OVERTURES 1

 

From Catherine’s desk

 

Okay folks – this is it. I’m ready to go with the first issue of Overtures. I’m exhilarated and filled with trepidation, wondering what you will think, and what you will think of me.

 

An overture is a gesture or a proposal of action – the act of reaching out to someone else. In these pages you’ll find a variety of proposals, gestures, overtures. That’s what this ’zine is all about, and this is my overture to you.

 

Let me say – right off – I do realize that “Confessions” is controversial. I know that some of you don’t want to see Vincent and Catherine fulfill their relationship physically. Please understand  that I am not in any way proposing that what you read here be played out on the telly. I’ve always believed that reading and viewing are very different experiences, and these are stories to be read.

 

Secondly, I want to say right up front that if your sole purpose in writing to me is to tell me that I’ve spoiled all that wonderful tension and suspense – hold that thought, and keep reading. I think you’ll see that the tension is still there, it's just shifted its focus. I’ve never known physical intimacy to be a cure-all for what ails a relationship.

 

Thirdly, lets establish some ground rules. Stories in Overtures take place in three time periods: Before “Confessions” (BC), After “Confessions” (AC) and Prime Time (PT), which is as the show runs. When does “Confessions” take place? Let’s just say “Confessions” picks up where the series will end – how’s that? In case of contradictions, I humbly defer to the greater powers that be on the set.

 

That’s about it. As usual, Catherine is running late, so I’ll slip this off to the printer and run.

 

Keep in touch – I’ve cleared the pipelines just for you.

 

 

Safe journeys,

Catherine



 

CONFESSIONS

Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXXVI

drawing of a candelabra, the candles almost burnt out, and a book.

 

 

There was no satisfaction in reading tonight. Nothing fresh in his mind, nothing new in his heart. Vincent closed the leather-bound volume, careful of the brittle pages. He put one fist on top of the other and rested his chin on the stack. He stared, unseeing, into space. Moments passed and he became aware that the short boots he wore were hurting his feet. He toed them off under the desk and sighed a sigh of deep and utter longing.

 

If he closed his eyes, he could see her face, soft and utterly lovely, dark eyes flashing with hidden fire, the curve of her cheek as she smiled. Vincent could feel her presence in his soul, comforting and unsettling him. His heart was too full for words, his arms too empty. Totally absorbed in his own thoughts, he did not hear the approaching footsteps. It was only as the noise ceased that it registered on his senses.

 

He did not turn. “Father?” he asked expectantly, but there was no answer. In a flash, Vincent was on his feet, facing the intruder warily. A slight figure, hooded and robed in a deep-blue velvet, stood just inside the circle of golden light. A slim hand emerged and touched the neck clasp, robe and hood falling away to reveal the face and figure he dreamed of. Catherine stood silent and still, her eyes on his face. Those eyes were huge and dark, her lips soft, full. The gown she wore resembled nothing so much as a pearly mist, clinging softly from creamy shoulders to delicate ankles.

 

“Catherine.”

 

Her name was a prayer on his lips. He took a step forward, arms outstretched, and hesitated, stopped. For one horrible moment, Vincent doubted for his sanity. He closed his eyes, opened them slowly. She was still there, but whether vision or truth he did not know. His breath became short and he could feel the pounding of his heart. Vincent stood transfixed as she walked with unbelievable grace straight into his arms.

 

The arms that had so often protected her, fought for her, carried her, now curved awkwardly to hold her. He held her loosely, afraid that if he touched her she would vanish.

 

Catherine had so such compunctions. More tenderly than anyone had ever touched him, Catherine slid her hands inside the open collar of his peasant shirt and nuzzled her head under his chin. Standing this close, she felt the heat of his body and the fierce pounding of his heart. She raised her head from his shoulder, and their eyes met once again. Nervously, with trembling hands, she unbuttoned the soft cotton shirt and slid it off his shoulders. She touched his chest, hesitantly, wonderingly, and slid her arms around him, pressing close to him, still watching his face. Like a man in a dream, Vincent embraced her, the folds of his shirt caressing her bare back. He buried his face in her neck and she spoke his name. Her skin was indescribably soft and sweet, her hair like silk against his face, her voice in his ear like the key to some long forgotten paradise. Vincent felt as though he were drowning.

 

Her hands slid up and tangled in his hair, brought it cascading over her shoulders. The scent of it filled her head, warm and musky and manly. Their bodies were intimately entwined, but Catherine could not get close enough. She kissed his neck, the soft skin behind his ear, his shoulder, clinging to his strength as though her life depended on it.

 

Dimly, Vincent was aware that she spoke. He roused himself, turned her gently and easily in his arms.

 

“Vincent,” she repeated. “Vincent.” Her own breath was short now, her mind foggy.

 

“Yes, love,” he answered, searching her face. Awkwardly, at the point of tears, she untangled her hands from his hair and rested them on his shoulders. She bit her lip, looked away.

 

“I love you, Vincent,” Catherine blurted out. She touched his face, tears in her eyes.

 

Vincent took her hand in his, kissed the palm and held it. His eyes were soft, tender. “Yes.” There was no doubt in his mind or heart. Smiling, he touched her cheek, ran his fingers through her hair. “Catherine, you’re every dream I ever had. You’re everything I could have hoped for. I would wait a thousand lifetimes for you.” A tear slid slowly down his face as he touched away the tears on hers. His voice was husky with emotion. “You have made me whole, complete.”

 

With infinite sadness, he placed a soft padded finger under her chin. “Catherine, this” – he shook his head – “this is not necessary.”

 

She stared at him in confusion. Understanding came flooding to her senses and she smacked his shoulder in frustration. “Vincent,” she pleaded, “this is not some sort of sacrifice on my part. I want this! I want you – more than I’ve ever wanted anything.”

 

She looked at him, anger and passion on her face. Struggling for control, Vincent shook his head.  “You have nothing to prove–”

 

“And neither do you!” she hurled back. Without warning, Catherine threw her arms around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth.

 

Vincent’s body recovered before his wits. His arms rose to crush her against him, and one hand curved to caress the nape of her neck. The angry line of her body melted into his and sparked a response. The kiss lasted longer than forever, and shorter than a heartbeat. At last, Catherine ended the kiss but did not pull away. Vincent opened his eyes, his senses reeling. She touched his lips, drawing the outline with one finger until he caught her hand and held it to his face. Their eyes locked, and with one great sweep, she was in his arms as he padded toward his chamber. Her head fell softly to his shoulder, her hair fragrant and gentle on his face. The door slid shut with one deft turn of his foot. Bracing himself, Vincent swung her legs down slowly, letting her slide down, cushioning her full weight against him. She seemed very small and slight in his arms, but she was a raging fever in his blood, an all-consuming passion of body and soul. He touched her face and felt her tremble.

 

Immediately, he released her and she sagged against him, would have fallen had he not caught her again. His eyes searched her face, sad and worried. “You are afraid....” he began.

 

“No ... no!” Catherine ducked her head, high color staining her cheeks. “I’m not afraid! I ... it's just that ... I’ve never done this before,” she mumbled, biting her lip.

 

A small sound from Vincent made her look up. His eyes were merry, round with amusement and surprise.

 

“Nor I,” he said simply, and smiled. They laughed intimately and embraced, all barriers aside. Vincent stroked her hair as she held him. “Then we shall learn together,” he whispered, his lips close to her ear.

 

She laughed again and smiled up into his eyes. “Yes,” she said. “We shall.”

 

~

 

Father was not concerned when Vincent did not show up for breakfast. It was still very early, and it was not unusual for Vincent to miss breakfast. Father made himself another cup of tea, reaching for his glasses and open book.

 

“Father,” Pascal called as he entered the room. He pulled off his gloves as he came. His hands were red from the cold, and he rubbed them together for warmth.

 

Father looked up and smiled, motioned for Pascal to sit. Without asking, Father poured Pascal a steaming mug of tea and pressed it into his hands. Cream?” he asked. “Sugar?”

 

Pascal nodded to both. “You make an excellent waiter, Father,” he said fondly, then laughed out loud at the dour look he received. “Thank you. This is most welcome, but I didn’t come for tea.”

 

“You’ve been working on the pipe system out in the new section, haven’t you?” Father said, pulling his reading glasses off and looking at Pascal closely.

 

Sipping his tea, Pascal nodded. “We’ve almost finished the outpost. Soon, they can begin work on the outpost shelter – and some heat.”

 

They laughed quietly, ruefully. “What can I help you with?” Father asked. He spread his hands, indicating the resources at hand. “I have extra copies of the current maps of that region, supplies ...”

 

Pascal smiled and leaned forward. “Actually, I came to beg Vincent’s expert advice on that region. He made most of those maps himself, and we could use his help.”

 

Father shook his head. “He hasn’t come for breakfast. I thought he might be out with you and Mouse, working on the pipes.”

 

“No, I’m working with just the crew today. Colin has Mouse under his thumb lately. They’re working on improving the hydraulics system on the elevator, staying out of trouble.” Pascal shot Father a meaningful look.

 

“Yes,” Father said, nodding. ”Well. Vincent is probably in the library, then. I can go get–”

 

Pascal held up his hand. “No, that’s fine. There’s no real hurry. If he comes by here, send him to us. I’ll keep my eyes open.” He finished his tea and set the mug down carefully on the table. “I would like some extra copies of the newer maps if you really have some to spare.” He stood, pulling on his gloves. Father produced them easily, a tidy handful of rolled parchments, and Pascal tucked them into his jacket pocket. “Thank you for the tea, Father,” he called cheerily, and was gone.

 

Father watched his progress until he was well out of sight. He stood for a moment or two, squinting down the tunnel, looking at nothing. Slightly troubled, he reached for his cane and went looking for Vincent – and not in the library.

 

~

 

Before she woke, Catherine was aware of warmth and an overwhelming sense of completeness. Vincent’s arms curved around her, and she felt the rise and fall of his chest under her cheek, the soft thudding of his heart in her ear. Utterly content, she watched him as he slept.

 

As though aware of her scrutiny, Vincent stirred, opened his eyes. For an instant, his blue eyes were startled, then his gaze met hers and he smiled.

 

She tightened her arms around his waist and snuggled up against him. Tenderly, Vincent tangled a hand in her hair, touched her cheek. She turned her face into his hand and kissed the palm, imitating him. Catherine smiled up at him, catching his hand and holding it tightly.

 

“Catherine,” he said softly,” I can’t believe you’re really here – here with me. I’ve dreamed about you – about this – so many times before.” He lifted the curtain of her hair and let it slip through his fingers. “I always woke up alone.” He looked away.

 

Catherine propped herself up on one elbow and gently turned his face, made him look at her. “Once upon a time Vincent, I wanted you to tell me that it was all a dream, that it didn’t happen.” Tenderly, she kissed the corner of his mouth, brushed the hair from his face. “This is no dream. I’m really here.”

 

He looked at her for a long moment, his eyes serious. Slowly, they smiled at each other and a twinkle formed in Vincent’s eye. “Convince me.”

 

Catherine laughed and pressed him into the pillows. She tangled her hands in his hair and kissed him soundly.

 

Vincent murmured a protest against her mouth, but she was not listening. He abandoned the conversation in pursuit of other interests.

 

~

 

Father made his way slowly to Vincent’s room, feeling a trifle foolish. He paused in the doorway, but some sixth sense kept him from calling out. Quietly, he glanced around, feeling furtive and uncomfortable. There was nothing amiss in the room. Vincent’s door was shut, the candles carefully snuffed. A well-worn copy of Homer’s Odyssey lay on the desk. Father touched it tenderly, caressing the fine leather binding. He had stopped counting the times Vincent had asked for this story. Out of the corner of his eye, Father saw something blue laying in a soft pile. He stooped, lifting and straightening the material. Just as he recognized what it was, he heard the unmistakable sounds of feminine laughter  – Catherine’s laughter – coming from Vincent’s room. Vincent made some response, the deeper tones of his voice undecipherable. Hastily, Father dropped the cape and retreated as quietly as possible into the hall, embarrassed. He stood for many moments in the tunnel, leaning heavily on his cane and gathering his composure. He felt the sting of tears and wiped his eyes self-consciously with the back of his hand, laughing at his sentimentality. “Thank God,” he said in the silence.  “At last.”

 

~

 

They stood just beyond the bridge, holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes. Of all they good-byes they had said, this was one of the hardest. One last time, he held her against him, stroking her hair, feeling her arms slide around his waist. Finally, Vincent pulled away, picked up her duffle and handed it to her, all the while watching her face.

 

“How can I leave you now, Vincent?” she whispered, clutching the duffle with both hands.

 

He smiled at her, his eyes sad. “How can you stay?” he asked gently.

 

Catherine looked down, her hair shielding her expression from him. “When will I see you again?” she said in a small voice, still staring at her feet.

 

“Tonight,” he said softly. Vincent placed a finger under her chin and turned her face up. He brushed the hair from her face, leaning close to her. “Come for supper, Catherine. Tonight. Father will welcome a chess partner he can beat.” His tone was light, but his eyes were intense. “Please, Catherine, come back tonight.”

 

In a split second, Catherine thought of a million reasons she could not return. They vanished just as quickly when she saw the look in his eyes. “I’ll be there,” she whispered and turned away. Catherine disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel.

 

~

 

When Vincent came to Father’s room, Father had his nose pointedly buried in a book. Without looking up, Father followed Vincent’s progress into the room, studying his face.

 

Lost in thought, Vincent did not notice. “Father,” Vincent began, coming to stand close to his chair.

 

“Ah, Vincent,” Father said, looking up and removing his reading glasses. ”Pascal was looking for you earlier. Did he find you?”

 

Momentarily distracted, Vincent shook his head. “No, I haven’t seen him today. Are they out in the new section?”

 

Father rose, pouring a mug of tea, which he handed to Vincent. “Yes, I believe so. Soon, they will begin work on the shelter itself. Pascal wanted to ask you about the maps you made of that region.”

 

“Hmmm. Thank you, Father. I’ll go at once, then. The sooner the work can be completed, the better.” He took a large gulp of tea and closed his eyes, savoring the hot liquid. Father watched his face closely. Vincent put the mug down and started to turn. “Father,” he began again.

 

Their eyes met briefly, and Father put a hand to Vincent’s face, touched his hair. “Did you want to tell me something, Vincent?”

 

“Yes, I ...” Vincent took Father’s hand and held it, clasping his elbow with his other hand. He looked away. “No. No, Father. Perhaps later.” He mounted the steps and started down the hall.

 

Father watched his progress down the tunnel, his expression thoughtful.

 

~

 

It was almost four before the work crew returned, tired and pleased with themselves. Colin walked with a wiry arm around Mouse, who talked incessantly to a tolerant Jamie. Pascal wiped the sweat from his forehead and fell into step with Vincent.

 

“Vincent turned and smiled wearily.” The work progresses well, Pascal. Soon, the outpost will be fully functional.”

 

Pascal smiled and held up his crossed fingers. They laughed together and Pascal fished out the maps he had borrowed from Father. “Return these to Father for safekeeping, Vincent,” Pascal said. With your help, we didn’t really need them.”

 

Shaking his head, Vincent took them, rolling them carefully together. “It is your help that we could not do without, Pascal. You contribute a great deal to our world that we could not expect or repay.” Vincent slapped him affectionately on the back.

 

Embarrassed, Pascal looked down. When the tunnel forked, he ducked down the passageway to his chamber, and Vincent made his weary way back to Father’s room. Father was not there, so Vincent sank into a chair to wait for him. He closed his eyes for a moment and stretched his long legs out in front of him. The minutes ticked by and Vincent grew restless, pondering what to say when Father did return. He wandered the room, touching familiar objects and looking at the titles of books in the massive shelves, returning at last to the chair facing Father’s. He had almost made up his mind to leave when he heard the measured steps from the corridor, and turned towards the door, waiting.

 

Father carried a large, woven basket of household items, coming heavy-laden from the storehouse. He hastened his pace when he spied the top of Vincent’s head over the chair back and hurried down the steps, dropping his cape on the railing. He set the basket carefully down on the desk and pulled off his gloves as he came to sit in his reading chair, facing Vincent. He did not speak, but sat in silence, letting Vincent weigh his words carefully.

 

“Father, I–” Vincent began, stopped. He shook his head in frustration, tried again. “Tonight, Father, at supper ...” He trailed off, sinking deeper into his chair and holding his hands stiffly in his lap.

 

Father leaned forward with both hands on his cane, his face kind and troubled. “Are you all right, Vincent? Is something wrong?”

 

“No,” came the muffled reply. His face was shadowed, his expression unreadable. Father sat back, put a hand to his beard and rubbed it thoughtfully, watching Vincent’s face.

 

“When you were a child, Vincent, and you had a problem, or needed advice, or to ask a question, you always came – here – and sat down in that chair and we would talk.” He paused, looking off into the distance at nothing. “You’ve outgrown a great many things, Vincent, but I was hoping that wasn’t one of them.”

 

Vincent looked up quickly, meeting Father’s eyes. “I will never outgrow your advice Father. Or your love.”

 

Father pushed himself out of the chair and came to stand very close to him, tears glistening in his eyes. He blinked them away hastily and put his hand to Vincent’s face.

 

Vincent grasped the hand and looked, up, his expression completely unguarded and vulnerable. “She ... came to me, Father. I was reading – trying to read – thinking of her and ... and she was there. Catherine came to me – she came to me.”

 

Absently, Father dabbed at his eyes, squeezing Vincent’s shoulder with all his might. He brushed the hair from Vincent’s face and laughed in great joy and relief. “Her heart is true. She has followed her own path – and it has led her to you.” Very silent and still, they gazed at each other. “What will you do, Vincent?”

 

Vincent shook his head. “I don’t know, Father. I cannot live in her world, and she is not yet ready to live in mine.”

 

The expression on his face told Father that it did not make any difference, that time and space were small problems in the face of this great joy. Absently, Father nodded, patting Vincent’s shoulder reassuringly. “Well, no matter, Vincent. It will work itself out. You will find a way to be together – I believe that.” The certainty he felt came through in his firm grip and unwavering look. Vincent dropped his gaze.

 

“She is coming for supper tonight,” he murmured. “I– I asked her to come.”

 

Affectionately, Father tousled his hair. “Splendid. I’ll certainly be grateful for a chess partner I can beat.” He dropped his hand and made his way back to the desk, picking up the basket and climbing the short staircase. He paused for an instant, looking at Vincent’s bowed head. He breathed a prayer and began to plan supper in his head.

 

~

 

Catherine dropped lithely from the ladder and turned, searching the darkness. Vincent stepped towards her from the shadows. ”Here,” he said softly. The light spilled down through the ladder opening, bathing her in a golden glow. She had dressed carefully, choosing soft wool pants, an angora sweater vest over a cream silk blouse. Her hair was pulled over to the side with a tortoiseshell barrette, and one hand clutched a brown paper sack around a bottle neck. She looked very school-girlish, very fragile and vulnerable. Vincent wanted desperately to reach for her, to enfold her in his arms, to touch the silky softness of her hair, but he held back, giving her time.

 

“Hi,” she whispered, not meeting his eyes.

 

“Hi,” he repeated. He could see her lips trembling, sense her uncertainty as she stared at her hands. Catherine studied the wine bottle as though she only just realized she held it.

 

“I ... I brought some wine for dinner,” she stammered, holding the bottle out to him.

 

He reached for it, their fingers brushing lightly. The touch was electrifying. Catherine’s head snapped up and she looked at him, their eyes locking. Gently, Vincent folded his fingers around her hand, gazing at her intently while she swallowed, tried to speak. Catherine threw herself into his arms, buried her face in his chest and clung to him. Vincent held her against him, eyes closed, head bowed over hers while the minutes slipped away. “No regrets?” Vincent asked at last, turning her face up to his.

 

The longing on her face touched some deep place in his soul and his arms tightened around her. “No – no regrets.”

 

Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. All of the longing, the waiting, the uncertainty, passed over her face in an instant and she waited for him. Vincent touched her cheek, the curve of her neck, bent to her and kissed her thoroughly as she swayed against him. The contact left them both trembling and Catherine reached for him again. “Father is expecting us,” Vincent murmured against her mouth, pulling away slightly but still holding her.

 

Reluctantly, she nodded, stepping back and pressing both hands to her hot cheeks. After a moment, she looked up at him and smiled shakily. “I’m ready,” Catherine whispered. “Lead the way.”

 

 

 

Father played the part of host to the hilt and kept the table conversation going. He poured the wine and coaxed Catherine into a game of chess, which she lost quite efficiently. They played one more game, this time with Vincent coaching her, but the outcome was the same. Father stood, covering a manufactured yawn. “I didn’t sleep well last night,” Father said smoothly, taking Catherine’s hand in his. “You’ll pardon me if I don’t stay? Vincent can see you out when you’re ready.”

 

Catherine squeezed his hand warmly and smiled at him. “Of course.” Gallantly, he kissed her hand, surprising her. When she looked up his blue eyes were piercing in their intensity.

 

“Thank you,” he said simply. “Thank you for coming.”

 

Catherine was mesmerized, unable to look away. She blushed, not certain of his meaning. Before she had recovered, Father surrendered her hand and was gone, leaving them alone with the night spread before them like a song.

 

_______

 

Let me confess that we two must be twain,

Although our undivided loves are one.

So shall those blots that do with me remain

Without thy help by me be borne alone.

In our two loves there is but one respect,

Though in our lives a separable spite,

Which though it alter not love’s sole effect,

Yet doth steal sweet hours from love’s delight.

I may not evermore acknowledge thee,

Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,

Nor thou with public kindness honour me,

Unless thou take that honour from thy name.

      But do not so; I love thee in such sort

      As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

 

____________

 

 

CHECK MATE

A drawing of chess pieces

 

“Check.”

 

Catherine made a face and studied the board. This was game three and she was losing miserably. Her first game had gone rather well, but ended in stalemate. The second, Vincent had won hands down. She uncrossed and re-crossed her legs, put her hands under her chin.

 

Outside, it was cool and dismal, a gray, rainy Sunday afternoon. Bored and lonely for Vincent, Catherine had come Below, leaving the sound of rain behind, but not its melancholy. After careful consideration of her remaining pieces, Catherine decided that a stalemate was the best she could hope for – if she could get it. She reached for her king’s bishop and heard Vincent inhale ominously.

 

Glaring at him, she withdrew her hand and studied some more. Once again she reached for the bishop, plopping it defiantly down in threat to Vincent’s queen and blocking access to her king. Vincent looked a question at her, all innocence. She shot him a look that would have withered grapes.

 

Lazily, not even sitting up, Vincent took the bishop with a pawn, opening a line to her king that Catherine had not seen before. His eyes crinkled with amusement and his voice betrayed his mirth.

 

“Checkmate, Catherine.”

 

While Catherine stared at the board in surprise, Vincent chuckled and lay back on the carpet, his arms pillowing his head. “Perhaps you’d like to change games,” he teased. “We could play poker ...”

 

Catherine snorted in derision. “Vincent, I taught you how to play poker – much to Father’s dismay. I could beat you without even trying, but I have another game in mind–”

 

Before Vincent recognized her intent, she leaped on him, tickling him mercilessly while he tried to untangle himself from his reclining position. “Stop, stop,” he demanded between chuckles. “Catherine, so help me– Stop it–”

 

Free at last, Vincent entered into the fray with as much enthusiasm as Catherine. Locked into an intimate, giggling embrace, they rolled across the carpet, over and over, laughing and tickling. The rolled into the tiny end table, which promptly dislodged a stack of books with a very loud thud. Distracted for an instant, Vincent lost what little advantage size and strength had afforded him, and lay back, gasping for breath and trying futilely to ward off her attacks to his midsection.

 

“Catherine, stop, stop!” he demanded.

 

“Cry uncle, Vincent!” she answered, not giving an inch. 

 

With a growl, Vincent made a lunge and grasped both of her hands, pinning them to his chest. He caught her legs in a quick scissors movement. Laying back weakly, he took his free hand and touched her face. She giggled and tried to wriggle free, but she was held fast, immobile against him. Vincent casually pulled the ribbon that held her dark hair in a ponytail and watched, fascinated, as her hair fell soft and fragrant over her face. The teasing look in his eyes was gone, and he gazed at her as though drawing his very life from her eyes.

 

Freeing her hands, Vincent slid a powerful arm around her waist, binding  them more intimately than before. Catherine touched his shoulders, traced his collar bone with a feather touch. She spoke his name, curved her hands behind his ears. Slowly, slowly, their lips were drawn closer and closer, almost touching. Against her mouth, Vincent whispered uncle and kissed her.

 

Locked in a timeless embrace, bodies and souls intertwined, they did not hear the running footsteps from the corridor. Father burst into the room as fast as cane and caution would allow.

 

“Vincent! Catherine! Are you all right? I heard a crash and–”  Father cried, stopping in acute embarrassment as he spied them on the floor. “Yes, well, I can – uh – see that you’re both fine,” he blustered.

 

Vincent’s coloring did not betray his blush, but his voice was quiet, subdued. “Forgive us, Father. We were ... playing chess,” he finished lamely. Catherine could tell her cheeks were flaming and she ducked her head, avoiding Father’s eyes.

 

“Well, yes,” Father huffed, not looking at Catherine. “I can see that.” He let it sink in. “Try to play something a little more quiet, please,” he said with a stern look at both of them, and then he looked carefully at Vincent and spoke with intensity. “I will be reading, but there are children playing in the corridors.” He turned on heel and left.

 

Properly chastised, Vincent looked at Catherine ruefully, and then with more interest. She was still recovering from her mortification at being found lying atop her chess partner.

 

“Oh, Vincent,” she began, “I’m so sorry about that.”

 

He silenced her with a kiss and held her against her struggles. At last she pulled away, flushed and disheveled. Her lips were soft and wet from his kiss, and Vincent felt a powerful desire to repeat the process. He reached for her, but she tossed her head and gave him a disbelieving look.

 

“Aren’t you the least bit concerned about what he thinks?” she blurted out, completely exasperated.

 

Vincent smiled with satisfaction. “Father knows what we are doing, Catherine. He has been in love.”

 

“But the children–”

 

“Father told us so that we would know they are about. He seeks to save us embarrassment, not cause it.” He touched her face again, drawing her closer. “Catherine,” Vincent said slowly. “Father knows. And he approves.”

 

Catherine stopped resisting and let herself be drawn into the kiss. His skin was warm and musky and she ran her hands over his broad shoulders, opened the neck of his sweatshirt and slid her hands inside, glorying in the feel of his skin. Vincent’s hands caressed her back under the white cotton sweater, drawing lazy, seductive designs on her shoulder blades. He encircled her small waist, touched the sweet, feminine curves the sweater hid and slid his thumbs gently, experimentally over the soft tips. Catherine gasped, stiffened for an instant and then gave herself over to the sensation. As though through a fog, she heard him speak her name. Rallying all her composure, Catherine pushed away, trying to focus on what Vincent was saying. She sat up unsteadily, straddling his lean hips and bracing herself with her hands on his stomach.

 

Vincent rested one hand possessively on her hip, the other moved to cushion his head. He watched her reactions from under hooded lids. “Catherine,” Vincent teased, a smile his face. “What do you want to play now?”

 

Heady with sensation, Catherine reached for the top button of his button-fly denims. With her eyes on his face, she unfastened the top button, then the second. Just as she reached for the third, the sound of children’s laughter in the distance was clearly heard. With a groan, Vincent leapt to his feet, pulling her after him into his private chamber. Once inside, Vincent closed the door, locking it for good measure. Totally unselfconscious, Catherine rid herself of the sweater and helped Vincent out of the sweatshirt, not without a few teasing tickles. Freed from the shirt’s restraint, Vincent reached for her, drawing her close. The button was no problem, but Vincent could not manage the zipper. “These things are blasted dangerous,” he mumbled to himself.

 

Catherine laughed, catching his hands. “Not everyone is as furry as you, Love.” She smiled up at him. He opened his mouth to reply. “Don’t even think about it,” she warned, and promptly slithered out of the jeans. Her panties were teal blue, cut high on her small hips and edged with wide, scalloped lace.

 

Vincent was fascinated. “Catherine,” he said, all seriousness, “you wear the most delightful things under your clothes.”

 

She shot him a glance. “Unlike some people–” she began. Her words were lost as Vincent pulled her up against him, his body warm and enticing. Catherine surrendered to his touch, returned his fire with fire. Somewhere in their kiss, a thought flicked across Catherine’s mind and she laughed. “Vincent,” she murmured, “I’ve always heard that rainy Sundays were only good for two things – and only one of them is chess. What do you suppose the other thing is?”

 

Half laughing, half growling, Vincent nuzzled her neck. He put his mouth close to her ear. “Really, Catherine, I haven’t the foggiest.”

 

~

 

Vincent walked her to the tunnel entrance. They took small steps, hands clasped, savoring the time together. Tomorrow, they would be in different worlds.

 

“Vincent,” she said quietly, “I don’t want–”

 

He silenced her with a finger to her lips. “No, Catherine. Don’t say that. You must return to your world, at least for now.” He cupped her face in his hands, studying every detail of her face as though he would never see her again. Hesitantly, he spoke. “This afternoon – I have no words to ... The gift of those moments is priceless.”

 

“I’ll miss you,” she said, biting her lower lip to stop its trembling.

 

“Yes. If you need me–”

 

“Yes.”

 

They backed away, waving slowly. Vincent turned first, hiding his tears.

 

“I love you, Vincent,” she called, and disappeared into the rain.

 

Vincent’s heart felt as though it were bursting, but the ache was full of joy. He stood for many moments in the corridor, trying to absorb and incorporate this new sensation she aroused in him. The sound of rain brought him back to reality and he began the trek back to his world. Lost in thought, he almost ran straight into Father, who waited around one of the bends. They exchanged looks quickly, looked away. Vincent fell into step with Father and they walked along in the silence.

 

Father started to speak, shook his head. He sighed and stared at the floor. “This afternoon ...” he began. Vincent turned towards him expectantly, trying to read his expression. “My apologies,” Father said quietly. “I did not mean to embarrass you – or Catherine.”

 

Vincent put his arm around Father’s shoulders and squeezed. “My apologies as well, Father.”

 

Father slipped his arm around Vincent’s waist and thumped him affectionately on the back. “I, uh, trust you enjoyed your chess game?”

 

“Father!”

 

Father lifted a hand to ward off any further objections. “I was just asking, Vincent,” Father said reproachfully. He was silent for a moment. “You know,” he said quietly, “Margaret used to say that rainy Sundays were only good for two things – and only one of them was chess.”

 

Vincent shot him a look but Father was elsewhere, lost in memory. They walked back to their world to the sound of rain.

 


 

NOR IRON BARS A CAGE – THE MISSING SCENES

 

Drawing of the floor of the cage Vincent was in, there is a purse, a brush, and a ring of keys. 

Leaving Hughes' still body where it lay, Catherine ran to the open cage and fell beside Vincent. She cupped his face in her hands and his eyes fluttered open. Tears were threatening to spill from her eyes and her voice was husky and tight. “Are you all right, Vincent? Did they hurt you?”

 

Vincent grasped her arms, sat up straighter. “Catherine, it’s really you,” he said slowly. “I thought I was dreaming.”

 

“Let’s get you out of here,” she said, helping him up and making him lean on her strength for support.

 

As they stepped off of the cage floor Vincent stumbled, fell to his knees. Catherine sank to her knees, her arms bracing him while he fought to catch his breath and clear his head. Weakly, he leaned against her, his arms curving instinctively to hold her next to him. Gradually, his head cleared and he became aware of her proximity, the warmth of her body, the silence in the room. He pulled away, sitting back on his heels and dropping his hands. Catherine pulled away but caught his hands and held them tightly in her own. In silence, they looked at each other.

 

“You should be in Providence, Catherine,” Vincent said slowly, searching her eyes.

 

Catherine looked away and tried to disentangle her hands, but he held them gently and firmly in his own. At last, she met his gaze, tears streaming down her face. She no longer tried to pull away, but the anger and pain in her voice cut him like a knife. “I didn’t go to Providence, Vincent. I couldn’t. I can’t!”

 

“But you must go on with your life–”

 

“Don’t tell me what I must do!” she hurled back. She turned her face away from him again, struggling for control. When she spoke, her voice was subdued. “I know you want only what’s best for me, Vincent, but if you really want to help me, you will have to be honest with me.” She turned to him, her eyes locking with his. “Tell me what you want, Vincent. I need to know.”

 

Vincent could not tear his gaze from her face. He tried to turn away, tried to pull away from her grasp on his hands, but he was mute, paralyzed.

 

“Please, Vincent – tell me.”

 

“Don’t go, Catherine. Please – don’t go,” he heard himself say.

 

Somehow, she was wrapped in his arms, her hands around his waist. They clung together like that for a long time, unaware of their surroundings or the passage of time. At last she spoke, her voice muffled against his chest. “I can’t leave you, Vincent. I can’t. I care about you so much. I was afraid for you.” Suddenly shy, she pulled away abruptly and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

 

Vincent found the gesture charming, endearing. He watched her with interest while she composed herself. “How did you find me?” he asked quietly.

 

Catherine stood, pulling him to his unsteady feet and helping him to the wall where could lean back and rest. “Father sent word that you were missing. I traced you here through a newspaper tabloid and the serial numbers on the tranquilizers.” She turned towards the open cage as though it were some sort of loathsome insect. “How long did they keep you like that?”

 

Vincent tried to think and became aware that his head was pounding. “Two days,” he said at last. “Almost three. Before that they gave me something to make me sleep. How long–?” She put a cool hand to his forehead. It felt wonderfully soft and soothing and Vincent closed his eyes.

 

“Five days,” she said softly, kneeling beside him once more.

 

His eyes snapped open. “Five days!” Vincent repeated, trying to get to his feet. “Father–”

 

“Is beside himself, Vincent. I haven’t been able to get word to him yet.” Gently, Catherine restrained him, her hands on his shoulders.

 

“You must get word to him at once, then!” Vincent insisted. “Father must be–”

 

“Vincent, I can’t do that without leaving you, and I won’t leave you here. It’s not safe, and you aren’t in any condition to protect yourself. I’m taking you Below as soon as it's safe.”

 

Frustrated, Vincent let his head fall back against the wall. “Where is this place?” he asked at last, resigned.

 

“We’re below the University in an unused storage compartment. You have to know the way to get here, so we’re safe for the time being, but we have several hours before it’s dark enough to leave. Rest now.” She touched his cheek briefly. “I can’t carry you Vincent, so you’ll have to help me get you home safely.”

 

Exhausted, knowing the wisdom of her actions, Vincent sat back and closed his eyes again. “I feel very tired,” he murmured. Catherine sat down beside him and pulled his head down to her lap for a pillow. He protested weakly but did not fight her when she covered his shoulders with her coat. She smoothed the hair back from his forehead, massaged his temples, his neck. She fished in her purse for a moment and then Vincent felt her hands lifting his hair and smoothing it out. As he drifted off to sleep, she began to brush the tangles from his hair. It comforted him, and he slipped into a deep, dreamless sleep.

 

~

 

She let him wake on his own. He opened his eyes suddenly and sat up, disoriented. Catching sight of Catherine, Vincent’s heart stopped its fierce pounding and he caught his breath, settling back. “What time is it?” he asked quietly. She smiled at him, felt his forehead.

 

“It's time to go – if you feel like it. Do you?”

 

He nodded slowly and got to his feet, pulling her after him. His head still hurt but his senses were unimpaired and he felt refreshed. He indulged in a huge stretch, warming and readying his aching muscles. “Do you know where your cape is, Vincent?” Catherine asked, looking around the small room.

 

Vincent tried to remember and a sharp pain shot through his head. He reached for his temples and pressed. Catherine walked back to him, concerned, but he waved her away. “I– I don’t know what they did with it. I was ... I was running, and then they shot me with a tranquilizer gun. I fell, and ... I woke up in the laboratory, wearing only these.” He gestured to his rumpled clothing with distaste. “Perhaps Hughes–”

 

“Here it is!” Catherine cried, pulling it out of a box of hastily compiled laboratory equipment. It was wrinkled and the mud was thick in places where he had fallen, but it was intact and would serve their purpose. He donned the cape and pulled the hood up and over, shielding his face. Catherine studied the room, scooping up the keys to the cage. She looked at Vincent for a long moment. “They have my fingerprints on them. I’ve never tampered with evidence before–”

 

Vincent took them from her and slid them into his pocket. “They must not fall into the wrong hands. You did what you had to, Catherine. There is no crime in that.”

 

She reached for his hand, offering and accepting comfort and support. “I’m ready to leave now, Vincent. Let’s go.”

 

~

 

The trip Below was without incident even though they had to make it on foot, and Vincent was slow and unsteady at times. Twice, he stumbled and Catherine struggled to get him back on his feet. His muscles were stiff from disuse and his head throbbed painfully. They disappeared into the tunnel under the cover of night and began the trek to Vincent’s room.

 

After a moment or two, little footsteps could clearly be heard and they rounded a bend, coming face to face with Dustin, one of the children. His eyes widened in surprise and he ran and grasped Vincent around the waist. “Vincent! Vincent!” he cried, patting him gently. “Father was afraid–”

 

“Yes, Dustin. I know,” Vincent said. He ruffled the boy’s hair and squeezed his shoulder. “Please go tell Father that we’re on our way to the garden.” Dustin nodded his head vigorously and ran down the tunnel, shouting as he went.

 

Father met them halfway there. He took in Vincent’s appearance, the strain on his face, the determined look in Catherine’s eye. Without a word, he embraced them both, then wrapped his arm around Vincent’s waist and took a great deal of the burden off of Catherine’s shoulders. “Vincent, are you ... all right? Catherine – how did you find him? Where were you, Vincent? We were all quite concerned!” Father said in a rush. His grasp around Vincent’s waist was firm, full of warmth and concern.

 

Before Vincent could answer, Catherine was explaining about Hughes, the university, the cage. Father’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened in anger. “A cage!” he repeated, turning to Vincent for confirmation. “They kept you in a cage!”

 

Vincent held up his hand wearily. “Father, he meant me no harm. It was Hughes who brought Catherine to me.”

 

Somewhat mollified, Father fell silent. Slowly, because of Father’s cane and their weariness, the three made their way to Vincent’s room.

 

While Vincent bathed and Father checked him over, some of the children brought Catherine tea and hot soup. Shy but curious, they clustered around her, wanting to hear what happened. She answered their questions between mouthfuls of soup and cups of strong tea, trying to be honest but not wanting to frighten them. When they tired of the story, they began to ask her questions and to talk about themselves. Some of them belonged to the families that lived Below, but some did not really belong to anyone. They lived here under the watchful care of Father and the others.

 

What seemed like hours passed, and Catherine began to be concerned and very tired. Just as she found herself nodding off in the middle of a story, Father came and shooed them away, giving Dustin an extra pat of affection.

 

“Thank you Dustin,” he said solemnly, offering his hand.

 

Delighted, Dustin returned the handshake formally and scampered off to join the others. Father walked over to the couch, looked at her for a moment. “He will be all right,” Father said quietly. “He is exhausted, undernourished and groggy from the tranquilizers, but otherwise whole. He has been asking for you.”

 

Catherine sat up on the edge of the couch, started to move toward Vincent’s room. Father touched her arm, shaking his head firmly. “He is asleep now.”

 

She turned to him. “Please, let me go to him,” she pleaded.

 

Father sat beside her on the couch, pulling her down with him and commanding her attention with his gaze. “I know that you want to wait with him, but now he must rest. I have given him something to help him sleep and sleep he must.” She looked at him, tears in her eyes. Self-consciously, she wiped them with the back of her hand. Father, too, found it an endearing gesture and softened his tone while he fished out a white handkerchief. “Catherine, I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for him – for me as well. Vincent is very precious to me.” He stopped, uncomfortable, and looked at her very closely. “Please understand that I want only what’s best for him.” The silence ticked on. Awkwardly, Father patted her hand, held it in his for a moment. “Catherine, surely you will stay with us until he wakes. There is plenty of room, and you are most welcome.”

 

She looked up quickly, gratefully. “I’d like that very much.”

 

Father released her hand and stood slowly. “He should sleep for several hours. Perhaps you’d like to take a walk with me while we wait. It would pass the time, and perhaps we could ... talk.”

 

She stood self-consciously and straightened her sweater, smoothed down her skirt. “Thank you,” she said with more composure than she felt. “That would be very nice.”

 

Father turned to her, his expression guarded but kind. He held out his hand and smiled hesitantly. She took Father’s hand and wrapped her fingers around it, looked him in the eyes. A smile broke over Catherine’s face, full of warmth and weariness and relief. They walked out of the light and into the darkness, tied together by their touching hands.

 

**** The End ****

 

 

Better than good ...

 

This has certainly been fun. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray into their world as much as I have, even if you don’t agree with what I wrote. You’re welcome to think of it as my version of the guided tour of the world Below. The stories in this issue are three of my favorites, three that hit close to the heart. Of all the episodes, “Nor Iron Bars a Cage” manages to strike some resonant chord in my heart that the others do not, for it illustrates most clearly the depth of the sacrifice Vincent is willing to make for Catherine, and for her happiness. I was one of those unfortunate people who missed the first several episodes due to a cheerfully unreliable VCR. “Nor Iron Bars a Cage” was the first episode I successfully taped and I saw the ones that came before only as they were metered out in rerun season. “Nor Iron Bars a Cage: The Missing Scenes” hit even closer after I saw “No Way Down” because I know, as you do, that Father turned her away at the door and would not let her stay that time. That time.

 

Beauty and the Beast has touched something magical inside us all. I can’t think of a better way of responding to that touch than to seek out others who feel the same way. That’s all I’m trying to do. I’d love to hear some reactions on the pipes, and print some of your thoughts here. Just for funzies, I thought I’d take the space this time and throw out some ideas to see what you think.

 

Has anybody else....

 

...been dying for Catherine to give Mouse a crash course in driving?

 

...thought that the natural hot springs under the city would make a great jacuzzi?

 

...wondered if Catherine can cook? (More about this later.)

 

...tried to figure out exactly how Vincent gets to her balcony? (Is it up through the elevator shaft to the roof and back down, or up the side of the building and over the edge?)

 

...realized Catherine never goes out to meet Vincent without grabbing a robe? (Good girl!)

 

...noticed that Vincent suddenly acquired a very human-looking hand in the early scenes of “Masques?”

 

...wondered what happened to Margaret’s estate when she died? (My first thought was a trust fund for Kipper, Dustin and the others.)

 

...wanted to find out what happened to Lucy?

 

...thought Father is just adorable? (I’d take him home in a paper sack in an instant.)

 

...noticed the coffee cup Catherine has been drinking out of in “Temptation” is empty?

 

...realized they used two different crystal necklaces in “To Reign in Hell”? (You can buy those necklaces, you know. Hubby got me one for Easter.)

 

...wanted to know how Father (not Roy) acquired his limp? Does it have anything to do with the herbs he gets from Dr. Wong?

 

...noticed Vincent couldn’t possibly have swallowed his tea before answering Father in “Temptation”?

 

...wondered what Joe did when Catherine never showed up at work with the skip-trace on Eddie Burke he asked for? (“To Reign in Hell”)

 

...fallen in love with the way they dress Below? 

 

...noticed how incredibly lovely Irma Irvine is? (She’s Jamie.)

 

...missed Winslow as much as I have? What a terrible loss.

 

...hoped they’re making a blooper reel? (It’d be worth it just to hear Linda’s wonderful laugh and watch Roy flub a line or two.

 

...recognized Keye Luke, the priest in “China Moon,” as the same person who played Donald Corey on Star Trek’s “Whom Gods Destroy”?

 

...noticed that Paracelsus has a propensity for wearing a priest’s collar? (Does that bother .anybody else?)

 

...wondered if Kipper, Dustin, Eric, Ellie and the others attend public schools? (It wouldn’t be impossible, you know.)

 

...noticed that Catherine collects glass eggs?

 

...wanted to see Joe in action  in court?

 

...realized that if Catherine met Vincent on April 12, stayed Below for ten days, and then didn’t see him again for eight months, they couldn’t have spent a Halloween together before their Anniversary? (Any suggestions?)

 

...changed their mind about mini-skirts after seeing how good Linda looks in them?

 

..recognized Merritt Butrick – Shake from “No Way Down” – as the son of Star Trek’s Carol Marcus and James T. Kirk.

 

...wanted to see more about Vincent’s childhood?

 

...thought about the conspiracy of silence from the other adults Below about Paracelsus?

 

...wondered who’s going to replace Winslow on the Council?

 

...realized that the Council must have Cullen’s $10,000.00?

 

...figured out Vincent’s age? Catherine is thirty, Devin is “well into his thirties,” and Vincent is somewhere in between.

 

...rented all of the collective movies of Ron, Linda, Roy, Ren?

 

...wanted Edie back in the office?

 

...thought about the fact that the average body temperature for a cat is about 102.3? (I didn’t say anything – I just asked if you’d thought about it.)

 

...applauded the way they ended “Down to a Sunless Sea”? (I think he had a right to be miffed, and I’m proud of her for apologizing.)

 

...got any to add to the list? Send ’em on in, folks!

 

Better than better!

 

Overtures Index