Part Three

Vincent slid down the rock wall to the floor and roared in pain. It had taken him a few minutes to realize what he had done before he had taken off after her. What a fool he had been! He was so worried that she might reject him that he didn't even realize he was doing exactly that to her. To know the hurt he had caused her was agonizing, to feel it running through him was unbearable. He had reached the entrance just as the door had shut behind her. He almost cried out her name, but it stuck in his throat. He paced furiously as she ran, feeling every stab of pain when she did. He felt her doubts, her guilt, her anger, and finally, when she had reached her apartment, he felt her hopelessness and desperation as his legs gave out.

She was still crying—he could feel it. His chest seized and he could barely breathe. What had he done? Was this pain the best they could hope for?

He looked at his hands—the claws, the fur—before bringing them to his face. He felt his cheeks, the fine hair that lined them. He felt his nose and his mouth—so familiar to him, but so different from hers. Could she really think he was beautiful? Could he imagine himself naked, standing before her? Could he imagine her touching him?

Yes, and he didn't doubt her acceptance; he only doubted his courage to face her in that way. She was right—all of his reasons and excuses were well-founded, even well-intentioned, but they weren't the reason he withheld himself from her. He was scared—and of so many things. That he would never see himself the way she did. That he would disappoint her with his lack of knowledge and experience. That he would do something wrong.

He was jealous of Elliot, who had taken so easily that which Vincent had agonized so fiercely over, that which he had so painfully denied himself. Still, she didn't want Elliot; she wanted him. She wanted him and he had practically forced her to return to Elliot's arms. Did he really hate himself that much? That he would completely reject her pleas and her desire because he deemed himself so unworthy?

Yes, he admitted to himself ... and it would end here.

Wincing with the pain of Catherine's sadness, he forced himself to his feet and took off running, his destination clear. He came to one of the guest chambers and pulled down the heavy curtain behind him. He lit all the candles within seconds and then walked into the center of the room and closed his eyes. He was nearly panting and was so terrified, he felt ill. With every ounce of strength he possessed, he forced his eyes open to face himself in the large mirror before him.

He stared into his own face and wanted to pull away, but he steeled himself against that urge and continued to look. He was ... different, but not deformed, he thought. He was big, but not grotesquely so. Certainly there were men bigger than he. His hair was unusual, but not inhuman. He made himself open his mouth and examined his teeth; they were not alarming in themselves. He smiled weakly, and realized that it hurt. He paused for a moment, taking that in. He was not meant to smile, but he didn't let himself get lost in that fact. He accepted it; it did not mean he wouldn't.

He forced himself to look deeply into the eyes that Catherine did and saw only warmth and kindness. This is what the children saw and they loved him, adored him even. His face had a quiet dignity about it, he thought. He also realized that his face could hide his emotions and lamented the times Catherine must have searched it, trying to understand what he was feeling. But it was in his eyes. In them, he saw everything he felt, everything he was. She had seen it too.

He took a deep breath and quickly removed his cloak. Just as quickly, he removed his vest and pulled his tunic over his head. He brought his hands to his throat and began untying the leather straps of his shirt. He made himself continue, knowing that if he paused, he would lose his courage. Within seconds, he was bare-chested.

He ran his eyes over his chest and his arms. He was very muscular and if he was honest with himself, he was proud of it. He liked being strong. He liked his endurance and his agility. His biceps were powerful and rounded—his chest broad and well-defined. As far as he was aware, his body had more hair than most men, but it was soft hair and it thinned in places. His stomach was flat, its muscles visible. He took a deep breath and watched his body move.

Before he lost his courage, he quickly took off his boots and pulled his trousers off. He felt abysmally foolish, but he knew he had to do this. He knew he had to accept himself before he could allow her to. Blushing fiercely, he yanked off his briefs and forced his eyes to the mirror again.

He was quite a presence, he admitted, but aside from being covered with hair, he wasn't different from other men. He was proportionate; his body looked like it was built for hard labor, and he comforted himself with the fact that this made it possible to help his family in so many ways. He stood there for many minutes, making himself look until he felt calm.

He wasn't a monster—he was a man. He often felt that his outward appearance reflected nothing of what was inside him, but maybe he was wrong. Maybe if he didn't have this body and all that came with it, he would not be the same person he was inside. Maybe they were attached, mirrors of each other. He was who he was because of this body and this face. Is this what Catherine meant?

Had he loved her any less when her face was covered with gashes? No, he had not loved her despite those cuts; in fact, his love had heightened because of them. Catherine could have any man she wanted, but she wanted him. He hadn't forced her to love him. If anything, he had forced her away ... and still she came back, relentless in her belief that he deserved love. Maybe he did.

My God, what have I done?

Remembering his state, he hurriedly pulled his clothes on. He flew from the chamber, already in a sprint with his cloak whipping behind him. He blew past the sentries, who were still reeling from Catherine's visit, and continued his journey. Within minutes, he was on the roof of her building, and it was only then that he stopped. He searched the bond and found a stillness that puzzled him. He climbed down to her balcony and looked inside.

Part Four
The entire apartment was dark and silent. Was she not here? He searched the bond again and knew she was here. He tapped on the glass, but nothing stirred. Vincent began to worry that something had happened to her, so he did the unthinkable and opened the door to her apartment. He called out her name but she did not answer. He took a step into the room, fumbling for the light switch. Soft light poured out from a corner lamp; then, he saw her.

His heart leapt into his throat and then plunged into his stomach—the sight of her. She was curled up in a ball a few feet from the front door, sleeping. He thought about earlier, when he had dropped to the floor and roared in pain. She had come inside the apartment and literally fallen to where she lay. He caught a pinch of light off the keys still in her hand. Tears welled up in his eyes as he realized he was the cause of this. What he had done had driven her here, to the floor, where she lay, crying because of him. He was sick with the thought that he had done this to her.

He could not hurt her like this, with her destroyed by his rejection and denial of what they both wanted. He pulled off his cloak and was beside her in a moment. He realized then that she was dreaming—and it was not a good dream. Tears were streaming down her face and her hands were clenched into fists; she was mumbling something, what he could not tell. He searched the bond and found that stillness again and it was only because she was sleeping. She had not found any release from her heartache; it had followed her into her dreams. He gathered her in his arms gently, pulled her to him, and stood up.

Vincent looked around and then walked over and sat down on her couch, keeping her close to him. She had stopped dreaming and he was relieved. He looked at her, wondering what he should do. He was acutely aware of the fact that he was inside her apartment, holding her intimately. What would she think when she woke up? Should he wake her?

He was beginning to panic when she opened her eyes. When she smiled, he returned it, reveling in the pull on his face. But as she woke up more, her face darkened. She looked confused, surprised, even slightly happy, but one emotion towered above them all—she was scared. That fear would be her reaction to him broke his heart. And it wasn't the kind of fear he had worried so much about; no, she was scared that he would hurt her again.

She sat up in his lap, looking restless and apprehensive. She made to move, but stopped when he clenched her where his fingers touched her. Neither one had spoken. She turned her face to the side resolutely and willed herself to be strong and not break before him again.

"Catherine," he said, finally.

She kept her face turned away from him, but the tears were already falling. She couldn't do this again, she thought. She couldn't endure any more rejection from him. Already her arms longed to hold him, to curl into him and kiss him ... No. She couldn't do this ...

"Catherine," he repeated. "Please, look at me."

When she faced him and met his gaze, she knew immediately that something was different. He held her eyes and still held her in his arms, something he had never done before. She held her breath as she reached up to touch the side of his face. Tears instantly formed in his eyes, that she could still find the courage to touch him, after all he had done.

He pulled her closer to him, but his eyes did not leave hers. His stare was so bold in a way, confident almost. Despite her sadness and her fear, Catherine felt a jolt of desire. She brutally forced it back down, but he felt it too, and it encouraged him to continue.

"I am ashamed of myself Catherine, that I could hurt you so deeply ..." he glanced away for a moment, but then caught her eyes again. "The only solace I can offer is that it will never happen again."

He paused as another wave of guilt and remorse washed over him, but he could not think about that now; he had to be here—for Catherine.

"Catherine ..." he sighed. "I am the monster, but not because of who I am. The way I treated you, the months I have spent pushing you away when all you wanted was some warmth and comfort from me. It was so painful for me to deny what I felt for you—I didn't think about the pain I was causing you. But yours was compounding mine—what I was feeling was the hurt I was causing you. I'm sorry ... for hurting you and for being so unaware of it."

Catherine's bottom lip quivered. He felt her emotions through the bond—they were chaotic. He rushed on.

"Catherine, there is so much I need to tell you, so much I want to share with you, but please know this—Catherine, I ..."

It took his breath away, when her lips came crashing down onto his. His body came alive in an instant and he pulled her into him. Her tongue pushed into his mouth and he groaned. Forgetting his inexperience and his doubts, he instinctively responded to her, kissing her back with more intensity than he had ever expected to permit himself. Her hands came up behind his neck and she kissed him harder, deeper ... their desire whirling through him, drumming on the tips of his nerves.

Needing to breathe and not wanting to lose himself too quickly, he pulled away from her. He saw a frown begin to form, so he held her face between his hands. He stared at her hungrily, trying to catch his breath. Her frown disappeared and her eyes darkened. She blinked once, slowly. She was waiting.

"Catherine," he breathed, still holding her face in his hands. "I want to tell you something."

She nodded, her shoulders still heaving. He dropped his hands and held her arms.

"Not long ago, Catherine, I dreamed about you, about us," he explained.

"Really?" she asked, a soft smile coming to her lips.

"You were in the middle of a great big room. There was light all around you and people surrounded you—from Below, and many from Above as well, your friends and colleagues. Everyone was admiring you—you never looked so beautiful. Your dress, your hair, your face ... everything was so beautiful ..."

He stared at her now and she had never looked so radiant. He wanted to kiss her, but he pressed on.

"Catherine, everyone's eyes were on you, like you were a queen. They wanted to be around you, but you ..." he stumbled, finally understanding why he felt compelled to tell her about this dream.

"Yes?" she inquired, bringing her hands to his face.

"You ... wherever they lead you, you were only looking at me. They would twist and turn you and still, without fail, you would find my eyes. And though we were held apart, we were not. We were connected and I felt so much ... pride, Catherine. That with everyone wanting you, you would choose me, you would find me in the crowd and reach out to me ..."

She was nodding, stroking his hair now. "I will always find you, Vincent."

"It matters not who is in the room, in your life even, you want ..."

"I want to be with you," she finished for him.

He nodded, his eyes brimming with tears. He looked down, humbled.

"That's why it hurts when you push me away," she told him, pulling him to her and burying her face in his neck. "We belong together, Vincent and if we don't find a way to express the way we feel about each other ..."

"We will find a way, Catherine," he whispered, "I promise ..."

Vincent's words were stolen from his throat as she nuzzled against it.

"Oh Catherine ..."

Vincent sank back against the couch in rapture when she kissed him behind his ear. His hands came up and pulled her down with him. Before he knew it, her knees were alongside his thighs and her mouth was hot on his. He was astonished at her boldness until he realized his own hands gripped her hips brazenly, answering her call. He was trying to keep calm, to take this slow so he could savor every moment of it, but he was losing that battle. Her passion for him was pushing against his own. Within moments, they were pulling at each other's clothes.

"Wait, Catherine," he whispered, pulling away from her kiss. "Is this too fast? Is it proper?"

"It's okay," she mumbled, shaking her head. "Please don't stop."

"Catherine," he said softly. He stopped her hands from moving by holding onto them tightly.

"No," she whimpered, resisting him.

"Shhh ... it's okay," he assured her.

"Please don't, Vincent."

He could hear the tears in her voice; she was terrified of stopping because she thought he would pull away again.

"Catherine, listen to me, please," he said. She stopped struggling and looked at him, her eyes raw with fear.

He brought her hands to his mouth and gently kissed them.

"There is no need to worry, Catherine, I will not turn you away again. I want ..." he took a deep breath. "I want you, Catherine. I want to love you; I want to be loved by you. Please, have no fear, Catherine. I promise ..."

She bent to kiss him softly—once, twice ...

"I love you, Catherine, so much, so much ..."

His words failed as she kissed him harder. Their hands were shaking as they tried to take each other's clothes off, until they finally gave that up and took off their own. When her hands touched his skin for the first time, his composure failed and he simply stopped thinking—and worrying. Her nails on his chest made him shiver with longing. His hands roamed her body with abandon; his mouth found her breasts and they both cried out. There was nothing gentle about this; their combined desire propelled them blindly toward release—nothing else mattered.

Vincent tensed when her hands went to his belt buckle. His head fell back and he was gasping for air. He clenched her arms tightly as his trousers gave way. He nearly roared when he felt her fingers slide around him; his head slowly moved back and forth as he moaned, lost in her touch. She moved on his length while her other hand gently cupped him.

"Catherine!" he cried. His mind was reeling as he tumbled toward oblivion. Never in his life could he have imagined this ... her ... this feeling.

"Please, Catherine, I need ..." he stuttered.

"Yes ..." she breathed into his ear.

"Oh Catherine, please ... I need ..." he faltered. He couldn't say it; he felt himself blush even as she pushed him further.

"Tell me what you need, Vincent," she said, pulling back to look at him.

He stared at her through barely opened eyes. The intimacy of this—watching her as she touched him; it was almost too much. But something in her eyes—the love, the passion, the trust—gave him the courage to speak.

"I need ... to be ... inside you ..." he breathed.

Her hands left him for a moment and he was able to take a deep breath as she shifted and struggled on his lap. As soon as he released his breath, he felt her slide down onto him and in that moment, without hesitation, he completely surrendered to her. Her face was beside his, her hands twisting in his hair, his own hands on the back of her head and around her waist. As she moved against him, he wanted to smile and scream and cry and laugh and break all at the same time. Catherine—around him, in front of him ... with him ... inside him ... he felt as if he was holding the whole world in his hands. Everything he had ever wanted to tell her, every time he had stopped his hands from touching her, every time he sank to his knees in the dark and begged some unknown force to give him the strength to let her go—all of that was gone. She was his—they were each other's. It was ... everything.

Catherine whimpered against him; her stamina was failing, at least the evenness of it was. He wrapped her tightly in his arms, moved the coffee table with his foot, and laid her down on the carpet. She made the most heart-wrenching and erotic sound he had ever heard—he cried out to answer her—when he covered her and her legs slipped around him.

"You're inside me," she whispered in his ear, her teeth clenching the lobe.

"Catherine, my God ... Catherine, my love ..."

The music of their love filled his ears. The beginning was gone—the single piano notes, the lone violin. The middle had just ended—the thirds, the counter-melodies and thick harmonies. This was the finale—the driving, pulsing string section was undulating. The dark notes, the minors, were rising to prominence, clashing with the roots and the fifths. The original melody had returned, transformed, but familiar—jumping higher and higher, where instruments ended, where notes ran out. He was hearing their song surely as they were writing it now.

The spark of bright light exploded from deep inside his belly and filled his chest. They were nearly there. He had curled around her, protective of her, as he drove them both to completion. He was not holding himself back—he was doing what he wanted, when he wanted, and had never felt so connected to her before. She wanted this; she wanted him.

He cried her name when it was over. He didn't move, either, holding them in that moment, in that tiny place they had carved out for themselves. His lips trembled as he thought about all the nights he had spent alone, wishing for something, love, anything, until he had found Catherine. But now he realized the longing had never been simple wishes or scattered thoughts. The longing was not before Catherine—the longing was Catherine. Whatever he had ever longed for in his life, it had been her. Whenever he had reached for something, it had been her. She was—everything. And he was here, with her now, the closest two could ever be, and he felt so blessed. More than anything else, he needed her.

She couldn't stop the tears streaming down her face. Vincent. Her heart, her love. He surrounded her, filled her. She had pressed his face to her chest when she'd called out his name. Vincent. Her love. Now he covered her face with kisses, with whisperings of love and faith and devotion. She smiled and kissed him anywhere she could. They ended up laughing softly together.

"What can I say to you?" she whispered.

"Say you're mine," he replied, running his finger down her face.

"I'm yours," she said, without hesitation, her eyes bright.

Something stirred between them again, driving him to breathe her name—"Catherine ..."

"I'm yours, Vincent," she answered, moving beneath him.

"Catherine ..."

"I'm yours," she repeated, kissing his throat.

Thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings ... Shakespeare did know everything.