“Gentle Spirit, like a rose
doth the guarded heart unclose...”
Red. He’d never seen her in red before. He couldn’t help but notice the length of flesh open to his view. Two buttons of the dress had been left undone leaving it split from the neck to just beneath her breasts.
And even now, even in this darkness, his body longed for hers. His flesh pressed tight against his jeans as he lay her gently on her bed. He knew he dare not act on this impulse, yet he seemed to know that a new life lay just beyond his grasp. Lately, any touch from her, no matter how small...an embrace, the sweet clasp of her hand...sent his mind to heights he had never known and set his body on fire. Though the dark spirit had overtaken her, Vincent knew that Catherine’s true spirit was warm and gentle, kind and good...a spirit that would never hurt him or misguide him...one he could trust with his deepest secrets and with his life...just as she trusted him.
Catherine stirred. Gently he removed her shoes and covered her. Tonight he wouldn’t leave her. He couldn’t leave her. Not like this. The powder’s effects would soon wear off and his medical knowledge told him she would be sick and confused. She would need him. So, he would set his own inhibitions aside and care for her, just as he had cared for her during those ten days, not so very long ago.
“Gentle Spirit in the night,
thy loving hand shall calm this fright.”
“NO! NO!” Eyes still closed, Catherine sat with a start. Almost immediately Vincent was seated beside her on the bed. He wrapped her in the soft cloak of his arms in an attempt to calm her. “NO!” she screamed once more, pushing him away.
“Catherine,” his voice was rasping and hoarse. Gently, he guided her back to the pillow. This was not the first time she’d awakened, nor would it be the last. But, at least this time she allowed him to encourage her back to sleep. This was the first time she had allowed him to get close enough to do so. The past three hours had been filled with screams, disoriented hallucinations, sweats and chills. Catherine moaned a low moan as Vincent brushed the hair from her brow and covered her once more.
A weary Vincent seated himself on the steps by the terrace door. Although he didn’t require much sleep, his body was screaming for it now. He rested his head on the wall. He needed something to hold it up. If not for that wall, he was sure it would topple off his shoulders. He smiled briefly at the thought, before he too drifted off to sleep.
A rustling sound woke him. Catherine was out of bed and heading unsteadily for the bathroom, holding on to whatever she could to guide her. “I didn’t mean to wake you, Vincent.” Her voice was barely a whisper.
“Can you manage, Catherine?” He asked, a little embarrassed about the prospect of helping her, but knowing that if he had to he would.
“I think so,” she answered, shutting the door behind her. It wasn’t long before Vincent heard the sound of the toilet and then the water running.
Minutes passed and the minutes seemed like hours. Although the bond was quiet, Vincent grew worried. The effects of the powder could have put a kink in their connection. Catherine could be sick or hurt. “Catherine?” he called through the door.
There was no reply. The water was still running. “Catherine?” he repeated, a little louder this time. Again, no response. With hesitation, he reached for the door knob. It was unlocked. Slowly he opened the door just a crack and peered into the tiny room. There was no sign of Catherine, but he could hear her. It took just a second for him to locate the sound. Catherine was sitting on the floor behind the door, crying. Her head was resting in her hands, and she shook so uncontrollably that it was impossible for her to speak.
Vincent moved instantly to her side. She wilted into his embrace willingly and clung to him with desperation. “It’s alright, Catherine.” he reassured her. “I’m here. I’ve got you. You’re safe.”
Her breathing was fast and each breath was short. Fearing she would hyperventilate, he directed “Catherine, take a deep breath,” but she couldn’t. She tried, but could only gasp. Her hair was wringing wet and Vincent gathered she had soaked her hair in the sink, likely to keep herself from passing out. “Do you feel faint or sick, Catherine?” She nodded. “Alright, you need to listen to me and try and do as I say.” Again, she fell weakly into his arms. “Uh huh,” was the only answer she had the strength to give.
“I want you to hold your breath for just a second.” He lifted her face from his chest, where she’d buried it in his sweater. “Can you do that?” She nodded again. “And when you let it out, let it out deeply through your mouth, then breathe in deeply through your nose.” With great difficulty, Catherine did as she was told.
“Again,” he said, and she complied.
They continued this exercise until her breathing was almost normal. “Still feeling faint?” he asked.
“No, just really tired.” She managed four whole words, then three more. “Are we below?”
“No,” he answered. She was responding to him but still a bit disoriented. “You’re home.”
And with that she fell fast asleep in his arms.
After a little while, Vincent carried Catherine back to her bed. She was still wearing the red dress, though now she had somehow managed to button the two front buttons that were once undone. Regardless, the dress still revealed more of her than Vincent had ever seen. She wore purple eye shadow up to her brows, and her hair fell in crimped waves into a mop-like mess. But to him, no matter how disheveled she looked, Catherine was always beautiful.
Her hair was almost dry now, but his sweater was soaking wet from doubling as Catherine’s pillow. So, he removed it and hung it over the shower door to dry. His thermal shirt was damp and he too looked worse for the wear, but for now it would have to suffice. Vincent’s legs were stiff, and he longed to lie down on the bed beside her. His aching body could no longer tolerate him sleeping sitting up, so he made his decision with more ease than he would have under different circumstances and joined Catherine on the bed. He was careful not to disturb her as he removed his shoes and slid beneath the sheets. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
Gentle spirit, brand new day
Take my hand and lead the way
Sunlight filled the room. The warmth woke Vincent all too soon. He looked down at the frail figure, now nestled in his arms, and was careful not to wake her. It had indeed been a rough night. The effects of the drug lingered with Catherine until the early morning hours. Eventually, she became so chilled that Vincent used his own body to warm her, cradling her in his arms, until she once again slept. Only once did she mutter his name, softly, and he knew that she knew he was there in her bed. Now, he could feel a sense of comfort through the bond. Catherine’s spirit was coming back to his world.
Without thinking, he pressed a kiss to her head, causing her to stir. “Mmmm,” she moaned, stretching and attempting to sit up. “Ohhhhhhh,” she moaned again, feeling her head spin as she did. She stopped, half sitting and half lying, and gazed into the eyes of the man who had just spent one of the worst nights of her life by her side. “Thank you, Vincent. Thank you for being here.”
He gave a sigh and a half-smile. “I am where I belong.” With that, he pulled her head to rest on his chest, stroking her hair from her face. “How do you feel?”
“Great,” she said wearily. “Just great.”
“All right,” he paused. “How do you really feel?”
Catherine reached for Vincent’s free hand. He gave it willingly to her and she entwined her fingers with his. “I feel horrible, but I’m glad that you’re here. Can you stay?”
Vincent gave a breathy laugh. “Catherine, the sun is shining and it’s almost noon. I think I will have to stay.” Then in a more serious tone, he added, “I’ll stay as long as you need me.”
“I’ll always need you, Vincent.” was her reply.
For that he had no answer. He just squeezed her hand in his and used the arm wrapped around her to pull her closer.
Neither wanted to move. How nice it would be, Catherine thought, to stay like this forever. As wonderful as it sounded, she longed for a shower and a change of clothes. Vincent longed for the same, but knew he’d have to wait, at least until nightfall. And, if she needed him still, he would wait even longer to stay by her side...to be here for Catherine.
Eventually, slowly, Catherine made her way back to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror gave her a start. “Ah,” she squealed jokingly, noting she looked as bad as she felt.
“What is it, Catherine?” Vincent sat up on the edge of the bed, rubbing his eyes with his palms.
“Nothing, Vincent. I’m all right. I just made the mistake of looking in the mirror.” Catherine grabbed her hair brush and walked back into the bedroom. She lifted her hair and turned with her back toward him. “Could you help me please?” She knew what it would do to him to have her ask such a thing, but she could not get out of this red wrinkled get-up alone. The high neck of the dress had three tiny buttons, and her hair was stuck in one of them. In addition, her examination of the zipper revealed that it too was stuck. This was definitely a two-person job.
It took him a moment to realize what she was asking of him. Rather than attempting to undo the dress, he took the hair brush from her hand, and taking her by the other hand, he pulled her down to sit beside him. “First let's untangle this.” She wasn’t sure if he was stalling, or if he’d noticed her hair knotted around the small button, but she obliged and sat with her back to him.
Ever so gently, Vincent ran the brush through Catherine’s hair, starting at the front near her face and working it back. Catherine leaned her head back, relaxing into each massaging action. “Lean your head down now, Catherine,” he said, realizing her hair was caught on the button and not wanting to hurt her by pulling too hard. He carefully worked at the twisted lock of hair, using his sharp nails to help unwrap it. He had to unbutton the three tiny buttons in the process, and he felt his body respond to the sight of her bare neck as the dress’s collar fell open around her shoulders. It was a struggle to suppress the rush of emotion he felt, and in irritation with himself he closed his eyes and sighed, then centered himself on the task at hand. Regaining his composure, he resumed brushing.
The weight of the dress fell uncomfortably around Catherine’s shoulders. Wanting to be free of it, she worked her arms out of the openings, holding it in the front so as to cover herself. She heard a slight tearing sound as the dress tore a bit where the zipper was stuck. Only then did she realize that she had now revealed her shoulders and upper back to Vincent.
Both pretended to be unaware of the awkwardness of their current situation. Vincent concentrated on brushing and Catherine concentrated on the swift motion of his one hand guiding the brush through her hair, and the erotic feel of the other beneath her hair guarding her delicate skin from the bristles of the brush. Eventually, the awkwardness disappeared.
Vincent stopped brushing. Without warning, and almost on impulse alone, both hands sought out the tender flesh before him. He ran the furred back of his right hand and fingers over Catherine’s right cheek before bringing it to rest on her bare shoulder. His left hand followed suit coming to rest just at the base of her neck. Without hesitation he began massaging her there, and Catherine melted into his touch. His hands wandered from neck to shoulder and back again, sometimes massaging lightly and sometimes just touching what was new before him now to be touched. Then, abruptly he stopped. Vincent felt his chest tighten. His breathing quickened, and he felt the dizzying rush of blood to his head as he shook it in an attempt to rid it of the perilous thoughts running through his mind. He placed the brush on the night stand and rose from the bed, leaving her there, half dressed and unable to do anything about it.
“I’m sorry, Catherine.” His voice was low and shaky. “I had no right. You’re ill and I...” He turned to face the world outside the window. “I took advantage...” he tried to finish.
Catherine shook her head, but Vincent knew he had taken advantage of her weakened state. She was tired and sick. She had asked for his help and instead he gratified his own curiosities and hunger. As he tried to tell her just that, Catherine got up and slipped her arms back through the armholes of her dress. “No, Vincent, I should never have asked.” She understood at once what he was feeling. How thoughtless she had been to let the situation get that far out of hand, knowing how he sheltered himself to prevent such intimacy between them.
She moved to his side. Neither spoke, and each knew that the other was feeling responsible for what had just occurred. Partially due to nervousness and partially to ease the tension in the room, Catherine laughed.
“What’s funny, Catherine?” Vincent’s tone was serious.
“You are, Vincent.”
He looked at her curiously.
“I know you. I know you want to leave,” she began, “you want to run from what you’re feeling... from what we’re both feeling right now, but in the daylight you can’t. So, you’re stuck here with me all day. I can do whatever I want, and I can say whatever I want, and you can’t retreat over that balcony wall.”
Vincent stood in silence for a few moments. Then he spoke, his voice was shaky but his words sincere. “You’re right, Catherine. My first impulse is to leave, to return to the comfort of my world.” Then, choosing his words carefully he went on, “to run back to a time and place where you don’t exist, where there is no temptation, where life was safe...and empty. You’re always with me, Catherine, no matter where I go.” Softly he cupped her chin in his hand. “So, you can do and say whatever you like, not just today, but always.”
Catherine stood silently beside him, unsure of what to do or say now. He had never been so open with her, and in only a few brief lines he had given her a wealth of insight into why their time together is always so limited. Her smile was enough to tell him that in his life was precisely where she wanted to be.
“Do you need to let Father know where you are?” she asked.
“No,” he answered. “He’ll know.”
“How?” she asked. Catherine knew that Father frowned upon her relationship with his son, and doubted Vincent’s explanation. “I could go and tell him where you are.”
“You’re in no condition to go anywhere. I’ll return this evening if need be. But, he knows that many nights I come here to see you. He’ll know.”
Catherine nodded. “Are you all right?”
“That should be my question to you.” Vincent paused, and seeing that Catherine was not satisfied with his retort, he nodded, “I’m fine.”
“You must be exhausted. I know last night was rough on you too. Why don’t you get some rest while I go and shower. I look a fright and really want to get into something more comfortable.”
Catherine started for the bathroom, but Vincent grabbed her arm pulling her back to him. “You’re stuck, remember?” he said, turning her around so he could help her with her zipper. But the zipper wouldn’t budge. “Catherine, I think you may have to wear this dress forever.” He joked, his manner eased.
“Can your nails tear it, Vincent?” She knew that they could.
“Yes, are you certain?” Vincent knew the delicate fabric would rip with ease beneath his claws. He also knew that the dress was an expensive one. And the fact that Catherine would ask him to use them filled him with a sense of acceptance. She seemed to discard his differences by granting them her explicit approval.
“Yes, please.” Catherine did truly know him, and despite all that she knew, there was no one else that she would rather have here with her now.
Taking great care not to catch her skin, Vincent tore the dress, following the line of the zipper so as not to reveal any more to his eyes than as absolutely necessary to allow Catherine to get out of the dress. “Be careful, you’re still weak, and call if you need me,” he said, handing her the robe that had been carelessly tossed over the back of a chair.
“I will,” she promised heading off to the shower. She stopped short of the bathroom door. Suddenly she turned to him but said nothing. She just stared at him, her gaze unfaltering.
Vincent stood still, watching her, unsure of the reason for her hesitation. “What is it, Catherine?” he asked, growing worried and able to stand her silence no more.
Catherine quickly closed the small distance between them, her eyes staring directly into his. Her small hands sought the support of his massive shoulders as she rose on tip-toe. A dazed and confused Vincent stood perfectly still. His heart beat furiously in his chest, he struggled to control his breathing, and the butterflies in his stomach were almost unbearable. He knew what was happening. He wanted it to happen. But, at the same time he was frightened that not only shouldn’t it happen, but that he would not be able to control his own response. That old impulse was present, and his mind told him to run, but he didn’t budge. Suddenly her lips covered his. As his hand moved behind her waist to both pull her close and offer her support, Catherine moved one hand to stroke Vincent’s hair and to caress the back of his neck. Her other arm wrapped around him and held on tight, partially for her own support and she teetered on tip-toe and partially to prevent him from ending the kiss and retreating, if only to another room.
Her lips were soft and undemanding, allowing Vincent to respond at his own pace. At first, he barely responded at all, but under Catherine’s subtle guidance he allowed himself to both give and take for the very first time. Feelings of uncertainty left him. He felt safe in her arms. Slowly and carefully, his mouth opened to hers. It was, in a sense, an opening of himself to her. Within were housed the teeth which represented yet another of his differences. But, as with his nails, Catherine’s acceptance was automatic. Vincent was Vincent and she loved who and what he was, whatever that may be. A more human being she had never known. Vincent embraced all aspects of humanity, fighting hard to maintain the delicate balance within. And Catherine knew of his struggle and became determined to show him that he could do all of the things that he wanted to do. Nothing was impossible. Her tongue brushed his teeth, making her acceptance known. Through the thin terry robe she could feel his body responding to hers. Pressing herself closer and holding him tighter, she ended the kiss and again stared into his sea-blue eyes.
A speechless Vincent swallowed hard. His emotions were caught somewhere between embarrassment and joy and he was frozen in anticipation of her next move. “Thank you, Vincent,” was all Catherine said, as she returned to the bathroom and shut the door behind her.
alone in thought,
the war is over
the battle fought.
Vincent exhaled the breath he’d been holding. He opened the terrace doors, for a second considering possible ways to get home in the daylight, but mostly he just needed air. Everything seemed impossible, like a dream, yet Vincent knew it was real. He was above, staring into the sunlight and staring into his future. That future was Catherine.
Vincent closed the terrace doors, sealing his safety. Ever since he could remember, daylight meant danger. Father had warned him as a boy time and time again, ‘if you were caught above, do you know what they would do with you?’ Catherine had caused him to doubt Father’s warning. Her kindness... her love...opened him to new possibilities.
Vincent could hear the sound of water running in the bathroom. He was exhausted. The night had been long and, for the most part, sleepless. He lowered himself to the bed to rest, he told himself, but moments later he was fast asleep.
all will safely keep.