And So It Goes
By Pat King
Vincent moved easily through the dimly lit passageway. Finally reaching his chamber, he breathed a sigh of relief as he lowered himself onto the wide bed, the light through the stained-glass casting an amber glow to the room. His blue eyes closed as he allowed the peace of this, his personal space, to wash over him, trying to ease the tense muscles of his neck and shoulders.
The council meeting had gone on forever; and, in the end, no decision had been reached. Each side was convinced that its view was the correct one, neither willing to give an inch; and Vincent, as head of the council, had finally tabled the issue, allowing all of the members more time to study the pros and cons.
'Lord, how did Father manage it all of those years?' Vincent ran his fingers through his long, golden hair and sighed in frustration. Since taking over the running of the tunnel community, he had gained a much greater appreciation of his father and the understanding, intelligence and patience required to manage so diverse a group. His years as a member of the council had not truly prepared him for the vast responsibility, a responsibility which was thrust upon him with the sudden death of the tunnel patriarch.
'Now I'm Father,' he thought, remembering the first time the honorary term had been used regarding him and how panicked he'd been by the weight that designation seemed to carry. That he should be expected to have the wisdom of his pater worried him. But, being his father's son and believing in his dream, he had shouldered the mantle and carried on, hiding his insecurities so as to maintain a sense of order among the people.
A sound came from the passage. He opened his eyes to see one of the older girls standing there with a tray.
"You missed supper ... " Her voice was soft, a light blush bloomed on her cheeks.
"That was very nice of you, Margaret. Thank you." He took the tray from her trembling hands to set it on the table. "Would you do me a favor on your way back to the kitchen?" He was amused at her eager nod. "Would you set this lantern down the passageway? I need some time to myself and don't wish to be disturbed."
He cringed and thanked the heavens that the lantern was unlit as she grabbed it, pivoted, and ran unheedingly down the tunnel. 'I must reiterate the need for caution in the tunnels. The children must be reminded that running is not allowed, especially in the inhabited areas of the community.' He paused. 'Oh my God, I'm sounding more like Father every day.' He doubted Margaret would be pleased to be thought of as a child; her crush on him evident from the time she joined the group a year ago.
After eating, he decided to spend the evening relaxing. The pile of work waiting on his desk could wait, a few hours reading for pleasure would allow his brain to rest and be more focused when he eventually turned his attention to tunnel matters. However, none of the books on the shelves seemed to capture his interest until he spied the stack of old journals tucked away on the bottom shelf.
Settling against the mound of mismatched pillows he began to read, an entry here, another there, skimming through the leather-bound books, skipping the more mundane entries, finding comfort in the familiar words.
* * *
Tonight I went Above to walk in the park. However, somehow this evening was different ... a strange 'pulling' at my soul led me to the area near the drive. It was there I found her, the stench of blood filling my senses. She was unconscious, but I could feel her will to live. Knowing that she would die if left unattended, I carried her Below. Father tended her wounds, complaining as Father is wont to do. He is worried for the security of our world, but I know that there is no danger in her ... except perhaps to my peace of mind. Somehow, I sense her within my heart, almost as an echo.
* * *
Her name is Catherine!
* * *
Catherine is healing, physically. She has the will of a fighter, I hope it will be enough. I am reading Great Expectations to her. My voice seems to soothe her ... luckily her eyes are bandaged as my visage would cause great alarm. This connection -- this bond -- that I felt that first evening has strengthened. I can feel her emotions. I know she is frightened -- from the attack, of being in a strange place and of the damage done to her face. Against Father's instructions, I have told her a little of our world, hoping to ease her fears.
A Helper sent down some newspapers, and we know now who she is -- that her father is a rich and important man, that the police have been trying to locate her since her attack. While Catherine sleeps, I have prepared a way for her to return to her world. Oh, these tunnels will be darker when she leaves.
* * *
Catherine has returned to her world, a world apart from mine now and forever.
I felt her distress and went to her. She had removed the bandages and, though there are no mirrors in my chamber, found a headlight reflector to inspect her injuries. Concerned only for her well-being, I carelessly rushed to her, only to have her scream and throw the headlight at me in terror.
Knowing it was time for her to leave, I brought her her clothes. Not wishing to frighten her further, I kept to the shadows. She begged me to tell her it was a dream -- a nightmare -- but alas, that was something I could not do. We talked of my life and how I came to be. I told her that she had the strength to rise above this attack, that I could feel it in her -- this was as close to telling her about the bond as I dared.
Then something happened that filled me with dread ... and excitement. Catherine lowered the hood of my cape to look upon me, really look. My eyes skittered about the chamber, unwilling to see the fear in hers, until I realized that there was no fear, no loathing, from her. A sense of remorse and caring blanketed my heart, and I knew these feelings to be Catherine's.
I walked her to the threshold I had created in the basement of her apartment building. She told me that she would keep the secret of my world, something I already knew. Then ... she hugged me. Oh, the feelings that swelled in me, emotions that I have no right to feel, but how does one curtail his heart?
* * *
Today I nearly went insane. I was teaching the children when Catherine disappeared from my heart ... no sense of her, awake or asleep. Putting Michael in charge, I retired to my chamber. I never knew that the absence of a feeling could bring so much pain. Several hours later the sensation of her returned, completing my life. Oh, how am I to live, having her in my heart but not my life?
She is in pain but rests now.
* * *
I went to her tonight. The need to see her has been building within me these past months so, against Father's wishes, I went to her balcony, meaning to just catch a glimpse of her and leave my copy of Great Expectations, as we never had the occasion to finish the last chapter.
She was happy to see me ... me! Her face has been mended, and she is as beautiful as I always knew she was. Foolish me, of course someone of her position could have the scars removed -- I've been worried about her having to face the world in her former state as I know the cruelty of the world Above for ones less than perfect.
There is no place for me in her world but as I tried to go, she stopped me -- her touch on my arm like heavenly fire. We talked and then finished reading the story.
Oh, my Catherine, I must never see you again, but your image will burn in my memory as surely as you live in my heart.
* * *
I have killed ... and she has seen me. I felt her fear, clutching at my heart, charging through me like a lightning bolt. The beast within me surfaced, rushing to her aid, tearing the evil men apart. I heard her gasp, I felt her fear ... I was happy to have saved her, but, oh, the shame that went through me ... for her to see me like that is unbearable.
No lingering fear, she took my hand -- my bloody hand -- and quickly led me away from that place of carnage -- led me Below to safety. When I walked her home and said 'goodbye' she replied 'for now'.
What miracle has brought her into my life?
* * *
She's met a man. I know that I should rejoice, she deserves a rich, full life ... but it hurts. My heart is breaking. To dream of a life together and know that it can never be.
* * *
Catherine has helped Misha and his friends. Once again her caring has made a positive difference in the world Above. The thugs who attacked the elderly tenants of the building, and tried to kill Catherine, are dead. When Catherine urged me to leave, as the sounds of sirens neared, I could feel caring and worry for me in her heart -- no loathing, no fear.
I left a book of sonnets on her balcony -- I don't know if she will understand. I feel a sadness in her -- I will go to her tonight to see if I might help.
* * *
Samhain - the night when the walls between the worlds grow thin and creatures of the underworld walk the streets. Last night I went Above ... the one night that I can walk the streets in relative safety -- an idea that Father, naturally, disputes.
There was a party for the Irish author Brigit O'Donnell. I needed to see her, to tell her how her words touched my heart, my life. We talked of Ian and their love ... she asked me of my love, knowing that something in her words echoed traces of my life.
Once again violence touched ones I care about -- luckily I was able to protect Catherine and Brigit without killing. Brigit told each of us that we must take the time we are given, be it a lifetime, three hundred days, or a single night.
Catherine and I walked the streets of this glorious city -- seeing the sites, riding in a horsedrawn carriage, being together. Everything was new, everything was beautiful. We sat on a bench and watched the sun rise above the bridge. The moment was so alive, and I almost kissed her, stopped only by a passing jogger whose alarm reminded me who and what I am.
Loving her and not having her is painful -- but as Brigit said, 'tis such a sweet pain.'
* * *
Catherine has been offered a job in Providence. She doesn't want to leave me but I have convinced her that she must do this, for both of us. How will I survive? She will be so far away, and I won't be able to protect her ... I won't be able to see her, hear her, that is even more devastating.
* * *
Catherine is staying and I'm alive ... two miracles. I'm regaining my strength after being captured by Dr. Hughes and his assistant. The incident reiterates the dangers for me that Father has always dwelt upon. To be drugged, experimented upon and kept in a cage -- I wanted to die. Catherine saved me, physically and emotionally. Her visits help me regain my strength.
* * *
Father has disappeared. Something in a newspaper clipping made him go Above, and he has not returned. I have gone to Catherine for assistance, she will be able to search where I cannot.
* * *
His name is Jacob Wells. I have always known that Father was a man of high principles and learning of his past has confirmed that point. And I now more clearly understand his distrust of those Above ... to be vilified for telling the truth, for caring about one's fellow man ... to have lost not only your work but the woman you love. I feel guilty for invading his privacy, for reading his most personal papers, but I needed to learn more of his background to help him now.
* * *
Father is home safely, thanks to Catherine. Margaret spent the last few days of her life Below, with Father. He is grieving now, but at least he had those days, those memories. In my heart I envy him that time ... a time that Catherine and I will never share.
* * *
Catherine loves me! Oh how my heart sings. Father and I were trapped in a cave-in in the maze. I could feel her near, could feel her concern ... I don't know how she knew, but she knew ... it must have been the bond.
Through the stone I could hear drilling and knew that our friends were working to save us, but time was running out. Then I felt her fear. An explosion rocked the cave, and we were free. Father is resting comfortably in his chamber ... it will take more than a knock on the head to keep him down.
When I told Catherine that her courage had saved us, she told me that it wasn't courage, it was love.
Vincent paused in his reading. He stood to stretch the muscles in his back and shoulders, then went to the brazier to make a cup of tea before returning to the journals.
Christmas. The children sang carols, Father read several stories, William prepared a delicious meal ... all's right with the world, almost. Catherine is Above with her father. I can feel her joy, which gives me joy ... joy mixed with pain at not being with her.
I left a gift on her balcony -- a flower, a poem -- little things but I wanted her to know I'm thinking of her during this holiday season. As if I could ever not think of her. When I returned to my chamber this evening, I found a gift from her on my table -- I suspect a little, spectacled elf down here assisted Catherine with her surprise. Carefully opening the silver paper, I found a box of chocolates. Someone has mentioned my penchant for the confection.
* * *
Tonight was Winterfest. Once again we recognize our Helpers and show our appreciation for their continued assistance. The party was lively, as usual, but my heart was not in it. Perhaps next year I will invite Catherine ... but who knows what a year will bring.
* * *
A year ago tonight, she came into my life.
How remarkable she is to remember such a dark and painful time with dancing light. The candles flickered about the balcony -- a celebration on a night she should be remembering with dread -- celebrating because it was the night that we found each other. I had a gift for her -- a crystal from the deepest chamber, from the mystical crystal cavern of Narcissa's wild tales. Mouse came to my aid, polishing it and hanging it on a gold chain ... a piece of my world to keep with her always.
Around my neck I wear a gift from her, an ivory rose. It had been given to Catherine as a child by her mother, to help her when afraid of the dark ... her mother told her to hold the rose and remember she was loved. Catherine said she'd forgotten what it was like to have someone in her life who cared about her and was watching out for her ... until me. I clutch the leather pouch, holding the delicate flower, and the warmth of her caring washes over me.
* * *
Devin has returned ... my brother is not dead! It is wonderful for me to have him home, even after 20 years. I have missed him so much. He and Father continue to irritate each other -- Father was always harder on him than any of the children.
Catherine says Devin is irresponsible ... perhaps. When younger, he was the only one irresponsible enough to dream dreams that included me. I believe that Devin has never really grown up, just gotten older.
He is masquerading as an attorney where Catherine works. She's afraid that his pretense will allow an evil man, one who molested small girls, to go free. I can't believe he would do that ... that he would allow his charade to cause harm. He may be a rogue, but he is not bad.
* * *
Devin is Father's natural son. The truth is difficult. All of those years when he was so hard on him, and doted on me! They have reconciled, and now I must relinquish the guilt I feel for depriving Devin of his true father. That he doesn't hate me is a testament to the love we had/have for one another.
He is gone again, but I believe now he will come back. He knows that this is 'home' and that people care about him here, a port in life's stormy seas.
I was correct -- his work in Catherine's office was adequate to keep the guilty man in prison.
* * *
So many things have happened. Catherine was taken by Paracelsus to lure me to my death. By removing me, he hoped to gain control over the world Below. Catherine suppressed her fears, not wanting to lead me into danger, but how could I not go? A strange tapping on the pipes led me to Paracelsus' domain. Knowing the dangers, I prepared to venture forth alone, but Pascal and Winslow insisted on accompanying me on my quest. I finally acquiesced on the condition that should the trek become dangerous they would return and let me continue alone. Jamie wanted to join our group, but that responsibility I could not -- would not -- accept.
At the beginning of our journey, we encountered Narcissa in her isolated world, and she warned us of what lay ahead, urging us to return to the safety of our world. I had to continue -- I had to find Catherine. She did advise us that Paracelsus has his own minions, those she called the 'simple ones.'
When we stopped for the night, Winslow told me his reason for coming on this journey -- he had never had a love such as the one between Catherine and myself, but he recognized it for what it was and believed in its truth ... he made this journey for love.
The next day the pipe ended by a river, a river clouded by mists. As we decided what course to take, we were attacked by a giant of a man -- one of Paracelsus' followers. Even my strength was surpassed by the brute, and in the ensuing fight Winslow was killed. Pascal would have been murdered too if not for Jamie -- she had followed, unbeknownst to us, and her marksmanship saved Pascal and myself. The giant disappeared into the mist but I knew that the way from that place was too dangerous for my friends. After burying Winslow, I sent Jamie and Pascal back to tell Father and the others what had happened there. Although it was his choice, Winslow's death was on my hands -- I would have no other friend's death on my conscience.
After traveling further and deeper, I finally came to the bowels of hell -- the place that Paracelsus called home. He taunted me, telling me lies, but I remembered Father's admonition to remember here's a truth beyond knowledge, and the lies had no effect. Catherine was tied to a wall and the giant from the lake lit the brush around her. I struggled with the man and would have been defeated if not for Catherine's fear -- a fear that called the 'beast' from within and allowed me to win the battle. I saved Catherine, but once again Paracelsus escaped.
Catherine is safe now. Our world is dealing with the death of one of our family ... and I am dealing with the death of a dear friend. I felt responsible for his death, Catherine felt responsible for his death, but we've both been convinced that the blame lays with Paracelsus ... he is the one truly responsible. I have made Catherine promise to never block the bond from me again.
* * *
Elliott Burch has touched my life again. The same man who brought me such pain when he first appeared and then, indirectly, saved my life has now nearly destroyed our world. His latest dream would have caused the end of ours. The immense tower he designed required deep supports, and the blasting was destroying the tunnels.
Knowing this world was the only one in which I could live safely, Catherine agreed to marry Elliott on the condition that he stop the building. The anguish this caused me was almost more than I could bear ... the only salvation being Elliott's refusal. How could a building mean more to him than Catherine? This is beyond my comprehension ... but I thank God it is true.
Using the law, Catherine has stopped the building anyway ... our world is safe, for now ... and so is my heart.
* * *
Catherine is so unhappy, it breaks my heart. The anniversary of her mother's death has affected her strongly. I wish I could ease her sadness, but I'm afraid that our love is part of the problem. Our love is keeping her from having the normal, happy life she deserves ... one with a husband and children. I believe it's time for our dream to end, for us to awake and continue on. Oh, my Catherine, how will I live without you?
* * *
She has returned to me. She begged me to forgive her for doubting -- that what we have is worth everything. Doesn't she know I can forgive her anything? I can breath again.
* * *
Catherine and I dared to dream, and I let her down. There's a special location from her youth, a glen in Connecticut where her family spent time, that she wished to share with me. The plans she discussed sounded so rational -- a short van ride to the summer home, far enough away from others to be safe. Just a few days to be together, to share her memories, to walk in the sunshine. My heart soared with hers until Father and the others reminded me that my duty is here. I don't know if they are worried about me being Above and being caught, or that the tunnels will be unprotected. Either way, I realize that I am chained to these tunnels. Catherine's disappointment was acute. She gives so much to me and I couldn't even fulfill this wish.
As her pain assailed me, I felt as if everyone would be better off if I'd never been born. I don't know if I dreamed or had a true-vision, but a spirit showed me how everyone's life would have been different without me: Father homeless, drunk, with no purpose in his life; Paracelsus ruling the tunnels with violence and fear; Mouse alone and afraid; and Catherine a shadow of the person she really is. I find it hard to believe that my existence, especially as a child, could have that profound an affect, but if any one change was due to me, then perhaps my life has been worthwhile. As I awoke from my dream, Catherine was there -- did she kiss me as I slept? I dare to hope. She apologized for causing me pain by dreaming unrealistic dreams. She apologized to me -- when I was the one who hurt her!
* * *
The candle guttered as it burned low, drawing his attention from the page. Vincent set the book aside. He replaced the nearly spent candle with a fresh one, putting the stub in the recycling box on his desk. Settling back with a replenished mug of tea and a roll from the dinner tray, he continued his reading.
* * *
Ellie is gone, and it's my fault. If I hadn't brought Dimitri Below no one would have gotten ill, and she wouldn't have died. That sweet, beautiful soul is gone forever. Will she forgive me? Can I?
* * *
Winterfest ... and Catherine was at my side.
Paracelsus' darkness nearly overcame us this year ... Lou is dead, Narcissa is badly burned, William is injured and many more were nearly killed by his evilness. Catherine unmasked the plot and saved us ... my beautiful, wonderful Catherine.
When we arrived at the Great Hall and I offered to lead her through the darkness, she told me there was no darkness when I am with her. I know that she is the light of my life, the gentle glow that warms and guides me ... but to hear her speak these words, in front of Father and my friends, what joy.
During the evening I watched the dancers, swaying in each others' arms, and longed to have Catherine in mine, moving to the music. But I dared not ... what would she think? What would the others think? Then, she asked if I danced, her desire as strong as mine. Before I could respond Pascal came to inform us of the strange, faint tapping on the pipes that turned out to be Narcissa, burned and broken.
Later, much later, after everyone else was gone, Catherine and I finally danced -- to the music that only we could hear -- the music in our hearts.
* * *
Michael has gone Above to college, and I nearly allowed my jealously to ruin my relationship with Catherine. I knew going back to the world Above was going to be difficult for him. That world hurt him badly before he came to us. I felt Catherine could help guide him back into that world, her loving heart helping to ease the pain. Her kindness for him was returned as love, just as my kindness to Lena had been. I felt him kiss her, it wounded my heart. I should rejoice to have someone as fine as Michael love Catherine, it is what she deserves -- a life full of love without limits. But my jealousy couldn't allow that rejoicing. I didn't want Catherine to see these ugly feelings in me, but she wouldn't leave me alone. She told me that she understood my feelings, that she felt the same way about the people in my daily life -- jealous that they have my attention when she cannot.
Then, she told me not to be afraid to want love, affection, for myself ... that I deserved everything. What did I do to deserve her? How can she love me so? Every time she tries to get close, I push her away. Does she know that what I truly want is to take her unto myself and never let her go? If she were to ever find out what happened in the past, she would know what this can never be ... she would share my fears.
* * *
Catherine's father died today. He'd had a stroke and has been in a coma. Catherine was at his side as much as possible but she doesn't know if he was aware of her presence. Part of her distress was that he was unaware of me ... of us. Last night I met her in his hospital room where she told him that she's not alone ... that there's been someone in her life for many months ... someone she couldn't share with him. I told her father that I would always watch over and care for Catherine.
I feel her pain, her despair. I send her my love and strength through our bond. Oh, that I could be physically by her side to lend my support.
* * *
Catherine has come Below. She says she wants to stay here ... with me ... as there is nothing left for her Above. I must steel my heart against hope knowing this is just her grief speaking. I will help her through this time, but she has a life -- a job and friends who care about her -- Above.
* * *
Catherine kissed me. She's faced her grief and now must face her life Above. She asked if we would ever be together ... perhaps, when the time is right, but I daren't hope.
* * *
Lisa has returned, and for the first time since I found Catherine I cannot tell her the truth. The truth I conceal from her is ugly and fills me with shame, a shame I've lived with over half my life. If I were to tell Catherine, she would understand why we can never have a life together. She would be horrified and turn away from me.
* * *
Lisa is gone. I observed her while she was in the tunnels. She has become a flighty, self-absorbed person, more impressed by show than substance. How did she get to be this way? Was it leaving the tunnels? A result of her profession? Or was she always this way, and I was too young and infatuated to know? To think at one time I thought I loved her. Now that Catherine is in my life, showing me what true love is, that thought is unimaginable.
I've told Catherine the whole ugly story of my experience with Lisa. My heart was breaking, but I needed her to understand the truth about me ... what I am. I cried as I told her that these hands of mine were not meant to show love -- only to be instruments of pain and destruction. She took my hands in hers, kissed them and rubbed her cheek across their furry backs. She told me that these were her hands and that they were beautiful. She tried to convince me that these hands were capable of love. A part of me wants -- no needs - to believe.
We held each other for the longest time, sitting on her balcony wrapped in my cloak. We talked about what had happened with Lisa -- Catherine's interpretation of the events differs from mine. Where I feel the urges I experienced were bestial in nature and uncontrollable, and the results were entirely my own fault, Catherine feels that this was just a case of teenage hormones run amok, inflamed by Lisa's teasing. Catherine lays no blame on anyone, except perhaps Father for his handling of the situation. Lisa and I were both unprepared for what occurred. Catherine also feels that if Father had not appeared when he did, my rational side would have emerged, and all would have been well. She related similar stories from her own adolescence. My heart wants to believe -- she's given me much to consider.
* * *
Vicious, feral strangers have invaded our tunnels. Overtures of kindness have been rebuffed, and we learned the hard way that coexistence with these fiends is not feasible.
* * *
It is over. Although unvoiced by most, we all knew the outcome of this encounter -- I am the protector of these tunnels, despite Father's protestations, and it was left to me to keep them secure. I begged Catherine to stay Above until it was safe, why didn't she heed my warning? The outcome was the same, but she would not have seen me like that again. It was not quick, it was not clean. My shame engulfs me -- why didn't she stay away? Now she must see why we can never be together -- the beast is too near and with every encounter my control of him is more tenuous. I have sent her away. I will go to the nameless river to be alone -- I need time to regain the fragile balance I have with the beast within.
* * *
Who is Kristopher Gentian? He appears and disappears as if by magic -- one moment there and the next I have no sense of him. The official records say he's dead, and even though Catherine believes it's a hoax, I am more inclined to believe it as true.
* * *
Although she won't admit it, Catherine's certainties have been shaken tonight. After the showing she'd arranged for Kristopher's paintings, she came Below with one tagged for her. The work is of us and is remarkable, although the pose is intimate and possessive, a situation I know cannot be. I was worried at Catherine's response to the pose, but she was entranced by the portrait, amazed that he was able to do such work from only a glimpse of me. She was so entranced she failed to notice an amazing fact -- the oils of the painting are completely dry. This painting was done a long time ago.
At Catherine's request, I will hang the portrait in my chamber. Perhaps she feels if I become accustomed to the painting, some of my fears will subside -- perhaps she is right.
* * *
The second anniversary of our meeting ... once again celebrated by dancing lights, and once again marred by violence. Someone has been watching Catherine, stalking her, and has seen me. Catherine cannot go to the police in this matter, we don't know if this unknown man has pictures of me, of us. I'm staying away at her insistence -- but I am near.
* * *
I nearly lost her tonight -- she died, but I refused to let her go. Breathing life into her lungs, I snatched her from death's jaws. I wrapped her in my cloak and held her close, warming her, giving her my strength and love. Then she said the words, the sweetest words in the world -- "I love you." As sirens approached, I had to leave, staying out of sight, but close by, until I knew she was in safe hands. The hands of the man who terrorized her will never touch her, or anyone, again.
I made my way back to her apartment, hiding in the corner of the balcony until she arrived. Her friends were with her -- Joe and Jenny -- but finally she was alone and ran to my arms. We held each other tightly, needing the security of touch to reassure ourselves as our love washed over us through this bond that joins us.
* * *
We finally celebrated our anniversary. No matter what comes, we will endure.
* * *
Catherine traveled to California, and even there, on that distant shore, I felt her through the bond. I never knew that four days could seem so long. I hope to never experience that again.
* * *
Once again Elliott has entered our lives. He asked a favor of Catherine -- to help him remove a man (his father, we later learned) from the hospital. She was torn, but I owe Elliott my life and felt we must help. She went with Elliott to the docks where he, his father and bodyguards were to leave for his yacht. The helicopter carrying his father exploded, and the rest of the party was attacked by men trying to kill Elliott. He and Catherine escaped by jumping into the river, but later were attacked again. By that time I had arrived. She is safe, but my heart aches -- through our bond I felt Elliott kiss her, something I yearn to do, and there was a moment of response from Catherine.
She led him through the upper tunnels to a safe exit in the park, then she returned to me. We discussed the events of the evening, and she realized that I knew of the kiss. She told me that when Elliott kissed her, she wished it was me. I can breathe again, my heart can resume beating. Why can't I grant her wish? I am terrified of hurting her if my passions are unleashed.
* * *
Catherine has often minimized my self-degradation as a 'beast', saying that everyone has that side of their personality. Mine may be stronger but is only used to protect those I love and those who are too weak to defend themselves. I get no pleasure in the violence which, she says, is more that most 'normal' humans Above. Tonight I witnessed an example of her claims. Two young men killed for no reason other than the thrill of killing. How can anyone find pleasure in hurting someone or something else?
* * *
I told Catherine of the men. They found evidence but, as I cannot testify against them, they were set free. But they would never be free of me. I followed them, determined to be the avenging angel and it nearly cost Catherine her life. I was able to save her, and the men will hurt no one else.
* * *
I've been ill. It's been many months since I last wrote in my journal, unable or unwilling to commit the words to paper, but now I feel strong enough (mentally and physically) to recount what has happened.
The delicate balance I maintain within me -- the man and the beast, each fighting for control -- was dangerously weakened by the many times in the past few months that I've been called upon to kill. Each time the 'beast' is unleashed, it's harder to get him under control. I felt my dark side gaining strength, and it frightened me.
An incident with a reporter, Bernie Spirko, further strained my equilibrium, bringing the beast to the fore. I feared for Catherine, not wanting her to witness the animal that I was becoming. A talk with Father led to discussions of my birth, and the facts I was hearing pushed me over the edge, causing me to attack him savagely. As he lay dying, I discovered that it was actually Paracelsus in disguise, but my mental state was shattered by the thought that I could kill someone as dear to me as Father. Father has since told me he believes Paracelsus was feeding me some type of drug to weaken my resistance, wanting me to become the beast that he (Paracelsus) had always desired.
Much of what happened next has been told to me by others, I have only flashes of memories: needing to tell Catherine something (later I found it to be a poem by Dylan Thomas); visions of my darker side in person taunting me; telling Catherine I loved her; leaving my home to journey deep into the bowels of the Earth so as to protect my friends and family.
I retreated to a cave far below the catacombs where the beast began to emerge, regardless my effort to contain him. I fought the beast, but the beast was me -- if my mind had been clear, perhaps I would have seen there was no way to win this battle. Catherine came to me in that dark and dangerous place, placing herself in grave peril to save me from myself.
We'll never know exactly what happened, but as I rushed her, poised to strike, she called my name. Her voice, her essence, penetrated my confused mind and something within kept me from harming her -- just as she always said would happen. Then, as she explained to me, I collapsed, dragging her with me to the ground. My heart stopped, some part of my being willing to die rather than succumb to the darkness. Catherine would not accept that choice. She kissed me, begging me to return to her, telling me that I couldn't go without her. Just as the time at the lake, this connection we share would not allow us to part and I returned to her as she returned to me.
Instead of the hospital chamber I was returned to my own, at Catherine's insistence. My physical wounds were bound. The immediate danger was past, but my soul as well as my body needed to heal. With Catherine at my side I could finally rest. However, even this therapy was marred by terrible nightmares.
The content of those visions is too horrible to contemplate -- within them I recovered from my illness, but the bond was gone; Catherine was taken from me, tortured and killed; I found her, eventually, but she died in my arms after telling me that we had loved in that small cave, producing a son. Even now, the thought of a life without Catherine sends chills through my body. In my dream I had to continue living for the sake of my son -- I don't know if that would be possible in real life. Thank God I don't have to find out.
I awoke from these nightmares to find Catherine alive -- laying beside me, holding me tightly, reassuring me that all was well. The bond was still there, telling me of her love and concern. As she lay sleeping, safe in my arms, I let her scent encompass me, the mingling essences of hair and perfume that are hers alone.
* * *
She is my life, and I love her with all that I am, but I have been afraid to advance my relationship with Catherine, not wanting to doom her to a life of darkness, a life with unending limits.
However, I've learned in the past two and a half years that Catherine has a mind of her own and has developed a stubborn streak. Once, on commenting on this to Cullen, he replied that she must have caught it from me. Stubborn? Me?? Father perhaps, but not me.
Regardless -- that stubborn streak has blossomed in full force recently. Since my illness, we've spent quite a lot of time talking, really talking about our feelings, an area previously avoided. She decided that many things in her life had to change.
The first area to change was to reduce the amount of danger she is exposed to. After talking to Joe, she has been taken out of investigations and is working in the trial division, a much safer position. Secondly, she is looking for a new place to live, one with easier access to the tunnels and more privacy for us. Prying eyes have spied us once too many times on her balcony. Thirdly, she is spending more time Below, becoming accustomed to our way of life and sharing in the burden of our existence.
The fourth area of her life that needs to change, she explained to me, is our relationship. She realized during my illness that her life, her destiny is Below rather than Above as I've always said. She can continue to work and have friends Above, but she wants to live Below, with me -- she then explained, to my astonishment, what she means by 'with me'. She isn't rushing me, but she plans to share her life as my partner, mate, wife -- whatever term I prefer, as long as I understand it means sharing my bed! As I sat there in stunned disbelief, that brilliant, understanding woman kissed me softly, then quietly left to let me contemplate what had been said.
* * *
It's been a week since our talk. Catherine has come Below, as usual, but we haven't discussed our relationship again. I believe she's waiting for me to bring up the subject, knowing it will take me a while to come to grips with her assertions. My immediate reaction was terror, a resounding 'NO', but then I began to remember the world of my nightmare, a life without Catherine and knew that I must do anything to prevent that. I've always worried about hurting her in a moment of passion; but, as she pointed out to me, even in the grip of Paracelsus' drugs or of the mental unbalance I endured in that far away cave, I never hurt her -- and I would be more in control of myself in passion than during rage.
Without discussion, however, changes are taking place in our relationship. Catherine has become more openly affectionate, and I have even instigated a kiss when saying goodnight. I tremble though when contemplating making love to her -- can I? Should I? It seems to be what she wants. My fear is still with me.
* * *
Catherine has found a house. It's a charming old townhouse in a quiet neighborhood. There are four stories, not counting the basement and sub-basement (which was easily adapted to a tunnel entrance.) The location to the tunnels was a big priority for her, but she said the selling point was the high-walled back yard which is completely secluded from the neighboring homes. I was taken aback at its size, but Catherine just gave me an enigmatic smile and stated suggestively that she had plans for the extra bedrooms. A warmth suffused my body, and I found myself trembling again, but not in fear.
* * *
I've met some of Catherine's friends. Father was concerned, as usual, but not nearly as upset as I'd imagined. Since my illness he's begun to trust Catherine's judgment more, finally realizing that she would never knowingly endanger me. Last night began Samhain, the night when the walls between the worlds grow thin, and Catherine had a costume party in her new home. Jenny, Edie, Rita, Joe and the Tuckers came as well as several members of our tunnel family. I finally got to thank Nancy for helping Catherine through her confusion last year. The party lasted til midnight, everyone seeming to have a good time, and no one questioning my appearance. After the guests left we spent the rest of the night wandering the city as we'd done in years past. This time, however, I walked her home -- the house being the safest entry to my world -- and we sat in the garden sipping tea and watching the sun rise.
A sense of calm understanding and acceptance filled me as we sat in the golden light, and I finally knew that all of my fears were foundless. I took Catherine's hand in mine, tenderly kissed it, then gazed into her startled eyes as I asked her to formally join her life to mine. Our ceremony isn't legal in her world, but she would be my wife as far as the world Below is concerned. I watched the tears trickle down her cheeks, silver glistening paths on ivory skin. Her heart told me her answer before the words left her lips. Her joy echoed mine, merging and expanding within the bond, it's intensity almost painful.
We came Below and broke the news to Father before breakfast, wanting to get that confrontation behind us before telling the others. Of course, we assumed the entire tunnel world would learn of our plans by Father's loud objections. Once again, Father surprised me -- there was no ranting and raving, no dire predictions or warnings, just a smile and his blessing.
* * *
I don't know if I'll survive this joining celebration. It was decided that Winterfest would be the perfect time and preparations have been quite frenzied. My only duties for the ceremony seem to be writing my vows and being in the Great Hall at the appointed time.
Catherine is dividing her time between her house Above and the guest chamber. I know she expected our relationship to change once we became engaged, believing I would finally invite her to my bed. I know that is accepted in her world, and does occur even in ours, but there's something deep in me that wants our first time to be as man and wife. When I explained this to Catherine she smiled sweetly, hugged me tightly, and told me how much she loved me. I will always be thankful for this beautiful, understanding woman in my life -- I have trouble believing it, but I am thankful.
* * *
Vincent paused in his reading and reached out to find his bondmate. He felt her joyful response and knew she would soon be home. The warmth remained in his heart as he continued reading.
* * *
All is quiet now, just an occasional tapping on the pipes by a sentry. My body is tired, but my mind is racing. Perhaps putting my thoughts to paper will calm them.
Last night Catherine and I were joined. The Great Hall was more beautiful than ever, flowers and candles filling every space. Peter and Catherine must have emptied every florist in Manhattan of red and white roses, not to mention any other white flower available. There were bows of red and white made by the children and refectory tables full of William's delectable fare.
It was strange to not have Catherine at my side during the candle-lighting, but the women were determined I shouldn't see her until the actual joining ceremony. After the Winterfest rite, Father and I moved to a small dais at the head of the hall. As the sounds of Rachel's harp floated through the air, the gathered throng parted, and I saw her.
My heart stopped -- how could anyone be so beautiful? I couldn't describe her dress if asked, I just know that she was a vision in silvery-white. She seemed to shimmer in the candleglow -- an angel, an apparition, floating toward me until she reached my side, placing her hand in mine, assuring me of her reality. The rest is a blur -- the vows, placing the ring I designed (so carefully crafted by dear Mouse) on her finger, Father's blessing. The one part I remember vividly was kissing my Catherine in front of our gathered friends. She, knowing of my reticence at public displays of affection, had said the kiss could be omitted, but I wanted everyone to see an example of my love. I held her in my arms, relishing the feel of her lips on mine, knowing she was truly a part of my life forever and never wanting to stop. Father's chuckling cough finally reminded me of where I was, and I reluctantly parted from my bride. Embarrassed at what our friends might think, I was surprised by the cheering approval which burst forth.
Catherine and I danced together, a recreation of our first waltz a year ago. Even though the musicians were playing, now as then we were dancing to the music of our hearts. Afterwards we changed partners. I know we couldn't have danced with everyone present, but my feet will beg to differ. With the exception of a bite of cake, we didn't even have a chance to eat.
Dear Mary saw what was happening and took charge. She instigated a game for the children, which removed the attention from us. As everyone was watching the antics of the youngsters, she helped us make our get-away, handing me a basket of food and drink to take with us. As quickly as we could, on dance-weary feet and legs, we returned to my -- no our -- chamber.
My wedding gift to Catherine was the addition of a door to the entrance, ensuring us privacy. After sweeping her into my arms and carrying her across the threshold (a wedding custom related to me by Samantha), I closed the door, shutting out the rest of the world. Now was the time we'd both anticipated: me with apprehension and desire, Catherine with just desire.
At her suggestion, I slowly lowered the zipper on the back of her dress and it slipped from her shoulders to pillow in a cloud around her feet. My breath caught at the sight of her standing there, a lacy little undergarment covering her body, it's sheer material enticing rather than hiding. The outline of her nipples was evident, whether from desire or cold, I knew not. Satiny stockings were held in place by - nothing!
As I tried not to gawk, her fingers were deftly unbuttoning my vest and soon it lay beside the cloud of white. The buckle on my belt proved a challenge, but it too was soon laying on the floor. My hands stilled hers as they began to loose the cravat on my shirt. Despite her assurances, I was still apprehensive. Since my youth, very few people had ever seen me without a shirt, much less totally undressed.
I placed her on the bed and carefully removed her shoes and stockings. I wrapped an afghan around her shoulders to abate the chill then stepped back from the bed and slowly removed my own clothes. There was no sound from the bed as I shed my protective covering and stood in the flickering light with eyes closed, awaiting her reaction. Love and desire washed over me through our bond. I opened my eyes to find her standing before me, smiling lovingly at me as her hand reached out to stroke the hair on my chest. My body trembled as her fingers delved through the furry mat to caress the skin, her nails lightly scratching its surface. She leaned forward, nuzzling her face where her hands had traced, while her hands slid around to cup my buttocks. All apprehension fled as desire filled me, her hips pressed tightly against mine. I swept her into my arms then moved to lay beside her on the wide bed. The last wispy barrier of silk was removed, and we held each other, skin to fur, body to body. Catherine showed me the ways of love, putting into action the things of which I'd read, and my own instinctual reaction surfaced to provide a satisfying experience for both. Our joining was complete, all of my fears were for naught. Though passion ruled, the beast was contained, and Catherine was unhurt by the process.
Now I understand the proliferation of books on love and romance -- each author trying to impart his or her own realization of love: the feelings, sensations, thoughts. It's impossible. How does one accurately describe the sensations as your lover nibbles at your breast, sucking upon the pap? Or you at hers? Or running your tongue along her body, or her on yours? Or delving into the hidden, womanly places of her body: lapping, licking and sucking until her body is racked by the throes of completion as her musky scent fills your nostrils? Or when she takes your throbbing manhood into her mouth, the wet warmth surrounding the hot, aching flesh? Or that moment when you join and her body surrounds yours, clutching in anticipation, the friction of motion sending waves of pleasure throughout your body, intensifying until you climax in one earth-shattering explosion and your hot seed fills her womb. Words are inadequate -- these are things which can only be experienced, and everyone's version is unique. And experience them we did, several times. I find I can't get enough of Catherine, and the feeling seems to be reciprocated so I'm not concerned at my need.
I must try to sleep now, the morning will be here soon. Catherine commented last night that she plans for us to spend the day in bed. I believe I shall need all of my strength.
I'm glad we have a door.
* * *
How did I live before Catherine? Having known the magic of making love, how did she put up with me for all of the time I kept her at arm's length? She says that nothing in her experience compares to what we share, and if she'd known how wonderful it was, she would've pressed the issue sooner. (She said that with a leer on her face.) We've been together two months and my need for her is still insatiable. Instead of exhausting me, it seems to give me strength, which is good, otherwise I'd be of no use to anyone.
* * *
Catherine is ill. She says it's nothing and tries to hide it from me, but I feel what she feels; and right now, I feel ill.
* * *
I was sitting alone, sipping a cup of tea to calm my queasy stomach when Catherine's joy hit me through our bond. How can she be so happy and feel so rotten at the same time? She's coming Below and soon I'll know.
* * *
I'm going to be a father. Catherine is ecstatic, but I'm quietly filled with dread. Is it right to bring another life into this world when there's a chance it might be like me? This thought doesn't bother her, but she doesn't understand the reality of my life. I must deal with my feelings, however, since it is a fait accompli ... she is pregnant, and I would never ask her to terminate the life growing within her.
* * *
Catherine's pregnancy is progressing. She's over the morning sickness (thankfully), and is growing rapidly. Peter and Father say everything is all right, and I must trust them. Paracelsus' lies of my birth (that I tore my way out of my mother's body) haunt me. I've begun to have nightmares in which Catherine is torn apart by my child in its attempt to be born. Why can't I accept these lies for what they are? Perhaps it's just my concern for Catherine that exacerbates these subconscious fears.
* * *
I never realized how grumpy and moody pregnant women can get. Catherine is nearing the end of her term and has taken leave from her job. I understand, probably better than most, how uncomfortable she is, and I try to help her in any way I can, but nothing is right. I think she's even more beautiful than ever, but in her mind she's fat and waddles. One minutes she's angry and the next she's sad ... nothing pleases her. All of my good intentions are taken for 'smothering', irritating her in the process. She can't understand why I'm so worried and want her to take care. According to Father it's the hormones wrecking havoc with her system. I find the best thing to do is just hold her, tell her I love her and that she's beautiful.
* * *
Vincent smiled. Every pregnancy elicits the same worries and brings the same problems. No matter how many times it happens, and regardless the happy results, the same concerns reappear the next time. It must be the nature of man.
* * *
I'm a father!! Mother and daughter are sleeping peacefully.
Catherine went into labor last evening. It had been decided that Peter should be present to handle any complications, and special equipment had been purchased by Catherine to add to the hospital chamber, in case it was needed. All went quickly and smoothly, none of my fears materializing, and within a short time I was holding my daughter in my arms. She's beautiful and, thankfully, she doesn't take after me. Catherine disagrees with my assessment, saying that the high cheekbones, the golden hair barely evident on her head, and her dark blue eyes are all from me. Perhaps, but those are traits that don't distance her from the world Above. She will be able to play in the sunshine, not forced to remain in the darkness.
* * *
Our daughter, Carolyn Margaret has been welcomed into our community. The children have nicknamed her Cammy.
* * *
Winterfest, and our second anniversary. After the celebration, Catherine and I slipped away for a few days alone. We went to the nameless river, the one far below where I used to go to re-center myself. This was the first time back since the incident with the outsiders nearly three years ago. Joining with Catherine has somehow caused me to 'join' as well. I no longer feel the conflict within, the constant battle against my darker side. Through Catherine's love I have come to accept myself as I am, dark and light. Through Cammy's eyes I've learned to love myself ... there is nothing so heartwarming, nothing bolsters a man's ego so much as the unadulterated love in his daughter's eyes. And, looking at her darling face, I can admit that I am a man -- different perhaps, but definitely a man, for no beast could have produced such an angel. Catherine's Winterfest present to me is news that we are expecting another child. I will try to worry less this time.
* * *
Vincent paused as the sound of giggling drifted down the tunnels, heralding the arrival of his family. A wife, two children ... his life was complete. He set the journals aside and was soon attacked by two small bodies climbing into his lap, hugging his neck for all it was worth. He smiled at the beautiful face watching from the entrance.
"That's enough," she said. "Go put your things away and wash for dinner."
Two sloppy kisses graced his cheek before the little ones scampered away to their own chambers to do as their mother instructed. She replaced them in his lap, providing her own kiss ... this one on the lips and definitely more passionate than theirs.
"Umm, nice," she murmured. "You're feeling better. I could sense your tension earlier ... I gather the council meeting didn't go well?"
"Nothing was decided. We'll address the issue again at the next meeting. Perhaps by that time I'll have come up with some brilliant argument to sway one side or the other. But I am feeling better ... I've been reading the old journals."
She looked at the leather-bound books on the bed. "You hadn't gotten to little Jacob yet."
"Almost, I was at the Winterfest before his birth. How did you know?"
"Because it's not long after his birth that his grandfather -- your great-grandfather -- Jacob got ill. Reading that always makes you melancholy."
"I would have stopped before that ... or skipped over it. There are happy entries scattered amongst the sad." He nuzzled her neck, reveling in the sweet freshness of her essence. He felt her tremble beneath his touch.
"I've got an idea," her soft voice purred. "I noticed the lantern in the passageway. Why don't I see if Molly can watch the children for a while, and we can put the evening to much better use." She smiled as his growing desire pressed against her, and her kiss before leaving was a promise of things to come.
Vincent extinguished all but two candles in the chamber. He couldn't understand why people would want to make love in the dark -- the visual stimulation of seeing each other's bodies and reactions was an integral part of the whole. Before turning back the patchwork quilt on the bed, he restored the journals to their special place in the bookshelf and paused.
So much of what was in those journals could've been written by him. He and the first Vincent, his grandfather, had more in common that their looks: life in the tunnels -- although in his case by choice, not necessity; the amazing love of a beautiful woman named Katherine; children. He, however, was blessed with something the first Vincent lacked -- the love of both parents, as well as grandparents. Unlike his grandfather, he'd grown up knowing this type of life was possible for one even such as himself, not an impossible dream. His grandparents proved it with their happy union of more than seventy years; and their children, several of whom inherited their father's physical traits, continued the tradition. If he and his Katherine could have the long, happy life of his grandparents, then they would be lucky indeed.
Katherine found him gazing at the portrait, painted so long ago by Kristopher Gentian. She snuggled beneath his arm, safe in his embrace.
"They were a beautiful couple," she commented.
"Umm. I was just thinking how like them we are." He kissed the top of her head. "It's amazing how one chance meeting changed their lives, and the lives of everyone Below."
"I don't believe it was chance ... I think it was destiny. They were fated to meet, fall in love and have a family. It was ordained that they have their happy life together ... how else can you explain the fact that they died together, in their sleep? I don't think life was possible for one without the other after that first meeting. But look at all they left -- your father and his brothers and sisters, the continuance of this community, and their family's impact on the world Above."
He swept her into his arms and moved toward the inviting bed. "Yes, their legacy lives on, and we owe it to them to have our own happy lives."