It was a silence that sang in the dark, the silence when the pipes were asleep. Returning from his nightly forays Above and breathing in the familiar scents of the tunnels -- earth and the smoke of countless candles had always meant home to him.
Vincent sighed, took off his heavy cloak and let it glide onto the overstuffed chair next to his bed. Lost in thought, he ran his fingers over the rough fabric, then reached for the book that lay, still open, on the table. He didn't take it though, just rested his hand on it.
Nothing would ever be as it had been before. Nothing -- except the emptiness and the despair that followed each rage, each killing, each onslaught of his dark side. Everything changed when he was forced to gaze into the abyss of his dual nature. Maybe Catherine was right; maybe he hadn't changed, after all. But he had begun to look at himself from a different angle. He didn't like what he saw, not at all.
But Catherine ... There was still the same warmth in his heart when he thought of her, the same love and joy as before; only now it seemed to him as if a shadow spread its ebony wings over his soul and reached for him with chilly fingers to take from him the last vestiges of his sanity. He groaned and threw back his head in a vain attempt to get rid of that horrible nightmare.
Suddenly, a familiar feeling stirred inside him, a gentle touch from within, from places of his soul that were unaffected by time and space. Catherine! She was awake -- and she was thinking of him. He leaned against the table and gave himself up to the sensation of her inner presence. He loved the tenderness in her feelings that reached out to him, caressing the imprint of his being within her soul. It made him shiver with excitement, something he never allowed himself when she was physically close as well.
Her longing tugged at his heart, sang in his blood, and burned on his skin. It was beautiful -- so beautiful -- to sense how she devoted herself to him in a feeling that pulsed through her body, through her entire being -- and through his...He stood there motionless for a long time, listening to the whispers in his heart, anxious not to disturb the precious sensations that surged against his awareness.
Gradually, he felt the waves of her emotions growing fainter and more indistinct, as if a soft mist permeated his soul. That was when he knew she had fallen asleep. He straightened ever so slowly, as if afraid that a sudden movement could wake her. A soft sigh escaped his lips as he began to unlace his vest in order to undress for the night. Although he always tried to avoid it, he glimpsed down at his hirsute body as he reached for his nightshirt. He caught himself wondering what this body might look like through Catherine's eyes.
Immediately a sharp pain shot through him and prevented him from giving himself up to this thought. Resolutely, he slipped into the woolen shirt. For a moment, his gaze lingered on the clawlike nails of his furred hands before he slid beneath the heavy quilt covering his bed, and closed his eyes.
Was it possible that this was just a dream? The tunnels he walked seemed so real, the misty silence so familiar. He followed a path that was dictated by a mysterious inner voice, a voice not to be heard with his ears but with that part of him that fed on dreams and visions, unencumbered by his rationality.
The pathway narrowed down before him and he had to crawl on hands and knees to pass it. Eventually, he ended up lying on his stomach, suddenly unable to move. Panic threatened to engulf him, and the presence he sensed at his back did nothing to quell that feeling. He couldn't get rid of the eerie
impression that someone was watching him, scrutinizing him very closely. "Who are you?" he finally managed through gritted teeth. "Afraid? You?" came the ironic reply, and Vincent couldn't help but wonder what made him think of that voice as belonging to a grinning face. A sharp retort leapt to his mind, but he thought better of it and remained silent.
"No need to be so cautious, Vincent," the voice continued, "with me you can speak your mind and your heart openly."
"With my face in the dirt like this, I'm hardly in any position to speak at all," Vincent mumbled laboriously.
"Well, then we'll have to do something about that," the voice replied and, instantly, Vincent found himself standing in a huge cavern, but the darkness that surrounded him was so absolute that he couldn't see anything.
He whisked around when the voice began to speak again, but it always remained behind him no matter where he turned. "You shouldn't be so jumpy, Vincent," it teased lightly, and then continued, "You can go nowhere before you promise me one thing."
"And what would that be?" Vincent asked, forcing every bit of calmness he could muster into his voice.
"You have to make a wish," came the answer, and Vincent could feel it dance through his mind like sparkling laughter.
"Then let me go," he said quietly, and the laughter increased.
"Oh, no, it isn't as easy as you may think, my friend," the invisible tormentor replied. "You have to let me tell you what you shall wish for, and then you can take your pick."
Why was there such an odd tingling sensation in the pit of his stomach? Vincent shook his head in a vague attempt to clear his mind, but all he got was a hilarious giggle from his mysterious captor. All of a sudden, the voice grew serious.
"Now listen carefully, Vincent. You must make your choice, or else you'll return to me sooner or later and I will make it for you. I don't think that you like the idea, though."
If the laughter had been unnerving, Vincent found the pathetic seriousness even more so, but he had to admit to himself that his curiosity had been piqued. "Well, then go on," he said in a voice hoarse with apprehension.
"All you have to do is decide whether you want to know who you are, change who you are, or share who you are." With that, the voice faded away and blended with the muted clanging of pipes and the distant rumble of a subway train. The familiar sounds of the tunnels gradually guided him back to reality, but an apprehensive feeling that something important was about to happen, something that might change his life profoundly, remained.
Throughout the entire day, Vincent was haunted by those words and marvelled at the obvious, as well as the hidden, message of that strange dream. It had always been his heart's desire to know who or what he was, and not knowing it was the reason for many impossibilities in his life. What a temptation to be able to change who or what he was! To be an ordinary man with smooth hands and a human face, to walk in the sunshine and embrace life -- and the woman he loved beyond anything.
Oh, Catherine, how I wish I could be what you need me to be, what you want me to be, he spoke silently to himself. Why was it that he suddenly felt a bright laughter bubbling through his mind? It distracted him and made it difficult to remember the third wish. Ah, yes, to share who he was. What could that possibly mean? Wasn't that something he already did? He shared his time, his knowledge, his strength with the people of his world. Was that who he was? Was that all he had to give? Time, knowledge, and strength?
He so wanted to believe that he already shared his heart with Catherine, but the moment he thought of it he knew with aching clarity that it wasn't entirely true. Oh, yes, his heart belonged to her, but did he truly share it? Wasn't it more like handing to her an ornate shrine that was safely locked, while keeping the key to himself? He sighed deeply at the realization. But any further digging would have to wait. He was already late for his afternoon class.
An intense rush of emotions swept Catherine from the depths of sleep to sudden wakefulness, even before the gentle tapping against the terrace door penetrated her dream-clouded mind. A fleeting glance at the bedside clock told her it was 3:00 a.m., and while she reached for her robe she couldn't
help but worry about the cause for Vincent's visit at such an unusual time. When she pushed open the door that led to the terrace, he stepped back toward the balcony wall, gazing at her silently. He hadn't even bothered to don his cloak, and his hair, paled by the lights of the city, lay in wild disarray across his broad shoulders.
"Vincent," she whispered, noticing his disheveled appearance as the thought that he might simply be sleep-tousled triggered a tender protectiveness deep within her. She thought to herself that she would never get used to resisting the urge to touch him and hold him and caress away the lonely sadness which surrounded this gentle soul.
Catherine," he finally managed hoarsely, "I'm terribly embarrassed to wake you at this hour of night because of ... a nightmare."
His shy confession evoked a tingling joy in her soul and she stepped closer to get a better look at his face. "You know you can wake me anytime, Vincent," she reminded him softly.
A slight smile briefly touched his features, quickly dispelled by his seemingly innate solemnity. "Thank you, Catherine," he murmured, dropping his gaze to the terrace floor before he continued, "I ... do need your help. At least, so it seemed to me when I awoke from that ... dream. Now I'm more than a bit..."
"... disconcerted?" she offered, when his voice trailed off helplessly. He nodded, expelling a sigh of relief at her understanding, and she wished she could make him see how glad and honored she felt that he had come to her in a mood like this.
"Would you like to tell me your dream?" she prompted carefully.
Drawing a deep breath, he raised his eyes to the night sky, as if what he wanted to say was written there, somewhere high above the world of reason and logic. His gaze returned to her then, speaking of his vulnerable state of mind and holding a question too fragile for words.
"Please take your time, Vincent," she said quietly. "I don't mean to push you. I just thought..."
"Catherine," he interrupted her gently, and she didn't quite trust her ears when he added, "please could we go inside?"
Taking his hand, she couldn't help but wonder about the nature of this mysterious dream that bestowed to her such a magical night of surprises.
Although it wasn't the first time for him to enter her apartment, he only did so on very special occasions, still feeling rather uncomfortable within the confinements of her world. She lit a candle in a sconce above the dining table to spare his sensitive eyes the stab of electric light. He looked so familiar in the soft, warm gleam, and yet having him here, amid the bits and pieces of her everyday
life, never ceased to thrill her. She went over to where he stood, taking his hands in hers and inviting him with a gentle tug to sit next to her on the couch. His thigh brushed against her leg when he complied, and she struggled to ignore the delightful feeling the brief touch stirred within her.
"What is it, Vincent?" she asked calmly. "Can you tell me?"
He nodded and when he began to relay his unusual dream to her, she could feel through the contact of their joined hands how strongly it affected him, although his voice appeared even and subdued while he spoke. "And the strangest thing was that the dream repeated itself tonight. No, it was more like a ... sequel, to be precise. That voice reproached me because I had not made my choice yet." Incredulous, he shook his head. "It threatened to choose in my place, and that thought scared me beyond anything. It was as though it would take my only chance away, my last chance to..." He glanced at her from under ragged bangs before he withdrew his hands, folding them in his lap and dropping his gaze to study them intently.
She couldn't keep her hand from reaching out and stroking his wild mane, running her fingers through it and savouring the hesitant tilt of his head toward her gentle touch. "Of course, I will do anything I can to help you, Vincent," she said softly, "but the choice is yours, you know that."
"Yes, I know that," he whispered, "but a part of me still refuses to act on a dream as if it had really happened."
"But isn't it a very real part of you that conjured that dream, and that voice, in order to find the key to some locked place in your soul?"
His head came up in surprise at her choice of words, and she smiled at the look of wonder that met her eyes. "What is it?" she asked when he remained silent. Oh, to reach out and touch this beloved face with all the tenderness she felt rising in her heart...
"Catherine," he interrupted her sweet reverie, "this choice I feel I must make - I can't make it alone because it effects you as much as it effects me."
She nodded. "That's because our lives are already inextricably linked. We can't deny that, Vincent."
He looked at her intently before he averted his gaze, continuing, "It's not as simple and clear as your words make it sound. I can't help but marvel at the intricacies of that dream. I have been trying to unravel its meaning throughout the entire day and what I found is rather unsettling."
"What do you mean?" she asked, apprehension lending a tremor to her voice.
"Catherine, I have tried to envision each of the possibilities very carefully, but I've come to no conclusion, except ..."
For a moment, she thought he would leave the sentence incomplete, but instead he seemed to gather some inner strength to give voice to a thought that was very hard to express.
"... except that I realized the answer lies, somehow, in your heart," he finished, his eyes filled with uncertainty as to how she might react to this confession.
"Do you want my advice then?" she asked.
"No, that would not be enough. What I do have to ask of you, though, is that you ... search your heart very carefully for any trace of doubt or fear ... or refusal ... that you might feel."
She was about to nod her agreement, but he stilled the motion of her head by cupping her cheek with one hand, holding her gaze with his own. "Please, Catherine," he whispered, "we have to be very sure about this."
Never before had she seen him so eager, so demanding, and her heart leapt at the sight of his face this close before hers, at the feel of his warm breath caressing her forehead. Her only response was to cover the furred back of his hand with her palm, thus increasing the pressure of their contact, and he acknowledged her wordless affirmation with a small nod.
He released her then, and began to speak quietly. "If I choose to know who I am, I would expect to learn something about my origins, about my ancestors, about the reason why I am what I am. But when I began to speculate on the effect such a knowledge might have on my life, I realized that knowing what I am would still not answer the question of who I am. I always thought that knowing what I am would solve part of my problems, but I don't think so any longer. Even if I knew that there were ... animals
among my ancestors..."
He paused as if to give her time to absorb the implications of that thought, but when he sensed nothing but her calm attention, he continued, "I would still have to find out who I am, who this breathing and feeling person is that walks through this world and this life. Sometimes I think ..." He paused and his hands went to his chest as though he wanted to hold safely locked in his heart the very thing which he was about to reveal. "I think that somewhere deep within me I know who I am..." He seemed to
struggle briefly for words, uncertain whether to follow his current line of thought, but then went on, "most of the time though, I used to forget about it because outward circumstances distract me, lead me away from that knowledge."
All of a sudden, he stood up in one graceful motion and dropped down to hisknees before her to be able to face her more fully. "If someone ever asked you if you knew who you are, Catherine, what would you answer?"
The intensity of this question and the silent plea that accompanied it tore at her heart. She knew how important her answer was to him and that there was no time for lengthy consideration. So she resolutely pushed back all of the complicated philosophies that threatened to rise from the back of her
mind and simply spoke what was in her heart. "I believe that I am what I feel, Vincent. I have no rational explanation for that. It's just -- well -- a feeling."
With a sigh, he sat back on his heels, his eyes never leaving her face.
"That is what I find whenever I turn inside, Catherine. By feeling what you feel, I find you within me."
A comforting warmth enveloped her heart and she couldn't help but slide down from the couch to kneel before him on the carpet. Instantly, his arms came around her and he enfolded her in a gentle embrace. She rubbed his back affectionately, and burying her face in the soft folds of his shirt, she murmured, "Oh, Vincent, how I wish I could sense you more clearly within me. Sometimes I think when I touch you, like I do now, I feel you more strongly, but then -- touching you is always so intense in itself that
this might only be wishful thinking."
He brushed his cheek against her hair, placing a brief kiss on her temple before he leaned back to look at her. "No, Catherine, it is true. Touch enhances our sense of one another. It is the same for me."
"Is that why you're always so careful to put some distance between us, Vincent?" she asked, a sudden realization striking her. "Am I too much for you to bear sometimes?"
He stood up abruptly and shook his head in denial. "No, Catherine, never that. Only, maybe sometimes, too hard to ... control."
His candid admission brought tears to her eyes. She rose to her feet and lifted one hand to tenderly stroke his hair that spilled out over his shoulders. "I love you, Vincent," she said, "and it is impossible for me to control that in any way." The look he gave her went beyond any caress she had ever received. There was so much adoration in it, so much love, and something more, a sensation that eluded her for brief moments until she could put a name to it. An undisguised hunger shone from his eyes, spreading rapidly through her body and weakening her resolve to respect the distance he had chosen. But when she dropped her gaze to evade his irresistibly seductive pull, she became aware of his hands, clenched into fists and pressed tensely against his thighs.
"No," she breathed, "please, Vincent, no!" and grasped his wrists to draw his hands to her mouth, kissing and stroking them until they unclenched and gradually relaxed. "I wish our desire for one another would not torture you so," she said, painfully aware of the imprints his sharp nails had left in
"I wish I could change these," he murmured, extricating his hands from hers, "change into someone who can love you as you deserve to be loved, as you ... need to be loved, Catherine. I wish I could ..."
"... change who you are? Will that be your choice then, Vincent?" she asked, pulling his hands even closer to her body. "You know that I would have you no other way than as you are. I don't care for the things you think I deserve. You are all I need. I just wish you would share yourself with me more completely."
There, it was out and she could not take it back. Breathless, she awaited his reaction. She half-expected him to withdraw and turn away, but he merely sought her eyes, gazing at her silently before he spoke, " That is what I would have chosen, Catherine."
"Then why do I sense a 'but' behind your words?" she asked relentlessly.
"Because, if you and I made love," he replied, the frank way he put it sending shivers up and down her spine, "it would change our lives more profoundly than those of any other ... lovers." His soft intake of breath before he actually, if indirectly, referred to the two of them as "lovers" betrayed the faith and trust that he had in their connection, despite the countless doubts and dark fears that stood between them in so many ways. It only served to strengthen her resolve to make him see that their love was
meant to find fulfillment in sharing their bodies as well as their hearts.
"I know that, Vincent, but ..."
"I'm not entirely sure that you do, Catherine," he interrupted her gently. "If we gave in to the yearning of our hearts, the longing of our bodies, neither of us could ever be alone again." He studied her face intently, as if to assure himself that she had, indeed, understood.
She shook her head in confusion. "But isn't that what we've always wanted for each other?"
He didn't respond immediately, but carefully gathered his thoughts as he always did before he put them into words. "It is one thing to share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust when you choose to do so. But what if you cannot get rid of the feeling that there is someone inside you who experiences everything when you do, not only what you want him to know, but every secret shadow and stolen moment of weakness, too?"
His words made her think, and moments of silence passed between them before she responded, "I must admit that the thought of being watched like this is quite disconcerting, but that is not how I would feel about sensing your presence within me, Vincent. Sometimes I think I can already do it."
"That's not what I meant, Catherine. The bond, as we are sharing it now, works only in a very controlled and unobtrusive way. When I perceive what you feel, it is because a part of your soul lives within mine. That is how I sense you. But I would never deliberately intrude upon your own private
and intimate sphere."
"But you could do that if you intended to?" she wanted to know.
"I don't know," he replied honestly, "but I'm afraid it could happen all on its own if we..." He left the sentence unfinished, but the unspoken words infused her with a warm anticipation that tickled in the pit of her stomach like butterfly wings. The feel of his palm touching her shoulder, warming it through the thin fabric of her robe, brought her back to the matter at hand, although at other times, it might have sent her emotions soaring higher still.
"Then your sense of me," she mused, "encompasses all of me that lives inside your soul. But even though we are so close, I can't deliberately read your emotions. And so when I feel you, as I did when you were in danger, I perceive that part of you which lives within me. Yet that same part of you isn't watching me. Right?"
He nodded, a slight smile gracing the corners of his uniquely shaped mouth, and she added, "I don't think that your presence within me could ever be disconcerting to me, Vincent."
Withdrawing his hand, he sighed heavily. "Once I told you that we are something that has never been, Catherine. We are just setting out, so we can't know how it would be for us to have a constant awareness of one another. I do know, though, that your slightest touch can melt away all the boundaries that make me a single entity. It is overwhelming and I would gladly drown in the feeling of blending with the essence of who you are, and yet I feel that I must not give in to it. Catherine, don't you understand -- I might take you somewhere you would not want to be."
Never before had he been this open with her and the beauty of his bared soul lay before her longing heart like an uncharted land full of promises. "So this is why you hesitate to make your wish," she stated sadly. "You're afraid of sharing with me who you are because you don't want me to know you
so completely. You still think you have to change who you are to be able to love me as you long to do. You won't let us get close enough to become lovers, will you?"
For a few, endless moments, he stood very still, and she wondered fleetingly if she had pushed things a bit too far. When he began to speak again, relief washed over her. "What I feel for you, Catherine, is starkly beautiful in its intensity. I long to open my heart to you and lay it into your hands, to give myself to the woman in you that would love the ... man in me, but I..." His words trailed off in sudden despair and, realizing that she had touched a very sensitive spot in his soul, she thought that she would have to tread very softly from now on, lest she scare him away.
"No, Catherine," he said abruptly, "You don't have to treat me like a fragile child. I won't run away, I promise." Did she sense a smile behind those solemn eyes? Oh, how she loved this man.
"Do you do this often?" she asked innocently, and at his puzzled gaze she continued, "reading my thoughts, I mean."
Shaking his head no, he reached for her hands, bringing them up to his chest. "That was just a good guess," he confessed, " because you always try to spare me pain."
"Because I love you," she breathed, her heart pounding wildly with the look he gave her in response. He drew her into his arms, cradling her head against his throat, and she could feel his words vibrate within her before she was even able to grasp them.
"I love you, too," he said quietly, "and that is why we must face the truth, because without seeking the truth first, we will never be able to know for sure that what we gather around us in the name of love, is truly love at all."
She shifted her position in the circle of his arms to look up at him in wonder. How could she have underestimated him so gravely? Had she really thought she could have coaxed him into this new openness, had he not intended for it to happen long before he had come to her tonight?
A smile spread from the crinkling at the corners of his eyes across his face, and she wondered, briefly, if he was guessing her thoughts again. Right now, she thought, he was very much in control of the situation and of himself, and maybe that was exactly what made him dip his head and take her mouth in a gentle kiss. Her heart skipped a beat as his lips brushed against hers exploringly, and when he deepened the caress, she suddenly found it hard to remember how to breathe. Gently, he broke the kiss and rested his chin against the crown of her head.|
"Isn't that the most wonderful truth?" she whispered breathlessly. "I could feel it, Vincent. I could feel the boundaries crumble."
"Yes," he confirmed, stroking the nape of her neck with his thumb, "but the truth is always deeper than we are inclined to admit. We must not be contented with remaining on the surface, lest its depths claim their right when we least expect it."
She looked up at him in alarm. "What is it, Vincent? What are you trying to tell me?"
"Catherine, it would be so easy to lose ourselves in each other, and so very beautiful, at that." He paused, as if to give her time to brace herself for what was to come. She would have loved to dwell on what he thought so beautiful, had there not been that alarming undercurrent in his voice.
"But?" she prompted, her voice unsteady with apprehension.
"It is not only the profoundness of the commitment we would have to make that requires thorough consideration," he continued, "I'm also concerned about some differences in my physique. Catherine, you are such a small and delicate woman and I am ... well, you know that I am..." He looked at her
slightly embarrassed and, suddenly, at a loss for words.
"Large," she offered, smiling. "But, Vincent, this is nothing unusual. I know many couples, well, maybe not many, but some, who..."
He shook his head. "That's not what worries me. I once asked you to look at me and tell me what you see. You evaded me by answering that you saw the man you love. But, Catherine, the man you love has claws and fangs, and the slightest carelessness between us could cause fatal harm."
he ardor in his words told her that there might be a blind spot in Vincent's view of his own personality, something he didn't admit to himself, something he possibly wasn't even aware of. Slowly, she lifted one hand to stroke his bristled cheek, and then rested it lightly on his shoulder.
"Vincent," she ventured hesitantly, "do you honestly believe that you would scratch or bite me while making love to me?" She paused to hold his suddenly haunted look safely with her eyes. "Or could it be that you're more afraid of any possible repulsion I might feel if I were to see your naked body?"
He briefly dropped his gaze, but brought it back to hers immediately. She noted with gratitude that this time he had no intention of evading her. Sighing resignedly, he could only nod. She encircled his waist with her arms, hugging him tightly to her body.
"Oh, Vincent," she whispered into his shirt, "what we are given is too great a gift, too deep a miracle to cast it away out of uncertainty or fear. We must find a way for us. We must."
A pensive silence settled between them, and when he finally broke it, she thought that she had never heard sweeter words. "We will," he whispered into her hair, "we will."
It was already morning, the first streaks of dawn gracing the eastern sky, when he left. She knew she'd have to be at the office in a few hours, but she could find no sleep. So much had transpired between them tonight. And there was one particular thought that wouldn't leave her in peace.
"Neither of us will ever be alone again," she repeated to herself in a low voice. What could he have possibly meant by that? A discomforting apprehension crept up her spine. There were two sides of her personality, after all; and while she was quite comfortable with the thought of presenting the brave fighter for humanity to Vincent, the tender lover and altruistic friend, she had her reservations about letting him see the other Cathy who was sometimes just tired of being good and strong, wanting
nothing more than to slam her briefcase into a corner of her apartment and her laboriously preserved patience along with it. There were actually times when she despised those who had no trouble at all living their lives without even noticing that they were giving others a hard time with their own nasty egos. More than once she had almost wished she, too, were capable of slipping out of the office unnoticed, like those who apparently didn't feel the slightest remorse about leaving others with their own unfinished workload. Not to forget her occasional fits of envy when she felt alone and neglected, thinking that others seemed to have everything her heart could possibly long for.
Had Vincent ever felt any of this? she asked herself. He had never given any indication that he had. But if she were to believe in what he had spoken about earlier, he would not only be able to feel that of her which was within his heart, but would be inside her as well, seeing everything.
She shivered as she caught herself searching for hiding places within her own soul. And what about him? His motives and actions were always flawlessly noble. Did Vincent have those shallow spots, too?
Suddenly she could understand all too well why he hesitated to share himself that completely with her. He had always been aware of those implications, and she, in her childish eagerness to satisfy her own longings, had only been waiting for the right moment to win him over. What if he was right? What if they couldn't live up to the possibilities they were given through their unique connection? Would they drive each other crazy with too detailed a knowledge about too intimate matters? Or would they learn to ignore each other's flaws in order to be able to live with them?
There was one possibility, though, to share a life within a bond like theirs, she thought sadly, not missing the ironic edge of the idea: They still had the chance of becoming perfect.
A cool draft coming from the chamber of the falls stirred the fur on Vincent's naked body and made his skin tingle. His long hair, still damp from the swim he had taken earlier, fell in unruly tendrils across his shoulders. Catherine would be here soon. She was already on her way down, and with every step that brought her nearer, he could feel his resolve fade away. Maybe it was wrong of him to push her so, but she had to know -- all of him. She had glimpsed dark doubts and high hopes in his soul, and touched his spirit with hers at times when he was lost in darkness. She knew so much about him -- and she had been right: He dreaded her reaction to his physical appearance no less than the possible danger his bestial attributes might represent to her. In spite of himself, he had to smile.
She knew him so well...
How would she react, though, to the sight of his body? He could recall moments of desire stirring within her when their bodies had touched in a gentle embrace or when she had wound her fingers through his, tantalizing them both with the sensation of skin on skin. Vincent knew that Catherine thought she wanted him, but he needed her to be sure of it. That was why he had come to make this unusual decision. He sensed her distant puzzlement now, undoubtedly because he had not come for her to lead her down below as he always did. Images of how childlike her face had looked hours ago, in the first gray light of the morning, drifted before his inner eye. He had awakened sitting on her small couch, with Catherine nestled snugly against his shoulder. Fatigue must have overcome them both after their talk, and they had fallen asleep there together, heedless of the late hour and the approaching dawn.
The warm weight of her body had suffused him with so strong a desire that he thought it certainly must wake her. Never had he allowed himself to let her glimpse that side of him. Always had he seen to it that she was safe from his wishes and needs and longings. Why was it only now that it occurred to him it wasn't so much her reaction to the sight of his body that he feared, but rather her discovery of his deep hunger for her warm sensuality and soft femaleness? What would she do when confronted with the need of his body to join with her, with his fierce possessiveness that wanted to make her his and never let her go?
Suddenly, the realization struck him that it was ridiculously superficial to present his outward appearance to her like this, hoping it would find her acceptance, when all that really mattered was his fear of primal needs unleashed -- and exposed to the eyes of the woman who meant more to him
than life itself. She was his light, his truth; how could he taint her pure beauty with that bestial side of his sexuality? Oh, how he dreaded that raw force which robbed him of his sleep many a night, urging him to roam the world above during the hours of darkness in a futile attempt to cool his boiling blood; how he despised the dark power that brought forbidden images to his mind, pictures edged with depravity and greed. He had always been careful never to let any of this touch Catherine's image in his heart; but of late, he had been more and more helpless to avoid a certain blending between a casual touch, an unguarded look, a shared dream, and that burning need for gratification of something he didn't quite dare to grasp.
Vincent's eyes traveled the length of his nude body, not so very different from that of normal men. Maybe his musculature was more exaggerated, his body hair more dense and, in some places, rather fur-like. But aside from his face and hands, he thought, his body might pass for human. There really was no point in making an exhibition of his body, but it was too late to change anything about that now. He didn't have to lift his eyes toward the entrance where she stood to know that she had caught sight of him.
He sensed her brief flash of astonishment, and then the dawning of her comprehension. Embarrassed, he felt that she understood what he had been attempting here -- and she obviously had every intention of taking him up on this unexpected offer. Her gaze, traveling the length of him, was an almost palpable sensation on his skin. There was no way of controlling the heavy shivers her eyes sent through his
defenseless body. When had she traversed the distance between them? He didn't care. He only knew of her unwavering and protective love that enveloped him, warmed him and stilled the tremors that shook him.
Willingly, he allowed himself to be drawn into her comforting embrace and rest his dizzy head against her shoulder. She understood everything -- everything -- and when his grateful tears came, he made no attempt to hide them. Her whispered words of love were drops of warmth and light that fell upon his hair as he nuzzled closer, inhaling her familiar scent and burying his face against the soft skin of her neck. Her palms felt almost hot to him in the coolness of the chamber as she rubbed his back in long, slow strokes until he relaxed within the circle of her arms, expelling a quiet sigh of relief.
"I cherish your body, Vincent," she broke the silence between them,
"frankly, I adore it, but that's no reason for you to catch a cold in here." Her good-natured bantering brought a shy smile from him. She was making it easy for him -- again -- to preserve his dignity. When they finally got to their feet, he grabbed a large towel and, casting her a shy sideward glance, wound it around his hips. "I won't be long," he said as he headed for the ledge where he had left his clothes.
All he could think of was how beautiful she looked sitting there, bathed in soft, amber light that filtered through the stained glass of the half-circle above his bed. When she heard him entering the chamber, she looked up from the book she had been leafing through and rose to her feet.
"I'm sorry that you had to wait, Catherine," he apologized, placing a tray with two steaming mugs of tea on the table. "It's late. The kitchen was already closed and I had to start a new fire."
"You know I like being here in your chamber, Vincent," she said. "I feel so safe here, so... at home."
Could she possibly know how deep a joy her words evoked in him? She stood beside him now, touching his arm with one small hand, as she continued, "And to know that you'd be back any moment, made
the waiting even sweeter."
He covered her hand with his and turned to face her more fully. His heart beat wildly with what he needed to tell her, the words still a chaotic whirl in his mind. "Catherine," he began, not knowing yet how to continue, "what I did down there in the chamber near the falls..."
She brushed her cheek against the furred back of his hand, and the sweetness of her touch drove the words he had been about to say from his brain. He could only gaze at her silently when she lifted her head to meet his eyes. Suddenly, there was a gentle stirring deep within him, a tenuous flutter of a feeling too ethereal for words or even thoughts, and he knew with innermost clarity that her heart was reaching out to him in quiet conversation, telling him everything he needed to know. He took her in his
arms, enveloping her with all the warmth and comfort he was able to give, and a vibrant current began to flow between them, kindling a passion he could no longer deny.
To hold her this close and feel every soft curve of her body pressed against the hardness of his was the most stunning and overwhelming experience he could ever have imagined in his wildest dreams. Was she aware of what she was doing to him? That the bond told him yes, confused and delighted him all at once. His arms tightened around her, seemingly of their own volition, and he met her undulating hips with tentative movements of his own. It felt so good -- so incredibly, heavenly good -- and the knowledge that she wanted it, too, only served to heighten the intensity of the sensation. Ah, the enticing scent of her; her hot breath on the sensitive skin of his neck; her hands in his hair, tugging insistantly to bring his face down to hers for a kiss -- a kiss that, he knew within a fading instant of clarity, would undo him and make him forget everything else.
Suddenly, he needed her eyes to tell him that this was true -- and right -- between them. He leaned back slightly to look at her and felt her immediate apprehension flooding the bond. His searching gaze seemed to alarm her, and she brought up one hand to cup his cheek reassuringly. "Vincent, if you
"I would rather not think right now," he interrupted her, his voice hoarse with pent-up passion. Her instantly rising eyebrows made him smile. Everything about her was so guileless and honest, and his heart was ablaze with the knowledge that he was her only concern, as she was his. He needed to believe that he was able to control the strong feelings that rose from the depth of everything he was -- spirit, body and soul. Oh, how he yearned for her touch, craved to be suffused by her warmth, and longed for her softness to receive his strength. She looked up at him with so much trust and faith that it tore at his heart. Instinctively, he bowed his head to place a gentle kiss on her forehead, almost feeling the soft flutter of her lashes as she closed her eyes to savor the moment. Ah, the fragrance of her
hair -- it made him dizzy with desire, and he longed to bury his face in it, to lose himself in its inviting silkiness. But this was not the time for getting lost, not now, when there was so much yet to be found.
"Did you make your decision, Catherine?" he compelled himself to ask, craving and dreading the answer at the same time. She leaned her head against his chest and he felt her nod. "Will you have me inside you?" he whispered, and it was only when she breathed, "Oh yes," that he became aware of the ambiguity of his question. He wondered, fleetingly, if she could perceive his blush through the bond, for surely the light in his chamber was too dim to let her see it with her eyes. He swallowed hard when
she lifted her face to his, waiting for him to take the next step.
"And your doubts?" he managed, bravely battling the urge to take her mouth without further words, forgetting everything -- everything but the sweetness that awaited him on her invitingly parted lips.
Her astonishment washed over him like a cool breeze. "You knew?" she whispered, and then smiled, "Of course you did. It will take me some time to get used to that kind of transparency."
"It might get worse," he warned, knowing that she caught the playful note lacing his words. But she remained serious, asking, "And what about you? Are you sure that you want me this close? Always?"
He resisted the impulse to hide his face from her expectant gaze by burrowing it against her shoulder. Tiny sparks of candlelit moistness danced in her eyes as she waited for his reply. And when he finally
responded, the answer seemed to have been there, within them both, all the time.
"I think we will have to take a leap of faith, Catherine. There is no way of knowing ..." She stilled his words by placing small kisses on his chin and cheek, and he was lost. When she nuzzled under his heavy mane and found his earlobe, sucking on it gently, he heard himself moan her name. One delicate hand crept up his chest, working at the fastenings of his shirt, and as he threw back his head to let it happen, to let her touch him this intimately, he knew he had never felt so free before in his life. She ran
exploring fingers through the tawny curls she found beneath the opening of his shirt, and he gasped with the intensity of his body's response. Never before had his need felt so right as it did now and here within the brilliance of their shared love. He cradled her head in his palm and brought down his face to touch it to hers, tenderly brushing one cheek across her forehead and temple. She was so soft and yielding, so utterly desirable that it took his breath away. His lips completed this journey across her flushed face, and he relished the involuntary moan his kiss elicited from her, when he finally found his goal -- her waiting mouth.
Ah, the feel of her lips moving beneath his, her tongue insistently searching for his, her breath sustaining him, for he was not sure he could remember yet how to draw air into his lungs. Her devotion to his love was a promise, beckoning to him from beyond the boundaries of their aroused bodies and inflamed souls, waiting to be fulfilled in an act of exceeding beauty, pure passion, and eternal commitment.
"I love you so," he breathed as his hands found their way beneath her woolen sweater, caressing the warm skin of her back, aching for the feel of her breasts, yet still hesitant to touch here there. "Oh, Catherine," he gasped, "I ... have no words for the way you make me feel."
Catherine worked his shoulders free from his shirt and slid it off, all the while trailing small kisses across his chest. Surely, she could feel the pounding of his heart as he stood before her like this, his upper body bared to her hungry eyes and ardent caresses. He was achingly aware of his growing erection straining against the seam of his trousers, and so was she, for her searching hands found every yearning part of his body with absolute certainty. She trembled against him, her senses overtaken by his passion that roiled beneath an outwardly calm surface, and he felt tears sting his eyes at her trusting acceptance of everything she found in him.
For a brief moment, he saw himself from two very different angles: There was the man who was about to join with the woman he desired in an act of ardent lovemaking -- and there was the trembling little boy who found his pains and sorrows soothed and caressed away in an instant of infinite tenderness.
Catherine was everything to him -- everything. She evoked sensations within him -- strong and soft, wild and fragile -- that he had not dreamed possible. Kissing her seemed to be the only way to still her
insatiable lips, and he gloried in the knowledge that he was able to affect her so. Closer -- he needed her closer still and, in a sudden rush of boldness, whispered against her ear, "Please, Catherine, I long to see you, too."
A shiver went through her as she withdrew from his embrace, pulling the sweater over her head and dropping it to the floor. Breathless, he watched shoes, jeans and undergarments follow, and then she stood before him, motionless, waiting for his judgment. All he could do was pull her back into the circle of his arms, warming her with his body and marveling that such beauty should be his.
He kissed her again, guiding her gently, but insistently, toward his bed. There was one brief moment of awkwardness when old doubts flared at the edges of his mind, and he halted, gazing at her questioningly, her eyes his only anchor in a sea of uncertainties. The smile she gave him before she
lay down, could have melted a rock with its intoxicating intensity. He marveled at the image she presented to him, nestled cozily amid his pillows -- a sight he knew only from his dreams, dreams which had stubbornly refused to be suppressed and thus had warmed his solitary nights without her. The vision brought tears to his eyes, and he sat down beside her to run a shaking hand along her body, cherishing her nakedness beyond anything because it spoke of her trust and confidence in him -- in the man she saw and loved. It was his turn now to shed his remaining garments and join her on the bed, reverently touching the length of his quivering body to hers. Entwining her fingers in his hair, Catherine pulled his head down for a kiss and he willingly complied, drowning in the heady taste of her lips. He
covered her with his weight and drank in her moan as she exhaled in acceptance of his body on top of hers. Restlessly, her hands stroked his back and hips, urging him closer still, and Vincent gasped at her readiness to receive him. Everything about her reached out for him, beckoning him onward, and the last threads of resistance quickly dissolved in the sensual overload that surged against his consciousness. He sank into her waiting warmth, totally unprepared for the deep joy that filled him as their bodies began to move as one. Her moans were muffled by his hungry kisses, and he tasted her as he had never before dared. Suddenly she opened her eyes, the light within their green depths touching
the most secret reaches of his heart, unlocking them to let her see all that he was. The sweet elation of their loving became his only truth when Vincent took Catherine's soul into his, their spirits one steady glow that illuminated their destined union, leading them deeper into one another with each movement of their burning bodies and every single beat of their joined hearts.
Catherine cried out when fulfillment claimed her, and Vincent thought he would die from the overwhelming rush of emotions that engulfed him. He buried himself deeper in her softly rocking body, drowning in the infinite tenderness with which she surrounded him. It was too much -- too much to be
contained within a single body, within only one wildly pounding heart; but she was there to envelop his exulting soul, to cradle him while violent tremors shook him, to inhale his shuddering moans. At that moment, when they were closer than ever before, she received all of him, all that he was or would ever be, and he felt the light of her spirit spread through him like the first sunrise that warms a newborn world.
"Neither of us will ever be alone again," she whispered inside his heart, and when he opened his eyes to gaze into hers, he saw that this closeness would never be a restriction for either of them, but always a chance to grow.
The tickling sensation of silken hair that swept across his face awakened him. He found himself covered by her relaxed body, and his arms tightened around her before he even opened his eyes. Her joy and happiness at finding herself in his arms washed over him, and all he could do was gratefully
breathe her name into her hair. They lay together in silence for long, contented moments, listening to the beating of their hearts before Catherine broke the stillness.
"The wish," she said, seemingly without coherency, lifting her head and looking at him excitedly. He sat up, bringing her with him as he reclined against a large, patched pillow. "What do you mean?" he asked, puzzled.
"Sharing who we are will enable us to know who we are, because that's what we see through each other's eyes," she pointed out. "And through each other's hearts," he added, following her line of thought. At her eager nod, he continued, "And how could either of us want to change who we are, when we find ourselves loved so deeply and unconditionally?"
She seemed to be quite satisfied with his answer and smiled up at him radiantly. "You see, you made a very wise choice."
Slowly, he shook his head. "I'm not sure that I did. Somehow I can't help but feel that I didn't really have a choice. All that I am belonged to you ever since the moment I found you."
"No, not all that you are, Vincent," she contradicted. "There is a part of you that can only belong to yourself, no matter how close we are. And sharing it will always be a choice of the moment, a gift to be cherished all the more dearly because you give it freely -- out of love and trust."
How could so much wisdom dwell in one person, he wondered smilingly, drawing her closer against him. But she struggled to keep her gaze fixed on his face, asking, "What makes you smile?"
"I just thought of how remarkable you are," he answered honestly, pressing a gentle kiss into her hair.
"And that amuses you so?" she asked, teasing his chest hair with supple fingers. Her seemingly casual caress drew an intense response from him. Shivering, he grasped her hand and brought it to his lips. "It warms me to be loved by you, Catherine," he said gravely, rubbing his forehead against hers, and when she closed her eyes to savour the caress, he captured her mouth in a tender kiss. "And it will never cease to amaze me," he added breathlessly.
"Maybe it will," she replied, "once you get used to looking at yourself through my eyes. Then you will understand why I love you so deeply." He shook his head slightly, and his heart threatened to overflow with tenderness for the incredible woman he was holding in his arms. His breath caught when he felt her move and run exploring fingers along his eager body. A vibrant warmth spread through him from the pit of his stomach and, willingly, he lost himself in the endless wonder and irresistible magic
that was Catherine.