Trust

Demian

I.

"Vincent?"

"Hmmm ..." he murmured.

He broke his attention away from the music, opened his eyes, and titled his head toward hers. She was in his arms; Bach floated above them.

"Why have you never cut your hair?" Catherine asked, looking up at him. Her right hand rose and she briefly stroked his hair before looking down, flushed.

She had been relaxed and the thought just popped into her mind. She loved his hair; she wondered if she could imagine it short, or really in any other form than the one it took before her. On impulse she had reached for his hair; she knew it had been rather forward, never mind the fact that she had just brought up what could potentially be an uncomfortable topic.

He gave her a quick little hug, telling her without words that she needn’t worry about broaching a taboo subject. She squeezed him back, lightly, waiting for his answer.

"I’ve never wanted to," he began. "Mary would trim my hair when I was young. Afterward, she would wash it and she would rub my head and then brush my hair. It felt divine. She would hum and tell me how soft my hair was. I loved those moments; with short hair, I never would have had them."

Catherine smiled and wrapped her arms around him.

"Mary was so good to you; you are so lucky to have had her," Catherine murmured.

"Yes, she was more than a mother to me. When all the other children started growing older, they pulled away from her, seeking their independence and wanting to play with their friends. I only got closer to her. She comforted me, and even though she never said the words, I feel as if she understood me, that she understood what it felt like to be me."

"She is very empathetic," Catherine agreed.

"Yes, it’s a wonderful gift," Vincent replied. "Catherine?"

"Yes?"

"Do you like my hair?" Vincent said, softly.

Catherine looked up at him, smiling. "Of course I like it!"

"You wouldn’t have it any other way?"

She laughed and squeezed him tight. "I wouldn’t have it any other way."

They paused as the first notes of "Air on a G String" unfolded above them. They sighed together in contentment; it was a favorite for both of them. Vincent let his head fall back gently against the wall and closed his eyes. There was something truly magical about this piece. It colored the world around it, making everything seem possible and poignant.

Catherine was just as moved and absentmindedly started stroking his chest. After a moment, he stilled her hand with his own, and brought her hand to his mouth, kissing her palm softly. She took the opportunity to touch his cheek. Vincent began stroking her hair, pausing ever so briefly to touch the side of her face. Neither opened their eyes, both afraid the spell would break.

When the piece ended, Catherine held her breath, bracing herself for the inevitable moment when Vincent would realize how close they were and move away. Miraculously, Albinoni’s "Adagio in G Minor" began and Catherine sighed in relief; a small smile crept to her face. Vincent loved this song, and he hadn’t moved at all. She relaxed back into the fold of his arm as he continued to stroke her hair. Catherine’s fingers gently caressed his cheek again before moving to his chin. When her fingers glanced his lips, Vincent stiffened, but did not pull away. Still lost in the music and the moment, Catherine softly traced his lower lip before her fingers slipped under his chin and onto his neck.

Vincent’s eyes flew open. He had no idea why he was still sitting there—maybe because her touches were so innocent, without an agenda, maybe because he didn’t want this moment to end. Her fingers had returned to his lips and she lightly ran the pad of her thumb along his upper lip. He sighed heavily and with his mouth open, she took the opportunity to pull at his bottom lip with two lazy fingers. Feeling the wetness of his mouth was the most intimate thing he had ever allowed, and she wasn’t surprised when his hand tightened around hers. She was about to surrender and move away, but when he didn’t, she pushed herself up with her free arm and sat sideways, facing him. He was still holding her hand and both were resting on his chest.

Vincent was staring at her without expression, though his eyes burned bright with emotion. She pulled her hand free from his and clutched his chin. They were instantly reminded of the time she had held him this way before, when he had tried to pull away from her after he had kissed the cut from the rose, before they were interrupted and the moment lost forever. He didn’t pull away this time though. She saw his mouth open slightly as he swallowed hard.

Ever so slowly, Catherine leaned forward. Her hand dropped from his face and onto his chest, where she grabbed his neckline, gently pulling herself closer to him. Much to her amazement, his arms came up around her, his hands splayed across her back. She sighed—the slightest touch from him moved her more than the sum of every touch she had ever known.

Her lips landed softly upon his and they both made the tiniest whimper of happiness, wonder, and desire. She paused briefly before opening her mouth on his and drawing in his warm breath. He clutched her tighter as her hands held his face.

How long had she waited for this, their first kiss? How many times had she dreamed this, only to wake to find herself alone? How many times had words failed them, both knowing that this was the only way left to express what they so deeply felt?

Catherine began kissing him gently, small soft kisses that belied the intensity of her feelings. Finally, barely, he began kissing her back, slightly turning his head to accommodate her mouth, causing Catherine’s heart to flip inside her chest. Her hands framed his face tenderly, almost reverently; she understood the magnitude of this for him and she cherished his trust in her.

Emboldened, she moved her leg to rest between his and was reassured when his hands came up to grip her shoulders. She shifted her weight, lightly brushing against him, and moaned softly when she felt the evidence of his desire. Just as he gripped her shoulders firmly, a loud crash from above shattered the moment. Reflexively, he held her tighter; she jumped back, startled. In what felt like slow motion, but was the briefest of seconds, Catherine jerked away from Vincent, just as his right hand raked across her shoulder, tearing the fabric beneath it, cutting into her skin.

Catherine cried out, not from the pain—in fact, she hadn’t noticed it at all—but from the shock of the loud noise. When she realized what had happened, her heart lurched into her throat and she immediately looked up at Vincent.

Vincent looked as if he had seen a ghost, or worse. She had never seen him so pale. He had practically crawled out from under her and was now moving away from her. Her hand went to her shoulder then and when it returned, blood lightly dotted her fingertips. And then it all flashed before her—their kiss, their intimate contact, the loud noise, her reaction, his reaction—oh God!

Catherine lunged toward Vincent and managed to grab onto his leg.

"No Vincent," she cried. "It’s not what you think. The noise ... that’s what made me jump ... not you ... it’s okay."

Vincent had stopped moving, but Catherine knew it wasn’t because of what she had said. It was almost as if his body and mind had protectively shut down—he was in shock. She watched him raise his hand in front of him; it was shaking violently.

"Vincent, listen to me!" she said, gripping the legs of his trousers. "It was an accident; you didn’t mean to ... the noise scared me and I reacted; it’s not your fault!"

What must he be thinking? That she pulled away because she was repulsed by his body? Was he remembering what he had done to Lisa?

"Vincent! Please, listen to me," she pleaded.

Vincent looked up at her, but didn’t see her. He clumsily scrambled backward, his boots kicking up dirt. She tried to hold onto him, but he ripped away from her. Before she could call his name out, he was on his feet and tearing down the tunnel. She didn’t even get up—she knew he was gone. Stunned, Catherine looked around at their music chamber and knew that something precious was forever lost. Even if they could move past this—and she doubted he could—this special place would always be a reminder of what had happened here.

Overcome, Catherine crawled over to their place on the blankets and started sobbing. Hadn’t they suffered enough? They had endured one hundred times what most lovers faced—wasn’t it enough? Couldn’t something good happen for them? And what about Vincent? Certainly he had weathered more pain than anyone could ever expect and he had never lost his spirit, never had become bitter or despondent or self-pitying. Surely he deserved even the smallest amount of happiness.

Suddenly, a roar tore its way through the tunnels; the sorrow and hopelessness it held...

"Oh, Vincent," she cried.

 

II.

Catherine whipped her raincoat tighter as she walked down the steps of her office building. The rain would be here soon; the increasing wind was testament to that. She was freezing.

It was nine o’clock on a Wednesday night. She was heading over to Peter’s for a late dinner, thankful for a reason to stay out. She hated going home at night and prolonged it as much as possible. Catherine was about to hail a cab when the thought of the extravagance made her pause. It was only seven blocks. Yes, she was cold, but she had been at her desk for three days straight—a walk would be good for her. She put her head down and pushed on.

Without fail, her thoughts turned to Vincent. It had been nearly six weeks and barely a minute passed that she wasn’t consumed with pain and sadness. Pain didn’t even come close to what she was feeling—the only thing that kept her moving was knowing that whatever she was feeling, he was feeling worse. She couldn’t compound his pain by letting her own flow unrestrained through the Bond. She had to be strong for both of them; she couldn’t lose hope.

She hadn’t even tried to contact him the first two weeks; she knew he needed time and space to think. But by the fourth week, she was nearly delirious. She had gone Below many times. Each time, Father met with her; each time he had shaken his head the same sad way—no word. None.

Her last time Below, she had ended up sobbing in Father’s arms for hours, until she was hoarse and quiet. She hadn’t gone back after that—embarrassed, but more afraid that the same thing would happen again. Nobody Above knew about Vincent; she had no one to share it with. The weight of their secret had never been so immense.

She was a zombie—the walking dead. It had been so long—she was beyond afraid; she was resigned. She would never see him again—and for what? An accident? A misinterpretation? She could not process this loss.

Completely lost in her thoughts, after about ten minutes, she raised her head and was alarmed to find she didn’t recognize anything. There weren’t any large brownstones; the street was actually quite dark and deserted. She took another step and felt a hand clamp down onto her mouth.

Oh God, not again ... she screamed, though she made no noise. She felt her purse being snatched from her arms and a thud against the back of her head. A strong arm pushed her to the ground, and she laid there, unmoving. There were sparks of light cutting into her vision and her thoughts—they made her squint. The pull of black was beckoning to her. It hurt to be awake.

"Vincent ..." she whispered, before surrendering to oblivion.

~

He had been in the catacombs for weeks and had only returned a few days ago, when a collapsed wall had obstructed the entrance to numerous chambers and his help was needed. Once he had finished the work, he had returned to his chamber, settled into his chair, and hadn’t moved, not even to sleep. He was catatonic and had not spoken since his return. Mary brought his meals and removed the untouched plates. She didn’t speak to him and didn’t touch him—though his severe weight loss and the grief radiating from him brought tears to her eyes. She knew him so well; she knew that whatever this was, only Vincent would be able to pull himself out of it.

Father had sat with him a few times. He had sat in silence, also understanding that Vincent was beyond reach. He had read and he had fallen asleep; yet whenever he looked at Vincent, he was still the same—the silence was deafening.

Vincent was beyond angry, beyond sad, beyond feeling. Whenever he let himself think of that night, he was horrified, humiliated. For weeks now, he had been deep in the tunnels. He had been so distracted at one point, he had actually lost his cloak. He went without it for days, until it turned up right in front of him. Most of the time he ran, but he had run so much, he was—for the first time in his life—exhausted. When he didn’t have the energy to run anymore, he walked. He never deliberately stopped moving. Every few days, he would wake up on the ground wherever he had passed out the night before and immediately begin walking again. He only ate bread and water—the irony never crossed his mind.

At first, he was simply numb. Looking back on it, there was no other word for it but shock, and it took a long time before he emerged from the haze. Then he was sad—for being rejected, for being something that Catherine didn’t want. In an instant, his dream had become a nightmare. Now he missed her and longed for her.

Then, ashamed for only thinking of himself, he fell despondent. He stopped walking. He searched until he found a cave, a small one packed with fresh brown soil. He stumbled inside and collapsed. He laid there, in the absolute darkness, buried as far as possible in the earth, and still could not get far enough away from his guilt. He was mortified, beyond belief, of what he had done to her. He was an animal—only an animal cuts people like that. People didn’t do that to each other—dogs did, wolves and tigers did—but not humans.

He tormented himself with memories of the kiss, until he could no longer tell whether he was asleep or awake, for the nightmare never ceased. It had been the most beautiful moment in his entire life. The location, the music, their shy exploration of each other. He had been so intoxicated, he had not even realized his state. And then she had touched him ... an accident for sure, but it made no difference. His body had betrayed him ... and then repulsed her. Nothing would ever change that.

It was during this time that Vincent faced the darkest moments of his life. All light was gone, all laughter. Nothing lived down as deep as he was. Love was lost ... she was lost.

One night, he opened the Bond and was stunned. He felt little of her. She was there, but barely. If he could paint what he did feel from her through the Bond, it would be a beautiful landscape torn apart by a storm. It was calm, but not tranquil. Tears came to his eyes—she was miserable. Despite his refusal to accept the truth, he knew she was more upset about his absence than anything else. In his lucid moments, he knew he should go to her. But he couldn’t. He could never see her again.

Their dream was over. He couldn’t live with himself knowing he was the reason why. Every second of every minute seemed to be filled with blinding pain. He was lost ...

One night he had dreamed of a black sky, with large raven-like birds circling above him. The birds were dripping blood from their talons, and their beaks. He was screaming her name, over and over again. He could feel that she was in danger, but he could not see her. She did not answer him. He could feel—even as he was dreaming—that he was seeing his death. His death was losing her.

After that dream, Vincent was no longer himself. He wandered around for a few days until he heard trouble on the pipes. Something in him switched on. He shook his head and took a deep breath. He moved forward, focused solely on his task. But it was only the faintest hint of Vincent—most of him was locked deep down inside him, adjusting, in the only way he knew how, to a life without Catherine.

Suddenly, Vincent sat bolt upright in his chair. The Bond had exploded open. Catherine’s emotions, and the speed they had rushed through him, paralyzed him. It was fatigue, then alarm, and then fear. He swore he felt a blow to his head. But he still didn’t move, trying desperately to calm himself and focus on what was happening.

But something was wrong and he knew it. He had never, in the entire time they had known each other, felt such fear from her. He wanted to start running and only stop when he came across the source of Catherine’s misery and destroyed it.

Then—poof!—she was gone. He had no sense of her—none. It was like the Bond had simply vanished, like it had never been. Vincent’s body shook with a chill. He was panting and then he roared.

She’s not dead, he told himself again and again. His heart was racing. His breaths were shorter and shorter as his claws dug into the upholstery.

There was nothing he could do. He had no idea where she was. He hadn’t been paying attention to the Bond, selfishly and pathetically distracted.

He was shivering now, unable to stop. He stumbled to his feet and ran to his chamber’s entrance. He turned the corner quickly and lunged into Father’s chamber. Vincent quickly descended on Father and they both tumbled to the ground. Vincent arms were a vise around Father, who was beginning to realize that Vincent was absolutely terrified. He was shaking like he had when he was young and tortured with nightmares. Father’s heart was beating out of his chest with worry.

"My boy," Father whispered. "Tell me ..."

Every second felt worse than the one before it. What was happening? Where was she? Why couldn’t her feel her? What was he going to do?

"Vincent, please!" Father pleaded. "You have been gone for weeks and haven’t spoken for days. Please tell me what’s wrong so I can help you."

Vincent just shook his head and surrendered completely to his tears. It was too much. How could he explain? He didn’t have the words for what had transpired before, much less for what was happening now.

"Vincent!" Father nearly shouted. "This must stop. Please, tell me what is wrong!"

Father managed to pull himself up and into a sitting position, his back against a bookshelf; Vincent laid on his side on the floor beside him, curled up, in too much pain to even move. He couldn’t endure this—he couldn’t.

He felt Father’s hand upon his shoulder and Vincent moved closer to him, still trembling like a child.

"Vincent, this is so unlike you," Father said quietly. "Is it Catherine?"

Vincent nodded.

"Is she alright? Has something happened to her?"

Vincent nodded again.

"Oh my dear boy, what happened? Please, you must talk to me!"

After many moments had passed, Vincent stopped crying. His eyes were open, yet unseeing. Father had never been so concerned for him and not knowing what had happened was driving him mad.

"Just start from the beginning ..."

It took Vincent nearly an hour to get it all out, and when he was finished, Father was speechless. He had so many questions—and he felt as paralyzed and helpless as Vincent did.

"You still don’t feel her?"

Vincent shook his head.

"My God," Father replied. "Vincent, you need to get up; please, just go to my bed and lay down. There are some things we can do, but you need to lay down in a proper place and rest; you are so weak. Please, Vincent ..."

Father got to his knees, pulled Vincent up with him, and they stumbled together toward the bed. Vincent collapsed the minute he hit the mattress and curled into a ball once more. Father couldn’t imagine the pain his son must be feeling. He had to do whatever he could.

He pulled a blanket over Vincent and then hammered out a message for Mary and some others to meet him in one of the classrooms.

"Father, please don’t leave me," Vincent managed.

"Of course," Father replied. He quickly changed the location and people began trickling in.

"What is it, Father? What’s happened" Mary asked, concern drenching her face.

"Please everyone, sit down."

When everyone had quieted, Father began again.

"I am afraid I have some bad news," Father sighed. "It’s shocking and will upset you all, but please, let me get it all out because we must do what we can, as soon as we can."

Everyone glanced at each other and then back at Father. The tension in the room was palpable.

Father sighed again.

"I know many of you are wondering where Vincent has been and what has transpired, and we will address that later, but for now ..." Father stumbled, fighting back tears. He kept waiting for Vincent to jump up and say everything was okay.

"About one hour ago, Vincent felt tremendous fear from Catherine—inexplicable fear. Then, he felt what seemed to be a blow to his head. And then ... he felt nothing."

There was a collective gasp from the group. Father held his hands up.

"Please, let me finish," Father said firmly. "The Bond they share is silent and we fear that something terrible has happened to Catherine. Vincent can feel her even when she is sleeping, so she must be unconscious, and I pray I am wrong, but she is probably injured."

"What was she doing when this happened? Did Vincent know where she was?" Pascal asked.

Father glanced over at Vincent, who had his head in his hands, his fists clenching and unclenching. He turned back to the group.

"We don’t know where she was or what she was doing. Vincent felt her fear, the pain in his head, and then nothing."

"What can we do?" Mary asked, wiping away tears.

"Geoffrey, I want you to go immediately to Catherine’s apartment and ascertain whether or not she is there and get a message back to us as fast as you can."

Geoffrey nodded and bolted away.

"Jamie, I want you and Kyle to go look around Catherine’s office building and the streets surrounding. Go out through the park entrance and look for her on the way. Maybe she is hurt in the park."

"Mouse wants to help. Mouse loves Catherine!"

"Yes, yes, Mouse, I know. You know these tunnels better than anyone. Perhaps Catherine was on her way here and got lost or fell ill. Please look for her in any of the spots she and Vincent share."

"Mouse will find Catherine!" he blurted out, before he scampered away.

"Mary?"

"Yes, Father?"

Father walked over to her and lowered his voice.

"Vincent is sick—not just from fear and worry, but from malnutrition and dehydration. He needs an IV and ..."

"He won’t sleep Father—we can’t expect that of him," Mary said.

"I know," Father sighed, running his half-gloved hand through his hair.

"But we must do all we can to help him regain his strength. He will listen to you Mary; please make him eat something, anything, some soup from dinner, perhaps. Just sit with him so he knows he’s not alone."

Mary nodded and left for the infirmary to get supplies.

Just then, a message from Peter floated over the pipes. Catherine was over an hour late for dinner and she was not answering her office or home phone. Was she there? Pascal immediately responded that Catherine was missing and for Peter to get down here at once.

Some of the others still in the room asked what they could do. Father told them to keep the children calm and occupied. They were already so traumatized by Vincent’s long absence—he didn’t want them to know that something was wrong with Catherine. They nodded and left the room, comforting each other.

"Father, I am going to put out an all quiet," Pascal offered.

"Yes, Pascal, please do so," Father replied, sitting down heavily in his chair.

A message from Geoffrey conveyed that Catherine was not at home. There was no light coming from under her door and the doorman had not seen her since the morning.

Peter exploded into Father’s chamber a moment later,

"Dear God, Jacob, what’s happened, where’s Cathy? Where’s Vincent?"

Father looked up at him and then nodded toward his bed, where Vincent lay motionless.

Peter sat down at the table across from Father.

"What happened?" he said in a quieter voice.

Father told him about the loss of the Bond, the pain to Vincent’s head, that he had no idea where she was.

"That’s strange," Peter replied, "Doesn’t Vincent always know where Cathy is?"

"Usually yes," Father whispered. "It seems they had, what shall we say, an incident. Vincent was convinced that things were over between them. He is beside himself with guilt."

"I knew something was amiss," Peter replied. "Catherine has been working herself to death—more than usual. Each time I have seen her, she looked thinner and even more disconnected. She would only tell me that she and Vincent had had a misunderstanding ... I’ve been so busy lately; I should have looked in on her more."

"This is no one’s fault. We must focus only on finding Catherine."

"You’re right. I am going back home and calling all the hospitals and police stations—maybe we’ll get lucky and find her. I’ll stay in touch and let you know what I find out."

Peter glanced over at Vincent again and then at Father. Father shook his head and Peter nodded.

Mary returned just as Peter was leaving. She went to Vincent’s bedside. Father could hear her talking softly to him and was relieved when Vincent offered her his arm for the IV. Once she had it taken care of, she sat down beside Vincent, stroking his back and his hair. Father’s eyes filled with tears when he heard Vincent begin to cry again, repeating two words over and over—she’s gone.

 

III.

Father reacted with a jolt when Pascal shook him awake.

"What? What is it?" Father asked, trying to get his bearings. He had no idea how long he had been asleep.

"It’s Peter. He thinks ..." Pascal paused, looking over at Vincent, who seemed to be asleep. Mary was sitting up in the bed and Vincent’s head was in her lap.

"What is it, Pascal? Tell me."

"Peter thinks he found her. There was a woman admitted to Saint Vincent’s matching Catherine’s description. They didn’t find any identification on her. Peter is headed over there now."

"Is Jamie back?"

"Yes, but she’s asleep I think," Pascal replied.

"Wake her and send her over to the hospital to meet Peter. If it’s her, Peter won’t be able to leave, and we need to know as soon as possible."

"Sure, Father, I’ll go to her now ..."

"Pascal, wait," Father said softly, glancing over at Vincent. "Did he tell you what happened to the woman?"

"They are pretty sure she was mugged. Peter couldn’t get anymore information out of them because they can’t be sure he’s her doctor."

"Of course," Father replied. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "I want no news over the pipes—good or bad. Have Jamie return directly to me; I don’t want to upset Vincent before we know what’s going on."

Pascal nodded and quickly left.

Father stood up and stretched before grabbing his cane and walking over to the bed. He sat down beside Mary and shared a sympathetic glance.

~

An hour later, Father was reading when he heard a noise. He looked up and saw Jamie by the door; she was waving him over frantically.

He quickly walked over to her.

"Yes?" he said, eagerly.

"It’s her ..." Jamie panted, out of breath. "And she’s okay ..."

Relief washed over him.

"And?" Father whispered.

"She was mugged. Just some punks looking to take her money. They hit her on the head, grabbed her purse, and took off ..."

"My God, how terrible!"

"Somebody saw it and called the police and they took her to the hospital. She hasn’t regained consciousness, but all the bad tests were negative."

"How bad is she hurt?"

"A bump on the back of her head; I think it drew blood. I think she has a cracked rib, but they all said that for a mugging, it could have been worse."

"Do they have her sedated? Did they run a CT? An MRI?"

"Have they what?" Jamie rolled her eyes. "How am I supposed to know that, Father?"

Father laughed.

"No my girl, I suppose you wouldn’t know about that. The point is she’s okay."

"Yeah," Jamie replied, obviously relieved.

"Alright my dear, run off to bed. I’ll send Adam in your place now."

"No Father, I am going back," Jamie stated.

"Don’t be silly, Jamie, please now, go on to bed ..."

"Father, I am not a child anymore," Jamie replied, firmly. "And I love Catherine too."

Father nodded, sighing. "Of course, it was wrong of me ..."

"Is Vincent okay? Jamie asked.

"Yes, he’s okay. He will be much better when I tell him this news."

Jamie nodded and turned to walk away, but Father caught her arm and turned her back around.

"If you get to see her, Jamie, please, give her my love ..."

"I will, Father," she said. Squeezing his arm, she then darted down the tunnel.

Father went back into the chamber and walked over to the bed. He didn’t want to wake Vincent, but he didn’t want him to have to hurt a moment longer. He sat down beside them. Mary awoke immediately and gave him a soft smile. Father looked at Vincent and was surprised to see his eyes open. But Vincent’s face may well have been made of stone—there was no expression.

"What have you found out, Father?" Vincent managed.

"Good news, my boy. She is okay. She was mugged, hit on the head by some boys who took her purse. Peter found her in the hospital. She is still unconscious, but they don’t fear anything. They said she was lucky. Peter and Jamie are there with her now. Everything’s okay."

Father looked quizzically at Mary. Vincent had not reacted. He laid there, his eyes vacant.

"She will be all right?" he whispered.

"Yes, Vincent. She will be fine," Father replied, smiling.

Father and Mary moved back as Vincent suddenly sat up beside them. He calmly removed the IV from his arm and set it aside. He made to stand up, but Father’s hand on his shoulder stopped him.

"Vincent, my son. What is it? Why aren’t you rejoicing?"

Vincent didn’t answer immediately; Father was beginning to doubt Vincent had heard him at all when he spoke.

"Of course I am rejoicing," he said. "She is alive. It’s the greatest gift I could be given."

"Then, what? I don’t understand ..."

Vincent stood up then and took his cloak from the bedpost. He began to walk away.

"Vincent, please talk to us!" Mary pleaded.

Vincent stopped, but did not turn around.

"This hell I have endured—the worst I have ever endured—was merciful only in its brevity," Vincent said, his flat, unfeeling tone unrecognizable.

"Vincent, you are not going anywhere!" Father ordered, standing up. "You are ill and ..."

"Father ..." Vincent interrupted. He slowly turned around to face him.

"Vincent, be reasonable," Father continued.

"Father," Vincent said louder.

"Vincent, you are not leaving! You cannot run away from this!"

"Father!" Vincent growled, silencing Father.

"You do not understand! I have destroyed the most important thing in my life!" Vincent yelled.

"Now, Vincent," Father started.

"She is gone, Father! It’s over! Our dream is over ..." he trailed off.

"Vincent, please ..."

"I will return for an emergency, but otherwise ..."

"Vincent, stop this right now!"

"Father," Vincent said, getting angry. "I hurt her."

"Vincent, I’m sure that ..."

"I hurt her, Father!" Vincent yelled, turning around again. He stomped away.

"Vincent, please wait!" Mary called after him.

Vincent paused at the entrance. Mary ran up to him and hugged him gently from behind. He sighed heavily.

"She loves you, Vincent," Mary whispered to him. He sighed again and touched her arm. It was a moment before he spoke again.

"Mary, I love her," he cried. "But I do not deserve her."


And then he was gone.

IV.

Catherine sat on her balcony, the morning sun warming her face. She had just finished a muffin from the basket of food William had sent up. They had been taking care of her for weeks and she was so grateful, though every bite she took reminded her of him. Everything reminded her of him.

For the past two weeks, she had been at home, on leave from work. She had gone back to work almost immediately after the mugging, but Joe had discovered her crying at her desk late one night and insisted she take as much time as she needed to feel better. She had been embarrassed then, but not nearly as embarrassed as she would have been had she continued working. She could barely function.

Her pain and sadness from before had only grown. She missed him. She needed him, especially after being hurt and scared. Any other time, he would have been at her side the moment she opened her eyes. He would have smiled at her, his eyes filled with tears of relief and joy. He would have made her feel safe again. To think she had lost that ... it was unbearable.

Every day, all day, she would sit on the balcony. Sometimes she would read, most often she would sit and stare, replaying the events in her mind. The children from Below would bring her food and talk uncomfortably around the topic of Vincent. One night Mary had come. Catherine had immediately burst into tears when she opened the door and saw her. Without a word, Mary walked her over to the couch, sat her down, took out some tissues, and held Catherine as she sobbed herself to sleep. When she awoke, she found a note on her coffee table—It will be okay. But it wasn’t ...

Catherine was about to pick up Wuthering Heights, its darkness a surprising comfort, when she heard a knock on the door. She thought about ignoring it, but a second knock came insistently. She pulled her robe around her, stepped inside, and went to the door.

When she saw who it was, she opened the door.

"Father?" Catherine asked, surprised.

Father stepped in quickly. "Yes, my dear."

Catherine took his coat and then led him into the living room. They sat on opposite couches.

"Can I get you anything? Some tea?" she asked.

He shook his head. "No, thank you."

Catherine nodded, avoiding looking at him.

"My child, you look terrible. The children tell me your condition has not improved. I see they are right."

Catherine flushed and dropped her head, humiliated. How weak he must think she was. Vincent would be so disappointed in her.

Father immediately rushed over to her side, reassuring her.

"I did not mean in quite like that. I’m sorry," he told her.

"It’s true. I’m pathetic. I just can’t find my way around this, Father. I miss him so much," she cried.

"That son of mine!" Father suddenly stood up with his cane and started pacing.

Catherine was surprised. He seemed ... angry.

"What a fool he is! To leave you like this ... it’s unconscionable. He is a stubborn fool, his behavior is appalling!" Father said, indeed angry.

"But Father, you don’t know what happened ..."

"Don’t you dare defend him, dear," he continued. "I know what happened!"

"He told you?"

"Yes, just after you were hurt. He thought you were lost to him; I made him tell me everything."

"He couldn’t feel me through the Bond ..." she said, almost to herself.

"No, he couldn’t. He was ... well, obviously, he was inconsolable. It’s still no excuse ..."

"Oh Father, it was terrible!" she told him. "We were having such a beautiful night—the music, everything. It was the best night of my life. And for it all to be gone because of a misunderstanding ... if only that noise had happened a few seconds earlier, or later ..."

"What noise?" Father asked, confused.

"What noise? The loud crashing noise from above; it sounded like something heavy fell onto the stage ... that’s what made me jump and that’s when he scratched me ..."

"Catherine, Vincent never mentioned a noise to me. From what I understand, the ..."

"He never mentioned the noise? I don’t understand ... if he didn’t hear it, then he must have thought ..."

"He thought you were repulsed by him ... after your ... er ... contact," Father finished, uncomfortably.

Catherine was shaking her head in disbelief.

"Could he have blocked it out?" she asked.

"The situation was traumatic for him; it’s certainly possible."

"I didn’t think this could get worse," Catherine replied, as fresh tears sprang to her eyes. "To know that he thinks that ... it’s awful."

Father sighed and came back over, this time sitting beside her. He put his arm around her.

"Yes, this misunderstanding is terrible. He is ashamed of what he called ‘his body’s betrayal.’ He is horrified for harming you. And this latest disappearance—he blames himself for not being there when you were attacked ..."

"It would have been impossible, Father! It happened so fast ..."

"I know, but to him, it’s just one long nightmare. I think he believes that something is lost between you two, something that will never be found again. Catherine, I have never seen him like this—he has lost so much weight, he is actually weak. The only reason he came back was because of an emergency in the lower tunnels that blocked some chambers. He could barely do the work—it was a terrible sight."

"And then he left again?"

Father nodded. "As soon as we knew you were okay, he left."

"Did he say anything?"

"Yes."

Catherine looked at him, beseeching.

"Catherine," he started. "He said he had destroyed the most important thing in his life. He said he hurt you. And ..."

He looked away uncomfortably.

"And what?" she demanded.

He looked at her again. "My dear," he said softly. "He loves you ... but he feels he does not deserve you."

Catherine was crestfallen. It took a moment before she went on.

"Do you know where he is?"

"When Vincent doesn’t want to be found, he won’t be found. Mouse has kept tabs on him—looking for clues in the way stations, but Vincent is barely eating or drinking anything, and he certainly isn’t stopping to sleep or take a blanket. There is barely a trace of him."

Catherine shook her head—would she ever see him again?

"He did promise to come if we needed him, so he has to be someplace where he can hear the pipes, but that doesn’t narrow it down much. Vincent is clever—he might have rigged something to transfer the signal to a place where the pipes don’t even reach."

"I haven’t seen him in over three months! How could this have happened? It’s so cruel—and unfair! He shouldn’t be alone right now ..."

"And neither should you, my dear. Please, you should come stay Below with us. You are going to need your strength for ..."

"For what?" Catherine interrupted. "For a life without him? What if he never comes back? What if he never wants to see me again?"

"That’s impossible—he won’t stay away forever," Father told her.

"How do you know? He hasn’t done any of this before! He’s never stayed away this long!

Catherine broke down crying again; Father wrapped his arms around her, wishing he could be of more comfort.

"If only he knew what really happened! If only he knew how I really felt that night. Father, it was so beautiful and wonderful and innocent ... to see it twisted like this ..."

"I know, I know," he murmured. "Please come Below, Catherine. You should be with family at a time like this."

"No, I won’t go where I am not wanted."

"Don’t be silly—of course you are wanted."

"He doesn’t want me there. He has intentionally placed himself as far away from me as possible. It’s his home, I can’t ..."

 

"He has abandoned you, his home, everything! He is behaving selfishly and without honor—the tunnels are your home, too," Father reasoned with her.

"I can’t, Father, I’m sorry," she said, softly.

"I can’t convince you?"

She shook her head.

Father stood up. "I should be leaving then—you need your rest."

Catherine got up, walked him to the door, and handed him his coat.

"Please, Catherine. Take care of yourself. We’ll keep sending up food—don’t even try to talk me out of that."

She gave him a small smile.

"Goodbye, Catherine. Be well," Father said, opening the door.

Catherine was watching him walk away before she said, "Father ... if you hear anything ..."

He turned around and tipped his hat. "You will be the first to know, my dear."

She shut the door and locked it before returning to the balcony. The bright sun was at odds with how she felt. She felt even worse than before Father showed up, something she would have sworn impossible.

She sat down in the chair and opened her book again. She didn’t even make it through a paragraph before she was consumed with tears again.

Vincent, please come back. Please, Vincent.

~

When Father got back to his chamber, he immediately summoned Pascal. When he arrived, Father sat him down, not even saying hello.

"Father, what is it?" he asked.

"I need to get a message to Vincent, this instant!"

"Are you sure he’s somewhere he can hear it?"

"Let’s hope he hasn’t completely lost his mind. Regardless, we will repeat the message until he heeds it."

"What do you want to say, Father?"

Father closed his eyes and sighed deeply.

"You’re not going to like it; neither is he for that matter. But drastic times call for drastic measures."

Pascal nodded.

"However, I will afford him some respect by not having the whole community aware of what I am doing. How many still know the early code we used when Paracelsus was still a part of us?"

Pascal thought for a moment. "We used it so briefly, and it was so long ago. It’s the first my father taught me, but it was already being phased out when I learned it. I would say that possibly Mary is the only one who knows it."

"Vincent knows it, yes?"

"Yes, Father. He and I would use it when we were younger to pass secret messages, but Devin, Rebecca, and the others didn’t know it."

"Excellent. Off to the pipe chamber, then," Father said, picking up his cane.

When they arrived, Pascal offered Father a chair, which he accepted gratefully.

"What is the message, Father?"

Father sighed.

"I want you to tell Vincent to return immediately. Let him know that if he doesn’t, I will set out to find him, and I won’t stop until I do. Tell him that if he wants to make it easier on this old man’s bones, he will come at once. Tell him I will meet him at the Mirror Pool tomorrow midday. If he is not there, then I will gather Mouse and a search party and we will not stop until we find him."

Pascal looked at him wide-eyed. "Are you sure, Father? He can be very stubborn and he ..."

"I’m quite sure I’m beyond caring what Vincent wants. He is destroying a young woman who has only ever loved him and he is turning his back on the people who care for him. This has gone on long enough."

Pascal nodded. He first sent out an all quiet and then began tapping out the message. When he was finished, they waited ... and waited. One of the children brought them lunch a few hours later. Every twenty minutes, they would repeat the message, but they heard nothing in return. Hours later, Father was dozing in his chair, when he felt Pascal’s hand upon his shoulder.

"Yes? Did he reply?"

"Yes, Father. He said he detests the tactic, but he will honor the request."

Father grabbed his cane and stood up. "He most certainly will ... it’s the least he can do," he grumbled.

 

V.

Vincent struggled on his return to the higher levels. He had not eaten in four days. He stumbled constantly, bumping into walls and having to stop to catch his breath. He had been walking all night—he had to if he was to reach Father on time. At first, he had been consumed with anger at Father’s manipulation, but fatigue had finally drained him of that.

He knew he was in bad shape, and he knew he needed help. If he continued this way, he would die, and as compelling as that sounded, he knew he could not turn his back on his family.

For days, he had been hallucinating—due to his hunger he supposed. He had fought against what he thought was a rabid dog, but when he returned to himself, his hands were bloody from clawing a large boulder. He had debated with Shakespeare on the topic of love and loss and for hours one day, he had been convinced an underground spring was the river Styx and that he was damned forever to the Underworld.

He did not know what was to come, but he knew it was time to come home. He was almost grateful for Father’s ploy; he deeply regretted his behavior and had not found the courage to come home.

When he reached the Mirror Pool, Father was alone, sitting on a rock shelf.

"Father," Vincent began.

When Father looked at him though, Vincent sat down a few yards in front of him and was silent. He did not know what he expected, but it wasn’t the raw anger he found in Father’s eyes.

 

 

Father was moved by the state Vincent was in—his son was hurting and he wanted nothing more than to help heal him; but he had resolved to be unemotional—and unyielding.

"Vincent, thank you for coming," Father replied. He tossed a small bag to Vincent. Inside was some bread, fruit, and cheese, along with some water.

"You will eat while we converse—that is not a request."

Vincent nodded obediently and took a bite of the bread.

Father still had not looked at Vincent, and he kept his gaze distant as he spoke.

"Vincent, I know you have suffered a great loss. I know you were ill-prepared to deal with the situation you found yourself in. I know you have suffered and it is certainly not my intent to belittle your pain, but this is no longer solely about you, if it ever was at all."

"I saw Catherine today," he continued, still not looking at his son. "I was horrified at what I saw. She has been destroyed by this. She has not seen you in months and even if your first absence was somewhat understandable, abandoning her after she was attacked is selfish and without justification. That woman loves you and all you have given her is insurmountable pain."

"I know," Vincent whispered.

"Your actions are indefensible, but still, you need to know what actually transpired that night in your music chamber ..." Father paused, trying to quell his emotions before continuing.

"Vincent, you misread the situation and blocked out a significant factor."

Vincent looked up; he had not expected this.

"At the exact moment of your intimate contact, there was some sort of accident on the stage above you. Catherine described it as though a large piece of equipment had fallen, and the noise was thunderous."

What?

"So, in fact, Catherine did not pull away or react to you; rather, she was startled by the noise and it made her jump. I believe you were so afraid that your deepest fears had come true that you immediately blocked out the disturbance. However, on some level, you must have processed it, and your reaction—to hold on to her tightly in order to protect her—was the appropriate one, and the only reason you scratched her.

Could this be true?

Father got up at this point and walked to the edge of the water. Vincent remained on the ground, his head in his hands.

"Still, none of this justifies what you have done and your behavior has been despicable!" he said, his voice raised.

"You don’t understand, Father!" Vincent replied. "I wasn’t there to protect her when she needed me! I know I should have dealt with the initial situation better, but when I realized my distraction had caused harm to come to her ... I couldn’t face her ... I couldn’t!"

"That is utterly ridiculous, Vincent!" Father interrupted. "It is impossible to protect her from something that happened in a few seconds. Every action of yours has made less and less sense."

"Father," Vincent began.

"No. You will hear this!" Father ordered, turning around finally to face him. Vincent was shocked to see the tears in his eyes.

"When you thought you had lost Catherine, you were devastated, shattered. Surely that was the worst pain you have ever endured and I am positive its enormity eclipsed whatever had happened before and that you would have given anything, done anything, to have her back."

Vincent nodded solemnly.

"The absence of the Bond made you realize how miserable you would be without her, that you can’t live without her! And then, by the grace of God, she is returned to you and what did you do? You left her! Those are the actions of a mad man, Vincent!"

"But Father, I am so guilty, so ashamed ..." Vincent replied.

"And you should be, but she doesn’t need your guilt or your shame, Vincent. She needs you! She deserves better than this and if you need to spend every moment of the rest of your life making things right, then you will."

"I know, I know," Vincent cried, softly.

Father sighed and seemed to calm himself.

"My boy," he said, his tone gentler. "I know you are afraid of things becoming intimate between you two. I know I have failed in every way to prepare you for that. I honestly never considered that possibility for you. It broke my heart, Vincent, but I am too rational a man to have even dreamt that a woman like Catherine would come into your life. But love comes with responsibilities, Vincent, the most important being that you do anything in your power to make her happy ..."

"She loves you Vincent, in a way none have ever loved before. You are not of this world, surely your partner and the love you share will be extraordinary. You can barely contain what you feel for her and you only manage to do it with unrelenting self-control. You cannot ask that of her. You have to move beyond what you think your limits are. You have to let her express what she feels and the physicality of it is inevitable. Your love for each other is immense—you will have to face it eventually."

"Love is not perfect Vincent, and neither is sex. There will be misunderstandings, accidents, and I urge you to use caution. But a strong man faces those things ..."

Father walked over to and stood behind Vincent, laying a hand on his shoulder.

"I don’t think I am strong enough, Father," he sighed.

"It doesn’t matter what you think, Vincent. It’s not a question of whether you are or not. You will be strong. It’s not a choice. You will—for her."

After a moment, Father felt Vincent’s hand close around his own.

"Father, for a man of science, you have affected me like a poet."

Vincent stood up.

"Come, Father," he said. "It’s time to go home."

 

VI.

"Please come to the cabin with us, Cathy. We can ski and read by the fire. I’ll make my famous lasagna," Jenny promised.

Catherine forced a smile to her face.

"Thanks, Jen, but I can’t. I’m just not ready yet."

"Cathy, it’s been months since you’ve left the house, much less the city. All you’ve told me is that you are going through a breakup, but Cathy, I have never seen you so heartbroken over a man. You need to go out, have some fun, and hang out with your best friend," Jenny said, in her sweet, hard-to-refuse way.

"Soon, Jenny, but not yet. I’m exhausted and I can’t go more than twenty minutes without crying," Catherine told her.

Jenny plopped down on the sofa beside her.

"Whoever would hurt you this bad surely isn’t worth it, Cathy," Jenny said, putting her arm around her.

Catherine felt tears come to her eyes again. "But he is ..." she whispered.

Jenny shook her head—she had been trying for weeks to help Cathy out of this, and nothing worked. She stood up, getting her coat and purse from the other couch.

"I have to run, Cathy. I’ve got a meeting with a new author in the morning and I haven’t finished her manuscript."

Catherine nodded and got up to walk her to the door.

"Please take care of yourself and please think about going to the cabin soon. I’ll even take off a few days, okay?"

She smiled and hugged Jenny. "Okay."

Jenny opened the door and was beginning to walk out when she turned around again.

"You know Cathy, you should just forget all the fancy ways to deal with this grief and just get good, old-fashioned drunk!" Jenny said, laughing.

"Maybe I will, Jen. Thanks for coming over."

"Call me anytime!" Jenny called back as she headed for the elevator.

~

Nearly two hours later, Catherine was sitting on her sofa, listening to the Brandenburg concertos, staring at the bottle of scotch on the table before her. It had taken her an hour to finish the first glass and she was now contemplating the second.

She had to admit that she felt a little better. Between the music and the alcohol, she was having brief respites from the constant gnawing pain of his absence. She never touched hard alcohol. She had kept this bottle of scotch for her father’s visits.

She picked up the glass and forced some of the liquid down her throat, clenching her teeth against the burn. She dropped back against the pillow, relieved. She might even sleep tonight.

When the concertos came to an end, she sorted through her collection. She selected a compilation of classical pieces and pushed the play button. She made her way back over to the couch, slightly dizzy. She forced another gulp down.

Jenny was right; she should get out of the house, get out of the city. But she was scared—scared that she would just end up breaking down again, scared that she would need to be alone and wouldn’t have the option.

But she knew that wasn’t really the reason she wouldn’t go. She wanted to be here in case someone from Below came to tell her that Vincent had come home. She wanted to be here in case he ever came to her balcony again.

The rumbling opening notes of Grieg’s "Concerto in A Minor" floated across the apartment and Catherine’s eyes filled with fresh tears. She hadn’t heard this music since the anniversary of her mother’s death, when she had left that concert, running blindly, feeling like she had lost it all, until she had finally found his arms.

That night he had told her to find another to love. As the door slid shut in front of her eyes, she was begging him to stay. But he had not stayed. He had turned away and closed her off from his world, from his love, without a backward glance.

So many times he had walked away from her, telling her she had a life Above to live, telling her to forget him. She did not doubt his pain or his love for her, but she realized that he would push her away, even at the expense of his happiness, hers even, especially when he thought it best for her.

She suddenly realized that it could actually be over, that she might never see him again. Their dream could really be over.

It must end, he had told her then. She had been shocked he could even say that to her, much less truly mean it. But he had meant it—just as he did now.

She picked up the glass in front of her and downed the rest of the alcohol. Bleary-eyed, she stumbled out onto the balcony. By the time she reached the balustrade, she was sobbing. She leaned on the ledge, begging for answers—but the answer was already in her heart and she knew it. He would eventually return to his family, but he would not return to her. It was over—all of it, over.

Her hand went to her chest and she tightly gripped the crystal. Without pause, she ripped the chain from her neck and stared at it in her palm. It was the last piece she had of him and his world and she couldn’t bear its reminder anymore. Her fingers closed around it as all the emotions of the past few months swirled inside her. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and held her arm out, the chain dangling.

"Vincent," she whispered. "Goodbye ..."

"Catherine, no!"

She felt strong arms pull her away from the ledge. In one swift motion, he had turned her around and was clutching her tightly to his chest. The tips of her toes were barely touching the ground. It had been so long; he nearly roared in relief. This is where he belonged.

Overcome with love, it took him a few moments to realize that Catherine was not responding to him. Her arms were still at her sides.

He released her and took a step back.

The sight of her nearly overwhelmed him. She was so pale; her face was red and her eyes were swollen. She held the crystal in a shaking hand at her throat. She backed away from him—there was disbelief in her eyes.

"Catherine, please, I’m so sorry, please let me hold you, please ..."

"Is it really you?" she whispered.

"Yes, Catherine, it’s me. Please, I’ve been away from you for so long, please let me hold you!"

He took a step toward her but immediately stopped when she moved away from him. He was at a loss. She had never acted this way before.

He was a fool to think he could just show up and everything would be like it was. He had stayed away for months, without a word, abandoning her in her time of need and dishonoring all they had shared.

He remembered what Father had told him, that he must do whatever it took to make things right between them, even if it took the rest of his life. This was on his shoulders—he had to do something, say something, even if he had no idea what.

"Catherine," he began. "There are no words for how greatly I have wronged you. What I have done is unforgivable. I have betrayed you and abandoned you. I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but I am begging for it. Please, I am so sorry. I will never leave you again ..."

He was stunned when she laughed.

He was confused. He didn’t understand her behavior. He studied her and hesitated before he asked her.

"Is that alcohol on your breath?" he asked quietly.

"Yes! Yes it is! I wish I hadn’t waited this long to try it!" she replied loudly, laughing again.

"Oh Catherine," he replied.

"No! Don’t do that! Don’t look at me with sympathy—poor drunk Catherine, so distraught over losing you, I had to drown myself in scotch to find a moment of relief from the hell you have put me through!"

"I’m sorry, Catherine, please, I didn’t mean ..."

"Didn’t mean what? To stay away ... for nearly four months!"

The last words were daggers thrown at him. She was right; what he had done was deplorable.

"You didn’t mean to desert me when I was crying for you day and night? You didn’t mean to ignore me when ... when I was attacked? I was scared to death it was happening all over again, Vincent, that I was going to die, and all you did was run further away from me!"

"I know, Catherine. You are right. My actions are indefensible. I know ... I’m so sorry."

"Sorry?" she said, disgusted. "Vincent, you have walked away from me a thousand times—when I first met Eliot, when I was thinking about moving to Providence, on the anniversary of my mother’s death. Each time you have some honorable idea that it’s the best thing for me, that you are not what I need, that it’s just a dream. Each time, I have come back to you just so you can throw everything away again."

She paused, trying to stop herself from crying. Vincent had never felt so ashamed in his life. Every word was true.

"All this time, you thought you were pushing me toward something better, but all you did was push me away—and I have come back to you every time!"

"But this time," she continued. "This time ... I can’t."

"Catherine," he cried. "Please, I am so sorry."

"It was never ‘just’ a dream to me, Vincent. It was never something I could wake up from and go back to my ‘real’ life. There is no other life! There never was. From the moment you found me, I have been yours and you mine. Every moment with you has been more real than anything I have ever known! I have never doubted you or our love. I never believed we would not be together."

"This time, Vincent ..." she whispered. "I stopped believing."

"No, Catherine, don’t say that. I promise you ..." he pleaded.

"There is nothing you can promise me. I can’t trust you ... I can’t go through this again ... I can’t ..."

"Please Catherine! I am so sorry for what I have done, for how deeply I have hurt you. I was selfish and self pitying—horrified for what I did to your shoulder, for not being there when you were attacked ... that you had to see me in that ... state."

"What state, Vincent?" she demanded. "When I felt the evidence of your desire for me? Are you crazy? I have wanted that for nearly two years. You were so busy drowning in your fears, you didn’t even notice how happy that made me."

She turned away frustrated before continuing.

"You can feel everything I do, Vincent. Why are you trying to convince me that you can’t feel how much I desire you? How could you think I would be repulsed by you? That I would turn you away when I have wanted nothing more! That was the best night of my life!"

"For me, too, Catherine! Everything you have said is true. Please, what I can do? Please!"

Catherine stood there with her arms across her chest. She looked angry, but Vincent felt her sadness and her struggle—she didn’t want to walk away, but he feared he had left her no choice. He had to think of something—he could not lose her.

"Catherine, please, listen to me. I know this is my fault and I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but Catherine, I understand now. You are right—this is not merely a dream and it never was. I have been a fool! I have denied us what we both longed for! But I swear to you, Catherine, I will never leave you again. I will never push you away again. I will never give you another reason to doubt me ..."

He looked up—her eyes were blazing, her body trembling.

"Please, Catherine, I ... love you," Vincent whispered.

Catherine’s head was shaking back and forth slowly. She sighed deeply and closed her eyes. Her head fell back and he saw her open her eyes to the sky; moonlight flowed in the tears streaming down her cheeks. Finally, she looked at him again—her face set and hard.

"Tell me, Vincent. Why should I believe you now? Why should I trust you?"

"I can only promise you. Please, I have never broken a promise to you."

Vincent saw Catherine pause to take that in, praying she would find it enough.

"Vincent," she said so low, he could barely hear her. "Prove to me that I can trust you."

"Catherine, please," he pleaded, dropping to his knees before her. "I cannot."

Her face went soft then and she walked over to him. She paused beside him and he felt her hand lightly touch his shoulder. Then, he felt her crystal fall into his lap. She walked to her balcony doors, stepped inside, shut them, and then, for the first time, he heard the lock slip into place. The curtains were drawn and within seconds, Vincent was in darkness.

"No, no," he cried.

Still on his knees, he rocked back and forth, his hands clutching his head in desperation.

No, no ... no!

~

Catherine awoke to a hammering headache. She had slept longer than she had in months, and was still exhausted. But she was determined to move on, starting today. Still lying under the covers, she clasped her hands together, as she had every morning since that terrible night. But today, she didn’t pray for him. She prayed for the strength to live without him.

She forced herself to get up and start the day. She brushed her teeth and washed her face and had coffee brewing before the tears refused to be denied any longer. She wiped a few away and took her cup into the living room. She glanced at the balcony, where she had spent nearly every morning for months, where she and Vincent had created so many cherished memories ... where she had left him.

She strode across the room, knowing that if she faced the balcony now, it would not loom over her. Resolute, she pushed opened the doors.

Her cup shattered when it hit the concrete. Catherine put her hand to her mouth in disbelief.

"Vincent?" she whispered.

He looked up at her, still on his knees, in the place she had left him last night—he hadn’t moved.

She stared at him, her heart pounding in her chest. She had never seen him in the daylight before. He was so beautiful—the blue of his eyes, the gold in his hair, all of it shimmering in the sunlight. It took her breath away.

"Catherine," he said, softly. "There is nothing I can say to make you believe in me again ... the only way I can show you that you can trust me is by trusting you."

He stood up then, slowly, and walked over until he was standing right in front of her.

"I have never, in my entire life, been Above in the daylight. I am ... terrified," he admitted. "And I am trapped."

She could see it in his eyes—he was way beyond his comfort zone, and he was terrified.

"Still," he continued. "The greatest fear I have ever known ..."

He trailed off then and dropped his head. When he raised it again, tears were streaming down his face.

"My greatest fear is ... to touch you Catherine, and to be touched by you. It is my greatest fear because it’s my greatest desire. Many times you have asked me to trust you and I have not, letting fear override courage ..."

He dropped his cloak from his shoulders. His fingers then went to the ties on his vest, which he removed and also let fall to the floor. Next, his sweater was over his head and it too fell to the ground. All that was left was a thin, creme-colored undershirt with a few leather ties at the top.

"Catherine, I know you are terrified too. I know that asking you to leave your fears aside and trust me is asking too much ..."

He reached for her hands and placed them on his chest, at the laces, where his skin was already exposed.

"Catherine," he said, dropping his hands to his sides. "I trust you ..."

Catherine stared at her hands upon his chest, not knowing what to do.

"Please, my love ..." he whispered. "Touch me ..."

Vincent dropped his head. He looked as if he were waiting for Zeus to send down bolts of lighting to destroy him on the spot. Finally, he raised his head, found her eyes, and looked into them deeply.

Catherine swallowed hard and pushed apart the ties, revealing more of Vincent’s skin. She looked at her fingers upon him and was mesmerized. She tried to calm herself so she could be sure she was making the right decision, but it was difficult. Her heart felt like the battleground where fear warred mercilessly with love. She could barely breathe—the air between them was so fraught with tension and need, it was nearly suffocating.

Her hands were frozen—and he was looking at her. She held the future in her hands. If she didn’t touch him, or say something soon, he would be destroyed forever. She was terrified—but everything she had wanted for the past two years was right before her.

As she looked at him though—she realized that he was more afraid. He was far from his world, entrusting his safety solely to her. He had taken off the barriers of clothing that had stood between them for so long. He was thin, and he looked just as exhausted as she felt. This was harder for him.

She knew he could, and probably would, doubt again—but she believed him; she trusted him. And God, she loved him.

Her hands rose and her fingers pulled apart the laces. He grabbed her wrists like a vise. Connected, they slowly moved inside the apartment. As soon as they felt carpet, they sank to their knees. For what seemed like hours, they didn’t even move, kneeling before each other.

Then, Vincent kissed her forehead, lingering there.

"Catherine," he whispered. "I felt your desire; I just would not allow myself to believe it. I do not deserve you."

She pulled away from him and stared deeply into his eyes. He felt her fingers lightly graze his jaw.

"Vincent, what you feel for me—describe it."

He paused, suddenly nervous. Did he have the words?

"Catherine," he said. "You are everything ..."

"Describe to me what you feel."

"I don’t understand," he replied.

He felt her hands on his shoulders. "Do you want to touch me?"

"Catherine ..." he said, embarrassed.

"Tell me," she told him. "Tell me what you feel for me."

"Catherine ..."

"Tell me."

He sighed, looking down. But before too long, his eyes returned to hers.

"Catherine," he said. "I ... I have desired you relentlessly. You are every dream I have—waking and not. I ... want to touch you; nothing would give me more pleasure. I want you to touch me. I want to love you, Catherine ..."

"Vincent, every single thing you just said is exactly the way I feel about you. I dream of being with you all the time. Every time you pull away, I want to pull you back. I have kept my feelings buried for so long, Vincent. It’s too much to bear anymore—"

"I’m so sorry, Catherine," he told her.

"Vincent, don’t you see? Everything you feel about me, I feel about you. How can you think you do not deserve me?"

"Catherine, you see something in me no one else ever has ..."

"So do you, Vincent!" she replied. "There isn’t one thing that I have done for you that you have not done for me. I love you the way you love me. I desire you the way you desire me. Look into your heart—you deserve me, Vincent. It doesn’t even need to be said. You are everything to me. I know you can feel it!"

Vincent’s eyes closed as he focused on the Bond. The light there was a thousand suns—her desire curled toward him through the blaze. It was true.

He opened his eyes and immediately locked with hers. She touched a finger on the pulse at the base of his neck, before bringing both hands to frame his face. He grabbed her tightly, his large hands spanning the ribs beneath her breasts, and pulled her against him, pulling her hips flush with his.

Catherine gasped and his legs nearly buckled when a flicker of passion passed over her face. She opened her eyes slowly, they were heavy and dark.

"Oh, Vincent," she whimpered.

"Catherine ..."

He was afraid, worried that he would do something wrong. He was trying to remember every book he had read on this subject, but she was waiting for him—he couldn’t disappoint her.

What Father said came to him. It wasn’t about him—his fears, his doubts, none of it. He had to be strong for her. He had no choice. He had to—for her.

Vincent brought his hand up and pushed his fingers into her hair, his fingers resting on the back of her neck. Her eyes were wide open now and their faces had never been so close to each other. She glanced down at his lips and unconsciously swallowed in anticipation.

While he was still trying to find the courage to kiss her, she leaned forward, her arms stealing around his back, and kissed him.

The kiss was beyond exquisite, beyond perfect, nearly beyond comprehension. It was the worth the wait yet hard to believe they had waited so long for something that was so obviously destined. The sun streaming into the room bathed them in warmth. They were breathless when they pulled away.

Vincent’s hand went to her shoulder and pushed back her robe, revealing her skin.

"Your shoulder ..." he whispered.

"It’s fine, Vincent."

"It didn’t leave a scar ..." Vincent said in wonderment.

"No. It didn’t, Vincent."

Vincent leaned down and kissed her shoulder, pausing there. His lips touched her shoulder again. Catherine nearly lost her balance when his lips moved slowly up her neck.

"Vincent," she said.

He looked up at her—his expression was one of awe ... and trust.

"You won’t hurt me."

Vincent looked into her eyes and finally believed her.