WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE

 Trisha Kehoe

Cherishing the hours just before dawn as belonging only to them, Vincent and Catherine stood looking down on the great city at their feet.  Vincent could feel the pulse of the traffic, the horns, the yelling of the cab drivers beating a cadence that was similar, almost counterpoint, to the beating of his heart.

Catherine looked up into his eyes as she placed a hand at his shoulder, asking,  "What are you thinking?"  One slender finger lightly traced the side of his unique mouth.  "You seem so far away.  Where have you gone, without me?"

Her smile was lightly teasing as she waited for his answer, but Vincent didn't answer right away.  Then, finally, when he did respond, it was with an air of mystery - as though he were struggling to conceal his true thoughts. He spoke so softly, Catherine had to strain to hear his words.  "I was merely remembering, long ago, when much younger, how I loved this city and how I hated it, at the same moment."

Pressing back into his arm as he encircled her waist, Catherine seemed puzzled as she gazed up into his face.  "You hated this city?  Why?"

Turning away, imperceptibly shaking his head, Vincent laid his right hand on the balcony railing and stared off into the night sky.  He could sense a turmoil rising, filling his soul with a mindless, black desolation. It went through him as a knife, piercing him with a bitterness that startled him. 

When he spoke, it were as though he wasn't fully aware that he actually expressed the words aloud.  "I would walk the city streets, night after night, wondering how many years, how many endless, empty years I could endure..." Pausing, his head went down, leaving the remainder of the words unspoken as a look of pain came over his face. 

Not wanting to press him, still Catherine hoped he could tell her what had brought such a troubled look to him.  "Are you sad, Vincent?"

"Not sad…"  Lifting his head, he glanced up at the few wispy clouds hovering overhead for a moment. Then he closed his eyes, for certain memories brought with them vast pain.  "I ... I would see people on the city streets at night; men, women, both young and old, walking together, sometimes arm in arm or hand in hand." Vincent smiled sadly at the remembrance.  "They seemed so happy, so ... complete... as they passed by me, unaware that someone watched them from the shadows."

Understanding or thinking she did, Catherine nodded her head.  "Seeing them only made you that much more alone."  She laid her head gently against his arm, feeling the taut muscles flex involuntary.

"I was separate from them, yes, but didn't realize, for a long time, precisely what that meant ... for me.  And when I did finally acknowledge the ... aloneness of my life, doing it almost crushed me; it was worse than a physical blow, that loss of all ... hope." Unconsciously, Vincent's hand had tightened its hold on the concrete wall.  "I realized I would always be apart, from ... everyone."  That voice was saturated with painful longing.  "How I envied them what they had, what I could never have."  His words were so terribly desolate.

"Vincent, don't say that.  You're not alone, not anymore, you won't be again, not ever." 

As Catherine's fingers gripped his arm more tightly, the love and compassion in her voice warmed him. Yet nothing she could say would eclipse his embarrassment as what he had said to her washed over him, shaming him.  He had spoken words aloud he never meant her to know.

Vincent's eyes shone darkly as he turned from Catherine distressed; unable to look at her now.  "I must go, it will soon be dawn."

"Please don't go, there's still time."  Catherine urged him to sit beside her on the wrought iron bench; sensing what he had just said was troubling him.  But, he wouldn't sit down next to her.  "Vincent, don't ever be afraid to speak the truth to me.  I want to know when you're sad or upset; it's only fair.  You know when I am, after all."  She smiled, trying to ease the expression she had seen in his eyes before he'd looked away.

Deeply angered at himself for what he considered a loss of control, when he spoke his voice was grating, almost harsh. "I had no right to discuss those feelings or the memories of them, with you, to burden you with that time …" Before she could deny what he had just said, he turned.  Looking back at her once before beginning the steep climb down from her balcony, Vincent's voice trembled a little.  "No right at all, Catherine. Please forget and forgive those words? I must go now."

"Vincent, please …"  She watched as the cloaked figure said no more and quickly disappeared over the side of the wall.

Catherine took a deep shuddering breath, saddened that this shy man had been unable, or unwilling, to discuss his strong emotions more fully with her.  It wasn't often, if ever, Vincent spoke of the times before she was in his life.  How truly alone he must had been, she thought. Did he imagine he would always be so alone, until he found her that pain-filled night, that miraculous night and changed both of their lives - forever?

With a final, yearning look to where she had last seen Vincent, before he'd dropped from view, Catherine turned to the French doors. As she stepped across the threshold into her apartment, she brushed at the tears on her face with the tips of her fingers.

*

Near the entrance to his chamber, Catherine's sadness, her pain at him leaving her as he had, suddenly overwhelmed him.  Stumbling, Vincent reached out blindly with one hand to a tunnel wall to steady himself.  Breath ragged, he fought to maintain a tight grip on his emotions, wanting desperately to return and be at her side, yet knowing he could not.

What in the name of God had possessed him back there?  To speak of those times to Catherine as he had, was inexcusable.  Arching his head back sharply, Vincent smashed one clenched fist into the tunnel wall.  Senseless!  Careless!  How could he have done it?  What must she think of him?  Burdening her with his memories, his pain, accomplished nothing.  It helped no one; especially not Catherine.  Why had he done it!

Drawing one hand over his chest, Vincent struggled to ease the agony coursing through his breast; it felt as if his heart would surely burst.  As his chin dropped forward slowly to his chest, his eyes closed.  All of the long denied passions, all of the years of never to be fulfilled longing, hammered at him, until he cried aloud to be released from the torment.

Sobs of impotent rage echoed off the stone walls as this powerful man collapsed to his knees, calling out his desolation to gods that could not help him.  Where was the hope?

*

As he plodded back from a late night examination of an elderly Helper, Father noticed Vincent's candles still flickering in his Chamber as he started past it.  Standing in the entrance, he frowned, looking over towards his son, who was lying on the bed still fully clothed, his left arm flung over his eyes.  "Vincent, are you unwell?"

At first, there was no response. 

Coming further into the shadowed chamber, Father hesitated, then spoke again, a bit more sharply.  "Vincent?"

"Father."  Not meeting his parent's probing eyes, the younger man sat up and clasped his hands before him.  "It's nothing to cause you concern.  I'm merely... tired."

The Tunnel elder seemed disbelieving as he lowered his tired frame to sit next to his son.  Something had happened, but what?  "And how is Catherine? I assume you saw her tonight?"

Realizing he would not be left to his own thoughts until he satisfied Father's concerns on his state of mind, Vincent sighed heavily.  "Yes, I ... I saw her. She is well." Gold flecked blue eyes locked to searching grey ones.  "Father please, no more...questions. I'll be fine in the morning."

"But..."

"Do not trouble yourself. There is nothing you can do - truly nothing."

"Very well.  I'll say goodnight, then."  Patting Vincent on the shoulder, Father got slowly to his feet, tired beyond imagining.  It had been a very trying day, this. Casting a very concerned look at his son, he shook his head sadly and then left for his own chamber, desperate for rest.

As badly as he wanted to call him back, Vincent didn't speak again as he watched Father leave.  What purpose would be served in telling him of tonight; nothing could be done about it.  And hadn't Father warned him already of becoming 'involved' with anyone from 'that' world?  Of course he had.

Knowing that he'd accepted Catherine in the beginning because no choices were given him, Vincent also knew he had grown to care for her.  Perhaps, in his own way, even love her.  Yet, Father still hoped they would not get any further involved in a deeper relationship that could bring only pain to them both, when it ended.  And, Father was convinced, it would end in pain, especially for his son.

*

Vincent's arms felt leaden as he finally struggled into his nightclothes. Yet, as exhausted as he was, he knew there would be no sleep for him this night.  With a glance to the bed, he turned instead to his desk and waiting journal almost anxiously, feeling a need to express the words now that he'd denied Catherine earlier.

Uncapping his pen, he took a deep breath and allowed his feelings, all his feelings, their liberty.

Our world sleeps.  But in me, there is a dark restlessness that gives no peace and I am imprisoned by its ceaseless voice inside my head.

The love Catherine bears for me is beyond my ability to acknowledge in words.  Yet I do love her with a depth and completeness that will bring joy all the days of my life, as well as torment and guilt.  I am aware she desires me as a woman wants the man she loves.

How I also long for this sharing I have never known, shall never know.  The pain in accepting that final truth, of who and what I am, must never be allowed to harm Catherine.  My desire for her carves at my soul as the sharpest of blades.  How I want her! How I need her to complete me.

This torment, this all-consuming hunger to be part of Catherine must end before it destroys both of us.  It must be resolved, yet it can never be resolved in joining my body to hers. The love I possess within me for this courageous woman, must not be allowed its logical conclusion - ever. 

What words could I say that would not frighten her?  How could I speak to Catherine of this heat that courses through my body endlessly, day after day, night after lonely night, until I think to truly go mad from it?

I have nothing to offer her, nothing!  She speaks of wanting only one thing from me - my love.  So little Catherine asks of me, yet it's everything I can never give her!  She trusts me and wants only to share my life.  And because she trusts me, I must deny what we both want until the day I die. She has my soul, my life, in her hands, never will she have less.  But, never can she have more.

For two years, I have fought these passions that rise in me like a tide, leaving me adrift.  My civilized side wants her with a desperation that frightens, terrifies me!  That side of me I loathe also wants Catherine, but there would be no tenderness if that other self had her, as it wants to have her.  That must never be allowed to touch Catherine or cause her pain, for if I tried to love her and she were frightened of me - it would surely destroy us both.

How long?  How much longer can I control my hands when she is near?  Or my body?  I want to touch her, taste her, to love her all the days of my life and beyond time.  Through eternity itself, I would have her close to me, with me, in all ways.

Catherine, I love you.  Know that I shall always love only you.  Here, in this journal, on these pages, I can allow those words you long for, their voice.  But only here -only here, Beloved.  Forgive me, my Love, please forgive me?  Understand that I deny us both to save us both from bitter disappointmentm or possibly even worse, for you.

Am I a coward, my sweetest torment?  How is it that you have the strength to trust me, when I cannot trust myself? For I dare not trust myself. Yet, I shall dream always, of a life that can never be.

*

It was nearly two weeks until Vincent and Catherine saw each other again; and she saw him then only because she went Below when he didn't come Above.  If she could have foreseen what would happen that night, would she have gone to Vincent in spite of it?  She knew she probably would have; even though that night, there was a bitter scene that would finish their love.

. . .

Catherine had promised her superior, Joe Maxwell, that she'd accompany him to a City sponsored fund-raising cocktail party.  How she hated these boring gatherings! All anyone ever did was talk incessantly of business and drink too much.  But, for Joe, who really didn't ask much of her as a rule, she'd go - hating every single moment of it.

Taking a final look in the mirror, Catherine nodded her head; this would do fine.  The seagreen silk and chiffon dress had a softly draped neckline which showed off to full advantage her small rounded breasts.  The back of the dress was bare to the waist; a slender gold thread held the two sides together at her shoulderblades.  Falling nearly to her ankles in undulating layers, the skirt clung to her slim hips and waist like a second skin, and was daintily trimmed with spun gold threads.

After carefully stepping into her shoes, she bent over her jewel case. Lifting out the emerald and gold necklace that had been her mother's, she held it up, deciding that it complemented her new earrings as she'd hoped it would.

With a final pat to her hair and a dab of perfume at her throat, Catherine put out the bathroom light and grabbed her heavy coat.

Hurrying from her apartment building, she was lucky enough to hail a passing cab in only a few moments.  Joe would meet her in the lounge of the Penta Hotel, a short distance away.

*

Joe looked at his watch for the third time in fifteen minutes; where the hell was Chandler?  She knew how important this funding was to Moreno, their boss; she'd better not stand him up tonight or her ass was his in the morning.  She'd get every dirty job that came down the pike!

Capturing a piece of ice between his teeth, Joe crunched down on it absent mindely until he saw her poised in the doorway of the lounge, looking around.  "Hey Radcliffe, over here." Smiling sarcastically, he looked at his watch. "Cutting it pretty close, aren't ya?  The invite said eight sharp!"

Curling one arm through his, Catherine laughed at the look on his boyish face.  "Oh Joe, come on, these things never start on time!"  She patted his arm and wrinkled up her nose at him.  "Trust me on this, okay?"

Throwing her a sardonic smirk, Joe played the gentleman; holding the elevator door so she could step through first.  "Seeing how you're the one born with the silver spoon in this twosome, Chandler, I'll bow to your greater expertise."

*

When, Mouse burst into the chamber, at first he thought his friend was sleeping sitting up.  He looked closer.  "Vincent, you asleep?"

Rubbing the bridge of his nose to ease the tension he felt gathering there, Vincent spoke in a whisper, as though it took a great effort.  "No Mouse, I'm not asleep.  Come in."

"Am in."  The blonde head tilted as he stared.  "You look funny.  Sick?"

"No, I'm...fine.  What is it? Is anything wrong?"  Vincent tried to be patient, but lately it seemed that he didn't have much patience, with anyone.

Quickly unfolding a dog-eared map, Mouse tapped his fingers on a section of the yellowed paper that was a little used part of their world.  "See?  Trouble if we don't get it fixed now.  Only burst, first time it's cold."

Hunching forward in the chair, Vincent placed one long finger next to Mouse's, frowning.  "Have you discussed this with Father yet; has he seen your diagrams?

"Not in his Chamber." Mouse scrunched up his shoulders.  "Thought he might be here.  Around somewhere, I guess."

Vincent got to his feet as Mouse snatched the map from under his nose.  "Shall we go and find him then?  Before calling the others this late, I would like to inform Father of the serious nature of this task."

As Vincent settled a work cloak about his shoulders, Mouse followed his best friend out of the room, jabbering on about God knew what.

*

Wincing as His Honor the Mayor, stepped on her toes for the third time in one dance, Catherine wanted to fall to her knees and thank God as the music ended. Wiping his sweating face, the man escorted her back to Joe, who sat at their table grinning at her like a maniacal demon.  The crud. 

"Having fun, Radcliffe."

Nodding her thank yous to His Honor, Catherine settled into the seat next to her mean little buddy.  "One more word and I leave you here to your own devices, Joe.  Did you enjoy watching him try and break my foot?"

"Oh, was that what he was doing?"  Joe broke into a taunting laugh.  "I thought it was some new dance craze!  You know - two steps and nail her toes, two steps and try again …"

She glared over at him.  "Okay!  'Night."  Picking up her purse, Catherine stood over him to deliver the coup de gras.  "If the funding committee leaves any meat on your bones, I'll see you in the morning, Mr. Maxwell."

"Aww, come on, Cathy!  Don't  leave me here with these people, we don't speak the same language!"  Joe looked at her, pleading for mercy; but got none.

"Tough!  Speak Sanskrit for all I care!"  Wriggling her fingers at him, Catherine headed for the coatroom, pulling a claim check from her purse as she walked.  All she wanted to do now was to get back home, change into something less confining, and see Vincent.  That would make everything all right. It always did.

*

This time her luck didn't hold; it had begun to rain steadily and it was close to an hour before the doorman could summon a cab to stop at the curb.

Sinking back into the sagging springs, Catherine decided to go directly Below without changing; it was nearly midnight now.  She peered through the dirt-speckled window of the taxi into the street.  What a mess. Nothing like a downpour to lift the spirits.  Ha!

As the cab thumped and bumped along the pothole laden street, Catherine closed her eyes; biting down on the sudden, nearly overwhelming urge, to scream.  She didn't know exactly why she wanted to scream, but she did want to - and badly. Swiping her hair behind her left ear nervously, she nibbled on her lower lip, knowing precisely why she was miserable.  Two frustrating, lonely weeks, that was why.  How could Vincent do this to her, to both of them?  He knew how terribly she'd miss his company.  Didn't he miss her at all?

Without her being aware of it, a throbbing tension had settled into the curves of her jawline. Had the words he'd said on her terrace that night made him too ashamed to face her?  But they were only words!  Still, she knew that he hadn't meant to speak those words aloud.  Why had he then?  He must have known her first reaction would be to comfort him.  She loved him.

After paying for the ride, Catherine hurried to the doorway of her apartment building, trying to dodge the large raindrops as best she could.

*

Father glanced up from Vincent's bleeding palm as Catherine stepped quickly into the hospital chamber. 

Moving to stand at the physician's elbow, she focused her full attention on Vincent's grim face.  "One of the sentries told me you were here, and that you were injured.  What happened?"

"A small cut, that is all, Catherine.  I.."

"A "small" cut, you say?" Father peered at him over the rims of his glasses.  "You very nearly severed an artery!  Now please, hold still until I suture this, will you?"

"Is that necessary?"  Flinching slightly as the forceps closed over the hunk of wood embedded in his palm, Vincent began to edge his hand from Father's firm grasp.  But a sharp sound of annoyance from the older man forced him to hold still as directed, reconciling himself to being trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Catherine sat on the edge of a hospital cot, watching this scene and trying very hard not to smile at the resigned look on Vincent's face.  All thought of smiling fled quickly as she saw Father coming towards them with a long needle and black suture thread.  She gritted her teeth, wincing; almost feeling it as the doctor lowered the needle to Vincent's still bleeding palm.  Ouch.

Vincent's eyes told a story all their own. He grimaced repeatedly as the needle bit through his skin again and again. There was nothing he could take for the pain, at least nothing that Father dared to give him.  With his genetic makeup and known intolerance to most drugs, even an aspirin could make him deathly ill, or perhaps even kill him.

With a final thorough examination of the hand, Father nodded, satisfied he'd done the best he could with his less-than-docile, fractious patient.  "You must change the dressing and bathe the hand every day for at least five days, Vincent.  Watch for any signs of infection. But I'm sure you know the whole routine by heart - hmmm?"

"Yes, I know.  Thank you."  Taking the small packages of antiseptic from him, Vincent grasped Father by the arm for a moment, as an apology for his previous behavior. Turning, he quickly escorted Catherine from the chamber.

Sighing heavily, the Tunnel elder turned to sterilize the instruments he'd just used, wondering how many more times he'd have to stitch and treat injuries on his son in this fashion?  Dear God, would there never be an end to what Vincent's body must endure?

*

Walking beside him silently, Catherine tried to think of how to begin what she wished to say; how to ask him not to feel so uncomfortable with her.  She understood this shy man so very well, sometimes all too well.  Glancing sideways, she touched him lightly on the arm as they entered the bright cavern of the Triple Falls.  As they sat down at a favored spot, she pleaded quietly, "Talk to me, Vincent."

Resting his back against a large stone, Vincent looked out over the water.  When he spoke at last, the words were short, almost dismissive. "There's nothing to say …"

"I can understand how badly you're suffering; share it with me?  Please, tell me?"

"What would you have me say, Catherine?  I have already said ... too much, as it is.  I had not the right..."

Her voice was almost harsh; he must hear her!  "You had every right.  We don't keep the truth from each other - we never have.  We promised each other that we never would,"  she reminded him, peering directly into his eyes. But as she did, he changed his focus and started to turn slightly away from her probing gaze.

'No!' She thought, 'This time I won't let you do that!' As a surge of emotions gained a temporary upper hand, she reached out to grip him firmly by the chin, wanting to shake him. But she didn't.  "This isn't fair you know.  I share all of my thoughts, both the good and the bad, with you, Vincent.  Why can't you do the same with me?"

"I don't know how to say what I realize should be said, Catherine. And, in truth, those words would only cause you unhappiness, and perhaps even fear."

"Of you? How can you say that; I could never fear you!"  So upset she was trembling, Catherine moved closer, still holding Vincent firmly by the chin.  "If you don't know how to tell me, then it's time that you learned.  What could you say that would make me fear you?  Please tell me?"

"I cannot! I must not!" Leaping to his feet, Vincent swayed for a moment and seemed about to fall.  Drawing breath furiously into his lungs, he spun around to face her.  "Do not ask this of me? Please?"

"I'm not asking..." Managing to grab the edge of his cloak before he could rush from the cavern, Catherine stood quickly. There could be no backing down now, this she knew. She might perhaps, never have this chance again!  "I'm demanding it. I have the right to know!"

Catherine had positioned herself between him and the exit, leaving him nowhere to run but into her arms.

Vincent stood before her stunned at the tone in her voice, the tenacity of her words.  "You ask for words that it's impossible for me to give you!"

With that, Catherine's chin lifted, her expression stubborn, almost tenacious.  "Yet I do ask it of you, Vincent, and I'll keep asking until you either tell me or push me out of the way to avoid me!  Between us, nothing is impossible.  If only you'd believe that."

He stared into Catherine's face for many moments, as though the answers to all of the questions were in her eyes.  They were, but he couldn't see them, for he was too afraid to really look. Yet, some truths had to be faced - and right now.

Taking her hand suddenly, Vincent yanked fiercely, pulling her nearly off her feet as he led her to a winding, narrow path leading down to the rim of the falls. 

Stumbling along beside him, Catherine's heart was pounding, suddenly unsure of herself and of Vincent.  Where was he taking her, and why was he taking her there?  What words could be so terrifying that he had to take her this far into the caverns, to an unknown place? Digging in her heels, she tried to get him to slow down, to get his attention.  But, the look on Vincent's face at this moment was one she didn't know.  She couldn't know it, for he had never allowed her to see it before. 

"Vincent, please slow down?  Vincent!"

Turning to face her so suddenly she fell against him, Vincent spoke softly, his eyes searching hers.  "We must resolve what is unsaid between us, before there is nothing left for either of us." He gestured to the right, then led her into a small, dark chamber.  "There is a place to sit down in the far corner."  He pointed out the one stone bench in this place, then went to a torch hanging from a metal ring on the other side of the room.

Sitting on the cold stone, Catherine watched his every move carefully.  She tried to calm down, knowing she'd need all of her wits about her, as well as every ounce of courage she had now.  Vincent looked terrified and angry.  He looked beautiful.  But, oh dear God, what was he going to say to her?  Why had she forced this confrontation?

Clasping her hands tightly together, she looked up, attempting to show a serenity she certainly didn't feel as he approached.  Trying to encourage him to give voice to his torment with a smile and her eyes, she offered her love silently to this wondrous man she adored.

Her heart began pounding as Vincent hovered over her like a black-cloaked bird of prey.  His expression was grim; never had she seen such a look on his face before.  "You would have the words I thought never to say aloud to you, Catherine?  Be sure, for once said, they can never be taken back again.  I will not take them back. Do you understand?"

Catherine's mouth was so dry, she could only nod her head up and down.

Sitting next to her on the bench, Vincent made certain he didn't touch her or he would never get through these next minutes.  Unconsciously drawing his tongue over his lower lip nervously, he put his head back for a moment, then began to speak as he claimed her eyes with his own.

His eyes were fever bright, they glinted in the grey, half light of the chamber.  "Know first that I love you and have since I met you, Catherine.  And when you said you could love ... me, I had no words for you; no woman had ever said that to me before. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I was ... loved.  That I was no longer alone; that you wanted me.  Do you know what that knowledge did to me; what it meant to me?"

Reaching out slowly, Catherine gently brushed the hair from Vincent's eyes, wanting to see his face, needing to see him as he took a shuddering breath and went on,  "I knew your desire for me as a desert would sense a coming rainstorm, as one starved would crave food to ease his ... hunger."  The last word was spoken sensually, almost as a caress to her body.

Unaware of moving, Vincent reached for her.  When his strong hands tightened on Catherine's arms, he began to tremble.  "You make me want so much - too much, and you have no conception of how painful this is to me.  To want you as I do want you, knowing that I can never have you!" Then, he began shaking her; as though trying to make her understand, to make her see what she must truly see and acknowledge ... him... as he was, and what he was.  "Dear God, how I want you."

As his words ripped through her soul, Catherine felt tears forming at the corners of her eyes.  Tears of joy, tears of redemption, for him as well as for her.

"And I want you in that exact same way. It's true!"  Sobbing, she flung her arms around his neck, breathing in the intoxicating scent of this oh so special being.  "I love you so much!"

A moan of anguish seemed torn from Vincent's  throat as he took her face between the palms of his hands, listening to her heart, not just her words.  It was Catherine's heart he must know now, before it was too late to stop this.  But when he searched her eyes, he knew - it was already too late.

A shiver ran down her spine as Vincent's eyes turned almost brooding.  A sexual, rumbling sound rose unbidden in his breast, claiming him with such an explosive power he was frantic with it.  He pulled her against him with a groan of heightened passion, swollen with need, starved for contact.  Desperate to touch her.

Vincent was claiming her soul, possessing her, marking her as belonging to him.  He crushed her mouth beneath his in a kiss that stole Catherine's breath.  He needed to touch her everywhere at once, not knowing exactly what part of her he was most desperate for.  Everything, he needed everything.

His voice was a sob, a surrendering of his will.  "Oh, my Love, my most precious Love..."

Wrapping her fingers through strands of his hair, Catherine gave herself up to his mouth completely. How long she waited for this.  Dear God, his mouth ... his taste, was a fire in her blood.  She'd never be free of him, never be free of wanting him.  The passion intensified, it would not be denied its own life.  Not now ... not anymore.

Wrenching his lips from hers, Vincent held her at arms length, gulping as he fought to breathe, to focus his thoughts.  His need was devouring him.

Thinking to hold him closer, Catherine struggled to free her arms of the heavy coat she still wore, but couldn't without breaking his hold on her.  Fighting to free herself of it, she looked up, trying to see his eyes in the waning light of the flickering torch.  Then - it happened.  Not realizing she did it as she yanked at the coat, she pulled ... away.

When she did, he wasn't prepared to release his hold on her. There was no time to release her.  With a soft ripping sound, his nails tore the skin on her arms, drawing blood.

As he felt more than heard Catherine's sharp pain-filled intake of breath, Vincent's eyes went wide, staring into hers, horrified. What had he done! He shrank away from her then.  Holding his hands out, he glared at them, crying out in a wail of revulsion and shame.  "No ... No!"

Trying to calm him, Catherine reached out to hold him again, but Vincent twisted away from her, covering his face with his hands; those hideous, clawed hands he wanted to rip free of his body, forever. Before she could stop him, he leapt to his feet, his eyes haunted, black with pain and fear. 

At the entrance to the cavern, the words choked him as Vincent cast one more glance back to the woman he loved and had now scarred.  "Forgive ... me?"  Fading into the shadows, he  was gone.

*

Stumbling down the corridor, half blinded by tears, Vincent fell to his knees, moaning.  He rocked back and forth, his hands crossed over his stomach as he began to retch violently. His worst fear, his darkest nightmare, had become reality; he had hurt Catherine! 

Fighting off the vision of her pain that flared up hot and red behind his eyes, his head snapped to the left, then to the right. A scream of horror was torn from him as he smashed his head on the stone wall behind him, tortured, nearly crazed with grief.  Oh God, dear God, why?  Why? Vincent stared down at his hands, cursing them with his eyes.  The word rose like a specter; grasping at him, taking his sanity as it pierced the stone walls.  "Why!"

Suddenly, he sensed that Catherine was making her way up from the triple Falls.  'Oh no,' he thought frantically,  lurching to his feet, 'She mustn't see me like this! Not now, not now!'

Unsure of what to do, or where to go to hide his shame from her eyes, Vincent took a turn in the path he rarely traveled, which would lead him to Narcissa's distant chamber.

*

Catherine heard Vincent's bellows of rage and fury just as she gained the path leading down the corridor to his chamber.  Oh God, such anger, such pain!  'Vincent don't!  Don't do this to yourself.  Don't do this to us!'

Stopping in confusion at the entrance to his chamber, she could see that he hadn't returned. But where had he gone then?  Standing in the corridor with tears streaming from her eyes, Catherine tried to think clearly, whispering hopefully,  "Vincent, come back... please come back?"

*

Father looked up from his journal as Catherine started down the few steps.  "Father, have you seen Vincent?"

"No, Catherine."  His eyes went wide.  "So, that was him I heard."  He pointed a pen in her direction, his voice angry, harsh.  "What's happened? Tell me!"

"Nothing ... happened.  We … we had a disagreement, that's all.  I must find him!"  She stood in the doorway, uncertain where to go, what to do next.  "Father, may I ask you a question?"

His look still frozen, the Tunnel elder nodded abruptly.

Catherine took a deep breath.  "When Vincent wants to avoid … people or be alone, where would he go?"

The man sighed wearily.  "There are several different places, Catherine.  If he doesn't want you to find him, you will not find him.  That's all I can say."

She shot him a knowing look.  "Don't you mean that's all you want to say?"

"Have it your own way."  Realizing there was something that had to be said and it had to be said now, Father got to his feet.  "I've told Vincent this, and now I'm telling you. This relationship with my son will bring pain and great sadness to both of you.  I know it, I feel it!  It must end!"

"That's not for you to say." Catherine's chin rose defiantly.  "And it's not your choice to make, it's Vincent's and mine!" With a very strange look in her eyes, she started down the steps towards Father slowly, her voice rigid with fury, barely controlled.  "How dare you interfere!  What gives you that right?"

"I'm his father!" A hand came slamming down on his desk as Father did a thing rarely done - he lost his temper and he lost it very badly.  "So don't you tell me I'm interfering!  It's you who's the interloper here, Catherine, not I!"

"Interloper!  So that's how you see me, is it?  After more than two years, you still won't let go, will you?  Damn you for doing this; Vincent's terrified that he's hurt me now and I blame the way he feels, what he must be suffering at this moment, on you!"

"Blame whoever or whatever pleases you or assuages your own guilty conscience!  But know this..."  He stood over her, his piercing grey eyes locked to hers.  "If you weren't here, none of whatever has happened would ever have come to pass!"

When Catherine seemed to shrink away from him, Father stepped back, appalled at his own rudeness with this woman, who he knew loved his son. One hand went out to touch her forearm as he attempted to make her understand.  "I know you care for him, but your life, your world - is Above!  Vincent cannot be a part of that world, even for you.  And in trying to coexist with you, between his world and your own, he is driving himself to the breaking point.  I've seen it coming for some time now.  Or perhaps he's already reached far beyond that point this night?"

With a sudden cry of anguish, Catherine threw herself into a chair near Father's desk, sobbing as he'd never thought to hear this strong woman do.

Standing behind her for a moment, the elderly man then moved to sit behind his desk and rested his forehead on the palms of his trembling hands. He had no words for her right now by way of comfort.  There was truly nothing else to be said, was there?

*From the small, dank cave he had taken refuge in, Vincent leapt to his feet suddenly, his head tilting to one side.  Catherine?  Who was with her, who was upsetting her almost as badly as he had earlier?  He could feel such anger, such sadness emanating through the Bond, and in an instant he knew it wasn't because of him.

A low, distinctive snarl was wrenched from his lips, and his eyes went wide as he listened to the far-too-rapid beating of Catherine's heart.  Then, he knew. Father and Catherine. Whatever was happening, it was between the two people he loved the most in the world.  His eyes narrowing angrily, he ran from the cave.  'No, this must not happen!'

*

Finally quieting down, Catherine rose to her feet as Father handed her a clean linen handkerchief.  "I'm sorry for the way I spoke to you, Catherine, but not for what I said.  Do you understand?"

"Yes, I do.  Perhaps better than you think, Father."  She leveled glistening eyes at him, and then blew her nose quite audibly.  "You don't want Vincent hurt.  Well, neither do I.  Do you think the life he's living doesn't bring him pain?  To want to be a man and think he can't be one. Could you live like that, could any man?"

"I do, from choice.  Vincent ... must.  I..."

Interrupting him, Catherine pulled out all the stops.  "Yes, you've made choices, haven't you?  Yet, you won't allow your son to make those same choices for himself!  He's not a child anymore!  Let him go? Like you, Vincent must be free to choose!  Let him do it!"

"And if those choices bring more pain, what then?  Do you think he could survive it if he hurt you? Do you?  It would be the end of him.  And it would be the end of me."  Father sighed, drawing one hand over his eyes.  "It could also be the end of your very life."

"No, Father.  Don't you see, can't you understand?  He would never, ever, hurt me. I believe that with my whole heart and soul."

"Would you risk your life to find out if what you believe is true?"

"Yes, for without Vincent, there is no life for me.  Without him, there's nothing for me!"  As she began crying again, Catherine took the steps two at a time, leaving Father with one hand outstretched towards her retreating form.

*

At the ladder leading back to her apartment, Catherine put one hand shakily to the tunnel wall and took several deep slow breaths.  Whew, that had been rough!  Well, wherever Vincent was, she was certain he'd felt the power of her anger and her sadness as she argued with poor Father.  He'd never believe that he'd helped her just now, but he had! For what better way to bring him back to her than for Vincent to think she and his parent were at war? 

Hoping desperately that her hastily devised plan would work, she started to climb the metal ladder leading to the basement of her apartment. She had a feeling she'd be getting a visitor before this night was over.

*

"Where is Catherine!" 

Father jumped as Vincent's booming voice filled the chamber, echoing off of the walls and bookcases. The reverberations actually hurt his ears.  "She ... left a bit earlier.  Vincent, stay and talk? I..."  The remainder of the words died in his throat as he saw the look of anger his son afforded him.

"What did you do to her?  What did you say to her that upset her so badly, she cried?  Tell me!"  Vincent approached the desk with deliberate slow steps. His hands were clenched into fists at his sides, his entire body rigid with barely controlled rage.  "Father, what have you done?"

"We had a disagreement, over you, if you must know.  I told her the same things I've been telling you these long months, your relationship..." He got no further. 

 "You hadn't the right to tell Catherine anything!  Outraged, Vincent picked up a book and then slammed it back down on the desk.  "I never gave you permission to make my decisions for me, did I?  Did I?  You shan't make them for me now - only I can do that!"

Father looked at him with obvious surprise and shock widening his eyes. Such displays of anger was usually reserved for other people, not for him.  "How can you speak to me in that tone of voice? I'm merely trying to tell you…"

Infuriated beyond thought, or further words, Vincent turned on his heel and tore from the room, no longer listening, for his focus was elsewhere. His heart was in pain and he had to go to it.  It was with Catherine.

*

Carefully waiting for a second rap at the French door, Catherine opened them slowly, not bothering this time to even put on her robe.  Her white and silver lace nightgown trapped and reflected the moonlight above Vincent's tawny head as he stood over her, his face taut with concern and love.

"Are you all right?"  He longed to reach for her, to hold her, touch her, but he didn't dare.

Forcing her voice to remain calm and misleading, she turned away from him.  "No, I'm not all right, but I will be.  Don't concern yourself with me, Vincent."  She turned back to him face him, her eyes filling with tears.  "After all, I'm nothing to you."

"Catherine, how can you say that?  Don't you know I…"  Without warning, he reached out and gripped her bare arms tightly, shaking her slightly without knowing he did it.  "I love you!  How can you say you are nothing to me?  Never say such a thing again?  Never!"

Slowly this time, she pulled away from him.  "Let me go.  Return to your world, Vincent. There's nothing here for you.  Every time we have a ... setback, you run away from me instead of talking it out.  I can't deal with that anymore, I don't want to deal with it anymore!  Until you can talk to me when you're worried or upset, there is nothing more I can say to you."

"Catherine..."

"No." She looked up at him sadly, as if her heart were breaking.  "Go home, Vincent.  Go back to Father. You believe him, not me."

After studying her as though thinking she'd surely lost her mind, Vincent blinked rapidly and then took a halting few steps backward. Turning, he glanced up at the clear night-sky, searching his heart for her warmth. But Catherine had somehow blocked herself off from their connection.  Where he usually could feel her heart and her love, there was only a single heartbeat now - his own.  And that hurt more deeply than anything he had ever felt before.

"I cannot leave you like this." He slowly turned to look at her, his features tight and drawn, his eyes wide with fear. "Please don't ask me to... leave?"

Peering up at him, Catherine felt her strength deserting her and fought to hold off the urge, the almost overpowering desire, to fling herself into his arms.  "Oh?  You can't leave me like this?  You have before, so why not now?  Earlier tonight, you left me alone in a strange place, didn't you?"

A look of confusion mingled with one of dismay washed over Vincent's face.  "Yes, but I thought ... I hoped you..." Defeated, he sank to the wrought iron loveseat.  "It's true, I did leave you there, all alone."

"And you promised never to hurt me, didn't you?"  Her voice was soft, tender, but the words cut him to the quick.

"Yes. But I didn't mean to; you must know that I didn't mean to."  He looked down at his hands, his voice choked and filled with pain.  "My nails..."

"No, not your nails or your hands.  It wasn't your hands that hurt me, Vincent.  It was you leaving that brought me pain." Sitting down next to him, Catherine took his hands into her own, clinging tightly to  them with all of her strength.  "Leaving me alone there, instead of talking about what happened, and your ...distress... because of it. That is what hurt me. Don't you understand?  When you shut me out like that, you leave me nothing; you leave us nothing."

Vincent took a long, shuddering breath, and then focused all of his attention on her.  "Father told me that you and he exchanged angry words. What did he say to you?  Please tell me?"

"You know what he said; that we mustn't see each other; that there will only be pain if we continue as we have been."  Releasing his hands, Catherine shrugged her shoulders.  "Perhaps he's right..."

"He is not right!"

"I'm not so sure."  It was time to put her quickly conceived plan into action now, God help her!  "After all, he's your Father; he only wants what's best for you."

"Yes, I know," Vincent acknowledged, sighing. "But because he says a thing does not always make him right, Catherine.  I ... I told him tonight that he won't make decisions for me, or for those who concern me; not anymore.  Only I can do that."

"And when you make decisions, who do they concern, just you?"

"No, of course not. They concern both of us."

Now, she began pulling out all the heavy artillery.  "You don't speak for me!  And I don't have to abide by anything you say, if I don't choose to!"

"That's not what..." Taken aback by her obvious anger, Vincent hesitated. "I only..."

Reaching out, she gripped him firmly by the chin.  "So, if I decide to kiss you and you decide that I can't, what then, huh?"  Catherine leaned forward, her lips parted slightly. Then she began kissing his face gently, from his chin to his brow, over to his right ear and then to his left. 

As she did, he trembled from head to toe, but made no move to stop her.  He couldn't stop her - he didn't want to. It felt so good.  So right. With a moan, Vincent wrapped his arms around her.  Pulling her towards him quickly, hungrily, he didn't fight his rising passion; he simply couldn't. She must get closer.  He wanted her nearer; wanted to absorb her into his body. He wanted all that he'd denied himself, and her, for far too long. 

"Catherine, my Love, my dearest Love…" Burying his face against her neck, he spoke the words of his heart.  "Before, when I held you, I made you bleed and brought you...pain. Do you know what it did to me, to hurt...you?"

"Kiss it and make the pain go away then, Dearest."  Offering him her bare arm, she gestured to the two tiny scratches.  "It's not too bad, really it isn't.  Kissing it will make it better."

He looked at her hard for a moment, then he suddenly knew what she was actually telling him. It had been an accident, that's all, and accidents would happen.  An accident that he could fix with a kiss.  A hard core of pain began to dissolve around his heart as Vincent leaned forward, gently drawing his rough tongue over her cool, pale skin. 

And in that moment, they both felt the … burden ... lift, and an overwhelming sense of joy burst from two hearts that now truly beat as one.

"Was that...all right?"  Vincent pulled back, breathing heavily as a surge of desire clamped down, making him feel a bit faint.  He sensed her need of him, as he finally allowed himself to feel his own need, for her; one that transcended fear or denial.  A need rose in Catherine that only he could fulfill, that he must fulfill.

"Yes, it's all better." Catherine's voice was soft, so filled with love that it was demolishing his will.  And he let it.

"I... I sense no pain in you now.  Yet other emotions are filling you; I feel all of them."  Vincent's face was deeply flushed, glowing under the moon's silvered light.  "I ... want ... you."

Smiling at him, Catherine urged softly, "Then take me."

Lifting her quickly and carefully into his arms, Vincent stood at the French doors, hesitating for a single beat of his heart before entering the apartment, his stride determined.  It was time for them to fulfill the rest of their dream; time to begin living the reality of what those dreams could bring; to share all of themselves with the other.  It was time - to love.

*

Letting Catherine lead him, Vincent lay on the bed trembling, every nerve alive with desire as her soft, moist tongue entered his mouth.  Flicking gently at his tongue until it curled around hers, Catherine felt his hard body twitch, then lengthen beneath her hip. 

A groan was torn from his throat as he closed both hands over her shoulders, stopping her for a moment; fighting the almost overpowering drive that urged him to push into her, to take her quickly.

As he released a tightly held breath, Catherine sat on his thighs, lifting his hands to her breasts.  "Touch me, my Love.  Please touch me?"

Not sure of what to do or how to begin, he put shaking hands at her breasts, rubbing softly with his thumbs over the nubs that hardened as he caressed them.  A half sobbed cry of his name came from Catherine as she began unbuttoning his shirt, desperate to feel his body under her hands.  He couldn't endure this another moment! 

With a sudden, impatient move, Vincent ripped the shirt free of his body, filled with longing, needing her hands all over him; nearly frantic to have her surround him with all of the sensations he'd fought against for so long.  He needed this woman so badly.  He deserved her.

As she let her fingernails drift over his erect penis, Vincent released a full-throated growl.  Pulling her toward him with his left arm, to close the slight distance separating them, his right hand angled between their bodies.  Taking her mouth with his, he urged Catherine's small hands to move on him again. 

And in that moment, that simple act of trust and love, Vincent found his way.  He became the man he had always been.  He let the passion free.

Clothing disappeared, fears dissolved into nothingness, as Vincent and his Catherine learned what all new lovers learned in time; how to make each other complete, how to share their love fully, without shame, without holding anything back.

Suddenly, she felt him begin to take command of their movements.  Yes, oh yes! Finally!

"Catherine!" With that frantic gasp of her name, he rolled her beneath him.  "I love you, I love you so much…"

She held him at the hips; he held her around the buttocks as he entered her body in slow increments, praying not to hurt her.  There was a flicker of discomfort, but it was soft, briefly felt, and quickly gone.

Looking down into her flushed face, Vincent searched her eyes.  "I hurt you then."

"It's been a long time, that's all.  I'm fine, really I am.  Please, don't stop?"

Feeling the truth of her words, Vincent began moving his body on Catherine's carefully, then without care, and finally without control as his passions took him to a new and shining place.  Never had he imagined in his wildest dreams that there could be such a feeling as being inside of this woman's body as he was now.

Fighting off the urge to finish quickly, Vincent heard her breathing turn ragged; the textures and moist heat of all she was began devouring him and he was lost in it.  He was lost inside of her.  And saved.

When Catherine began to topple over the edge, he allowed himself be drawn over with her.  As she cried out his name, Vincent tightened his hold on her hips, wanting her still for a moment.  Arching his strong back, he instinctively began moving harder against her, pushing himself completely inside, then retreating back to the edge, time and again until she shuddered, and then lay still.

Now, as a sense of wildness vanquished him, he allowed himself to move within her as he needed to.  Fevered, drunk with her scent, greedy to complete this act of consummation, Vincent felt the power of his first release to passion begin. Hungry to share all of what and who he was with the woman he loved beyond life, a rejoicing sob rushed from his lips, to be lost within Catherine's mouth as she kissed him feverishly to the climax of his first total pleasure as a man.

*

Urging her to lay across his chest, Vincent struggled for air as he put one hand to his heart, hoping to ease its rapid thudding against his ribs.

"So..." Leaning on her right elbow, Catherine looked up into his perspiring face and smiled.  "...How are you, you lovely man?"

"I'm... fine." A small chuckle burst from Vincent before he could contain it. Then a look of shy embarrassment edged along his face, deepening the furrows at either side of his mouth.  Peering down at her, he chuckled a second time, admitting, "And I'm exhausted."

With quick, scrambling motions, she edged herself higher on his chest to drop sweet moist kisses on his neck, murmuring,  "Better than a dream?"

Remembering Ellie and Eric's words from so long ago, Vincent smiled.  "Yes, better than any dream, my Catherine.  Better than anything I have ever known before, or shall ever know." Large, muscular hands wrapped carefully around the sides of her face, holding her gaze locked to his; blue eyes on green, awash with love and gratefulness. "It would seem that our two worlds collided a few moments ago."

She giggled.  "Yes, I think you're right.  "Wasn't the explosion absolutely wonderful?"

"Oh yes, most definately." Moving his left hand, he caressed her mouth lightly with the pad of his thumb, observing softly,  "And now the only world that remains is the one we'll make together, from this time, from this moment, to last the rest of our lives.  We shall fit the pieces of those two worlds into one we can live in together, as it should be."

"Are you asking me or telling me?"  Catherine teased him gently, loving the expression on his face, and the sated look in his eyes just now.

"I'm telling you, Catherine," Vincent replied, his voice was deeper than she'd ever heard it before. 

"Oh." Arching an eyebrow in his direction, she smiled. "Okay." A sudden throbbing along her belly announced that he was only temporarily sated, at best.

Nuzzling his nose into her hair, he fought to stifle the laughter, but it exploded into the room between them.  "Ah, my Love, what a life we shall have!" Making her body tingle all over, long slender fingers edged along her spine.

"It will be... interesting," she agreed. Shivering under his light stroking, Catherine found herself wondering if the merest touch of his hand would always affect her in this way? After thinking it over for a moment, she decided that it probably would.

And when Vincent took a deep breath and asked the question,  it wasn't really a question - not the way he said it.  "You shall marry me, Catherine Chandler."

There was no hesitation as a voice filled with delighted surprise told him all that he'd ever need to know.  Nearly strangling him, Catherine flung both arms around his neck.  "Yes!"

Just as he rose over her once again, like a golden god from the sea, Catherine smiled to herself, thinking, 'Thank you Father, for the fight earlier. It was just as I planned it!  It was just what I needed, you see.  Your anger and my tears brought Vincent back to me, and this time he took my side. One day, maybe I'll tell both of you exactly how devious women can be when they want something badly enough.  Then again, maybe I won't!'

In that wondrous moment, time for coherent thought vanished as a unique mouth of amber velvet claimed one of petal pink, tender kisses both given and received.  Gentle hands played over different textures of skin -  different yet so in tune with the one they loved, as they took each other to the dizzying heights of new passion once again.

Two sad and lonely worlds collided, meshing fully into the wondrous dawning of a new and brighter one, as Vincent and Catherine at last fulfilled their destinies.

*************************************************

"Dream along with me, for the best is yet to be!"