A FAIR AND PERFECT NIGHT

(A Fair and Perfect Knight - P. K. Simonds, Jr.)

"Don't be afraid to want it - even only for yourself. Don't be afraid to deserve it - you deserve everything."

With those words, Catherine had taken him in her arms and replaced his despair with hope. Since she had come into his life, she had filled the emptiness inside of him with a glowing warmth, and he had dared to dream again. But tonight he had learned that the dream of love had a dark side he had never encountered before. It was a darkness that even the noblest of hearts and purest of intentions could not conquer. He had learned of jealousy and possessiveness. He had come face to face with the realization that he wanted Catherine's love for himself and was unwilling to share that most precious treasure with anyone.

It wasn't the recognition of those feelings that had reduced him to tears but Catherine's acceptance and her confession that she too felt them. Her assurance that she accepted "gratefully" her fate and her insistence that they didn't know what their limits were had given him hope. But it was her declaration that he deserved everything and that it was all right for him to want to love and be loved that had finally torn away his attempt at nobility. His tears flowed freely as he opened his heart and accepted the love she gave to only him. And, as she held him in her arms, her love tenderly enfolded his fearful heart giving it the strength to forgive.

She held him until the tears subsided and he found the courage to do what must be done. He had to confront his feelings, reconcile them and then face Michael. The boy needed his forgiveness. He lifted his head from her shoulder and drew a deep breath. "Catherine...."

"I know," she responded. She smiled warmly then wiped the tears from his cheeks.

Her touch almost reduced him to tears again. All the nights he had spent longing for even her most innocent touch faded from his memory as her small, delicate hand lingered on his face. In an attempt to prolong the contact, he captured her hand in his and pressed it against his cheek. The bond vibrated with great intensity, and he closed his eyes to savor it. When he opened his eyes again, he found Catherine looking at him in a way that revealed the passion that she had always fought to hide from him. In her eyes he could clearly see what he had only vaguely felt through their bond before tonight. It was the passion of a woman for the man she loved.

He could feel her hands drawing his face closer to hers, and he could not resist. Even though he could have, and perhaps should have, stepped away, he was powerless. His heart had long ago surrendered to her, now his body yearned to do the same.

Closer and closer she guided him until he could feel her breath against his face, caressing his skin with its warmth. He followed her silent command and watched in awed silence as she tilted her head and closed her eyes. She was going to kiss him and the mere thought of it sent his heart racing wildly in anticipation. But how? How could he dare kiss anyone? He wasn't a man, no matter what argument Catherine made to that effect. Fear gripped his heart, and he hesitated.

Catherine refused to relinquish her hold on him, physically and emotionally. "It's all right, Vincent. Don't be afraid," she murmured softly then pressed her warm, pliant lips to his.

Suddenly caught in a frenzy of emotion and sensation, Vincent didn't know what to do. The exquisite feel of her warm, soft mouth moving gently against his had rendered him powerless and feeling as if his legs could no longer support him. To steady himself, he clasped her waist firmly until she ended the kiss and pulled back slightly.

The expression on his face when he opened his eyes and found her staring at him was a mixture of amusement, wonder, and love. "Catherine...."

"Shhhh. Don't say anything. I don't want to spoil what we just shared," she said as she tenderly brushed back a stray lock of hair from his face. "We won't know what the limits are until we test them. I love you."

Tears once again burned his eyes. She deserved so much and he could give her so little. But there was one thing he could give her - the words he had never spoken. "Catherine I love you with all my heart. If that is selfish of me, then so be it. My heart, my very life, you hold in your hands."

Her eyes glistened with newly formed tears, and joy radiated from her very soul. "Vincent - I know your heart and - I have felt your love for me, but hearing the words...." Emotion overcame her, and once again she pulled him into her arms.

Hope triumphed in Vincent's heart as the doubt and fear retreated. Then, reluctantly, his thoughts turned to one in greater need of comfort - Michael. "I must speak with Michael. I can sense his fear, his anguish."

"Yes," she agreed as she released him from her tender embrace. "He needs your comfort and guidance now."

"Catherine...."

She placed her finger against his mouth to silence him. "You and I have much to talk about. Will you come to me tonight?"

"Yes," he responded quickly in a deep voice that betrayed his eagerness. "I will be there. Shall I walk you out?"

"No. Find Michael."

* * * * * *

Vincent did indeed find Michael, and the rift between them was mended. They sat on the bridge listening to the voices and finding comfort in each other's presence for some time.

"Vincent," Michael began. "Have you told Catherine that you love her?"

Vincent looked out into the expansive chamber as he remembered speaking the words to Catherine only a short time earlier. It was a moment of complete truth that he would never forget. The feeling that he had bared his deepest feelings had left him feeling more vulnerable then he had been before. But the risk of complete devastation had been worth it. "Yes," he answered.

"I know she loves you, but did she tell you?"

"Yes - she did."

"Then when are you two going to get married?"

It was an innocent question, a reasonable one as well, but one that silently ripped Vincent's heart in two. "That's not possible."

"Why not?"

The questions were becoming too painful and the answers were impossible to give. "That should be obvious."

"What is obvious, even to me now, is how much you two love each other. You two belong together. Don't you want to marry her?"

For a fleeting moment, Vincent allowed himself to dream of them pledging their love to each other before their family and friends. But, as always, the dream ended in the bitter realization of what he was and what he couldn't have.

"More than anything in this life. If I were a normal man...."

Michael laughed. "If you were a normal man, you wouldn't be Vincent and she would have never fallen in love with who you are."

That observation so stunned Vincent he turned his head and stared at his companion in wonder.

"You'll never know until you ask her, Vincent. Take a chance."

"I can't offer her anything but limits. I can't give her the life she deserves," Vincent argued.

"The life you think she deserves. Why don't you let Catherine decide what kind of life she wants? She has that right."

"I...." Vincent couldn't find the words to defend his stance because there was nothing to defend.

"Catherine deserves the best, on that I will agree with you. I just happen to believe that you are what's best for her. I think - no - I know she believes that too. She's a warm, caring woman who loves you. Don't throw that away. Love is hard to find."

"When did you grow up and become so wise?" Vincent chuckled.

"About an hour ago when someone I admire a great deal taught me the true meaning of love and respect."

A feeling of parental pride filled Vincent's heart as he looked at the young man next to him. He was like a son to him; a student who had surpassed his teacher's expectations. "I didn't teach you those things. They were inside of you all along."

Michael smiled that broad expressive grin of his. His dark eyes glittered in the soft light. "You'll never convince me of that. Are you going to do it?"

The sudden change of subject left Vincent feeling a little unbalanced. "Do what?"

"Propose!"

"Michael!"

* * * * * *

Michael's words haunted Vincent's thoughts that day. His simple logic and Catherine's encouragement had fueled his imagination. Should he? Dare he ask such a commitment of Catherine? Was her love that strong or was he simply lost in a dream that would never be? There was one thing he did know; those questions had to be answered. What he shared with Catherine was growing stronger by the day, and soon they would no longer be able to control their desires - their needs. When that day came, hearts would be broken or destiny fulfilled.

As he waited for the cover of darkness, Vincent's thoughts were of Catherine. He envisioned himself touching her, holding her close, and sharing with her what Michael had - a kiss. Closing his eyes, he pictured her full, inviting lips, and he began to physically ache for the nearness of her body. Those primal images had begun months ago and had increased in their frequency and graphic nature until he could no longer control his body's responses.

Vincent began to pace. The thought of intimacy with Catherine both frightened and intrigued him. Part of him was very much a man, a man who was in love and wanted to follow love's natural course. But it was the other part of him and its urges that had put an obstacle between them. Those urges had caused him pain of which Catherine knew nothing. He couldn't even find the courage to bare his soul to her, how could he bare his body.

He leaned heavily against the tunnels' cool, rock wall. Catherine wanted and needed more from him. She deserved a full life with a home and children. Was it possible, as Catherine believed, for them to go beyond the boundaries of what society deemed as normal? Once more, he sighed in frustration. The time had come to either turn away from love and live out their lives in painful separation or to turn toward love and deal with the consequences. Whatever path their love took, Vincent now realized it had to be one of mutual consent. He had no right to make any decisions about the relationship alone. Tonight, they had to talk about their future.

* * * * * *

It was an unusually calm, clear early spring night in New York. A gentle breeze ruffled Vincent's cloak as he made his way to Catherine's balcony. The lights of the city glittered like stars in the heavens. All those things, and the knot in his stomach, convinced him that tonight was to be something special.

Stepping onto her balcony, he eagerly searched for her but found she was still inside her apartment. Good, he thought. This would give him a little time to calm his pounding heart and regain control of his trembling hands.

"Hello."

The sudden intrusion of that voice into his thoughts startled him. "Catherine!" He turned and saw the most alluring vision he had ever seen. She was standing there in the soft light, her hair stirring in the breeze, the blue silk robe and gown clinging to her petite, feminine frame. Why did she have to wear that tonight?

She smiled sweetly. "I'm surprised you were not aware of me."

Words were difficult to find as he felt his love and need for her awaken. "I was just - thinking."

"Oh." After giving him a brief hug, she walked over to the balcony wall and looked out at the lights.

Vincent turned and gazed out at them as well. The silence between them grew heavy as he suddenly found himself groping for the words to begin the conversation that would forever change what they shared. Surprisingly, she was the one who broke the silence.

"The lights are beautiful tonight," she commented without looking at him. The tension between them was palpable. A mix of desire, fear, love, and need flowed through their bond. He wanted to touch her and somehow ease the ache he felt but he knew that it would not be enough.

Battling his own emotions, he looked over at her and was captured by the look of total love and acceptance he saw on her face and in her eyes. There was no doubt, no fear, no hesitation in the way she looked at him. The protective wall she had placed around her emotions was gone. She was letting him feel the full force of her love and desire for him. The power of those feelings stunned him. When she looked away, he felt as if his lifeline had been jerked away, and he fumbled to grasp it again.

He looked away as he fought his fear. She was forcing him to reach out for the love she had said he deserved. He swayed back and forth a moment as he summoned his courage. Then, not unlike a teenager's first foray into love, he tentatively slid his arm around her shoulders and gently pulled her body against his. A small gesture by normal standards, but a tremendous leap of faith for him.

Gradually, his pounding heart slowed and he became more and more aware of her body so close to his. The silk beneath his fingers had been warmed by her skin and he was certain he could feel the blood coursing through her veins. The breeze would occasionally blow a strand of hair against his cheek. Its texture was so soft it felt like a feather caressing his skin. With each passing moment, he wanted to hold her closer, to bury his nose in her hair and inhale its fragrance. He wanted to press more of her body against his and feel the touch of her hand on his chest.

In response to those needs, he turned toward her and reached out with his other arm. She melded her body against his and put her other arm around his waist. That embrace brought their bodies into almost full contact. Her head lay against his chest and he rested his cheek against the soft mass of her hair. "Catherine," he whispered as he inhaled deeply. "I wish...." The words froze on his tongue. Dare he speak of his heart's desires?

"What do you wish, Vincent? Certainly nothing that I haven't already wished myself."

She lifted her head from his chest and looked into his eyes so deeply he was sure she could see into the depths of his soul.

"Tell me," she prompted.

"I don't know if I should. I don't know if I can."

Her small but strong hands guided him around until they stood face to face. "The time has come for complete honesty with each other. I think we both know that we have come to a crossroad. We must hold nothing back."

The blush he felt rising to his cheeks betrayed his thoughts. "Do you remember Henry and Lin's wedding?" When she nodded, he continued. "That night, we allowed our - wishes and dreams to rise to the surface."

"I remember."

"We found that we both dreamed of the same things - marriage, a family - things that other people take for granted."

"Yes, I remember it well. I think that night I realized just how much I loved you and - how much I wanted you in every way."

Vincent had long suspected that. He remembered the look of sudden realization that was quickly masked by confusion and a small amount of fear. He knew then that what they felt could not be allowed to grow. But he had soon realized that the bond they shared was stronger than either of them. It had a life of its own, and it was determined to survive.

"I love you, Catherine. I can no longer hide that. I don't know how much longer I can control this...."

"Desire?" Catherine added.

The word had finally been spoken. "Yes," he sighed in response.

"Vincent, I don't want you to hide your feelings or control your desire, because I can't do it anymore. It's been just as difficult for me."

"But you deserve a - normal man, a normal life," he argued.

"I will not settle for normal when I'm in love with the most extraordinary man in the world. I will not, I cannot, settle for less than my heart demands. If you really want the best for me then you know I must be true to my heart."

Looking into her eyes, Vincent saw the truth behind her words and he trembled. "Catherine - I...."

Her arms tightened their grip on him. "Say it, Vincent. Don't let this chance pass us both by."

"I - desire you, but I do not know what is possible." His confession tore away what little confidence he had and he could no longer meet her eyes.

She moved her hand and gently lifted his chin to make him look at her again. "We won't know until we try."

Her meaning was clear. "Dare we risk everything?"

"We must dare, Vincent. We cannot go on living half a life. If we do not - dare, our desire will eventually destroy us. I don't want to spend the rest of my life apart from you regretting what could have been."

"But Catherine," he pleaded. "I do not wish to dishonor you. For us to...." He could not bring himself to say the words. "We are not husband and wife."

She smiled at him fondly and with a touch of amusement as well. "In my heart, we are."

She moved closer to him, pressing her body more firmly against him. Her mouth was so close he could feel the movement of her lips as she spoke. Her nearness was breaking down all his resistance and filling him with fear. "What if I hurt you? What if I lose control?" he asked as her lips touched his briefly.

"I want you to. Making love means giving up control to someone else."

He closed his eyes and groaned.

"Vincent." Catherine whispered against his mouth. "Let me seduce you."

Years of denial and frustration flared brilliantly through his memory then faded and died into a pile of ashes. The truth was clear. Their destiny was sealed. "I have no experience."

"I know - none required," she laughed softly.

"I don't even know how if I can...."

"There's no rush, Vincent. We don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with. Just do what gives you pleasure."

Before he could take another breath, Catherine's lips were pressing against his mouth seeking to find a comfortable and pleasing position. The softness he felt was beyond description and he trembled beneath her touch. A moan escaped him and his arms moved to hold her more firmly against him. He wanted to respond somehow, but how? Catherine had said to do what was pleasing to him. Okay. He parted his lips and sucked her bottom lip in between his then ran his tongue along its fullness. How incredibly sweet she tasted!

He heard her moan and thought for a moment he had hurt her; but when she opened her mouth further and pushed her tongue into his mouth, he realized he had pleased her as well.

This sometimes tentative and often passionate exploration continued for several minutes. Finally, Catherine pulled back slightly. "Let's go inside and continue this," she suggested.

Vincent gasped as he fought to control the desire and fear that waged war inside of him. "Catherine - there is something I have to know first."

Her finger traced a line across his upper lip. "You don't have to worry. I have protection."

It took him a moment to comprehend her comment. "No, that's not what I meant." He could feel the heat rising to his face.

"What is it then? You can ask anything - you know that."

This was probably the most difficult thing he would ever ask of her, and the thought of actually verbalizing it made him want to flee from the balcony and Catherine's life. But, for his own peace of mind, he had to know. "Before we go any further, I have to know."

"Know what?" she responded.

"I have to know if - my body repulses you." Again, he couldn't look at her. "I am different, Catherine."

Catherine's hands stroked his cheek in a slow soothing motion. "I realize there are some differences, Vincent. I'm prepared for that."

He reached up and tenderly took her hand in his. "I want you to be sure. I want you to see - all that I am before we continue. And, you must promise me that if I repulse you in any way, you will tell me and nothing more will ever be said about it. I will accept...." he sighed heavily. "I will accept what can - or cannot be." His mind was a whirlwind of confusion. He knew his words must be as well.

"What are you asking, Vincent?"

"I - just want you to...."

A warm smile spread slowly across her face. "You want me to look at you completely... I don't know if I can do that objectively."

"Catherine, I know how it must sound, but I have to know."

She looked at him for a moment as she considered the seriousness of what he had asked. "Vincent, if it's that important to you, of course I'll do as you ask. Let's go inside?" Slowly, she stepped back then took his hand and began to guide him through the French doors to her bedroom.

Crossing that threshold took all the courage Vincent could muster. The act of simply leaving the balcony and entering her bedroom held much more significance for both of them. He stood there in fearful silence as Catherine closed the doors and pulled the curtains together.

"It's just us, Vincent. There's no world out there and there's no world Below. There's only the two of us and what we share - what we will share in this room." Offering him her best smile, she walked over and rested her hand over his heart. "Your heart is beating so fast."

Gently covering her hand with his, Vincent gazed down at the contrast and felt his determination falter. "Are you sure about this, Catherine?"

"I'm sure that I love you and that I am ready to take this step. My only concern is you. I don't want you to feel that I am pressuring you into anything. We don't have to do anything."

She was right, and it would be very easy for him to just walk away. But if he walked away now, the next time they reached this point it would be that much more difficult to confront the fears and doubts. And, pulling back might mean never finding the courage to get this far again. "Catherine - I love you with all my heart. I want you to be happy. I don't want you to regret the love you have given me or feel cheated out of a normal life because you chose to love me. And, I want..."

"Say it."

"I want more, Catherine. I want you as any man wants - needs the woman he loves. I dream of holding you in my arms as you sleep. I dream of touching you, kissing you - loving you in every way. I can't keep my - desire for you under control any longer." He watched as the look in her eyes changed from love and compassion to a hunger he had only glimpsed before.

"I feel the same, Vincent. I have shared your dreams. I want this between us as much as you do."

Searching the bond, he knew her words were true. It was now or perhaps never. He clasped her hands between his and gently pushed her away.

"Are you sure you don't want me to help?" she asked in a very suggestive voice.

He shook his head. His embarrassment prevented him from speaking. And then, with trembling hands, he began removing his layers of clothing. Throughout the whole process, he focused his attention away from Catherine and her emotions. It was all he could do to deal with his own stormy feelings. He could not handle hers as well.

Catherine, on the other hand, busied herself with turning back the covers on the bed and dimming the lights. When she finished, she turned to him and spoke softly. "Vincent, I need to go into the bathroom for a few minutes. Will you be all right?"

He could only nod as he continued his task. Having her out of the room for a little while seemed to ease his apprehension somewhat and by the time she came back, he was down to nothing but his pants. He held his breath when she entered the room and stopped in front of him. Slowly, he raised his eyes to meet hers expecting....

After releasing a deep breath, Catherine raised an eyebrow and looked into his eyes. "Were you expecting me to scream and lock myself in the bathroom?"

Her humor and unqualified acceptance was a great relief, and he raised his head a little higher.

"My turn," she said then removed her robe.

The sight of her bare shoulders and the elegant line of her neck had always inspired less than chivalrous thoughts on his part and was causing him a great deal of discomfort at the moment. "Catherine, please. Let me finish while I'm still in control." A slight nod was her response.

Once again forcing his attention away from Catherine, he managed to undo his pants and slid them down his legs. The only remaining barrier now was the thin cotton long pants he wore underneath. The silence in the room was heavy with anticipation as he focused all his resolve on exposing himself completely to Catherine. Quickly, and in one fluid motion, he pushed the pants down and stepped out of them. That was the easy part. Standing up and facing her was something else altogether. He finally found the courage to stand up but he couldn't look at her. With his eyes tightly closed and a prayer on his lips, he waited.

"Vincent," she called softly to him. "Look at me."

If she felt fear or repulsion, she was hiding it well, he thought as he forced himself to lift his head and open his eyes. To his surprise, she was still there.

"You are exactly what I pictured, if not more so, Vincent. I expected the hair. It doesn't repulse me. The rest - is not that much different." She smiled mischievously. "Except maybe - larger."

Her words reassured him but the truth could be found deep in their bond and he searched it relentlessly. Instead of hidden repulsion or pity, he found only love and a surprising amount of arousal. "Catherine?"

Without a word, she slipped the thin straps of her gown off her shoulders and let it fall to the floor exposing herself totally to him. He felt his heart constrict violently and his breathing became labored. Every nerve ending in his body tingled and a familiar ache began in his groin. Always before, he had been able to hide his body's responses to her but now, he could hide nothing. Without shame or the least bit of self-consciousness, she extended her hand to him.

"Come to me, Vincent."

He obeyed her request blindly. His body had taken control and he had no will left to fight it. The distance between them closed and he felt her small, gentle hands resting on his chest. He watched in fascination as her fingers combed through his chest hair then she placed a light kiss over his heart. The agony!

Fearful images raced through his mind. Graphic pictures of what he wanted to do to her paralyzed him in terror. His body trembled with the effort to fight those urges. How could he degrade her like this? It had to stop before he ravaged her.

Her hands began to explore him with a hunger that momentarily stunned him. The sensation of her fingers sliding through the hair on his body as they discovered all the places he had so longed to be touched left him powerless to resist. He wanted her to touch him, to.... Her fingers lightly caressing the most sensitive part of his anatomy stopped all thought. Another's hands so intimately fondling him pushed him beyond reason, beyond anything but pure instinct. He pushed himself into her hands and felt himself harden and pulse with excitement.

"Lie down," she whispered in a husky voice Vincent had never heard before. Again, he obeyed without question. As he stretched out on the bed he looked down at himself and saw the extent of his body's eagerness for Catherine's touch. He groaned in agony. He was not going to be able to satisfy Catherine when he was so close.

To his complete amazement, he watched as Catherine used her hands to further stimulate him then guide him into her mouth. That was it! Whatever control he had shattered into a million pieces and he could not hold back. "CATHERINE!" he roared then felt his body convulse repeatedly. "No," he cried after the spasms ceased.

Catherine moved up along side of him, caressing him tenderly. She lay there quietly for several minutes before speaking. "Vincent, it's all right," she assured him in her most soothing voice. "Everything's fine."

Her words echoed through his consciousness and served as a beacon to guide him back. Slowly, and fearfully, he opened his eyes and looked into hers. Their blue/green depths had a satisfied look in them and a small amount of moisture glistened in the corners.

"You wanted to be sure - now you are." She leaned over, resting her body against his. "There are fewer limits now." As she spoke, her fingers were entwining themselves in his chest hair.

Speaking required great effort for him. "We haven't proven anything. We weren't.... I wasn't - inside you."

"One step at a time," she responded playfully. "We have all night. Why don't you - rest for a while."

"And then?"

"And then, my dear Vincent, we'll take another step."

** * * * *

"Catherine," Vincent whispered into the soft mass of hair just beneath his chin.

"Yes," she responded.

"May, I - touch you?" he tentatively asked.

She lifted her head from his chest and looked at him in the dim light. "You don't have to ask permission."

"Considering where I want to touch you, I thought it best."

She laughed a deeply erotic kind of laugh. "I see. I suppose I could endure a little - groping."

"I would never grope you, Catherine."

"Oh darn," she pretended to pout but quickly broke into laughter at his very serious expression. She then rolled over onto her back then looked back at him. "Vincent, you can touch me anywhere. I've been wanting to feel your hands on me for a very long time."

As he reached out to her, the sight of his clawed hands stopped him. "I can't. I'll hurt you."

"You touch the children Below and never hurt them. You've held me with more tenderness than anyone I've ever known. I'm not afraid of your touch." With that said, she took his hand and guided it to her breast. Carefully, she placed his large hand over the delicate mound. "Hmmmm, that feels so good."

Vincent was absolutely speechless and completely terrified. The immense pleasure that he felt instantly aroused him but seeing his deadly hand curved around her breast frightened him. He was ready to pull his hand away when she captured it and began to move it over the velvety soft skin. "Catherine, I...." Words failed him when he felt the nipple harden beneath his touch.

"That's what I like, Vincent. I want you to touch me like that. Squeeze a little. Move your hand all over me and - kiss me everywhere."

Her confession of need aroused him even more. He didn't need a second invitation. She was asking him to do everything he had always dreamed of doing. Turning his body toward her, he began that exploration. Beginning with her soft lips, his hand moved carefully and slowly down her throat. He leaned over and kissed then lightly licked the skin of her neck. The taste was instantly addictive. He then slid his hand down over her breast and began caressing first one then the other. Catherine moaned and rolled her shoulders back to give him more access. The skin there was as smooth as silk and he longed to taste it. But should he dare?

"Your mouth," Catherine pleaded softy. "Take it into your mouth." Her pleas became breathless demands. "Use your tongue."

She wanted him to do this just as desperately as he wanted to do it. How many times had he dreamed of taking her in his mouth and suckling her as a child would? But that fantasy had shamed him. Surely it was not a "normal" desire?

"Vincent - please." Catherine again begged.

He realized then that this was her fantasy as well, and he would deny her nothing. Cautiously, he lowered his mouth and encircled the nipple. She immediately arched her back as she placed her hands at the back of his head and pushed herself deep into his mouth. "Oh - yes, Vincent."

Both fantasies merged as he circled the highly aroused nipple with his tongue then began to suck deeply. The experience was both one of instinctive reflex and deliberate pleasure giving. Her body writhed beneath his mouth as he lifted his own body over hers. His hands were busy stroking her sides and fondling the other breast.

Before, it had been her hands and mouth that had brought him pleasure beyond belief. He didn't realize then that he too could give the same pleasure. That discovery was now the driving force behind his every action. Every touch, every movement of his body was an experiment in whether or not it brought her pleasure. When it did, it brought him pleasure as well.

Inevitably, his hand moved down over her smooth stomach and into the thatch of warm, dark hair between her legs. He stopped, not knowing whether, or how, to proceed. Again, her hand guided him pass the barrier.

"Use your knuckle," she whispered.

As gently as he could, he did as she instructed. He never knew anything could feel that soft and he immediately wanted to feel that softness around his now painfully hard erection. Not having the strength to resist any longer, he quickly maneuvered himself over her.

Catherine, realizing his intent, concentrated on opening herself to him as fully as possible. Wrapping her legs around his hips, she waited eagerly for his first penetration.

Instinct had taken him over, and he no longer fought it. All he knew was that he wanted to be inside her and she wanted him there just as much. She was waiting for him to take her and he could not stop. He entered her as gently as he could but the extreme pleasure he felt at being enveloped in her warmth destroyed his control. He wanted more so he pushed deeper despite her gasp. Her fingernails dug deep into his back but still he could not stop. The only sensation he felt was at the juncture of their bodies. His every muscle was working to achieve one goal, and nothing could stop him. Anyone attempting to separate them at this moment would have been torn to shreds. This was his woman, his mate; and he would allow no one to stop his ultimate possession of her.

As he continued to thrust deeply, he could feel her trembling, her muscles contracting around him taking him in deeper. Her body rose to meet his until finally she gasped loudly, dug her nails painfully deep into his skin, and arched backward. Deep inside her, the throbbing, convulsing motion of her orgasm pulled him over the edge. Never before had he experienced anything so close to death but yet so life affirming.

His whole plane of existence changed in that instant. Everything he had ever believed about himself had been swept away in a tide of passion. Surges of primal possessiveness swept through him followed by waves of love and feelings of completeness and fulfillment such as he had never known. The brooding Vincent known for his self denial and control was no more. Out of the maelstrom of passion emerged a complete, whole man who would no longer deny his desires simply to appease society. Catherine was truly his, and he - was truly a man.

The next few minutes were filled only with the sound of his breathing, the loud thud of his heart, and the steady rhythm of blood rushing through his veins. Reality came back by degrees. The linen of the sheets, the dampness of his body and the soft but strong echo of the bond he shared with Catherine were the first signals that he was indeed still alive.

"Vincent?"

Her soft voice helped him focus his awareness on the woman with which he had just shared the most intimate of experiences. Gathering all the strength he had, he lifted himself up on very shaky arms. "Catherine...." He spoke her name with reverence and awe as he looked down at her flushed face. She smiled warmly in response and he felt a contentment in her that filled him with a strange sense of pride.

She lifted her arms and began stroking the length of his back. "Tell me, Vincent. Was it worth the wait?"

Vincent took one long, deep breath and released it slowly. "Of all the world's greatest poetry and romantic verse, none can compare with this - Catherine loves me and I love her."

"That was beautiful, Vincent. I do love you. Never doubt that."

"I will never doubt the love we share again - I promise. Finally, I have accepted that most precious gift." He lowered his head and found her lips once again as she continued to stroke the length of his back. "Catherine," he moaned as the kiss ended. "This is too much. I have to catch my breath." Reluctantly, he rolled away from her and stretched out on his back totally spent. A few seconds later, he felt her snuggle up against him. Heaven could not be sweeter, he thought.

* * * * * *

When Vincent awoke much later that night, he discovered that Catherine had pulled the comforter up over both of them. She lay next to him with the delicate curve of her back toward him. Her soft brown hair lay spread out on the pillow only inches away from his face. He could smell its fragrance with each breath. Her bare shoulders beckoned him to touch her smooth, warm skin. Those thoughts, along with the memory of the pleasure her body had given him, aroused him so quickly it was frightening and a little embarrassing. What demons had she released in him? What would be the price of their passion? The questions frightened him enough. The possible answers terrified him.

Ever so carefully, he slid out of the bed and moved with catlike grace around the room. The sight of Catherine's face bathed in the one beam of moonlight that managed to filter in through the drapes, stopped him cold. He studied her peaceful expression and marveled at the thought that he was the cause of her obvious contentment. A lump developed in his throat and a single tear rolled from his eye. God how he loved her!

As he continued to gaze at her, she smiled slightly in her sleep then rolled over onto her back. The covers twisted somewhat with the movement and were pulled down to expose one creamy, white breast. The ache in his groin was immediate and intense. The desire to fondle that treasure with his hands and taste it with his mouth again was strong. At that moment, he couldn't believe how badly he wanted her again.

He closed his eyes and fought to control his raging desire then turned away seeking the solitude of her bathroom. After quietly closing the door, he turned on the light and leaned over the small sink. With every beat of his heart, his state of arousal became a painful reality that he tried to combat by splashing cold water on his face. The shock eased his agony only slightly. He was so lost in his battle for control, he was oblivious to the other presence in the room until he felt her gentle touch on his back. His body jerked into awareness.

"I didn't mean to startle you," she apologized in a voice so soft it could hardly be heard.

Vincent looked up into the mirror at their reflections. The revelation left him speechless and trembling.

"Vincent - are you all right?" Her concern was apparent in her voice.

"Look at us, Catherine. We are so different." His eyes remained transfixed on their images.

She smiled as she looked at the image. "Yes - you are a man and I am a woman. We're supposed to be different."

"That's not what I meant. Look at me, Catherine. In the harsh light of reality, can you truly say that you can accept all that I am? Can you give your love to me completely?" As she slid her arms around his waist, he could feel the warmth of her body and the silkiness of her robe press against him.

"I thought we had resolved that issue. After what we just shared, how can you even ask that?"

Her fingers were doing wonderful things to the fine hair that covered his belly. It was an unfair distraction. "I have lived a life filled with the awareness of my differences, Catherine. No one has seen my body since I was a child. The speculation and disgust in their eyes forced me to realize that particular limitation."

"I can only speak for myself, Vincent. I love you. It makes no difference what you look like. You are simply you."

Her fingers were sliding downward. "Are you sure, Catherine? Now that we have crossed the line, it would be agony to turn back. To have tasted your love and then be denied it would drive me mad. Do you understand the power you now hold over me?"

"I do," she whispered. "It is the same power you hold over me. I cannot turn back either."

Vincent sighed heavily. "Some people will not be able to accept us."

"I have long ago given up any concern for what people think. You are all that I care about. You are my life, Vincent."

Her sincerity flooded Vincent through their bond. "Catherine - we have chosen a difficult, unchartered path."

"No, Vincent. We have finally accepted our destiny."

The face looking at him in the mirror was one filled with determination and conviction. "If this is our destiny - I will accept it gratefully." Catherine smiled then kissed his shoulder. "Why don't we go back to bed. It won't be light for a few more hours."

Along with the verbal invitation came a physical one. Her fingers were slowly stroking his already stirring arousal. Before he completely surrendered to her, he gritted his teeth and grasped her hands. "I must ask you something first." Gathering all his courage, he turned to her and gazed into her passion-filled eyes. "I cannot offer you much. All I can give you is my undying love."

"That's all I need," she responded.

"I cannot share your bed as some errant lover who disappears with the dawn. You deserve more. I want more. If we are to continue - it should be as husband and wife. I want the community to know of our commitment. And - I guess a part of me wants them to know that you are mine. Marry me, Catherine. Even if it can only be so in my world."

Catherine's eyes filled with tears as she placed her palm against his cheek. "I cannot say no to a man who makes such a romantic proposal and does it in the nude. Yes, Vincent. I will marry you, live with you, have an affair with you - whatever. As long as we are truly together. "

The tears began to burn his own eyes as he felt a joy no words could describe. He had never held the slightest hope that such a life was possible for him. Now, it was all within his grasp. "I love you, Catherine - always."

"Always," she whispered back.

Eagerly, he swept her up in his arms and carried her back into the bedroom where he lowered her carefully onto the bed. And, even though he desperately wanted to make love to her again, he paused a moment to savor the sight of her lying there waiting for him. A strange new contentment filled him as he looked at her. It was a feeling born from the realization and final acceptance of the fact that she was his, and there was no shame in the possessiveness he felt. He loved her, and he trusted her with all that he was. His jealousy had been born of insecurity, and he no longer felt insecure about his place in Catherine's life.

She reached up and touched him, and he lost all control. He lowered himself onto her and made agonizingly slow love until their passion could no longer be denied. Afterward, he rolled over onto his side and covered them both with the comforter. Catherine turned to face him and they stared deeply into each other's eyes for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he propped his head up and reached over to caress her arm with his hand. In response, she placed her small hand on his chest. "I do not want this night to end."

"I don't either," she answered.

"Soon, I will have to go."

Catherine clutched the hair on his chest. "I don't want to think about that now. I just want to stay in this bed for the rest of my life."

"As good as that sounds, I don't think it's possible, Catherine." Her disappointed pout brought a smile to his face. With his eyes still fixed on the radiant being beside him, he rolled over onto his back and opened his arms to her. She accepted his invitation and quickly wrapped her body around his. He had to admit they fit really well together.

"What are you thinking?" she whispered.

"Things I shouldn't be," he replied.

Catherine laughed then propped herself up on his chest and looked at him. "Why, Vincent. What are you thinking?"

"I just pictured us in a few years as an old married couple with...." he couldn't form the words. Sadness overwhelmed him as he was suddenly reminded of more limitations.

"Children?" Catherine asked.

He closed his eyes and nodded.

"We don't know what is or isn't possible yet. Do you want a child of your own, Vincent?"

Opening his eyes, he was greeted by Catherine's hopeful and compassionate gaze. "I shouldn't dare to dream such a dream."

"If we do not dream, we do not dare. I want children, Vincent."

"I don't know if I can give them to you, Catherine. You would be a great mother. To see you with a child...."

"Vincent - I do want children, but only your children. If it's not possible then we'll just accept it and go on."

"But...."

"No buts. We take the good with the bad. Agreed?"

No matter how bad he felt, Catherine could always make it right. He sighed then ran his hand down the length of her back.

"You'd better not start something you can't finish," she warned him.

"Who says I can't finish it."

"Vincent!"