KINGDOMS

(A Kingdom by the Sea - George R.R. Martin)

 

"I wished it had been - you."

Those words haunted Vincent as he lay on his bed. They echoed through his mind arousing questions, hopes, and fears as their implication struck him anew. Had she really meant it? Of course she had. He had felt her sincerity strongly through their ever-growing bond. Dare he act on the surge of emotion stirred by her words? He struggled to find an answer to that question.

The words were spoken after Catherine had shared a kiss with the one man Vincent feared the most, Elliot Burch. He was the one threat to their relationship that could not be easily dismissed. That brief encounter, although brought on by fear and despair, only served to remind Vincent of the limits they were forced to live with regarding their love for each other. He had felt that kiss, not on a physical level, but on an emotional one. What now? he asked himself. Had Catherine finally realized she could no longer sacrifice all for a mere dream?

He closed his eyes and moaned softly. Catherine needed more from him; her words had made that perfectly clear. And, to be honest, her need only echoed his. If only there was a place with people who could accept his differences. If only.... Those thoughts lulled him into that special place between wakefulness and slumber where everything is possible and anything can happen.

* * * * * *

"Wake up! You'd better wake up or you'll miss everything!"

Someone was shaking Vincent's arm violently. He rolled over onto his other side to get away from the rude interloper. "Go away!" he commanded gruffly.

"I beg your pardon, Sir, but you ordered me to awaken you at this hour. If you don't start your preparations, you'll be late."

Vincent's eyes opened wide. Sir? No one Below calls me Sir. He rolled over cautiously to determine the identity of his overly polite visitor. Once his eyes had focused, Mouse's child-like face greeted him with a tentative smile. "Mouse?"

"Where?" the young man responded as his eyes scanned the floor. "I don't see a mouse."

Vincent's gaze strayed from the young man's face and strange attire to his surroundings. Terror seized his heart. "Where am I?"

The boy turned and stared at him with obvious amazement. "You're in your bed chamber, My Lord." The confused look quickly changed to one of amusement. "You should not have downed so much ale last night."

"Last night?" Vincent sat up quickly. "What are you talking about?"

"It happens every time you drink too much ale."

"What does?"

"You forget everything for a while. Don't worry - you'll remember. I know the kingdom will be talking about it for years."

The strange conversation was beginning to get on Vincent's nerves. He grabbed the young man's arm. "No more games. Tell me where I am."

Fear shown in the boy's eyes. "I speak the truth. You are in your royal bed chamber in the most royal palace. Last night you attended a celebration in honor of your upcoming wedding."

"WEDDING!" He swung his legs off the bed and onto the soft plush rug that lay near the huge four-poster bed. "That is absurd! Why are you saying such things?"

"I don't understand, Sir."

At that point, Vincent realized he was getting nowhere. He decided a different tack was needed, so he began to play along. "I guess - I did drink too much last night," he admitted, feigning the best guilty look he could manage while hiding his annoyance. "My mind is blank. Fill me in, will you?"

"As you wish, Sir. Today you are to take a wife. After years of trying to find an appropriate mate, this arranged union comes as a blessing to you and to the kingdom. We are all hopeful that it will be a fruitful one. The Lady Catherine comes from a large family and your physician has pronounced her fertile and untouched. Her body is ripe for child bearing and...."

Without thought, Vincent jumped to his feet. "Stop this! How dare you say such things about Catherine in my presence! I...." As he spoke, he became increasing aware of the chill on his body. With a growing feeling of trepidation, he looked down at himself and was shocked to see his state of total nudity. Panic-stricken, he grabbed the sheets he had tossed aside only moments before and covered his most private parts. No one had seen him like this as an adult but Father. He fully expected Mouse to go running from the chamber. Feeling incredibly embarrassed, he finally met Mouse's unaffected stare. Oddly, he was acting as if his nudity was nothing new to him. "Where are my clothes, Mouse?"

"My name is Arthur, My Lord."

"Arthur is your...." Once again, Vincent decided it was pointless to argue, especially in his current state of undress. "All right - Arthur. I want to get dressed."

"Mary will be bringing your wedding suit after your bath."

Mouse, or Arthur, waited expectantly as Vincent took a moment to take in his surroundings. The bed chamber was enormous. The ceiling appeared to be at least twenty feet above the floor and a huge crystal chandelier hung from the center of it. The walls were adorned with magnificent tapestries and artwork. Huge windows lined the opposing walls, some with intricately designed stained glass. Two glass doors opened out onto a balcony. The large four-poster bed was covered in rich fabrics and a thick comforter made of the finest material. Across the room from the bed was a majestic fireplace and over it hung a portrait of him dressed in regal finery. If this was someone's idea of a joke, it was one of the most elaborate ones he had ever seen. But, why? he asked himself.

"Arthur, don't you think this joke has gone on long enough?"

"I don't understand, Sir."

Again, Vincent decided against arguing the point. Whether this was all some practical joke or an incredibly realistic dream, was something he would discover later; but now his best course of action was to play along. "All right - all right. Where do I...." Arthur smiled broadly then led him to the bathing room.

Some time later, Vincent emerged feeling refreshed and more alert. The trouble was, he was still trapped in this strange dream, or joke. He leaned over the bed and examined the fine clothing laid out on the bed for him. It was the same military type outfit he had worn in the portrait.

"I see you've finished your bath."

Vincent spun around quickly and saw Father standing in the doorway dressed in equally lavish clothing. "Does anyone knock around here?"

"Why the sudden modesty? You've never been shy about your physique before."

"Will you PLEASE tell me what is going on?"

"My - my, you did imbibe excessively last night. Arthur was right."

Vincent wanted to roar in sheer annoyance. Maybe that would persuade them to end this charade. He clenched his fists tightly until he regained his composure. "Humor me."

A sly smile appeared on Father's face. "Yes, My Lord, as you wish. As Arthur reminded you, this is a glorious day for the kingdom."

"Wait," Vincent interrupted. "Why should the - kingdom be so - interested in my wedding?"

"I see I must remind you of EVERYTHING, My Lord. The ancient laws of our land state, very specifically, that only the special ones of royal blood shall rule the kingdom."

"Special ones?"

"Those - like you, My Lord."

It took a moment for Vincent to truly grasp his meaning and when he did, it astounded him. Wherever he was, his uniqueness was considered a sign of royalty. "You mean - no one fears - me?"

"On the contrary. The enemies of our kingdom fear you mightily. Your subjects, however, adore you. That is why it is so important for you to produce an heir. If there is no clear heir to your throne, the kingdom will be taken by the outsiders. My Lord, our people have led peaceful, happy lives under your rule. If the outsiders take over.... I shudder to think of it."

"So that is what all this is about?"

"Do you understand now why it is so important that you marry the right woman, a woman capable of providing an heir?"

"But at what cost to her? I cannot bear to hear you speak of her as nothing more than a vessel for my heir."

"But sir...."

"I want to see her."

"You will see her soon, My Lord, when she becomes your wife."

Vincent turned to Father and stared defiantly into his eyes. "I want to talk with her BEFORE the wedding."

"That is not proper," Father tried to explain.

"I do not think it is PROPER to marry a woman solely because of her reproductive potential. I order you to arrange a meeting!" Only in this - reality would he dare speak to Father in such away.

Against his better judgment, Father agreed. "I shall arrange a discreet meeting if the Lady Catherine agrees. If this encounter is discovered, I will disavow any knowledge of it."

"Fine. I will accept full responsibility."

After Father left, Vincent dressed hurriedly then took a moment to stare at himself in the chamber's full length mirror. He couldn't believe the imposing figure staring back from the mirror was him. He walked out onto the balcony and was immediately awed by the beauty he beheld. The gently rolling, lush green countryside met the sapphire sea just beyond his balcony. The sky was clear and blue and the air was incredibly sweet. He quickly lost himself in its beauty until he sensed a presence behind him.

"I am here as you requested, My Lord."

That voice belonged to the keeper of his heart and he immediately responded with his entire being. "Catherine," he whispered as he turned to her. When his eyes beheld her, words escaped him. He could only stare at her in deep appreciation of her loveliness.

Her head was lowered in a gesture of obedience but there was no mistaking her identity. Her golden hair fell toward her face and formed a curtain around her features. The soft blue dress she wore clung to her feminine frame. He felt her every breath. It was Catherine - his Catherine.

Cautiously, he stepped forward and lifted her chin with his index finger. When her eyes met his, he was again lost. "Catherine, you look so - beautiful."

She smiled. "Thank you - Sir."

"You don't need to call me sir. My name is Vincent."

"As you wish - Vincent."

It was Catherine and it wasn't Catherine. "I do not understand just what is going on but there is one thing I do know. I will not have you forced into a union with me if you do not desire it."

Her look was one of astonishment. "I beg your pardon?"

"Do you love me, Catherine?"

She stared at him a moment then walked over to the balcony wall. "I have never been asked that. I was INFORMED of my responsibilities and I shall fulfill them. I promise you, Vincent, I will do - whatever is required to give you an heir." A blush spread quickly over her face.

Vincent walked over and stood beside her. He took a moment to drink in the calm beauty of this strange world. "I will not force you into this marriage if you do not wish it. To sacrifice your happiness for the sole purpose of providing me with an heir is unacceptable."

He turned to her. "Speak your heart, Catherine."

She began to laugh. "Every time I tried, I was REMINDED of my responsibility to the kingdom and to you."

"I can imagine that was EXTREMELY difficult for you."

"How would you know that?"

"I know YOU, Catherine. I know how independent and strong you are. Know this - if you go through with this marriage, I will not force you to do anything you do not want to do. And - you will sit on the throne as my equal."

"That is unheard of...."

"Until now." Vincent watched as that familiar fire of independence returned to her eyes. He loved that fire. He always had.

"I don't know what to say."

"Say that you will think about this carefully. Promise me that you will not come to the wedding unless you are fully committed to the marriage and - that you love me. Promise me!"

She nodded her head slowly. "I promise. Vincent, the first time we met, you were - different."

"Let's just say, I've had an eye-opening experience. Do you like the change?"

"Let's just say I find it intriguing."

She smiled and gave him her most alluring look. As she walked away, Vincent was thinking that if this were a joke or a dream, he didn't care if it never ended.

Time passed and Vincent found himself walking down the aisle of an enormous cathedral. He studied the faces of the people he passed. In their eyes, he saw no fear or repulsion. The only emotions he encountered were respect, love, great joy and hope. Father was right. The happiness and well-being of these people was his responsibility. With every step he took, he felt the weight of that responsibility increase.

He arrived at the altar and took his place by Father's side to await Catherine's arrival or the announcement that she had renounced her promise of marriage. Luckily, he didn't have long to wait. The collective gasps of the crowd signaled her arrival. He turned and had his breath taken away by the heavenly vision walking toward him. When she reached the altar, he extended his hand to her. With a look of surprise, she accepted his hand and moved to his side.

The priest began a lengthy ceremony that Vincent didn't understand or would ever hope to remember. The only thing that really caught his attention was the admonition to Catherine regarding her duty to provide him with an heir. "Do not speak to her like that," Vincent ordered in a barely audible voice.

The priest was quite obviously shocked. "Sir?"

"Do not pursue this issue unless you intend to say the same things to me. In fact, I would like to say something."

Father grabbed his shoulder. "This is NOT done."

"It is now," Vincent answered as he turned to Catherine. "Do you want to marry me, Catherine? Do you do this of your own free will?" The respect and love he saw in her eyes filled him with hope.

"Yes, I will marry you," she responded with a certainty that was obvious to everyone.

The ceremony continued and then the celebration began. Late in the evening, Father approached Vincent. He leaned over and whispered in his ear. "It is time for you and your wife to retire to the bed chamber."

Vincent nervously looked over at Catherine who seemed to know what had been said. She stood, walked over to him, and took his hand in hers.

"I am ready, My Lord."

The room grew suddenly quiet as Vincent stood. Father broke the silence by offering a toast. "May God bless your marriage bed. May you both experience fulfillment and may we all be blessed, in seven months, with the fruit of tonight's union. May nothing impede the salvation of this kingdom."

Before Vincent could protest, the crowd cheered then began chanting. Father quickly led the two of them to their bed chamber where they found Mary awaiting them. She immediately led Catherine into the bathing room while Father patted Vincent on the back.

"Mary is preparing her. Meanwhile, I would like to offer some advice. Be gentle with her. She is a virgin and knows nothing of what is to happen."

Vincent turned to Father and raised his eyebrow. This was truly a reversal of roles. "And I do?"

Father laughed heartily. "Your conquests have been - numerous."

"Just a moment...."

"Now, My Lord, is not the time to discuss that. Just remember to stay in control and do not withdraw. Do not spill your seed outside of her body."

Enough was enough. "Father!"

Their conversation was ended when Mary returned with a slightly embarrassed Catherine. The older woman hugged the new bride then whispered, just loud enough for Vincent to hear, "Remember dear, the pain will be brief. You are not to refuse his advances, no matter how shocked you may be."

"Wait a minute," Vincent protested.

Father quickly took Mary's arm and led her toward the door. "We must allow them their privacy, Mary. The sooner we leave, the sooner our future king will be conceived."

"Father...."

Catherine placed her hand on Vincent's arm. "It won't do any good."

"I really HATE that. You would think we were two rare animals put together in a zoo to mate. "

"A zoo?"

"Never mind."

Catherine looked around the room nervously. Her gaze locked on the big four-poster bed. "In a way, we are two rare animals put together to mate. Except, in our case, the future of a kingdom rests on our success."

"I don't agree. We are human beings, Catherine. We do not have to go along with this."

"You do not desire me in that way?" she asked. "I could understand that a man of your experience would be easily bored with a virgin."

"My desire for you is not the issue. I desire you a great deal. I just do not like the disrespect they show you. And I am not comfortable with something so private being turned into something so...."

"Public?"

"Yes! Aren't you?"

"In a way, yes. Of course, I feel a certain amount of pride in being the one you chose to bear your children. But, I do not enjoy the thought of the entire kingdom being aware of my monthly - you know."

His own face felt heated as he turned away. "Yes, I know."

A few moments of awkward silence passed between them then Catherine began to disrobe in an almost mechanical 'fashion. "What would you have me do to please you?"

The question shocked him, and he had no idea as to how to answer it. The apprehension he saw in her eyes, however, moved him to speak his heart. "No, Catherine, you tell me how I can please you." The earlier apprehension slowly changed to surprise.

"My pleasure.... I have always been told that a man's pleasure must come first. That - this was a duty a woman must fulfill."

"No, Catherine. I believe that both lovers should give pleasure in order to receive it. You will be my equal on the throne and in this chamber." To his own amazement, Vincent stepped closer and boldly caressed her cheek then leaned closer to kiss her.

"Be gentle," she whispered as he picked her up in his arms and placed her on the bed.

"We don't have to do anything if you do not wish it. I will not force you," he said softly. As he stroked her cheek, the blush of awakening passion began. To his surprise, she caught his hand and kissed it.

That night, he tenderly explored her body and she, tentatively at first, explored his. The pleasure they shared was overwhelming and the serenity that followed was unlike anything he had ever felt before. He was completely at peace with himself and his place in Catherine's life for the first time.

Those blissful hours merged into days, then weeks, then months. Then one morning, Vincent was awakened by moans of pain. When he rolled over, he was startled to see a VERY pregnant Catherine holding her stomach.

"I think it's time," she said between gasps.

He scrambled out of their bed in a panic to get help. Later, he stood helplessly by holding her hand as she fought to bring his child into the world.

"It is not proper for you to be here," Mary insisted. "Your place is with your advisors and the clergy."

"MY PLACE is by her side and I WILL NOT leave her."

Hours later, Catherine's anguished screams merged with the cries of her baby.

"A son!" Father shouted with joy.

Catherine found the strength to ask, "Is he - one of the special ones?"

The physician smiled with great pride. "Let the proclamation go forth that we have been delivered a true heir to the throne. Our kingdom is safe." He held the child up and offered him to his father.

Vincent stepped forward and tentatively took the child in his arms. He was indeed the image of his father. To see that face on another, especially a child, brought tears to his eyes.

"I want to see him," Catherine interrupted. "Please?"

Vincent carefully placed the child in her arms then watched in awed silence as she tenderly caressed the tiny infant and began to cry.

"He's beautiful - just like his father." She looked up at him. "I love you, Vincent."

"And I love you, Catherine."

Vincent felt Father's hand on his shoulder.

"You have done well - both of you. May you be blessed with many fine, strong sons."

"And beautiful daughters," Vincent added.

* * * * * *

Vincent opened his eyes slowly. Tears had streaked down his cheeks and he quickly wiped them away. An unusual feeling of contentment washed over him as he lay there on the edge of dreams and reality. When the familiar crevices of his chamber's ceiling became clear, he realized that it had all been a dream.

He sat up on the edge of the bed and lowered his head into his hands. As the images faded, the need to see Catherine overwhelmed him. Her words again came back to haunt him. "I wished it had been - you." He had to see her. He had to know.

* * * * * *

When Vincent arrived on Catherine's balcony, he immediately noticed two things. One, her bedroom doors were open and two, she wasn't on the balcony or in her bed. He walked over and peered into the dim light of her deserted bedroom. The bed was rumpled indicating that she had been sleeping. "Catherine," he called out softly.

"I'm in here," she responded.

He stood there for a moment waiting for her to come to him but she made no move in his direction. Something is wrong, he told himself as he walked through the bedroom and into the living room. There, he found her sitting on the floor staring into the fireplace, her robe pulled tightly around her and her legs tucked up under her. She looked so child-like. "Catherine?"

Finally, she looked up at him. "Come - sit with me."

Vincent removed his cloak and sat down beside her. Her strange mood disturbed him.

"You're here because of the dream, aren't you?" she finally asked.

"You shared my dream?"

"If it involved a strange kingdom where I was UNREALISTICALLY submissive - yes."

"That has never happened before. Our bond must be...."

"It has happened before," Catherine responded in a very unemotional voice.

"You've shared other dreams of mine?"

"Not as clearly as this one," she explained.

Vincent looked back into the fire. "I'm sorry. That must have been difficult for you."

"No, not after I understood what was happening. The dreams helped me understand you better. Tonight's, however, concerns me."

"It was only a dream, Catherine. Fantasies and illusions, that's all it was."

"No - it was more than that, especially after what has happened over the last few days."

She continued to look into the fire. "Vincent - the other night, on the balcony - you wanted to kiss me didn't you?"

"I had no right...."

"Vincent - tell me what you wanted. I have to hear the words."

"Yes, Catherine. I wanted - that very much."

"And your fears prevented you?"

"Yes."

"All right. Tonight, when I confessed to you that I wished it had been you kissing me instead of Elliot, why didn't you respond? Surely, you knew what I was doing?"

"I had thoughts but - I...." Vincent was having difficulty finding the words.

Catherine continued. "Tonight's dream - you were expressing your desire for a world in which you, more or less, exchanged places with Elliot. In this world, you were the king and made the decisions about our relationship. Which, in essence, you do."

"I was reacting to the threat of losing you," he tried, to explain.

She turned to him and used her hand to turn his face to hers. "There was no threat. I love you. A kiss shared in a moment of panic can never change that."

Her eyes were once again challenging him not to back away. "Are you certain, Catherine? Are you truly certain that you can be happy with me?"

"I haven't questioned that in a very long time. Maybe that's why I was so submissive in your dream. You knew that."

"I don't see you that way - you know that."

"I know; but it meant something, as did the fixation about an heir."

He could feel his face turn bright red. "I think that may have symbolized the responsibility I feel to protect my home."

"Or kingdom," she laughed.

He finally laughed too.

"Seriously, though, it meant something to you or it wouldn't have been so important in the dream," she suggested.

"Perhaps - on some level."

"Do you want a child of your own, Vincent?"

"Catherine - I don't know how to answer that. Reason dictates one answer and the heart...."

"What does your heart say? I already know what reason tells you," she prompted.

"Deep in my heart, I have dreamed of becoming a father. To have a child - with you - is such a tender fantasy that I have not shared it with anyone."

"It is one we HAVE shared - secretly." She caressed his cheek then sighed. "You realize we've come to a turning point, don't you? Now is the time we either move toward love or away from it."

"The dream helped me to realize that as well, Catherine. That's why I had to see you tonight. "

"I love you, Vincent. You know what I want - need from you but you must decide if you can move beyond your own fears. Can you, Vincent?"

He looked into her eyes and remembered the vivid images of the dream. Everything from their first kiss to the moment he looked into the face of their child came back to him in full detail. "I want you, Catherine." Her warm smile and the tears that gathered in her eyes told him what his heart wanted to hear. A sigh of relief escaped him. "Catherine - I love you so much."

Catherine leaned closer and looked longingly at his mouth. She was waiting - waiting for the kiss she had been yearning for - one he could no longer deny either of them. Leaning closer, his mouth found hers and there followed a brief moment of awkwardness until that perfect connection was made and a physical bond forged - a bond that would not be broken despite what fate had in store for them.

That first sweet, but awkward, kiss led to another and then another. Vincent felt Catherine's hand slide up his chest and neck then stop when it encountered his ear. Her fingers gently explored its shape. She was touching him with tenderness and without hesitation yet he could not bring himself to reciprocate. Despite her acceptance, he was still afraid.

"Vincent," she whispered against his lips. "Do you still have doubts?"

"I do not doubt our love, Catherine. I doubt my ability to express it without hurting you."

Catherine took his hand in hers and guided it into the opening of her robe. She pressed his open palm firmly against the warm skin over her heart. "Everything I am, everything I will be - I offer to you. I want the bond between us to be complete - you know that. I am not the one who has to overcome the fear.

 

 

He searched her eyes and found a surprising strength of purpose. It was a look of confidence and total trust. Tentatively, he opened himself completely to her feelings and found his own uncertainties slowly fade. He leaned close and kissed her again.

Several kisses and caresses later, Catherine lay back on the rug, pulling him with her as she went. His heart was racing, his breathing had become labored, and his hand trembled as she encouraged his exploration of her body. He was daring something he had only dreamed about and Catherine was savoring his boldness. He began to wonder if this too was only a dream.

Vincent watched in complete adulation as Catherine removed her robe and gown. He forgot to breathe or to think as his eyes beheld a beauty beyond description. Again, she guided his hand. Soon; however, she wanted to touch as well as be touched and began to free him of the barriers between them. When she had accomplished all she could, Vincent realized he would have to finish the task and fear roared back to life. How would she react? he wondered. Would all his hopes be dashed with one look? All he found in her eyes, however, was the courage to step beyond the boundaries and reach for her love. That courage flowed into him and he quickly finished undressing. After releasing a deep breath, he lay down beside her and waited.

Catherine understood the courage it had taken for him to cast aside his fears and trust her with all that he was. He was completely vulnerable and she found that vulnerability to be incredibly arousing.

In an effort to put him at ease, she placed her hand over his heart. "I love you, Vincent," she softly whispered and immediately felt the tension begin to drain from him. She took that opportunity to take a long, lingering look at the body she had dreamed of possessing for so long. The reality of him by far surpassed her dreams. "Incredible," she commented in a barely audible voice.

Vincent opened his eyes, "Catherine?"

She had not meant for him to hear her appraisal and she felt slightly embarrassed. "You are beautiful, Vincent." His surprised yet relieved look was so endearing.

"Love must be truly blind," he responded.

"Maybe," she laughed as she positioned herself up over him. As she rolled against him and their bare skin touched, she felt a sudden rush of heat consume her. Her skin felt as if it were on fire, especially where it came in contact with his. Her blood pounded through her veins and that familiar ache began. She wanted him with a raging hunger she had never experienced before. That desperate hunger guided her hands in their long awaited exploration.

Those soft, warm hands touching him so gently and intimately brought more pleasure to his senses than Vincent thought was possible. It exceeded everything he had ever read or imagined, and his body was responding eagerly with every caress. Surely, there was a limit to what one man could endure.

Catherine watched his reactions with a growing sense of pride and fulfillment. To give him confidence in his manhood and to make him feel loved and accepted was a gift he deserved and one she wanted to give. The joy and wonderment she saw on his face would be a memory she would cherish.

As Catherine moved up over him, Vincent watched with awe her graceful, seductive movements. The soft light from the fireplace bathed her skin in a golden glow and her hair seemed to shimmer with strands of pure gold. Her touch was light and soft. The rhythm of her breathing and the steady beat of her heart created a world of sensation he eagerly slipped into. He closed his eyes as she followed the path her hands had taken with soft kisses and gentle nips.

The sweet torment continued and Vincent realized that he had never felt so alive or so aware of his own body. He had spent years hiding his uniqueness, but tonight he was enjoying a certain amount of surprising pride and delight in his body. The major source of his delight, however, was Catherine and what she was doing to him.

He gasped when she traced his already throbbing erection with her fingers. "Catherine..." he moaned as he dug his fingers into the carpet. The sheer ecstasy of her touch had aroused him beyond all his previous experience; and in response, he grew hard and tense. It was a kind of agony he knew he could not endure for much longer. She must have sensed his anguish.

Her hands stopped their tender torture and she moved up over him. This gave him a moment to try to catch his breath.

"Vincent - are you all right?"

He looked up into her blue/green eyes that seemed to sparkle in the firelight. Her hair cascaded around her face and suddenly words seemed woefully inadequate to describe what he felt. Instead, he reached for her with his hands and mouth. Carefully positioning her, he guided her breast into his mouth and began to suck hungrily. That action was the fulfillment of a dream he had harbored since the day they had met. Why - he wasn't sure but the reality of it brought him a sense of well-being and acceptance he had always lacked, and so he feasted like a man starving.

All along, he had believed that his fascination with her breasts was strictly his own lust for something forbidden. But, as his mouth captured and teased each breast, he could feel her growing excitement. Her body writhed and she moaned in pleasure while trying to push herself deeper into his mouth. And, as she began to rub her body against his, he could feel the moisture that signaled her arousal. The smell of it, combined with the scent of her body, produced an erotic sensation that overpowered his keen sense of smell. He now truly understood that this form of intimacy was as exciting for her as it was for him.

The urgency of their passion escalated quickly until the need for completion could no longer be denied. Catherine pushed herself up and angled her body for penetration then reached between their bodies to guide him. The instant he felt himself slip into her soft, warm flesh, his whole body tensed and he almost climaxed at that very moment. He fought it with every ounce of control he could muster. This was an experience to savor and treasure.

He groaned as she began to move up and down drawing him in even deeper only to pull away with agonizing slowness. Each stroke fueled the fire already threatening to consume him as the pace quickened. The faster and harder their bodies came together the more desperate for climax he became. For a brief moment, he wondered if the intensity of their love-making was causing her pain, but that thought vanished when he fully opened the bond and felt Catherine's raging desire.

Completion was a convulsive explosion during which nothing else existed except the wild beating of his heart and the quickly spreading warmth of contentment. Slowly, he became aware of the trembling of Catherine's body as they separated. "Catherine..." he murmured as his hands sought her.

"I'm here," she whispered softly.

Her body melded against his and her lips gently placed a kiss on his neck. Instinctively, he wrapped her in his arms. "Oh Catherine," he sighed.

She wiggled a little against him. "How did that compare with your dream?"

He laughed a little. "No comparison - none at all."

Afterward, they cuddled together under the warmth of his cape and spoke of dreams and fantasies. They loved and slept in each other's arms until dawn. They were lovers now, and that fact totally amazed Vincent. But even more amazing was the growing strength and assurance he felt in himself. Their new found intimacy had intensified their bond; and, in turn, helped him finally accept his humanity. A lifetime of doubts had vanished in the light of Catherine's love.

As the sun rose slowly, the two lovers stood on the balcony clinging to each other.

"Are you sure you can't stay? I can call in sick," Catherine offered.

"I am tempted, but we both have commitments we have to honor. May I come to you tonight?"

A warm smile brightened her face. "Yes."

Vincent; bathed in that warmth for a moment then kissed her tenderly. "Until tonight."

"I love you Vincent."

"As I love you, Catherine."

During his journey home, he realized that neither of them had given any thought to precautions, and that made him wonder if Catherine had become pregnant that night. To be honest, he hoped she had. That thought caused him to stop in his tracks as a wonderful tingle of anticipation swept through him. Deep in his heart, he felt - something begin.

* * * * * *

That tingle continued to weave itself into Vincent's mind over the next several weeks. He felt it continuously; just as he felt Catherine; but he felt it strongly when he and Catherine were together. But when they were together, he pushed aside everything but his love and need of her. They found they could not satisfy their desire for each other. Loving her was all he thought about all day and all he wanted to do every night. It became an addiction that was just as consuming as any know to man. When they were together, they had to be touching. When they were alone, the touches quickly became intimate, and that often led them to fulfilling their passions in the most unlikely places. It was the most exciting, and often embarrassing, time of Vincent's life.

After one of those unplanned encounters, they lay in each other's arms. Vincent's hand caressed Catherine's body. Feeling the warmth of her afterglow filled him with contentment and the knowledge that he had pleased her as much as she had pleased him. That feeling was shattered, however, when his hand covered her stomach and the tingle he had felt earlier exploded into a powerful sensation.

"What is it?" she asked.

Vincent fought to focus on the strange sensation he was feeling. When he managed to grasp it, his whole body began to tremble.

"Vincent - what's wrong?" His actions were alarming her.

"Catherine - I don't know.... I.... A miracle has happened!"

Catherine sat up and looked into his eyes. The mixture of tears and joy she saw there mystified her. "What?"

"I love you," he declared just before he kissed her.

"I love you too. Tell me what's going on," she demanded.

He tried to speak as clearly as he could. "You are carrying my child." The words sounded as if a stranger had said them. They were that alien to Vincent's sense of reality.

The news stunned her a little, but the shock Vincent expected to see didn't materialize. "Catherine - did you know?"

"I suspected it. I'm two weeks late with my period."

A warm blush rose to Vincent's cheek. As informed as he was about human biology, having such an intimate conversation with Catherine was difficult at best.

Lovingly, Catherine caressed his cheek. "I did nothing to prevent it. I was hoping I'd get pregnant especially after I realized that you wanted a child as much as I did."

"But Catherine...."

She wasn't listening. She was concentrating on her belly, rubbing it with a gentleness that touched Vincent's heart.

"To be honest, I harbored that same hope. I just wasn't sure it was possible."

"Well - apparently it is. You can sense the child, can't you?"

"Until now, I only felt a slight - ripple in my connection to you. Tonight, that tingle materialized into the presence of another."

"Can you tell if it's a boy or a girl?"

"No." Vincent placed his hand over hers. "I just know that it is alive and growing."

"Our child, Vincent! Do you understand what a miracle its very existence is? It means there can be no more doubt about your humanity. You fathered a child! You will have an heir."

* * * * * *

The months passed quickly and Vincent soon found himself a married expectant father. He had insisted on the marriage and was happier then he had ever been in his life, and so was Catherine. Their life together had become better than any dream.

One morning, Vincent was awakened by moans of pain. When he rolled over, he saw a VERY pregnant Catherine holding her stomach.

"I think it's time," she cried.

He scrambled out of their bed and ran to get Father. He watched helplessly as she fought to bring his child into the world. Hours later, her anguished screams merged with the cries of their baby.

"It's a boy," Father announced.

"A son, Vincent. You have a son," Catherine managed to say as the tears rolled down her cheeks and her hand clasped his.

Vincent leaned down and kissed her tenderly. "Thank you, Catherine. I love you both." He turned then and looked at Father. "Is he.... Is he like me?" The question was hard to ask.

"No, Vincent. He looks like Catherine."

Vincent sighed in relief. Their child was normal. He could have a normal life in the world above.

"I want to hold him, Vincent," Catherine said in a weak voice.

Vincent tentatively took the child from Father and looked down at the perfect little face. A feeling of wonderment and pride washed over him. His son. He then carefully placed the child in Catherine's arms and stood back and watched in awed silence as she tenderly examined her child and began to cry.

"He's beautiful," she declared as she held him against her breast.

"Like his mother," Vincent offered. " I love you, Catherine - always."

"Always," she repeated.

"Let your courage to love serve as an inspiration to all who climb the highest mountains and cross the great waters in love's name."

"China Moon"