THE POWER OF LOVE

Debbie Ristick

"...we're headed for someplace,
someplace I've never been. Sometimes
I'm frightened but I'm ready to learn,
of the power of love..."

As the last strains of Mozart's "Magic Flute" reverberated off the tunnel walls before finally dying away, Vincent closed his eyes with appreciation for the beauty of the music. He stood in silence upon the bridge spanning the majestic splendor of the Whispering Gallery, a treasured copy of Byron held in his strong hands. He had carried the book with him here, hoping to read; instead, he had found himself lost in thought almost as soon as he had arrived. In fact, he realized somberly, he did his best thinking here, in this solitude and beauty. But, he admitted to himself with a laugh, sometimes thinking had to wait when you could hear Mozart.

With a sigh, he turned, pacing slowly across the much-repaired bridge. The eerie stillness surrounded him with an almost deafening hush.

Shaking his head, he sighed once more, wondering how it was that he had become so lucky in his life. And better yet, why had it happened to him?

Of course, his relationship with Catherine was the reason for it all. It had been more than two years since the night he had found her in the park, and now, thinking of her gladdened his heart and made it possible for him to dream of things he'd never before imagined. She was an important part of him - and had been for a very long time. This fact gave his soul flight, and he knew it made him happier than he felt he had a right to be.

Catherine, on the other hand, might be another story. When they were together, he sensed things in her that she would oftentimes not share. Traces of emotion - quickly hidden or repressed - sometimes made their way along the bond, and he would wonder what she was trying to hide. She had promised him one night that he made her happier than she'd ever been before. Yet, he admitted sadly to himself, there was still an unexplainable emptiness inside her. It caused her much in the way of pain and was, at times, overwhelming in its strength. He knew, for he felt it acutely.

He had attempted to speak to her about it, had asked if she was well. He had even tried explaining the feelings he sensed in her. She had been somewhat surprised at first, then both gracious and loving, denying she lacked anything and insisting all was well. She had held his hands tightly in hers and said just knowing he loved her was enough. Yet, he sighed to himself, the melancholy of her unspoken feelings remained with him, overpowering him sometimes with their intensity. It denied him sleep, disturbed his work, captured his thoughts when other things needed to be done. The problem was going to have to be dealt with soon, for both their sakes.

"Catherine." He whispered her name, listening as it echoed gently through the magnificent chamber. Her love called to him like a beacon, drawing his heart ever closer to hers. Recently there had been nights on her balcony, nights that he'd known how much he'd hurt her. She would hold on to him tightly, urging him to feel everything, experience everything her love had to offer. He had instead withdrawn himself from her, shaking his head and allowing all his fears to surface. He could not do that, could not allow his mind to wander towards 'a life that could never be.' It would be dangerous for both of them.

Still the bond sang to him softly, easing away the darkness and all he feared from it, reminding him of all they had endured, all they had done for each other. She had told him, promised him so many times that his fears - as real as they were to him - might actually be controlled somehow and could possibly be for naught. He knew Catherine wanted him to put away his lingering doubts, wanted him to give himself the freedom to enjoy the beauty of their love. If only he could...

Closing his eyes, he allowed himself to think back to a night not so very long ago, when her fear had called to him through the bond. The beast inside him had answered, ready to do whatever needed to be done in order to protect her. He had found himself on the docks, looking for the danger that had threatened her, and listening carefully to the bond. She was safe, but that was when it had happened, and he hadn't known how to react: Elliot Burch kissed her.

As it happened and just for a second, he knew what he was feeling from the bond was Catherine's response to the kiss. He had felt the tiny spark of desire quicken her breath. What both mystified and delighted him was that the desire had not been for Elliot: it had been for him.. He knew without any doubts. She wanted him, his touch. She wanted his hands upon her in love...

Stunned by the way this discovery had made him feel, he shuddered; her pain was his pain, her torment his. Dealing with these feelings and easing their suffering was something he had to do - he understood that now, and this fact fueled his determination to find some sort of answer. Realizing he must come to some kind of decision, he took a deep breath.

Pacing across the bridge once more, Vincent groaned. He knew the answer was within him. But what could he do? Even knowing the things he did now, how could he begin to set aside his misgivings about himself? Worse yet, how could he tell her of the desire he felt for her? And, he admitted to himself, that longing was real. In fact, the needs he had begun to feel were strong, consuming; their power frightened him. However, the suffering his denial caused them both was impossible, was ridiculous. The love raging between them was alive, breathtaking, passionate; the heat of it consumed him. Sometimes it was all he could do to stay in control of himself, all he could do not to hurtle himself headlong into the flames.

Still, how could he put aside the teaching of a lifetime, dread and anxieties formed in him since childhood? Those feelings could not easily be abandoned. Since that night on the docks, he had thought constantly of the love he and Catherine felt for each other, and this caused a part of him to want desperately to cast the restrained part of him away forever. How he dreamed of holding her close, of allowing himself to take all she offered and know love in its most exquisite, most expressive form.

The darkness of the beast did not usually emerge near her unless Catherine was in danger - he was certain of that now. Might she be right? Might there be nothing to fear?

Could the answer to everything be that simple? He knew he wanted her desperately, wanted to love her and give her everything she dreamed of and needed; he wanted to touch the heat.

Resolve turned him toward the main chambers, the puzzle all but worked out in his mind. In truth, Vincent thought, as he made his way through the familiar tunnels, Catherine deserved unconditional love, and more importantly, absolute trust from him - which she had always had. But he still did not trust the other, the beast inside him.

This fact, no matter how deep his resolve ran, must be considered. What if the worst should happen? How would he be able to live with himself if he caused Catherine any injury? But he couldn't, could he? Hadn't Catherine always said this was true?

Entering his chamber, a frown pulled at the corners of his mouth. Did it go further than that? It had to be discussed, but was he really ready to do it? Could it be that his fear ran far deeper than fear of the beast?

Thoughts of Catherine's pain touched his heart. The remembered looks and touches caused him to close his eyes as his love for her filled him. "I am ready," he whispered tensely to the room, carelessly tossing the poor copy of Byron onto his bed. "It is not possible to believe otherwise." The affection and passion he felt for Catherine was unquestionable. He knew there was no going back.

His memories took him to yet another night, a night spent on Catherine's balcony after a devastating plague had run rampant in his world. There, together, they had mourned their friend Dimitri who had died, and who had also lost the one woman he had loved. His words to her from that night replayed in his mind. "One either moves towards love or away from it, Catherine," he'd explained to her question of why. "There is no other direction." The pieces of his puzzle fell neatly into place and, knowing what must be done as well as overcome, Vincent grabbed the leather- trimmed cloak that would protect him in the world Above. As he turned to leave, he carefully placed Byron neatly on the shelf among his other literary treasures, and smiled. "For us," he said, patting the book, "there is no other direction."

He turned toward the corridor with a sudden conviction. "It is up to me to begin it, and it must be  now."

***

Sitting at her desk, Catherine Chandler found herself lost in another of a seemingly unending series of daydreams. She could feel the roughness of his cheek against hers, could almost smell his scent, so filled with the aroma of candles and smoke. She could feel her heartbeat quicken as he touched her, ready at last to throw caution to the wind...

With an exasperated sigh, she swore softly under her breath and tried to find her place in the deposition before her. No wonder Vincent looked at her so strangely when they managed to spend some time together lately! No wonder he asked so many times if she was well. She was practically broadcasting her need of him out loud, not in spoken words, but in the urges she allowed herself to acknowledge, the desires that sometimes crept quickly though unintentionally to the surface of her mind.

Oh, she tried to exercise rigid self-control, to shut the door on her desires before they became too strong to set aside, for she knew that allowing him to feel what it was she wanted from him would definitely be upsetting.

But, she thought dreamily to herself, those eyes, the way they caressed her! How could she not dream of him? How could she not want him? All that he was, all that was Vincent, was sensual. His soft voice sent shivers of longing flying up and down her spine and made her knees go weak. This was insane! "Calm down, Chandler," she admonished herself softly. "There's no sense in letting things get out of control now, especially," she added as she looked up and saw her boss heading in her direction, "when it looks like Joe might be about ready to let you go home for the night."

Joe Maxwell strode purposefully toward her, his eyes alive with amusement. "Well now, Radcliffe," he said, looking over her desk at the neatly written briefs and the empty 'in' and full 'out' baskets, "looks like except for the Diaz case there, you've already been packing up to go home. What's the matter? Don't you like it here? Or you got something hot going on for the weekend?"

Hope surged through her heart with his words, and she returned his smile brightly.

"Guilty as charged, counselor," she answered. "And hopefully, if I get home early enough to check my machine for messages, I'll know how hot."

"Okay then," he replied with a nod. "I'm here to cut you loose. No more work for you, Radcliffe. After the job you did on the Rodriquez case, I guess you deserve all the time off I can give you. And, speaking of cases, I wanted to tell you that the work you did on the Thomas case was superior. In fact, Moreno is pleased as punch." Gratified after all the hours she'd spent on that case, Catherine nodded her thanks. "I'll have to remember to thank him the next time I see him," she said, her shoulders sagging with the memory of the horrid man. "Thomas deserved a lot more time in prison than the judge gave him, but I'm satisfied with the outcome as well."

"Well, Cathy, you've got some time off coming, so why don't you take it? I can have Martin and Escobar cover anything you've got coming up for a week. Why don't you go home and take care of yourself," Joe said, then added, "before I change my mind and decide to make you stay here on the taxpayers' time."

That was all she needed to hear, and after closing the Diaz deposition and tossing it aside, she grabbed her briefcase and stood, meeting Joe's eyes. Her breath caught, for his heart was on his sleeve; she wanted to try to explain to him about the things that kept them apart, but couldn't. He had always tried to keep his feelings for her hidden, but sometimes, just for a moment, she could see them, could feel them. He wanted their relationship to move beyond that of boss and employee, wanted so much more than she was prepared to give him.

He would never understand, she thought sadly to herself. I couldn't be the way he wanted "You heard me, Radcliffe," Joe said, breaking her line of thought. "You better go on. Rest. Relax. Go shopping - and come back on Monday!"

"Thanks, Joe," she said softly, then turned and disappeared into the hallway leading to the elevators, knowing the pain she must be causing him, but unable to keep from dreaming of the next five days and what could possibly occur during them.

All the way down to the parking structure, Catherine was glad she would be alone in the car. She felt a stirring in her heart, a stirring she now recognized as her side of the bond with Vincent. He was on his way to her, and the feelings of his anticipation to see her were very strong. It had been two weeks since the night he'd rescued her from the assassins who'd come into the country to kill Elliot Burch, and ten days since the last time he'd been on her balcony. Before the entire situation with Elliot had occurred, Vincent had been with her, watching as she had tended her rosebush on the balcony. Allowing herself to remember that night and what had nearly happened between them only seconds before a knock on her door had disturbed them, her eyes closed with a sense of loss. In the time that had passed, she'd gone over and over that night, picking apart what he must have felt, what he must have sensed.

Yet, when she saw it again in her mind, all she remembered vividly was the look on his face as she'd turned his head back to look into her eyes. And then, she thought, as she made her way quickly from the elevator to her car, that had been the night hed explained his feelings.

He had felt her respond to Elliot's kiss, felt her joy at knowing the builder lived, in knowing he was safe. In those moments, she felt his heart was torn between what was best for her and what he wanted for himself. But the only thing that really mattered about that night was his reaction to what she'd said about Elliot, what she'd finally been able to tell him of her desires: "and I wished...it was...you."

Her heart had been filled with intense honesty, and shed watched him closely, never taking her eyes from his as she'd said the words. He had been very quiet when she'd finished, and afterwards, all the way to her apartment entrance through the tunnels, he hadn't spoken much. But, she assured herself, something had happened; a part of the wall around him had been breached. That was when the bond had grown even stronger in her than she had ever expected it to become, as though something within the miraculous spirit connecting them had flourished with her words.

This feeling left her breathless as she maneuvered her car through the parking structure and out into New York traffic. He was waiting for her; she wanted to get to him, to be with him, if only to see where he would lead them.