As he reached the pipes he had to climb hand-over-hand to reach Catherine, Vincent paused, startled as he sensed her mood shift again, smoothing in intensity as she realized he was on the way Above.
"Catherine…don’t," he whispered, dismayed by her sudden mood wing. "Why do you feel the need to hide your thoughts from me? Do not DO this!"
Annoyed with her to depths that truly surprised him, he was more determined now than ever to resolve this discord. Why would she feel it necessary to conceal her true feelings from him in this manner? Aware that he was on the way to her, Catherine had changed the ebb and flow of her motions on purpose--she had consciously shut him out!
"NO!" The word exploded from him like the crack of a rifle. Uttering quite viable curses under his breath, Vincent began to climb faster and aster, pleading silently, ‘You mustn't do this. Catherine, you must tell me what is amiss, before my own apprehensions crush both of us…’
Above, in the apartment, Catherine had indeed sensed Vincent's nearness. Turning off the shower, she sniffled into a cold washcloth, then patted at her tear-stained face, hoping to alleviate the puffiness around her eyes before he cleared the terrace wall.
What in the hell was wrong with her? She had a man who loved her beyond belief, a beautiful son, now in the care of his Grandfather, and a life that was rich, filled with love and family. What was tugging at her heart, intimating that there should be…could be…more than she already shared with Vincent? How selfish was she? More? For the love of God, she already had everything!
After toweling herself dry, she stroked scented oil over her body, knowing how much Vincent loved the fragrance of it on her skin. Slipping her new negligee over her head, she stepped into the matching lace panties and smoothed the outfit down over her hips. Perhaps this outfit would…
Crimson stained Catherine’s cheeks as she examined her feelings more closely and came to terms with them. That reality embarrassed her. Aware of Vincent's feelings in the matter--his fear that the disparate side of himself he called the 'darkness', would bring her offense should they ever meet again, especially while making love--she still wanted to learn more about that side of him.
Perhaps if they confronted what he feared together, they could cleanse the memories of a time that taxed his soul away a bit each day, a little every time they loved? They must try. How could either of them be certain if what would happen if Vincent refused to even let her try?
She wanted him to be complete; to feel whole. Even though he would lave refuted the notion, Catherine knew that he was still plagued by his inability to reconcile the complex sides of his nature. Well, if asking him to confront that would help to overcome his fears and ease his self-doubts, then by God that's what she'd have to do. She'd ask him to trust her in this, but would he? Could he?
Staring into the mirror, it wasn’t her face that Catherine saw, it was Vincent’s; such a truly magnificent face. No matter how many times she tried, he'd never been able to really discuss what happened between them in the cave. Every time she broached the subject, he would shake his head emphatically. If she persisted, he'd either leave the room, or leave the apartment altogether.
Remembering that time humiliated him, this she knew, and no matter how hard she tried to reassure him that he hadn't hurt her in any way, Vincent never seemed able to completely believe her.
Making a face at herself in the mirror, Catherine sighed, at a loss on how to best approach him on this extremely sensitive issue. Who was this mysterious Being that was disclosed only when safeguarding her life, the lives of others he loved, or as he had been that night in the cave? At that time, Vincent had truly wanted to die--that much he'd told her. Thinking he'd lost everything, he sought death openly, waiting for it to come and take him, and end his anguish forever. Knowing that, and not wanting to die himself, had the other protected him from choice, or because he'd been forced to?
Vincent thought he could never come to terms with all that he was. Yet, did the entity he feared truly hate him, as he seemed to think he did, she wondered, or was he jealous of him? What was ‘he’ like? Did he still exist at all? If he did, what price did Vincent pay emotionally to keep him concealed and away from her…in bed? Years before, Father had told her that a delicate balance was all that kept his adopted son focused as the person they knew. What was this doing to him mentally and physically? What was it doing to his soul to divide himself in that way?
If another personality did indeed live within the man she loved, why did she feel it was imperative that she get to know him better? Yet, to ask Vincent to share such a thing could cost her much more than she could ever hope to gain. Was what she wanted him to consent to worth the possibility of losing far too much, or was Vincent's unity and peace of mind worth gambling everything on? Catherine searched her heart. Yes, to have him accept himself without question was worth any price that she'd have to pay--any price.
But what price would Vincent have to pay? Someday, would he be able to understand and forgive her for what she'd been doing to him these last months? Catherine swiped at her tears. Someday he'd have to forgive her, wouldn't he? She knew what she wanted might cost her not only his trust, it could forge a rift between them that might never be healed as well as push him beyond endurable limits. Had she earned the right to know all of what he was no matter what it cost them…no matter what it could possibly cost HIM?
As she dried her hair, Catherine stared into the bathroom mirror. Was she being selfish? Was this arrogance on her part? She considered that. No, it wasn't selfishness or arrogance. Then, did she think she was omnipotent, that she could control that side of Vincent if he ever allowed it even a shred of consciousness? Wasn't it presumptive to think that she could restrain what he himself couldn't at times?
Flicking off the bathroom light and stepping into the bedroom, she thought of all they'd gained this last year. Yet, there was so much more to be shared; she knew this even if he didn't. Vincent was still so endearingly shy. He had to learn that with her, he could loosen the tight control he always maintained when they made love. Was it worth any risk that might be involved to ask him to bare his soul to her without his customary inhibition?
In the past, more than once she'd restrained that part of Vincent he was unable to, but that had been only at times of menace to both their worlds…Above and Below. Could she do it again if necessary when only love was at stake? What would it do to both of them to learn exactly what, and who, made Vincent the extraordinary person that he was? What if…
Catherine lurched forward against the bedroom vanity as the thought struck her full force. Dear God, what would happen if he ever did feel secure enough within the shelter of their love to attempt what she wished him to do? What if he shared that part of himself with her and did accidentally hurt her! No, that must never happen…never! It would ruin everything. It would destroy Vincent! Better to continue as they were than to ever jeopardize his well being again. He couldn’t withstand another assault on his sanity as he had a year ago in the cave.
In the cave…
Recalling that night, Catherine's eyes swept wistfully down over her breasts and then lower. She wished Vincent would agree to have another child. She wished for so many things that he hadn't found the courage to share with her, at least not yet. Someday he would. Someday…
Enough, she silently admonished herself. Stop now, before he senses your thoughts.
Forcing aside her strange moodiness, Catherine dabbed a bit of perfume behind her ears, and then stood in front of the vanity. Spinning around, she admired the cut of her new negligee. You could see right through it, to the silk panties beneath. Yes, this outfit was well worth the money she'd spent.
"Oh!" Spinning around again and coming full circle, Catherine found herself nose-to-chin with a exceedingly annoyed-looking man clad in tightly fitting corduroy pants.
With his hands clenched at his hips, Vincent began in a rather unyielding voice, "There is something we must discuss…"
Focusing on her attire, he hesitated, and then completely lost his train of thought as a most sweetly-scented lady smiled up at him, waiting patiently for him to finish whatever he'd been about to say. He frowned. Say? What had he been about to say? His gaze drifted down over Catherine. She was barefoot, which made her appear even more petite and delicate than she actually was. Her hair had just been freshly washed. Ah, her perfume! Her essence was like no other. The color of her eyes… Vincent blinked once, twice. He was drowning in an emerald sea.
When it appeared that he wasn't going to finish his thought, Catherine kissed the side of his face. "Hello, Love."
"H…hello." For the moment at least, the look of adoration she gave him smoothed the ragged edges of Vincent's highly emotional state. Having her this close always defeated the best of his intentions--it always would. Oh, how he adored her.
Bending slightly forward to stand nose-to-nose and toe-to-toe with Catherine, lost in her eyes, Vincent's breath came hard and fast as he searched for the words he needed. The heady scent of her perfume, her womanliness, and the diaphanous lilac gown she wore, stole his senses. She was radiant, so much so that he found it hard to remember his own name, let alone speak rationally right now on any subject.
Rising to her toes, Catherine wrapped both arms around his neck. "So, tell me, how was your swim and your time with Father?"
"It…it was lonely there without you. Nothing brought me even the slightest amount of s…solace," he stammered. Succumbing to her allure, Vincent enfolded her into an ardent yet gentle embrace. "Even when I was playing chess with Father, my thoughts were with you, as was my heart."
Shivering as the ache to get even closer to her overwhelmed him, Vincent tightened his arms around her and then moaned softly, lost in the pleasure of being with her. "Oh, I've missed your warmth so much." Burying his face shyly into her neck, he felt his blood heat as it rushed through his veins. Of its own volition, his pelvis thrust against hers, instinctively seeking a response.
"I've missed you, too." Fusing her needs to his, she arched against him. "It seems like days since we've been together, instead of mere hours."
"Yes, a few hours…an eternity."
Holding his love and his life in his arms, Vincent's body yielded to the cravings of a uniquely primal sex drive. He was potently aroused, utterly undone. His head drifted back as his eyes closed. Catherine's need of him spread throughout his body, igniting a hunger from within that would not be turned aside. Leaning forward and nipping the nape of her neck as intrinsic urges overran his usual sense of caution, he curled his pelvis forward and straddled her body. Moving his hips against hers, he welcomed the tender ache that was building heartbeat by heartbeat, centering in his groin. He pressed closer. Ah, the hunger, the hunger…!
Vincent's eyes flew open. "No! Not like…this. I…we mustn't, we…can't."
Stumbling back, away from Catherine’s embrace, he fought to temper his passions with control; the control he knew must be regulated at all times when near her, but especially…especially…when he wanted to join his body to hers.
But passion can set the most beguiling of snares…
When he thought himself more focused, he centered himself between her legs again. Flattening her body against his, he rocked against her small frame, groaning, "Oh, how I need you…how I want you…"
As Vincent's desire solidified like forged steel against her belly, she held him tighter. "As I want you."
"Yes, Beloved," he rasped throatily, "Want me as much, need me as much."
As a static charge seemed to electrify the air around them, he curled his slender fingers into the curves of her hips. Against his will, the hunger built, growing stronger, ever more irreversible, until it became a living thing between them.
He wanted her so badly, and in so many ways, Vincent knew that it might someday be the end of him. But to die in the throes of making love to Catherine seemed a quite fitting death, as far as he was concerned. Quite fitting, indeed. At the moment of ejaculation, more than once he'd imagined he'd truly died from the sheer ecstasy of experiencing that sense of completion. To disperse his seed in the act of love…could any other occurrence be as exquisitely shattering as sexual climax--even the unusual one he allowed himself to experience?
Cupping trembling hands around Catherine's tensed bottom, he lifted her off of her feet and pressed her into his already pulsing length. He felt as though he'd been parted from her for infinity, that he'd been starving to bury himself within her for at least that long. As her fingers edged down to softly caress and encourage him, Vincent's maleness curved away from his body, seeking the heat of her hand. As the ache between his legs became intolerable, he panted for breath, and slowly began to undulate his hips.
Swaying back and forth in cadence with her fingers, he spoke quietly; hesitant even now to voice many of his needs aloud. "Don't stop touching me. Never stop. Yes, there…" he groaned, "There…along the…base…" As Catherine moved her hand, Vincent shuddered. He couldn't endure this! "More, please, more," he begged, the words small rumbles of yearning thundering upward from the depths of his belly. "Again…again…"
Awash in a sea of pleasure, he tried to remember his earlier thoughts. There had been something he'd wanted to ask her. Later. He would ask the question later. Right now he needed to love her, to hold her, to lose himself IN her. He wanted so much, so much. Too much…
Lifting Catherine against his chest, he spun on his heel. Taking the few steps necessary, he sat on the bed with her in his lap facing him. Staying the stroking movements of her hand by bringing her fingers to his mouth and kissing them, he held her slightly away from his body and tried to calm his eagerness.
But, even for Vincent, not all things could be disallowed simply because he wished them to be. Even for him, there were moments when undeniable longing overran patience, moments when ardor defeated even the most judicious of thoughts. This was such a moment. The touch her hand was driving him toward a madness he'd come to know quite well in this last year. Desire! Part of him needed to take her without caution, without the usual delicacy. The part of himself that Vincent excluded from any contact with Catherine was reaching out, attempting to gain control.
No. Clenching his teeth, Vincent quickly set her on the bed and lunged away. No! Breathing raggedly, he strode towards the opposite end of the room. Bending his head and swaying back against the wall, he gripped his thighs firmly between his fingers. Curving his nails into them to the point of pain he struggled to rein in his hunger…to control his thoughts and the images they were provoking.
Through eyes glazed with urgencies he'd always managed to suppress in the past, but could no longer turn aside, not here, not now, Vincent glanced down at what he was wearing. His clothing felt like shackles. At this moment, his shirt and pants had no value, no place on his body. He wanted desperately to be free of them!
His skin felt as though it was burning. A fire raged through him that wouldn't be contained. Stripping off his clothes, he flung them to the carpet as excitement edged along his spine all the way down to his groin. He needed Catherine's mouth pressed against him…there. He was nearly frantic to feel the coolness of her tongue on his overheated flesh.
From across the room, wild, desperate eyes blazed into hers. A force within him called to her from those beautiful eyes--someone she didn't know well, but had secretly longed for, sought recognition and acceptance. ‘Yes, look at me, see me.’ Remember the cave? Remember how I loved you? Yes, my sweet Catherine, remember ME.’
To Catherine, it was Vincent's face she studied, his eyes, his mouth. That was
all she saw, what she'd always seen…Vincent. As she smiled at him, her gaze took in no threatening gestures, nor was there any forewarning of possible danger. Staring at her through eyes dusky with passion was the man that she loved. Thinking that she knew the look in his eyes, she opened her arms expectantly, urging, "Come to bed?"
Swallowing with a concerted effort, he managed to gasp, "Give me a moment, Catherine, please…"
Nodding, she sat up. Holding his focus, she drew her nightgown up over her head and off, allowing it to flutter toward the floor. "Vincent, I need you. Let me love you?"
Maintaining eye contact with the beautiful woman pleading for his love, something long dormant within him seemed to crash upward from Vincent's soul. Obliterating rational thought and concept, a surge of forbidden, yet innate yearning erupted to life, conquering all of his deep, self-imposed restrictions. With his body rigid, throbbing with the need to be sated, his eyes turned dark, almost ebony, as they blazed into Catherine's. With a crimson mist blurring his vision, somewhere in the recesses of his mind, Vincent realized what she’d done. Yet, even then, knowing what, and who, was controlling his actions, he couldn't deny the excited state he was in.
Accepting that, he realized that this time he was indeed losing both the struggle and himself, for much of what he was feeling--the need, the hunger itself--wasn't his. It wasn't coming from him at all, it was emanating from Catherine! In the moment it took to draw a solitary breath, Vincent knew why she'd been so unhappy these last months, and that knowledge caught him completely off guard. She'd been using their bond, their connection, to draw him out; to induce him beyond the boundaries he'd thought necessary to set for them. Panting to breathe normally, he swayed on his feet as her longing raced through his consciousness.
As he searched Catherine's heart, Vincent was unable to believe what she was asking of him. She wanted him in a way that he'd never been able to share with her. She was seeking a part of him that he’d never given her of his own free will. To his way of thinking, the night in the cave had been…forced upon him. She wanted ‘him’? ‘Him’?!
Shaken to the soul, he turned away, unable to speak. Moving to the terrace window, he stared glumly out into the darkness, but he truly didn't see the lights of the city directly below him, nor did he hear the din of the evening traffic through the partially open window. He saw nothing, heard nothing, but the past. It inundated him with memories, some serene, some agonizing. Demanding acknowledgement, they called to him until his entire focus was on events, places and happenings buried within his subconscious since the night he'd truly joined his destiny to Catherine's.
Time and again, she’d reassured him that the night in the cave had been wondrous…a time of unconditional love. Vincent swallowed the sob that threatened to burst from his throat. If it was so magnificent, then why couldn't he remember it? Was it because something despicable had happened that she wouldn't speak of, something ‘he’ had done to her that was beyond definition?
A deep shudder ran the length and breadth of his body. Had he completely blocked the act of consummation from his memory because he'd injured her in some way he couldn't bear to ever relive again? Had he hurt her? He had the strength to, and the power. He had the…hands.
At that moment, Vincent wasn't in the confines of the bedroom. He was looking into faces, seeing images he had turned away from for so many months. The times of killing, of his hands rending flesh from bone, rose in him as would nefarious specters. Disgusting and degrading, they reminded him of what he was, of what he'd had to become to protect his world and those he loved.
In the midst of those tormenting visions stood the ‘beast’, poised for battle as he always was. Acknowledging him, Vincent remembered the smell of blood in his nostrils after each…decimation. Tears welled up in his eyes as he though of the times he'd considered himself little more than a killing machine, an…animal. Flinching, at that moment he not only remembered the past. In the time it took to draw one anxious breath, he also recollected the dream, the beach, and what had happened there!
As he did, something he considered ominous, sinister in appearance, stared back at him through the windowpane. As a smirking grin was mirrored in the glass, a grating voice mocked, ‘At last you confront the truth! She wants me, too. That—and me—are the realities you can't face! Because I'm part of you, Catherine loves me as much as she loves you, in every way!’
The shaded voice reverberated inside of Vincent's head. Try as he might, he couldn't turn it aside; it wouldn't be dissuaded. ‘You must share her with me. I need her, too. I love her. I always have. That's why I protect her, you shortsighted fool!’
The face confronted Vincent, daring him. A voice, his own, yet not quite his, growled challengingly, ‘Listen to Catherine, feel her heart, trust it. Hear beyond her words. She wants me because I'm a part of you, not in spite of it!’
"No…" Slowly shaking his head back and forth, Vincent's eyes glinted with unshed tears as he turned to face Catherine. "I don't have the courage to do what you would have me…do. It mustn't happen. I…can't. I can't!"
"You still fear him…that much? Oh, my Love."
Although she tried very hard to conceal it, Catherine’s disappointment cut through Vincent’s soul, nearly making him cry out. Through their Bond, he knew exactly what she wanted--a part of him that he simply had never learned to trust. Closing his eyes for a moment, he searched his emotional unity with this fearless, beautiful lady. Startled, his head snapped up as the truth hit him full force. Catherine wasn't asking him to share all of what he was with her, she was demanding it!
Glancing over, Vincent was unable to acknowledge the look of hope in her eyes. Baffled, he turned back towards the window, considering her needs as well as his own. How could she want that part of him that he himself despised? How could Catherine want…that…touching her, or near her in any way? Yet, this is what she did want. He knew it, he felt it!
As he bowed his head and touched her heart with his, Vincent's eyes went widely startled. She…she loved ‘him’? No, that couldn't be. He searched their connection more closely and at last faced the truth. Oh God, she did love him, and she wanted him desperately.
Finally able to acknowledge that to himself, Vincent's heart thundered against his ribs, astounded by the depth of her determination, how she indeed accepted all of him. The woman he adored was asking for total openness between them, and in a loving way was being quite adamant about it.
Despite the nearly palpable tension in the room, his mouth curved into the smallest of smiles. Dearest Catherine, he knew her better than she might assume he did. While trying not to overly pressure him, or put him into a position that afforded no retreat, she wasn't backing away from this issue either. His Angel could be a very determined woman at times, as well as a most disconcerting one.
Profoundly moved by her complete faith in him, Vincent continued to peer out over the brightly illuminated city through melancholy eyes. What could he say to her that would not bring pain? He admitted that he too wanted to know all of what made him who he was, and had for many, many years. Was this the time? Was it? How could he permit Catherine to endanger herself in this way on his behalf? It was inconceivable. Yet…
As the need to hold her ran the length of his body, he tensed, but didn't fight it. Yes, he wanted her as much and in the same way that she wanted him. How was he to deny this? How could he forbid her something he also needed to the depth and breadth of his soul?
In the year since they had become lovers, Catherine had never asked him for anything ‘specific’ by way of intimacy. She accepted the quality of love he offered her without question, knowing that it was the only kind he was capable of giving freely. The fears of a lifetime are not quickly or easily overcome. She knew that and accepted it, or had seemed to until tonight.
As much as he wanted her without the usual limitations, what she was asking seemed insupportable. The possible danger to her could not be disregarded; it was all encompassing. Sadly, Vincent hardened his heart, knowing that he must discourage her from the dangerous journey she wished to take with him. What Catherine wanted to share with him must remain a dream for both of them--mustn't it?
Tensing his hands and struggling to center his thoughts, he gripped the wainscoting that encircled the windowpane in front of him, searching for answers. Well aware of what was involved if he tried to love her while under the influence of his less ‘benevolent’ side and failed, Catherine still wanted to attempt this. Why? For him? Did she imagine he was worth the possible loss of her life? Nothing was worth that much…nothing.
In four years, he still hadn't truly come to terms with her utter faith that he could never harm her, even unintentionally. How could she be so certain that no part of him could injure her, when the thought of doing it terrified him? She wanted him to love her with no impediments or boundaries of any kind. How could this be? How could she put her very life so completely into his hands with no assurance of the possible outcome?
He sighed heavily, knowing that he would never find the answers to many of his questions. There were times, he knew, when people had to rely on their instincts, or more importantly on the instincts of those they trusted. Was this such time? Did Catherine ask to share what he was out of love, hoping to encourage him into becoming a cohesive identity? Was that it? Vincent knew that she believed in him without question. Oh, what he wouldn't give to have her kind of courage!
Negating all of the justifications he might have offered in an attempt to dissuade her, that was the one unalterable truth that he couldn't deny--this woman loved and believed in him past all doubt. Had the time indeed come for him to trust her to that same depth, unconditionally? Would he be able to strip his soul bare and lay it before Catherine, disclosing all of the hidden, fiercely primal urges that haunted his dreams night after night, year upon year? Would she understand the sensual side of him that he himself didn't know, nor thought he would ever have to confront? Could she accept what he truly was, with all that that might entail for her in the physical sense?
Exhaling slowly, awash in a sea of possibilities, Vincent closed his eyes. Ah, to be able to give every part of himself to her, to be brave enough to show her the depth of his need, to share it with her without fear. To love her fully, without restraint, to take her in…every…way…
The highly stimulating images of joining his body to Catherine's without restriction caused an explosion of prickling heat to build to one of urgency in the center of Vincent’s belly. Moaning aloud, he pressed his forehead against the coolness of the windowpane, trembling as the phenomenon raced through his body.
To take her. The thought seared his soul.
No matter what happened, or didn't happen, tonight, he knew that Catherine accepted him as he was. But what was he? God in Heaven, how many times had he asked himself that damnable question? Was he a man as she believed him to be, or was he indeed, not quite human as he thought him-self to be? Was there something, some one, within him that must never be trusted near her? Was part of him a brute waiting to unleash his selfish lusts on a woman who sought only his love?
If he harmed her, Vincent knew it would be the end of him--that it would well and truly kill him. Uppermost in his mind as somber images and fears raced through it was one prevailing certainty…Catherine must be kept safe at all costs. Should he be able to yield to her desires, and his own, that surrender must never bring her pain.
At the moment of ejaculation, when there was only the sensation of ecstasy, could he control himself within her? Could he yield to Catherine in every way without distressing or disgusting her? A whimper of uncertainty tore from his throat as Vincent curled his hands into fists. Curse this indecision! What was the answer?
Loving him as much as she did, Catherine also knew Vincent better than he than he knew himself. She always had. Hearing his quiet sob, though he tried to suppress it, she spoke softly, seeking to reassure him.
"Love, don't be afraid to want me, or to need me as you've always needed me. I understand what you're feeling, but please believe that with love, there is no fear--there is only love. I want you to learn that here with me, in our bed, for you there are no limits, none; not with me. I know you. I do know who you are."
Her words were a balm to Vincent's battered psyche, warming him, tugging at his soul. "In my arms you're safe. Learn what desire can give to you, not take away from you. Please?"
"Oh my Dear…" Barely lifting his head, he glanced sideways, his look one of utter vulnerability, and sweetly eager. "…To love you with all that I am, fully and without any fear…" As he hesitated, Vincent's gaze met that of the woman waiting patiently for him to come to terms with his need to protect her, and his own passions. "If you could know how long I've wanted to love you with…every part of myself. But to allow you to see that side of me again…shames me."
"Please don't feel that way," she begged, dismayed at the depth of anguish in
his tone of voice. "I've told you again and again what happened that night, all of it. How can I make you believe that I said was the absolute truth? That night was beautiful and very, very special to me."
Wanting to run and put her arms around Vincent, but knowing that this time he had to take that first step and come to her, Catherine rose to her knees on the edge of the bed--as close to him as she could get. "Why can't you understand that the first time you loved me was right for then, for those…circumstances. Vincent, no part of you could ever, EVER, hurt me."
"So you would have me believe." Blinking back tears, he stared at the ceiling, his words grating, seeming to be torn from him, "Yet, to not remember that time is tearing me apart." He shook his head dejectedly.
Catherine tried again to make him truly hear her. "Have I ever lied to you?"
He didn't meet her eyes. "No," he whispered, adding silently, But, have you been completely honest in the things you have told me?
Struggling to find the right words, she went on, "I've known you for four years. Yet only at times when those you love were threatened, or when Paracelsus used his vile drugs and lies in an attempt to degrade you, have I been allowed to encounter the side of you that safeguards ALL of us."
Vincent's jaw tightened visibly. "That is as it should be."
"No, it isn't!" she insisted. "I cherish every part of you, and I know, I know, that all of you loves me. Don't you see? Don't you realize that the part of you that protects me, must love me to do that? Look into my eyes and see the truth of what I'm telling you? Can you do that for me? Won’t you try?"
Gathering his courage, Vincent straightened to his full height as words echoed in his mind, words from a letter he'd written to her years before. ‘Do I have the courage to look in the mirror? Do I have the courage to look into your eyes? In your eyes, Catherine, I see not only myself, in your eyes I see the truth of what can be…of all that is truly possible…’
Other words also echoed from within his soul. ‘One either moves toward love or away from it, Catherine. There is no other direction.’
Grunting in self-mockery, Vincent reflected on those words. Were they merely platitudes, or had he considered them to be a truth she must be aware of; a warning perhaps, that someday he would move ‘toward love’? Near the end of his life that night in the cave, Catherine had to move toward him, for he'd never found it within himself to take that first step and claim her as his own. Yet, she was his.
He recalled Father telling him a story of a man that couldn't divulge his feelings openly to the lady involved, because he lacked the courage. In the end, she'd been lost to him. Would his own lack of resolve cost him Catherine's devotion one day? As unlikely a prospect as that was, it could happen.
Taking a lingering breath, holding it for the space of a heartbeat, and then releasing it slowly, Vincent resolved himself to the fact that—yes--it was time for him to take the leap of faith he had written of so long ago. It was time to move…towards love. He could do this for Catherine, and for his own peace of mind. He must. He must. But how was he
to find a way to her beyond the fear--to walk the path that would lead him from the darkness into the radiance of her truths?
In Catherine's arms, he'd found a serenity and depth of commitment that had eluded him for over thirty years. Did he dare to hope for more than that? Could his desires finally be explored, surrendered to, and irrevocably sated if he had the daring to reach for what had been his to take from the beginning?
As he turned from the window, his eyes were troubled, yet filled with hope. He spoke so quietly the words were nearly inaudible. But Catherine heard and felt them to the bottom of her soul. "How can I deny you what I have longed to share with you for so long a time?" When he lifted his head, the hunger in Vincent's eyes stole her breath. "If you would have me love you in…that…way, then I must…try."
The saffron tinge to the moonlight seeping into the room made her eyes appear luminous. "I'll help you," she vowed. "I'll be here for you, always."
Vincent looked at her, his eyes softly reminiscent. "Always?" he echoed, smiling. "Remember? ‘Such a father's word--always.’ The week your father died you said those
words to me. Oh, Catherine, how I wanted to hold you then, to take your pain as my pain, but I couldn't hold you. I couldn't!"
"Why?" she asked, wanting him to say the words. "What stopped you?"
Vincent's face turned unyielding. "’He’ did. I felt him reach for you and I wanted to kill him for daring to do that! How can he be a part of me?!" His voice turned harsh. "It's as though one half of me is Cain, jealous, envious of what he cannot have, and the other half is Abel, the amiable brother who struggles to live an honorable life."
He cast her a defeated look, uncertain that she’d be able to understand what he was trying to say. Could she comprehend the animosity that ate at his soul? "I feel the part of me that’s Cain rising from within and I hate him! I despise that part of myself. There are no words loathsome enough to define my bitterness towards him." Slamming both fists against the wall, he exclaimed, "Out of malice, Cain slew Abel. In jealousy and rage, he viciously struck him down! Is that what will happen to me one day? Will ‘he’ win after all, will he destroy everything?"
"No, he won't, he can't. Vincent I know you're in torment, but you must find a way to make peace with yourself. You're not Abel, but neither are you Cain. You're not perfect, nobody is, but you're not evil, or a man without a conscience. When my father died, you wanted me you wanted to hold me, that was all."
"Oh, I wanted to do much more than ‘hold’ you that night, Catherine." The words were almost snarled. "I wanted to make love to you!"
"And now you can do just that in any way you choose, whenever you choose. Can't you?" Her eyes bored into his. "My Love, you know I'm here, waiting for you. When you find the truth within yourself and are ready to join me in bed, you will." Smiling with great tenderness she added, "I can be very patient, you know."
The affection Vincent saw there, in Catherine's eyes, buttressed his resolve. What a miracle she was. His miracle. His Catherine. He'd always vowed to deny this woman nothing within his power to give. What she asked of him now was a thing only he could grant, if he had the courage to walk over to that bed. He knew that this time, he didn't want to leave her when she needed him the most, as he had always done in the past.
Although she'd never reproached or blamed him for having to do it, when he pulled away from her at the moment of release, he knew Catherine was well aware he'd had to interrupt the spontaneous sweep of his passions, once again denying both of them a tender moment of unity. At those times, he’d always reproached himself, certain that once again he'd both disappointed her and left her unfulfilled.
Not since the night of Jacob's conception, in the cave, had he ever again expelled his seed within her. Fearing the loss of control that deeply, that strongly, he always lifted away from her just before achieving ejaculation. Aware of his own frustrations at those times, as well as hers, he would tense his body, focus his control, and then spill his semen onto her breast or stomach. In that way, he barely managed to shield Catherine from what he deemed his vulgar, more…bestial urges.
Tonight would be the first time since fathering Jacob that he must try to give her all of the pleasure he'd been denying both of them. Ah, to know the ecstasy of giving himself to her completely, withholding nothing… Merely thinking such thoughts nearly unnerved him. How would it be to cast aside all of his inhibitions, to fling them away forever? Forever. Not for the first time, he wondered what it would be like to release that side of his personality when there was no threat involved?
With all of his heart, Vincent wished he could remember the night of Jacob's conception. What had ‘he’ been like that night? Had he shown her any tenderness at all, or had he savagely taken what he wanted as most males of any species did the first time they claimed a female?
The concept of the less-than-gentle part of himself sheathed within Catherine caused
Vincent to sway unsteadily on his feet. He grabbed at the terrace door for support.
Had she truly welcomed ‘him’, or had she merely…endured him? Had she cried out as he impregnated her? Had he? Had his mouth bruised her tender skin, had his hands torn the clothing from her body? Vincent ran the tip of his tongue along his sharp incisors. Had he bitten hungrily into Catherine's flesh?
Oh dear God! Biting down on his lower lip so hard he tasted blood, Vincent fought off the urge to scream. Shutting his eyes, he turned away from the revolting imagery of biting Catherine. How animalistic had he been? To his shame, he'd never been able to discuss that night with her. It still wounded him to the core that she'd seen him in such a state of rutting, orgiastic lust. What else could it have been in the condition he was in that night but an act of avarice on his part? A puzzled scowl washed over his face. Yet, how could that be, if Catherine sought to have him in that way again?
Vincent swallowed the pain that threatened to engulf him. As he'd thrust into Catherine's womb on the floor of that bleak cavern, had it been an act of love, or more one of mating, without gentility; giving no thought to her needs? Whatever it had been, the act had produced Jacob. That side of what he was had indeed given them a wondrous child. Envy consumed him as he thought of his son being conceived by the ruthless side of himself that he loathed. What had that moment been like? Was it as extraordinary as Catherine vowed? Would he ever know the truth of it!
The details of that night were recollections his more covetous side never deigned to share. More than once, Vincent had tried to draw him out, but the ‘beast’ held the beauty of loving Catherine for the first time greedily to himself, vowing maliciously that when and—if--Vincent deserved to know everything, then he would, and not a moment before.