Downpour

 Demian

Catherine awoke from her dream with a start, gasping for breath, her heart pounding. She pushed herself to a seated position, her back against the headboard; she wrapped her arms around her knees and started crying.

It had to stop, this dream. Nearly every night for the past few weeks, she had awakened the same wayódesperate, struggling to breathe, in tears.

She was inside the trunk of the car again, knowing she was going to die, surrounded by the chilled water. She knew Vincent couldnít save her; she knew it was over and she was terrifiedónot of dying, but of what it would do to Vincent. Guilt would consume him; he would blame himself. He would be alone, grieving for her.

When death was nearest, she had accepted it; all she had wished for was the memory of a kiss they had never shared, the ghost of his hands touching her. She grieved not for herself, but for their dream, for all they had gone through, and all they had left unexplored. And, at the very last moment, to her shame, she had wanted him to come with her, not believing she had the strength to be apart from him, even in death.

It had been a month since that terrible night and Vincent had been more open with her, more affectionate even, but the walls were still intact, the uncrossable line still drawn. All her energy and concentration had been focused on keeping her feelings buried so Vincent could not feel them through the Bond. It was exhausting work.

And she couldnít stop dreaming about that night. The event itself was traumatizing, but Catherine didnít think the dream was a result of what had happenedóno, what had happened was terrible, but the aftermath had been worse. She had spent the entirety of every day since then trying not to feel what she couldnít help but feelólove, never-ending longing, and relentless desire for him. When he touched her, she wanted more. When he left her, she wanted to grab hold of him and never let go. When he looked at her, she wanted to tell him everything. Having to bury all of her feelings had shut her down; the past few weeks had been filled with nightmares and a bitter, defeated loneliness.

It amazed her that one night could so profoundly affect her. She had spent the last two years biting back her feelings, content to let things take their natural course, to be patientóforever if need be. It had been a struggle, but she had been able to cope, to live without it and still be happy.

She had been pushing him away and he had retreated, probably convincing himself that he was the reason. And he was, but not in the way he thought. Itís not that she didnít want his company, she wanted it so much that she could barely get through every moment they spent apart. She pushed him away because she wanted him so badly.

She knew what the nightmare meantóshe was ignoring the transformation, the epiphany, that occurred that terrible night. When she had awakened, shivering in his arms, as he watched her with deep concern, wrapping her tightly in his cloak, she knew she couldnít be apart from him any longer. She wanted to move Below and be with him, always. She didnít know when or how, but she knew that nothing else would suffice now. Something inside her had shiftedóirreversibly. She had changed. She was no longer content to wait and see. She wanted their dreamónow.

When her tears finally subsided, she turned on her bedside lamp and got out of bed. She went into the kitchen and made some tea. She had not been able to go to sleep after the dreams. Resigned to spending another night on the couch reading, she walked into the living room and nearly dropped her cup.

He was there, standing in the shadows. He had opened the doors; they were flung wide. He had not crossed the threshold, but his presence filled the roomóher heart started pounding in her chest. With a shaking hand, she set down her cup of tea and slowly walked toward him.

"Catherine," he whispered.

"Is everything all right?" she asked.

He shook his head.

"I can feel your turmoil, Catherine. I know you havenít been sleeping. I know you have been plagued with nightmares. Please ... tell me whatís wrong," he said urgently.

Catherine wanted nothing more than to run into his arms and tell him everything. She was afraid to even go near him though. She was too raw, exposed. One kind word or touch from him would shatter her hold.

"Iím fine, Vincentójust bad dreams ..."

The silence was awkward. Never once had Vincent come to her balcony and she not thrown her arms around him. He had never opened the doors. She stood in the middle of the living room, not fifteen feet separating them from where he remained at the threshold.

"Catherine, please ..." he entreated, stepping back onto the balcony.

She followed him outside. He was facing away from her, looking out over the city. She joined him, but kept her distance. She didnít look at him.

"Itís the same dream every night ..." he said.

It was more of a statement than a question.

"Yes," she replied.

"Please tell me ..."

"Itís nothing, Vincent," she sighed.

"Itís not nothing," he insisted.

He turned to look at her then, but she didnít move.

"Catherineó"

"Itís nothing, Vincent. Itís that night, when I was trapped in the car ... I just keep dreaming about it, thatís all. It will go away eventually."

He shook his head.

"Itís more than that ..." he replied.

"No, itís notó"

"It is!" he insisted. "What I am feeling through the Bond ... I know thereís more ..."

Catherine sighed and bit her lip. She didnít want to start crying.

"What is it then? Catherine, please."

"Us," she said, finally.

"Itís about ... us?" he said, tentatively.

She nodded.

Suddenly, Vincent turned her around until they were facing each other directly. His hands gently held her upper arms.

"Catherine," he said softly. "What is it that you need from me? Tell me ... please!"

She shook her head, still avoiding his eyes.

"Whatever it is, tell me and I will give it to you ..."

"You canít," she told him, pulling away from him and walking to the other side of the balcony. She kept her back to him.

"Catherine, please, whatever I can do, whatever you need ..."

The tears were falling now. She knew she couldnít ask for what she really wanted. If she said even the slightest thing, it would only drive them further apart. He would leave heró

"Thereís nothing I can do?" Vincent asked.

It broke her heartóhow sad he sounded. He sighed heavily. When he turned to look out over the city again, she turned around to look at him.

"Vincent?" she said softly.

His head lifted and he turned toward her.

"There is something you can do ..." she told him, shocked at what she was about to do next.

He strode over to her, opening his arms to take her in. When he was near enough, Catherine stood on her tiptoes, reached around his neck, and kissed him on the mouth, sudden and hard.

For a momentóthe briefest momentóshe felt his lips soften under hers, felt his arms hold her tighter, and her hope soared. But then he stiffened and carefully extracted himself from her.

Vincent sighed. It pained him to see her flushed skin, her mouth still open in shock, her surprise and disappointmentóhe looked away.

"Catherine, no ... please, do not ask it of me ..."

"Why?" she demanded. "Just tell me why ... I donít understand, Vincent!"

"I cannot give that to you ..."

"Itís what I need, Vincent. I could handle it before, but since that night, everything has changedóeverything! I canít be apart from you anymore. That night, when I thought I was losing you, all I wished for was one more moment with you, so I could touch you and kiss you. I need something to make this real! Canít you understand that?"

"Of course I understand, Catherine!" he said, gruffly. "Iíve understood it all along and we both knew this moment would comeówhen what I can give you isnít enough anymore."

"Iím sorry!" she told him. "It has been enough, but not anymore ... Iím sorry, but I canít help how I feel ..."

Vincent looked at her briefly and then turned away and resumed his place at the balustrade.

"I came here tonight ..." he paused and sighed heavily. "I can feel it inside you, Catherineóyou have changed. Itís not enough for you ... this is not enough ..."

"Thatís not what I mean!" she said, starting to get scared about the path this conversation was taking.

"We both knew this time would come, Catherine. Letís not make it any more painful by denying it ..."

"What are you saying?" she entreated, going to him.

When she reached him, he stepped away from her touch.

"Catherine," he said, the anguish apparent in his tone. "Itís time for you ... to find another."

"No! Itís too late, Vincent. I canít ..."

"Catherine ... there is no debate here. We must ... let each other go ... itís the only way ..."

"I canít be with anyone but you, so if I canít be with you, Iíll be alone. Is that what you want? For both of us to be alone, miserable, in constant pain?"

"No, still ..."

"Itís time for you to accept the truth, Vincent. We love each other and we will, at some point, express that with each other physically. I know that terrifies you, but the alternative is worse ..."

He looked at her desperately, gathering his breath as if to say something, anything, to her, but in the end, he just sighed.

Catherine stared at him.

"If you wanted to leave me, you should have done it a long time ago. Itís too late now, Vincent. I love you ... only you."

"Catherine, we canít ... please understand..."

She sighed and shook her head sadly.

"No. All I understand is that you are pushing me away ..."

"Itís not that simple," he reasoned with her. "In time ..."

"In time? What? Iíll understand? Weíll get over each other? Forget each other? Do you really believe thatís possible, Vincent?"

"Catherine, I donít know what to say ..."

"Say you love me, that you want me to come live with you Below, that you want me to touch you, that you want to touch meósay that!"

"Catherine, how can I be clearer? What you ask is impossible!"

"Just as impossible as me finding someone else, donít you see that?"

Suddenly, she was right in front of him and before he could react, she grabbed his cloak, pulled him down, and kissed him again. This time though, he did not respondóat all. She was stunned when he forcefully pulled himself away. His hands on her arms were tight, almost painful. He moved her away from him, let go of her, and turned his back to her.

"Do not do that again," he nearly growled at her.

"Is it so terrible to kiss me, Vincent?"

"Catherine, Iím warning you ... this is ... too much ... I will not be persuaded ..." he told her, breathing heavily.

"Fine, then leave!" she told him angrily, pointing up to the roof.

This situation got worse every moment. Vincent gulped.

"I canít ..." he said.

"Donít make me walk away from you, Vincent ... If this is what you want, then you leave ..."

"Catherine, I canít walk away from you, please ..."

Catherine turned her head to the side, frantically trying to get control over her anger, but it was impossible.

She didnít feel strong enough to walk away from him, but any more of this and something would forever be destroyed. The entire time they had known each other, she had never pushed him like this ... and it had backfired.

All that came beforeóthe chaste, beautiful moments they had sharedówould be tainted by this one action of hers.

All she wanted to do was kiss him again, until he kissed her back, until he let himself feel what he felt for her, until he understood that they had no choice anymoreóthey were bound; it was irreversible and undeniable. She couldnít hold herself back anymoreóand neither could she stand here and watch their love wilt and die before them.

"Fine ..." she managed through tightly pressed lips.

Before he could react, she spun around and stepped through the balcony door, turned, and pulled the doors shut. She went to her bedroom for a moment and when she emerged, she was dressed. She opened the door of her apartment and then the lights went out. Before Vincent could recover, she was heading out into the night.

Then the Bond snapped off abruptly. He thought of the tremendous effort she must be making to shut him out so completely and his heart seized with the strain and the horror that she could choose to end their connection whenever she wanted to.

She had left him. He had made her leave him. She had never deliberately used their worlds to separate them as he so often did by retreating to the lower tunnels. He had never felt such grim determination in her before, nor had he ever felt such an absence of hope.

He waited for her, but when the sun began to rise and she still hadnít come back, he finally left. He held the tears back until he safely reached the tunnels. They streamed down his face as he made his way back to his chamber. Once there, he pulled off his boots and laid down in the bed. As the reality and permanency of everything that had occurred caught up with him, he curled up into a ball, pulled a pillow over his head, and cried for her.

...

In the morning, he was awakened when the covers were pulled up over his bare feet ... only one person knew how much he hated that ...

Vincent opened his eyes to find Devin grinning at him, gnawing on an apple.

"Wake up, sleeping beauty. Kind of late, donít you think? Itís nearly nine. Hot date last night?"

Last night ... Vincent felt tears come to his eyes.

"Devin ..." he managed.

"In the flesh!" Devin laughed.

But his smile faded when Vincent sat up in bed.

"What is it, Vincent?"

Devin waited for his reply. Vincent was staring blankly in front of him. Finally, he spoke.

"Last night, Catherine and I ..." he trailed off.

"Yes?" Devin said.

Vincent sighed and got up.

"Give me a while, Dev. Weíll talk after breakfast. Iím not ... I donít have the words yet ..."

"Okay," Devin replied. "See you in the dining hall?"

"Yes, Iíll be there in a moment ..."

...

After breakfast, Devin followed Vincent back to his chamber, catching him up on all his recent travels. When they reached the chamber, Devin sat down.

"Whatís up, bro? Youíre more jumpy than usual. The newspapers say a storm is coming and I know that rattles your bones a bit."

"No, Devin, itís not that," he replied, quietly.

"Okay Ö Iím all ears ..."

"Last night, Catherine and I had a disagreementóa grave one. She ..." Vincent sighed heavily. "She wants to move our relationship forward and I ... I refused ..."

"Why?" Devin asked, perplexed.

Vincent shook his head, annoyed. Was he the only one who could see that what Catherine asked was impossible?

"I cannot give her that ... she needs to find someone else, who can give her all that I cannot ..."

"Who would that be, Vincent?"

Vincent sighed. "Someone else ..."

Devin shook his head.

"Sorry, bro, but I have to side with Chandler on this one," Devin told him.

Vincent huffed, turning away from him.

"But you can find the courtesy to listen with an open mind ..."

"Of course."

Vincent walked over to his desk and fell into the large oak chair.

"It is hard for me to imagine your perspectiveóhers, Devin. Can you understand how impossible it is for you to see mine?" Vincent asked, quietly.

Devin came over and sat down with him at the desk.

"Vincent, I know youóbetter than anyone in this world. Would you agree with that?"

He nodded his assent.

"And I know women ..." he said with a smile.

Vincent nodded again.

"Well, however hard it is for you to understand, I knowówithout a single doubtóhow much she loves you. And never, in the entire time I have spent with you, from the moment you were brought here, have I seen you so completely happy ... and so completely in love."

Vincent didnít say anything. Nothing needed to be said. Of course Devin was right.

"And she is the happiest she has ever been ... and so in love with you. Do you know how happy it makes me to see her look at you, from across the room, or see her face light up when you barely even touch her? Vincent, you have been given the most incredible love imaginable. You have to do whatever it takes to hold onto itóeven face your deepest demons. Youíre crazy if you think sheíll find someone else. If you send her away, you will both be miserable and alone. Is that what you want?"

"That is the same outcome Catherine foresees ..."

"Well, sheís right ..."

It was a moment before Vincent spoke again.

"Devin, you know my struggle ... with who I am ... whether I am a man, or ..."

Devin nodded.

"It has become impossible to concentrate on what is best for her when I am in her company. I can barely talk; I canít listen to her, I canít ... focus. I am obsessed with wanting to touch her. It is shamefulóand it never used to be like this. I feel as if I am failing her, turning into this ..." Vincent trailed off.

"What?"

"An animal, Dev," Vincent whispered.

"Why? What do you want? What are you thinking?"

"I want to gather her in my arms, and hold her tighter than I have ever dared ... I want to kiss her, and not ... chastely ..."

"And?" Devin asked after Vincentís long pause.

"I want to give her what she wants," Vincent confessed.

Devin threw up his hand in frustration. "Then do it!"

"Dev, is it ... normal ... for a woman to have so much control over a man?"

"Well, Catherine is hardly normal, and neither are you, but yes, men have been unable to resist women for millennia ... forever.

"Women are ..." Devin sighed and then cracked a smile. "Irresistible ..."

"I cannot tell her no anymore. It feels ... unconscionable ... wrong ..."

"Then say yes!"

Vincent sighed, absentmindedly fingering the corner of a book that lay on his desk.

"Iím not ready," he finally admitted.

"So, let me get this straight. You canít say no to her anymore, but you canít say yes, either? What else is there?"

"I donít know!" Vincent said, frustrated. He pushed away from the desk and started pacing.

"Sit back down, Vincent, you know that drives me crazy."

Vincent ignored him and continued pacing.

"Vincent, please! I canít think ..."

Vincent stopped and sat heavily on his bed.

"Why?" Devin asked. "Why arenít you ready?

"Iím not ready for ... all of it ... but I am afraid I wonít be able to stop if we ... begin anything."

"Jeez, itís not like jumping out of an airplane ... you can go slow."

"What if I canít? What if I rush things, or do something wrong, or canít ... control myself? What then?"

"You know, Vincent, this is precisely why I never worry about anything. You always did enough for the both of us!" Devin said, exasperated.

"There is good reason behind my worries, Devin ..."

"Yeah, but all you think about is hurting her. Why donít you think about how much pleasure you could bring her? How happy you would make her? Thatís much more likely. Men and women do it all the time and neither end up in the emergency room."

"But Iím not like other men, Devin. Why do you consistently ignore that fact?"

"Sure, sure. If anyone knows you arenít like other men, itís me, Vincent. Give me some credit."

Vincent huffed, dismissing him.

"Anyway," Devin said, rolling his eyes. "What I mean is that, in this situation, you are like other men. You love her, you want to make her happy, you have the right ... equipment ..."

"Devin, please ..." Vincent interrupted, glaring at him.

Devin laughed.

"All I am saying is that when it comes down to it, the necessary components are there ... most importantly love. How can you think you will just totally lose yourself and rip her apart?"

"Devin!" Vincent snarled.

"Sorry, poor choice of words. Still, you have never hurt her and I know there were times when you probably could have. If you can control yourself when you are angry or jealous, donít you think you can control yourself during more ... positive times?"

Vincent was quiet. Devin stared at him.

"Itís more than that, isnít it? The fear of hurting her isnít the only thing holding you back ..." Devin told him.

Vincent sighed. "You know me too well ..."

He moved to stand up and pace; Devin cleared his throat and Vincent sat back down.

"Well, what is it? Lay it on me ..."

Vincentís head fell back and he stared up at the ceiling. After a few moments, his head dropped.

"Iím afraid I will, she will ..." Vincent stopped.

"What?" Devin asked. "That sheíll think youíre too fuzzy?"

"Sometimes, I wonder why I even bother ..."

Devin laughed heartily, then sobered. "Seriously though ..."

Vincent did stand up, but this time he didnít pace. Instead, he walked over to the entrance of his chamber, his back to Devin. It was a while before he spoke again.

"What if I ... do it wrong?" Vincent said, quietly, so quietly, Devin almost didnít hear him.

Devin swallowed his joke and spoke to him sincerely.

"Vincent, it doesnít matter whether you are fifteen or fifty, when itís your first time, you probably wonít know everything. The thing is, though, most of it will come to you naturally."

"But Iíve never even ... kissed her."

"Seriously, Vincent, it will be obvious. You will know what to do. And if you are ever in doubt, she will show you what she likes, what she wants. Besides, you have the Bondómen would kill for that ... to know exactly how to please a woman ... you have no idea how much of an advantage that gives you."

"But as to ... how to ... touch her ... the Bond will let me know if I hurt her or do something wrong ... but it doesnít give directions ..."

"Vincent, you are overthinking this. There is no manual and every woman is different. Cathy is a strong woman; I guarantee that not only will she know what she wants, but sheíll tell you. Besides, she loves you. This isnít the Olympicsósheís not there to judge anything. You could probably just lie there and sheíd be thrilled," Devin finished with a smile.

Vincent smiled too, despite himself.

"Youíre sure? Iíll know what to do?"

"Yes, youíll know!"

Vincent nodded, relieved.

Devin took a deep breath before his next question.

"Vincent, have you ever told Catherine about Isabelle?"

Vincentís heart stopped. He tried to cover up his reaction, but Devin saw it.

"It hasnít come up ..." he replied, simply.

"It hasnít come up? Is that really your answer?"

Vincent turned and aggressively stared down Devin, and a not-too-subtle message was communicated, but Devin didnít back down. Still, he decided to pursue a different route.

"Have you ever told anyone about her?" Devin asked.

"Devin ... please ..." Vincent whispered, turning back to face the wall again.

"I know itís painful to think about, but have you ever thought about how that might have affected your relationshipó"

"Of course I have, Devin! Iím not a fool. I know the impression it made, believe me, I know ..." Vincent interrupted.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Devin asked gently.

Vincent sighed heavily. "No, I ..."

"I think you need to talk about it. It might as well be now ..."

"Devin!" Vincent growled, spinning around to face him. "Please!"

"Who do you think youíre talking to, little brother? I know you, better than anyone. I know how your heart works and I wouldnít have even brought this up if I didnít think it was so important. Listen, I think that if you talk to me about Isabelle, then you will be able to talk to Cathy."

Vincent relaxed briefly, but then something dark crossed his face.

"Now I feel as if I have kept something from Catherine. Honestly, Devin, I ... I hadnít thought about Isabelle. My memories seem ... clouded somehow ... hard to reach. I havenít consciously thought of her in a long time, since ... since the incident with Lisa ... and not since then."

"You donít really remember, do you?"

Vincent shook his head.

"Do you want me to tell you what happened?" Devin asked him.

Vincent stepped back into the arch of the door to his chamber. He held the stone as if for supportófeeling fear was long unfamiliar to him.

"This was before Lisa, Vincent. In all honesty, I think your incident with Lisa had more to do with Isabelle ... but weíll get to that ...

"Isabelle was brought to the tunnels when she was about ten years oldóI think you were nine. She took an immediate liking to you and was very affectionate with you. She treated you like a little teddy bear," Devin trailed off, laughing lightly.

Warmth spread throughout Vincentís body, filling him with a vivid memory of laying beside Isabelle in his room, on that very bed; she was stroking his hair. He was wrapped around her side as she lay on her back. She hummed Christmas carols. He had his face pressed against her neckóhe still remembered her smell. He gulped.

"So, when you were about thirteen, you two went swimming one day, do you remember?"

Vincent shook his head. He was alarmed that he had no memory of this.

"Well, you guys were down there alone, and you know, two teenagers ..."

"What happened?"

"You two kissedójust a peck, nothing serious ..."

Vincent searched himself. "I donít feel anything traumatic related to that, Devin. What happened next?"

Devin dropped his head then, and Vincent braced himself. Devin always prefaced bad news by dropping his head down.

"Vincent, do you remember Fowler?"

"Jimmy?"

"Yes, sorry, I always called him by his ... never mind, the thing is ... you really donít remember?"

Vincent shook his head.

Devin sighed again before looking up.

"Fowler liked Isabelle, which made him hate you ..."

The fur on Vincentís skin stood up arrow straight.

"He found out about the two of you andóhe was not a good guy, Vincent. He got the girls to make Isabelle feel ... weird about kissing you and he started picking on you. One night, he went too far, and found some silly fur coat somewhere and went into the girlsí room and, just, made fun of you ..." Devinís throat closed at the end of that, tears coming to his eyes.

"You were so upset. It was so hard on you ..."

"That was a very painful time for me."

"Do you remember me beating him up? I gave him a black eye, do you remember?"

"Yes, Devin, I do," Vincent said softly.

It was all coming back to him nowóall of it. Isabelle had stayed away from him after that. At seventeen, she left the tunnels for college. She lived in Minneapolis now. He never told her goodbye.

"Donít you see how this relates to what is going on with you and Catherine?" Devin asked.

Vincent shook his head, suddenly exhausted. Something had changed in him after thatóDevin was right; but he couldnít make sense of it. He was remembering the kiss then. They were shivering from the water, sharing a towel, huddled together. She had on a pink one-piece suit. He had on some old, navy swim trunks.

He remembered her cold hand on his chest, like a hand-shaped ice cube, and her giggling. He remembered her plump, purple lips just below his, spread in a wide smile across her freckled face. He remembered when she stopped smiling and came toward him.

"You felt rejectedóby her, by the other kids. I believe you thought that she had been ... disappointed about what had happened, but she wasnít. It was that jerk, Fowler. You know heís in prison now? Armed robbery! See what Iím talking about?"

Vincent remembered the kiss then and it wasósweet, innocent, like Devin had said, and very brief. They had banged their teeth together and smiled halfway through the kiss. They had pulled apart and acted like nothing had happened.

"Vincent, you guys used to pretend to be married. Our room was your villa, if I recall correctly. You two were so irritating, but sweet. She really cared for you. Itís really a shame what happened. I just donít think you ever got over it. And then, when Lisa Ďrejectedí you, it just confirmed what you already felt to be true. Do you get what Iím saying?"

Vincent nodded solemnly. He did not deny this truthóhis only option was to face it or bury it again.

"If I bring Catherine into my world, and she rejects me, I will ... Devin, youíre right, I couldnít bear it ..." Vincent broke off, sliding to the floor, still under the archway. His hands were over his face.

"She wonít reject you, Vincent. Thatís what you need to understand. Sheís the oneónot Lisa and not Isabelle. Sheís the one you need to open up to and trust. Donít screw this up. You wonít ever find a woman who loves you as much as she does ..."

Vincentís eyes were pressed shut in an effort to stem the tears. He stayed hunched over for a very long time, unable to move or talk. Finally, he looked up, though not at Devin. He stared blankly at the wall in front of him. His tone was flat.

"Things ... ended between us last night, she ... left meóI made her leave me. She never came back to her apartment. She ... wanted to come Below and I refused her. Sheís been having nightmares because of me ..."

"Vincent, Father told me what happened to Catherine recently. Let me tell you something. She almost died and she almost lost you. You were the last thing on her mind when the end was near. She needed you after that. Did you even talk to her about how she felt?"

"No!" Vincent replied, frustrated. "I gave her space, time to recover ..."

"How long have these nightmares been going on?"

"Since ... that night ..."

"Why didnít you do anything about it? I know you felt them, Vincent. Why didnít you go to her?"

Vincentís head snapped back and he looked at Devin. He stood up and came over to him.

"Because I needed her. I wanted her with me every moment, every second. I could barely control myself; when I was with her, like I said, I was obsessed. Being around her ... it took a great toll on me ... I ... retreated inward, Devin, you know how I am."

"Unbelievable! You are like Atlas, voluntarily carrying this ridiculous weight on your shoulders. You should have given her what she needed, what you needed, Vincent. Why donít you put that relentless self control toward something better? Going down into your well was the worst thing you could have done!"

"Donít you think I know that?" Vincent replied, sharply. "It doesnít change anything."

Devin jumped up from the desk and stood in front of Vincent, grabbing his shirt collar. Vincent muffled a growl.

"Listen, Vincent," Devin said icily. "You are going to Catherine, and you are going to ask her to come Below, for good, and you are going to sleep with her, and everything is going to be fine."

"Devin!" Vincent said, shocked, though his heart ached at how good that soundedóhow right.

"No, Vincent, Iím serious. Youíll figure it out along the way, but you need to go to herónow."

"Now?"

"Is there a better time you can think of? How long do you want her to believe that you donít love her enough to give her what she needs? I hope youíre not too late already."

Vincent frowned at him.

"Surely it doesnít require an extreme, immediate departure ... besides, the daylight ..."

Devin let go of Vincentís collar and stepped away from him, throwing his hands up in the air.

"You are unbelievable! You really donít get it? Your skull is really that thick?" Devin said, exasperated.

"Then please enlighten me, Devin ..." Vincent said, an edge to his voice.

"Youíve known Catherine for two years now ..."

Vincent nodded. "Our anniversary was one month agoóthe night she ... that terrible night ..."

"In two years, has she ever walked away from you?"

Vincent seized. She had never left him beforeónever. He had alwaysó

"Havenít you always walked away from her?" Devin continued.

He had always walked away from heróhe couldnít deny it. This time was different. He had gone too far. He had made her walk away from himómade her.

"You better hope sheís still there, Vincent. Seriously, you pushed this one too far ..."

Vincent started to feel queasy. He made his way over to the desk and sat down heavily. His elbows rested on the table, his head in his hands.

He could not lose her. He could not breathe without her ... Vincent immediately opened the Bond to see where she was.

...

Catherine lay on her bed in the same position she had been in all day.

She had finally come home around 5 a.m., dragging herself into her apartment. She had been walking, nearly constantly, since she had left the apartment. Her feet felt like her heartóbroken and heavy. She made it to the bed in a few strides and got under her covers immediately, clothes and shoes still on. Shivering from the damp cold and caffeine-tinged nerves, she had laid there, unmoving, for hours.

Something about this was different. She felt differently. She didnít want to go after himówell, she did, but she couldnít. They were at an impasse. He couldnít move forward and she couldnít look back.

She had kept pace with him for two years, silently jogging beside him in a race not of speed, but of endurance. But now she wanted to run ahead, feel the pull on her legs, the air in her lungs. She could see the finish line and she wanted to reach it, but he would not alter his pace.

What was he doing right now? Thinking of her? Playing chess with Father to get his mind off of things? No, he was probably as deep as was possible in the Tunnels by now. Why couldnít he see how simple this really was? If he would only hear a few words, or let her touch him, just once, or touch heró

She had tried to kiss himótwice even. She was sorry for what happened, but not sorry that she tried, though the rejection stung. She had hoped that when they finally did kiss, it would feel so right and undeniable that Vincent would respond and kiss her back. It was how she had always imagined it. It was obvious that she had been wrongótwice.

Had something been destroyed? Could this really be over? Could she survive and continue to love him if he would never allow touch between them? Maybe she could have waited longer, but something had changed that night. She had no more patience; she had no choice. She was obsessed with being close to him, she felt like she needed him for her very survival right now, and to be denied wasó

She glanced over at her clockóit was after eleven.

What did she do now? She had no idea how to start a life from this place. She didnít want to get up; she felt weighted and bound to the spot.

Two yearsótwo years had totally transformed her entire purpose for living. To say that he had opened a world for her was still too shortsighted. He had opened up a universe and had reached across it, asking for her hand, like that moment so long ago, when she had jumped across that expanse to catch his outstretched hand. She felt it thenóshe could not have named it at the time, but the pull had been there. It had tightened ever since.

A life without him was unimaginable. And it wasnít because she doubted her strength; it was because it was impossibleólike trying to walk across the ocean. How could she even begin?

She couldnít do it. She wasnít sure she could be around him and not need him like air, but she was sure she couldnít bear to be apart from him. Some small part of her believed that Vincent would not be able to, either. They would talkóthey would find a way. They had to, because the alternative ... was impossible.

She pulled herself out of bed and started the shower. Within twenty minutes, she was in clean clothes, heading out the door. Why wait? She knew she would eventually go, so why not just get it over with?

Iím coming to see you. You better be there she accidentally let escape through the Bond. Still, he had better be there.

A new family was moving into the building and accessing the storage area, so Catherine headed toward Central Park.

...

"Sheís coming to the Tunnels, Devin!" Vincent burst out, feeling her steps as she made her way toward him.

He should go meet her ...

"Hello? Uh ... Vincent? Arenít you going to go meet her?"

Vincent had already grabbed his cloak and was halfway across the room, when he stopped and turned around.

"Thank you, Devin. I am truly grateful," Vincent said sincerely, and then to Devinís surprise, Vincent smiled.

"Donít be here when we get back!"

...

He watched her head down the grassy slope. She was in a hurry. She looked happy. She looked flushed.

She looked rich.

Her clothes, her purse ... he knew there was plenty of cash in that wallet. There had to be. She needed money for her nails, and cabs, and martinis, things rich women needed.

He licked his lips.

There was no one around. He was shocked, considering it was the middle of the day. But the skies were darkening, swollen with rain; nobody would go for a walk in the park with a storm on the way.

Was this crazy? Could he really get away with it?

She was heading toward him, but too preoccupied to notice him. It seemed like she was heading toward the drainage tunnel. Why would she go there?

He estimated that if she went into that tunnel, he could reach her in five seconds. Was it fast enough? He thought so. He had a gun, after all. Most broads just immediately let go of their purses when he pressed a gun into their ribs. Even if she started screaming, he would have an ample head start.

She went into the drainage tunnel. He took one last look around him and, seeing no one, leapt after her.

...

"Vincent!"

...

"Catherine!"

...

The man flexed his hand around the gun, which was pointed at her, his eyes darting between the two of them.

"Vincent, please donít move," she whispered.

Vincent clenched his fists, harnessing his control over the power and rage within him; all he wanted to do was jump on the intruder and tear him apart. But if he didnít make it in timeóeven the slightest possibility of injury to her was unacceptable.

The man had relaxed a bit, probably realizing that he had the upper hand. His face wore more shock now than venom. Whenever he focused on Vincent, he blinked slowly, still taking him in.

Catherineís arms were in front of her, protectively, and she was facing the man directly.

He had to do somethingónow! He could wait no longeróhe must protect her, he must ...

"Donít you even think about coming at me," the man snarled, knocking Vincent from his thoughts.

Vincent looked at him in shock, fighting desperately not to growl.

"What do you want?" Catherine demanded suddenly.

Both sets of eyes immediately transferred to Catherine, stunned that she had spoken.

"If you come at me, I will shoot her first," the man said loudly.

Vincent was nearly woozy with the adrenaline pumping through him. He was not accustomed to remaining absolutely still when feeling such violent emotions.

"Please, just go ... no one needs to get hurt ..." Catherine said softly.

"Shut up!"

"You can have my purse," she said more earnestly. "Thereís money in there. Thatís what you want, right? You donít want to hurt me ..."

Vincent was paralyzed. He wasnít so sure this was the right tactic.

"I told you to shut up!" the man spat at her, his eyes immediately returning to Vincent.

"Here, take my purse ..." she said, sweetly. "Iíll throw it to you. Thereís at least a couple hundred dollars in there ..."

"Iím warning you, lady ..."

"Here, Iíll throw it to you," she said, firmly.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Catherineís gaze flash over to him; he nodded.

Catherine tossed the purse toward the man in a high arc. When the manís eyes registered the object coming toward him, he very slightly lowered the gunóit was enough. Vincent lunged toward the man and tackled him to the ground. A shot pierced the air and hit the rock before Vincent grabbed the gun, which he then threw behind him for Catherine to retrieve.

Vincent stood up, dragging the man with him, forcing him to his feet. He grabbed the man by his collar and growled into his face, baring his teeth.

"Leave now. Donít tell anyone of me or I will find you ..." he threatened.

With that, Vincent shoved him toward the park, and the man took off.

Vincent sighed with relief and turned toward Catherine.

"Catherine, you were brilliant, youó"

Vincentís heart constricted when he saw her lying on the tunnel floor, bleeding.

"No, no ..." Vincent cried, diving to her side.

She was unconscious and he couldnít tell where she had been shot. His hands moved frantically over her body, but he could barely see through his tears. She had lost so much blood; it was everywhere. Vincent quickly wrapped her in his arms and took off running.

The sense of familiarity overwhelmed himóhim running this very same path, with her in his arms, two years ago ... like then, she now lay completely limp in his arms and he could barely feel her through the Bond.

He ran past a sentry and ordered him to send a message to Father to meet him in the infirmary at once. The sentry was shocked at the tone in Vincentís voice and immediately tapped out a message. Vincent pushed himself harder.

When he finally arrived in the hospital chamber, Father was washing his hands.

"Father!" Vincent exploded.

"Dear God," Father managed, rushing to the side of table. Vincent lay her down and began searching again for the wound.

"I canít find it ... where sheís hurt ... Father!" Vincent said, nearly hysterical.

Father immediately began searching alongside Vincent. Finally, he found the wound.

"Itís in her neck, right above her clavicle. Itís gushing blood, Vincentóplease, pressure!"

Vincentís hands immediately clamped down over the wound to stop the flow.

"Do you see an exit wound?" Father asked calmly.

Vincent looked at the back of her neck and saw the small wound, which was bleeding, but not as badly. He adjusted so he could cover that, too.

"Yes, Father."

"Good, at least we donít have to remove a bullet. I donít know if she would have made it through that ..."

"Father!" Vincent said, sharply.

Father shook his head. "Yes, yes, I know ... letís take care of her ..."

...

Some hours later, Vincent stood over Catherine as she rested. His head was down and he alternated between staring at her pale face and closing his eyes in utter agony.

She was stable, but still in great danger. The injury was more than a flesh wound, but it had not hit her jugular or carotid artery and it had not hit her spinal column. A half-inch either way and ... Vincent couldnít bear the thought. Her clavicle had a hairline fracture, and she had lost a great deal of blood, but that was the extent of her injuries. The only reason she had survived was because the bullet was from a small caliber gun.

How many times would he stand over her broken and battered body and search her face for any sign of hope? That first night he had found her in the park, the hospital room when Mitch shot her, the trunk of the car of the man who had caused all of her nightmares ... and now this.

He was not going to be able to let her go now. He knew he couldnít; too much had happened, too many close calls and near escapes. He could no longer endure the separation. Every moment of every day, she was on his mind. Between classes, he would sit quietly in his chamber, his eyes closed, just letting the Bond completely consume him, so that he was barely in his surroundings, his body and mind filled with her essence.

A few tears fell from his eyes and landed on her hands that lay folded across her stomach. He took a deep breath and tore himself away from the bed.

He paced in the tight space, trying to force his emotions back down inside him. Instead, he cried harder. He dropped to his knees, laid one hand upon her side, and continued to cry, only because he was unable to stop.

...

A few hours later, Devin came in. He surveyed the scene and then came up behind Vincent, laying a hand on his shoulder.

"I donít suppose I need to ask how youíre doing ..." he said quietly.

Vincent shook his head.

"Father said she should make itóthatís good news ..."

"Yes ..." Vincent murmured.

Devin walked to the other side of the chamber and sat in a chair on the other side of Catherine, facing Vincent.

"So, letís hear it ..." he said, trying to catch Vincentís eyes.

Vincent shook his head again.

"I know youíre over there drowning in guilt, so just let it out, little brother. What are you thinking?"

Vincent sighed and stilled himself as another wave of grief and shame rolled over him.

"Itís not your fault," Devin told him.

"It is my fault, Devin. If I had gotten there sooner; if I hadnít pushed her away to begin with; if I had only given her what she wanted ... to be here with me ..."

Vincent jerked up from her side and turned his back, starting to pace in the small area. Devin didnít try to stop him.

"You canít protect her from everything ..."

"I can do better than ... this!" he replied, gesturing toward her.

"The world is a dangerous place, Vincent, be realistic," Devin countered.

Vincent shook his head angrily. "No, the world Above is a dangerous place. If only I had let her come Below ... like she wanted ...

"I know she loves me," he said, softly. "But this life ... how can she want this?"

"Chandler would bunk with you in Antarctica, Vincent. Itís not about that ..."

"But she could have anythingóeverythingóshe wants ..."

"Why is it so hard to believe that she wants you?" Devin asked, pointedly.

"I have nothing to offer her, Devinóno money, no power. I have a chamber and books, nothing else ... this is no life for her. I canít walk by her in the daylight. I canít give her children. I canít marry her and celebrate with her friends. I canít even protect her!"

"Donít you think youíre shortchanging her a little, Vincent? Yes, she could have money and poweróin fact, all of that is within her reach now, whether she has a man or not. But that is not what she cares aboutóshe cares about you! Trust me; she would rather be in your bed, in your chamber, than in some penthouse with a man she doesnít love ..."

"Butó"

"Vincent, all this is irrelevant. You donít have a choice anymore. You canít let her go, so you better figure out how to make peace with it."

"Maybe ... maybe if we spent some time apart ... we could ..."

"Are you serious?" Devin interrupted, nearly choking on his frustration. "After all this ... you think some time away will ... what will time away do, Vincent?"

"Lessen our attachment to each other ..." Vincent whispered. Even as he said the words, he knew it was impossible.

"And lessen the Bond, too?"

Vincent walked over to Catherineís side again and smoothed her hair down, letting his fingers trail down the side of her face.

"Vincent, whatís the worst thing that could happen? So she comes down here and she doesnít like itóhighly unlikely, but letís just say that she doesnít want to be here. So what? So she stays in her apartment or moves into a place with easier tunnel access ... isnít that the worst that can happen?"

Vincent was quiet and avoided Devinís eyes. Silence ensued while Devin thought.

"Youíre afraid she might not want you anymore ..."

Devin saw Vincent wince and knew he was right.

"Are you afraid that you wonít be able to make her happy?" he asked, gently.

Vincent nodded slightly.

"Iím afraid ..." Vincent spoke so softly that Devin could barely hear him. He seemed to be speaking more to himself ... or Catherine. "Iím afraid that if she really sees me, she wonít ... love me anymore ..."

"So you would rather keep her at armís length to prevent that? Vincent, thatís ridiculous. Itís time to face this, little brother ... and itís time to give her some credit. She loves youóshe wants more time with you, not less. She wants to share her life with you and seeing your bed head in the morning is not enough to send her running for the hills. She is realisticóshe knows what she is asking ..."

"How can she know?" Vincent whispered.

"You have to stop this, Vincent. Youíre being irrational now ... we both know this is all but inevitable. You either give her what she wants or step asideóthereís no other way."

"I know ..." Vincent muttered.

At that moment, Father walked in. Sensing a tense situation, he spoke softly.

"Vincent, I apologize, but you are needed in the older chambers by the Great Hall. A support beam is exposed and showing signs of rot. With Cullen sick and Kanin Above, there is no one else ... it should only take an hour or so ..."

Vincent didnít respond. Father looked at Devin helplessly.

"Iíll stay with her, bro. Go fix it; the sooner you go, the faster youíll be back here ..." Devin assured him.

Vincent still didnít respond; he was staring at Catherine. Devin and Father looked at each other, not knowing quite what to say.

Finally, Vincent bent down and lifted Catherineís hand to his mouth and kissed it gently. He held it for a moment longer and then set it back down. He left the room without another word.

"And how is Vincent?" Father asked, pulling a stethoscope from his medical bag.

"Hanging in there. He feels guilty of course, but ..." Devin trailed off.

When Father finished listening to Catherineís heart, he looked at Devin.

"But what?" he replied.

Devin sighed and stood up, walking over to Catherineís bedside.

"Heís conflicted, Father. Catherine wants to ... move their relationship forward. She wants to ... live with him down here ..."

"Thatís quite impossible, Devin. I hope you have talked him out of it," Father said brusquely.

"Itís not impossible, and I wish you would help make him see that instead of filling his head with impossibilities and doubts ..."

"Devin, you should not speak of things you know nothing about," Father said, patronizingly.

"What do you know about it, old man?"

"I know that her moving here would be disastrousófor both of them," Father told him, continuing his examination of Catherine.

"You canít know that. She should be hereóVincent needs her here. Only doubt and fear are holding him backódoubt and fear you have encouraged!"

"So itís my fault, then?" Father retorted.

"Partially," Devin told him. "You have convinced Vincent to be scared of his feelings for Catherine, to bury them and push her away ..."

"I have done no such thingóVincent understands the nature of their relationship, the limits that come with it," Father said, curtly.

"Vincent loves her, Father. He doesnít want her to leaveóhe wants her here, he wants to follow his heart ..."

"And I know nothing about matters of the heart, Devin?" Father asked, glaring at him.

"When it comes to Vincent, all you can see are the limits and boundaries. I know you want to protect him, but even if he does get hurt, even if her coming Below is the worst decision they could make, itís something they have to try and you need to step aside and give them your blessing ..."

"My blessing?" Father guffawed. "Why would I give my approval to something I know is wrong?"

"Because your approval is not needed, old man. This is between them. Vincent is not a child ..."

"Vincent doesnít know what he wantsóhis concern for her well-being blinds him, Devin. You know that. He would go Above in the daylight if she asked him to ..."

"He knows what he wants; heís just too afraid to ask for it. The only reason he resists is because heís worried about disappointing heróit has nothing to do with his lack of desire, Father. Canít you see how unhappy he is being apart from her? Canít you see how unhappy Catherine is?"

Father put his things in his medical bag and zipped it up hastily.

"You always do this, Devin ..."

"Do what?"

"Come down here every so often, poke your nose in business that does not concern you, and fill Vincentís head with ideas. And then youíll leave again ..."

"If anything, my presence here is a good thing. Vincent needs another perspectiveóa hopeful and supportive one."

"What Vincent needs is ..." Father said loudly, before calming himself. "Vincent is not foolish or reckless. He will see the error in this ..."

"Vincent could use some foolishness ... and some recklessness! He deserves love and all the craziness that comes with it. Why canít you be happy for him, Father? They love each other. Cathy is not going to leave him or hurt himóI know thatís what youíre afraid of. I know you donít trust her."

"I didnít say that, Devin. I only want to protect Vincent!"

"Well, if you are trying to protect him from getting hurt, youíre too late. He is hurting nowóbeing apart from her is hurting him. He has to find the courage to ask her to come Below and he needs your support, not your lectures or your misguided attempts at protection."

"Thatís enough, Devin!" Father said, angrily, walking toward the supply cabinet. Devin followed him.

"I know you love him; I know you want him to be happy. This is what makes him happyóshe ..." Devin said, pointing at Catherine, "is what makes him happy."

Father slumped and sighed.

"You have to help himóhe needs to know that itís okay, that you are behind him on this ..." Devin told him.

"Itís too late, then," Father whispered.

"Yes, itís too late. If they donít do something, try something to make this work, they are only going to remain unhappy. Vincentís fear is blinding him, Father. He needs us to help him find his way, to know that he deserves love and happiness. He needs us.

"Cathy does, too. She gets it; she knows that things will only turn bitter and painful if they keep themselves apart. She has the courage to try, to give up her entire life, Father, just to be with him. The least we can do is make sure they have the best chance possible."

"And her coming Below is their best chance at happiness?"

"Yes!"

"And what if they are wrong?" Father asked.

"What if they never try? Thatís worse, trust me ..."

Father sighed and walked toward the chamber door.

"Well?" Devin called after him.

"Iíll think on it, Devinóthatís the best I can do right now ..." he said before leaving the chamber.

Devin made his way back over to Catherineís bedside and to his astonishment, her eyes were open, barely, but they were open.

"Cathy?" he asked.

She blinked and tried to focus on him.

"Thank you, Devin," she whispered.

"Hold on, Iíll get Vincent ..." he told her.

She shook her head and he paused.

"Please help ..."

"What? Are you hurting? What do you need?"

She shook her head again and it was a moment before she spoke.

"I love him, Devin," she said, as tears welled up in her eyes.

"I know," he replied, taking her hand and squeezing it gently.

"Help me ... make him see ... I want to be with him ... I want to try ..."

"I know, Cathy," Devin told her.

"Please, Devin ... I love him ..." she repeated.

"Shhhh ..." Devin soothed her. "I promise to help. You two belong together. Iíll make him see that ..."

Catherine smiled and squeezed his hand.

"Thank you," she whispered, her eyes closing again.

Devin held her hand until he was sure she was asleep and then sat down in his chair and sighed heavily.

He had his work cut out for him.

...

Six days later, Catherine was sitting up and talking, still weak, but much better. After having lunch with Devin and Father in Vincentís chamber, she laid down in the bed, watching Vincent meticulously clean his desk, knowing he was avoiding having to talk to her alone.

He finally stopped and sat down in his chair beside the bed. He put his elbows on his knees and stared at his hands. His head was down.

"Then you are feeling better?" Vincent asked quietly.

"Yes," she nodded. "Much better ..."

What was he thinking? she wondered. Surely he wouldnít ...

"Then it is time ..." he started.

"Time?" she gasped softly.

He raised his head and looked at her. "For you to go back ..."

Catherine swallowed back the rising anguish within her and met his gaze.

"Is that what you want?" she asked, trying to keep her voice from shaking.

"Itís what is best ..." he told her, dropping his eyes.

"You canít even look at me when you say that, Vincent. Are you lying to me?"

The bold question stunned them both. Again they were in uncharted territory, again it was her that pushed too far. She saw him go rigid. Neither spoke for many moments.

"Itís what is best," he insisted.

"Thatís not what I asked you," she said, sitting up cross-legged. "I asked you if that is what you want ... for me to leave, to go Above again, a few days after I was shot, after a month of nightmares, after almost dying, after begging you to let me stay down here with you and making a fool of myself by trying to kiss you, after all that and barely any discussion, you want me to leave?"

When she finished, she fell back against the pillows, lightheaded. She knew he was stubborn, but this was cruel. Surely he could give her the gift of his company for a while, be with her when she was hurt.

He stood up then, turned, and grabbed his cloak. He took three steps toward the door and then stopped in his tracks. After recovering from the shock of his near exit, she looked up and saw him staring at her, frustration apparent on his usually expressionless face. Then, he walked back over to the desk, laid his cloak down, and sat in the chair. Again, he dropped his head and began to study his hands.

"Itís not what I want," he said after a few moments.

Catherine ran her fingers through her hair and sighed, suddenly exhausted. She didnít have the strength for anything more. Why couldnít he just hold her, comfort her for a moment? Couldnít he feel how much she needed that right now? She wasnít asking for the world from him, just a moment, in his arms. It was unbelievable that he was withholding that from heróunbearable. She turned over in the bed, her back to him, and pulled the covers over her head.

After a few moments, he sat down on the bed beside her. He reached over and in one motion, pulled the covers off of her and folded her up into his arms. She immediately started crying. He buried his head beside hersóhis warm breath on her was such a comfort. His hand came up behind her head and pulled her closer, until her cheek was pressed against his. He held her tightly, slightly swaying back and forth, rocking her, rubbing her back, soothing her.

He held her long after she stopped crying. He felt her near sleep through the Bond, and carefully laid her back down. She started to protest, but stopped, relieved when he laid down beside her, not breaking contact.

"Donít leave," she whispered.

"I promise."

Finally at peace, finally safe, Catherine fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

...

When Catherine woke again, she sighed and turned over, reaching for him. When she didnít feel him, she sat bolt upright in bed.

"Vincent!ó"

Devin put his hand on her shoulder and gently prodded her to lie back down. Tears came to her eyes ... he promised.

"He had to, Cathy; he didnít want to leave, but you know, thereís always something broken down hereóheíll be back soon," he assured her.

Catherine bit her lip and forced her tears back down.

"How are you feeling? Better?" Devin asked, pulling the covers back over her.

"Yes, better," she managed.

"Do you feel up to moving?"

"Moving?" she squeaked in fear.

"Back to the hospital chamber. Vincent and Father thought it best ..."

"I see," she replied, softly.

Devin helped her return to the infirmary. When she was settled back in, he sat beside her, unable to ignore her distress. He couldnít leave her without asking her what was wrong. He might be opening up a can of worms, but he couldnít let her hurt like this.

"Do you want to tell me what happened?" he asked, choosing his words carefully.

She shrugged. "He wanted me to leave ..."

"What?" Devin said, astounded. "Are you serious?"

She nodded. "I practically had to beg ..." she admitted. "Iíve made such a fool of myself ..."

"Thereís only one fool in this equation and itís not you."

They were both quiet for a moment.

"You know what heís afraid of, donít you?" he asked her.

She shook her head. "Everything ... that heíll hurt me, that heíll prevent me from living the life Iím Ďsupposedí to live, that he canít give me what I need to be happy, that Iíll reject him ... am I warm?" she finished, frustrated.

Devin looked down at his hands, silent, trying to figure out if he could talk with her about this without betraying Vincent.

"He thinks heís not good enough for youó"

"I know, but heís wrong. He is! Devin, Ió"

"Whoa, Cathy," Devin interrupted, throwing his hands up in innocence. "I donít agree with him. I know you guys are right for each other, but he canít ... he canít see it, Cathy. Heís afraid of ... disappointing you ..."

"He could never disappoint me," she mumbled.

"I know that. You know that. But he ..." Devin sighed. "Heís afraid that if you see him, truly see him, live with him, that you wonít love him anymore, that youíll ... leave him. Heís more terrified of you leaving than asking you to stay ..."

"Why? How is that possible? I have proven to him a million times that I love him, that I want to be with him, always. How can he not believe me?"

Devin looked at her. She was exhausted, with dark circles under her eyes. Her skin was pale; she looked defeated, her usual glow tempered. How much more would Vincent put her through?

Devin decided that enough was enough. He couldnít watch them both suffer needlessly when the solution was right in front of them.

"Cathy," Devin told her. "You know Lisa rejected him ..."

"Yes, but that was different. They were young; she was teasing him. Father put way too much importance on thatóthey were just kids ..."

"What if I told you that Lisa wasnít the first who ..." he trailed off then, unsure of how to tell her.

"There was someone else?" Catherine whispered.

She looked hurtóbetrayed, just as Vincent feared. He needed to explain.

"This was before Lisa. He wasnít keeping this from you. He didnít really remember it, Cathy, not until I brought it up. I wanted to show him the root of his fears ..."

"What, Devin? Tell me!" her eyes were beseeching.

Devin took a deep breath. "There was a girl, Isabelle, whom Vincent was ... close to. They were very youngóit was innocent; they just enjoyed each otherís company. She was very affectionate with himóshe made him feel special ... and accepted."

Devin looked up at Catherine and rethought his plan. All the color had drained from her face and her eyes were wild and wounded. Her lips were pressed into a thin, hard line and she was shaking.

"Cathy," he said, gently, reaching for her hand. "This was nothing compared to what Vincent has with you."

She sniffled, embarrassed at her transparency. "I know, Iím just being silly," she said. "Go on ..."

"One day, after swimming, they kissedójust a peck; it was over in a second ... but there was this other kid, Fowler. He liked Isabelle and he got the girls to make Isabelle feel weird for kissing him and then he ... he just tortured Vincent. It was awful. I couldnít wait to get my hands on him; I really let him have it ... but ... it was too late. Isabelle listened to the other kids and began ignoring him and the rejection stung Vincent ... he started withdrawing, pulling away from everyone. I left not too long after that. He wonít talk about that time, but I know he was hurting ... and alone. It took him many years to regain his confidence and begin to feel accepted again ..."

Catherine was crying now. It was terrible, thinking about him alone and in pain.

"So you see, Cathy, heís afraid of being rejected; heís afraid he wonít be able to make you happy, that youíll leave, just like Isabelle and just like Lisa, except this time, he wouldnít recover, Cathy. We both know it would kill him."

"Itís killing us to be apart from each other; why canít he see that?"

"He does," Devin replied. "He loves you; he wants you to live with him Below; he wants it more than anything."

Catherine nodded.

"What can I do, Devin?" she asked him. "How can I show him that I wonít leave? Iím at a loss ..."

"I donít know the answer to that, but I know that he loves you, that he wants to be with you. Being apart from you is destroying him, but ... well, I donít have to tell you how stubborn he is ..."

She managed a tiny smile.

"He loves you, Cathy. Donít give up ... Heís got to see tható"

Vincentís boot scuffing the tunnel floor shook them to the core. They were caughtóand devastated. If Vincent thought they were openly discussing such a difficult topic, behind his back, conspiring Ö Catherine couldnít breathe.

He stepped to the foot of the bed. Devin let go of Catherineís hand and sat back in the chair. Catherineís eyes were fixed on Vincentís impassive face; he returned her gaze for a moment, before dropping his head, the way he always did.

"Devin, we have survived ... breeches of trust before ..."

Each word was labored, and sharply focused. Devin recognized his toneóVincent was angry with him. He deserved it. He had crossed a line.

"Please leave us, Devin ... we can speak ... later ..." Vincent finished carefully.

Devin glanced at Catherine and then silently left the room.

Catherine was mortified. She had never meant to harm him by talking with Devin. She pulled the covers to her mouth, trying not to burst into tears. How could she have hurt him in this way, just when he needed to have faith in her the most? Nearly ever action of hersótrying to kiss him, accusing him of lying, talking with Devinówas pushing him too far. It was like a horrible nightmare that unfolded unendingly before her.

"Vincent," she cried out. "Iím so sorry, please, I ..."

"Stop!" he said, curtly, raising his hand and turning away from her in a huff.

She wished she could run out of here right now. His tone had cut her deeply; she wanted to disappear.

Suddenly, Vincent kicked a metal stool; it flew against the supply cabinet, making an ear-splitting noise that caused Catherine to jump up in bed. She gasped in disbelief when he kicked the chair again, sending it careening over to the tunnel wall before it ricocheted back toward the cabinet and clanged to the ground.

He growled and jerked around, his hands going to his head and then falling again. He turned away from her again with a whimper that tore her in two. He was trying so hard to keep himself in check. It hurt to watch. She would never forgive herself for causing this much anguish in him.

He stumbled forward until his hands gripped the edge of the examination table. His arms were arrow straight and filled with tension. He was absolutely silent. He was holding his breath, bracing himself, holding himself in.

After many painful minutes, Vincent let go of the table and stood up. She saw him absentmindedly stroke the tassels on his cloak as he turned away again, toward the back wall, completely blocking her out.

"Iím not ... angry with you, Catherine ..."

She had never heard him have such difficulty speaking. The effort looked Herculean.

Catherine wanted to say something, but the words wouldnít come. She watched him; his usual grace was gone. Though his back was to her, his posture spoke volumesóhe was nearly shaking with rage.

She ran her hands over her face and sighed; she had to do something.

"Vincent," she started, trying to steady her voice. "In the entire time you have been a part of my life, I have never been able to speak about you. Iíve never told a friend how much you mean to me and I have never received any advice on how to ... endure the painful parts. I know this is the price I pay for our dream and you know I pay it willingly ... I just needed to tell someone ... I needed someone to tell me ... like what I said before ... I needed it to be real ... to know that you feel it, too.

"It was nothing we planned, Vincent. But to have the chance to tell someone, anyone, to tell your brother how much I love you ..."

Her voice broke then and Vincent stopped pacing. He sighed but didnít look at her.

"I donít want to apologize for it ... it meant so much to me, to Devin. We care about you and want you to be happy. We want to help you find your happiness, Vincent. There was no strategizing, nothing we wouldnít say to you ..."

"There is much you havenít said to me, Catherine ..." he replied, softly.

"There is a lot you wonít listen to, Vincent ..." she told him.

He spun around in a whirl, like he did when he was attacked, or when he was fighting for her. The violent world Above had provoked this in him before, but never her.

She realized then that he was staring at her and, despite his assurances of a moment before, he was angry with her, very angry, but she didnít notice that as much as she saw the pain in his face. His mouth was firm, hard, his fists clenched, his legs locked and strongóevery part of him was set and grim.

But his eyes. Damn their crystal blue depths! She felt weak at the pain she saw there. She had truly hurt him.

He stared at her, blinking slowly. And then the light went out in his eyes. The blue shut down, closed the door, left home. He still stared at her but he did not see her. It was the love that was gone and without that, there was nothing.

"I know I havenít welcomed any dialogue ... and I havenít told you of ... how I feel for you ... but to speak with Devin ... about things you will not discuss with me?" he quavered, his voice choking.

And then she understood what this was about. It wasnít that he felt betrayed. It was that she had voiced her feelings, after all this time, to someone elseósomeone who knew how difficult it was for him.

It was the same feeling sheíd had when Lena had shared that intimate moment with Vincent in his chamber, when she had told him of her love and offered herself to him. To know that Lena had been in his chamber, right next to him in the middle of the night, when Vincent was drowsy and warm. What she wouldnít give for that moment.

It had been freeingówonderful evenóto talk to Devin about her feelings for Vincent, but she had been wrong to do it.

"Iím just so worried, Vincent ... I feel like I am losing you, I feel lost ... Iím sorry, I just didnít have the strength to resist ... Iím sorry for being so weak ..." she finished, defeated.

"Catherine, do not say that. You are strong ..."

"But youíre my weakness, Vincent ..." she cried. "And Iíve tried so hard to be strong for you ..."

"For me? Catherine, why?"

"Because you made me strong. I donít want to ever disappoint you."

"Catherine, you could never disappointó"

He turned around and ran a shaking hand through his hair.

"Catherine, you could never disappoint me. Please, it hurts me that you would even believe that possible. You could never disappoint me."

Catherine shook her head, trying not to cry. She tried to resist the pull, but the floor fell out from below her feet. The only thing worse than what she had done to him is that now she was succumbing to her selfishness for letting herself be hijacked with guilt. She had disappointed him; she had seen the love flee from his eyesóthere was nothing if there wasnít love.

She covered her face with her hands. It was as if the very air had been stolen from her body. There were no tears; there were no thoughts. She just stopped. It was realóshe was broken.

"Catherine!" he called out to her.

And suddenly, he was beside her and she was wrapped tightly in his arms.

"Please, stop. I canít bear to feel this in you ... whatever you want to say to me ... tell me now ..."

She pulled back from him and looked into his eyes.

"I love you, Vincent, with all my heart, and I want to be with you. I want to live with you, in your world, in your chamber, and wake up to you, and ..."

Catherine stopped when Vincent suddenly pulled her back into his arms.

For the first time, she decided not to say anything, not to do anything, to remain absolutely still and silent.

After an eternity of being locked inside his hesitant embrace, he sighed, and she relaxed against him.

"Why have you waited so long to tell me this?" Vincent whispered.

"Why have you taken so long to hear it? You know everything I feel, Vincent, everything. I have tried to keep everything buried, but I know you can feel it! You didnít want to know ..."

"Itís easier to deceive myself," he confided. "Iíve known ... I have just ... set it aside ..."

Vincent pulled away from her then, and after laying his hand upon hers for a brief moment, stood up with a sigh and once again, his back turned and he walked away from her.

She tried not to feel disappointed; after all, what had just happened was beyond her wildest dreamsóhe was talking to her; it was enough.

He didnít walk very far. He paused at the end of the bed, and was silent. He was breathing softly, slowly. She had no idea what he was feeling. She was about to tell him that it was okay for him to leave if he needed some time to himself when he spoke.

"Catherine," he inquired. "Do you really believe this possible? That you could ... be with me ... Below?"

She gulped in shock. Had he really said that? He was going to talk about this? She panicked about what to say and only managed to whisperóyes.

"And you would tell me if you ... regretted your decision, at any time?"

He turned and looked at her then. She nodded, her throat still choked up.

"Catherine," he whispered, dropping his eyes to the floor. "Do I make you happy?"

The words tore her apart. He had no idea how happy he made her, and would make her, especially when she could finally release her feelings into the Bond.

Before another second had passed, Catherine was up, on her knees, crawling toward Vincent, who scooped her up into his arms without hesitation. She crossed her hands behind his neck and just laid her head on his chest, the silence sufficientówords were not needed now.

Catherine ran her hand slowly down his throat, his Adamís apple lurching forward to meet her passing touch. He made a small noise, barely audible, and completely adorable.

He dropped his head down to hers and their breath mixed in the small space between them.

"My chamber?" he asked, the fear that he was overstepping a line implicit in his speech.

She buried her face against the warm skin of his neck. A shiver went through his body and though he held her tightly, she felt his grip loosen. He recovered instantly.

"Please take me there, Vincent ..." she urged him, pressing her lips against the hollow in his throat.

His arms tightened around her and he took off running.

...

Vincent sat on the edge of his bed, his head hung before her. She was sitting in his chair, facing him directly. She had a blanket wrapped around her.

She reached forward and slowly pushed her hands up his thighs, trying to soothe him.

"Itís all right, Vincent, please look at me ..." she asked him, tenderly.

He sighed and raised his eyes to her; they were heavy with questions.

"What is it?" she whispered, pushing herself forward, closer to him. He jumped a little, but didnít move. Her elbows were on his knees, her hands around his waist. She looked up at him.

She raised her head then until her cheek rested against his. She didnít say anything else. She knew he was scared; she wasnít about to push him. Rather, she reveled in the sensation of her skin on his. If this was the closest she ever got to him, it was enough. The feelings were almost painful, they were so sweet.

She raised her hand to his other cheek and stroked him softly, lazily. They were sinking into an unfamiliar space now. His mouth dropped open a little and a puff of air was released. It was a breath of wonder, surprise, emotion ...

She moved her fingers lightly over his lips and he suddenly grabbed her hand, stilling it. When she realized he wasnít pushing her away, was actually holding her closer, she relaxed her fingers upon his mouth.

And then he spoke, so softly, she doubted she would have heard it if she had not felt the words vibrate against her hand.

"Will you stay?"

The joy crescendoed through her, but she instantly grabbed hold of it. Did he mean stay now? Stay the night? Stay ...?

"With me ... here ... always ..." His voice cracked on the last word and she felt him recoil from her in anticipation.

She knew how hard it was for him to even admit that he wanted her to stay, much less say it.

"Yes," she told him, emphatically.

"I want to kiss you, Catherine ..." he whispered into her ear.

"I want you to kiss me ..."

She knew kissing him would be amazing, astonishing even, but she could not have imagined this. It was a beginning and completion, the Bond never stronger, never surer.

And then she was in his lap and her hands were everywhere upon himóhis face, his neck, gripping his shoulders, pulling herself into him. It was as if she had to continually hang onto him, like she was falling.

The kiss deepened, as did their surrender. She pushed him back and moved on top of him, kicking the chair out of the way. She ran her hand down the side of her body where it touched his. When she reached his knee, she grabbed the fabric, tugging upward, her thigh pressing into him.

He cried out wordlessly and rolled her over, kissing her harder. Side by side, they clutched each other ferociously.

And then they stopped, simultaneously. They looked into each otherís eyes, though they were too close to actually see.

She was gasping for breath when she felt his hand move at her waist. She forced herself to be still. He needed her to be.

And then she felt fingers cautiously move under her shirt and onto her lower back. They drifted up across her ribs before coming to rest on her side; his hand came to hold her and he gripped her waist tightly.

The effect on her was so overwhelming, such a mind-numbing rush, that she almost felt ridiculous, to be so overcome like this.

"Are you okay?" she managed.

"Yes," he breathed. "Are you?"

She nodded.

He kissed her again, softly, and murmured her name against her lips. She smiled.

Suddenly though, Vincent sat up straight and then jumped off the bed. Catherine sat up and then heard the footsteps herself.

Vincent was moving to stand behind the chair when Devin and Father walked in.

"Well, thereís the patient," Father grumbled.

Behind him, Devin threw up his hands in apology, the discomfort apparent on his face.

"Exactly where I said she would be and looking fit as a fiddle," Devin reminded him.

Though Devin had correctly assessed the scene before him, Father was too preoccupied with his charge to notice. He was by Catherineís side, his medical bag opened on the table, looking for his stethoscope. Catherine, still flushed and breathless, laid down in the bed, awaiting his ministrations.

Vincent walked over to Devin, who was still standing by the entrance of the chamber.

"Well, Catherine, I am pleased. You seem to have some color back and your pulse is strong," Father proclaimed.

Catherine tried to hide her smile as he continued with his examination.

"And you couldnít distract him?" Vincent whispered to his brother.

"You know how he is ... a doctor first, and all that. I did my best, but he was adamant."

Vincent nodded and they both turned to watch Father, who was taking her blood pressure.

"So, I take it things are working out?"

Vincent smiled and dropped his head, feeling his face turn red and hot.

"Yes, Devin, thank you ..."

Devin laid his hand on Vincentís shoulder and squeezed it.

"And weíre okay?" Devin asked.

Vincent raised his own hand to cover Devinís and kept it there.

"Yes, though I would like to talk with you before you leave. Will you be staying much longer?"

"I will stay for as long as you need me to, bro. I am assuming you need to take care of some unfinished business, am I right?"

"Yes," Vincent replied, staring at Catherine across the room.

"Tomorrow afternoon, then?"

Vincent nodded, distracted. Devin patted him on the back, grinning.

Vincent walked back over to Catherine and Father.

"Father? Is she well?" Vincent inquired. He laid his hand on her shoulder and they both buried the tremor that passed between them.

"Very well, indeed. She should not exert herself too much, but the worst is over. Weíll leave the bandage on just to be on the safe side," Father replied, turning from the bed to return his equipment to the bag.

"Thank you, Father, for saving my life. There are no words ..." she told him.

Now Father turned crimson, muttering something that sounded like "Youíre welcome." He took hold of his cane and Devin stepped toward him to help.

"Remember, donít exert yourself too hard, Cathy," Devin said, trying to keep a straight face. He winked at them and then helped Father out of the chamber.

When they reached the tunnel, Father sighed.

"So, I guess itís done then, like you said ... that theiróerórelationship will be moving forward?"

"Pretty much, pop," Devin replied.

It was a moment before Father spoke again.

"They were advancing then, when I ..."

"Like I said, Catherineís exam could have waited ..." Devin laughed, helping Father around a difficult corner.

"Then her moving Below ..."

"A foregone conclusion ..." Devin finished for him.

Father sighed.

"Well, I suppose we should get the council ready to vote then."

"Ha. The result of that vote is also a forgone conclusion!"

"Perhaps, but still, protocol must be followed," Father replied, irritated.

"I know, I know ... protocol must be followedóalways. Otherwise, how would anything get done?"

Father elbowed Devin in the side when Devin started laughing.

...

When they were gone, Catherine sat up in the bed and Vincent sat down beside her. He took her hands in his.

"Would you like to go to your apartment, Catherine?" he asked, finding it very hard to look her in the eye.

"One last time?" she mused, leaning in toward him.

"One last time," he repeated, his steady voice not revealing the excitement churning inside him.

"Is it dark yet?" she asked him, kissing him softly on his neck, delighted when he slightly tilted his head, allowing her better access. She pushed his hair behind his shoulder and moved her lips to his jaw line.

"Nearly. Perhaps you can go first and ..." he trailed off.

"Get some things together? Tie up some temporary loose ends?" she replied.

"Yes," he gulped. She was nuzzling him now, her warm breath on his neck driving him to distraction.

"And then youíll come to the balcony?"

He nodded, unable to speak.

"One last time?" she whispered into his ear.

"Yes," he managed.

"And then?" she teased, her mouth slightly opening to push the words into the hollow of his ear.

"Catherine ..." he breathed, his hands coming up to hold her upper arms, conflicted about whether to stop her or encourage her.

"And then?" she continued, her lips slowly descending down the column of his throat.

"And then weíll come home," he told her and they both started at the words. How foreign they were ... and how right.

...

When Catherine stepped into her apartment again, she could barely contain the happiness inside her. She meant to pack and get ready for a shower and it wasnít until five minutes later that she realized she hadnít really accomplished anything at all, still standing by the couch, holding her keys, lost in thoughts of him.

Relax, she told herself. Just pack what you need for a while; you can take care of the rest later.

After she packed her bag, she showered and put on a simple, pale blue dress. Still distracted, she didnít notice until she went to open the balcony doors that it was raining.

Would he still come? Maybe she should go back down. It was dangerous enough for him to climb to her balcony when it wasnít raining; she didnít want him to take any unnecessary risks.

Still, the way he had suggested their meeting on the balcony Ö she tried to remain calm, without expectation, but she couldnít help but think he wanted to continue what they had started here, where they had privacy and no possibility of interruption.

A thought struck her and she went to the front door, making sure all the locks were secured. Then, she went to the phone in her bedroom and disconnected it, followed by the phone in the living room. There would be no interruptions from the outside world again.

She looked toward the balcony and noticed that the sun had setóand that it was raining harder. The clouds had quickly darkened the sky, stealing the twilight.

She was still debating on whether she should go to him or stay here when she heard a noise on the balcony. Without thinking, she ran to the doors and flung them wide open.

She was shocked to see him without his cloak. She assumed he left it behind so that it would not weigh him down, but a charge went through her thinking about how little stood between them now.

He wore a short sleeved, dark green tunic, loosely belted with a velvet rope at his waist. His customary white flannel shown bright underneath. He was soaked.

She couldnít see his face, but she could feel his eyes on her and she wondered if the pure desire rolling through her was hers alone or altogether mixed with his, connecting them tighter through the sinews and synapses of the Bond.

Unable to control herself, or even pause to consider her actions, she strode across the balcony. Vincent was too stunned, and nervous, to even move when her hands struggled briefly with the belt before finding the hems of his shirts and tugging them forcefully over his head.

When she finished pulling them off, she turned back toward him and her chin nearly hit the floor at the sight in front of her. He was hunched over in modesty, rain snaking down his chest. He had retreated and was leaning against the brick wall, beside the door to her apartment. Light trickling onto the balcony collided with his skin, and she could tell he was breathing heavily, his chest filling with each deep pull.

Her fingertips pressed against her lips as she beheld him.

He was astonishing, but not what she expected. He was more. He was muscular and powerful, but leaner than she had imagined, more swimmer than football player. He seemed ... softer somehow. His hands pressed back against the brick, clutching it. His head hung low. His hair, long and dripping, fell over his eyes, covering them. The traces of light left shadows on his face, blues and blacks.

He looked scared. Exposed. Vulnerable.

She had never seen anything more beautiful in her life.

He raised his head slightly to her.

An eternity seemed to pass between them. The pounding rain punctuated every passing second, and they were frozen in place, his labored breathing and the rain the only sounds.

Her hand dropped from her mouth and joined the other over her heart. She took one step toward him, feeling as if she was crossing a raging river, her feet heavy.

Vincent tensed and every muscle in his body sprang into action and he seemed to grow in front of her. His chest, his biceps, the long powerful cords down both his arms.

"Vincent," she whispered.

At the sound of his name, his body quieted. She saw his hands grip the brick behind him, the tension transferred there. He became soft again.

And then she was moving swiftly, a songbird shot from a cannon on the rainforest floor straight to the canopy above. She crashed against him, her hands pushing against his shoulders to stop her momentum, her body clashing against his like thunder.

Still not raising her head, she slowly ran her hands down his chest, tracing the slick hills and valleys of his muscles.

Her hands dropped to his waist and held him firmly. And then she looked up at him.

The way he looked at heróit was ... it was ... her heart leaped into her throat and she had to swallow.

His hands rose and his thumbs gently pushed back her wet hair from her face. He stared at the drops of water on her eyelashes, on her lips, the trails the water made down her neck.

Had she ever looked more beautiful?

And then they stumbled inside her bedroom, pulling at their wet clothes, kissing each other wildly, hands gliding over slippery skin, sounds replacing words, louder than the downpour. Abandoning the years of restraint, rising and falling with the swells of desire, bending and breaking with the fury of their love, the scene a tempest of rapture, of yearnings long denied now surging, demanding, of irrepressible longing now unbottled and flooding every open space between them, the vehemence of their love crashing against the rocky shoreline of completion, until they lay battered and exhausted on the strand, shivering and shaking, catching their breath before the current reclaimed them and the next storm charted its uncompromising, violent course.

...

Later, after, they sat across from each other on the bed, cross-legged. They held warm mugs of hot chocolate, each taking tiny sips, waiting for it to cool down. They were quiet, still a little shaky with the gravity of what they had shared tonight.

She looked up at him then, smiling. Then, her luminous eyes dropped and Vincent was both relieved and disappointed. He loved looking into those eyes, but it was almost too much. When he looked into them, he felt nearly overwhelmed by his love for her, especially now.

He took the mug from her and set them both on the nightstand. When he turned to her again, he brought his hands to her face. Her smile got bigger and she pressed her cheek against his hand. His heart clenched inside him.

"Catherine," he whispered.

"So much for not exerting myself. Father would be displeased," she kidded.

"Letís not trouble ourselves with Fatherís recommendations. It seems he has been woefully mistaken about a great many things ..."

They both laughed softly, easily, grateful for the lightness, wanting to linger in it for a moment, already anticipating the resurgence that would claim them again before too long.

"I donít know what to say to you," she admitted, shyly.

"Words are not needed, Catherine ..." he admonished her.

"Still, if only I could tell you how much this means to me, how much I love you ..." she broke off then, her eyes filling with tears.

"I know," he whispered, a smile evident in his gaze.

Her fingers clenched his powerful forearms, her nails digging into his skin. His lips dropped to hers and their eyes closed, clouded and heavy with need. Fingers became lighting bolts, touch, thunder.

It began to rain again.

...

"Did you get an earful then?" Devin laughed as Vincent sat down beside him on the bridge over the abyss.

"It seems a small price to pay," he deflected humorously.

"What did you tell him?"

"I apologized for going Above without telling him ..." Vincent replied.

"And what? Did he actually say something to you about Chandler?"

Vincent chuckled softly beside him, looking down at his legs dangling over the chasm below them.

"That was the entirety of it. He accepted my apology and then returned to his reading."

"Thatís it?" Devin gasped. "Come on!"

"What did you think would happen, Devin?" Vincent mused.

"I donít know. That he would forbid you from ever going Above again, that he would warn you of the dangers of sex and love, try to talk you out of it, and so on ..."

"Perhaps you underestimate him ..."

"Really? He didnít say anything?" Devin was incredulous.

Vincent turned his head to look at his brother, his eyebrows raised. He shook his head and dropped it, laughing now.

"You didnít underestimate him, Devin ... it was everything you said ... and worse ..."

"I knew it! Did you give it to him?"

Vincent looked straight ahead now, lost in his thoughts, almost like he was sitting there alone.

"I explained to him that ..."

He paused, having a difficult time trying to find the words.

"I love her. And she is going to come Below and live with me. And that I was happy, the happiest I have ever been ... I told him his blessing was not needed, but still appreciated," he said, pensively.

"And what did he say?"

"He came over to me and put his hands on my face. He pulled me down and kissed my head, like he did when I was a boy ..."

"Thatís kind of weird."

Vincent shrugged.

"I know what he meant."

"And whatís that? The kiss of death, like Judas?"

"Devin, be reasonable."

Devin laughed. "Okay, fine. What happened next?"

"I told you; he returned to his reading ..."

"Aw ... thatís a boring ending!" Devin grumbled.

"Howeveró"

"What?" Devin said, getting excited.

"The book was upside down."

They burst out laughing together. Father mumbling beneath his breath, trying to be nonchalant, pretending indifference, all the while his book was upside downócomical.

"What book was it?"

"Great Expectations Ö"

They laughed again and then they got quiet. Both were aware of the discussion that needed to take place.

"Do you want to go first?" Devin asked him.

Vincent took a deep breath.

"I canít deny that I was hurt by your actions, by Catherineís. But it wasnít about betrayal."

"It wasnít?" Devin asked. "What was it?"

"DevóI was jealous ... that you two could speak freely about topics I couldnít discuss with her. I envied you that and was hurt that after so long, you would hear what I had never allowed her to say.

"I know itís my fault and I donít feel as if you and Catherine betrayed me. I should have been courageous enough to listen to her before ... and I wasnít ..."

"And now?"

Vincent turned toward him, tears building in his eyes. He smiled and then looked away sheepishly.

"Now, everything is ... Devin, you were right to push me the way you did. If you had not; if you and Catherine hadnít spoken to each other, I might still be in that lonely dark place Iíve lived in my whole life ... I cannot tell you how much youíve done for me. You have always understood me ... and women ..." Vincent added, grinning.

"So, how was it?" Devin ventured, a twinkle in his eye.

Vincent blushed furiously.

"It was ... beautiful ..." he said softly. "Beyond description ... beyond comprehension ..."

He patted Vincent on the back heartily.

"And sheís going to be moving into that chamber of yours?"

Vincent nodded.

"I canít believe it ..." he whispered, the tears coming harder now.

Devin put his arm around Vincent, who leaned onto him.

"I am so happy for you, bro ... and so proud of you," he told him.

Vincent looked at him and nodded, swallowing hard.

Devin jumped up to his feet, brushing dust from his pants. Vincent stood up beside him and hugged him thoroughly. Devin returned it, until he felt somethingó

"Did you just kiss me, Vincent? Did you just give me the kiss of death?" Devin laughed, tearing himself away.

Vincent looked at him with gratitude and then turned and started heading back down the bridge toward the main tunnels.

"I believe I have some reading to do ..." Vincent called over his shoulder.

Devin chuckled and then took off after him.

...

They stood on the balcony together.

Catherine looked back into the apartment in disbelief. It was empty. This was their last night here.

"Iíll be right back," she whispered, squeezing his arm before she turned and went inside.

She picked up the thermos she had filled earlier and brought it back outside, along with two mugs.

She returned to him and he smiled when he saw the Elvis mug in her hand.

"This is the same one ... from that night ..."

"You remembered?" she smiled, pouring some hot chocolate into his mug.

"How could I forget Ďhunk of burning loveí?"

Catherine nearly spilled hot chocolate onto his hand, she laughed so hard.

"I knowóitís so tacky. Jenny brought it back from a conference in Memphis. She thought it would be hilarious. Iíve had it for a long time ..."

"Do you have the one you used from that night?" he asked.

She nodded and poured her own mug. She set the thermos down and turned back toward him.

"Yes."

Hers had a picture of Shakespeare on it.

"And how did you decide upon the dispersal?" he inquired.

"Well, I know Shakespeare suits you much better, but really, do you think I can pull off Ďhunk of burning loveí?" she replied.

"I see your point," he agreed.

He smiled and shook his head, putting an arm around her and pulling her close to him.

"And what would he say of us right now?"

She set her mug down and then came back, hugging him tightly. He kissed her softly and they both whimpered when they pulled away.

"The course of true love never did run smooth?" Vincent whispered into her hair.

She looked up at him and smiled. "I was thinking more along the lines ofó For I neíer saw true beauty till this night."

"As long as itís notóoff with his head!"

"HeyóI thought that Shakespeare knew everything ..."

Vincent chuckled. He then set down his mug and turned back to face her. She looked up at him with an expression that simply weakened him. He stepped forward to kiss her and barely a moment passed before the skies suddenly opened and poured rain onto the city below. Within seconds they were soaked.

He took her hand and they jumped inside. Rubbing her arms to keep from shivering, she looked up at him.

"Itís raining," she said softly.

He stepped toward her then and they sank to the floor together. She wrenched him closer, until their bodies were flush. And then they were kissing, fingers finding fabric, mouths moving and moaning.

And the rain pounded on.

 

The End.