OUTSIDERS TO LOVE

"Talk to me, Vincent," Catherine pleaded hoping to reach Vincent before his brooding nature put too much distance between them.

Without even looking at her, he replied with no emotion, "Nothing to say."

How could she make him understand? "What you did - was necessary." Her words only caused him more pain. "Let me share your pain."

He looked at her then, his eyes searching for the disdain he was convinced would be there. "How can you even look at me?"

There it was, the very core of Vincent's pain was his shame. Summoning up all her love for him, she tried to reassure him as best she could. "Because I know you. I know who you are."

"You don't know me," he vacantly replied.

Catherine remembered her own response when the young boy shot Vincent. "Vincent - there are dark places in all of us."

Still unable to meet her loving gaze, he stared at the floor. "A part of me feeds in that darkness - and I am lost in it." That admission left him even more uncomfortable in her presence. "Leave me now."

Catherine tilted her head slightly to try to read the emotion in his eyes. He used the golden hair cascading around his face as a curtain to hide behind.

Suddenly, he looked up at her with pleading eyes. "Please!"

The words that sprang to Catherine's mind then had never been as deliberately said as she was about to do. She had hinted at it, said it in various ways but never had she looked him so directly in the eyes and bared her feelings for him. "I love you," she declared with all the conviction in her heart.

His lack of response hurt her terribly. She had opened her very soul to him and he had turned away; dismissed her as a father would an errant child. He's hurting, she told herself. He needs to sort it out. Then, even as her heart cried out for her to stay, she turned and walked away. Each step that led her away from him felt as if her heart was being ripped from her chest a piece at a time. Her own words, spoken days earlier, returned to torture her mind. "That world, those tunnels are part of my life too and so are you."

His response had surprised and hurt her. "If the worst should happen, you must not be any where near!"

Anger had welled up in her. "If the worst happens, I want to be by your side - with you."

Something had flashed in his eyes that she had never seen directed at her before. "No - not like that - not ever again." He had left the balcony, leaving her no time to argue.

"Vincent!" she had called after him in confusion. As soon as he had disappeared over the balcony wall, anger and pain overwhelmed her and she bit her lip to fight back the tears.

Why couldn't she make him understand that she was capable of making her own decisions? He was always putting up barriers in the guise of her well-being and frankly, she was getting tired of it. Well, enough is enough. She had a right to make her own choices and Vincent and those tunnels were her choice.

Remembering that night, Catherine almost turned back to confront him. She stopped, hesitated, then turned away again. No. Pushing him too far could damage their relationship beyond repair. With tears flowing, she slowly climbed the ladder and returned to her apartment.

* * * * * *

Two days passed without any word from Vincent. When Catherine returned to her apartment after another seemingly endless day, she found an envelope under her door. Hope suddenly stirred. The note was from Father, however, and it told of Vincent's continuing depression. The physical injuries where healing but the emotional ones were not.

She entered the apartment and slumped down onto the couch. "This has got to stop!" she declared out loud. He can't go on tearing himself apart over things he couldn't help. But most of all, he needed to realize that he was worthy of love - her love, despite his differences.

With renewed determination, she got up off the couch and headed for her bedroom. She later emerged wearing her favorite pair of jeans, a comfortable pull-over sweater, a pair of boots, and her old worn jean jacket. A flashlight in one hand and her apartment keys in the other were all she carried as she practically slammed the door behind her. They were going to get past this - tonight!

She stopped briefly by Father's study to tell him of her plans to confront Vincent's shame.

"I'm not so sure this is wise, Catherine. Pushing Vincent only succeeds in making him more obstinate."

"A trait we both share," she responded with a smile.

Father chuckled. Catherine's charm could be totally disarming at times. No wonder his son was so captivated by her. "Whatever it takes to get him out of this - state he's in is worth the fireworks it may cause. Good luck, my dear."

When she entered the silent chamber, Catherine saw him sitting quietly in a chair that was pulled back from his small writing table. His chin rested pensively on his steepled fingers. He was so deep in thought, he failed to acknowledge her presence for several seconds.

"Vincent?"

He turned his head quickly, obviously startled by her voice. For a moment, Catherine was sure she saw the glimmer of that old joy to see her look that made her heart race but it quickly passed. He turned away from her then and stared dejectedly at his hands.

She wanted to run to him then and envelope him in a tender hug. But no, he wasn't ready for that yet. "Your shoulder..."

"I heal quickly. The arm is not up to full strength but I no longer need the sling."

Catherine walked toward him and knelt beside the chair. "Almost as good as new, huh?"

An ironic smile teased the corner of his mouth. "As good as new," he repeated in a sarcastic voice.

That tone frightened her a little. It told her he was slipping further and further away from her love. It was very clear that if they were to recover from this, it was going to be up to her. Taking a deep breath she rose to a standing position and prepared herself for the battle to come.

"I'd rather be alone. Catherine," he stated before she could get a word out.

"I'm sure you would. It's easier that way. You don't have to confront your feelings." Her words evoked no response.

"The other night I made a very big mistake. I allowed you to push me away. I'm not going to allow you to do that any more."

"Please, Catherine."

"I told you that I loved you. Do you have any idea how much it hurt me when you didn't respond?"

He slowly raised his head and looked at her. The pain he felt in her that night wasn't for him after all. It was her own pain.

"You shut me out."

"I was only trying to protect you."

"From what?"

"From me - from what I am," he responded.

"I love who and what you are. I don't need to be protected from love. I chose to follow my heart and I am prepared to accept whatever comes."

"Are you?" Vincent rose to his feet. "Look at me, Catherine - see all that I am. Can you truly accept me? Can you give your love completely to such as I?"

Without a moment's hesitation, Catherine gave him an answer. "Yes. Vincent, I tried to tell you that night on my balcony. I told you my place was by your side no matter what and I meant it."

"Don't you understand, Catherine?" he asked in an anguished voice. "I was beginning to believe that we could have a life together. I was beginning to believe that I was a man. What happened with those people proved I was wrong."

"That's the craziest thing I've ever heard. You did what anyone would do in that situation."

"How can you say that? You saw what I did. You saw what I became."

"What I saw was a man defending the woman he loves with whatever weapons were at his disposal. Your weapons were your hands. Are you forgetting I shot one of them and that I literally tore the gun from that child and shoved him aside? I was doing what you did - trying to protect the one I love."

"That was different."

"Only in your mind. I want you to think about something, Vincent. At the point that you were the most out of control, I called to you and you stopped."

"I can't remember ever losing myself so."

"Those men had every intention of raping, torturing, then murdering me. I think you sensed that and that's what drove you so deeply into that rage. Images of what they were planning to do to me pushed you over the edge. That was understandable. Vincent - face it. Those people were worse than animals. If you had not done what you did, we would both be dead. You used the weapons you had available to protect me. You did what you had to. Why can't you accept that? I have."

He could feel the conviction in her wards and he began to hope. "Catherine, after seeing me as I was, do you - could you love me as a woman loves a man or is what you feel gratitude or pity?"

"What I feel for you is the strangest, deepest love I've ever felt. You are who you are; nothing more, nothing less."

Overwhelmed by her words, he began to pace back and forth. Finally, he stood before her and stared into her eyes, searching for the words.

"Just say it, Vincent."

"Catherine - I love you."

Catherine was both stunned and gratified to finally hear the words her heart had yearned to hear for so long. A warm smile that began at her toes spread quickly across her face and, for the first time in years, she blushed. "That wasn't so hard was it?"

Vincent blushed then chuckled. "That was the most difficult thing I've ever told anyone."

"I don't know whether to be flattered or not." When he smiled back at her, she stepped close and slid her arms around his waist to hug him.

"Watch the shoulder," he winced.

"I'm sorry. I forgot." She moved a little and gave him a very gentle hug.

"Where do we go from here?" Vincent asked.

"Where do you want it go?"

"I have - dreams, hopes, and - desires."

"So do I and when we're both ready, we need to explore them."

"You're right. We all need time to heal. Now is not the time to begin."

She sensed in him both relief and disappointment and felt compelled to offer some comfort. "Soon, Vincent," she whispered then rose on her tip-toes to place a gentle kiss on his unique mouth.

Her action surprised and excited him. With a sense of wonder, he lightly touched his lips with his fingers. Had she actually kissed him?" Catherine - I..."

"Goodnight, Vincent."

Vincent watched as she turned and walked out of his chamber. He stood there for some time trying to comprehend just what had transpired between them. There was so much to think about, to understand. The sheer weight of it all overwhelmed him and he collapsed into his chair. He resumed his pensive posture and began to think about how much had changed since the last night they had talked.

That night she truly walked alone. And deep within me I felt - the cold and terrible truth of all that kept us apart. Fate had left me adrift - with no wind to carry me to the safe shores of her love.

That was truly how he felt that night. He had never felt so lost and alone in his life. The shame of what he had done hung heavily over his heart. He disconnected himself that night from Catherine's love and his own dreams.

And now tonight, Catherine had returned and brought light and hope back into his dark world. Yes, things had changed between them. The outsiders forced them to really examine who and what they were.

The hope he felt in his heart now was so new and wondrous, he was having trouble assimilating it all. Catherine was right, they needed time. His original plan of journeying to the river with no name came to mind and he decided to leave the next morning.

* * * * * *

The next morning, Catherine walked out onto her balcony to enjoy a cup of coffee. Last night's conversation with Vincent had left her so excited she had hardly slept at all. After stifling a yawn, she saw a note lying on the small table. Eagerly, she opened it.

"Dearest Catherine,

Your words of last night filled me with hope that perhaps is not realistic for us. I find my heart, once again, at war with my better judgment. Don't be afraid. I have accepted what happened, if such behavior can ever be accepted. And though I regret it, I have made some sort of peace with it. I must.

When you told me of your love, the weight of it nearly crushed me. I felt I had no right to that most precious gift especially after... Before you came to me, I had planned to journey deep into the earth and confront whatever it is that I am; to wage a final battle within myself. Your words of love made that battle unnecessary. I still do not know what role I can play in your life or if I can truly love you as a man. I must find answers to these questions before I can return to you. And I must give you time as well. I want you to be sure that what you feel is not gratitude or pity.

Please meet me in two weeks at the Central Park threshold at ten. If we are to move toward love, I feel the time is now.

Know that I love you as I have loved no other.

Be well and be safe,

V."

 

Catherine wiped away the tear that made its way down her cheek. He still doubts his worthiness, she thought. She realized the sudden change in their relationship was something Vincent was not at all prepared for and he needed this time to examine his feelings, but this? At least he didn't leave with the memory of the outsiders' fate the only thing on his mind. He now knew of her unconditional love and belief in him. Perhaps that would outweigh his shame and guilt. She offered a silent prayer for his safety and began to anxiously anticipate his return. Whatever fate held in store for them, she felt as if they were about to begin a wondrous journey.

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