The Walls Grew Thin The walls between the worlds grew thin, And sanctuary beckoned in. By Terry Pepe It was early - not yet seven o'clock, and a Sunday at that. The tunnels were muted and still. Though time seemed to operate somewhat differently Below for the tunnel inhabitants, they followed a schedule of sorts, and weekends, like those Above, were a more restful time of family activities and peaceful contemplation. William would be up, no doubt, probably for an hour already, preparing their morning meal, and there were stirrings in some of the other chambers, but very few had emerged to begin their day's activities, and none in this particular region. And so Vincent sat in peaceful solitude, reviewing the events of the night just passed. Samhain, a special night. It was just one of the symbols that now clearly marked the amazing transition that had occurred in his life. This one was the third such, and as with the other two, he'd spent it Above. He'd spent it with Catherine. Catherine... A ragged sigh escaped his lips as the image of her encompassed him, holding him in it's thrall. He sat in perfect stillness, eyes shut, head leaned against the high backed chair, all his concentration focused on her. They'd parted barely an hour since and she was Above now, safe in her own apartment. With an effort little more than thought he sought out her emotions, channeling them directly within to nestle her presence close to his heart. * * * Catherine lazed dreamily in the warm, soothing water, glowing pinkly amidst the pearlescent mound of bubbles. They flickered in and out of existence, caressing her sensitized skin with an almost unconscious effect. Her thoughts, however, were on Vincent alone, and that tingling sensation was as much from his image before her as any physical touch of the pale froth surrounding her. Warm and drifting, her emotions were completely open to him, and though she was not as sensitive to the bond as he, Vincent's aura was subtly communicated to her during this tranquil semi-dream state. An exchange and mixing of their bond was taking place, though it was still too faint for Catherine to recognize it for what it was. From the mellow mood of a moment before, she let her thoughts drift into more tantalizing regions, the warmth surrounding her suddenly becoming the gentle touch of his hand stroking along her tender flesh. That release of emotion took but a minute to gain dominance, and she sighed softly, sinking down deeper yet into the warm bath as her thoughts roamed free over all that might someday be between them - would be, she emphasized the thought doggedly - of that she was determined. * * * Though Vincent was inexperienced in much, the bond was something he had gained an amazing familiarity with during the past two and a half years. He had felt it's growing presence right from the first, and had quickly learned to seek out the sensations emanating from her side with a conscious intent. He had suffered twinges of guilt and shame over this sharing of the bond early on, knowing this was something so little understood by Catherine yet, but those feelings had been discarded long ago, or at least resolutely ignored. There might be little else for them in their limited existence and he needed this, needed Catherine with a strength that was irresistible. This mingling through the bond was at least safe for her and he soon found himself eagerly seeking out her sweet presence, seeking it to a depth beyond that steady day-to-day stream which the bond supplied without thought. She nourished his soul with her own, making him complete, and this he accepted from her, because he loved her beyond reason, and because his need was so great. This conscious drawing in and seeking out was different though. It was as if he tugged at the current of her very essence. Her response was always the same. With an immediacy that stunned him still, her being flowed to join his own with a sweet eagerness which overwhelmed him entirely. The intensity of this joining was indescribable. The emotions they shared were so much stronger then. They filled him utterly and it was almost as if he held her, not in his arms, but somehow closer yet, as if they were merged to one being, one thought. The feeling of completeness he experienced then was beyond bliss. It felt right...it felt destined. His only regret was that Catherine was an unknowing participant in this exchange. She didn't sense the bond to the extent that he did. Truth to tell, he wasn't sure how much she did and did not feel through their growing connection. There were times when he could swear that she felt everything, and a few when he might almost have suspected she had consciously initiated that tender blending. But he was never sure, and with so much yet unresolved between them it was a topic too fraught with tension for him to discuss with her. Unknowing participant...yes, he thought this was often the case, but at the same time he couldn't make himself truly accept that she was unwilling - though he often enough tried to convince himself it must be so. He knew she loved him, as difficult as that was for him to accept, both by her own words and her emotions through the bond. She wanted to give him so much more, but anything beyond this ethereal sharing he had adamantly, if silently, refused. There could be nothing more than this for him. It was unthinkable...the risk to Catherine... No. He would be satisfied with this, with the magical blending that brought him a blissful pleasure undreamt of though it also, inevitably, reminded him of sensations yet waiting, so viscerally craved, so thoroughly denied. Inexperienced though he was, he knew deep in his heart with an absolute certainty that those sensations would finalize all the potential that existed between them, completing the circle of their bond, and them within it. The absence of this sharing was the only thing that kept him from a perfect, peaceful satisfaction with the new life that had been bestowed upon him just a few short years ago. Nonetheless, though he accepted the first and yearned for the last, his resolution was firm. This is what they had, this is what would be allowed between them. A husky sigh bore mute testimony to his internal conflict and he sought out a pleasanter haven. The peaceful stillness and lassitude of the bond called to him and he gratefully gave over those troubling thoughts, easing instead into the welcoming warmth of his bondmate. Catherine's emotions were warm and peaceful, deep and compelling. This time, rather than pulling her to him, he went to her. He sank deep within the bond until he merged with the stream of her presence, then drew towards her. The sensations grew stronger as he approached the source - Catherine. Finally. He was there, with her. Her very presence was a pool of warm, dark waters, pulling him in to her silken depths. He submerged himself in her, letting her emotions enclose him completely. A groaning sigh whispered out through the chamber, but to anyone who might have stood watching he looked as if he were sound asleep, a complete stillness of both motion and expression encompassing him. Everything was tuned inward now, his concentration focused deeply, completely on Catherine. * * * In the midst of that peaceful, lazy indulgence in her bubblebath, Catherine sensed a shift in the bond. It started out as nothing more than an almost lapping wave of sensation, as if the stream between them was somehow interrupted. But there was no absence associated with this interruption. On the contrary, Vincent's presence was suddenly and strongly sensed, an aberration of the bond she had rarely felt in their time together, and usually only during times of desperate danger. It was growing stronger now, drawing towards her, and the lapping waves of their bond grew along with it, filling her with a surging rush of fluid sensation, a streaming mix of both their emotions, blending so fully that it was almost impossible to distinguish where one left off and the other began. Yes... It was heaven. Though she had experienced this sharing all too infrequently, she recognized it immediately. Vincent was here, with her, and she knew that he was Below, all his thoughts given over to her. She wondered if he knew that she felt this capitulation on his part. She wondered, but only for a moment. It was such tender bliss, this sharing, and she would not allow herself to be distracted from it, not now. There would be time for introspection later, now was for them. Catherine had given in to a light fantasy of him earlier, unaware of his presence then, and now, with the barest hesitation she slipped back into it. This was such a sensitive area between them, but she wanted him to have this gift. This gift of touch, from her. This time it was not only an image in her mind, filling her thoughts. This time she let her hands slide along her silky, wet skin, imagining that touch to be his, letting it infuse her being entirely. The sensations swelled, filling the bond completely, filling them both. * * * In Vincent's chamber the effect of Catherine's actions was immediate. A sweet yearning filled him, both poignantly sweet and achingly painful. Her surging emotions rushed over and through him and he was helpless to do anything but follow. He sank deeply into that billowing wave and a low groan rumbled through the stillness surrounding him. He was completely unaware of that sound, all his attention centered on her. The sensations grew until there was no ignoring the transference of that tender passion beyond the ethereal and into the physical realm. A sudden aching tension of his muscles communicated itself through the foggy haze surrounding him, bringing him to an abrupt awareness of the fine edge he walked. His heart beat frantically, both with desire and fear, and he pulled back instinctively, desperate to keep that side of himself hidden from her. A gasp escaped his trembling lips. It spoke of a yearning pain and a firm resolve. He opened his eyes, shaking his head to clear it of that dizzying confusion then leaned forward and began to write in the open journal lying on the table before him. * * * Vincent's presence was withdrawn abruptly and Catherine's eyes flew open wide in dismay. Her expression shifted immediately to understanding, and from there to resignation. Her eyes drifted closed once more and a sigh of sorrow whispered out. The water was still warm, the bubbles still tingling against her skin, but the earlier glow was gone now. Those sensations were once again water and bubbles alone, nothing more. * * * October 28th, 1989 Sahmain. All Hallow's Eve. Halloween. It was always a special night for me as a child, but now... I have walked Above many times before, but never so openly, never so boldly, never so among them, a part of them as I do now, upon that night. I have Catherine to thank for that...I have Catherine... As we have for the last two years on this night, we spent it together, walking the streets of her city. It is a magical place, one I have known well, but always from the shadows, always seen in hiding. Except on this night, except with Catherine. We walked for hours, from the upper west side all the way down to the pier and then back again, along the east side and through the theatre district. The lights, the sounds, the teeming masses of people - it was magical. More compelling than all of that, though, was that this time was spent with Catherine alone. Yes, alone. We have so little time together, and what time we do share is often little more than stolen moments between the responsibilities and duties of our two separate worlds. Yet in the end, despite the novelty of the sights and sounds, despite the beauty of the neon-lit night, all I wanted was to be alone, with her. Catherine felt it too. We went to the park then, a place we have shared uncounted times before, yet one which never loses it's appeal. It the midst of this great city, in the midst of the noise and chaos, there exists an oasis of calm. Like Catherine's balcony and our music chamber, it is a meeting place between our worlds. Less private than both, it yet gives us a solitude somehow not quite achieved in either. It allows us to share the stars and the night in the open, together. It was quiet there this night. What few late-night revelers that yet remained in this place we easily avoided. Once, as we walked along a quiet path, another couple appeared, almost directly in front of us. How they came upon us so suddenly, I don't know. Perhaps it was their silent preoccupation with each other...perhaps it was our own, Catherine's and mine. The only refuge for us was a small circle of trees and shrubs, thin of foliage at this time of year. I pulled us within its center and held her close, my cloak wrapped around us both. We were invisible by the blackness of that wrap and our stillness only, and I am amazed, even now, that they did not see us. They stopped, almost directly in front of our hiding spot, and shared a kiss. A kiss so tender and so full of love that it makes me tremble even now, as I did then in that silent enclosure with Catherine in my arms. I can see their expressions yet, see his arms enclosing her, see the loving caress of his hands along her back, see her yielding response to his touch, her own returned, their lips meeting... Oh, how I wish that Catherine and I could share what they shared! No one could love another as I do her. It is what she deserves and what she wants so desperately. It is what I am unable to give to her. Catherine has given me everything - everything! It is I who falter, who deny us the future we both so crave. And yet I know I'm right to do this. She must not be bound to me, to this dark existence, she must not! It cannot be. The couple moved on, oblivious to our presence beside them, and once again I pulled away from her and from all she offers, ever the prisoner to my fears. Even then, in that open spot beneath the starry skies, I felt her acceptance, her eagerness. She was waiting for me to kiss her, as that other man had kissed the woman he loved. She was waiting for me to allow our relationship to move forward, even if only by the smallest of steps, by an innocent kiss. An innocent kiss... Could such a thing exist between us? Is it possible the passion I feel for her could ever be contained by that mildest, most innocuous of descriptive phrases - an innocent kiss? And yet we did share such a kiss last spring. Perhaps it is possible... No. Not possible, not for me. She was in grief then, and needed my care. It was a kiss of grateful thanks, that much was plain to me, and yet... No, not the same. That was a different time, a different place. In the park this night, with the glittering stars above and the dew-laden carpet of grass and leaves underfoot, enclosed by gently rustling branches thin of leaves, the danger was all too present, all too close. I felt it so clearly then, her waiting stillness, full of expectation and excitement, her waiting stillness... But I could not. Nothing could have prepared me for the love I found when I found Catherine. She is the treasure which I thought never to know. Every day I tell myself that I must be content with what we have, content with the meager minutes of her time here and there, ever waiting for her, ever aware of her deep presence within me. Every day I remind myself that there can be no more than this, that I must be satisfied with what we share. It is more than I had ever thought to have - ever! - and I am grateful beyond belief for even the smallest part of her life which touches my own. It must be so, I tell myself, it must. And yet... And yet sometimes, despite all the warnings ringing in my head, my heart tells me otherwise. It speaks of things that are not, and that should be. It whispers that there is more yet waiting for us. Someday, Catherine, someday, if we wish very hard, perhaps we may have our hearts' desire... At that moment, even as the last words appeared upon the paper beneath his hand, he felt a anxious stirring. Our hearts' desire... He reread the words again, struck by something there, something disturbing. It had been over two years since he'd found her, two and a half years since his life had changed in a way that could never be undone, not for either of them. What had they to show for it? True, they had endured much, and their love had seen them through trials which would have overcome any less strengthened by fate. Frightening images flashed through him of desperate dangers past, memories which made him shudder, even now, with the safe distance of time between them. He no longer doubted Catherine's love for him, though he denied her the full measure of his own. Oh, not in sentiment or deed - that would be impossible. But he held the words from her, somehow sure that they were the last barrier of protection holding back an abyss of unknown proportion ahead of them. What lay in wait for them out there? Too much danger, too much risk, too much... He shook those thoughts off and, with a dawning look of awareness, rose from the table to fetch another journal from a shelf along the far wall. He set it before him and it fell open to a page marked by two silk ribbons, pale blue and ivory satin, twined together. With a mounting trepidation he read the journal entry there, written on this same night, two years earlier: October 31st, 1987 Dearest Catherine, Less than an hour ago we parted at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. Now I sit here writing to you because I know only you will understand what I am feeling. It's early morning, All Hallow's Eve has ended for another year and I have never in my life been so happy. Was it a dream, Catherine? Did the two of us walk the city last night, openly, together? I have known this city well, but I've never seen it quite this way before. Many nights I've sat alone on building tops looking out at the glowing lights. As beautiful as those lights were they were always distant from the streets below. The sound of the city would drift up to me like an echo of a melody from far away. There were nights when those city sounds made the most beautiful music I've ever heard. There were nights when I wondered if I was the only one who could hear it. Tonight I became part of that music. "Sometimes we must leave out safe places and walk empty-handed among our enemies." How many times have I read those words? How many times have I presumed to understand them? Not until I walked among the crowds, heard their laughter, felt the warmth of their passing bodies did I realize what those words truly meant. Leave our safe places... Tonight I left my safe place. Tonight a dream became real. We sat hand in hand on a bench by the river, like ordinary people watching the sun rise over the city. That one moment was worth everything, Catherine. Everything we've risked, everything we have fought for, everything. "Out of your whole life give but a moment, all of your life that has gone before, all to come after it so you ignore, so you make perfect the present, condense in a rapture of rage for perfection's endowment, thought and feeling and soul and sense, merged in a moment which gives me at last you around me, for once you beneath me, you above me." Sleep well my dearest Catherine, sleep well. Vincent When he was finished reading the entry he sat staring at it in stunned stillness. Nothing had changed, not really, not in the two years that had passed since that first momentous night Above, with her. With a sudden shocking surge of motion, he pulled his most recent journal back towards him and began to scribble furiously beneath the graceful script written just minutes earlier: Oh, my love, my love, what is to become of us?! Is this all there is? Is there nothing more? I cannot bear that thought. You deserve so much more... We deserve so much more. You told me once, last winter, in the painful aftermath of that episode with Michael, that I deserved everything. But it's not true. My destiny has denied us the greater one which we might have shared together had I been of your world, had I not been as I am. Oh, my love... I can't bear this separation from you. I need you so. I want you so. You are everything to me, Catherine, everything! Two years ago we walked the streets Above together, for the first time. I returned so full of hope... So full of dreams. Are the hopes we share just a dream, Catherine, never to be fulfilled? Just a dream...? That question, so similar in wording but so different in tone from the same of two years ago mocked him now; was it a dream, only a dream? Was their destiny together to be nothing more than that? Nothing more than a dream, a pale reflection of reality, a hazy place where they could never truly be together but in their own hopeful hearts? No! With a violent motion he slammed his hands upon the table and surged to his feet, his shadowy outline in the dimly lit chamber almost menacing in it's size, frantic now with a chaotic, roiling burst of energy. Despair and a futile rage rushed through him, and his agitated motions gave way to a tensing stillness of his long-limbed muscles. His head fell back and an unearthly wail of pain split the night. With a motion quicker than thought he grabbed his cloak and ran from the place which was now more prison than sanctuary. He ran far below, into the depths of their world, away from the reminder of what might have been, but was not. * * * Catherine surged up in the now tepid water, her eyes suddenly wide with shocked dismay. Panic gripped her, the tripping beat of her heart almost overwhelming her with pain and fear. In an instant she knew - it was Vincent. She jumped out of the tub and grabbed a towel. She didn't stop to dry off properly, leaving the bathroom to gather up jeans and a sweater from a bureau drawer in her bedroom. Twelve minutes later, through the secret access of her subbasement, she entered the silent stillness of the tunnels. She moved with a quiet stealth, but her breathing was harsh and barely contained. When she was safely in the secure perimeter of the hub she broke into a run, her destination plain. * * * The darkness called to him, and Vincent made his way unerringly to the small pool hidden in dark recesses behind the twisting passages that crisscrossed the tunnels behind the great falls. No one ever came here except him. He wasn't even sure anyone remembered its existence but him. He came here when he needed solitude and privacy, when he needed to think without the distraction of the day to day business of their community. It wasn't so far as to leave his friends and family unprotected - there was pipe access nearby and he could hear their muted tones even now. No one would seek him out here. No one would find him until he wanted to be found. The pool was shadowed and still. It was both dark and yet somehow not, an eerie pale light of shimmering green emanating from deep within it, almost as if a ghostly presence resided there. At the waters edge he hurriedly stripped off his clothes and dove in, pulling himself down, far, far down, to the cold, watery depths. * * * Catherine's heart pounded within her breast as she cleared the last junction and swung down the side tunnel which led to Vincent's chamber. She rounded the corner and froze abruptly in the entryway, her breath heaving with gasping pants of anxiety. Empty. Vincent was gone. The chamber was quiet and still, a small clusters of three candles lighting that cozy space. They sat upon the center table, but her gaze was immediately drawn to what their dim light showed - his worn velvet upholstered chair, knocked to its side upon the floor. She glanced up again in agitation and found two open books upon the table - his journals. He had been here, and he had left. She knew the emotions experienced so recently had been his own, both the gentle pleasure and the agonizing pain. And she knew the secret of that sudden pain resided in those books, just eight short feet away. She hesitated, but only for a moment, then moved forward into the circle of light. The graceless, frantic scrawl on one of the pages caught her attention immediately, and as she read those words, a painful vice gripped her heart. 'Oh, my love, my love, what is to become of us?! Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?' Catherine read it all, then went back two pages and reread this night's entry in it's entirety. When she was through she turned to the other journal, and found there his letter to her, written two years ago this night. She read it, too. It all made perfect sense. She could see him writing here, could feel once again his emotions as he wrote the earlier words, and the shift that came with the latter ones. She reread the entries again, then closed the books and stacked them neatly upon the table, then looked blindly about the chamber, almost in a daze. Tears ran down her pale cheeks, but they went unnoted. A resigned chill filled her, muting her emotions, her distress and dismay. On the foot of the bed, folded neatly, a woven throw rested. She drew it around her trembling body, righted his chair and crawled into it, hugging her knees up tight against her chest. Vincent was Below, that much was certain. She would wait here. For as long as it took, she would wait for him. After a moment's hesitation she took up his pen, pulled the topmost journal toward her, flipped back to this night's entry and began to write. * * * The stillness of the pool's surface was broken with a sudden rushing wave. Vincent emerged from the water with the lithe grace of a natural athlete, his long muscles rippling with a fine-honed sense of control. The emotional distress and physical exertion had left him depleted and drained and with an almost hypnotic detachment he brushed his hands down along his body, stripping the water from the burnished copper hair which covered him lightly in some places, densely in others. Long minutes passed as he stood in a pose of absolute stillness, though no thoughts would form through the dull blankness enclosing him. Finally he reached for his cloak and wrapped it about his wet and now shivering body then huddled down against a spot where the rocky wall curved outward, creating a resting spot of sorts, a place where two angles of craggy rock met. He pushed himself back into that narrowing corner and felt himself cradled and held, though it was a cold comfort. Pulling his knees up close to his chest, he wrapped his arms around them and buried his face against the warm ebony wool surrounding him. A sound filtered through the fog enclosing him, and he listened in a distant, abstracted way, trying to make out the intriguing tones. Low and soft, they were at first indistinguishable from the muted tapping of the pipes, still heard periodically from a tunnel junction not too distant. The new sound was growing louder now, and suddenly he heard it clearly - music. One-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three... A waltz. The haze lifted and suddenly a shadowy image appeared on the wall far across the wide expanse of... Where? Ah, yes, he recognized this place now. How could he not? The Great Hall, a chamber of celebrations, the place where all beginnings Below had their start. Somehow it didn't seem at all strange to be there now, to gaze in breathless stillness at the two lone figures, dancing. Though they were shadows only, he knew it was he and Catherine. He remembered how they had danced at their first Winterfest. Her teasing question had begun it all, and he hadn't forgotten, despite the terrifying events which had interrupted that peaceful celebration. It was a long while until the frightening events of that night had been resolved, Narcissa's burns cared for, Paracelsus dispatched once again, and everyone seen safely and soundly to their own chambers, though not until the soothing ritual of closure had again been performed, reassuring everyone with its constancy. The Great Hall was left silent and still then, and filled with a sense of waiting, waiting for the next special event which would be imbued with magic by it's very walls, by the vast sweep of space waiting to be filled. It was quiet but not empty, for not everyone had left. He and Catherine remained. With that thought the shadowy figures on the wall resolved themselves to corporeal form, and he was there, with Catherine in his arms. The music lifted them effortlessly on its wings, bearing them without thought about the solemn chamber, but he noticed none of that. He had eyes only for Catherine. Her own gazed up at him with a luminous, tender glow, alight with silvery rays that held him entirely. So clear, so deep, she saw into his very soul. Her small hand was enclosed in his, and beneath the other he felt a soft, rich fabric. His eyes drifted down to find her enclosed by a white silk gown - the very same one she'd worn during the first Winterfest they'd shared. Its bodice hugged her body closely and at her breast rested his crystal, glittering like fire against her silky curves. How well he remembered that gown, and Catherine within it. It was as if an angel had appeared before him that night, and many times throughout that evening he had to remind himself not to stare at her beauty, not to let the love he felt for her show. It had been so difficult... But now he felt none of that restraint. His eyes drank in her loveliness and his blood sang with a soaring bliss at the silky warmth and heady scent of her in his arms. He should have been shocked, stunned, astounded, but he was not, not at all. Everything was as it should be. He and Catherine were together, in his world, dancing to music that somehow had always existed between them. He accepted it instantly. Her eyes shone and her lips trembled slightly, her happiness plain. His gaze was suddenly pinned there, and without thought he tightened his hold upon her, drawing her in closer towards the shivering, suddenly aching planes of his body. The space between them decreased and their tempo slowed, though the music played on, ever-present at the back of their senses. When her breasts lightly touched him they stopped dancing, though they still swayed slightly, the music holding them in its thrall. His hand released hers and traced its way along her arm until he encircled her shoulders entirely, then pulled her closer yet, their bodies pressed tight together. The feel of the heavy silk beneath his hands was sensuous and deep, cool on the surface with heat radiating from within, from the warm flesh resting so tantalizingly near, beneath. He stroked along the gentle sweep of her back, the touch of that rich fabric a luxury he would drown in gladly. Her own arms circled him and held him tight, urging him closer yet with the gentle caress of her hands and body. Yes...oh, yes... They gazed into each other's eyes and felt a drawing together, a blending that was as much internal, within their bond, as it was physical and of their bodies. Slowly, oh so slowly, they drew together until finally their lips met. Only then did their eyes drift shut, all the better to soak up the trembling intensity of the sensations shared by that tender kiss. * * * Three levels above, Catherine slept too, curled almost into a ball in his chair, the woolen wrap pulled loosely about her. Her sleep appeared seamless and still, but upon closer inspection there was a flickering motion beneath her closed eyelids. And beneath that, almost below the threshold of sound, from her lips came a barely perceptible hum. It was music...a waltz. * * * Could there be anything - anything! - that contained the exquisite rapture of Catherine's lips against his own? Impossible. Her silky softness drew him down, down, into her very depths, and with a groaning sigh he gave in and sought her out. Irresistible...she was irresistible to him... A tapping sound intruded on his subconscious and with a startled exclamation Vincent woke, pulled abruptly from that devastatingly erotic vision. "No..." The single word whispered out into the pale darkness, the yearning hunger in his voice all too plain, and all too despairing. He stared about him blindly for a moment, then rose shakily to his feet. The dream images were still clear in his mind's eye, the touch of Catherine against him, the taste of her tender lips as achingly present as if she were there, in that deep chamber with him. With trembling hands he pulled on his clothes, then left for the home tunnels, his steps slow, his shoulders slumped with a weary resignation. Within fifteen minutes he had reached the outer perimeter of the hub, and the bustling activity he encountered there told him clearly, even if his internal clock had not already done so, that it was now late in the morning, almost eleven o'clock. Still, despite the frequent encounters he met along the way, he somehow managed to avoid any extended conversation and invitations for tea and a chat. He didn't really need to make any serious attempts in this endeavor - the others were well aware of his usual activity on the special night just passed, and most simply smiled and nodded a greeting in passing, leaving him alone with what they were sure would be thoughts and images of Catherine. How well they knew him. But they couldn't know of the confusion and dismay filling him now, he thought grimly, as he finally reached his chamber entrance. That thought was suspended abruptly as his gaze took in the figure within. Catherine slept in his chair, a warm woolen throw wrapped around her huddled form. He stared at her in stunned disbelief for some minutes, astonished that she was here, and that he had been unaware of her presence. How could that be?! As quickly as that question came, the answer followed. The emotional turmoil of his thoughts, mixed ostensibly with Catherine's image, had no doubt overwhelmed any sense he might otherwise have had of her approach Below. And she had obviously slept here as he had in the small pool chamber, their sleeping consciousness' muting his normal perception of her. Why had she come back Below? She was obviously waiting for him... With a sudden sweeping glance, his eyes flew over the small table, taking in the sight of the two journals closed and stacked before her. He sucked in a rasping breath, frozen in consternation. She had obviously read the entries there. For several minutes he stood silently behind her, then slowly, almost resignedly, he sat down in the chair at her side. Her sleep was so peaceful, so undisturbed. He wondered at that, intensely aware himself of the turmoil which had held him so thoroughly in its grip these last few hours. So innocent and trusting she appeared, tucked into his chair, the woolen blanket wrapped round her slender form. So trusting... His gaze was drawn to the tender fullness of her lips. As if sensing his perusal, she stirred. A small sound emerged, almost a mewling sigh, and he watched the slight pursing of her mouth, fascinated by her beauty, drawn to her then perhaps more than he ever had been before. Through the bond he felt a shift and knew she was waking. He pulled his gaze reluctantly from her lips and pinned it resolutely upon her still closed eyes, knowing they would open at any minute. Trepidation filled him, but he stayed silent and still, waiting for her. Finally, with a shivery sigh her eyes fluttered open and met his own. Vincent. He was here, with her, in his own chamber. He sat so still before her, but his gaze was full of fear, and determination. He wasn't running from her now. Catherine could clearly see the acknowledgment there. He knew that she knew... "Catherine..." His voice was a throaty, uncertain whisper. She stayed still, her eyes holding his, and shook her head, almost imperceptibly, stopping his words. Her name trailed off and he waited. Finally she slipped from the chair and approached him, slowly, almost cautiously. When she reached his side she paused, but only for a moment, before crawling into his lap and wrapping her arms and the edges of her blanket about his shoulders, enclosing them both in the body-warmed, soft wool. Her face pressed tightly against his throat, and Vincent held his breath, almost afraid to move at all. An enticing scent, floral and woodsy, drifted tantalizingly near and without thought he nuzzled against the crown of her head, seeking that scent out, as he always did. She was irresistible to him, irresistible... She had lain still against him, but at his tentative touch, he felt her hands move in response, stroking tenderly across his shoulders and back, soothing the chaotic emotions seething within him. "Shhh, not now". She whispered huskily in his ear and he shuddered in response to the heat of her breath upon him. She held him close, murmuring soothingly into his ear, and her stroking caress somehow comforted him, despite the trembling intensity of those other emotions her touch always brought about. They stayed together that way for a long time, and it wasn't until the tapping of the pipes announced the noon hour that she stirred once again. "I should go, Vincent." She pulled back just enough so that their eyes could meet and he stared at her with a hesitant confusion. "Catherine?" A small hand came up and two fingers rested against his lips, stopping any further words. "Later, Vincent. We'll talk about it later." Her gaze held his calmly and he knew that this was indeed not over. He sighed raggedly, anxiously wondering where this would lead. He was both relieved and somehow regretful that this discussion had been put off yet again. Still, it was inevitable now, this conversation, that was a certainty. His musings were interrupted as she slid from his lap. For a moment, before he had gathered his wits about him, his hold upon her tightened, trying to keep her there, in his arms. In a moment rational thought took over once more and he released her. He felt an aching emptiness, though, as she left. Their walk back was silent. As they approached the threshold to her subbasement anxiety began to build in him. Once there she turned toward him and took his hands in her own, holding them tight. He didn't know what to say, and yet he couldn't let her go from him with this silence between them. He began to speak but for the third time she stopped him yet again, this time with no more than the barest expression in her clear gray eyes. "I know how difficult this is for you, Vincent. And I know I haven't made it any easier." She paused for a moment, a look of uncertainty in her face, then finally began again. "I know how hard it is for you to keep your feelings from me, and I know you think it's all for the best. I won't argue that with you, Vincent, not right now. Just know that I know how much you love me." He drew in a gasping breath at her words, stunned that she would say them to him, drawing his own hesitancy into vivid and full contrast. One hand had left his own and she stroked tenderly along his check, soothing the trembling she felt in him. "I've never doubted your love for me, Vincent, never. Believe that, Vincent, because it's true." Before he could gather his wits about him, she leaned in and pressed a soft kiss against his lips, just as she had last spring, after her father died and she'd spent time Below, with him. As it had then, her tender kiss left him frozen in stunned astonishment and consternation. She pulled away, her gaze holding his clearly, then turned and left him. He stared outward, seeing her yearning expression clearly long after she had gone. * * * Though Sunday's were usually restful, Vincent had offered to help at least three friends on projects that afternoon, and the day flew by in a flurry of activity. At the evening meal he found himself inordinately tired, the combined effect of almost no sleep in thirty-six hours and a hectic day taking its toll on him. He was glad of that fatigue, though. Throughout the day thoughts of Catherine pushed against the barriers he had resolutely built. He tried not to think about what would happen next, not quite up to that task yet, and hoped his weariness would hold that introspection at bay for at least a while longer. He would think about it tomorrow. When he finally reached his chamber he sank down wearily in his chair. The mellow glow from the torch-lit main hall didn't reach down the side tunnel to this place, and it was pitch dark within. But the darkness, like this chamber, was an old friend, and he automatically found the box of matches upon the table and lit two of the three candles in the cluster before him. The candles supplied a low, cozy light of gold, filling the room with hazy, almost sepia-toned hues of contrasting shadows and highlights. It was almost a ritual to him, this lighting of the candles in the evening and the subsequent view their glimmering aura brought, but not tonight. Tonight his eyes immediately fell upon the journals still stacked together in the center of the table. The thoughts so resolutely ignored throughout the day could not be held back now. They flooded in with a mighty rush and he let them come, a sense of resignation stealing over him. What had she thought as she'd read his words? What did she feel now? What she appalled? Shocked? Disgusted? Try as he might to believe it must be so, the sensation of her parting kiss knocked all those suppositions awry. Several times today he had for the briefest moment opened the bond to her, trying to sense her emotions. There had been nothing though. Nothing but a calm stillness. He couldn't imagine what it might portend, and he wouldn't allow himself to think about it, not then. With a trembling sigh he reached out and rested his hand upon the topmost book, imagining Catherine holding it, turning its pages, reading its words...his words. He had a sudden need to read those entries again, to imagine it was Catherine reading them, to see with her eyes, hear with her ears. He pulled the books toward him and opened the top one - the most recent one - to the latest entry, written just this morning. The book fell open to the last spot written in and he began to flip back to the beginning of his entry, two pages back, when suddenly he froze, caught by the delicate script of the last words there, behind his own. They were written in Catherine's hand. Vincent, With mixed emotions I read the words both here and from your other entry of our first Samhain eve two years ago. Pain and joy, yes, both together mixed inexplicably within me, and they are there yet, rising up in me, filling me with chaotic sensations that almost defy description. You agonize over our future, question our destiny and deny yourself the full measure of our love. I didn't need to read your words to know this, Vincent. I've always known...always. Over and over again I tell myself to wait, to be patient, to let you come to this inevitable conclusion through your own heart. And I know you will because I do believe it. I believe it all, both the inevitability of our destiny and it's blissful conclusion. I know we will have our happy life together. I wish I could say these words aloud to you, Vincent, that I could hold you and comfort you and assure you that it is so, that it must be. But I know how the very thought of this topic still pains you, how you yet fear it where I am concerned. I wish I could sweep away all your fears and dismiss them out of hand. They are wind, Vincent, no more. What can I say to convince you of this, my love? Tell me what to do. And yet I know that you must come to this of your own free will, uncoerced by my own certainties. I will not force you, Vincent, but I will wait - always. And as I wait, know that my dreams are filled with you, and only you. When you need my comfort but are stopped by your fears, when you want to hold me tight and feel my heart beating against your own, know that in my dreams I keep you close and safe and warm. In my dreams our love is complete. In my dreams there are no doubts and no hesitations. In my dreams there is only love and joy and a pleasure that knows no bounds, no limits. I love you Vincent...I always will. Sleep well, my love, with dreams of me, and know that I am dreaming of you. Catherine Vincent sat in stunned stillness at the conclusion of her words, almost frozen in place. A moment more and a trembling set up along his length, churning emotions building and surging within him, complex and contradictory. He felt that at any minute they would burst through his calm exterior, rending the night and him asunder in its path. With an uncharacteristic lack of grace, he stood jerkily, grabbed his cloak and left the chamber. When he reached the main tunnel he paused for a moment then turned right instead of left, heading upward instead of down, and within minutes had reached the park entrance he and Catherine used so frequently. An urging, dim and low, called out to him, out to that waiting stillness, and after searching about he left the dark safety of the entrance and moved out into the waiting quiet of the park. The night drew him on and he followed that urging, not certain where he was going but moving as if to a summons nonetheless. It was an odd sensation, not exactly like that of Catherine's presence in the bond, but somehow it was related to that unique connection. The call within stopped suddenly, stilling his footsteps. As if awakened from a fog he glanced confusedly about him, then in an instant recognized this place. There, just before him, was the sparse, tall strand of shrubbery and trees that he and Catherine had hidden within last night. And here, right where he stood, was the spot where that other couple had stopped and shared a kiss. Without thought he stepped off the path and into the center of the waving cluster of thin-leaved shrubs and young trees. There was an utter stillness within him now, a lack of sound or sensation that somehow spoke of a waiting expectation. He stood in the very center of that spot and closed his eyes, focusing on the source of that solitude, oblivious to the potential danger about him, here in this partially exposed place. The silence was deafening. The normal sounds of the night had disappeared altogether. Not wind nor insects nor murmuring, rustling trees filtered through and he couldn't tell if they were indeed absent this night or if something else blocked them from his senses. Still he didn't look outward, focusing all his attention within. Time passed, though he knew not how long it was, lost in that nebulous place of shadows. The total absence of sensation disappeared as he felt a touch, butterfly light, against his chest. Strangely enough he didn't open his eyes, not at first. Instead his hands rose to find the source of that touch and enclose them. He didn't need to see to know. Catherine's hands. They were small and silky soft, and he knew their shape and weight with a certainty beyond question. With a shocked sense of detachment he realized that he had known all along that she would come here, that she would come to him. His eyes opened then, and she was there, her luminous gaze starry bright with unshed tears, staring up at him. Her eyes were silvery gray, as if the very moonlight were contained within them. Their tender urgings pulled emotion from him with effortless ease, and the words he found so hard to say to her in the past emerged now in a whisper, a husky trembling there that spoke of an undeniable truth that could no longer be withheld. "I love you, Catherine." Her fingers tightened within his own at those words, twining with his and the welling tears spilled over, slipping down her pale cheeks. She made no move to wipe them away, pressing their hands tighter still against his chest. And neither could he withdraw his touch from her. Yet those tears called to him, trembling upon her lashes and leaving a wet trail along her silky skin. Slowly, almost hypnotically he leaned in toward her, his intent plain. When he was just inches away her eyelids fluttered closed and then his lips pressed warmly against their trembling curves. He tasted the salty wetness there and moved to kiss away the rest, stopping at her jaw. A moment later he repeated those gentle, comforting kisses along the other side of her face. When he reached the corner of her mouth, the trembling of her lips called to him and he hesitated for just a moment before sliding over and covering her mouth with his own. A stillness filled them both, and there was no mistaking it this time. The bond trembled on the edge of expectancy, a fluttery excitement building there and through them both. Catherine stayed motionless, waiting for this first real kiss from him, her body taut with anticipation. He felt it all, and he couldn't deny her, not this time. Slowly, hesitantly, he began to nuzzle against her, pressing the alien texture of his lips against the satiny smoothness of her own. And then her lips began to move in perfect counterpoint to his own, a delicate dance that held him in thrall. Suddenly her tongue was upon him, tracing the foreign curves of his mouth, tasting him in a way that shocked him to his very soul. He froze against her, stunned by indecision. He should end this now, he knew it with an absolute certainty. A moment later, when she licked tenderly against the hidden cleft of his upper lip he gasped in shocked surprise, an erotic pleasure of such intensity filling him that there could be no question of his leaving her now, none at all. He pulled her close and their tongues met in urgent demand. This new intimacy was unbelievably erotic. He was lost in the luscious taste of her. Just when he thought there could be no more, that his senses couldn't possibly experience another thing, her scent surrounded and engulfed him. He was lost in the spell she wove. Always that scent called to him - always. When they were together he sought it out in the silky fall of her hair, in the gentle curve of her neck. At first he had dismissed those intimate moments, pretending they were nothing more than an innocent, comforting touch between them, but it had been months now since he had tried to fool himself with that argument. Just as the bond called their souls together, her body called to him, drawing him to her with an irresistible force. A sudden sound reached through to him and as one they turned to look down the path. A couple approached, their conversation a low murmur. Vincent's heart pounded, his breath a rasping gasp, and in his arms he felt those same things from Catherine, felt the violent trembling of her body in the aftermath of that devastating kiss. These two were not as engrossed as the others had been. Surely they would see them standing together there, the chaotic emotions of the bond still holding them in its thrall. His hands tugged away from her own, and after a momentary tightening she let them go, watching him with a yearning intensity that proved deliciously distracting. He pulled his hood forward to cover the glistening copper of his hair, then, tugging open the dark folds of cloak his arms encircled her, wrapping her within it, with him. Without hesitation, he sank to his knees in the rustling foliage, pulling her down along with him. Everything was utterly silent. Though the two strangers approached, Vincent was aware only of Catherine, of her pressed tightly along his length, from knee to breast. He began to loosen his hold upon her, trying to draw away, to sink back upon his knees and put some space between them, but her arms tightened about his waist and though it would have taken no effort at all to pull away, he couldn't do it. He stared into her eyes and gasped in shocked dismay at the hunger there. Nothing was hidden now - nothing. Another low gasp escaped his lips as he felt the muscles along his length tremble and flex, his whole body responding to the intimate touch of her own. "Catherine..." The word was barely audible, certainly not to the pair who even now drew nigh upon the path just feet away. His voice trembled with uncertainty and fear, but he knew she hadn't missed the husky desire beneath it all. They had taken a giant leap forward this day, and he was suddenly consumed with the thought of how to retreat from this frightening advance, as he always had in the past. Those frantic musings were interrupted by Catherine's fervent kiss. It took him completely by surprise. Always in the past she had respected his fears, had let him retreat to safer ground, giving him space and privacy to subdue the raging emotions her closeness brought. But now... Now he could taste her honeyed sweetness, the heat of her mouth caressing his own in a way that shocked his senses beyond anything he'd ever before experienced in his life. That shocked indecision lasted but a moment, and then he was drawing her closer still, pressing her yearning body along the tautly aroused length of his own. His hands moved feverishly along her back, beneath his cloak, and suddenly he found the edge of her sweater, slipping beneath it to stroke her satiny skin, astonished by the erotic sensations she inspired in him. "Oh, Vincent...yes...yes..." Catherine moaned against his mouth, their breath shared completely, and for a moment he spared a thought for the strangers nearby. He pulled his mouth from hers with a gasping groan and scanned the nearby path. There they were, quite far down the path now, well on their way from them and apparently completely oblivious to their presence. "Vincent!" The urgency in her whispered plea brought him back to her, and then they were locked in a passionate kiss that seemed to pull them out of themselves, their souls mingling together in the bond and everywhere about them, heightening the erotic pleasure singing through them both. The feel of her satiny flesh beneath his hands inflamed him and he stroked her skin with a fiery urgency, moving higher along the tender curve of her spine until he reached her shoulders. He cupped their soft curves tenderly, his hold tightening upon her as their embrace grew more intimate then fell back to the leaf-strewn carpet and pulled her down atop him, kissing her with a wild intensity that couldn't be stilled. He needed her closer...closer. His hands wrapped around her back once more and stroked upward until his fingers brushed the satiny skin beneath her arms. He felt the naked curves of her breasts, and despite the anxiety that filled him over that intimate touch, he couldn't stop. He caressed the soft flesh tenderly, desperate to touch her everywhere, to know every intimate secret of her body, as he did of her soul. He ached to be closer yet to her and without thought he rolled them both until she was beneath him, his full weight holding her down. Catherine responded to that new position instantly, wrapping her legs high about his waist. He sank down to be enfolded by her in an intimacy that would have been unstoppable were it not for the layers of clothing barring the final fulfillment they both so craved. Closer...he needed her closer... Slipping to his knees between her legs Vincent pulled his weight off of her somewhat, breaking the hold of her legs about him. His hands left her back and slipped between them, fumbling with the buttons at the waist of her jeans. Her own fingers joined his, moving frantically to help rid herself of the obstacle they now represented. A rustling of leaves being tread underfoot on the dirt path held him suddenly motionless, his eyes scanning outward. Over the ridge a jogger approached. He disappeared quickly though, taking a path off to one side which led away from this place. A ragged gasp of relief left him and he turned back to her, his eyes widening at the sight of her. Catherine lay before him in erotic disarray, her sweater pushed up to bare her ribcage, the first two buttons of her jeans undone, the taut curves of her belly heaving with exertion and desire. What had he done?! Pushing away, he fell back on his haunches, his hands pressing against trembling thighs. A dark curtain of hair covered his face, his head bowed forward in despair. Gasping pants filled the night as he tried desperately to calm the emotions raging within him. "No!" He looked up with astonishment to find her sitting before him, her hands cupping his face to force his gaze to hers. "Don't do this, not now, Vincent. Please!" He stared at her in disbelief. How could this be?! He was certain she could be nothing less than disgusted and repulsed by his behavior, but it wasn't so, not at all. He could read her emotions easily, felt them clearly through the bond, and even he could not fool himself into believing they were other than they were. Their gazes locked together as he perused her with a fierce intensity, needing to know this now, know exactly what she was feeling for him. He saw the shift in her expression a moment later. A look of surprise filled her eyes, followed quickly by understanding. Her hands slipped away from his face and traced downward over his chest. His breast heaved with panting breaths, but she didn't pause there, not yet. Her fingers found the edges of his sweater and thermal shirt and slipped beneath. A gasping breath escaped him as he felt her fingers resting lightly against the trembling planes of his abdomen. They were still for a moment only, then began to explore him tenderly, working her way upward. She stroked against the long, silky swirls of hair, thick in some places, almost absent along the sides of his broad chest. Finally she reached his breast. Her fingers caressed him tenderly, searching through the silky thatch to find the hard pebbles of his nipples, stroking them with an urgency that made him shudder, his body surging in sexual response. A growling groan escaped him, floating out into the night; "Oh, Catherine..." She didn't stop and in minutes the ferocity building within him seemed ready to burst free, fierce and unstoppable in the desire he felt for her, released now within the fullness of his love for her. Before that could happen he somehow found the strength to pull away from her, from the tender hands that tortured him with their astonishing, loving caresses. They stared at each other in shocked disbelief, amazed that such a thing had almost happened at all, much less here, in the open stillness of the park. Her eyes met his bravely, but he saw the blissful light there begin to fade, replaced by a resigned acceptance of the inevitable. "Catherine," He spoke quickly, before he could rethink the wisdom of the thought now filling him. "Will you come with me, Below?" He stared in trepidation, holding his breath anxiously as he waited for her response. He didn't have long to wait. Almost instantly her eyes were alight once more with a hopeful glow and she nodded eagerly, though there was now a tinge of shyness in her gaze. On trembling legs he stood, then drew her up to him. She tugged her sweater down and redid the two topmost buttons of her jeans with shaking hands. He was astonished to find that he couldn't look away. Finally he took her hand and they headed back to the tunnel entrance. Once there he led her down in silent concentration. They spoke not at all, but he never released the tight grip he had on her hand. As they left the central hub, Vincent stopped at a storage room to find a lantern, filling and lighting it before they proceeded on. Twenty minutes later they passed down the stairway by the abyss, then onward through the Chamber of the Winds. The swirling, eerie breezes caught at her clothing and hair, leaving her in disarray and almost totally confused about where they were and where they were going. It wasn't until they stood directly before the giant doors, sealed securely by the large beam, that Catherine realized they had arrived at his intended destination, the Great Hall. Only then did he release her hand, moving forward to slide the huge wooden bar from its resting place. Catherine watched that maneuver with admiration and awe, her eyes wide at the sight of the straining muscles of his arms, back and thighs. All too soon it was over. The door was pushed wide and he turned back to her, his hand held out in invitation. Though he didn't speak them now, she clearly heard the words he had spoken during their first Winterfest together; 'Can I lead you through the dark?' Her trembling fingers reached out instantly for his and as one they entered into the cavernous hall. The lamp was set upon a table in the corner, but only a small portion of the chamber could be seen by its light. Vincent drew her forward to the center of the room. He left her there and a moment later a flame sprang into being, a torch clearly illuminated now on the far wall. Between those two light sources the hall was now dimly and cozily lit. A minute later he once again stood by her side. They stood silent together, looking out at the vastness of the hall surrounding him. When Catherine turned once more to him, she found him standing motionless, his eyes closed. As if he knew she stared at him his eyes opened, instantly meeting hers. "Do you hear it?" he asked, his voice a low murmur. She knew instantly what he was asking her. Her own eyes drifted shut and she stood in still silence, opening herself fully to the workings of their bond. As it had this morning, his presence was there, this time even more intimately close than before. Music drifted on the edge of her conscious awareness, growing louder moment by moment. Her eyes opened to find him staring at her with an intensity that caught her breath. A shiver jolted down her spine and it was a moment more before she could answer him. "I hear it." Her eyes stared compelling into his, urging him to take that next step, to let them move forward just a little more this night, despite the tremendous gains already experienced Above, in the park, to make them real, to show that he would not retreat yet again from this advance. He didn't disappoint her, though he trembled visibly on the threshold, a mix of hesitation, trepidation and tender yearning in his gaze. "Dance with me, Catherine?" The poignancy of his whispered question was almost too much too bear. She held out her arms to him and he came into them instantly. They stood motionless for a moment as the music slowly infused them, tingling up along their clasped hands and easing through their trembling bodies. Slowly they swayed to the music, their gazes locked together. In moments they swept about the open, empty hall, the music guiding their steps completely, winging them almost unconsciously about that magical space. Vincent couldn't remember ever feeling such a sweet intensity of emotions as he did now, with Catherine in his arms in this hall of celebration. It was proper that their evening should include this place tonight of all nights. He felt the utter rightness of it deep inside. Last night's Samhain's eve had heralded in a new era for them, that much was clear. As that realization made itself known to him he pulled her closer yet. He held her tighter and their movement stilled until it was nothing more than a gentle swaying, their bodies brushing together with a growing sensuality. It throbbed throughout their bond, filling all the corners there, illuminating them completely with a surging pulse of love and desire. Emboldened by the words spoken earlier this night, and desperate now to hear her own in response, he held her closer still, then whispered lowly in her ear; "I love you, Catherine, so much. You're everything to me, my love, everything." He felt her tremble against him and was astonished once again to find he could give her such pleasure by the speaking of those simple words. With a heady sense of freedom he said them again, and yet again: "I love you, Catherine. I love you." A sob burst against his chest and he pulled away with dismay, scanning her tear-streaked face and their connection with an urgent need. A blissful joy radiated throughout the bond. Her emotions devastated him with their intensity and he pulled her back in his arms and kissed her feverishly, drinking in the sweet nectar of her lips with a thirst that had gone too long unslaked. Finally he left her mouth and buried his face against the gentle curve of her throat. Blood pulsed just beneath his lips, throbbing and hot, and he kissed her there, inflamed by her silky heat. "Oh, Catherine, Catherine!" He trembled against her and her hands stroked along his back, calming the emotions churning within him. "It's all right, Vincent. It's all right. I'm here, my love, and I'll never leave you - never! God, how I love you!" She pulled him closer yet and he held her tight, his body seeking hers with an instinct as old as time. Some minutes passed and the fiery urgings in his belly grew, his breath now a panting rasp filling the vast hall. The thought flashed through him that he must have her now, right this minute, or die. At the raw intensity of that image he pulled away in shock, stepping back several feet to put some distance between them. "I'm sorry, Catherine, I..." His voice trembled with anxiety and despair, and she moved forward immediately, her fingers pressed against his quivering lips. "Shhh, Vincent, don't. You never need to apologize to me for your desire. Don't you know how it makes me feel, to know that you love me? To know that you want me? It means everything, Vincent, everything!" He stared at her in stunned disbelief, then drew in a trembling breath; "I do love you, Catherine. And I want you...so much. But my emotions are so strong. I'm afraid." He hesitated for a moment, his expression one of outright fear. "I'm afraid, Catherine. Afraid I'll hurt you. Afraid this was not meant to be, not for me. I never expected to have this, not your love, and certainly not this..." His voice trailed off in uncertainty and she held out her arms, urging him back to the comfort of them. He hesitated only a moment before accepting her embrace. The trembling of his muscles was still strong, but it was diminishing now, as if the very speaking of those fears had helped to ease them somewhat. "I know, my love. I know." She murmured into his ear, swaying against him in a soothing motion. "But there's nothing to be afraid of. I know you won't hurt me, and soon you'll believe it, too. I'm here, Vincent, and I'll help you through this." He pulled back to meet her gaze with his own, an urgent intensity there. "I want to believe it, Catherine, I want to desperately!" She held his fevered gaze for a long while, easing his turbulent emotions through the bond. And it was working. Within moments he felt himself growing calmer, his control once more reasserting itself. Finally she spoke again. "You see, Vincent, there's nothing to be afraid of when we're together." Hesitation appeared and after a moment he replied, the words dragged reluctantly from him; "Together... Not now, perhaps, but a few minutes ago I don't think the same could be said..." "No." She stopped him with a firm certainty. "You protect me always - always! That can never change. I see it so clearly. Why can't you?" Her eyes burned into his demanding an answer, and he couldn't withhold it. "I love you, Catherine, and I know that everything in me does, including that dark side I try so hard to deny." He paused then, a fearful uncertainty on his face. Just when she was almost positive that he wouldn't go on, he spoke again in a tremulous voice. "That side of me is...primal. It knows nothing of restraint, nothing of caution. I don't trust it." His last words were spoken with a trembling fear and sorrow. Underneath it all she clearly heard the resignation which could so easily end this progress before it had a full chance to flourish. She felt him waiting for her response, and felt just as certainly the sense of futility stealing over him. Instead of her words, she gave him her touch. Her hands slid under his sweaters as they had Above in the park, and stroked tenderly along his sensitive skin, building the arousal that had been so carefully banked just a few short minutes ago and she both heard and felt his gasping breath. "I trust you, Vincent, both the light and the dark. I know you could never hurt me, and if you'll just give me a chance I'll convince you of it, too. Please, Vincent. I promise to let us go forward slowly. We have time, my love, a whole lifetime ahead of us. Just tell me that you'll try, that you'll let me show you how it can be between us. Promise me, Vincent, please!" He stared at her in astonished disbelief, his attention firmly upon her face, despite the tingling of his body at her tender caress. Finally, slowly, he nodded. "Yes," his voice was a low, husky whisper, "I promise." She nodded in response, a smile of relief, amazement and a carefully banked excitement easing across her face, the lines of tension and fear slowly dissipating. Her hands stilled upon him, then finally slipped away, smoothing his sweater down in a loving caress before taking his hand in her own and turning toward the doors which would lead them out and back to the home tunnels. He stopped for a moment to extinguish the torch, pushed the doors open wide and retrieved their lantern. As the doors swung shut behind them the barest hint of music could be heard, singing in the distance and echoing off the walls in the hall behind them. Long after they left that place they could hear the music still. Vincent suspected that they always would now. They walked in silence for thirty minutes, finally arriving at the juncture of the side path which led to his chamber. Straight ahead, along the main tunnel lay the way to her subbasement, but Vincent hesitated, and Catherine held her breath, wondering what he could possibly be thinking of. "Catherine..." His quiet word interrupted her thoughts, and she started in surprise. "Yes?" "Would you..." He couldn't seem to finish that thought, and it was several minutes before he tried again. "Would you stay with me a while longer?" She drew in a sharp breath, hardly believing he had spoken those words. Before she could respond, he hurried on, clarifying his words. "Just a while. I don't want this evening to end yet." Catherine could swear that he was blushing, though the golden tone of his complexion was not typically given to exposing that sensitive state. "Will you..." "Yes." She interrupted his tentative words with an eagerness that left his head spinning. "I'll stay for as long as you'll have me." He stared at her in astonishment, and it took a supreme effort of will not to state the obvious, not to tell her that he wanted her here forever and always. She smiled up at him with her luminous gaze and tugged his hands with her own, urging him down that darker path, but he paused, looking back along the main tunnel with consternation, wondering what in the world had come over him, making such a bold request. It was out of the question, it must not be allowed. What had he been thinking of?! He would have to tell her that he had been wrong, that this was all a mistake. Yes, he would tell her now, and take her back to the safety of her apartment Above. He turned to find her still at his side, a look of innocent trust and calm certainty upon her face as she gazed up at him. Beneath that calm exterior, though, he clearly felt a growing excitement through their bond. She was trying hard to keep it muted, but it was too strong for him to miss. Like quicksilver it wove its way to him, an intoxicating mix of passion and love that threatened to drown him in its lush richness. The resolute certainty of a moment ago spun away as if it were nothing. She turned toward his chamber, his hand clasped tightly in her own, and without hesitation he followed. That sudden shift in resolve lasted all of thirty seconds. Within that time, upon crossing the threshold to his chamber, Vincent felt a sinking sensation of doubt and fear. What now? He stared about the well-known space as if seeing it for the first time, uncertain what to do or say next. Catherine, however, stepped forward, drawing his introspection away from himself, his attention focused, as always, upon her. She moved to the center table to rest her hand upon the journals still stacked there and turned to look at him, an expression of regret on her face. "I'm sorry I read your journals, Vincent. I know it was wrong of me." She paused a moment and he could easily see that no matter what it had led to, this intrusion on his privacy bothered her terribly. Her lower lip quivered visibly before she went on; "I just didn't know what else to do." He moved forward quickly and covered her trembling hand with his own. "I'm the one who's sorry, Catherine. I never wanted to hide anything from you. More than anything else I want to share my deepest thoughts and feelings with you...share everything with you..." His voice trailed off upon the realization of what those words meant, and for a moment he could not meet her questioning gaze. "And we will Vincent, I promise you that. But I never wanted to impose upon your private thoughts. Journals are personal. I should have respected that." He stared at her with an odd, troubled look in his eyes, and she wondered if he would be able to articulate the thoughts so clearly filling him now. A moment more and her breath released with a sigh of surprised relief as he began to do just that. "Don't I impose upon your private thoughts? You are always with me, Catherine," his hand pressed tightly against his heart at those words and her own fluttered strongly in response, "but I take more than that." Where minutes before she was sure she had seen a darkening of his skin, she now clearly saw it pale dramatically. "I've taken more, Catherine, and without your knowledge or consent." His voice was husky at that last line, almost harsh, and he didn't seem able to go on. She knew she had to help him through this, but how? What did he need now? Whatever it was, she would give it gladly. Staring intently into his eyes she read fear and condemnation. He blinked rapidly, holding back tears and suddenly she knew what she had to do. "How, Vincent? Tell me what it is you think you've done." The blinking increased, and she knew that she was on dangerous ground, but she also knew that now was the time to push those boundaries. Finally he responded to her challenge. "I feel what you feel, Catherine, you know that. And yet I have not been satisfied to take that alone." He hesitated a moment before going on. "You give so much to me through our bond, so much of yourself, but sometimes...sometimes I need more." The pause now was a bit longer than before, but Catherine didn't speak, waiting instead for him. "No matter how much I know what can and cannot be, though my head tells me one thing, my heart tells me another. Time and time again I push you away, Catherine, but I cannot let you go. Always, always, I draw you back, even when I know it is best that you stay far from me." These words were a hopeful beginning, but they were nebulous nonetheless. Catherine placed her free hand on his chest, upon the soft wool of his sweater, and felt his heart beating rapidly beneath her palm. His own hand rested upon her other, atop the stacked journals, his fingers gripping hers convulsively, almost unconsciously. "Please, Vincent," she whispered beseechingly, "you can tell me. You can tell me anything." An odd light appeared in his eyes, and she stared at him intently, trying hard to interpret the meaning there, but it was impossible. Suddenly he glanced down at the journals, and a moment later his hand left hers to tug the stack forward. Her own hand fell away from the topmost volume and she caught her breath as he slipped the older book from beneath and began to flip through its pages. Finally he stopped, turning it towards her, his intention clear; he wanted her to read what he had written there almost two years ago. Catherine stared down at the page, then up at him, trying to gauge if indeed this is what he wanted her to do. When she saw the resolute certainty on his face, she pulled her chair out from the table, sat down and began to read. December 1st, 1987 My Dearest Catherine, Tonight you were filled with such anguish, such despair. For a moment, as I approached you on your balcony, you were unaware of me, but I was never unaware of you - not for a moment. I knew your emotions, I knew your thoughts. I try, Catherine, I try not to take advantage of my growing sense of you through the bond, but it is impossible. I feel your confusion and know its source, for indeed it is within me, just as you, too, are within me, never to be exchanged, replaced or denied. A movement, part motion, part sound, interrupted her reading, and she paused as Vincent sat down beside her at the table. Their eyes met and her own widened with consternation at the trepidation she saw there, but he nodded ever so slightly, clearly urging her on, and a moment later she bent back to the entry. The growing bond between us was a torture to me before I saw you again, just two short months ago, but now... Now I don't think I could live without it. You are a part of me, Catherine, and everything of you is therefore a part of me, too. Every day I feel the bond tightening between us, drawing us closer and closer together. Every day I feel the effect of that growing connection. Your emotions permeate my being, night and day, filling me with the blissful sensation of your presence. Nothing could be sweeter. Nothing. How did I ever live without this, Catherine? And yet sometimes, especially of late, I'm consumed with guilt and shame. What the bond supplies and what I take are not necessarily one and the same. I felt your fear and distrust of me a few nights ago, while the drug you were unknowingly given gained its hold upon you. And tonight I felt your shame and pain, your distress that you could feel such fear of me. How I wish I could calm your mind and erase that pain. Yes, I was hurt and confused by your first response, but even then I knew that something was wrong, and that knowledge tempered my pain. I know you would never knowingly hurt me, Catherine. Tonight especially I felt it so clearly. How can I comfort you in the aftermath of such a devastating manipulation? You were used for the Voodoo cult's own malicious ends, a victim once again, as you were that awful night last April. How I wish I could have spared you this pain. I should have been there for you. I should have known... That thought consumes me now, its inescapable contradictions violent in their chaotic energies. They fill me with a restlessness that craves release. I have felt that restlessness before - that duality which can only be expunged by an exhaustion of both my body and mind. For hours this night I sought out the former, walking the park Above after I left you, and for miles Below after that, to no avail. Perhaps this introspection will do what the other could not. And so now, for the first time in written words, if not in the privacy of my own thoughts, I must own to a shame that haunts me. I've taken your innocence and trust like a thief in the night, Catherine. Taken it for my own selfish ends. I should have been content with the sweet thread of you through our bond, but I was not. I needed more... No, I wanted more. I will deceive myself no more on that head. How many times have I sought you out? How many times have I drawn that thread tight and taut, pulling you to me, or going to you, through our burgeoning bond? Sometimes, in the depths of that shared union I have even come to your home, standing outside the windowed door of your balcony, watching you sleep. If you only knew how I dream of crossing that threshold and stepping inside... You don't yet feel the growing force of our connection as I do, Catherine, but somehow I know that you will. Someday you will feel it every bit as clearly as I. I both crave and dread that day. What will happen when you know? This gift you have brought to me is a pleasure beyond imagining, all the more so for my certain knowledge that it cannot last. I know I was never meant to have this, just as I know that you were destined to live a happy life, full of all the riches and love that only a man from Above can supply. That man can never be me. Catherine paused in consternation at the emphatic finality of those words, shocked by their cold brevity. At that same moment, though, she saw the cockled, stained texture of the paper and with a burst of insight knew that those marks had been caused by his tears. What pain had he felt upon this admission to himself? What agonies of self-doubt must he have endured to be so certain of his own unhappy existence, alone? Tears welled up in her own eyes at that realization, spilling down to wet the page beneath her, joining with his in a way that struck her forcibly. Nothing more could have spoken so of the true destiny between them than this telling sign tying them together yet again more than two years later. So much had changed since then. Surely he no longer believed that they could ever exist apart?! Catherine's head snapped up to meet his gaze once more, a questioning entreaty there. Vincent met that searching glance bravely, but she could clearly see the doubt which still remained. She stared at him in stunned disbelief for a minute more, then quickly returned to the journal entry, anxious to finish it now. That thought is indeed a torture to me. I know I can never have you...I know that. And yet, despite that knowledge, how can I live with the thought of you loved by another? It is a pain past bearing. That another might hold you, kiss you, touch you as I long to do...that I might feel it all, through you... It is unthinkable! It cannot be and yet I know it must. How can I endure this? The very idea is a terror that fills my soul and only you can erase that fear, Catherine, only you. Even now everything within me is crying out to go to you, to seek out your sweet presence in the bond, to take strength from you, whether given freely or no. I will not...I must not... I wish you were here, and yet that is no solution, none at all. You are the last person I can share these thoughts with, though you are the only one who can help me. Oh, Catherine, what shall I do? Tell me, Catherine, please tell me what to do. Vincent Vincent watched her finish the journal entry, his eyes taking in the rigid set of her shoulders and arms. Through their bond he clearly felt her tension growing, though it was a muted sensation, obviously under careful guard by her. That thought was borne out a moment later when, with a sudden convulsion of her whole body, a sob burst forth. Pain shot through him, engulfing him and he rose to his feet with a breathy gasp. He fell to his knees beside her and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her toward him. Her arms reached out for him with a desperate strength, holding him tight. He felt her erratic, shaking breath and pounding heart beneath the soft curves of her breasts, pressing closer still in a frantic attempt to take her pain into himself. "Don't cry, Catherine, please don't cry." He rocked against her and the soothing motion of his body and the warmth of his voice wove it's way through her distress. Finally her tears stopped. When there was no more than an occasional sniffle to be heard he leaned back on his haunches, pulling her down toward him. She slid from the chair and curled into his lap as naturally as if she had always belonged there, and somewhere deep inside a voice whispered out to Vincent that it was indeed true; Catherine belonged here, with him. "I'm sorry, Catherine, I didn't mean to upset you so. I should never have shown you that. It was a long time ago..." She pulled away to stare intently into his eyes, her own still red-rimmed and wet with tears. "You still feel that way, don't you, Vincent?" It wasn't really a question and he could see that there was no use in denying it, even if he could bring himself to lie to her, which he couldn't. But neither could he bring himself to answer, and so he sat in silent confusion before her. "You said you couldn't bear the thought of another holding me, kissing me, touching me. No man will ever do that again with my consent. You know that now, don't you?" At those words Vincent drew in a shuddering breath. Words spilled out quickly then, as if torn from him. "Don't, Catherine. It hurts just as much to know that I could keep you from the life you were meant to live." He was gasping for breath now, panic and pain overwhelming him. Catherine tightened her arms about him and cuddled closer still, tucking herself intimately along his length. A new trembling began to vibrate along his muscles, only this one had nothing to do with fear. He knew he should move her away from him and impose some calm to this situation which was fast getting out of hand, but somehow that thought would not move beyond the realm of ideas and his arms stayed where they were, holding her close. Catherine was silent for a few minutes longer, absorbing the conflicting signals transmitted to her both from her body and the bond. When next she spoke, her voice was a low whisper and her gray eyes entreated him. "You are the life I was meant to live. Don't you know that? You are the one, the only one who can hold me," her arms tightened around him, "kiss me," her lips pressed against his before he realized what she was doing, "touch me." He gasped when her hand slid down his arm, capturing his own and lifting it to press it to her breast. Her heart beat rapidly beneath his palm and he couldn't withdraw either his gaze or his touch from her, though he shook violently in response to that intimate touch, a moan pulled from the very depths of his being. She could clearly feel his emotions, he saw that now. With a sudden flash he realized that she felt everything through their bond, just as he had for so long. He stared at her with a shocked expression that bordered upon disbelief. "Catherine...?" His voice shook, as did the hand upon her, but he didn't move it, and he never finished the thought, staring deep into the silvery gray depths of her eyes. "Kiss me, Vincent." He drew in a gasping breath at those words, stunned by the command inherent in them. They had moved so far this evening. Why should this simple request affect him so strongly. They had kissed tonight, first in the park and then in the Great Hall. Those kisses had been nothing like the one given after her father's death. These were passionate and deep, a sure reflection of the depth of their passion for one another. Why, after those kisses, was he hesitating now? The answer presented itself immediately. This kiss would be a culmination and acknowledgment of all that had come before. With this kiss he was accepting the destiny which Catherine had embraced so boldly. Could he do that? Could he make such a decision? It would change their lives forever, of that he was certain. Catherine waited with shivery anticipation, her hand pressing his warmly to her soft curves, a tingling growing there which was even now coursing through her body to warm her blood. Her eyelids fluttered closed for a moment with the overwhelming emotional impact of this moment and his sigh whispered out, his breath gusting against her face. She could drown in him, the thought swept through her in a foggy haze. Vincent saw the transition sweep across her face and knew her expressions were mirrored by his own. A motion caught his attention and he dragged his gaze away from her luminous eyes to pin it on her lips, trembling now in a barely restrained excitation. "Please, Vincent, kiss me now..." He couldn't do it, it wasn't right, it must not be. But even as those thoughts scrolled across his mind his body was responding to the urgency of her plea. The arm about her waist tightened, pulling her forward, though the hand on her breast stayed where it was. His fingers tingled at the sensation of her taut nipple as he stroked along the soft curves there, and part of him noted that transition from a passive holding to a tentative touching with astonishment. That realization, though, didn't stop him. He drew her closer and closer until finally his own hand was pressed tight between them, caught and stilled by the trembling press of their bodies. "Catherine!" He groaned out her name just before his lips covered her own. The kiss was all that had come before and more. His mouth took hers with an aggresiveness that stunned her. She gave in willing to his strength, swooning in his arms as passion washed through her entire body, leaving her both energized and weak. There was no hesitancy in this kiss and Catherine's response was instantaneous. She wanted to devour him utterly. She wanted to lay beneath him and feel his weight upon her, solid and warm. When it felt as though she might actually faint from the erotic bliss filling her, he pulled his mouth from hers, their gasping pants echoing together throughout the chamber. Her emotions plummeted. She knew what would come next and steeled herself for the inevitable. They had made a tremendous leap forward, but all their advances were followed by retreats, and she was certain this time would be no different. With a supreme effort of will she clamped down on her growing desire, determined to help him in this. When he was ready, she would be there for him she reminded herself. She would have to be patient, no matter how hard it was... "Catherine, do you hear it?" His quiet, husky question interrupted her chaotic thoughts, and for a moment she didn't understand, confusion filling her. "What? I..." "The music. Do you hear it?" His eyes were hesitant and unsure, but there was something else there now too, something that hadn't been there before. The answer came without thought, as all perfect truths do. "I always hear the music when we're together, Vincent." She held her breath, waiting for his next words, wondering what it could possibly mean. A moment more and she knew, happiness and joy flooding her being and their bond. "Dance with me, Catherine." * * * The End (well, not really...) ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ About the Author Terry writes: 'The Walls Grew Thin' was published in the fall '96 issue of the CABB Classic anthology, Sanctuary. It is a Classic C&V romance with mild adult overtones. For more info on CABB, go to url: www.rtchaos.com/cabb/cabb.html.