? It may help."
The thought of eating or drinking anything made Catherine queasy, but she could see Vincent wanted her to. She ate a few bites, then took a small sip of tea, her hands shaking as she did.
For a while, they were quiet, Catherine lying against his shoulder. He loved the slight weight of her against him; she was grateful for Vincent being there. When she fell asleep, he remained on the sofa, stroking her hair. Eventually he thought she should be in bed. He didnít want to wake her, so he gently picked her up and carried her to the bedroom. He laid her down on top of the bed and placed a blanket over her. She looked beautiful. She frowned slightly and was still flushed, but his Catherine was a vision. Vincent brushed his fingers across her forehead and whispered to her,
"Sleep well Catherine. Iíll be right here."
He pulled the dressing table chair close to the bed and settled in for the night. He would not send a message to Father. If he wasnít Below, everyone knew he would either be by himself or with Catherine.
All of his family loved Catherine. How could they not? She was so giving, thoughtful and courageous. And beautiful. Sometimes when he looked at her, his heart seemed to stop for a moment, so overwhelmed with love was he for this woman lying beside him.
It was a long, restless night. Catherine awoke many times. Vincent was there for her, giving her water, helping her to the bathroom, tucking the blankets in. He also gave her comfort Ė holding her hand, smoothing the hair back from her face. He was tired but he wouldnít leave her, wouldnít close his eyes in case she needed him.
Catherine opened her eyes to see two beautiful blue eyes smiling down at her. A moment later her eyes were blurred by the sudden headache that had begun. She turned her head into the pillow, away from him.
"Whatís wrong?" Vincent stroked her back softly, as a father might soothe a child.
She turned to face him again.
"Itís this headache. I feel so awful, Vincent". She started to get up. "I have to go to work."
"No. Youíre not going to work. You are coming Below, right now."
Catherine started to protest.
"I mean it. Youíre not well enough to work. You must come with me so I can take care of you. If you went to work I would spend hours worrying about you."
He was right. She knew she couldnít go to work. She felt guilty though, Vincent giving up his time to look after her.
"My love, will you do this for me?"
His piercing blue eyes were full of love and concern. Of course sheíd come with him. She would do anything for, and go anywhere with Vincent.
She nodded. "Ok. Iíll come. Thank you."
Vincent coaxed her into having some dry toast and weak tea. He waited while she gathered a few items to bring Below. It took a bit of time, she moved slowly. She felt like her body was made of lead. She left Joe a message on his home answering machine, grateful he didnít pick up the phone.
Catherine was worried about Vincent being seen in the daylight, but he assured her it would be all right. Gathering her things, she locked her apartment and they headed to the elevator. When the elevator opened, Vincent hurried inside and removed the panels of the roof. When they reached the basement he cleared the entranceway to the tunnels.
Picking her up and holding her close, he grabbed her belongings in his other hand. They began the long journey to the home tunnels. She loved leaning her body tightly against his. He walked for hours, or so it seemed to her.
They met Samantha, who was running through the tunnels, almost colliding with them.
"Samantha, please be careful. You may trip or run into something", Vincent cautioned.
"Sorry Vincent. Hi Catherine. Have you come to visit? Can we go to the Chamber of the Winds? Or maybe the Crystal Falls? Or maybeÖ"
"Samantha, Catherine is unwell. Could you please go to Father and let him know she is here? Could you also ask Mary to prepare the guest chamber please."
"Sure Vincent. I hope you feel better soon, Catherine." Samantha started to run off, then she remembered what he had said and she walked quickly instead. Vincent and Catherine both smiled.
At last they arrived at Fatherís study. Catherine gratefully sank into Fatherís chair. It was so comfortable.
"Iím staying right here Vincent. Father will have to work around me." He smiled and held her hand. She looked so tired.
Father arrived soon after. Catherine felt tears prick her eyes when Father looked with care and concern at her. He placed his hand on her forehead and with his other hand, felt her pulse.
"Catherine, I donít think you need to be in the infirmary, but I do want you to rest as much as possible. It may be best to stay away from others while youíre here. You are more than welcome to stay, until you are well."
"Thank you, Father" - she squeezed Fatherís hand.
"Vincent, Catherine has walked far enough for one day. Please take her to the guest chamber."
Vincent surprised Catherine by picking her up. At first she felt a little awkward, almost shy, having him hold her in Fatherís presence. Then she started to relax, burying her head against his chest, hearing his heartbeat. It was comforting.
When Vincent stopped she felt briefly disappointed. The guest chamber looked warm and inviting. She thought of it as her second home. It was dimly lit, so after he placed her in a chair, he began to light candles. Catherine watched him. The candlelight played across his face and she found herself drawn to his side, like a moth to flame. She wrapped her arms around his waist; resting her head on his back. Vincent was surprised and delighted. Every moment with Catherine was a gift. Spending time in her company was wonderful, but he especially loved it when she held him tightly.
They stayed close together for a long time.
Vincent turned and took her hands in his.
"You should rest. Do you need anything? Would you like me to bring you some tea?"
I just need you VincentÖ Catherine thought but said aloud, "No thanks. Iím not hungry. Just tired. My back is aching."
Vincent went to the bed and drew back the quilt. He had a sudden thought and almost at once started to blush.
"Catherine, do you think it might help if IÖthat is, maybe itís not a good ideaÖum, would you like me to give you a massage? Father has given me many over the years. When I carry logs or other heavy things, my back is often quite sore. After the massage I feel so much better."
Catherine smiled. A massage from Vincent? Having his hands on her body? A tremor of desire ran through her. Vincent must be thinking the same thoughts, she mused, watching him turn first pink, then red.
"Iíd like that, Vincent."
Now that she had accepted, Vincent didnít know what to do. He lit some more candles, re-arranged the flowers by her bed, fluffed up the pillows. Catherine knew how he was feeling. She came over to him and lightly touched his arm. She smiled at him and he relaxed slightly.
Catherine sat on the bed and removed her shoes.
"Where would you like to do this?"
"I believe it would be comfortable for you lying down." Catherine stretched out on the bed and lay on her stomach, her head to the side, looking at the candelabra. She felt a thrill of anticipation. She knew he must be standing looking down at her.
He was. He just looked at her, lying face down, her long hair falling over her shoulders. His gaze travelled down her back, to her behind, her slim legs and tiny feet. She was perfect. Here she was, waiting for him to give her comfort.
He couldnít stand there forever; he pulled a chair over to the bed. Catherine turned her head, locking her emerald eyes with his.
"Come sit beside me on the bed, Vincent. Youíll hurt your back, and then Iíll have to give you a massage."
Vincent obeyed her, but still kept a respectful distance. He placed his hands above her head, as if offering a benediction.
Vincent stroked her hair and gathered it in his hands. He placed her hair to the side and discovered her beautiful, alabaster neck. She moaned with pleasure as Vincent stroked her neck and the tops of her shoulders. A head massage came next. Catherine almost went to sleep, it felt so good.
"Catherine, are you all right?"
"Mmm, yes Vincent. That feels wonderful. Iíll take my shirt off so you can do my back."
Vincent gasped. Catherine was going to remove her clothes? He averted his eyes as she removed first her sweater, then her shirt. She unclipped her bra and waited for the next instalment.
"Iím ready." She didnít have to look to know that Vincent had closed his eyes. Maybe she shouldnít have taken off her shirt, but she desperately craved his touch.
He opened his eyes and gazed in awe. Her skin was so pale and beautiful. He was almost afraid to touch it, but Catherine needed him now.
He brushed his hands lightly over her shoulders and upper back. He couldnít look at her lower back just yet. He gently pressed his hands on her shoulders and began massaging her muscles. They were wound tight. After a few minutes he felt the courage to move away from her shoulders. He massaged her mid section gently, knowing not to put pressure on her spine.
Catherine was silent, but inwardly she was rejoicing. She was aware of what could come next.
Vincent was very aware. Her behind was only a few inches from his hands. Vincent tried not to think about touching her there, tried not to look longingly at herÖ
Iíll do it! He told himself.
He eased the elastic of Catherineís pants slowly downÖand stopped breathing.
Catherine gave a small gasp. She had wanted him to do this, but was still surprised when she felt his touch.
Vincent noticed her trembling slightly and immediately stopped. He placed his hand over hers.
"Iím sorry Catherine. I donít know what came over me. Please forgive me."
She squeezed his hand. "Vincent my love, keep going."
Vincent was lost for words. Of all the things he had been expecting, "keep going" was the last thing he would have thought sheíd say.
"No Catherine. I must stop. I donít want to take advantage of you."
She grabbed his hand and placed it back where it had been.
"You have my blessing. Besides, I insist."
Have mercy! Vincent thought.
He tentatively massaged her, let his fingers lightly brush over her soft buttocks and up her back.
Catherine felt like laughing and crying at the same time. How long had she waited for Vincentís touch? His hugs were beautiful; she would never tire of having him hold her. So many times though, a hug just wasnít enough. She wanted to know Vincent intimately, wanted him to know her.
Vincent was relieved to know Catherine hadnít changed her mind about him touching her. He picked up her foot and brushed his nails gently over her toes.
She kicked him.
"Iím sorry Vincent. Iím just so ticklish!" She bit her lip to stop the bubbles of laughter that were trying to escape.
After being momentarily surprised, Vincent smiled and stroked her feet. He travelled up her legs. Up and down, up and down. He massaged every inch of her. He then decided it was time to begin again.
Catherine loved every moment and was thrilled when he began massaging her again. She decided this should happen more often. Hopefully in better circumstances, not when she was feeling sick. With every stroke on her body, she could feel Vincentís love for her. Did he know how much she adored him? A tear escaped and she let that and the ones that followed soon after, fall onto the pillow.
Vincent couldnít see her face, but he knew she was crying. He could have turned her over and held her, but he knew she needed to let these tears flow alone. She carried such a burden on her shoulders. The secret of his world and the lives of those he loved. The deep and abiding love they felt for each other. The desire to consummate their love was yet another burden, probably the heaviest of all.
Every moment of his day Vincent thought of Catherine. Each time he held her his heart rejoiced and every time they parted a piece of his heart remained with her. Each night he dreamed of her Ė most were sweet and full of joy, others - he thought he would go mad with desire for her.
He knew when she fell asleep. A feeling of peace surged through him. He gently placed a blanket over her and quietly left the room. As he walked towards his chamber, Vincent was overwhelmed with tiredness. It had been two days since he had slept. When he reached his chamber he took his journal out and began writing of Catherineís illness and the joy of giving her a massage. His eyes were getting heavier by the second and he knew he must rest. There were a hundred things that he had to do below and Catherine might awaken at any time, but if he just closed his eyes for a moment, he knew he would feel rejuvenated. He crawled between the sheets and sank into the mattress. His last thought before his eyes closed was of Catherineís green eyes peering into his soul.
In the guest chamber, Catherine was restless. She kept tossing and turning in her sleep. She awoke with a start when she fell out of bed. It took her a few moments to remember where she was. As memory caught up with her, so did her bodyís aches and pains. She called Vincentís name. When he didnít answer she felt a pang of sadness; she had to see him. Immediately.
She didnít bother putting on her dressing gown or shoes. They werenít important. In the tunnels it was hard to tell if it was night or day. Candles and flames glowed continually. Catherine was lost and the tears that she hadnít shed when she found herself on the floor, threatened to spill over now. She told herself to be calm, to focus on her mission of finding Vincent.
It worked. She found his chamber at last. It was a beautiful room, full of Vincentís treasures. The stained glass window softly illuminated the enormous bed where he was sleeping. He snored quietly. Catherine found herself smiling. She wouldnít wake him. He looked as tired as she did and probably felt it too.
She curled up in Vincentís chair. Her slight form fitted comfortably against the cushions. She felt so much better with Vincent a few feet away. She listened to the pipes, wondering what the messages were about. As she listened more closely, she fell asleep.
Vincent was dreaming of Catherine, as he did almost every night.
They were lying under a beautiful tree in Central Park. The sky was a perfect blue and a slight breeze blew across their faces. They were looking at the clouds, finding shapes, their fingers entwined.
"I want to climb the tree." - Catherine went to the base, looked up and started to climb.
"Catherine, please be careful."
"I will. Do you want to climb the tree with me?"
"No. But Iíll watch you."
Catherine started climbing higher. The higher she went, the more he became concerned for her safety. Then she was lost from view and he cried out.
Vincent woke with Catherineís name on his lips. He was still in the dream. I should have climbed with her. Why did I leave her? His heart raced.
Gradually he returned to the present, realised he was in his chamber. He rolled over and found his love curled up fast asleep in his chair. She must be so uncomfortable. As Vincent looked longingly at her, he felt an overwhelming need to hold her. He knew she was sleeping, but he wanted her sleeping beside him.
Catherine woke briefly when he picked her up.
"Sorry Vincent, I didnít want to wake you."
"I apologise for waking you. May I hold you for a little while?"
What a lovely idea, thought Catherine dreamily. Soon Iíll wake up, but for now Iíll go along with the dream.
Vincent gently placed her under the covers and lay close beside her. She snuggled against his chest. He stroked her hair, lightly brushed the silken strands away from her face. How lucky he was that this lovely woman was his Lady. He took her hand and gently kissed her palm. Filled with happiness, he drifted off to sleep.
"It wasnít a dream!" - thought Catherine contentedly, when she woke to find Vincent beside her. A massage yesterday, sleeping with him last night Ė would wonders never cease?
"Catherine, how do you feel? Are you well?" They were both still lying close together, reluctant to lose contact with each other.
"Iím feeling much better. In fact, Iím ravenously hungry."
"Rest for a while. Iíll be back with some food shortly."
Vincent didnít want to leave her just yet. He loved her company, a feeling of peace came over him just by being near her. He realised she felt the same as she looked into his eyes and smiled; he could see so much love shining in them.
Catherine spent another two days in the tunnels recovering. Vincent cared for her so well, she didnít want to return Above.
At the threshold to her apartment neither wanted to part.
"Vincent, thank you so much for taking care of me. Being here with you over the last few days has been wonderful, even though I was sick. I donít know what Iíd do without you."
She held him close and kissed his cheek.
"It was my pleasure. Iím glad I could look after you and Iím pleased that you are well."
"Vincent, next time itís my turn Ė Iíll be here for you. Always."
She started towards the stairwell. Vincent watched her go. At the last moment she turned back to look at him.
"Vincent, one last request. Could you please give me a massage this weekend?"
They both grinned like teenagers; when Vincent nodded, Catherine climbed the stairs, butterflies fluttering inside her.
Neither of them could wait for FridayÖ