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The Light of Day
2012-12-20, 19:31

                                                                                        The Light of Day

                                                                                            by Demian

"Every time I see you, you just get lovelier and lovelier," Peter greeted her with a kiss as she walked into the examination room.

"Flattery will get you everywhere," Catherine laughed, setting her purse down on an empty chair.

"There's your prom dress," he joked, indicating the paper garment folded on the table.

"Very funny," she smiled.

"I'll just step out while you change," he told her, picking up his clipboard.

"I know the drill."

After Peter left, she slipped out of her clothes and put on the paper gown. She sat on the table and waited, running over her current case.

It was typical, but no less heart breaking. A young wife, June, committed to testifying against her abusive husband—but now backtracking, making excuses, defending his actions. Catherine's heart went out to their three-year-old twin girls, already witnesses to horrific abuse at such a young age. Rick had shattered her leg with a dining room chair, hitting her until the chair actually broke, ostensibly for burning the roast. While the girls sat in their high chairs crying, he had made her eat every last bite before leaving. It had taken her an hour to crawl to the phone to call the police; the girls had cried themselves to sleep, still strapped in their chairs.

In the hospital, she had admitted to years of violence—black eyes, broken bones, and humiliation, often in front of the children. As soon as her wounds had healed though, her resolve had faltered. Catherine was afraid she wouldn't show up in court tomorrow at all.

Peter knocked before he came back in, shaking her from her thoughts. He approached the table.

"Something wrong, Cathy? The look on your face …"

She sighed. "Just another case where the bad guy wins."

"I know it doesn't feel like it some days, but you are making a difference. Charles would be proud of you. I know I am."

"Thanks, Peter."

"So, all is well I take it—health wise?"

"Fit as a fiddle."

"You're eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep?" he asked, pulling out his stethoscope.

"Yes, yes, and as much as I can," she teased.

She jumped and giggled when he laid the cold circle over her heart, something she had done since she was a child. No matter how much warning he gave, she always jumped. He waited for her to finish and then listened to her heart as she breathed deeply.

"Everything sounds good," he reported.

He then checked her reflexes, which again, always made her giggle. He chuckled.

"Can you lie down, please, Cathy?"

First Peter palpated her abdomen and checked her lymph nodes. Catherine looked up at the ceiling. Maybe she could stop by June's tonight, make sure she had childcare so nothing would prevent her from testifying. She could bring some ice cream for the girls.

"Okay, now I'm going to do a breast exam."

Catherine nodded, trying to ignore his cold fingers, but when Peter stopped and repeated part of the exam, she looked up at him.

"Is something wrong?" she asked.

He was writing something down in her file.

"Just relax and let me finish," he comforted her.

When he finished the exam, he pulled up a chair and told her to sit up.

"What is it, Peter? You're scaring me," she insisted.

"Cathy, I found a lump."

"What?" she nearly screamed. Panic wrapped its hands around her throat. She couldn't breathe.

"Please relax, Cathy. Roughly 80 percent of lumps are benign," he explained.

"And the 20 percent that are not?"

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, dear. I will schedule you for an ultrasound first thing in the morning."

"But I have to be in court," she said, distracted, worried about the case and already imagining the worst possible outcome. Was she going to die? What about Vincent? How could she tell him?

"Get someone to cover for you."

Catherine's worry increased. No one could handle the case the way she could. June barely trusted her; she wouldn't even talk to anyone else. Maybe Joe …

Peter pulled a piece of paper from his notebook and scribbled down an address.

"Dr. Pearl is a good friend of mine. She will see you first thing and report back to me as soon as she knows anything."

Catherine nodded, taking the address.

"Please don't worry, Cathy, I'm sure it's nothing."

Catherine nodded again, numb ... and scared.

...

When she got home after working very late, she threw everything onto the couch and went to her bedroom. She put on a flannel nightgown instead of her usual silky robe. After she made some tea, she sat down on the couch.

Her fear was getting the best of her; it was running wildly inside her, bouncing off her ribs and bruising her organs. She desperately tried to shut it down so Vincent wouldn't feel it. Thank God he was deep below on a work detail. If he came to her now, she would cry her eyes out and what good would that do? She didn't even know if anything was wrong.

June and the girls … she had called and left a message earlier, but June had not called back. Joe was willing to take the case, but Catherine had a sinking feeling Rick would get the minimum sentence and be out in a few weeks instead of a few years. Rick had a good lawyer and it didn't take much to twist the savage beating into an unfortunate fall down the stairs.

The fact that her personal life was getting in the way of June and the girls' future saddened her to no end. But Peter had insisted that she go immediately, which only confirmed her fears that something was wrong.

Distraught, she went into her medicine cabinet and took out some sleeping pills she had been prescribed after her father's death. Vincent wouldn't feel anything if she was asleep and the poisonous thoughts in her brain would cease. She shoved two pills in her mouth and washed them down with some water. Then she climbed in bed, and after a few minutes of anxious thoughts, mercifully fell asleep.

...

"Okay, Ms. Chandler, please lie back on the exam table. I'm going to open your garment now and apply a warm gel over your breast. Please try to relax."

Catherine closed her eyes and took deep breaths.

"Okay, I will now inject a local anesthetic into the breast to numb it. You should only feel a slight prick and then it will be numb."

Catherine winced at the prick and then the right side of her chest quickly went numb.

"Now I will begin moving the transducer over the area to locate the lesion. If you want, you can watch the screen attached to the scanner."

"No, thank you," she whispered.

After several minutes, Dr. Pearl made a mark on Catherine's breast and Catherine's eyes flew open.

"Now I will be inserting the biopsy needle right into the mass. Don't worry, you won't feel it."

Catherine couldn't feel it, but she watched the slim needle slip into her skin.

"Okay, we got our sample," Dr. Pearl stood up and removed her gloves.

"Please use the towel to remove the gel and get dressed again. I'll be right back."

When Dr. Pearl left, Catherine hands were shaking so hard, she could barely button her blouse. This was maddening. She was scared. She wished Vincent were here.

She had just finished reapplying her lipstick when Dr. Pearl returned.

"Okay, Ms Chandler. Dr. Alcott and I are doing our best to rush the results, so you should hear from him as soon as is possible. I would suggest you go about your normal routine and try to keep this off your mind. No need to worry yet."

Dr. Pearl stepped forward to shake her hand. "Please see Amelia on your way out so she can finalize your paperwork."

And then she was gone.

...

She was walking. She couldn't stop walking. She had been up and down nearly every street in Manhattan. Her feet were killing her.

But she couldn't stop walking. If she did, she would go to him or he would come to her.

She knew he had felt the knife plunge into her heart, just as she had, when she found out the news.

But he didn't know what was wrong, only that something was. She imagined him trudging beneath her, through tunnel after tunnel, just trying to stay close to her.

She could feel his frustration, his anguish at not knowing the cause of this pain in her. She hated to do it; she needed him so badly right now.

But she couldn't go to him. She'd have to tell him ... and she didn't want to tell him. How do I even tell him something like this?

Vincent ... I have cancer. They have to remove my ...

She forced herself to keep walking.

They wanted to do the surgery soon. She agreed; she knew it was for the best. But her loss was formidable. She wasn't just losing a piece of her body, she was losing the possibility of Vincent ever touching her there, of ever seeing her body whole and beautiful.

She knew he wouldn't care. She knew he would always find her beautiful, but she needed it for herself. She just wanted to be touched by him, if only for a few moments, sitting on the bed in his chamber, a single candle lit, a humorous exchange and then an impasse, pregnant with desire.

He would drop his head and press his cheek against hers. She would take his hand and pull it over her heart and then press her hand into his, arching into his touch.

And then both of his hands would be on her. She would run her hands down his beautiful face and suddenly his hands would be inside her blouse, his worn fingers on her skin, until she was writhing, and until he tore her bra off with his claw and pulled her up to him, burying his face between her breasts, moaning at the thrill of such an unrivaled sensation. And then ...

And then, nothing. It would never happen now. He would never see her or touch her the way she wanted. Never.

A great sob rose in her, making her stumble, and when she looked up, she was at the park culvert.

And he was there.

She turned to run, but he caught her, his powerful arms pulling her back, quickly carrying her into the safety of the tunnels. He shut the door.

"Catherine!" he said breathlessly, desperately.

"No, no, no ..." she whispered.

"You must tell me what is wrong. You must! It's killing you—it's killing me! Please!"

Catherine pushed back from him and they stared at each other, each with their backs to the wall.

"Catherine!" he threw his hands up.

"No," she said louder.

"Please, you are scaring me!" his voice broke on the words. Her heart crushed inside her chest.

What can I do? What can I say? What will he ... Should I?

"Catherine!" he roared, startling her. He had never raised his voice to her in such a way. She was confused and hurting, and suddenly very angry.

She pushed out from the wall and headed down the tunnel.

"We're going to your chamber," she ordered.

Vincent grimly followed her.

...

By the time they had reached his chamber, her resolve had dissipated. She wasn't angry; she felt empty. She needed him, and she needed him to understand.

She wordlessly walked him over to the bed and gently pushed him down, her fingers lingering upon the laces of his vest. She pulled a few straps of the leather and let them fall. She lightly touched his shoulders then, smoothing down the fabric of his sleeves. He watched her in astonishment. He was still terrified, but part of him enjoyed her moving hands upon him.

And then she was beside him. He shivered when he felt her breath, soft on his neck. He shivered again when he felt her fingertips on his throat.

"I need something from you, Vincent," she forced the words out.

Now her hands were everywhere upon him. His chest, his arms, his ribs, his back, his shoulders. He was having trouble staying focused.

"Anything," he whispered. "It's yours."

She pressed a kiss slightly to the right of his lips. He breathed out her name and then pushed his lips against hers. She leaned into him and the kiss deepened.

Catherine's emotions were rocks in a tin can. They clanged against each other and she couldn't hear over the racket. She wanted to cry. She wanted to run. She wanted this to be a dream. She wanted to forget everything and show him what he meant to her. She wanted to make love to him for hours, until they were exhausted, unable to open their eyes, unable to speak.

Unexpectedly, she grabbed Vincent's hands and pulled them to her breasts. He jumped and tried to move away.

"I need you to touch me, Vincent!" she demanded.

She wouldn't let go of him and she kept pushing her hands on his, pressing them into her chest. Something was wrong. They couldn't do this. She wasn't herself.

Finally, he stood up. His shaking hand was over his mouth and tears were streaming down his face. He backed away from her—frightened, confused.

Her arms were crossed over her shoulders and she just sat buried by the comforter, in that tiny space, and cried. He didn't know what to do—

Suddenly, completely shocking Vincent, she burst to her feet.

"You don't want to touch me?" she demanded in a voice unfamiliar to Vincent.

Vincent didn't reply. He didn't understand.

"Now you never will, Vincent," she snarled. "You never will!"

She cried out at him, words, unintelligible—they moved past him, around him. He couldn't hear her. But then a sound was torn from deep inside her ...

"It's over."

What?

She ran from the chamber so quickly, it didn't even register for many moments. He didn't even move until she was halfway home.

Over? No ...

Vincent stumbled to his bed and collapsed, pressing his hand on his chest where his heart threatened to explode.

...

The past two weeks had debilitated him. Not seeing her was bad enough. Not knowing why was worse than that. But not knowing what was causing her such pain ... it was ... madness.

Vincent sighed as he collapsed into his bed. His body ached; his shoulders were weary. But he couldn't work hard enough, couldn't tire himself out enough to be able to forget the pain she was living with. To keep pressed up against her pain like this; it was killing him.

She had kept herself out at night and home during the day. For a while, she had stayed somewhere else; he assumed it was a hotel, but he didn't know. Below, he followed her relentlessly, intently focused, waiting for any moment he could access her—but she left him offshore, searching ... always searching.

Sighing deeply, he sat up in his bed and began to undo the ties on his vest. He removed it and let it fall to the ground, his shirt following. He raised his hands high above his head, his fingers rolling into fists as he stretched. He absentmindedly rubbed the matted hair on his chest as he went to his dresser.

Removing his trousers and socks, he pulled on his oldest sweatpants. They were grey, thinning in places. They had been a gift from Devin, new then, but now, a long time ago. They were the most comfortable clothing he owned. He needed them right now. He tugged on the drawstring and loosely secured them.

He paused by his desk, looking for an engrossing book, when an idea occurred to him. The Bond.

He could always feel her, even when she was sleeping deeply. He could feel when she laughed, when she bumped her elbow on something, when she was tired, when she was cranky. He knew when she was thinking about him, or at least the feeling she reserved only for him.

But much of the time, he tried not to keep her so close. He wanted her to have space and privacy. He was always in tune enough to know if she was in danger, but he didn't push much further than that.

And that was the thing. He had never probed the Bond to its fullest. He had never tried to read her thoughts or invade her life. He never even wanted her to feel him there at all. He just wanted to be there.

But what if he could push it further? What if he could reach out to her so profoundly, he could know her thoughts? She might not even feel it and even if she did, she wouldn't know what it was, since he had never pushed before.

Vincent extinguished all of the candles, save the all-night one behind his bed. He stared up into the same flickering shadows on the red brown rock he had stared at his entire life.

And then he pushed.

It was difficult to force anything intentionally, but he wrapped himself so tightly around his mission, the rest of the world did begin to fade away. His eyes closed and his breathing slowed.

At first, it was just a glimpse ... a door opening and then slamming shut at once, only leaving enough of an impression that something lay behind it. But it was her, her essence, her spirit. He thought only of opening that door and his love for her and suddenly, he was within her. She was completely still, sitting it felt like. Something was in her hand, what was it? Paper? It felt light but sharp. Yes, she was definitely holding a piece of paper.

And then he winced in pain, as she did, above him. He felt her hand go to her heart; it felt as if it lay over his. But her heart was racing, beating faster than seemed normal. His chest tightened in response. He clutched his fist over his heart.

And then words began to flow into him. They weren't audible; it wasn't her voice. They were shadows and thin smoke, whispers and fractions. He threw himself before them.

Won't tell ... hurts so ... isn't fair ... never know ...

He concentrated harder and the words flowed more fluidly.

Can't tell him ... he can never know ... but how can I lie? ... God, I miss him ... have to let him go ... can't see me like this ... can't bear his pity ...

His pity? he wondered. What could she be—?

Be strong ... be strong ... don't fall apart ... just a few more days until the surgery ...

"Surgery?" he roared, sitting straight up in his bed, gasping for air.

What? What was that?

"Catherine," he whispered into the darkness.

He knows. Oh my God, he knows!

And then the door slammed and he fell back in bed as if it had struck his face.

Vincent ripped off the covers and jumped to his feet. He hurriedly dressed again and bolted from his chamber.

...

By the time he reached her balcony, she was gone. He didn't know where. She wasn't shutting him out; he was purposely staying out. He felt he had violated her. He had more of an idea of what was hurting her, but it had come at great cost. Surely she would understand he had to do it, that her silence was eating away at him, but it didn't lessen his guilt. She knew what he could do now and that, in the very least, was enough to make anyone feel scared and cagey. He was afraid he had caused her even more pain.

He looked at the closed drapes hinting at the darkness behind them. He was about to turn back toward the night when he saw something on the table.

He quickly walked over and picked it up. It was a letter ...

His eyes raked the contents and then he carefully placed it back down.

Like a robot, he scaled the heights and returned Below. Instead of going to his chamber though, he went to the threshold.

...

His hands rested on a higher rung and his forehead was pressed against them. He had been standing there for hours, waiting, in vain, for her to return home.

He backed away from the ladder, shook his head vigorously, and began to pace.

Where to even start?

She had cancer. She was having her breast removed—in four days. The tears in his eyes instantly doubled.

But why had she wanted to keep this from him? If anything, she should want him closer.

He replayed their communication from earlier in his head again. She hadn't wanted to tell him; that was obvious. He felt that if he had not tried to reach her thoughts, he would have never known. She didn't want him to know. She didn't want him to see her ... but why? Why did she fear his pity? It wasn't her fault.

He wracked his brain for explanations. Why was she afraid to tell him? Why had she ended things between them? What could cause her to revoke their dream so decisively? And while they were kissing and touching, for the first time? It didn't make sense. He could not find a reason for her actions, why she insisted on forcing a touch he would so gratefully give.

And then the events of that night washed over him again and it came to him. She had only wanted him to touch her while she was still ... whole. He would want the same. He knew she needed this from him. He was ashamed of his response to her now. It was understandable, how frantic she was. He had known something was wrong, that something was causing her to act so unfamiliar, but all he had thought about was his own discomfort.

He cursed himself for his ignorance and his selfish focus. He should have been more aware; he should have been there ... for her. He should have touched her.

With a cry of anguish, he started pacing again, more agitated.

What could he do? She refused to see him and was making it impossible for him to come to her. He had to see her; he had to find a way. And when he did, he had to find the courage to give her what she wanted, what they both had so desperately wanted for so long, but was absolutely essential now.

It was daylight now and she was above him, finally back home in her apartment. Within minutes, she was asleep. With a huff, he turned away from the threshold and stalked back toward his chamber.

He had four days.

...

By evening, he had set up camp at the threshold. Of course, she was gone, but if she gave him even the slightest window, he wanted to be as close to her as possible.

He was pacing.

She was very far away from him, so far, he had a hard time determining if she was even in the city. The thought crossed his mind to search her thoughts again, but he immediately quelled it. If anything, it had driven her further away.

Still, what did he have to lose? She couldn't push him any further away than she already had.

Taking a deep breath, he gently pushed forward into the Bond. Now that he knew he could do it, he didn't have to force it so hard. He went as slowly and as deliberately as he possibly could.

Within a few moments, one thing jumped out at him ... water.

Water? He didn't understand ... where could she ...

Just then, he tapped into her mood. She was reflective and her mind was quiet. She was standing, leaning on her arms, looking at ...

She was looking at water. Maybe the harbor?

He panicked for a minute when he thought she might be considering jumping, but he chided himself immediately. Catherine was a fighter. How many times had he looked at the Mirror Pool when searching for answers? Regardless, those thoughts were not swimming through her mind.

And then he picked up on the one thought that was ...

Goodbye.

He sank to the ground in utter surrender. She was saying goodbye ... to him.

...

And then it was the night before her surgery.

Vincent was as close to going mad as he had ever been in his life. At one point, he had even considered taking a risk and going Above in the daylight. He might have even done it, but she had not been home in two days.

He was out of time and she was not at home. She was shutting him out completely now; he had no idea where she was.

As he paced, his heart rate climbed higher and higher. He was panting and nearly growling, constantly whimpering as he paced that small space. He felt more animal than man. He wanted to run into the night, search the city, call her name, anything ...

He was crying then. He had never felt so out of control, so helpless. Within hours, a part of her would be lost forever, a part of her he had been too scared to even touch. And she would be gone. The self-control she had exhibited these past two weeks was commendable ... but once the surgery was over ... she would be gone forever.

He couldn't take it anymore ... the waiting, the endless wondering. Too restless to stay Below anymore, he headed up to the balcony.

...

Catherine was about to go to sleep when she remembered something. She had left some paperwork at her apartment, paperwork she needed tomorrow.

Damn!

She threw back the covers on the bed and quickly got dressed.

As she left the hotel lobby, she forced herself to concentrate. She could not let Vincent know she was returning to her apartment. It was getting increasingly harder to shut herself down and keep her whereabouts to herself. The faster the surgery approached, the more she wanted to be with him. It was unbearable now.

Why was she shutting him out? She had asked herself that question a hundred times. It was because he rejected her, because she didn't want him to see her—those were the reasons.

She didn't feel as strongly about those reasons now.

She hailed a cab and arrived at her building shortly after. She was fumbling with her keys in her bag on the elevator ride up.

By the time she reached her floor and stepped out, she was on the verge of changing her mind.

She approached her door and stopped, pressing her forehead against the wood. She sighed and turned around, sliding to the ground in tears.

Seeing him now, she would feel weak, like she had failed. But what was wrong with wanting to see him? He loved her. But he had also rejected her. But he didn't know. She was acting uncharacteristically, and he had responded in the beginning, very much so. He had only pulled away from her in confusion, not rejection.

Why then? she asked herself. Why are you really shutting him out?

She didn't want to admit the truth at first, but it rang true.

Telling him would make it real, would make this whole nightmare real.

She had lived like a ghost the past two weeks—rarely seen, haunting various places but never really anywhere. She had hardly eaten anything. She had either slept too much or too little for consecutive days. All she did was pace, cry, and stare blankly at the always-on TV, relentlessly burying and reburying her feelings to keep him away.

These had been the hardest two weeks of her life, so hard, she could not force herself to accept that this was real.

Did she really think she could stay away from him forever ... or him from her? It was impossible. Unthinkable.

The truth was she loved him and needed him. This had all been about her refusal to accept those two things, which made her not accept that any of this was real. A world without him would be a shadow world, surreal and bleak, every moment a flat, gray truth whipping across her face, so that never a moment passed without her missing him even more desperately than the one before.

Voices in the hall stunned her and she quickly struggled to her feet. She jammed the key into the door and stepped inside.

She hadn't quite finished turning around from locking the door when he was suddenly upon her. He twisted her around and surrounded her with his entire body, pressing her back into the door. He buried his face into her hair, his hot breath exploding onto her skin as his lips graced her neck. She turned her head and pushed against him, but he didn't move.

She took her fist and pounded it on his shoulder when he bit down on her softly, right behind her ear. He made a noise of warning and when his lips finally found hers, she stopped fighting and gripped the fabric from his shirt, pulled him closer, and kissed him harder.

Not touching someone you love for nearly two years leaves plenty of time for imagining what might happen when that day actually came. Catherine had always imagined they'd be in his chamber, in candlelight. They would undress each other slowly and shyly until it became too painful to hold back anymore and they would finally unleash their imprisoned emotions.

Vincent had imagined it in a very similar way, but he imagined it Above, after he finally found the courage to come into her apartment. What happened next varied, but it always ended up with them in each other's arms, the sun sneaking through the curtains in the morning. He wanted to see her in the light.

But rarely do things happen as one might imagine them.

Catherine took Vincent's bottom lip between her teeth and moved her hands over his chest and under his tunic. He had both hands pressed against the door above her shoulders, lost in sensation. She whimpered beneath him and he bent down and covered her face with kisses. Then, he dropped down slightly and came back up, pushing his knee between her thighs. She gasped and his hand flew to her jaw, pulling her back to his mouth, his tongue slipping between her parted lips.

And then suddenly, without prelude, she placed her hand upon him and held it there, warming him. His arms shot out and he braced himself against the door. And then he didn't move.

As he grew beneath her, she felt the rumbling as the stones in his walls began to shake. Like a kettle drum preceding the final battle, her heart was pounding in her chest. She couldn't believe she was touching him like this. She couldn't believe he was letting her.

She looked at him. Tears were streaming down his face, but his happiness and surrender radiated around them.

Even as the flush went up the length of his body, he did not retreat. He brought his hand to her face and lightly stroked it, kissing her softly.

When she began to move her hand upon him, he fell forward until his elbows hit the wood and he was entirely framing her face in his arms. He laid his cheek against hers and breathed heavily into her hair. And then he didn't move; he just ... accepted her touch. It was the most exquisite moment of Catherine's life. He was disarmed—and he trusted her.

After a bit, Vincent stirred and ran his lips over her throat. He pulled her higher up so that she partially rested on his raised thigh. And then they were kissing again and before long, they were clutching each other and fighting to remain upright.

Catherine pulled Vincent's shirt from his trousers, but in typical fashion, Vincent had on so many layers, she became immediately frustrated. Before she could dwell on it, Vincent pulled off his tunic and vest and threw them to the floor. He grabbed the front of his shirt and yanked it over his head. When he looked down and took her back into his arms, he watched her eyes move across his chest.

Without even thinking, he tore her shirt and sweater open with his claws. Stunned, his head snapped up and his face contorted with conflicting emotion. Part of him was horrified and part of him just wanted to keep going. He looked to Catherine for her reaction.

She was pulling off the remaining fabric and when she was finally free of any garment, her arms shot up around his neck and she pulled herself up and into him, pressing her chest against his, erasing any doubt. Vincent moaned and his hands sought out her skin. He ran his hands over her sides, her ribs, and over her shoulders and arms. She did the same. They were both too engrossed in their touch to kiss so their eyes met, locking into each other as their hands moved unhesitatingly below.

Vincent glanced down at her breasts, her beautiful, perfect breasts, and shuddered. This time, she didn't have to ask. Both of his hands moved over them, cupping them, pressing into them. He dropped to one knee and then his mouth was on her, gently nipping and tugging her skin. Her fingers rolled into fists in his hair and her teeth clenched. His mouth was everywhere—on her stomach, the soft skin on the side of her breasts, her collarbone, the hollow in her throat.

Through the Bond, Vincent could feel that her legs were tiring, so he pulled her down to her knees and against his chest and they were kissing again, their lips already swollen and raw from such intense friction.

Catherine surged toward him and pushed him backward and came toward him, her hands pushing his chest. He fell to his elbows and kept sliding backward as she followed on her knees, forcing him to keep moving.

When they were out of the entry way and halfway to the living room, she climbed on top of him and lay flush with him. Vincent's arms came around her naked back and they sighed together, his hands on her skin, her breasts pressed against him. Her hands stole to his hips. His legs fell open and she moved between them.

Every sensation exceeded the previous. Vincent could barely control himself when he felt her body pressed so intimately against him, and groaned when she began to move over him, moving her hips in a way that was so devastating, it made him see white sparks behind his closed eyes.

Her lips moved to his stomach and then his waistband. Her arms slid up his chest and he clutched her hands, harder anytime she discovered a new place on his skin. She pulled her hands back down and brought them to the ties on his trousers, pulling the top ones apart. She pushed her nose into the newly exposed skin and took a deep breath, luxuriating in his scent.

Something shifted then, alerting them that whatever happened next would change everything, forever, and not in the sweet, romantic, reverent way they had always dreamed it would be. What was coming was unstoppable and not at all hesitant or gentle.

Vincent rolled her over onto her side and as fast as lightning, his pants and boots were gone. She fell to her back and he rolled on top of her, tearing her skirt wide open. His face dropped to her lower belly, just above the line of her panties. She felt him breathe her in deeply, which relaxed and stimulated her simultaneously. A quick snip of his teeth and her panties gave way.

She was so ready. Ready for whatever happened next. Vincent surged up and then he was inside her and she began to make noises she had never heard come from her before. Her legs came up and around his hips and she clenched him there, feeling her muscles tighten and stretch each time he thrust against her.

He didn't even start off slowly and Catherine delighted in his fast pace, how it reached all those places that had been waiting so long for him. She gripped his shoulders as he began kissing her breasts, nudging them with his furry nose, never once breaking the relentless drive toward completion. And then they were in the final grip, Vincent unable to do anything except whisper her name into her skin, Catherine only able to cry out soundlessly as she held the ends of his hair, as he continued to move inside her.

As they neared the end, he collapsed onto her and she could hear his tiny cries in her ear. He was overwhelmed. To have kept such an important part of himself clamped down, his entire life, never imagining that any woman would want him in that way, to finally unhinge that, Catherine thought it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She repeated his name over and over, soothing him as much as she could while overcome with the most incredible pleasure she had ever known.

"Catherine, I ... I ..." he fumbled.

She wrapped her arms around him and began kissing him.

"Yes, Vincent," she whispered. "Please ..."

Vincent tensed and then thrust against her, hard, once, twice more. He whimpered as his body shook, and his hot tears covered her face. She gripped him tightly, answering him in whispers and murmurs, soothing him, rubbing his back.

After a few moments, he rolled off of her onto his side and then pulled her back toward him so that she laid facing away from him. He gathered her in his arms and kept her pressed tightly against him. Exhausted, emotionally annihilated, and not willing to leave this precious space, they gratefully fell asleep.

...

Catherine stirred a few hours later. A lock of his hair was tickling her. She pushed his hair aside and kissed him on the cheek.

"Vincent," she whispered.

"Hmmm?"

She turned his face to hers and kissed him on the mouth. Her lips could feel his smile.

He turned onto his side and gathered her into his arms, kissing her softly. When they stopped, they both sighed and looked at each other.

"Should we move to the bed?" Catherine asked him.

He smiled and nodded. They got up slowly, leaving all their clothes behind. Catherine led him into the bedroom and pulled the covers back. He was beside her immediately and they lay down, returning to the same position they had been in a few moments ago.

"Catherine ... why did you keep this from me?"

She shut her eyes and tried not to cry. She didn't want to talk about this, not now. She only had a few short hours left with him.

"Not now, Vincent. I'll tell you everything tomorrow, but please, can we just ..."

Vincent's lips silenced her and she wordlessly thanked him.

"Please don't shut me out again," he implored.

"Vincent ..."

"Please, Catherine, not again. I cannot breathe without you," he insisted.

"I promise."

Vincent pulled the covers over them and gathered her in his arms. He completely surrounded her. She had never felt so safe and cared for.

"And I promise you," he replied. "By the light of day, everything will be okay."

She opened her mouth to respond but it shut when his hands trailed down her breasts.

...

Vincent heard the pounding on the door before the first fist ever struck. He sat up in bed and cocked his ear.

"Cathy, it's Peter. Open up!"

Peter?

He quickly bent down to wake Catherine, but her eyes were already on him. They were filled with fear.

"Go talk to him, Catherine, please, you must ..."

Catherine rose reluctantly and Vincent turned his head to give her privacy. She pulled on a robe and padded to the door. He was pulling on his trousers when he heard it open.

"Cathy!" Peter exclaimed, exploding into the room and hugging her tightly. He stepped back and held her arms, looking into her eyes with tears in his.

"Cathy, the surgeon was reviewing your file this morning. There was a malfunction with the MRI. The biopsy is malignant, but after the surgeon corrected for the error, he thinks the tumor is much smaller. He's not sure, but I know Robert, and he wouldn't have said anything unless he was pretty hopeful."

"You mean?"

"It's quite possible they might only have to do a lumpectomy. Cathy, this is wonderful news!"

"Oh Peter!" she cried, pulling him in for another hug. He laughed, delighted, and only pulled away when Vincent emerged from the bedroom, shirtless.

Peter took a quick glance at the pile of clothes trailing from the foyer toward the bedroom and stifled a fatherly smile, touched that Vincent was here. He knew that Vincent had never entered her apartment. He had overheard Catherine and Susan talking one night a few months ago. Catherine must be thrilled. He gave her one more tight hug, stepped passed her, and held his hand out to Vincent.

"Peter, thank you for this wonderful news," he told him, shaking his hand with enthusiasm.

Catherine rushed over to Vincent and put her arms around his waist, but when she reached him, she blushed and pulled back. Vincent reached around her and pulled her close to him. Peter smiled again before he spoke.

"I'll just wait in the lobby for you then, Cathy, and we'll drive over there together."

Catherine was so happy she could only nod.

"Thank you, Peter. For everything …" Vincent told him.

Peter smiled at them one more time before turning to head out the door.

After showering and convincing Vincent that she would be okay, that it would only be outpatient surgery and she would be home soon, she met Peter in the lobby. He put his arm around her and they began to walk toward the door.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the paper. Gesturing for him to wait, she went and opened it up.

And there, on the bottom corner of page six, she read the words.

Convicted of attempted murder … ten years.

Catherine took off like a sleepy blue jay in the early glow of dawn, awed by the twilight and the colors, disturbed from its perch, soaring toward the heavenly skies.

The light of day—and everything was okay.

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