Yet Lovers Be Saved

                                                                                                                                      by Valjean

            Weeks had gone by since the dreadful ordeal of Vincent’s return from the cavern. Vincent had been missing so long, isolated deep within the earth. He had been dwelling with his madness alone, protecting those he loved. How relieved the entire community had been to see their beloved Vincent come home! All were now hovering at a distance, respecting him, supporting his recovery.
            Catherine had hurried Below this evening to share the happiest of news with Vincent – a child! Her child with Vincent! Instantly, she felt a pang of anxiety as she thought of her good friend, Joe Maxwell, lying in a hospital bed after being injured on the sidelines of a car bomb. Even so, if Catherine hadn’t gone to donate blood for Joe, she wouldn’t have gotten the smiling nurse’s message: "You’re pregnant.” This was the news Catherine had come to share with Vincent.
            Upon her arrival at Vincent’s chamber, Catherine was startled to see his vast collection of books scattered throughout the room, some open with ribbons carefully marking the page, others obviously rejected, frantically cast aside. Catherine’s eyes swept over the names - Frost, Donne, Blake, and Byron. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats.  Poe and Thomas.
            One volume by Arnold was open to a marked passage:  
                                                But now I only hear 
                                                            Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar . . .

            And another, by Clare: 
                                                Even the dearest that I love the best
                                                            Are strange - nay, rather, stranger than the rest -
            She saw Vincent sitting on the floor at the far end of the chamber, a small book with faded cover open in his hands. She walked over to him. "The Song of Songs,” he said, "that is, (reading) ‘the most excellent song which was Solomon’s, translated out of the Hebrue into Englishe meeter, with as little libertie in departing from...’ It was printed in 1587. Can you imagine?” 
            Vincent continued, "I’ve been thinking of these words every day now, I dream these lines at night . . . I feel as if I’ve read this recently, but I haven’t looked at this book since - ” he paused, looking up at her, "since I read these passages to you last summer.”
            "I remember,” said Catherine, and she began to recite: 
      ". . . I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go; Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.”
            Vincent closed the book and stood up.  "Yes . . .,” he said softly. He looked into her eyes.
            Unsure as to how to proceed, Catherine said simply, "I need to tell you something.” 
            Vincent shook his head slightly, exhaled. "I should have known your need, – as I once knew,” he responded, self depreciation in his voice.  
            "Our bond is lost. . . . even your name . . . it’s a penalty, the payment . . . for this new . . . serenity . . . for the resolution of … madness.” He spoke as if he deserved the loss. Catherine longed to hold him in her arms, comfort him in his grief. 
            "I am your Catherine! I’ll never let you forget me. Maybe there are other gifts waiting for you, Vincent,” she said, reaching toward him. "Open your arms and believe . . .” She stepped into his embrace, resting her head on his shoulder.
            Vincent leaned his cheek against her hair, sighing. "Tell me now . . . ,” he urged. 
Catherine gathered herself in his arms, preparing; then went limp against him, and whispered, "Let’s talk another time.” She pushed away from him (hating the separation), "I should go -”
            Vincent caught her gently by the arms. "Stay and have supper with me,” he said, "We have more to say . . .”
            "Vincent, let me go to my apartment, shower, and change clothes, then I’ll come back Below and stay awhile.”
            "I’ll send a message to Mary and Jamie, they’ll show you where to refresh yourself, give you something to wear. Stay here, Catherine.” His entreaty was so sincere, Catherine could not resist. A response came on the pipes right away, and once Catherine was on her way to meet Jamie, Vincent set about straightening the chamber.
            Catherine reentered Vincent’s chamber dressed in a soft, white cotton peasant blouse, green velvet vest and flowing patchwork skirt, her hair done up in a loose topknot. As she stepped into the room, she observed on the table a wicker tray bearing a white china teapot and a steaming soup tureen with a silver ladle, rough wooden bowls, heavy stoneware mugs, a small loaf of bread wrapped in a linen napkin, and a fresh apple cut into wedges. Catherine sat at the table. Vincent ladled barley soup into the bowls, broke the bread into two portions, poured the tea. They ate their meal without speaking. The food was delicious and filling, and Catherine realized how hungry she was.
            "I’m glad you asked me to stay tonight,” Catherine said.  "I feel like it’s a turning point in our lives.” Vincent went to the chamber entrance and drew a heavy tapestry across the opening. He returned to his seat and reached across the table to take Catherine’s hands. His anxiety was evident. "What happened in that cavern, Catherine?” he asked. "Tell me, please. I have asked Father - and he tells me - everyone was afraid, but you went in. He says you saved me.” 
            Catherine took a deep breath. "I went into that cavern with more anticipation than fear,” she began, "I was thrilled to see you again, Vincent!” She felt an urgency to tell the story, but hesitated. 
            "I must hear this,” he said in a low, plaintive tone, releasing her hands. She felt the sadness in him. 
            "Your torch had burned low, the air was cold and wet, shadows everywhere,” she went on, "suddenly, you appeared before me – but not you, really - ” How could Catherine tell Vincent what she saw that night? Her beautiful Vincent so changed, so feral! Beautiful blue eyes crushed into evil slits, lips drawn back revealing cruel fangs, slobbering, snarling, great clawed hands drawn back to strike. Dangerous. Insane.
             "I wanted to call you back to me – back to yourself. I’ve known your trials - but this – this seemed to be your greatest battle, yet. I felt your anguish, Vincent. I was helpless.”
            He was silent, listening. Catherine swallowed hard, and ran her hands through her hair, pulling the tie loose. This was going to be difficult. Her hair tumbled down around her face, shielding her tears.
            "You came toward me. You – you were not yourself. There was another . . . a third. . . presence. I could see only you, but I could feel that there was something . . . else . . . ” Catherine struggled with the words.
            "You feared me,” Vincent whispered, his voice full of pain.  
            He stood up from his chair, addressing her with strong emotion. "Catherine, if I’ve harmed you in any way, if I’ve brought you any shame or disgrace . . .! There will be my death!” He fell on his knees in front of her, moving her chair away from the table. "How I love you, Catherine! How I love you! Please, forgive me! I’ve never meant to live a violent life.” He stood up quickly with fists clenched, holding himself away from her, waiting for her to speak, dreading her words.
            "I was not afraid of you, Vincent, I was afraid for you. You were lost . . . to yourself . . . to me.”
            Catherine’s words were coming rapidly now, "There was a crevice, just wide enough to hide me; I slipped in there, I think I was praying; I thought of something to restore our connection, I thought of those lines, the words remind me of us – the Song of Solomon.”
            Slowly, Vincent opened his hands, his shoulders dropped slightly.  "Yes . . . those were the words,” he said, remembering. " ‘My beloved spake, and said, . . ., Rise up, . . . and come away.’ ”
            Catherine nodded. "I had no other way to help you. You were in such a fury . . . full of rage and fever.” She felt uncomfortably warm herself, like her clothes were sticking to her skin. She had no right to hide the truth from him.  "Finally,” she continued, "you collapsed on the cavern floor.  I thought . . . I rushed out to you right away. I – I wanted to breathe life into you. Vincent, you were so cold and soaking wet! I was so afraid! I pulled your clothes . . . off . . . I wanted to warm you . . . I undressed as well. . .  I pulled your cloak over us. I wanted to warm you . . .” 
            Vincent took a step toward her.  "Catherine, I remember,” he said softly. "I remember the Other dissolving away from us at that time.” He reached for her hands, pulling her to her feet. "And I remember . . . melting. . . into you.”
            Catherine stared into his beautiful face. She wanted him to know everything.  "Yes . . ., after . . . afterwards, we slept briefly. You did not speak. You – you were able to stand, you had to lean against the rocks. We dressed. I helped you with your clothes, then we sat down together, exhausted. I held you in my arms, up off the cold sand.  They were coming, they were afraid, but they were coming – everyone had been waiting, worried, so worried for your life.”
            He was watching her mouth. Her mouth felt dry; she ran her tongue over her lips. She pressed on, telling him, "They were all there; Mouse was the first, then Father, and Jamie, and Mary and Pascal. They reached out to touch you, they wanted to be sure you were really there. . . , you were so withdrawn, silent . . .”
            Catherine raised her face to Vincent’s. "They all love you, Vincent. They all love you, and so do . . .” He lowered his head to hers, stopping her words. Their lips touched lightly, then pressed more urgently, then relaxed, then opened to reach toward each other hungrily. They kissed again and again, then parted, gasping for breath.
            Vincent took her hands in his. He turned her hands over to place kisses on her palms, first the right, then the left. He lingered on the left. He spoke softly, "So, then . . .” looking up at her without raising his head, "We are wed . . .” he said, his voice dropping into a low breath on the last word.
            "Yes, oh yes, Vincent! My husband!” Catherine cried, throwing her arms around his neck. "Marry me again!”
            He tugged at the lacing of her vest and she slipped it off her arms. The clasp on her skirt was released and the peasant blouse dropped over one shoulder. Catherine raised her arms and Vincent pulled the blouse over her head. She wore an embroidered cotton and silk chemise under her clothes. "My beauty,” Vincent sighed, as he began to caress her through the material. He pressed her gently onto the bed. She moaned under his touch and he began to kiss and massage her all over. His strong hands stroked her limbs, her torso, her back, her bottom.  He nuzzled her dark pubic triangle and kissed between her thighs. Catherine arched toward him, then pulled back, reaching for his golden mane. 
            "Darling!” she gasped, "Please, wait a little! I have something so important to tell you!”
            Vincent drew back, breathing deeply, his eyes bright with inquiry.
            Catherine sat up excitedly, sweeping her hair away from her face. "Vincent, the most extraordinary happening! The most wonderful thing!” She felt her blood rushing, she was on fire, she was flying. "A child, Vincent, you and I, I’m . . . we’re . . . a child is coming from our love!” 
            "From that dark night . . ,” Vincent said softly. He paused a long while, looking intently at her.  
            "We are to be parents, mother and father . . .  Catherine, a new family . . .” Vincent pulled her up with him to stand by the bed. "So many miracles you have brought into my life,” he whispered. "If only I could make you this happy.” 
            Catherine responded by unfastening the clasps across Vincent’s tunic, then the lacings of his trousers. His hand came down gently on hers. ‘Catherine, wait. Will our child be safe, if we . . .?”
            "Some doctor’s son you are!” she teased, her voice and her eyes full of love. She turned down the quilts on Vincent’s bed. "I have been to my doctor and I can assure you, all is well,” she said, opening her chemise.
            Vincent stepped out of his boots and Catherine pushed off his garments, one by one. As he regarded her bare body, she beheld him in the candle light. His body hair was red-gold, thick and soft, darker gold at the pubic thatch. She traced his form with her hands and then with her lips. He growled softly, his muscles contracting. They reached for one another. He lifted her in his arms, effortless as always and positioned her against the bed cushions.
            "Kiss me, Vincent. Kiss me and hold me close,” Catherine murmured. His lips were soft and warm, his teeth cool and sharp, arousing her. She pressed her breasts against his soft fur, feeling the strength beneath. His tongue was wide, rounded at the tip, and slightly rough across the surface as he lapped gently at the skin of her throat, her shoulders, her breasts. His great hands cradled her head, his hands in her hair. In a low, growling whisper, he said, "How I honor you, Catherine! How I love you. . . I never deserved -”
            "Don’t say that,” she interrupted. "You are deserving of every good thing.”
She felt the fragile balance of his self esteem. As she beheld her husband, Catherine felt that now she understood everything – Vincent’s power to combat anything externally, but his inability to cope with the internal – the acceptance, the approval. She considered his ferocity, his strength, his innocence. As he had protected her in her dangerous world, she could now protect him in his self doubt.
            Lips, breasts, and bellies pressed together, seeking, receiving. Vincent was fully aroused, pressing, without demand, against the very center of her. Catherine lifted her knees to accommodate him and he filled her. She was satin to his velvet, her body a loving sheath to his desire. There was no time until now, no tomorrow after this moment. 
            She felt him move within her. She welcomed him, passionately. Their motion was like rocking, like soaring, like music. His scent was like the earth, fresh with rain. She was a fragrant garden to him. The pleasure began in gentle convulsions in the deepest part of her and radiated outward to her limbs – she felt electric with joy. 
            In this moment, Catherine knew only the magic of Vincent’s love, the sweetness of his mouth on hers, as she felt the warm flood of his passion. She shook with emotion, and raising her hands to his golden face, she knew only that her love had nearly been lost - and now was returned to her. 
            Relaxed upon their love, spent and satisfied, Catherine and Vincent had never known such contentment. Their one Spirit lay tranquil between them. They slept.
            Hours later, the couple awoke slowly, then immediately rejoiced in each other all over again, kissing and caressing as if for the first time. "How shall we start the day?” asked Catherine drowsily, snuggling into Vincent’s chest and hoping to stay in bed.  "At the grottoes,” he answered, and in response to her wrinkled brow, "The bathing chambers. There are warm springs and cool falls. We’ll bathe together . . .”
            Catherine accepted the bath sheets and dressing gown Vincent gave her. She and he shared a laugh, Vincent characteristically suppressing his smile, as she shrieked in mock dismay at the giant size of the robe. After turning the cuffs over four times and passing the tie around her waist three times, Catherine determined she was ready to leave Vincent’s chamber.
            Catherine was impressed to see that while tunnel dwellers acknowledged each other at all times, they held great respect for each other’s privacy. She and Vincent made their way to a private pool, greeted respectfully by others on the way, and walked around the water’s edge. They were completely alone. Steam rose from the pool in front of them; the rushing water from the rock wall beyond the pool was cool to the touch.
            Two large willow baskets held little squares of various herbal soaps, containing cedar needles, eucalyptus, rose petals, and lavender, made by members of the community. Vincent dropped the bath sheets and his dressing gown over the rocks; he stood before her, naked, exquisite. She had always appreciated his height and his large body size, but now she realized how big he really was, how majestic in form and appearance. 
            Catherine disrobed, as well, and they stepped into the warm pool together. The steady flow into the pool ensured a continual fresh exchange of water. Vincent reached for the soaps and began to lather her body and her hair. He held her from behind, stroking upward along her ribs to cup her firm breasts in his large hands. Catherine luxuriated in the loving treatment, relaxing fully against Vincent’s strong body. She felt revered, cherished, protected. She rinsed by ducking under the water. 
            "Now, it’s my turn,” she said, massaging the soap vigorously into Vincent’s thick mane. The suds lubricated his body so that her hands moved quickly and smoothly over his shoulders, his belly, his limbs. She lingered at his groin, her hands wet and soapy, stroking him, exciting him. His chest heaved with passion. He was fully erect. He had such control, such restraint. The warm water swirled from his golden locks as he rinsed and tossed his head; then, swept her into his arms with a muffled cry. 
            Vincent stepped out of the water, cradling her in his arms. He stood under the cool falls, holding her to his chest. Catherine thrust her hands in his hair, wringing out the water, combing his mane with her fingers. They toweled each other roughly, senses peaking, anticipation building.
            They hurried back to Vincent’s chamber. But a note they found from Jamie prompted Vincent to send a message over the pipes in immediate response. 
            Jamie appeared within minutes at Vincent’s quarters, bearing the following message: Jamie’s friend, a Helper, who worked at the hospital, had checked on Joe Maxwell. Joe sends a message to Catherine to say things are "uncertain” in the department right now; changes are being made, Catherine should stay on leave; he would be in touch.
            "Thank you, Jamie,” said Catherine as the young girl turned to leave. Looking around, Catherine saw Vincent taking measurements of one wall of the chamber. He paused, looked about the chamber, and said seriously, "We’ll expand through the north wall. We’ll need room . . .”
            "Oh, Vincent!” Catherine laughed and clapped her hands in childlike delight, "Typical Aquarius! So self-contained! The intellect is NOT the primary function!” she plopped down on the bed, stretching out her arms to him. "How do you feel about being someone’s father?”
            He joined her on the bed, sitting a little apart from her, regarding her with affection. "I feel blessed with fortune beyond imagining,” he said. "I know our daughter will have strength, heart, and intellect - like you.”
            "Or our son?” she countered.
            "Or our son, strength, heart, and intellect - like you!” he finished.
            She took his face in her hands. They kissed fervently, no longer finding their way, but now committed to one another. They parted to catch their breath. "Catherine, how will we manage our new lives?” Vincent asked her.   
            "Vincent, I am a woman of both worlds, you told me so,” Catherine replied.  "Other helpers live both Above and Below, why couldn’t I? Our child will know both worlds. All things are possible . . .”
            "Indeed, my wife,” Vincent murmured, reaching for her.