The roaring thunder of the falls all but numbed Vincent's mind, and he was grateful for a brief respite from the whirl of thoughts and mixed emotions torturing him. With secure and practiced movements he climbed up the rocks until he stood on a ledge close to the edge from where the water rushed down the steep rocky wall into a pond below. Vincent often came to this vantage point from where he could survey the vast and vaulted cavern in its entirety. The spray of the falls coated him with tiny droplets of moisture and he thought fleetingly how wonderful it would be if the water could cleanse all clouds from his soul. A draught came in with the river and tugged at his hair. The folds of his cloak whipped around his body, and he welcomed the challenge the forces of nature threw at him. Balancing carefully on the edge of the cliff, he cherished the breeze and inhaled deeply. Releasing his breath, he finally acknowledged what the bond had been subtly conveying to him all the time: Catherine was Below, looking for him, needing to talk to him.
Vincent thought that he had never been more desperate and confused in his life. He couldn't face her. Not now. Not like this. His mind screamed that she had been right, that he should have let her go without trying to hold her back, but his heart felt like it was being ripped from his chest when he imagined a life without her. Finally he dropped to his knees and closed his eyes, allowing a moment of weakness to wash over him as he thought how much simpler things would be for everyone if he didn't exist.
With a resolute shake of his head, he closed himself against the darkness of that mood and rose to his feet. Was he imagining things or did the draught suddenly carry a sound? He cocked his head and listened, oblivious to the cold gust of air which drifted across his moist face. Suddenly the wind grew stronger and the soft hum intensified until it drowned out even the noise of the falls. Pressing his fists against his ears, Vincent struggled to maintain his balance as he turned around to look in the direction the draught was coming from. The small beam of light filtering in from Above rose to a blinding brilliance which forced him to grope for something to hold onto lest he stumble and fall.
Suddenly all went silent, so silent that it took Vincent a while before he became aware of the sound of the rushing water again. All the confusing questions and painful doubts had momentarily vanished as if the swirling air had swept them from his mind. A sweet tranquility filled his soul. He wouldn't lose Catherine. He wouldn't. He had never felt more certain of anything in his life.
Catherine sighed. Folding laundry certainly wasn't among her favorite tasks, but it was downright enjoyable in comparison to the talk she'd had with Elliot the day before. He had been disappointed, but not overly surprised, to hear that she wasn't going to marry him. She had been as honest with him as possible without giving away the secrets of Vincent and the Tunnels.
Absentmindedly, Catherine put away the last stack of towels and walked over into her kitchen to empty the dishwasher.
Of course, Elliot hadn't believed her when she told him there was someone else in her life. Catherine remembered the shame she had felt when Elliot asked her why she hadn't informed him about that man right away when he had declared his love to her. She had been unable to answer to that. When she finally confessed to him that she wanted to prevent the tower from being built at almost any cost, Elliot had looked at her wordlessly for seemingly endless seconds without saying anything. Catherine had felt as if being swallowed by the earth would have been easier to endure than that stare.
'Why is this so important to you?' he'd finally asked with suspicion in his eyes.
A dozen answers had been on the tip of her tongue, but she had swallowed them all. Instead of a reply, she had just stepped up to him and hugged him. There had been bewilderment his eyes when she left -- and pain, and at that moment Catherine had known with startling clarity that, no matter what, the tower wouldn't be built. Something would happen to prevent it. Even now as she put away the dishes and closed the cupboard doors, she was still feeling that mysterious certainty.
A soft tapping against the glass-paned terrace door made her heart race with anticipation. On her way through the living room, she automatically grabbed a sweater and pulled it over her head. When she pushed the doors open and stepped out into the night, Vincent retreated to the shadows between the two large windows. Her heart sank as she looked at his tall, rigid frame. His hood was drawn up and pulled deeply into his face, yet another indication that something was disturbing him greatly.
Wrapping her arms about herself, she walked slowly toward him and peered up into his face. "I thought I'd never see you again," she said hesitantly. "I'm so glad you came. I've got so much to tell you."
He drew a deep breath, and his voice was trembling as he replied, "I know."
An uneasy silence settled between them as Catherine struggled to collect her thoughts. He was in such a fragile state of mind, and she knew that the slightest mistake on her part might drive him even further away from her.
"I talked to Elliot yesterday," she began.
His head snapped up and he flashed her a brief glance before he looked out at the city. "I felt a certain...nervousness in you," he said, "then regret, and finally relief."
Catherine nodded. "It was difficult for me to tell him something I knew would hurt him." Watching Vincent closely, she noted that his shoulders sagged as his gaze dropped to the floor. That wasn't the response she had expected. "I told him I won't marry him," she added, wanting to make sure that Vincent understood her correctly.
Slowly his head came up and he looked at her -- really looked at her -- for the first time this evening.
"I'm glad," he said, his voice all but breaking with emotion. "But it still pains me that I came to you as I did that night. It is unforgivable that I didn't wait for you to reach your decision on your own."
"There's no need to feel guilty," she reassured him. "I never could have married Elliot. And even if I'd somehow been able to, it would have been wrong to use him like that. The fact that he's using people himself doesn't give me the right to do it as well. But above everything else..." She paused and crossed the space between them, stopping only when her face was mere inches from his. Glad that he didn't look away, she continued, "Above everything else I realized that you and I..."
A low groan rumbled in his chest and he averted his eyes. Catherine thought her heart would break with the rejection she believed to see in his posture. But to her vast relief he said, "Yes, I know."
"You do?" she said, and her genuine surprise brought a brief smile from him. He reached up and pulled back his hood, his features sober again as he started to speak.
"I felt your presence Below that night, Catherine. And I apologize that I was unable to face you then. I was away, at a place I go to when I need to...find myself."
"And?" she coaxed when he fell silent, "Did you find yourself?"
He nodded. "I believe I did. Something happened, something inexplicable that gave me faith and confidence that I wouldn't lose you, that you and I are meant...to be together. From the very beginning, when I first sensed that you and I were connected through a bond, I've been telling myself that this was something which could never be." He paused, and Catherine's heart thudded so rapidly in her chest that she had difficulty to breathe. He gave her a reassuring smile and looked out into the night again as he went on. "But against everything I kept telling myself, there was that little voice inside my heart, reassuring me that you and I share something very special, something that was meant to be."
"I'm so glad to hear that," she said, leaning against him which left him no other choice than to enfold her in his arms. When he rested his cheek on her hair, she wanted to weep with the comfort the simple gesture provided.
His voice was low and husky as he continued, "I've always wondered what I am, and why. All my life I've been deeply troubled and disconcerted by my differentness. But now with you, Catherine, it suddenly feels right to be what I am. As if I were able to realize my place in the grand scheme of things. With you in my life, everything makes sense."
"Vincent," she whispered breathlessly, "what happened in that place?"
For a moment, he appeared uneasy, but then he gathered his resolve and replied, "Before I try to explain this to you, you must know that things like that did happen before. It's like a vision that causes an inner knowledge, a conviction so unshakable that it leaves no doubt within me."
Catherine felt reminded of her own inexplicable conviction that the tower wouldn't be built after all. Nodding her understanding, she asked, "What did you see?"
"I didn't exactly see anything," he replied. "It was more like a...memory of something which is yet to come." He shook his head as if his own words were confusing him. "I know it sounds odd," he continued, "but past experience proves that these 'visions' of mine are quite reliable."
"Then, what did you remember?" she insisted.
He was silent for a few seconds as he searched for words. Then he gently grasped her shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes. "That you and I are spiritually one," he said, "and that it is our destiny to live that oneness, to express it somehow."
Catherine felt her knees go weak. "Spiritually one..." she echoed dazedly. "What does that mean?"
He relinquished his hold on her and shrugged uncertainly. "I'm not sure. All I know is that I had such a wonderful feeling of purity and truth that I didn't want it to end. I knew, however, that it was something yet to come, and now..."
"And now?" she urged.
"Now I'm afraid that if I make one false move, I might destroy the fragile beauty of our love even before it has had a chance to...become."
Catherine's mind reeled. What was he trying to tell her? An uneasy suspicion rose in the back of her mind. She chose her words as carefully as possible before asking, "What about emotional unity? What about physical joining? Do you feel as if those concepts would endanger the purity of the spiritual oneness you mentioned?"
He shook his head uncertainly. "I wish I knew the answer to that, Catherine. All I know is that my coming to you two nights ago was wrong. I acted without thinking. I went to you on impulse, out of jealousy and despair. That's something I should have avoided at all costs."
"Oh Vincent," she said soothingly, putting her arms around him. "Don't be so harsh on yourself. No one can control their emotions all the time. Emotions are the very stuff of humanity."
He tensed immediately and she wanted to bite her tongue for her momentary lack of sensitivity with her choice of words. Reluctantly she released him.
He moved slightly away from her and slowly traced the balcony rail with his fingers. "Since I can't be certain of my humanity, I can't afford human lapses, Catherine. In order to live as a human being, I must make a super-human effort to keep a tight rein on my emotions. That's the only way to make sure no inhuman impulses can surface."
Catherine felt her heart constrict with the realization that Vincent was so afraid of being overwhelmed by emotions while expressing his love physically that he chose to hide behind a vision of spiritual purity in order to feel safe. She remembered the poem he had written down in his journal. Did he really believe that mortality was too weak to bear the intensity of a complete love which encompassed the physical aspect as well?
"Who taught you to think of yourself that way?" she inquired softly.
Heaving a sigh, he replied, "Experience, I think."
Silence settled between them as each followed their own train of thought. Catherine felt heat rise to her cheeks as she remembered Vincent's passionate touches and intimate caresses when they had loved on the balcony floor. It had been so beautiful that her heart trembled with the intensity of the memory.
"After what happened between us, Vincent, how can you still believe you might hurt me?" she asked carefully.
His head jerked up and the anguish in his eyes told her everything his silence was meant to conceal. She went to him then, no longer able to bear any distance between them. He accepted her embrace but didn't return it. "We...didn't go...all the way," he managed finally.
"You didn't hurt me," she insisted, "you never could. Not by loving me."
He went rigid in her arms and looked away, but this time she didn't let go of him completely. She quickly grasped his arm and leaned her head against his shoulder.
"Catherine," he pleaded helplessly, "you must forget what we did...what I did. It..."
"Its okay, Vincent," she soothed. "I understand. I really do." He relaxed and cast her a sidelong glance, his face half-hidden beneath the curtain of his hair. The pain in his eyes tore at her heart and she reached up to smooth a frown from his brow. "If it means so much to you, then I will forget it," she promised. His eyes softened and he sighed with relief. Unable to help herself, she brushed back strands of hair from his face and caressed his cheek. "At least for now," she added in a barely audible whisper.
He threw back his head and expelled his breath on a shaky sigh, yet she could see a secret smile lifting one corner of his mouth. "You're incurable," he murmured, his eyes deep with emotion as they returned to hers. She pressed a kiss against his chest, right above his heart.
"I know," she whispered, looking up at him, "and isn't it wonderful?"
The pulse at the side of his neck throbbed rhythmically as he stared down at her thoughtfully. "Yes," he breathed at last, brushing the crown of her head with his lips as he gathered her close. "I believe it is."