By Rosemarie Hauer

Something tugged at Catherine's heart, making it difficult for her to breathe. It must be his eyes, she thought, for Vincent's gaze was riveted on her with haunting intensity, its deep blue brilliance searing her with a silent plea. She could not move, could only watch helplessly as someone emerged from the shadows behind him, touched his shoulder, stroked his hair, leaned against him enticingly. He ignored the possessive caresses, and his eyes, still clinging to hers, turned an even deeper shade of blue. What was he trying to tell her, she wondered, feeling deaf and blind because she found herself unable to understand what -- she was certain -- would have been easy to grasp at any other time. The woman behind him stepped into the light that surrounded him, still running her hands lightly over his body, and Catherine found herself staring bewildered into Lena's smiling face. Lena touched Vincent's cheek in an attempt to draw his attention away from Catherine and toward herself. He still refused to comply with her wordless demand, but the tiny flicker in his eyes when Lena raised on tiptoes and kissed his chin made Catherine's heart constrict with pain. She knew she ought to do something, and yet she was unable to command even the tiniest part of her body. She struggled for her voice to at least cry out in desperate fury, but all she could muster was a muffled moan....

Somebody shook her -- shook her hard -- and her entire awareness suddenly focused on the tight knot in her stomach.

"Catherine, please," Vincent's familiar voice soothed, "you must try to wake up."

The next thing that registered in her mind was an insistent grip on her shoulder and the smell of the crisp night air that lingered in Vincent's hair and his cloak. With effort she turned her head toward him.

"You're here," she mumbled in relief. "It was just a bad dream."

"That seems like an understatement to me," he said, arching one brow as he rose to his feet from his crouching position at the side of her bed. Instantly she reached out for him, anxiously seizing a fold of his cloak. He froze, and she released it quickly, glancing up at him with a shy smile.

"I'm sorry, Vincent," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

"No, Catherine, it's all right. Don't be afraid, I won't leave yet." With that, he shrugged out of his cape, folding it neatly over the backrest of the chair that stood in front of her vanity, and slowly sat down next to her on the bed.

Catherine knew she should have been surprised by his actions. Vincent in her bedroom, sitting beside her and holding her hand, was a situation of almost dreamlike quality. It puzzled her that he seemed to be at ease as though being inside her apartment were the most usual thing in the world for him, but then she realized that, at the moment, she was no more than a frightened child in his eyes, still shaking from a nightmare and needing comfort and reassurance. That was what he would give her, what he could give her without crossing the line he had drawn between them.

Suddenly tears spilled from her eyes and ran down her cheeks, but she couldn't define the feeling that had brought forth such a reaction from her. She felt Vincent wrap his arms around her and cradle her head with one large hand as she buried her face against the coarse fabric of his heavy shirt. It was the thermal shirt he usually wore for sleeping. She drew back from him to look up into his face.

"Did my nightmare wake you, Vincent?" she asked ruefully, trying to make out the time on her bedside clock with a quick sideward glance.

"It's only a little past midnight, and no, you didn't awaken me. I was...around...anyway."

Catherine nodded, glad that she hadn't disturbed his sleep. She knew that, sometimes, he came to her balcony while she slept, just to be near her, to see and feel more clearly that she was well and safe. The knowledge warmed her, touching a soft part within her that accepted his silent vigil gratefully. It was his way of following his heart, and judging it by the standards of reason would destroy its tender beauty.

"Now, will you tell me your dream?" he coaxed gently. "You know that talking about it always helps to break the dark spell of a nightmare."

She began to tremble and felt foolish for it. It was only now that she became aware of the intimate nature of her dream, and she wasn't sure that she was ready to reveal to him what she could barely grasp herself.

"What did you sense within me, Vincent?" she asked gingerly, trying to gain time to think.

He pondered his reply carefully, taking a short breath before he finally answered, "What drew me to you was your feeling of helplessness. You seemed stunned and confused -- and suddenly there was such a deep despair -- and pain."

Catherine marveled at the accuracy with which he was able to read her emotions. She knew that she had to be honest with him. Somehow she suspected that, had she been more honest with herself regarding the true nature of her feelings, her mind wouldn't have needed a nightmare like this to make her aware of the truth.

"You're right," she conceded at last, "I should talk about this, but not here. Let's go into the living room. Maybe that will clear my mind a bit." She shifted her weight in order to get up and smiled secretly when Vincent instantly rose and turned away from her to give her privacy to don her robe.

"It was strange, Vincent," she began when they were finally seated on her couch, "but then, nightmares always are." Uncertainly avoiding his gaze, she continued, "My dream was about you...and Lena." She paused to give him time to absorb her revelation and to make up his mind if he wanted to hear what she was about to say.

"You haven't spoken much about Lena after the naming ceremony of little Catherine," he remarked. "I already assumed that there was something you didn't want to discuss."

She dropped her gaze. "That's right, Vincent. I simply refused to admit to myself that I was...jealous, somehow."

Her statement seemed to perplex him. "Jealous? Oh, Catherine, I would never have thought that you..."

She smiled at him a little sadly. "Are you sure you weren't aware of it?" she asked when he broke off.

He sighed, and she got the fleeting impression that something was troubling him deeply. "What is it, Vincent?" she asked, putting her hand on his arm, needing to assure herself that he was really there.

With a quick intake of breath he began to speak. "I haven't told you everything about Lena and her...falling in love...with me. I think I tried to avoid making things even more complicated; and I didn't want anybody to blame Lena for...what she did."

"Now I am alarmed," Catherine said, attempting to lend a light tone to her voice, but she failed. She could tell it from the solemn expression on Vincent's face. Why did she suddenly feel so apprehensive?

He sensed it and took her hand before he began to speak. "When Lena and I first talked I was amazed by her willingness to open her heart to me. She told me about her innermost dreams and I responded with a deep understanding, because I knew what she was talking about. Somehow we were both outcasts, unacceptable in the world above. People fear what they don't know and they don't want to know anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Do you remember how Lena put her baby in my arms? Her eyes begged me to keep that tiny new life safe, to protect it from the hurts and bruises people would inflict upon her, people to whom little Catherine would never be more than just another street-child."

Catherine nodded her head in agreement. "I remember that moment. I think I even sensed those things in her, if only briefly and on a subconscious level."

Vincent's eyes softened as he met her gaze. "I know. Catherine, when you asked me how it was to hold a baby in my arms, you made me aware of the fierce protectiveness I sensed within myself at that moment. Surely Lena felt it, too, and maybe that was the moment when a part of her decided that she needed me."

Catherine's heart ached with the realization that Vincent was again neglecting the possibility anyone might fall in love with him because of who he was and not because of what he might be able to give. She wanted to tell him how easy it was to love him, but he was already continuing, "There was a moment, when Lena asked me if I would let her love me. I could see her needs so clearly and yet I knew that there was something I could never be to her. After all she had been through she needed someone who would heal the deep emotional wounds careless men had inflicted upon her by taking what should only be given in love, by using her body without caring for anything beyond it. When Lena came to my bed..."

For a moment, Catherine thought her heart would cease to beat. Suddenly she could see why Vincent had avoided telling her about it until now. So he wasn't as unaware of her jealousy as he pretended to be. She knew that her reaction was stupid and finally she managed to clamp down a lid on it.

"Yes?" she prompted when it seemed that he would remain silent.

"When Lena came to my bed that night," he repeated, studying the furred backs of his hands where they rested in his lap, "she wanted to give me the one thing she had ever considered of any value about herself. She wanted to give me what other men had to pay for. I could feel her affection, her need for me to accept her gift, to acknowledge its preciousness by taking and savoring it..." His last words faded to a silent sob, and suddenly Catherine understood. She brought up her arms and placed them around his shoulders, drawing him against her and touching her forehead to his. How it must have anguished him not to be able to give Lena what she needed so badly.

"To send her away like that was one of the hardest thing I ever had to do," he said and added hastily, "How that must sound to you! I didn't mean..."

She put her hand to his lips, silencing him with her touch and her eyes. "No, Vincent, it didn't sound like that. Not to me. I know how badly you wanted to ease her confusion, the hurt in her soul -- but you knew that this wasn't the right way -- neither for her nor for you. Of course she felt rejected. Of course she fled from the tunnels. She was ashamed. I can understand that. Lena has a bright soul, Vincent. Deep inside she knew that what she demanded of you was wrong. Maybe if she had known that you and I..."

"She knew that, Catherine, because I told her."

Could he ever know how much these words warmed her heart, how proud they made her feel? But those feelings vanished instantly as he went on, "She didn't believe me, though."

No wonder, she thought, from what Lena could see, from what everybody can see, we are no more than friends. I haven't done much to make even Vincent see more than that.

Gently, he lifted her face to his. "Catherine?" he asked softly, "What is it?"

Not knowing how to approach this subject without pushing him, she decided that the only way out was through. "Maybe now it's time to explain my jealousy to you," she answered.

"You owe me no explanation," he replied quickly.

"Please, Vincent, I need to talk about this. I need you to understand all of it completely. I wasn't jealous because you felt so much for Lena. I understood that." Reconsidering briefly, she added, "Well, I must admit that the thought of her coming to your bed drives me crazy. What I envy her, though -- what I really envy her is that she was able to..." She sighed deeply before she went on, "...express her feelings for you so openly. No, wait", she pleaded, as he wanted to respond, "I'm afraid that if I am interrupted now I'll never ever find the courage again to talk about this." She paused briefly to gather her thoughts and then resumed, "I can't blame Lena for not believing you, Vincent. Somehow I feel as if I had failed you and everything that we have. You are so much more to me than just the best friend I've ever had and yet I never gave any indication of how I truly felt about you. I've never told you..."

"There was no need, Catherine," he interrupted her gently, "you know that I can feel it in you. You show me with more than words and actions how deeply you...feel...for me."

"How deeply I love you, Vincent. That's what I've been wanting to tell you for so long now. It should have been me who begged you to let me love you. It should have been me who came to your bed to offer you what I long to give you so badly -- myself...all that I am...."

Her name was a soft moan on his lips as he drew her against his chest, burying his face in her hair. "Catherine, I would be helpless if you came to my bed and asked to stay with me. I'm afraid I wouldn't have the strength to send you away -- as I know I'd have to."

She looked up at him calmly. "Would you really have to? Do you still think it's not safe for us to love each other that way as well?"

He met her eyes briefly, dropping his gaze to the his lap as he began to speak. "Catherine, you don't know all of me. What you see when you look at me or when you think of me is but a small part of who I am. The differences of my outward appearance may be nothing compared to what you might find within me, should we ever...join completely."

Catherine cupped his chin with her hand to guide his face back to hers. "But I want nothing more than to know you, Vincent, all of you. Every single part of me feels incomplete without you -- without your love. In my dream you looked at me with an unspoken plea in your eyes. You longed for something, ached for something, and I didn't know what it was. All I knew was that I was the one who could give it to you."

"Yes," he confirmed quietly and there was something in his eyes she couldn't quite interpret, a vulnerability that triggered a rush of tenderness within her. She thought she'd die if she couldn't touch him, hold him, and make him understand that he was everything to her. Everything.

"Vincent," she began, but he put one trembling finger on her mouth to silence her.

"Catherine, please," he whispered, his voice barely audible, and her heart skipped a beat when he brushed the pad of his thumb over her bottom lip in a shy caress. She thought, fleetingly, that her dream of his pleading eyes must have been more than wishful thinking after all, but his breath on her face, the pulse in his throat beneath her palm, and the velvety touch of his exploring mouth against hers drove any further thought away. Everything she loved so much about him was in this kiss: innocence and infinite tenderness, and at the same time a passionate eagerness to touch her, to taste her, to know all of her.

Gently, but insistently, Vincent broke the kiss, his hand still in her hair and his eyes bored into hers intently. "Catherine," he sighed, "for all my life I have been trying to be what those I love expect me to be. But to you -- to our love -- I owe the truth of who I am, of all that I am. I honestly don't know how much of it lies out of the ordinary. There's so much I've never shared with anybody, but I want...I need to share it all with you."

She only noticed the tears that ran down her face when he wiped them away with unsteady fingers. "So that is what I saw in your eyes when you looked at me in my dream," she said. "But what part had Lena in it? What could it possibly mean that she was constantly touching you, trying to draw your attention away from me?"

He sighed and, tilting his head in that familiar way she loved so much, began to speak, "I think that, somehow, Lena symbolized the physical desire you and I feel for each other, Catherine. Her appearance in your dream made you aware of it. She did the same for me in reality, because after she had left my chamber that night -- after I had sent her away -- I had to admit to myself how much I wished for you to be there with me, how deeply I longed for your warmth and your touch. I...."

His voice broke and Catherine wanted so much to lean into his embrace and kiss him again, but there was something about him -- an emotion-charged silence -- that made her hold back. Instead, she took his hands, whispering, "You know that I share these feelings completely, don't you?"

"Catherine, there is a need in me that I didn't know how to approach you with. It might seem...unnatural to you and I was afraid..."

"Vincent," she said when he fell silent, "nothing between us could possibly be unnatural in any way. What makes you think that?"

"I don't know, Catherine. I think it must have something to do with our bond, with my way of feeling you inside me. It is part of my personality to perceive things from within. You must know that I require very little sleep, and so the silence of the night is filled with all kinds of contemplation, with thoughts and feelings that would elude me during the activities of the day."

"I didn't know that about you, Vincent. Does Father know that you sleep so little?"

"I'm not sure. We've never spoken about it. Sometimes, what I do may look like sleeping to others. I lie on my bed and let my mind wander, leaving my body behind -- and most of the time it wanders to you."

Catherine squeezed his arm affectionately. "I'm really glad to hear that, you know," she teased lightly, and growing serious again, she continued, "But I've been aware that there are depths in you that even I can't reach. It's okay that you want to keep them to yourself, as long as..."

"But that is not what I want, Catherine," he contradicted. "It is my greatest wish for you to...I don't know how to put this...to become one with me inwardly, to join your spirit with mine, to know me completely."

Catherine wasn't sure what she had expected him to ask of her, but certainly not this. Her heart ached with the dawning realization that he wanted to leave his body behind again -- a body which set him apart from humanity; a body he thought was made for fighting, not for love. And yet he wanted so desperately to love her....

His voice interrupted her train of thought and she swallowed the tears that were rising within her. "I know that must sound absurd to you, Catherine, but maybe I can explain it a bit more accurately. The bond that we share is a connection of our souls, and I let it go as far as I dare to."

Catherine's mind was swimming with the implications of what he had just said. "Does that mean you control our bond somehow?"

"No, not our bond. It is a link with a life of its own that goes both ways. But there is something within me that should not cross the bond lest it confuse or overwhelm you."

"And what would that be, Vincent?" she asked hesitantly, suddenly not quite as sure as before that she really wanted to know. "Are you speaking of your...darker side, the one that is capable of rage and killing?"

"No, Catherine," came the low-throated reply. "In long, sleepless nights and during the times I went away to seek the solitude of the lower levels I figured out that the part of me you just referred to as the darker one is not something which could reach you through the bond, because it isn't part of my soul. I'm unable to kill deliberately, out of a personal reason or emotion. It isn't part of my spirit, either, and so I assume it might be something that has to do with my body, for that is where it finds its most obvious expression."

Catherine caught the look with which Vincent regarded his clawed hands and reached out to bring them to her face, kissing their furred backs comfortingly. "Is that why you have reservations about our physical lovemaking?" she asked.

"Partly," he responded, his eyes following her every movement as she continued to caress his hands, "but I also came to the conclusion that lovemaking is less a matter of the body than of the soul. I'm quite confident that I can control the...more primal aspects of my personality so that they won't harm you in any way."

"You're good at keeping a tight rein on yourself, aren't you, Vincent?" she asked, lowering their joined hands to her lap.

"You could say I'm accustomed to it. Ever since I became aware of my differences -- my greater strength, my deeper sensitivity, my heightened senses, and my exceedingly emotional nature -- and the troubles they could get me into, I struggled to hide them as best I could. My outward differences were apparent enough, and there was nothing I could do about those."

Catherine had to admit to herself that she didn't know Vincent as well as she had thought. Somehow it hurt that he had found it necessary to hide so much of himself even from her. But wasn't that exactly what he was just attempting to change? She slid down from the couch to kneel before him.

"Vincent, are you trying to tell me that our souls could join more completely in an act of inner lovemaking?"

Slowly, his hands moved to her elbows and he rose, helping her to her feet. "Catherine, our souls are already joined," he said, when they stood facing each other. "That's not something we chose or did. It's a...gift we were given, and an entire lifetime will not be enough to explore it completely. But if you...trust me, if you'll allow me, I'll do something I never dared before."

"I trust you, Vincent," she said, "with everything that I am." And silently she added, Let me love you as you deserve to be loved.

Wordlessly, he slid his palms down to her hands and brought them up to his chest so she could brace herself against his body. Then he framed her face with his hands and lowered his head to touch his forehead to hers. "Now close your eyes," he whispered and she complied, shutting out the world of vision and entering one of pure sensation.

His heart beat steadily beneath her palms, and the warmth of his hands on her cheeks made her skin glow. The spot where their foreheads touched seemed to pulsate in a vibrant rhythm that finally suffused her entire body with its tingling currents. She felt her breath mingle with his and it was as if each time she inhaled she received a bit of him and willingly gave a part of herself. Something tugged at her consciousness and she followed gladly, opening her heart to the most intimate caress she had ever received. He was there, inside her, and his pulse throbbed warmly through her veins, permeating her entire being with his gentle presence. When she opened her inner eyes behind her closed lids, the sensations of their outward points of contact fell away and she gasped in silent wonder at the beauty before her ... around her ... within her. Such peace, such tenderness, such love. His spirit reached for hers, leading her to an even deeper joining where there was no more room for words or thoughts....

Catherine found herself kneeling on the carpet with Vincent crouching in front of her, kissing away the tears of joy that ran down her face. Neither could speak; there was no need to. Overwhelmed, they clung to one another in the delicious aftermath of what they had just shared. She felt him nuzzle her hair and pressed her lips to the soft skin of his neck, inhaling and savoring the scent of him that she loved so much. He moaned softly, a sound so heavenly beautiful that she intensified her caresses to elicit it from him again. She could still feel the flutter of his heartbeat within her own and it reminded her of a seabird, soaring and floating on wide-spread wings, its cry a testimony to fathomless yearning and utter fulfillment.

Vincent sank down to sit beside her, bringing her with him so that she leaned against his chest. She turned within the circle of his arms to look up into his radiant face. His eyes still shone with happiness and wonder, and her tears threatened to overflow again.

Catherine could not remember anything specific about what had transpired between the two of them, and she would have been at a loss to explain how anything like this could be possible, yet she knew she had been allowed to see the deepest part of who he was, to taste his darkest fears and see his aloneness dissolve into hopeful joy. She had touched him with everything she had to give and now she was able to see that it was exactly what he'd always dreamed of. Wondering how she could have learned all this in such a short time, she met his smiling gaze. Her hand trembled when she reached up to brush an errant strand of golden hair from his face. That it was possible to love someone this much....

Vincent tightened his hold on her and stood up slowly, drawing her with him. She swayed a little, but he steadied her securely with his body. "Thank you, Catherine," he breathed against her ear, caressing it briefly with his lips.

She shook her head incredulously. "After all the beauty you allowed me to see it's I who have to thank you, Vincent," she whispered breathlessly and, tightening her arms around his waist, she added, "I didn't know anything about making love before tonight. You showed me what it means to become one, truly one, and I..."

He silenced her with a kiss, infinitely tender and sweet, and when he finally broke it, he asked quietly, "Catherine, maybe now...you could show... me?"

Catherine looked into his smoky blue eyes, so trusting and expectant. What she had just been allowed to see in the depth of his heart and soul awed her, yet suddenly she felt a little shy with him. She could hardly believe that Vincent had actually asked her to initiate physical intimacy. Why would she be so uncertain as to how to do this? She had dreamed of it a thousand times. Hesitantly she brought up one hand as if to stroke his cheek, but stopped shortly before actually touching him.

He smiled and gently grasped her wrist, pressing a delicate kiss on her palm. "Don't be afraid," he said with a twinkle in his eyes, and in a hoarse whisper he added, "I'm not likely to break."

Laughing, she dissolved into his arms, savoring the sound of his own chuckle beneath her ear as she leaned her head against his chest. She sobered instantly under the onslaught of sensation when his hands came up to rub her back and caress the nape of her neck with trembling fingers. His eyes were solemn as they met hers, and when his head came down and their lips touched, Catherine knew that soon, very soon, their joining would be complete at last.