He must have hovered above her roof for hours; in truth, he couldn't even remember coming here. It was a blur. Had he ever been so afraid in his life? Is this what pure fear felt like?
He couldn't stay here much longer. He had already waited too long; she had gone to sleep hours ago. He didn't know what to do. He hated to wake Catherine, and he didn't know what he was going to say to her if he did, but he had made a promise to Ray, one that she only insisted upon in order to urge him toward love. It was the right thing to do, to tell Catherine the truth.
When he finally dropped to her balcony, the sky was blue and pink; dawn was slowing walking across the sky.
He was cold, and disoriented; every part of him ached, but his mind was clear and quiet.
He padded up to the door and tapped softly against the glass with his nail ... click click click.
He stepped back and waited for her. This time of morning was familiar to him. Before he had met Catherine, he would stare out the drainage tunnel into the eerie early morning light, watching black birds against the soft colors. This was an empty space in time. The night's sins had been washed away with the stars, the day's had not begun.
Catherine pushed the doors open slowly and stepped out. She was extremely sleepy and confused.
"Is this a dream?" she asked, pulling her robe around her.
"You're here?" she replied, her eyes getting a little wider.
He took a quick step toward her and pulled her into his arms.
"I'm here," he breathed into her ear.
She held him tightly.
"Is everything alright?" she asked.
"Yes, of course," he replied. For a brief moment, he held her tighter, and then pulled away and stepped back to look at her.
She was silent, nearly asleep on her feet. He wanted to take her inside, lay her down in her bed, and curl up beside her.
Then do it, part of him said. There was nothing stopping him, and it would make her so happy.
"Vincent, are you alright?" she repeated, more urgently.
"I'm sorry I woke you," he sighed.
"It's okay, but I don't understand ..."
"This dream of ours ..."
She came awake when he said that. Her green eyes were still heavy, but he sensed her heartbeat pick up.
"Sometimes I wonder ..."
"Wonder what, Vincent?" she replied softly.
"Our dream is so big, Catherine. Sometimes I wonder if hope alone can fill it."
"Is hope all we have?" she whispered.
"No ..." he started, before trailing off.
"Why are you here, Vincent?" she said after a moment.
"I came here tonight because ..." he sighed.
She took a step toward him and pushed herself into his arms. He clung to her.
"What is it?" she whispered.
"Don't you see? You are doing exactly what I did to Allie. You are pushing her away. Who pushes away the person they love? It doesn't make sense."
Vincent gripped her upper arms and gently nudged her backward, across the low precipice of her bedroom, until she was seated on the bed and he kneeled before her, his head buried in her lap. His arms wrapped around her hips. They stayed that way for a long while, he trying to find the words, she softly stroking his hair, comforting him.
"Vincent," she said softly. "Do you need to tell me something?"
"Do you need me to help you?" she asked him, kindly. He gripped her tighter. To have her understand ... meant everything.
"Can you look at me, please?" she asked.
After a moment, he raised his head and looked into her eyes. To her surprise, tears were streaming down his face. Just the sight of them made her chest tighten and her own tears welled up. She didn't think she had ever seen him so sad, so ... uneasy.
"Tell me, Vincent ..." she whispered.
We know it's ours to take, but we never even reach ...
"Do you still have hope ... for us?" he managed.
"Yes, Vincent. More than hope. Please don't doubt that ..."
Vincent nodded and looked away from her. She waited patiently for a moment before speaking again.
"Is there something else?" she asked.
He nodded. "Yes ... Ray ... her dream ..."
"The dream where you save her?"
"Yes. Ray said ..." he started. "In her dream, I come to you ..."
"Now? This is part of her dream?" she replied, touching the side of his face, thrilled when he pressed into her touch, however briefly.
"Yes, Catherine ..."
"Does her dream have a happy ending?" she asked.
"I believe so."
Catherine paused for a moment, looking into his eyes for answers, but he could barely look at her and the tears were only increasing. What could all this mean?
"Am I supposed to do something, in the dream?" she tried.
"No ..." he sighed. "I am ..."
"What then?" she asked, reaching out again to run a few fingers through his hair. She couldn't recall ever having been this close to him for this long. She wasn't sure he wouldn't spring to his feet and run away even now.
"I need to tell you ..." he pressed his lips together and she saw a slight tremble.
"You can tell me anything ..." she gently reminded him. Inside, her heart was pounding in her chest. What would he say?
"Before ... I couldn't tell you ... I wouldn't tell you ... because I was afraid ..."
"Don't be afraid ..." she whispered, running her fingers over his brow.
Vincent looked at her, his eyes ablaze, a bright blue flame dancing in the middle of a roaring red fire. He leaned in toward her and for a moment, she thought he might kiss her, but he turned his head and buried his face against her neck. His hot breath swirled against her skin, causing chills to run the length of her body. She felt his lips lightly touch against her and then he dropped his head into her lap again. She was barely breathing. It was a moment before he spoke again.
"Ray has helped me see that my fear has been holding me back from ... from telling you ... certain things ..." he began, barely in a whisper. Catherine leaned over him to hear him better and his arms snaked around her again.
"I don't want you to lose hope. I know that my ... hesitation ... is hurting you."
Now the tears surged to Catherine's eyes. It was hurting her; and even though she would never give up hope, she was struggling. She loved him too much to be apart from him anymore, too much to have to hold everything back.
"I understand it's hard for you, Vincent ..." she told him, even though sometimes, she didn't understand. She could barely hold it all in; she didn't understand why it was so easy for him. It was killing her; it had been for so long. More and more these past few months, she was waking up in the middle of the night, crying—for all they didn't have, crying because she didn't understand why. She had promised herself she would respect his pace, that she would be strong and accept whatever he gave her, but it never stopped her from wanting more.
When she finally shook herself out of her reverie, she found him looking right at her.
"That's how I am making you feel ..." he said. It was less of a question, more of a statement.
She looked away from him, nodding. He sighed heavily, looking away too. A moment later, he spoke.
"If you could say to me ... what I have made you hold back ... what would it be?"
She shook her head. "I can't ... you would only push me away, Vincent."
"If I promised I wouldn't?" he asked her.
She sighed then, and doubt rushed through the Bond.
"If I promised to tell you ... all that I have held back?" he continued.
But Catherine was terrified. She didn't know what would happen after she told him. What if he did pull away? Maybe not at this precise moment, but later? Could he really hear what she had to say and not run from her? It was all he had ever done. Yes, she wanted to tell him, but now she was afraid of losing what they already had. She didn't want to give that up; what they had was beautiful and pure ... precious. What if the truth drove him away?
"I can't," she cried. "Please, I'm sorry ..."
"Please, Catherine, you have nothing to fear ..."
But she only shook her head, sniffling.
Vincent's heart was breaking. He had instilled this fear in her, encouraging her to think there was a line that, if crossed, would lead to his abandonment of her. He was starving her, only letting her have a small part of what was possible between them. Whatever his fears, whatever held him back—her happiness mattered more. How could he have failed to realize that for so long?
"Catherine, please look at me ..." he said softly.
"I can't, Vincent, please ..."
But Vincent couldn't let this go on another moment. He reached out for her, gently turning her face toward his. He could hardly bear to look at her now, she was in such pain. Still, he forced himself to continue.
"Catherine," he began quietly. "I truly regret the pain I have caused you ..."
She nodded, looked away again, and suddenly tried to stand up. Alarmed, he held her tighter.
"No, please don't ..." he said.
She looked so upset. He needed to find the words—now.
"Catherine ... my heart ... only beats for you. I can't remember what it was like before you ... I don't want to ..." he told her.
"You breathed life into me when you came into my world. It's too late for us to turn back now. I know that. And the way forward ... terrifies me ... I do not know what the future holds for us, but I am willing to face it ... with you."
He paused then. Taking a deep breath.
"Please look at me, Catherine ..."
She turned to him, but her bottom lip was quivering and her eyes were still closed to him.
"Please, open your eyes ..." he asked gently.
When she did, his breath was stolen from his chest. How could such small things hold such magnitude? He brushed the back of his hand lightly against her face before holding both of her hands.
"Catherine, I cannot wait anymore …"
Her eyes burned with understanding. He stood still when she took his face into her hands, leaned forward, and placed a light kiss on his cheek. She kissed him again, on his cheek, his brow, until he moved his lips toward hers to accept the next one she offered. They kissed lightly, chastely. In mere seconds though, the years of denial spilled through and unleashed the full power of long-denied feelings. They kissed harder; it took all his strength to pull back.
"Catherine," he said, breathlessly. "The dawn ..."
"I know," she replied.
He lifted her hand to his lips, gently kissing the tips of her fingers.
"Will you come Below?" he whispered.
"I'll meet you at the threshold ..."
Twenty minutes later, she was descending the ladder and Vincent, without a moment's hesitation, pulled her into his arms. She twisted to face him as he stumbled backward into the wall. She fell into him and he pulled her higher and closer to him. With her lying flush against him, he kissed her. She gripped the edges of his cloak as the kiss deepened, his tongue shyly, then urgently, pressing against her lips. She opened her mouth, pulling him in as he tilted his head, reaching further into her, coaxing out moans that made his knees tremble.
"My God, Catherine ..." Gasping for breath, he retreated momentarily before her tongue came out to reclaim his. Sighing with pleasure, his joined hers until they forgot where they were, forgot their fears, their pain, everything but this moment. But when her hands tugged his shirt from his trousers and crept onto his bare skin, he was shaken from the moment. Reluctantly, he let her go.
Staring at him, breathing heavily, he could feel her disappointment turn into anger, and then resignation. Gritting her teeth, she shook her head at him and turned back to the ladder. But before she could ascend, he reached for her again, turning her around.
"What?" she asked miserably, tears dotting her lashes.
He touched her face, wiping them away, trying not to lose his courage when she turned her face away from him. He lowered his head, his cheek pushing against hers, nuzzling her. She sighed, and he could feel her resistance fade. For a moment, they stood there, silent, unmoving, until he gripped her shoulders again, and gently pushed her against the ladder.
He lifted her up and her arms shot above her, gripping one of the higher rungs for support. His hands came up the sides of her slim body, his thumbs moving over her breasts as he kissed her again, teasing kisses that made her whimper. Her legs wrapped around his waist, her arms shaking above her head. His hands covered her breasts, first reverently, then boldly.
"Please, Vincent, I need you ..."
"Catherine ..." he managed, his chest heaving.
"I need you now ..."
"Here? But ..." he replied, mentally trying to cool his body down, even as his hands moved under her blouse, pushing away all the fabric he encountered, until the soft flesh of her breasts rested in his palms.
"I don't care. I can't wait anymore. Please don't make me wait."
The truth was, neither could he. It would take every vestige of strength he had ever known to pull away from her for even the slightest second. However he had envisioned this moment before was irrelevant. If it was to be here—he would not refuse them any longer.
He pushed her skirt up to her waist, tore off his cloak, and fumbled with his clothes until nothing stood between them. With both hands holding her up and open to him, he entered her, and they moaned loudly. Moving his face to nuzzle against her again, he felt her tears hot on his skin as she answered every thrust with the sweetest sounds he had ever heard. Her hands retreated from the top rungs and her fingers forced their way into his hair, which she gripped tightly, pulling him even closer. And then they were kissing again, until it was too much and their faces pressed against each other as they both cried out over and over, constantly searching for breath.
"Oh, Vincent, I can't believe ..."
"I know ..." he managed.
As they approached completion, she worked her way under his shirt and dug her nails into his back. He growled in delight, his teeth finding the supple skin of her neck and clamping down firmly. He felt a ripple of energy radiate through her at that touch and it pushed him over the edge, pulling her along with him. He marveled at the intensity of their release, reveling in the climax that stretched forward in time, that pulled them along with such tenacity, until he had emptied himself entirely into her.
Her head fell forward onto his shoulder, her body like liquid in his arms. He dropped to his knees, until she was sitting in his lap, both too overcome to move or speak. And then she started crying softly and he couldn't stop his own tears. He held her tenderly as she trembled in his arms. One hand searched for his cloak and upon finding it, wrapped it around them, pulling her tighter to him.
"Catherine, I love you ... so deeply ... I love you," he whispered to her, stroking her hair and kissing the top of her head.
"I love you, too," she cried, softly.
Their surroundings crept back in gradually as their breathing slowed. She raised her head and looked at him, her skin flushed and warm. He managed a small smile before dropping his head shyly. She brought her arms around him, pulling his head to her chest.
"Are you embarrassed?" she asked gently.
"A little ..."
She smiled and stroked his hair.
"Are you?" he asked.
"A little ..." she admitted.
"I know I'm not an expert on the subject, but I am guessing this was slightly unorthodox," he said, looking up and kissing her brow.
She smiled. "You could say that ..."
He stared at her in awe, silenced by her beauty and the intimacy of this moment. How could he have imagined the moment after touching her, after seeing passion surge across her face, knowing he was the cause of it, after total completion and fulfillment of their desire for each other. She was so soft and unbelievably real in his arms. Their impossible dream—culminating at the threshold between their two worlds, meeting in the middle of impossibility.
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I've never done anything like that before," she told him.
"Certainly not at this threshold ..." he teased.
They laughed softly together as Vincent's fingers absentmindedly dragged across her breast. Her hands reached for his face and they were kissing again. Vincent stood up, pulling her to her feet. When she pulled away again, they were in a daze.
"This is the most incredible feeling I have ever known, Catherine ..." he said to her.
"Vincent," she said, tears coming to her eyes. "You have taken me from the darkest moment in my life to the brightest ..."
He leaned forward and kissed her again. "No less than what you have done for me ..."
They stood still, holding each other, slightly swaying back and forth.
"Catherine ..." he said after a moment.
"It would bring me great pleasure if we could spend the day together, perhaps a walk, or we could go to my chamber ..."
He blushed when she laughed.
"Of course we can. I'm not ready to be apart from you ..."
"No ..." he agreed, kissing her lightly on the lips. "Would you mind if we made a stop first?"
"Can't wait to tell Father, huh?" she laughed, as he blushed again.
"No," he replied, finding he couldn't stop smiling. "I need to ..."
"You want to thank Ray?"
"I think I do, too."
When they approached the hospital chamber, Kipper was leaving with a breakfast tray.
"Hi, Catherine! Hi, Vincent! She's awake ... you can go in!" he said before rushing off.
When they stepped inside, Ray was reading a book Vincent had left for her.
"Man, this protagonist is really a glutton for punishment, all pining away for his woman, sounds like someone I know, huh, Vincent?" Ray asked, her nose still buried in the book.
"Ray ..." Vincent said. Holding Catherine's hand, they came forward.
"Holy shit!" Ray exclaimed. "Is this Catherine?"
"Hi, Ray. I'm very pleased to meet you ..." Catherine laughed, extending her hand.
"I am really pleased to meet you, Catherine," Ray said enthusiastically, shaking Catherine's hand.
"How are you feeling?" Vincent said.
"Better. Much better. In fact, Father thinks I can start moving around in a few more days."
"That's excellent news, Ray," Vincent replied. He looked at Catherine, who looked back at him and nodded. Vincent began to speak.
"Ray, Catherine and I want to thank you for ..."
"I know," Ray said matter-of-factly.
"You know?" Vincent asked, not understanding.
"The dream?" Catherine inquired.
Vincent was stunned. "This is part of the dream as well?"
"Yep. I don't need to hear all the gory details, but yeah, you two do end up here, all smiley and googly-eyed, like you are now ..."
Vincent blushed as Ray and Catherine shared a laugh.
Ray looked at Catherine. "So, he told you how he felt?"
"Yes, he did. And whatever you did to help him get to that point ... thank you," Catherine told her.
"I didn't do anything ... just gave him a big shove and told him he would be crazy to lose you."
"Well, thank you, Ray. You have no idea how ... how much this means to me, how happy I am right now."
Ray smiled at her. "It's nothing. You two belong together ... I'm really happy for you guys."
Vincent stepped forward and took Ray's hand. He looked at Catherine. "Can you give us a moment, Catherine?"
"Of course," she replied. "Ray, I am sure we will be seeing more of each other soon. Thanks again, for everything ..."
"You bet!" Ray replied.
Catherine briefly touched Vincent's shoulder before walking out. "I'll be in your chamber, Vincent."
When Vincent looked at Ray again, she was grinning.
"She'll be in your chamber, Vincent ..." Ray teased him, winking.
Vincent helplessly blushed again.
"Seriously though, everything went okay?" Ray asked.
"Yes, Ray, I don't think you understand how deeply your words affected me. I am indebted to you ..." Vincent told her, tears forming in his eyes.
"You would have done the same for me, Vincent. Besides, we're even now. You saved me, I saved you ..." she reminded him.
"You did so much more than save me. What you have given me ..."
"Vincent, you gave me my life back. When you found me, I wanted to die. Now, well, I have a long way to go, but I'm gonna be okay. And seeing you guys, what you have ... you're so lucky to have the kind of love that you do. I hope I find half of that one day."
"You will, Ray. I believe that. You deserve all the happiness in the world ..."
They heard Mary and Father approaching. Vincent squeezed her hand and stepped back as they entered the chamber, arguing about the kind of ointment to use on her wound. They didn't even say hello, they were so consumed in their bickering.
"I think there are others who could use a little push toward admitting their feelings, don't you, Vincent?" Ray asked, grinning.
Vincent smiled back at her.
"Go to her, Vincent," Ray told him. "Get out of here ..."
Vincent nodded and then leaned down to kiss her forehead.
"Thank you ..." he said, before stepping back.
"Father," Ray called out, smiling brightly. "Why are you even arguing with Mary? You know she's right. Women are always right. You should know that by now!"
As Vincent left, Ray winked at him and waved him out of the room.
Vincent felt as if he were walking on air as he made the short trip to his chamber. When he walked in, she was standing in the middle of the room, waiting for him.
"Catherine ..." he whispered. He reached behind him and pulled the heavy curtain down to cover the entrance.
"Vincent ..." she said.
He unconsciously took a step forward.
"Ray's dream, our dream ... they've come true."
"Yes ..." Vincent replied.
"Vincent, before ... when we were ..." she paused, still trying to talk about this delicately. "What happened ... how it felt ..."
"A dream come true."
"Yes, Catherine ... what you gave me ..." he replied.
She shook her head slightly. "What you gave me ..."
They both smiled shyly and within three quick strides, they were face to face.
"Catherine," he said in a low voice, his hands gripping her upper arms. Desire pulsed between them.
She looked up at him, slightly nodding her head, lost in his eyes.
"Catherine," he said softly, dropping his cheek to hers, nuzzling her again. "I want more of our dream ..."
Vincent growled softly into her ear as he gently lifted her up and carried her to the bed.
It was nearly a month later when Ray stood with Vincent and Catherine at the drainage tunnel in Central Park.
"Are you sure you're ready? You could stay until the winter is over, have more time to heal."
"I'm fine, Vincent. It's time."
"Man, I'm going to miss you ..." Ray confessed, quickly stepping toward Vincent. He hugged her tightly as tears came to his eyes.
"You always have a home here," Vincent whispered to her.
"I know and thank you," Ray replied. Vincent reluctantly released her and she went to hug Catherine.
"It was so great to meet you, Catherine," Ray said, giving her a hug.
"You too, Ray," she replied.
"Okay, well ..."
"Not so fast, Ray. I have something for you ..." Catherine told her.
Catherine reached into her pocket and pulled out a small velvet bag.
"First, my card with all my information on it. If you ever need anything, please just call me."
"I will. Thanks, Catherine," Ray said, reaching out for the bag.
But Catherine held onto it.
"Please promise me you will accept this gift. You have given me everything, more than you will ever know. I want you to have this. Promise me you will accept it."
"Jeez. Okay, Catherine. I promise," Ray replied, taking the bag. When she opened it, her eyes got huge.
"Are you sure, Catherine? This is a lot of money!"
"Please, Ray, I want you to have it. It's the least I can do."
"Wow. Okay. Thanks," Ray said, stuffing it into her bag.
"Well, I guess this is it ..." she sighed, looking out into the park.
Catherine stepped forward and hugged her again.
"Goodbye. Please be safe. If we can help you with anything, please let us know," Catherine told her.
Ray hugged her back. "Just take care of him. Please ..." Ray whispered.
"I will," Catherine assured her, letting her go again.
"Crap, Vincent. Don't start crying ... you're going to make me start ..." Ray sighed, as she looked at the ground.
Vincent went to her and gathered her in his arms again. They stayed that way for many moments.
"I'll miss you," he whispered.
She nodded and stepped back from him. He reached out for her hand and dropped the keychain in it.
"For your journey toward love ..."
Ray smiled and accepted it, and started walking away.
"Where will you go?" Catherine asked.
Ray turned around one last time. "I'm going to find her."
And then she was gone.
Catherine went and put her arms around Vincent.
"You're going to miss her ..."
"Yes, Catherine," he admitted, accepting her hug. Suddenly he pulled away from her.
"Catherine, look ..."
In the spot where Ray had last stood, a sunbeam pierced the darkened tunnel.
"Catherine, that has never happened. How is it possible?" he asked.
Catherine took his hand and squeezed it.
"She was truly special, Vincent. She was ..."
"A ray of light," Vincent whispered.
"Come, Vincent, let's go home …" she said, starting to head down the tunnel. "Maybe we could stop by the threshold ..."
He blushed, in spite of himself, and set off after her.