LIFE'S SWEETEST MUSIC

(A Happy Life - Ron Koslow)

(Chamber Music - Ron Koslow)

Author's Note: This story picks up at the end of A HAPPY LIFE and continues into CHAMBER MUSIC. Although several weeks passed between the actual airing of these episodes, I believe that - in Vincent and Catherine's fictional time frame - only a small amount of time elapsed. I also believe that in that small amount of time their relationship was redefined. (Yes, I know Catherine's hair was longer but we have to suspend reality here. This is a fantasy - remember?) To me, the issues that should have been addressed after A HAPPY LIFE serve as another example of a road not taken.

* * * * * *

Vincent had been sitting there for hours holding onto Catherine's pure white rose and mentally kicking himself for pushing her away. If he had really lost her this time, he had no one to blame but himself. How could he have said those things to her? Did he really think he could survive without her? Did he think she could simply betray her heart and find someone else to love? "What are we to do?" she had asked him. His answer had been to forget their dream, to betray their bond; and, in the process, break both their hearts. The last twenty-four hours had revealed to him how empty and meaningless his life was without her.

He rubbed his fingers along the porcelain rose's edges. What she was asking of him tied his stomach in knots. It was an issue he realized they would have to confront some day, but he had hoped it would be much later when emotions and desires weren't at such a fevered pitch between them. The time had come to define their feelings for each other. Were they just friends? Was he only her protector and soulmate? Were they - lovers being swept down a dangerous and unknown path? He clutched the rose tightly in his fist. She was asking him to risk everything he had ever believed about himself and all his certainties, in the hope that their dream could become a reality. Despite all his logical arguments, there was one fact he could not escape or deny - he was in love with Catherine, completely, totally, and would be for as long as he lived. That was the one truth his life revolved around.

With tenderness, he enclosed the rose in his hand. Catherine wanted no more than he did - to be together in every sense of the word. He wanted to marry her, live with her, have a family with her and grow old with her. He wanted everything any other man wanted when he found the right woman, and Catherine WAS the right woman - the ONLY woman for him. They had shared so much emotionally and mentally, but the thought of what they could share physically was the obstacle that had become a painful reminder to him of just what he was.

Closing his eyes, he thought of her. He envisioned himself touching and kissing her. He saw his hands undressing her, revealing the beautiful body he had always imagined. He could see her touching him intimately, bringing him unimaginable pleasure. And finally, he conjured the image of the two of them joined in the act of complete union of body. That was the image that troubled him the most. What if he couldn't satisfy her? What if his hidden nature took control and turned their dream into a nightmare? What if he was simply incapable of the act? Those questions made him shudder. In order for their dream to become a reality, those questions had to be answered.

Suddenly, the confusion and longing he had felt in Catherine turned into a new joy and certainty. She had made a decision, and she was coming back to him! He had not destroyed their love! Hope crashed through him in waves and drowned his despair. He had not lost her! He sprang to his feet and began his rush to meet his destiny.

* * * * * *

All Catherine could think about was Vincent. Seeing him, feeling his strong arms around her and telling him how she felt was all she cared about. It didn't matter that it was past four in the morning or that she had borrowed a friend's car - nothing mattered but being with him again. "Yeah, Chandler - you're in love all right," she commented out loud.

The car screeched to a halt and she literally leaped from it and began running. He was coming to her, she could sense it. She felt no hesitation or doubt in him. The resistance she had encountered when she had pleaded to come Below to live with him was gone. With every step, she felt something new awakening in their bond. It gave her hope beyond reason.

* * * * * *

Deep in Vincent's soul he could feel her nearing and that filled him with the need to feel her in his arms again and to tell her that he loved her. The fear of losing her had silenced him too long. She was his heart and the time had come for him to say the words.

* * * * * *

She ran through the darkened park without fear. She knew he was waiting for her at the threshold of his world - a world she longed to share with him. His love would protect her. Each step, each beat of her heart brought her closer to her destiny. And then - she saw him there, silhouetted in the soft golden glow emitting from the tunnels. With total abandon she threw herself into his arms.

 

* * * * * *

When Vincent exited the tunnel, his safe haven, he gave no thought to the danger he might encounter. His only thought was of Catherine. She was coming to him with all doubt erased and a new commitment to the special bond they shared. The joy of that knowledge eclipsed any thoughts of his own safety. He felt her, heard her breathing; and then - she was there, running to him. All he could do was open his arms and accept her love.

She ran into his arms at top speed nearly toppling them both over, but Vincent stood his ground. He held onto her with all the strength he possessed. She clutched at him desperately.

"Forgive me," she pleaded. "Forgive me for doubting." She looked up at him and saw the love in his eyes then hugged him tighter. With her face pressed against his shoulder, the words tumbled out. "What we have is all that matters." She needed to look at him eye to eye to assure him of that truth, so she pulled back and focused on those expressive blue eyes of his. "It's worth everything."

Vincent lost himself in the passion and conviction he saw in her eyes. He knew in his heart that with those words she was giving him her unconditional love. He also realized that there was no going back for them now. They were bound together by something more than friendship. She saw him not as her protector, but as the man she loved. And, to him, she was the very center of his life. In a responding vow of commitment, he answered. "Everything."

His answer surprised her a little. There was no argument about what was best for her and no denial of his feelings, just an open and very honest response. The full impact of that one word from him and the longing she saw in his eyes broke down all her defenses and her desire rose to the surface. In one breathtaking moment, she let him see how much she wanted him - how much she loved him. She wanted to kiss him, wanted him to press his lips to hers so desperately. Oh God! Vincent, please! she silently prayed.

He felt her plea and saw emotions burning in her eyes that he had never glimpsed before. Her raw desire sparked his, and he was left breathless and trembling in its wake. He wanted to crush her body to him and never let her go. The world could have ended at that moment and neither would have been aware of it or cared. Their universe was centered in that place, at that time.

Catherine looked longingly at his mouth then tilted her head slightly and waited. Every second that ticked by she prayed he would not turn away.

Instinctively, Vincent knew that Catherine wanted him to kiss her. Even without any previous experience, he recognized the gesture as one of invitation, but more so perhaps because he wanted it so badly himself. To share a lover's kiss with her had long been a fantasy of his. Should he dare? He allowed his body and his heart to give him the answer.

Slowly, the distance between them closed until he could feel her breath against his mouth. And then his heart nearly stopped as he felt her lips pressing against his. The softness he felt was beyond his own meager ability to describe. All he knew was that time and reality stopped for a brief moment and two people's fates were sealed. The line had been crossed.

The kiss was tender and brief, and when it ended, Catherine looked up into his eyes. "I love you, Vincent."

There was a moment of hesitation as he allowed the words to seep into his heart. "I - love you, Catherine."

She smiled warmly as tears burned her eyes. He had finally said the one thing she had longed so desperately to hear. She threw her arms around his neck and buried her face against his shoulder then let the tears flow freely.

They remained wrapped in each other's arms for several minutes just savoring the closeness they felt. Finally, Catherine raised her head and looked once more into his adoring eyes. She smiled then ran her fingers through several strands of his hair. "We need to talk."

He nodded in agreement. "Yes - we have much to discuss."

Reluctantly, they stepped apart but not completely breaking physical contact. Vincent's hands slid down her arms until they found her small, delicate hands. He enclosed them in his and began to slowly lead her into his world.

"Wait."

Vincent turned to her fearing the worst. "Catherine? What is it?"

"I have to take the car to the train station and get my suitcase. I promised, and I don't want us to be interrupted. Would you please meet me beneath my apartment in an hour?"

"As you wish," he answered while valiantly trying to hide his disappointment.

"Vincent - I am coming back, and I am staying Below for a while. We need time to sort all of this out, and I won't take no for an answer."

He couldn't help but smile. She had sensed his fears and was trying to reassure him. "Catherine - I was not going to argue with you. I want you to stay for as long as you like."

"Good," she answered then smiled back. "I promise I'll hurry."

They looked deeply into each other's eyes as Catherine debated her next move then she simply acted on her impulse. Stretching up to stand on her tiptoes, she placed a goodbye kiss on his lips. "I'll see you soon."

"Yes," he replied although still slightly stunned by her gesture. "Soon."

* * * * * *

Vincent leaned against the brick wall, his cloak wrapped around him as he waited. He was sure he looked every bit the brooding presence he had become known as in the tunnels. In truth, he was anxious, he was nervous and he was scared. Part of him wanted to run and hide in the lower caverns until Catherine gave up trying to find him. But he realized she would never give up, and he could not bear to feel her pain. The other part of him was filled with anticipation about the new path that they were about to take in their relationship. He was torn between the hope that his dreams of a life with Catherine were possible and the fear of the devastation that would surely come if that dream turned into a nightmare.

The sound of footsteps startled him and he held his breath until he realized it was not Catherine. A stranger had entered the basement above him. Vincent remained motionless until he heard those footsteps fading in the distance and he could release the breath he had been holding. This is insane, he told himself as his anxiety returned. He was feeling the same turbulent emotions he had experienced as a teenager when all those new urges had awakened in him. The near tragedy that had followed forced him to recognize the dangers of those urges, and he had succeeded in defeating them - until Catherine. Since meeting her, those urges had grown more and more powerful as their love deepened. His only escape now would be - there WAS no escape. That realization caused his heart to beat even faster and his palms to sweat. He knew now that they were on an unstoppable course.

Back and forth he paced. He had never been so nervous in his life. Why? he kept asking himself. Before he could answer that question, however, he felt her presence. That subtle warmth that spread quickly through him silenced his fears. It WAS worth everything.

An overnight bag dropped to the ground and was followed by the metallic click of shoes stepping onto the rungs of the ladder. He watched as she descended, turned and walked toward him. Her smile warmed his heart. How could he have ever thought he could live without the sunshine she brought into his life?

"I'm sorry I'm late. The traffic was horrible."

The urge to wrap her in his arms and taste her lips again was becoming too powerful to overcome. This new awareness of the power she had over him left him feeling as awkward as a teenager, and just as unsure.

"Have you been waiting long?" she asked.

He sighed slowly. Just to look at her brought him such contentment and such hunger all at the same time.

"Vincent? Is something wrong?"

"No," he finally managed to answer. He shook his head then reached for her bag. "I was just - thinking."

"Good thoughts I hope."

"When I'm thinking of you, Catherine, there is no other kind."

One eyebrow raised tentatively as she studied him. "Vincent - you can be such a charmer when you want to be."

He could feel himself blushing beneath her gaze.

"And that..." she said softly, "...is very charming."

The mischievous glint in her eyes intrigued him.

"Shall we?" she asked.

"What?"

While laughing at the stunned expression on his face, Catherine reached for his hand. "Shall we GO?"

Feeling a little embarrassed at where his thoughts had been taking him, he took her hand and felt her gently squeeze it. "Yes, Catherine. We have a great deal to talk about."

* * * * * *

They walked in comfortable silence toward the personal chambers. Just before they reached his, Vincent stopped. "The guest chambers have not been prepared. I'll awaken Mary."

"You'll do no such thing," Catherine protested. "There's no need for that. It's almost dawn."

"You're tired. You need to sleep."

"We need to talk," she corrected him.

"We will but we both need to sleep - to dream." As he spoke the words, he felt compelled to tenderly stroke her cheek. "Use my bed. I'll sleep in Father's study."

"Vincent, I...."

He silenced her protest with just one look. "The things we must discuss should be done so with clear minds. Rest, dream, and then tomorrow - we will talk."

Catherine sighed softly. "I guess you're right. The drive back was tiring."

"Sleep well, Catherine."

"I will - now. Goodnight, Vincent." She hesitated for a moment waiting for him to kiss her goodnight. Now that they had crossed over the line of a platonic relationship, she expected those minor things would follow but then it occurred to her that Vincent had no idea what was expected. It was going to be fun teaching him, she mused then reached up and placed a soft kiss on his mouth. "Sweet dreams."

Vincent watched with appreciation as she walked away from him and into his chamber. She moved with the quiet and mature grace of a woman completely at ease with her femininity. She was strong, courageous and capable of standing her ground in the face of any adversary. She was also capable of great compassion and tenderness. Her passion for justice demanded much of her, but she was willing to pay the price. He admired her, respected her; but most of all he loved her with every fiber of his being.

He closed his eyes and sought her through their bond. There he found her presence and let the warmth flow through him. He felt her fatigue, her hope and her love for him pulsing with every breath she took. Her love for him - it never ceased to amaze him. It defied logic, it had been tested and had only grown stronger; and it had given his life meaning. And for the first time since they had met, his feelings for her no longer felt forbidden. That in itself gave him a kind of freedom he had never know before.

Reluctantly, he turned and walked toward Father's study, her words and the taste of her lips still fresh in his mind. After some sleep, they would talk of their feelings and what the future might hold. He prayed for the courage to reveal his heart to the woman he loved.

* * * * * *

Inside Vincent's chamber Catherine felt her own weariness along with Vincent's love and concern. Once again his gentle strength had sustained her and given her hope. She remembered the love and joy in his eyes when she had returned, the innocence of their kiss and the passion that had risen so quickly in her. The power of it made her tremble at times.

She walked over to his bed and eased herself onto its softness. As she removed her boots, fatigue and lack of sleep finally caught up with her and she simply curled up on top of the comforters on Vincent's bed. Pressing her nose against the pillow, she breathed in his masculine scent. Here, she felt safe and content. And so, with images of Vincent playing in her mind, she surrendered to sleep.

* * * * * *

When Father entered his study early that morning, he found Vincent asleep on the old sofa where he used to fall asleep as a child after reading half the night. This time, however, there was no book in sight. He leaned over and lightly tapped his son's shoulder.

"Vincent?"

As soon as he felt the touch on his shoulder, Vincent was wide awake. He sat up quickly. "Father - is something wrong?"

"That depends on why you're sleeping here." Father answered.

Vincent sat up and stretched his sore muscles. "Catherine is in my bed," he answered casually.

Father raised his eyebrow in surprise. "I beg your pardon?"

As he suddenly realized the implications of his comment, he blushed. "She'll be staying for a few days. It was very late when she arrived so I let her sleep in my bed."

"Is she all right? I know you two were having problems."

"We've worked everything out."

"Oh?"

Now it was Vincent's turn to tilt his head and give Father that look. "Try to contain your enthusiasm, Father." The sarcastic remark surprised even Vincent.

"Vincent. I...."

"Don't, Father. I know you were quietly hoping that Catherine would decide to leave me behind when faced with a choice of a life of privilege Above and the hardships of a life Below. You still hold to the belief that her love for me is temporary and shallow. Well, Father, Catherine faced that decision last night. She chose our love."

Father shook his head in disbelief. "You must be realistic, Vincent. You cannot have a complete life with a woman. Have you forgotten what happened the last time you believed that?"

"How can you ask that? The memory of - Lisa has haunted me since that night."

"Then how can you pursue this dangerous course with Catherine? Part of you is a man. That part of you has physical desires, and Catherine is a beautiful woman. You cannot deny those desires. And Catherine has desires too. She is a young woman. She wants a lover. She wants a man who can give her children."

"I am more aware of Catherine's needs than you can ever imagine."

"Can you ask her to sacrifice those things for a dream? Can you bear to be so close to her and not seek to satisfy both your needs?"

Vincent stared at Father. He was not sure he had answers to those questions, but the love and commitment they had vowed only a few hours ago gave him strength. "Whatever course our love guides us along will be difficult. We know that. We accept that. But - separate courses are even more frightening - and more desolate."

"Vincent...."

"I must go to look in on Catherine." Vincent responded. Arguing the point with Father was useless. It had been since the beginning of his relationship with Catherine and he was just too tired to try. Sometimes, Father was just too stubborn for words.

* * * * * *

Catherine was still sleeping peacefully when Vincent arrived in his chamber. He didn't want to awaken her but he couldn't help staring down at her wistfully. She shivered slightly in her sleep so he found a warm blanket and carefully covered her. She sighed, smiled, then drifted deeper into her dream world. A deep longing to touch her, to lie down beside her grew to an alarming intensity within him and he had to push it back into the dark recesses of his soul. Stepping back from the inviting bed, he quickly gathered a change of clothes and headed for the bathing pools.

* * * * * *

The warm waters swirled about him, easing his sore, aching muscles. He closed his eyes for a moment and thought of Catherine. He could see her beautiful face, her full lips, her soft green eyes and the glow of her skin that begged for his touch. He remembered the way her lips felt, the way her body pressed close to his and the wonderful way she smelled. Sinking lower into the water, he tilted his head backward and let those images continue.

Within minutes, he was lost in visions of beautiful and impossible things. He and Catherine were living together as husband and wife. They were alone in his chamber, in his bed, under the covers loving each other with no fear or doubts. It was so real yet - such a beautiful dream. The more caught up in it he became, the more real it seemed. His heart began to beat faster, his breathing became deep and labored and his muscles tightened. A physical ache began in the pit of his stomach and, before he could stop his fantasies, he felt himself hardening into an erection. He slammed his fists into the water and sat upright trying to stop the burning arousal he felt as he had always done before. Father was right. He could not have Catherine so near and not, sooner or later, succumb to these urges.

Finishing his bath quickly, Vincent began to dress but soon realized he had not gotten a fresh sweater. He decided to put the other one back on and go back to his chamber in the hopes Catherine would still be asleep. When he got there, she was nowhere to be seen.

After breathing a sign of relief, he pulled off his sweater and began searching for a fresh one. There in the corner underneath some of his sweaters, was the gown Catherine wore as she lay in his bed recovering from the physical and emotional injuries she had suffered that spring night when he found her in the park. The night his life had truly begun. As he tenderly caressed its softness, he lost himself in the memories of caring for her and the love that had been born in his desolate heart.

* * * * * *

When Catherine awakened that morning, she had hoped Vincent would at least be in the same chamber; but, she had to admit, she wasn't surprised when he wasn't. Things haven't progressed THAT far, she mused. After getting a change of clothes she headed for the bathing pools she knew were for the women and small children only. She would just have to catch Vincent later.

* * * * * *

The last thing she expected when she walked into his chamber was the sight of Vincent standing in the middle of the room in an undershirt. She stopped dead in her tracks and simply forgot to breathe. Seeing him like that inexplicably made him more human and infinitely more desirable. She stood there admiring the vision.

Vincent sensed her and turned around suddenly to see her standing there. "Catherine!" He watched as her eyes scanned his chest. Suddenly he felt very exposed and vulnerable and quickly reached for his sweater.

"No," Catherine protested then walked over to him. "I've seen men without their shirts on before, Vincent. There's no need to be embarrassed."

"You haven't seen me before, Catherine," he commented shyly.

She understood immediately that he was more concerned about his differences than the fact she'd seen him in his undershirt. "You're not that different, Vincent. A little more hair maybe." Tentatively, she reached out and touched the hair exposed at the neck of the shirt. "And softer."

He could feel himself blushing but, at the same time, he was intrigued by her causal response. "This - hair doesn't repulse you?" he asked.

"No. Why should it? Some men are just hairier than others. It's a fact of life."

"But - what about my other differences - my hands - my face?"

"Vincent - does my scar bother you? What about the color of my hair or the fact that I'm short?"

With complete conviction, Vincent answered, "You are beautiful, Catherine!"

"You love me, warts and all and I love you - hair and all. You are simply - you. Your hair, your hands, your - wonderful face are all part of who you are."

Those words were more beautiful to him than any of Shakespeare's sonnets. "You amaze me, Catherine. I don't think anyone has ever responded to me in quite that way before."

Slowly, Catherine slid her arms around his waist. "My gain - their loss." She laughed softly then laid her head on his chest and listened to his rapid heartbeat.

Feeling her face and hair against his bare skin made that ache in the pit of his stomach return with a never before felt vengeance. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close. He could feel the warmth of her body like never before. He could even feel her breath on his chest. She pressed tighter against him and he could feel her along the length of his body. She felt so warm and soft that he couldn't resist pressing himself against her and rubbing his cheek in her hair. Without thinking, his hands began to move up and down her back and he felt her hands do the same.

His touch warmed her all over as it sensitized her skin. Being in his arms felt so right. How could she ever have doubted what they shared? After sighing in contentment, she placed a gentle kiss on his chest and then another. He tasted so masculine, so wonderfully erotic and that aroused her even more. She lifted her head and looked up into his eyes. The passion she found there reflected her own.

The moment their eyes met, everything else ceased to exist. There was nothing to keep them apart any longer. Their hearts were beating in unison as their mouths moved closer and closer seeking to make the ultimate connection.

"Vincent, I...."

Vincent's body jerked in response to the voice. Beyond Catherine, he saw Father's startled expression as he stood in the entrance to the chamber. He could see the anger in his eyes as he realized just what he had interrupted.

"Father...."

"Pardon my intrusion. I will speak with you later, Vincent." With that, Father turned and quickly left the chamber.

"Vincent," Catherine whispered. "It's all right. It's time he knew."

Vincent was torn emotionally. He felt ashamed, like he had been caught doing something bad, and strangely relieved at the same time.

"Why don't you finish dressing, and we'll go somewhere private and talk. We need to settle things between us before Father gets involved. Agreed?"

Vincent nodded slowly. "Agreed."

"Good. I'll go use my charm on William. Maybe he'll let me steal a few snacks for our walk."

Vincent let his eyes drink in her beauty from the top of her soft hair to the tip of her delicate toes. "The man doesn't stand a chance."

His very appreciative comment and the way he looked at her unnerved Catherine for a moment. But, she had to admit, she liked it. She liked it a lot. "Hmm - hold that thought. I'll be back soon." Reluctantly, she pulled away, but not without one last, lingering look and a smile.

The coldness he felt when she left his embrace made him shiver. He sighed as the tension her nearness had caused began to ease. What were they going to do?

* * * * * *

Catherine was on her way to the kitchen chamber when Father stepped in front of her.

"Catherine - may I have a word with you?"

The stern look on his face reminded her of the many times she had seen him admonish Mouse for some misadventure. For some reason, she found it particularly offensive under the circumstances. "Vincent is waiting."

"I promise not to keep you long."

She decided not to argue the point and just get it over with as quickly as possible. It was not going to be pleasant either way. "All right." Silently, she followed him into his study and stood there like she had been sent to the principle's office and was awaiting her punishment. She refused to be intimidated, however.

"Catherine - I'm concerned about the turn your relationship with my son has taken. What I witnessed today...."

"Was a private moment between two adults," Catherine finished for him.

Father gave her a look that told her he was not used to being interrupted. "Vincent has had little experience in these matters. It would be very easy for him to lose control and - something tragic might happen. You are aware that if he were to hurt you, even accidently, it would destroy him."

"Vincent would never hurt me."

"Don't be so na´ve, Catherine. Vincent doesn't know how to deal with the urges you bring out in him. The part of him that isn't - human might act on instinct and simply take what it wants."

Her hands clenched into fists as they hung by her side. Hearing Vincent referred to as anything but human always brought about that response. "Let me make sure I understand what you're implying. You are suggesting that, in a moment of passion, Vincent would rape me? Is that what you're trying to tell me?"

"All I am saying is that you should think about what any physical intimacy between you two might lead to. You're playing with fire, Catherine, and both of you could be badly burned."

"Apparently, I have more faith in your son than you do."

"Faith has nothing to do with it," Father angrily responded.

"It has everything to do with it. Rape is defined as forcible sexual intercourse. Anything that happens between us would be completely consensual. Vincent would not have to force himself on me."

The look on Father's face was a mixture of contempt and shock, and suddenly it all became very clear to Catherine. "I'm beginning to understand it now. It's not the possibility that Vincent might lose control that bothers you. You don't see him as a man do you? You find what we are contemptible, don't you? YOU cannot deal with the image of us as lovers."

"I am concerned about my son AND his place in this society."

That comment really made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. "His place? What is he to you people? Is he nothing more than a companion for you and a protector for this community? His strength and special abilities make him invaluable to you so you can't allow him to think what might be possible for him."

"How dare you! I love my son!"

Catherine could feel herself calming as the desperation in Father's voice became apparent. She almost pitied him. "What kind of love implants fear? What kind of love destroys dreams and puts boundaries around a heart? For all your defense of him, YOU cannot accept his humanity. YOUR fears have become his. Your own - disgust with what YOU think he is has become self-disgust for Vincent. Vincent taught me that real, true love means casting aside the fears and doubts and truly accepting the other as they are. I love him that much. Why can't you?"

"You are in NO position to question my love for Vincent. I raised him. I've been here for him while you were living your privileged life Above."

"That bothers you too, doesn't it? You think I'll leave him like Margaret left you." The pain her comment aroused was evident in his eyes. "Whatever doubts I had, I have put aside. My love for him is real. I want to spend my life with him. He is my destiny. I would gladly give up everything, including my life, for him. I put no limits on his dreams. I love him for the MAN he is. If you and this community cannot accept us as a couple then maybe you should take another look at all the high ideals you preach."

"The best thing you could do for yourself AND my son would be to end this unrealistic fantasy you have."

Catherine looked at Father with renewed determination. "The best thing I can do for Vincent is to love him unconditionally."

"Catherine?"

That sweet, melodic voice ended their discussion. "Yes, Vincent."

He entered the chamber with his usual unassuming grace. "Are you ready?"

"Very," Catherine responded as she walked over to him and took his hand. "Let's go."

As they walked out of the chamber, Catherine knew that Father was quietly seething at the display of physical intimacy he had just witnessed. She smiled.

* * * * * *

They walked for what seemed like miles. Through the passageways and down the spiral staircase they traveled on their journey to Vincent's special place at the waterfall. He had never shared that place with anyone because he needed a private place to retreat into himself when the cruelties of his life had overwhelmed him. He wasn't retreating now, though. He was sharing it with the one person in his life who understood him like no one else.

"Be careful, Catherine," he cautioned as they walked along the narrow ledge leading down to the hidden beach. "These rocks are......"

Before he could finish, he watched in horror as Catherine's feet slipped on the wet rocks and she lost her balance. In that one instant, his worst nightmare came true. He couldn't rescue her in time. His arms reached desperately for her but found only emptiness. As if in slow motion, he watched as she fought for her balance then fell over the edge. "CATHERINE!" he screamed in terror. Seconds later, he heard the splash as she hit the water and he was instantly moving. He dived over the edge after her determined to save her or die trying.

The fall had not injured Catherine but the shock of her sudden dive into the water left her struggling to find something solid to hold on to. That something solid was a very wet and obviously frightened Vincent who seemed to appear from no where.

"Catherine," he gasped. "Are you hurt?"

She began to cough uncontrollably to get the water out of her lungs. Instead of answering, she just nodded.

Fighting the force of the water, Vincent grabbed Catherine and began to make his way to the shore. Luckily, they weren't that far from their original destination and within seconds they were crawling up on the beach. Both collapsed as they pulled free of the water and lay there side by side for a while as they caught their breath. It was the sound of Catherine's laughter that nearly convinced Vincent that she was in shock. "Catherine?"

She sat up and looked over at him. "That was a hell of an entrance! Did you get me down here to get me wet so I would have to take my clothes off?" She was joking but apparently Vincent didn't think so.

"Catherine! I would never...."

"That's our problem I think." She laughed again then suddenly shivered.

Vincent immediately sat up. "You're cold." He started to offer her his cloak then realized he hadn't brought it. "I knew I should have brought the cloak."

"If you had, we both would have drowned. That thing's heavy dry - wet it would have taken us both down."

"I suppose you're right but we've got to get you warm or you'll catch a cold."

She looked at him playfully and raised her eyebrow. "And what do you suggest?"

"Uh - I'll start a fire. I always kept supplies down here in case I spent the night. Let's move up further on the beach where it's dry and I'll get it started."

Catherine was having a lot of fun with this unexpected turn of events but she had to admit she was freezing. She followed him up onto the shore and shivered as he started the fire. After the flames reached a consistent level, Vincent began removing his boots and his socks. She watched with a pleased smile on her face wondering just how far he was going to go. "And you said you didn't have ulterior motives."

Her playfulness had finally gotten to him. "Catherine - we cannot get warm in these wet clothes. I suggest you take off your shoes and socks and put them by the fire."

"And what about my blouse? Do you want me to take that off too?"

"NO!"

The tone of his voice caused her to laugh again. "Then what do you suggest?"

"I will take mine off and hang it near the fire. When it is dry you can change into it for our journey back."

After stripping down to his undershirt, Vincent turned toward the falls. Catherine moved up and sat down beside him.

"This place is beautiful. This is not where you usually bring me."

"I have a few places that I have never shared with anyone - except you. Places that I go to think, to...."

"Brood?" Catherine finished.

He smiled at her. "I guess. I was here last night when I sensed your return."

Catherine detected the pain in his voice, and it saddened her to think she had caused it. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. There are many trials we have to endure, Catherine."

"I think we've had more than our share of obstacles, Vincent," she responded. "Most of them by our own doing, I'm afraid."

Vincent shook his head slowly. "Perhaps so."

Silence fell between them as they looked out at the falls. Finally, Catherine's gaze once again found Vincent. "I'm not sure I know where to begin."

He turned to her with an almost fearful expression. "With the truth, Catherine. For us there can be no other way."

The truth. It had always been there between them. There was no one on this earth she had ever been so truthful with than the man sitting only inches away from her. "The anniversary of my mother's death started me thinking about all the things I'd missed with her and - all the things I was missing with you. She wasn't much older than I am now when she died but she had a husband, a home and a family. She was happy. I started thinking about my own life and what I really wanted,, and I realized just how badly I needed that connection to - you."

"I felt your doubts, Catherine. I could feel your confusion and pain." He stared down at his hands. "I deeply regret what I said to you the night you came to me. I thought I was doing the right thing by pushing you away. I realize now that I was the one filled with doubts. I doubted the strength of your love for me - and, because of that I hurt you."

Catherine moved closer and leaned toward him. "Sending me away like that did hurt. But it also made me take a look at our dream - at who and what we are. I needed answers, and your pushing me away made me look for them. I had to make a choice, and I had to make it alone."

Somehow he found the courage to look into her eyes. "While you were away and I feared I would never see you again, I too realized how empty my life would be without you. I could not live in that dark, cold place, Catherine. I would not want to continue."

"I feel the same way, Vincent. It's as if life itself would hold no meaning."

He took her hand in his. "I love you so much, but what kind of life can I give you?"

"A lifetime of love and support. You have the courage to fight for your beliefs and for your world. Why do you not have the courage to fight for us?"

Caressing her hand tenderly, Vincent knew in the deepest part of his existence that he would gladly die for her. "Us. I don't know how to be an - us."

That admission brought tears to her eyes. "That brings to mind another subject we need to talk about. I love you, Vincent - not as a friend or a brother but as the man I want to spend my life with. We've never really said the words, have we? I want to live with you as your lover. Whether we're married or not doesn't matter. I want to share your chamber and your bed in every sense of the word."

A tightening in Vincent's throat nearly made the words impossible to say but he knew he had to for Catherine's sake. "It is my dream as well. To have you - share my life is all I think of anymore. My - need for you has proven to me just how human I am. I cannot deny it any longer. I cannot pretend I don't think of you that way."

"And there is nothing wrong with that. You don't have to deny anything anymore. We love each other. We have committed ourselves to that love. And - we are ready for the natural expression of that love."

Vincent pulled his knees up and rested his folded arms atop them. "Catherine, my - desire for you frightens me sometimes. I've never allowed myself to surrender to it. I don't know what will happen when that time comes."

Turning toward him, she reached out and touched his arm gently. She could feel him flinch beneath her touch. "Vincent, when that time comes, you will be as gentle and as loving as you always are. Letting passion have its way is both frightening and exhilarating. Letting go, giving in to your natural instincts is the most intimate experience shared by two people in love. It's the ultimate form of trust. I want to share that with you. I want you to trust me, and I want you to learn to trust your desires."

The full meaning of her words literally took Vincent's breath away. Despite all he had done to push her away from him and toward a life with a man more worthy of her, her love was steadfast. Words failed him and all he could do was simply look into her eyes and feel her love.

Catherine smiled at his amazed expression. "Why is that so hard for you to believe?"

A crimson blush colored his face. "As often as I have thought of you in that way, I never believed you had those desires for me. I had reconciled myself to a life of - celibacy."

Her response was an amused laugh. "And then you met me, and I don't intend to live a celibate life if I can help it. When I think of you, celibacy is the furthest thing from my mind."

He had to admit he was enjoying the playful intimacy of their words. Conversation truly was a form of foreplay, he thought. "Everything changed when I met you. This - community changed when you came into our lives." He stopped for a moment. "My friends, my family have always thought of me as - an oddity of nature - as someone who would be forever alone and maybe should be."

She tightened her grip on his arm. "No one should make that assumption, Vincent. You have as much right to love and be loved as anyone in this community. Besides, for the most part, I think they just feel very protective of you and don't want you to get involved with just any woman. I've felt as if I've had to prove myself worthy of your attention since the day you found me. I believe they think you are so noble and pure that you don't experience the basic human need for sex. I think it's about time they changed their opinion of you," she commented casually.

Vincent couldn't resist a little humor of his own. "You mean I'm NOT noble and pure?"

Catherine playfully punched him in the upper arm. "You're a man. Albeit a very special man, but a man just the same."

Her comment caused him to laugh and shake his head. "I wonder if the image of us as a couple would be accepted. Some - even here - do not see me as human, Catherine. At best, they would love us enough to wish us the best. I don't even want to consider the worst. The things they would say to you...." He truly could not bear to say the words he knew would come.

"I don't care what anybody says, Vincent. I said that what we have is all that matters, and I meant it. I can handle words, but I could not handle losing you."

He turned and looked at her once again. "I want to be with you, Catherine, but I fear - so many things."

"What things? Tell me. Say the words."

"The unknown. The acceptance of the world in which we would live. The possibility that I could lose you if I - disappoint you." The confession came from the deepest part of his soul.

"And just how could you disappoint me?"

"'By not being the man you think I am. Catherine - you want children. I know that. I feel that longing in you every time you are with the children. I don't know if I could give you children or if we should risk it. I...."

His uncertainties were overwhelming him and Catherine sought to help him conquer them. "Yes, I want children; but if we cannot conceive them, there are a lot of children who need a family in this world. Vincent - this weekend I finally realized that the white picket fence fantasy is not for me. I love my job, and I love the most extraordinary man in the world. The road I have chosen will not be an easy one, but it will be the right one. I can face whatever the future holds as long as we are together."

Feeling the need to be as close to him as she could get, Catherine got to her feet and walked around behind him. She stood there for a moment, admiring him then lowered herself to her knees and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Breathing deeply, she inhaled his special, erotic fragrance before sitting down and wrapping her legs around him. She was, in effect, cradling him with her body and it felt wonderful. She sighed with contentment then began to stroke his chest with her hands.

This was as intimate as Vincent had ever been with Catherine. Her body was wrapped around his. He could feel her body's heat surround him. He could also feel her thighs pressing against his sides and her breasts pushing into his back. This was heaven. Sighing, he tilted his head back as his body nearly melted beneath her hands. As she caressed him, he could feel her body move sensuously against his back.

"I love you," she whispered into his ear as she nuzzled into his long, thick hair.

"I love you, too," he replied although still unsure if he should respond physically but he couldn't resist touching her somehow. Cautiously, he reached over and wrapped his arms around her legs and pulled them tighter around him. This cradle of her body was where he felt completely at peace and fully content. Without thinking about it, his hands began to caress her calves through the fabric of her long pants. Such a simple intimacy, but such a big step for him.

Catherine smiled in response to his gesture then whispered, "I intend to show this community that you are the man I love, and if our displays of affection offend anyone - they'll just have to get over it - that's all."

Vincent laughed loudly but at the same time felt the fear of how this new direction they were taking would be received. "You are the most - stubborn woman I have ever met."

"I prefer to be described as determined." She shivered slightly despite the warmth Vincent was creating with his hands.

"My shirt should be dry now."

"Does that mean you're going to move?"

"Well, Catherine - the shirt won't come to me, and I certainly don't want you to catch a cold. Everyone will say we were skinny dipping down here."

"Hey! Neat idea!"

"Catherine!" Reluctantly, he got to his feet and walked over to the fire. The shirt was dry enough for Catherine to put on. "Put this on."

"It won't do much good over my wet blouse."

"Take off your wet clothes and put this shirt on. It will cover you." It wasn't until after he said it and he saw the intrigued expression on Catherine's face that he actually thought about the implications. Once again, he could feel his face turning scarlet. "I mean..."

"I know what you mean, Vincent. Forgive me for enjoying that a little. You don't know how long I've wanted you to ask me to take my clothes off. I had to savor it for a moment. I suppose you should turn around while I change, unless...."

Vincent quickly turned around, not just to avert his eyes, but to hide his embarrassment as well.

"Okay," she said finally.

By the time she spoke, he thought he had his desires well under control. But when he saw her standing there wearing nothing but his shirt, his knees nearly buckled, and one particular part of his anatomy let its presence be painfully known.

"I'll spread these things out here so they can dry."

As she moved, the shirt moved threateningly up her thighs. Again he had to turn away, to look out into the falls to get things under control again. And as they sat by the fire this time, Vincent kept a respectable distance. If she got any closer, he didn't know if he could stay in control.

* * * * * *

Later that night, after their return to the community, Vincent and Catherine sat at the dining table side by side. All through the meal, Catherine initiated physical contact. She reached for and held his hand for long periods of time, she leaned over repeatedly and whispered things in his ear and was often seen playing with strands of his long, golden hair. Every gesture was deliberately orchestrated by Catherine in an effort to gauge the response to displays of affection between her and Vincent. She wanted to prove to him that his fears were unfounded. Honestly, though, she had to admit she was just as nervous about this as he was because she knew that a negative response would send him back behind his walls. If that happened, she might not ever reach him again.

Nervous was not a strong enough word to describe what Vincent was feeling. Terror was more appropriate. It wasn't that he didn't find Catherine's attentions pleasurable; he rather enjoyed tasting the forbidden. What really bothered him was the anticipation of the looks of disgust, the hushed whispers, and the ugly words that he was sure would follow. But, he could handle all those things. After all, he had been subject to them all his life, but Catherine had not. He could not bear to see her hurt because of her love for him. The knot in his stomach made eating a difficult chore.

They got through dinner without incident and then Father, Vincent, and Catherine retired to Father's study for a game of chess. As the two men sat across from each other staring down at the chess board, Catherine seated herself on the arm of Vincent's chair and folded her arms across his broad shoulders. She was watching both the game and Father's reaction to the intimate way she was seated. The most she got from him, however, was a raised eyebrow whenever Vincent was absorbed in his next move.

After the match ended in a victory for Vincent, Catherine hugged the victor and kissed him on the cheek. The kiss, the hug and the smiles lingered as they savored that moment of simple joy.

Father sat back in his chair and watched the scene with interest. In all the years he had watched Vincent grow from boy to man, he had never seen such a genuine look of joy on his son's face. The sparkle in his eyes when he looked at Catherine and the carefree way he smiled at her reminded him of the way he had looked at Margaret so many years ago. Vincent was in love; and, by appearance sake alone, so was Catherine. Under normal circumstances, he would be happy for them; but they were a tragedy waiting to happen, and he couldn't get them to see it. "How about another game, Vincent?"

"No, I'm sorry. I'm really tired, and I dare say Catherine is too. We both had a difficult night last night," Vincent replied.

"Are you sure?" Father asked again.

"Yes, Father. I am quite sure. I will see Catherine to her chamber, and then I am retiring for the night." Vincent rose from his chair and took Catherine's hand. He walked over to Father's chair and placed his free hand on his shoulder. "I have no wish to inflict further suffering upon you. One defeat tonight is sufficient. Goodnight, Father."

His attempt to keep them apart a little longer failed miserably and perhaps it was just a bit too obvious. "Goodnight, Vincent. Sleep well. Goodnight. Catherine."

She walked by Father and lightly brushed his shoulder with her hand. "Good night, Father."

* * * * * *

As they walked through the passageways, Catherine guided Vincent's arm around her waist. This pressed her body close to his, and with every step, he could feel the movement of her hip against his. It was a new and exhilarating experience for him to feel her body moving so closely in time with his. He allowed himself a moment to wonder how it would feel to be so in time with her in a more intimate way.

They arrived at the entrance to the chamber and Vincent reluctantly relinquished his hold on her. She turned and looked up at him with the most stunning look of absolute happiness he had ever seen. "You're feeling quite proud of yourself, aren't you?" he had to ask.

She smiled wickedly. "In a way - I am. I think tonight proved my point." She watched as he tilted his head in that endearing way of his.

"Tonight - was shock. Tomorrow and the day after will be the test, Catherine - I'm still not convinced we will be accepted so easily."

Patting him on the chest, she responded, "Nothing of value is ever achieved easily. We will - rise above it all - together. Remember that." She looked into his eyes trying to show him the very depth of her love. "I wish we didn't have to say goodnight."

Those words echoed his own sudden longing and, for a moment, he almost....

"But - our time will come, Vincent. When it does, there will be no more good nights at my door or at some threshold to your world. I feel it will be soon. I know it."

Suddenly the calm he felt was shattered. "I'm not ready...." he stammered.

"I know that. Just know that I will be here when you are," she responded in her most assuring voice. She looked at him until some of the tension passed then took his face between her hands and pulled him toward her. Their lips touched, then pressed harder against each other in what was getting to be a familiar dance of sorts. His mouth seeking to find and give pleasure to Catherine and hers trying to do the same. He still reeled with the newness of the contact and the magic he felt every time their lips met, but he couldn't help but feel that it was right. Something inside of him was telling him that he had found his home. The emptiness was filled and the darkness bathed in light.

Catherine pulled him closer and maneuvered his lips apart slightly then pressed her tongue into the cleft of his upper lip. As his mouth opened further, she pressed her tongue further into this mouth. The intimacy of that act literally left him weak in the knees and without any idea as to how to respond. He decided he would simply let her do whatever she wanted and not resist. This strange, new sensation was surprisingly pleasurable to him and he didn't want it to end. He wanted her to show him all the possibilities.

The kiss ended and Vincent fought to regain his breath and his balance. He couldn't speak for several seconds as his forehead rested against hers. "I love you so much," he whispered. "I want...."

"Please say it," she pleaded in a voice husky with desire.

Closing his eyes, he verbalized some of his forbidden desires. "I want to crush you in my arms and hold you so close to me that we become one. I want to touch your bare skin and run my fingers through your hair. I want to breathe in your scent until I can no longer breathe. I want to lay you down on my bed and make love to you until our passion is spent. Is that wrong?"

"No," she answered in a voice that quivered with desire. "I want everything you do. Saying it, sharing those feelings with me is the first step."

He lifted his head, as did she, and their eyes met in an intense look of longing. "Soon," she whispered again. "When you can put aside all the fear and come to me freely - without reservations - we will be truly together."

He moved from her embrace. "You are so sure that day will come."

"Yes. I have no doubt. What we have is stronger than fear. As soon as you realize that, you will know the time has come." Her look of confidence lingered. "Goodnight, Vincent. Dream of us."

He watched her turn and disappear into the chamber. As she did, he fought back a powerful desire to follow her into the darkness and claim the love she offered him. But uncertainty held him back, and he realized Catherine's words were true. He had to break the chains that kept him from going to her.

As he walked back to his own chamber, he thought of nothing but the possibilities they had explored that day.

"Vincent...."

He stopped in his tracks at the sound of that familiar voice. "Yes, Father," he responded.

"May I speak with you for a moment?"

Despite his trepidation, he agreed. "Of course," he responded as he followed Father into his private chamber. He took a seat then waited as his elder paced the length of the chamber. "It's late, Father. What is it?"

Father stopped pacing, focused his attention on his son, then sighed. "You and Catherine."

"I thought as much."

"Those - displays of affection between you two were noticed by everyone. I am sure that, by now, it is the talk of the community."

"I imagine it is," Vincent thoughtfully answered.

"Vincent, this is a serious matter. You two are acting like two lovesick teenagers!"

"Father - we ARE in love. What is wrong with showing it? Others do."

"You are not...."

Vincent quickly got to his feet. "Not what, Father? Finish it."

"One day, Vincent, you will lead these people. You must show them that you are not so easily distracted from that responsibility."

"Father, we've always been as honest with each other as was possible. What you're really trying to tell me is that you cannot deal with someone like me with a woman like Catherine. You profess my humanity to all who will listen, but when it comes to the most human of experiences, it is YOU who cannot accept the possibility."

"I don't' want either of you to get hurt," Father argued.

"There is much you can protect us from, but you cannot prevent us from ever feeling pain. To feel love and joy, you must know pain."

Vincent's imposing figure made Father back up slightly. "You've known too much pain in your lifetime."

"I agree." Vincent's anger slowly ebbed. "Catherine brings me great happiness, Father. Why can't you accept that and just be happy for me?"

With tears in his eyes, Father answered. "I've loved you all of your life, Vincent."

"And I, you. You are the only father I have ever known, but Catherine - Catherine is my heart. She is the love of my life. Please - do not make me choose between you."

"Vincent - you are headed for disaster."

"Perhaps I am. Perhaps - I have no choice, but I have to know. Catherine deserves to know. "

"Is there nothing I can say to dissuade you from this course?" Father asked.

"Nothing." Vincent stepped closer and embraced his father. "Just wish us well on our journey."

"It is difficult to wish someone well on the road to tragedy."

Vincent pulled back and looked at Father with resignation. Words could not convince him. "Goodnight, Father."

"Goodnight, Vincent," the older man responded sadly.

Father's dire warnings haunted Vincent as he made his way to his chamber. Were they simply the anxieties of a parent concerned for his child, or were they rooted in some deep seated uncertainty about his humanity? It seemed to him now that Father had fed his insecurities about himself all his life. It had always been Father warning him about the cruelties of those Above. Father had always warned him of the dangers. Father had set him apart, in so many ways, from the others. Perhaps it was out of love - but love could smother sometimes.

But - there was another side to the coin. He had to consider the possibility that Father could be right. Perhaps he could not satisfy Catherine and she would leave him. Perhaps he would hurt her in his passion and she would flee from him in fear. Perhaps his body would disgust her and, no matter how blind love could be, she simply could not bear to be with him. All of those things were real possibilities that he must be prepared to face. They were about to risk it all.

All of these things were on his mind as he finally stretched out on his bed. Sleep soon took him to that place just beyond reality.

* * * * *

Vincent was walking through an unfamiliar tunnel. Fog swirled around his feet and formed small whirlpools with every step he took. He didn't know where he was going, only that there was something ahead he had to find, a truth he had to uncover.

The passageway suddenly opened into a large rounded chamber. Vincent looked around then cautiously stepped in and began to walk around the outer limits of the room. Finally, he stood in the center of the chamber wondering why he was here. The mist swirled up suddenly, temporarily blocking his view. When it cleared, the shadows had formed a shape in the small chamber. He stepped closer as his eyes adjusted to the near darkness. "Who's there?" he asked of the form the shadows had dissolved to reveal. The head slowly turned.

"It is only I."

Moving ahead ever so slowly, Vincent approached the source of the eerily familiar voice. "Who are you? Why are you here?"

"I have been waiting for you," the voice responded.

Intrigued, Vincent moved even closer until he could see the long red hair streaked with gray and the shoulders bent with age. His heart skipped several beats as he stared. "Who -- are you?"

The head slowly raised and Vincent nearly fell to his knees. The weathered face staring back at him was his own. The skin was lined and wrinkled and the eyes were dull and filled with a sadness beyond words.

"I am your future. This is what awaits you if.... Listen to me. You must not make the mistake I did."

The old man's voice was filled with pain and regret. "What mistake? What happened to you?"

The old Vincent lowered his head into his hands. "I listened to Father and pushed Catherine away. I believed that our love would only hurt her. I forced her away from the tunnels and our love. The loneliness destroyed us both. She died alone and bitter." The tears began to fall. "We could have been together. We could have had a family. We could have grown old and died in each other's arms. I threw it all away because I was afraid."

The shock of what the old man said took a while to sink in. "Catherine is...."

The man openly wept into his hands. "She is gone and I am going to join her soon. At least in death we will be together, as we should have in life."

Vincent watched as a calmness came over the grieving man. His declaration had given him some peace if only for a moment.

"You have a chance to change your fate. Do not be so foolish as to believe that life does not pass you by if you do not seize it. The greatest treasures of your life can slip through your hands if you are too afraid to catch them and hold them close. Hold Catherine's love tenderly in your heart and never let it go. Accept and cherish the gift she offers you. Vincent - she is your salvation."

With those words, the mist swirled up again distorting Vincent's vision until the old man had vanished. "Wait!" he called out. The wind howled and the mist swirled while he strained to see the man in the mist - but he was gone. When the mist cleared again, Vincent was in a different chamber.

This place was illuminated by a soft, warm light and the sound of children laughing echoed from its walls. Vincent could feel contentment and happiness in this place, and he wanted to stay. As he turned to further explore his surroundings, four children of different ages ran through the chamber laughing and playing. They paid no attention to Vincent's appearance and that amazed him.

"They do not fear you."

Vincent turned quickly in the other direction and saw an old man with a familiar face sitting on a ledge. Once again, he found himself standing face to face with his future but this time, the future seemed brighter. "Do they know you?"

The old man smiled. "Yes. I am their grandfather."

Vincent looked at the children with their perfectly formed features in complete disbelief. "YOU are their grandfather?"

"They are of my blood if that is what you are asking. They are the children of my three children. "

Mesmerized by that possibility, Vincent turned back to him. "I have.... I mean...."

"You WILL have three children. Two sons and a daughter."

"Then I did not lose Catherine!"

The old man studied him thoughtfully. "If you make the right choices now, you will not lose her. Your fate is up to you. This - is just to show you the consequences of your choices."

Vincent was filled with an unquenchable curiosity. "I must know more. Catherine and I will have three normal children?"

"I didn't say that," the older Vincent replied.

"But you said...." Before he could finish, another little boy of about four ran out from behind the boulders. Immediately, Vincent was drawn to the child's facial features. His shoulders dropped dramatically as he saw clearly that the child was like him.

"There is one in every generation it seems," the older man explained. "Your second son is this one's father. He too is - one of us."

Kneeling down to the child's level, Vincent gazed into his face and marveled at the miracle before him. In the eyes of this child, there was no shyness or fear. All Vincent saw was the happy, innocent, confidence of childhood.

"Vincent - where are you?"

The child turned his head as he recognized the voice and responded. "Here, Daddy."

Looking in the direction from which the voice came, Vincent was once again shocked when a young man walked into the chamber. He looked like him but his features were softened by a strong resemblance to Catherine. He knew in his heart that he was looking into the face of his son. They stared at each other with curious eyes that finally filled with recognition.

"Vincent," the old man interrupted. "I would like you to meet Alexander. He is my - our second son."

The words caused Vincent's heart to leap into his throat. His son! His son by Catherine! A life with her was possible after all. The first thing he wanted to do was grab the young man and hug him to within an inch of his life but he knew he couldn't. This wasn't real.

"You must decide," said the old man. "You can give into the fear and end up alone and filled with regret or you can take the more difficult path. Pursue Catherine with all that you are. Go toward love."

"Go toward love," Vincent repeated over and over again as he stared into his son's face. As he repeated the chant, the mist returned and began to once more swirl around him until it obliterated everything. "No!" Vincent cried out. "Come back!" His cries were in vain.

Everything, except the old man's words disappeared into the mist. "Go toward love," he repeated. "Go toward love."

When Vincent awoke, he was still repeating those words. He looked around his chamber and realized it had all been a dream. But he also knew that it had not been an ordinary dream, but one bearing an important message. He sat there for a while trying to recapture, in detail, every image and every word of the dream. The message was clear, but acting upon it was something he didn't have a clue as to how to begin. And the more he thought about crossing that threshold with Catherine, the more nervous he became. He even had a bad case of sweaty palms. "Go toward love," he whispered.

* * * * * *

Catherine stayed for two more days. During that time, Vincent eagerly let her guide him on this new journey. They held hands as they strolled through the tunnels. They hugged and kissed goodnight at Catherine's chamber entrance. They embraced as they sat by the falls and rubbed shoulders at the dinner table each night. And, through it all, Father was the only one who seemed shocked by the change in their behavior. But his negative attitude was ignored by Vincent. No one was going to stand in the way of their happy life.

As they said goodnight on what was to be Catherine's last night Below, Catherine leaned against the wall and pulled Vincent close. She kissed him and stroked his cheek. "I have to go back Above. I left Joe in such a mess at the office. It wasn't very fair of me."

A wave of disappointment crashed over Vincent, and he leaned close enough to touch foreheads with her. "You must do what you feel is right."

His disappointment was felt intensely by Catherine. "Vincent - don't crawl back into your insecurities just because I feel I have to go back."

Pulling back just enough to look into her eyes, he sought to make her understand. "Too much has changed between us, Catherine. I will not pull away from you or our future. We have committed ourselves to this love, and wherever this journey takes us - we will go together. You are a woman of both worlds, and I can accept that. I will be here when you return, and I will come to you whenever it is possible."

Catherine took a deep breath and then smiled. "I love you."

"And I love you." He straightened up and took her hands in his. "Catherine, there will be a concert in the park next week. Would you - join me?"

A broad smile played across Catherine's face and her eyes sparkled with joy. "You're asking me out on a date, aren't you?"

"Well - I - guess I am. I think it's about time." He found her enchanting gaze a little unnerving.

"Does this mean that you have finally given in to my charms?" she laughed.

"I never stood a chance. Catherine Chandler - I intend to court you, if you will allow me the privilege?"

"That is the sweetest, most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me. And - I will allow you a great deal more than you are asking."

Once again, he blushed, but by now, he was becoming accustomed to it. "Then you will attend the concert with me?"

"I would be honored."

Now it was Vincent's turn to smile like a child who had just discovered a huge bowl of ice cream awaiting him. "I'll meet you at the basement entrance."

"Won't I see you before then?" she asked anxiously.

"You have much work to do, and - I want the anticipation for the evening to build." After she nodded in agreement, he released her hands and reached up to stroke her cheek. At his touch, she pressed her cheek into the palm of his hand then gently kissed it. Then, ever so slowly, she guided his hand down her neck until his palm layover her heart. The softness of her skin and the steady beating of her heart sent a bolt of excitement through him.

"My heart is yours as yours is mine. No matter how far apart we are, I will always be with you."

"And you take me with you wherever you go," Vincent finished for her.

"Always," she whispered. "Goodnight, Vincent."

He stepped back. "Sweet dreams, Catherine."

"When I dream of us, there is no other kind."

"He watched her enter her chamber and fought the longing to go with her as he had done every night during her stay Below. Tonight, however, he felt a certainty that one night soon, he would have to fight his desire no more.

* * * * * *

It had been almost a week since they had said goodbye at the basement threshold to Catherine's apartment building, and the night of their big date had arrived. Vincent had been battling his nerves all day when Father walked into his chamber.

"Vincent...." he looked around the chamber and noticed the freshly laundered clothes lying across his bed. "What's the occasion? Have I forgotten some social gathering?"

"No, Father. I have a - date - with Catherine."

Father sighed in contempt. "Vincent, why are you so determined to follow this path?"

"Don't do this, Father. There is no point in arguing any further. Unlike you, I do not believe that great loves necessarily end in tragedy."

"I realize that you think you love her...." Father began.

"I do love her, Father. It is not an infatuation or a fantasy - it is real, and it is forever. You will have to accept what is meant to be, because I intend to pursue her vigorously."

"Hum..." Father snorted at the use of one of his favorite phrases. "And what if she rejects you? What if this relationship reaches that moment of truth and she changes her mind? What will you do?"

Vincent stood there for a moment contemplating that possibility. "I would be devastated," he answered sadly. "But it is a chance I must take. Have you considered the possibility that she will say yes, Father? Or is that what you're really afraid of?"

"Despite what you think, Vincent, I would love to see you with a wife and a family. I really want you to be happy, but I have to be realistic. I know you. I know women like Catherine. In the end, her life Above will call her away."

"Whatever life holds for me, allow me to experience it. You can't protect me from everything. "

Father looked lovingly at his son. "If only I could."

"Catherine brings me great joy and has opened up a world of endless possibilities that I have only imagined. Be happy for me. Share my joy. Understand our passion."

Sadly, Father shook his head and turned to go. "I understand passion all too well. It will bring you more pain than joy." Without turning around or waiting for a response, he left the chamber.

Vincent stared at Father as he left his chamber, wishing he could share the joy of his love for Catherine. Continuing his relationship with the woman he loved could cost him the closeness he had once shared with his father. At times like these, he wanted to rage against the fates.

* * * * * *

Catherine was hurrying home from the office to get ready for her big date. All the way home, she thought of Joe and his obvious attempt to turn her affections to someone "more down to earth" - like him. Who knows? she wondered. If she had never met Vincent, she might have given Joe a tumble. He was nice looking, dedicated and very interested in her. The only problem was, if she had never met Vincent, she would never have met Joe. Oh well, she sighed. She had met Vincent, and no other man would capture her attention again.

* * * * * *

Standing at the threshold, Vincent wondered if he should have worn his best shirt and vest instead of his gray quilted vest and sweater, but Catherine loved this vest. Smiling without realizing it, he remembered the way she would clutch the material then bury her face in it whenever she needed him to hold her. No - he had made the right choice.

* * * * * *

After putting on the final touches of her makeup, Catherine assessed herself in the mirror. The blue dress fit her perfectly. Its mid-calf length and low cut bodice gave it a casual elegance. Its almost aqua color brought out the blue in her eyes. Her dangling earrings captured the light and glittered, accentuating the look of elegance. A few more touches to her hair and she was on her way.

* * * * * *

He could sense her as she approached, her emotions like a beacon in the night. Her joy always filled him with anticipation and happiness. How empty life was without her, he thought just before she stepped onto the ladder and climbed carefully down. Eagerly, he approached her. When she turned toward him and stepped into the light, he froze. She looked so incredibly beautiful that he literally could not move or utter a word. All he could do was stare like a dumbstruck idiot.

"Vincent?"

"I'm sorry - I...." He finally regained his senses. "Catherine, you look wonderful tonight. You take my breath away."

His compliments brought a light blush to her cheeks and a smile to her lips. "Why - thank you kind sir. You look quite handsome yourself."

That statement took him by surprise and he simply gazed at her in wonder.

She allowed him a moment to appreciate all the effort she had put into picking out the perfect dress then casually offered him her hand. "Where are you taking me tonight?"

"A special place where we can both enjoy the concert. Shall we - go?"

"I'm ready."

* * * * * *

When he guided her into the drainage tunnel, Catherine was surprised to see that he had arranged blankets on the floor for them to sit on and brought food for them to enjoy during the concert. "You've been busy I see."

"I wanted you to be comfortable. Catherine. Please..." He guided her toward the blankets and held her hand as she seated herself. He held his breath as he watched how gracefully she moved. "The concert will begin shortly," he commented as he sat down beside her. She looked over at him, and he was suddenly lost in her eyes. It was a good thing he sat down before his legs gave way beneath him, he thought.

They snacked before the concert then leaned back against the pillows and got comfortable as the music began. As Catherine leaned her head back against the wall, Vincent stole a glance and soon found himself staring. His eyes followed the line of her neck. He then allowed his gaze to move downward along the plunging neckline of her dress. There, his eyes rested on the barest hint of the swell of her breasts. He watched the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed, and he swore he could even see the movement caused by the beating of her heart.

As he sat there staring at her, he began to wonder if it was normal to desire a woman so. The events of the last few weeks had changed their relationship to the point that he now allowed himself to desire her without guilt, partially because he knew she desired him just as intensely. But where was their desire going to lead? Until recently, he would have answered nowhere. Now - he only knew that he wanted to make love to her and know the fulfillment only she could give him. Closing his eyes in an effort to suppress his growing arousal, Vincent tried to concentrate on the music. Her nearness, her perfume, and the sound of her breathing made that impossible.

"Oh - I love this part," Catherine commented in a soft voice.

The sensual sound of her voice had startled Vincent. He had been lost in his own private daydream. And, when he answered, it was more in response to the vision he was seeing in his mind. "Yes. It is beautiful."

He heard her sigh and turned to look at her. A very pleased smile played gently across her lips. Her expression was so alluring. With a slight tilt of his head, he asked, "What makes you smile?"

Catherine laughed softly then looked over at him. "Everything. This is a wonderful spot."

That statement amazed him. Catherine had led a life of privilege. She had been accustomed to the best life had to offer yet, here she sat on old blankets on a dirt floor in a drainage tunnel smiling and telling him how wonderful it was. It meant so much to him to share this place with her and he recognized it as a step toward the ultimate intimacy he hoped to share with her. That possibility made him think of all the nights he had been here alone. "I've spent many an evening here," he finally responded. "I've heard all the great music - here."

Catherine tilted her head back and let the music engulf her. "The sound is remarkable." She looked at him and whispered, "It's like we're in the first row." She didn't know why she was talking so softly. They were all alone.

"We're just under it," he answered as he looked up to where he knew the seats were.

It was then that Catherine realized something wonderfully intriguing. "I have been coming to concerts in the park all my life. It's strange to think there might have been nights we were listening to the same music - that you were so close." The thought of Vincent alone here in the dark as she listened from the seats Above, either with her father or a date, sent a strange sensation through her. It was a feeling of sadness for the time they had lost.

The thought struck Vincent just as forcefully. Maybe, he thought something in him had sensed her and had drawn him to this place to be as close to her as he could. Their bond was truly incredible.

"I come here," he tried to explain, to share with her his deepest feelings, "and the music engulfs me and - I can feel the presence of everyone sitting just above us."

Catherine could see the almost boyish enthusiasm on his face, and her heart nearly broke for the lonely man who longed to share the beauty of the music with someone but had to sit in the darkness as an outcast.

"You'll see," he continued. "When the music ends, you'll hear fragments of conversations echo throughout the chamber and - footsteps." They both looked up at the grate separating them from the rest of the world. Then, almost sadly, Vincent looked back into his past and remembered the loneliness. "And then all will be very still again."

Those words and the look on his face made Catherine realize just some of the loneliness he must have endured then and probably would always suffer to some degree. She looked at him and so desperately wanted to ease that suffering - to assure him that he was no longer alone. "The stillness - didn't it make you feel...."

He knew what she was thinking and what she was feeling. There was no intent to remind him of his loneliness. There was only love in her voice and compassion in her heart.

"....alone?" He thought about it for a moment. "Sometimes. And sometimes I found a wonderful peace in that stillness."

Their eyes met briefly as a quiet understanding passed between them. Catherine knew and understood his need for solitude to control the other in him and to feel peace in his soul. Her acceptance of that proved to Vincent once again that she knew him like no other. Vincent was still watching her as she smiled and looked upward at the grate. How beautiful she is, he was thinking as a flash of light and a loud boom broke the silence.

"Lightning?" Catherine asked as she turned toward him with the look of a mischievous child on her face.

The mischievous little boy in him couldn't help but respond with the same kind of look. "I think it was."

They both looked back up just as the rain from the sudden storm began to fall causing the music to end abruptly and the voices of startled concert goers to filter down to them. They could hear the band rushing to get their instruments out of the rain and the hurried footsteps of the audience as they sought shelter.

Catherine started to laugh, the joy of the moment bringing out an almost childlike wonder. "Vincent - it's raining!"

As her laughter continued, Vincent began removing his cloak with the intention of placing it around her and protecting her from the rain. But, with the wave of her hand, she declined his gesture. "No."

Much to his surprise, Catherine got up on her knees under the grate and let the rain pour down on her. The sight of her totally swept away by such a simple joy, made him laugh and fall in love with her all over again. While the audience Above ran for cover, all he wanted to do was watch Catherine in her exuberance. She laughed as the rain soaked her hair and dress.

At first, Vincent viewed her antics through the eyes of innocence and joy, but the man in him was becoming aroused by her actions. She tossed her hair back and let the rivulets of water trail down her body. He watched with growing excitement as the water ran down her chest and into her cleavage. Her dress was wet and had begun to stick to the inviting curves of her body in the most intriguing ways, and he found he could not look away.

Pushing the hair back from her face, Catherine mumbled, "I've never...." But she didn't finish the thought. She looked back at Vincent. "Vincent, this is wonderful." Then she literally fell into his arms.

Totally taken by surprise, Vincent laughed out loud then wrapped his arms around her as she settled into his embrace. The moment was rich in love and childish delight, and he had never felt so alive and so happy in his life. He also never felt more like a man. Her wet body pressed against his and the weight of her lying across his lap was testing him to his limits.

His heart was hammering in his chest as she buried her face against his vest and laughed. He could feel her warm breath against his neck and felt her body vibrate as her laughter continued. Looking down into her beautiful face, he could feel desire rising up in him like a tidal wave he could not escape. Their eyes met and neither could turn away. She had seen the longing in his eyes.

The advent of the rain had brought out the child in Catherine, and she had set it free. Now, Vincent was looking down at her with desire burning in his eyes, and that moment of childish glee had turned into one of discovery and shared passion. Despite the cooling rain, she felt the heat rising in her. Maybe, she thought, that had been the reason for her actions. Maybe - she was trying to seduce him.

The longer they gazed into each other's eyes, the more intense the longing became. The audience Above, the orchestra, even the rainstorm had all vanished from their awareness. They were a man and a woman lost in an intimate moment of mutual desire.

To his own amazement, Vincent made the first move by reaching up and tenderly stroking her cheek with the back of his fingers. He could feel her skin's warmth beneath his fingertips along with the moisture left by the rain. His fingers lingered on her cheek for a breathless moment before he slid his hand around to the back of her neck. Her gaze did not waiver. Her eyes burned with desire as they called to him and he had no choice but to answer. Without thinking or analyzing, he leaned closer and closer to her full lips until they met his and passion exploded.

Never before had he been bold enough to put his fears aside and initiate contact with Catherine. He had accepted her embraces and kisses passively, even after all of her encouragements and assurances. Even now, he hesitated as he fought the urge to retreat. But to retreat now would spell disaster for their love. He needed her, he loved her, he wanted her with every fiber of his being. He could no longer deny their destiny. And as the doubts finally dissipated, he deepened the kiss.

Catherine opened her mouth and began to show Vincent the pleasure of a passionate kiss. By capturing his lip between her teeth, by turning her head from side to side, and by using her tongue to explore his unique mouth, she pulled him deeper and deeper into their shared passion. Completely losing herself in it, she began to move her body against him, rubbing herself against the hard planes of his body. Beneath her, she became acutely aware of his response to her movements.

Her movements were arousing him, and his response was to pull her closer to him. He wanted to feel her body against him. The way she was laying across his lap only made the situation worse. He was aching with need. The kisses continued.

Finally, Catherine pulled back, opened her eyes and looked at him. They were both breathing heavily, their bodies flushed with desire and their eyes clouded with passion. Vincent nearly panicked as she moved out of his embrace. "Catherine?"

"It's okay," she assured him as she straightened up then rose to her knees.

Was this the moment he had feared? Was she rejecting him? Those thoughts were running wildly through his mind as he watched her reposition herself. Despair filled his heart until she smiled then moved to straddle his legs then lowered herself back onto his lap. The intimacy of the contact they now shared only served to fuel his already heated blood. He closed his eyes and gasped softly as he felt an erection beginning.

"Look at me, Vincent," Catherine instructed.

When he opened his eyes, he found himself looking into the plunging neckline of her dress. He could see the gentle swell of her breasts. He could see the rivulets of water still running down into that valley between. He shouldn't be staring but he couldn't seem to tear his eyes away.

Catherine placed her hands on each side of his face and leaned closer to begin another kiss that seemed to go on forever. His hands found her sides and began to familiarize themselves with the contours of her body as their mouths moved together in a desperate desire to seek and give pleasure. He could feel her body begin to move again.

Once again, Catherine ended the kiss. She pulled back and simply looked at him for a moment. "I love you, Vincent. I want you to make love to me. Never doubt that I will accept you whenever you're ready to cross that line." To prove her point, she found his hands and guided them to her stomach then slowly upwards toward her breasts. "I want to feel your touch as much as you want to touch me."

His hands were trembling and his eyes were riveted to those alluring curves beneath her dress. He suddenly remembered all the dreams he had ever had of her nude body, of him touching her intimately and possessively. Those dreams had once shamed him. Now, they would guide him.

Vincent held his breath as his hands began to move up the underside of Catherine's breasts. His heart was pounding as they moved over their shape. He could feel each nipple against his palm as his fingers discovered the pliancy of each breast. Touching her like this, hearing her gasps of delight and feeling her rubbing herself against his lap was more pleasure than he had ever imagined.

Their foreplay continued and any hesitancy on Vincent's part quickly vanished. He was caressing her breasts, stroking her back and gripping her buttocks without any further urging from Catherine. He was burning up with the desire to touch her, and he freely did so.

As the fire of passion continued to consume them, Catherine reached up and guided his head to her chest. She pressed his face against her. Shocked at first, Vincent remained still but the impulse to taste her skin was overwhelming. He dared to press his lips against the swell of her breast. Catherine responded by arching her back and moaning. That sound sent him over the edge and he pulled her closer as he placed his mouth over one fabric covered breast. With his tongue, he teased the nipple.

"Oh God! Vincent!"

The panic in her voice frightened him and he pulled away quickly. "I'm sorry...."

She was breathless. "No.... It's.... I...." Words were extremely hard to find.

Mesmerized, he watched as she licked her lips and then moved her body back off his lap. Her hands then maneuvered their way down to his pants and he felt his whole body tense. "Catherine," he gasped as her hand explored the shape and length of his erection.

"I want to touch you," she explained in a husky, passion-filled voice.

He allowed her to continue until he could no longer control his passions. No one had ever touched him like this, and it was quickly driving him over the edge. In desperation, he captured her torturing hands in his. "Stop," he protested. "I can't.... Not here.... Not like this." Although she was obviously disappointed, she respected his wishes.

"Are you sure?"

He nodded slowly. "Please."

She slowly lifted herself off of his lap and sat down facing him. They didn't speak for some time allowing their excitement to ebb.

"Forgive me, Catherine."

Gently, she reached up and placed her hand along his cheek. "Forgive me for pushing too hard. I let my own desires get out of control."

Those softly spoken words almost brought tears to Vincent's eyes. What had he done in his life to deserve someone as understanding and compassionate as Catherine. "I love you, Catherine."

"I know," she smiled. "I love you too and I'm ready for us to take this next step but you're not. Do you still doubt my commitment to you? Do you doubt that I want a complete relationship with you? Is that why you hesitate?"

"No. Over the last week, I have truly come to believe that what we share is real and that our dream will come true. It is the fear of the unknown that holds me back. What you make me feel - sometimes frightens me with its intensity."

"It's that way for me too. Vincent, no one has ever made me feel the way you do."

"Really?"

"Yes. I'll be honest with you. I think you know I've been with other men before but I never knew the meaning of love until I met you."

Her confession just validated what he had already surmised. They had never openly discussed her past before; and at times, Vincent simply chose not to think about her being intimate with someone else, but it was a fact he couldn't escape. Despite the jealousy he felt, he looked over at her and smiled. "I am counting on your experience."

Catherine laughed and once again fell into his arms now fully convinced that it was no longer a question of if - but when.

* * * * * *

They walked back through the tunnels toward Catherine's building very slowly as if reluctant to bring their evening to an end. They were both soaked from the rain but they couldn't have been happier. Their relationship had taken a new and exciting turn and the future looked bright.

As they neared the entrance, Catherine broke the silence. "I don't think I'll ever be able to hear Schubert's Unfinished Symphony - in quite the same way."

They stopped at the entrance and turned to face each other. Vincent chuckled to himself at her comment and then looked beyond Catherine at the blue light she would soon be disappearing into. The thought of their parting saddened him. "I wanted to share that place with you." He looked at her then, and the longing he had always kept hidden before surfaced. She was the center of his universe, his heart and his soul, and he so desperately wanted her to know that.

She nodded in understanding. What he had wanted so desperately for her to know - she knew without words.

Hope was shining brightly in her eyes as she looked up at him. "Thursday night they'll be playing the Brandenburg Concertos...." It was an obvious prompt. She waited anxiously for his response.

With that invitation, Vincent knew all was well between them. They were a couple now, and certain things were expected of him. It was time he assumed the role, and Catherine was giving him the opportunity to do so. She was also letting him know how anxious she was to see him again.

"Then I'll come for you - Thursday night."

Those simple words spoken in that sensual voice, filled with a newly expressed longing, heavy with desire nearly buckled Catherine's knees. She felt a tightening in her chest and a wave of heat in the pit of her stomach as his gaze became even more intense. "I'll be here," was all she could manage to say. The reluctance to say goodnight was unbearable. She was fighting back tears as she moved into his embrace.

Her sadness filled him as she stepped into his arms. Neither wanted the night to end. Pressing his mouth close to her ear he whispered, "Be well, Catherine."

Catherine stepped back slightly and looked up at him. "And you, Vincent."

The desire they both felt was palpable. It had taken on a life of its own and was drawing them ever closer to completion. Vincent reached up and placed his hand around the back of her neck and drew her to him. The kiss they shared was filled with passion and promise. When it ended, Catherine slowly turned and walked into the shaft of light, but stopped and turned for one last, lingering look.

Vincent moved to the entrance and watched as she walked away. His heart went with her. When she hesitated and turned to him, he hoped beyond reason that she was coming back; but she turned and disappeared into the light. Soon after, he heard her footsteps going up the ladder. The words to one of his favorite poems came immediately to mind as he watched her go. "She walks in beauty like the night...." She was gone - on her way back to her apartment and he was, again, all alone.

As he began his journey back to his chamber, he relived the kisses, the touches, and the intimacy of their date. They had come so far in the last week especially that very night. She had allowed him - no, she had encouraged his fledgling exploration of her body. He still


found it difficult to believe where and how he had touched her, and - where she had touched him. His mind once again became clouded with desire. Despite everything his logical self was telling him, he wanted more.

He stopped in the passageway. Returning to his cold chamber and his empty bed without Catherine was something he just couldn't do. Closing his eyes, he thought of her and the warmth and tenderness she offered him. Why was he hesitating? Was it really a fear of hurting her in his passion, or was it a fear of failure? Leaning against the tunnel wall, he began to question his motives. He knew he felt the same physical urges as any man. He also knew that his sex organs were no different than any normal man's. Actually, in that physical sense, he was as normal as any of them. From years of experience, he had learned that he was sexually functional. He had erections regularly and could masturbate himself to orgasm which resulted in semen being discharged. However, he had never been with a woman. His desires had been forbidden since the incident with Lisa, and he had accepted his non-sexual role in life. Then - along comes Catherine and he can think of nothing else.

Vincent argued the pros and cons for almost an hour until the reality of what he was doing struck him. He was actually debating whether or not he should go to Catherine and try to finish what had started between them earlier. What was he doing? Pressing his forehead against the cool, rock wall the message of his dream suddenly came back to him and he realized that this was the moment of decision.

What did he want most in life?

"Catherine."

What was keeping him from her?

"Fear."

What was stronger-love or fear?

Vincent smiled at the simplicity of it. "Love."

With renewed resolve, he changed directions and began his journey to Catherine.

* * * * * *

Vincent climbed over Catherine's balcony wall and stopped to get some sense of her. She was in the bathroom drying her hair after her shower. Doubt crept back in the longer he remained immobile, but somehow, he summoned the courage to walk over to the balcony doors and look in. He was frozen to the spot out of both fear and anticipation. And then - Catherine walked into her bedroom.

Vincent released a long held breath at the sight of her. The dress, jewelry, and shoes had been abandoned for a bath robe and bare feet. Her hair was dry and hung loosely about her face. He marveled at her beauty, whether dressed in her finest or in the most simple .attire or - maybe he was biased. All he could do was stare and long to be near her.

She dimmed the lights then turned down the covers on her bed, but, as she began to untie her robe, she stopped then turned toward the doors, her eyes searching the darkness. Their eyes met and the power of that gaze held them both transfixed. Catherine made no attempt to close her loosened robe.

Neither moved as time ticked slowly away. Each was held captive by their longing and a need as basic as the need to breathe. The world dissolved until there was only the two of them and the fire that flared to life between them. A deep understanding of the importance of the moment and a mutual acceptance of their destiny also passed between them. And, in that moment, they both knew that their time had arrived. Catherine responded with a warm, inviting smile as she reached out her hand to him.

Her gesture was a simple one under normal circumstances, but tonight was anything but normal. Catherine was standing there offering him her love and all he had to do was take the first step. Cautiously, he opened the doors and took those first few steps inside. Immediately, a wave of fear swept over him, but the love he saw in her eyes gave him the courage he needed to continue. Step by step he drew closer, and then - reached out his hand and enclosed hers lovingly in his.