WHAT ROUGH BEAST,
WHAT GENTLE BEAUTY
"I'm shaking," Catherine confessed in a quivering voice. The thought of having everything good in her life destroyed by an overly persistent reporter without any compassion had practically scared the life out of her. She was trembling uncontrollably, her heart was pounding, and panic was crashing through her in waves. What were they going to do?
An emotionally crushed Vincent felt her need for comfort and quickly pulled her into the safety of his arms. As he held her, he realized that he had to say quickly the words that would destroy them both. "What you said was true, Catherine. It must end now. WE MUST END!"
Catherine lifted her head from his chest and stared up at him in horror.
"They know everything," he continued.
"No!" she responded in a shaky voice that threatened to break.
"This man will never stop. Elliot - will never stop. They will hunt me till they find me or until I am dead." It was a hard truth, one that tore Vincent's heart apart. After all they had endured, it would end like this.
"Then I'll come with you," Catherine pleaded. Her heart was telling her it was the only way.
Her words touched his broken heart deeply and made parting much more difficult. "It's no life for you," he gently explained.
Once again, tears burned her eyes. "Or for you."
Anger, frustration, fear, and heartache all waged 'a horrific battle in her. They had to do something. They had always managed to pull a victory from the jaws of defeat before, they had to now. It just couldn't end like this. Her head throbbed horribly. In desperation, she turned to him. "I don't know what to do."
Vincent took a slow, deep breath. "You must face - what we always feared might come to pass from the beginning." The words were tearing him apart.
He was lost in a tidal wave of helplessness. "It is all we can do. Remember our love. Let it guide you, give you courage. Know that what we had can never be taken away." No more words came to him then. He reluctantly began to move away from everything light and good in his life.
As he moved away, Catherine's panic overtook her. "Vincent, don't!" she pleaded again.
He couldn't bear much more of this. "Catherine, go quickly - please."
Catherine began to sob. Feeling his presence in her soul being torn away was a pain beyond words. "Hold me. Just hold me one last time." She ran to him.
He could not deny her plea. Just one more embrace, he told himself as she sobbed against his chest. "I love you," he whispered into the softness of her hair.
That confession of love gave her the courage she had been searching for. Those three words made everything crystal clear and she pulled back to wipe the tears from her eyes. "I'm coming with you."
"No, Catherine. Please don't pursue this."
"No. It's the only way. I cannot live without you. I won't. I'll just drop out of sight until this dies down."
"But Catherine, what if it does not die down? Be reasonable."
"Reasonable? Living without you is not reasonable, it's not even feasible. I love you with all my heart. I've told you that before. It's time I made a choice and this is it. I will not live in that world totally cut off from you."
The decision, once made, filled her with comfort and plans began to form in her mind. "I have to go back to my apartment and change. I'll pack some things and meet you in your chamber in an hour."
"I will not let you do this."
"If you try to leave without me, I will follow you."
"You don't know those tunnels. You could be lost or killed. No!"
"Then you'll just have to wait for me, won't you?"
"Catherine, don't do this. Things are bad enough." He could tell by the look in her eyes that his arguments were falling on deaf ears.
"Vincent - my heart tells me this is the right decision. I don't want to spend the rest of my life regretting that I didn't put up a fight for our love. What we have is the most precious part of my life. I refuse to give it up like this. I will not let this defeat us!"
She stared at him defiantly. "I will meet you in your chamber in one hour. If you are not there, I will come after you. Is that clear?"
Vincent smiled despite his tears. He could no longer argue with her or his own heart. She was determined to be with him and he could not deny his own need of her presence. Slowly, he could feel his heart mending.
* * * * * *
"Oh my God!" Father exclaimed as Vincent told him of the night's events. "After all these years, what we feared has finally happened. I told you that you were becoming too careless with your excursions Above. As much as I love Catherine, your - involvement with her is too dangerous."
"Father - the time for recriminations has long passed." As always, his father's words were painful.
"Yes, we must deal with the consequences of your carelessness. You must not go near the surface and Catherine cannot come Below. They will be watching her."
"As usual, you would have Catherine deal with the consequences of our relationship while I hide," came Vincent's sarcastic reply.
Father stared at him but did not respond. "We will put up false walls and alter the entrances. Lookouts will be placed at all points of entry."
"I agree with the precautions, Father, but I will take even further action."
"And just what might that be?"
"I will go down beyond the catacombs to distance myself from the community. If by chance, they search the tunnels, it is best they discover nothing - abnormal."
"It is best for all."
"As much as I will miss you, I agree with you. You'll be safer apart from the community."
"I will gather some supplies. As soon as Catherine arrives, I..."
"Catherine!" Father responded loudly. "Vincent, have you gone mad?"
"Catherine insists upon going with me," he patiently explained.
"How can you even think of such a thing! It is too dangerous for both of you!"
"What are you really afraid of, Father? Do you feel the trip is too dangerous for us or do you fear our being alone together?"
"Both, and you should too."
"I'm not sure what it is I fear most - being with Catherine or without her. Father, I cannot leave Catherine to face what may happen because of me. If I were not in her life, she would not have to live a life of secrecy. She chose me above all others to love. Until tonight, I have not been able to accept that.
"She belongs by my side. She has made that choice. I believe destiny brought us together for a purpose. Perhaps - the time has come for us to discover that purpose."
"Vincent, this is not fair to Catherine."
"Making her choices for her is not fair to Catherine." Vincent countered.
"I cannot talk you out of this?"
"No. Catherine and I feel it is the only answer. Father - there are so many things in life I cannot have - will never be allowed. Catherine's love has made up for all of those things. She is all I want of life."
Father watched as his son left the study. His stride now was one of confidence and determination. He sighed in defeat realizing that whatever happened between them now was entirely their decision and his pleas for reason were useless.
Passion. It drove people to do foolish things in the quest for fulfillment. It was never sated and often ruled the lives of those daring to play in its fire. It was then Father recalled the passion of his youth for Margaret. It was a passion that still burned in his soul. Vincent was feeling that fire and, unlike himself, had not yet succumbed to its ultimate expression.
He wearily sat down at his desk. They must begin their safety precautions as soon as possible but he couldn't turn his thoughts from his son's dilemma. It was very possible that this reporter would destroy their sanctuary and end any kind of decent life for Vincent. Perhaps it was best that he and the woman he loved share what joy they could for as long as possible. Be well, my son. I pray you find the love you long for.
* * * * * *
"I'm ready," Catherine announced upon entering Vincent's chamber.
In the midst of his packing, he turned to see her standing in the entranceway clad in jeans, hiking boots, a flannel shirt over a T-shirt, a lined jeans jacket and gloves. He smiled. She looked like she was going on a camping trip. The duffel bag slung over her shoulder only added to the look.
"Aren't you ready yet?" she asked as she lowered the bag to the floor.
"I had to inform Father of tonight's events and - our plans."
"Oh, I don't imagine he took it very well."
"Better than I thought, actually. He is concerned for both of us, Catherine." Putting aside his packing, he stepped directly in front of her. "You can still change your mind."
"No, we've already been through this. My place is by your side."
Her devotion to him touched his soul and filled his heart with love.
"I - love you," he proclaimed in a quivering voice.
"And I love you. Don't ever lose sight of that, Vincent." She moved into his arms and embraced him tenderly.
"Did anyone see you?" Vincent asked.
"No. I ran in, changed, packed, locked up the apartment, and came here."
"It looks like you packed the apartment," he observed.
"Oh - that? I only packed the things we girls need the most," she teased. She remembered the rush she had been in while gathering her things. Having no idea how long they'd be away from the community, she packed tough, washable clothes, several changes of underwear, the necessary hygiene items, and a few extremely personal items. She smiled to herself as she wondered how he would react to her bouts of PMS and having to deal with tampons. She was sure he knew about women's periods but doubted he'd ever had any experience dealing with it. Oh well, we'll soon see, she mused.
"Mouse has agreed to leave supplies at the mouth of the catacombs every few days. He'll bring us news as well."
"Vincent, do you think it will ever be safe enough for us to return?"
"I don't know, Catherine. If those pictures are printed, they will search the subways and upper tunnels for me. They could possibly discover the main hub of the community. If that happens - it would be too dangerous to return, they would be waiting. Catherine - you should return to your life..."
"No! I have no life without you. You don't understand what it would be like Above if those stories are printed. Every reporter across the country would be hounding me. I couldn't work, I couldn't escape them, and I would have no peace. Worst of all - I wouldn't have you. I can't live like that. No, I choose to spend whatever life I have with you." To make her point, she picked up her bag and tossed it over her shoulder.
Vincent smiled. "I hope you never regret that decision."
After gathering his own duffel bag, his cloak, and a lantern, they began their journey.
* * * * * *
The tedious and often dangerous journey, deep into the bowels of the earth, took two days. During their descent, Vincent was attentive, protective, and ever alert for any signs of distress from Catherine and strangely apprehensive about what lay ahead of them.
Their first night together was a lesson in forced intimacy. As Vincent was about to set up camp, Catherine began looking anxiously around.
"What is it, Catherine?"
"Uh - I need to - I need to go."
"Go where?" he asked innocently.
"To the bathroom," she answered with a touch of desperation in her voice.
Pointing to an outcrop of jagged rocks, Vincent responded. "Behind those rocks."
Catherine quickly searched through her bag for the toilet paper then disappeared behind the rocks. While Vincent busied himself making camp, he found himself strangely plagued by images of just what was going on behind those rocks. Soon, she returned to the campsite.
"There," she sighed. "That feels much better."
An amused smile teased the corner of Vincent mouth.
"Tell me, Vincent. Don't you ever have to go?"
"Of course I do."
"You must have an enormous - bladder," she said then blushed. She hadn't realized just how what she said would sound.
He blushed as well. "While you get settled, I'll follow your lead."
Catherine watched as the man she adored stepped behind the same rocks she had used and began a very masculine ritual. She smiled at the sight of his head above the jagged rocks looking downward. If only... "Stop it, Chandler," she muttered under her breath.
After a Spartan meal and a little tidying up, they went to sleep on opposite sides of the fire. Sometime between midnight and dawn, Vincent awoke and lay for some time, simply staring at the tiny, incredibly alluring body of the most miraculous creature he had ever met. At that particular moment, he allowed himself to feel the full force of his desire for her and it frightened him. How dare he bring her into this primal world and risk subjecting her to his even more primal instincts?
* * * * * *
They traveled all the next day stopping only to eat and take care of other necessary bodily functions. Their second night began with the two of them on opposite sides of the fire but ended quite differently.
After only a few hours, Vincent was awakened by Catherine's screams. He jumped to his feet and ran to her side. She was having some sort of nightmare. "Catherine - wake up. It's Vincent. You're safe. Wake up." When she didn't respond, he grabbed her by the shoulders. "Catherine, wake up!"
Finally she opened her eyes. "Vincent?"
She sat up and wrapped her arms around his neck.
Her embrace was desperate and Vincent could feel her body trembling. "What is it?"
Releasing a deep breath, she pulled back and looked into his concerned eyes. The firelight softened his features and cast a golden glow to his face. He never looked so beautiful. "It was just a nightmare."
"Would you like to talk about it?"
"No. I'd rather forget it."
"Why don't you lie down and go back to sleep?"
"Would you - lie beside me and hold me?"
He found himself unable to refuse her and watched as she scooted over in her sleeping bag to give him room. Hesitantly, he slid into the bag and allowed her to snuggle her body against his. Her head rested on his chest and Vincent felt the softness of her hair against his cheek.
Every nerve in his body jumped to life and a tension developed in the pit of his stomach. This is what he had dreamed of for so long. Lying next to Catherine, holding her as she slept, was a fantasy he often experienced as he watched her through her balcony doors, in her bed sleeping. But he had always thought that the privilege to lie with the woman you love was reserved only for normal men, not for one such as he. Tonight, however, was making him question every restriction enforced upon him because of his differences. He soon fell into a blissful sleep.
He awakened briefly some time later to discover Catherine had turned in her sleep and his own body had followed her movements. He looked down and saw that his leg was draped across her thigh and was resting possessively between her legs. And as if that wasn't bad enough, he discovered his hand had worked its way under her sweater and was resting on the soft lace of her bra. That discovery made him tremble as he fought the fear of discovery and his own desire to leave it where it was. Eventually, he gently removed both his hand and leg from their intimate locations. As he did, Catherine whimpered slightly as if the loss of contact was physically painful. "Ssh," he comforted then watched her settle back into deep slumber. He smiled slightly then joined her.
* * * * * *
In the dark depths of Vincent's sleep, a warning sounded. His senses were screaming at him that an intruder was near. With his entire body on alert, he opened his eyes and focused them on Catherine. She was still asleep. A movement beyond her caught his attention and he sprang to his feet, ready to defend the woman he loved.
The disturbance awakened Catherine and she turned to see Vincent ready to attack something to the other side of her. Sitting up and turning in that direction, she saw the objects of his concern. Her jaw dropped open and she slowly got to her feet.
Moving to stand beside Vincent, she placed a hand on his arm for reassurance. She could feel his muscles taut with anticipation. She watched as five very dirty, very fearsome looking men stood staring at them with an eagerness that resembled hunger. "Who are they?" she whispered.
"I don't know," Vincent answered. "But I don't like what I'm sensing," he added after issuing a low growl.
Cautiously, one of them approached. Vincent moved slowly, keeping himself carefully aligned with both the one approaching and his companions.
"Be careful, Vincent. They may be just curious."
Vincent watched as the "curious" one approached Catherine. He was smiling and appeared non-threatening as he looked her over. He may have seemed harmless but every nerve in Vincent's body was on guard.
Suddenly, without warning, the man laughed, grunted, then grabbed at Catherine's breast. Vincent caught his hand, growled savagely, then shoved the man aside. The look of fear and awe on the intruder's face reflected the impact Vincent had made on him.
On the brink of losing himself because of the attack on Catherine, Vincent's emotions were at the most primal level and he was suddenly overcome with his opponent's intentions. Calming himself, he stepped back to Catherine's side and possessively encircled her breast with his hand. With his free hand, he gestured toward Catherine then brought his clenched fist back to pound it against his chest a couple of times. "Mine."
Catherine trembled. His tone of voice and the intensity with which he spoke left no doubt as to his meaning. He was establishing his territory to the other males. Normally, that kind of pre-historic behavior offended her but it was painfully obvious they were dealing with people who where several hundred years away from women's lib. She decided it would be wise to let Vincent play this his way.
Vincent's ability to sense other people's emotions combined with his awareness of the more primitive side of his nature allowed him to "connect" with their visitors. What he felt was not constructed of logical thought or intelligible words but some sort of mental picture relayed by instinct. Whatever the reason for the phenomenon, he was very unsettled about the message he was receiving.
The five intruders were tall, muscular types that reminded Vincent of the one who had kidnapped Catherine and brought her to Paracelsus. The "simple ones" Narcissa had called them. It suddenly occurred to him that they had stumbled into a tribe of those unfortunate people.
He watched carefully as they communicated with each other through a series of grunts and hand signals. His message had apparently been understood. He decided to take advantage of the moment to reassure Catherine. "I'm sorry I had to do that but our friend was making a claim on you."
"No joke!" she answered sarcastically.
Vincent again studied the visitors. "I think they got the message."
"If they didn't?" she inquired.
"They would probably challenge me then kill me and..."
A look of terror crossed Catherine's face. "They wouldn't - would they?"
"Catherine, these are not civilized humans. They are the most primitive level of humanity. Respect for life or a woman's rights just doesn't exist. The instinct to survive and to mate is the driving force of their lives."
"How do you know all this?"
He shook his head. "I can't explain it, but some part of me can tune into that level of existence. Instinctively, I know what they're thinking."
Just as Catherine was about to comment, the motley group moved toward them. Vincent immediately took a defensive stance slightly in front of her. "I think they understand the concept of you as my mate," he commented as he watched their movements closely.
"I wish you did," Catherine absentmindedly answered.
Before he could respond, the men approached. The largest of the five pointed at them then off into the direction from which the group had come.
"He wants us to go with them," Vincent explained.
"I don't know. I don't think they want to harm us though. I don't feel any hostility only - curiosity."
"I don't suppose we could refuse their invitation?"
"I don't think that would be wise," Vincent answered.
Suddenly, two of the men circled around behind them and pushed them forward slightly. Vincent growled again as he put a protective arm around Catherine. The two backed up a bit then Vincent led Catherine in the direction indicated.
During their short journey, Vincent concentrated on trying to communicate with their hosts. He succeeded, to some degree, in letting them know they meant them no harm but that Catherine was off limits. The tension eased but the hair on the back of Vincent's neck was standing on end.
Catherine used the time to assess their situation and to determine a course of action. After a lot of thought, not to mention the swallowing of a great deal of pride, she decided to play the part of the subservient mate to her man. Apparently the society, if you could call it that, that these people belonged to saw the male as the superior and the female as property. She could just imagine the stronger of the males having his pick of the females whenever he wanted much like a pride of lions. That thought made her laugh a little. Speaking of ironies. Anyway, she chose a course of passive inaction or the old play it by ear scenario.
When they arrived at the campsite, both Vincent and' Catherine were stunned at the squalor these people lived in. The entire community of about twelve adults was gathered around a huge fire that apparently furnish them warmth, light, and a place to cook whatever it was they found for food. Catherine shuddered at that thought. Animal skins, old blankets, and rags were strewn around the fire indicating that everyone slept in the open together. They were more like animals than she originally suspected.
The seven women of the group quickly gathered around her as if to size up their competition. Her hair, clothes, and smooth, soft skin intrigued them for a few minutes then they turned their attention to Vincent.
Catherine well knew what their guttural sounds meant. The women were awed by Vincent's sensuality and she found herself reacting on a very primitive level. Without thinking, she stepped in front of him and pushed the women away. "Mine," she declared as Vincent had earlier. Gripping his vest possessively with her clenched fists, she stared defiantly at the group until they backed away. Her message was clear.
Stunned yet very flattered by her declaration, Vincent watched the women retreat and then felt jealousy flair in the males of the community. The dominant male, apparently the leader of the community, chased the women away with angry grunts and gestures. Once order was secured, the leader gestured for them to sit by the fire.
Vincent waited for Catherine to sit then eased down beside her. That gesture surprised the males who seemed to care very little about such considerations and simply stared at him.
While they sat there studying each other from across the fire, Vincent took a moment to evaluate their hosts and try to tap into his amazing ability to understand them. He could feel their confusion, curiosity, and even the males' lustful feelings toward Catherine. Strangely, however, he felt no hostility or threat to their safety. For some reason, they acted as if they knew him somehow. No, he told himself. They were merely acting out of respect for his earlier display of aggression. If nothing else, they appreciated the unwritten law of the survival of the fittest. The strongest, most dominant male ruled the community and had his pick of any female or all the females he wanted. As long as they left Catherine alone, he felt he had no right to judge them. He would, however, stay on guard.
As the day progressed, Catherine studied the community. One thing came to light as she watched them - there were no children. Odd, she thought. It would seem reasonable that this many adults could produce offspring. There were other peculiar things she couldn't quite pull together into any kind of sense, but she didn't have time to waste on that now. She was consumed with curiosity as to why they were there and just what their hosts had planned for them.
Vincent watched as one of the men stood up, walked a few feet away from the fire and urinated. He turned his head quickly and realized Catherine had seen him too. They both pretended they didn't see anything but it embarrassed Vincent a great deal even though logically he knew Catherine was aware of such things and had probably witnessed that same scene several times in her life. He couldn't help feeling as if he should shield her from such shameful public displays. Part of it, he realized, was simple civility. The other part of it was possessiveness.
If he thought that behavior was crude, what happened after they ate something that vaguely passed for food, absolutely floored him. He and Catherine were sitting very closely together whispering quietly about how they might elude their hosts. As they talked, they noticed several couples pairing off around the fire. With apparently no concern for privacy, Vincent watched as the males began to openly disrobe and fondle the females. He sat there, totally dumbstruck for several seconds then something akin to anger rose violently within him. The limit of his tolerant upbringing had just been reached.
Catherine was not quite as shocked as her companion. As primitive as these people were, she fully expected something like this. She was more concerned about Vincent's reaction than her own embarrassment especially when she felt his anger and the vise-like grip he applied to her hand.
In a desperate attempt to remove himself and the woman he loved from the animalistic display going on in front of their eyes, Vincent virtually jerked Catherine to her feet and pulled her toward a tunnel that branched off from the community campsite. He couldn't think, he couldn't talk, he only felt an overwhelming need to get away.
After the initial shock of being so abruptly pulled to her feet had worn off, Catherine simply allowed Vincent to guide her toward the darkened tunnel. Their departure came to a sudden halt as one of the males barred their way. Taking a deep breath, Vincent tried hard to concentrate on the situation at hand. An idea came to mind. He looked at Catherine then back at the campsite where couples were now writhing in pursuit of gratification. Turning back to the male obstructing their path, he placed his clenched fist over his groin area then reached over and put his hand between Catherine's legs. It was a gesture the male understood but he still seemed curious as to why they wanted to leave the campsite. Vincent growled then pulled Catherine against him and once again his aggressive tactics worked. The male walked away.
The meaning of Vincent's rough gestures was clear to Catherine and sent a flash of excitement rushing through her veins. Was he indeed expressing his desire or was it a ruse to get by the obstacle in their path? She pondered that for only a few seconds then reasoned that Vincent would never be so base. Damn it.
Without a word, Vincent continued to lead her down the tunnel. He simply wanted to get as far away as possible from the orgy taking place at the campsite, that - she knew. Just how troubled he really was, she was yet to discover.
As she contemplated that thought, she became suddenly aware of the torches and lanterns lighting the hallways. It was another of those odd little things that nagged at her. These people were hardly advanced enough to understand the concept of fire. How could they have acquired lanterns? Ahead of them the tunnel turned to the right sharply. They followed the turn and soon found themselves walking into a large, well lit chamber. "What the..." Catherine mumbled as she looked all around the chamber.
"I don't understand," Vincent responded. He stared at the wooden desk and chair in the center of the chamber surrounded by stacks of books and some very old scientific equipment. Notebooks and pens lay strewn across the desktop. "This doesn't make sense," he observed. "These people have no conception of language. This..."
"Looks as if someone else has discovered the community," Catherine concluded for him.
It began to make sense now. "The simple ones Narcissa spoke of. She said Paracelsus lived among them. This is his study," Vincent angrily declared.
"But where is he?"
Before Vincent could answer, he turned his head sharply toward the entrance. "Someone is coming," he announced quietly.
"Damn!" Catherine swore. Paracelsus' army of giants had probably been trained to guard his study from intrusion. If they were caught there rummaging through his papers, their, up to now, friendly hosts might get very unfriendly. She suddenly remembered Vincent's explanation of why they left the campsite and decided it was their only hope.
With no explanation, she shoved Vincent against the desk. Having no time to react, he found himself seated on its top watching Catherine frantically pull off her jacket and pull her blouse from her jeans.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Shut up and play along," she commanded as she began unbuttoning the shirt.
She could see the shock on Vincent's face as she exposed herself to him. She just wished she could savor the expression she saw as he looked at her wearing only a bra and jeans in front of him. "Put your arms around me."
"When he hesitated, she grabbed his arms and wrapped them around her waist. "Tighter," she ordered as she heard the approaching footsteps.
Vincent obeyed. At that point, he was admittedly beyond any resistance. He was so overwhelmed at seeing her like that he could hardly breathe; argument was out of the question.
Just as the intruder entered the chamber, Catherine forcefully pushed Vincent's face into the hollow between her breasts. "Kiss me," she instructed as she tossed her hair back with abandon.
Again, he did as he was told and nuzzled into that sweet, moist hollow. Her intention crystallized in his mind and he played along as best he could.
The intruder stopped and stared with delight at the couple. His fascination with Catherine's unaccustomed beauty flashed through Vincent's mind as well as a more disturbing thought. This male was hoping to enjoy her charms as soon as he was finished with her and had every intention of watching them.
Anger rose quickly and Vincent turned to growl menacingly at the man. He stepped back but continued to watch. It wasn't until Vincent gave a full-throated roar did the man fall all over the place making his exit. That aroused male wasn't about to come back for leftovers.
Vincent's response aroused something deep inside Catherine and she realized she had come face to face with all Vincent was. This was the point of no return. Could she accept all he was, both man and beast or should she turn away now? Isn't this why she came down here with him in the first place? She took a slow, deep breath then gently guided his head to rest against her chest. Right now, he needed comfort.
To Vincent, his response was a shameful reminder of what kept him and Catherine apart. His shame, and the anger that he could not share with Catherine what these primitive simple ones so openly experienced, left him feeling even less human than he ever had before. If Catherine's reasons for coming with him were to once and for all determine the extent of their relationship, surely she now knew.
He couldn't look up into her eyes and see the repulsion she must now feel. When he felt her hands guiding his head back to her, his heart leapt. Tears burned his eyes then streamed down his cheek. He relaxed against the warmth of her chest and listened to the reassuring beat of her heart. He held onto her and allowed her silent comfort to ease his pain.
She made no effort to break their intimate embrace. His pain echoed through their bond and she wanted to offer him all the comfort she could. If holding him like this helped, she was ready to stand there half-naked all night.
A little while later, Vincent regained his control and pulled away. He stood up slowly and picked up Catherine's blouse and jacket. "You'd better get dressed," he said softly as he handed the clothes to her.
When he still couldn't bring himself to meet her eyes, she held onto his hand. "Vincent -look at me." His eyes slowly met hers and she could see the apprehension in them. "I love you," she said with conviction. "That hasn't changed."
Shaking his head sadly, he responded. "Maybe it should, Catherine."
"That's something we need to talk about in depth but right now is not the time."
Vincent watched as she put her blouse and jacket back on. He found that simple task a very erotic one and allowed himself a moment to savor it.
"We have to get out of here before Paracelsus comes back.
"I think we should try to find out what's going on here," Vincent commented as he began to rummage through the papers on the desk.
Reluctantly, Catherine began opening drawers. She'd rather avoid anything to do with the man simply known as the "Evil One" and just get the hell out of this place but she knew Vincent would not let it go so easily. If Paracelsus was abusing these people in his quest to gain power, Vincent would not allow him to continue despite his personal feelings in the matter.
When she opened the bottom drawer, she discovered several books that appeared to be journals of some sort. "Maybe this will give us a clue," she suggested as she opened one of them. "Oh my God!" she exclaimed.
"Apparently Paracelsus has been keeping some sort of journal since he's been here. Listen to this entry of a few months ago:
"The tests are conclusive. In my attempts to create a bigger, stronger, superior army to regain my rightful place as ruler of the Netherlands, I have erred in my theories of genetic engineering. As I suspected, the males are sterile. The experimentation I did somehow left them incapable of producing mature sperm. The females, however, are fertile. With that realization, an idea has taken root. If I can devise a way, Vincent would be the ideal one to furnish the seed to build an unstoppable army I would control."
Catherine looked up at Vincent and saw him wince painfully at the journal's entry. "Let's check the next entry."
"My plan is taking shape. To lure Vincent here willingly will take a great deal of thought. He would not abandon the woman. As I have learned, kidnapping his precious Catherine or killing her would only focus his rage on me. For my plan to work, he must reject their forced humanity and embrace his true nature. For that to happen, she must reject him.
"The woman is strong and puts Vincent's welfare above her own, however. The only way she would reject him would be to save him. If I can convince them both that their relationship threatens to expose Vincent's existence, I can drive a wedge between them."
Vincent looked over at Catherine with understanding dawning in his eyes.
"The rest of this is a step by step outline for his plan. He set us up, Vincent. He got in touch with Spirko and made him and me believe it was Elliot feeding him the information. He led him to Stephen and set up the abduction. Damn it! This whole thing was his plan. He wanted to lure you here."
"So it seems. He counted on us ending our relationship and me giving up my home and family to come here."
"What's so scary about it is that it almost worked. He didn't count on my decision to come Below with you or that we'd leave so soon."
Vincent paced back and forth nervously. "What's the next part of his plan?"
Catherine began reading the next entry. "I realize I must make him feel betrayed by all those he trusts. If he is to turn his back on his imagined humanity, I must attack all they have taught him. I can accomplish this only from inside the community. I can then begin to tear down his resistance without him even realizing what I'm doing. Once he has accepted the truth about himself, he will come to me willingly and accept his role as sire to a new race of perfect warriors."
"He's planning to infiltrate the community!" Vincent said angrily.
"We've got to get out of here. Once he finds out we've been here, there's no telling what he might do."
"I'm open to suggestions," Vincent commented.
Now it was Catherine's time to pace. "They seem to respect your... they leave us alone when you roar." She was trying to be diplomatic.
"That's an instinctive response, Catherine. I don't do it on demand."
"You might have to. When we try to leave, they'll try to stop us. There'll be a confrontation."
"I don't know about that. I don't know if they realize who we are. I think they're just curious. I mean, we're not the norm for them."
"We're not the norm for anyone, Vincent."
"I'm the one who's different."
"We discussed that earlier and I meant what I said. We are responsible for who and what we are - both of us together," she corrected.
Her conviction shown brightly in her eyes. A part of him needed to believe her. "We must try to leave after they go to sleep."
"Surely they'll have someone on watch?"
"Probably, but they let us come in here alone. By now, they realize we prefer privacy. If we use the same excuse, we have a chance to get away from them before they realize we're gone," Vincent suggested.
"You think they'll buy it again?" she asked.
"I think they understand that particular need extremely well."
Mental pictures of the group orgy that began as they were leaving flashed across Catherine's mind. "Better than some people I know," she mumbled.
Her comment was greeted by a very annoyed look from Vincent. "It's a plan and it's all we've got right now," she argued.
"We'd better go back out there. How long does it usually take?" Vincent asked without thinking.
"What?" Catherine asked.
"You know..." he answered uncomfortably.
"Oh! That depends. We're talking anywhere from three minutes to an hour. It just depends on how much time you spend in foreplay. That group is probably asleep by now. On the other hand, the two of us could be here all night."
Vincent was visibly embarrassed by her comment. "Let's take the journal and get back out there," he responded.
"Vincent - if we're going out there, we've at least got to be a little disarrayed."
He looked at her and tilted his head. "I don't understand."
"At least muss your hair a little and unlace your vest. Pull your shirt tail out too. We've got to look like we - had a very passionate encounter." Her clothes were already in disarray so she mussed her hair "You get the picture?"
"I think so."
"Here, let me," she suggested as she began to tangle his hair. The result took her breath away.
* * * * * *
They lay snuggled up close together by the fire waiting for their moment. Earlier, their return to the campsite was met with smiles and a series of grunts and gestures.
Catherine had nudged Vincent gently. "Act smug."
"They're expecting you to glory in your conquest. If you don't, they'll suspect something," she explained.
"Oh. I'm not quite sure how to do that."
"Remember haw Father acted that night he beat you at chess because I distracted you?"
"Yes. Oh - I see."
They walked back to their place by the fire with Vincent reveling in his triumph and Catherine acting the submissive female. One male actually sniffed her as they walked by and looked a little confused. When Vincent snarled, he decided not to press the issue. Although Vincent wasn't sure just what he was sniffing for, Catherine seemed to understand and moved away quickly.
Now, they waited as one by one their hosts fell asleep. When they were sure they were sleeping soundly, they carefully got up and tiptoed ever so quietly around and over the sleeping forms. With every step, they held their breaths and prayed the evening's activities had left everyone too exhausted to be awakened by their departure.
They managed to get beyond the campsite and into the passageway that would take them back to the catacombs when suddenly one of the males stood threateningly in front of them. Vincent acted quickly. He made the same gestures as before that signaled his desire to have Catherine privately. At first, the male seemed satisfied with that and allowed them to pass. Without warning, however, the male grabbed Catherine's arm and tried to pull her away from Vincent. Vincent reacted instinctively. With one deadly swipe of his clawed hands, the male lay dying. Sadness and regret ripped through both of them.
"We've got to get out of here," Catherine called out in a desperate voice.
Momentarily, the haze dissipated and Vincent responded. They quickly and quietly moved into the darkness leaving the "simple ones" to fend for themselves.
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