No Other Dream

Part One

Vincent looked out over the city—how familiar it looked, and it had never failed to comfort him. But tonight was different—comfort was nowhere to be found and even the city seemed strange.

He had just come from her apartment, where he had left the book of sonnets on her balcony, the book he had been reading when he first felt her fear. He couldn’t remember when he had put the rose there; it was long ago. That sonnet had brought him such solace—and pain—over the years. It was like Shakespeare had ripped the very words from Vincent’s soul. How could he have known? He just did—like the quote he had written for her; Shakespeare knew everything.

He had left the book there for her as a keepsake, something to remember him by. He didn’t know how else to say goodbye. The last time he had seen her, just before he had left Mischa’s building, they had held each other’s eyes for what seemed like lifetimes. He wanted so desperately to go to her—the look in her eyes, what had it meant? Was it just relief? Regret? Was she saying goodbye? He would never know.

He sighed. She was most likely with him now. Elliot. The thought made him sick. Even though the last part of the sonnet had finally come true for him, even though he had finally found the love that made the rest of his life bearable, it was gone—she was gone. All he could hope for was ... he sighed again. There was nothing left to hope for.

He wanted to be happy for her, happy that she had found love with someone who could give her what she deserved—more than he ever could. But he ached for her. As much as he had told himself that she would eventually go, that it was for the best, now that the moment was here, he could find no joy for her or himself. He was ashamed to admit that despite all of his noble gestures, he had always wanted her to find her happiness with him. 

He shuddered at his last words to her—some day, someone will come and you will live another life, and dream another dream.

She had told him she didn’t want to lose him, but he had only walked away. After she had left, he had closed the bond, only leaving it open a fraction so he would know if she was in trouble. After he had felt that kiss ... 

He made himself stop—he couldn’t go there again. He had to be strong now—as weak and hopeless as he felt, he had to be strong. A better man loved her; he must never forget that.

He jumped from his perch and scaled down the building. Within minutes, he was below again, walking slowly toward the central chambers. His head hung low—every cell in his body resigned to more years of solitude.

“Vincent!”

Suddenly Geoffrey was in front of him, out of breath from running. Vincent kneeled to face the child, waiting for him to catch his breath.

“What is it, Geoffrey?”

“There’s a woman!”

“I don’t understand ...” Vincent started.

“A woman ... in your chamber. I think you are friends. Her name is ...”

“Catherine?” he said at the same time Geoffrey did. Was it possible?

“She came below, from some basement near the park. She was wandering around the tunnels and then Sarah and I found her. She said she was your friend, that she wanted to find you. We took her to your chamber—she’s waiting for you, Vincent.” Geoffrey said, waiting for Vincent’s reply. He was worried they would be in trouble for bringing a stranger deep into the tunnels.

“Is it okay, Vincent? Did we do the right thing?” he asked.

Strangely, Vincent didn’t say anything, but he gave Geoffrey a big hug before running off.

Part Two

He paused outside the entrance to his chamber, trying to gather himself. Yes, she was here, but he didn’t know why—it didn’t necessarily mean anything.

He stepped into the room and didn’t see her at first—had she left?

“Vincent ...” she said, softly.

He looked to find her standing off to the side of his room. His heart was nearly beating out of his chest. He slowly moved into the room, but stayed a good distance from her. He was so terrified, he could barely breathe.

“Are you well?” he asked.

She nodded. “It’s over, Vincent. The building stays—they will be okay.”

“Good,” he replied.

She made to walk toward him, but stopped when she saw him tighten up protectively.

“Vincent,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I found out who was behind all of this ...”

She looked up, but he had turned away. She forced herself to continue.

“It was ... the man I have been seeing, Vincent, and it’s over.”

It was over? Did that mean ...? He forced himself to be calm, to hope for nothing, to expect nothing. He couldn’t look at her though. He couldn’t watch her walk away again.

“Why did you come for me, Vincent? I certainly didn’t deserve it.”

He spun around to face her.

“Catherine, please; don’t say that. I lo—...” he gulped, alarmed at what he had almost said. He must never say that—never. 

“I will always protect you. Always. Please, you mustn’t doubt that.” 

It was a moment before Catherine spoke to him again. When she did, her voice was low and filled with pain.

“When I was in that room with Sophie, Vincent, all I could think about was how I had destroyed the most important thing in my life ... what I had almost done ...” 

Her voice choked in her throat. She was so ashamed and so sorry.

Vincent sighed, unsure if he should speak now. And what should he say? As happy as he was to see her, nothing had changed, really. It did not matter that this man was gone; another man would come and when he did, Vincent would have to let her go. There was no other way. He fought back his true feelings and gathered himself.

“What you did, Catherine, it wasn’t ...” he paused and fought to control his voice from shaking. “It was the right thing to do.”

Her head jerked up and surprised him. The tears were heavy in her eyes.

“How can you say that to me? Are we just going to forever pretend that we don’t feel anything for each other?”

“Catherine, please!” he said, loudly; he immediately dropped to a whisper. “We cannot ... there is nothing to talk about!” 

She looked incredulous and then incredibly hurt.

“You mean you don’t ...” she trailed off. Vincent saw her bottom lip quiver. He saw her at war with herself. He hated to cause her pain, to bring her doubt. If only he could tell her how he felt, but he couldn’t. Any word that further tied her to him would only cause more pain when she left—and she would leave. He could not allow himself to think otherwise.

“Please, Catherine, don’t cry ...” he managed.

She had wrapped her arms around herself, almost as if she was rocking herself for comfort. His arms ached to hold her.

She was shaking her head. He could feel her conflicting emotions—doubt, the urge to run, the disbelief, her confusion ... but most of all, he could feel her heart, and the depth of her feelings for him. It reached across the room and tore at him, refusing to be denied. He steeled himself even further as he saw her gather her strength.

“Vincent,” she started, still not raising her head to look at him. “When I first met Elliot ...”

“Catherine!” he nearly growled—it was a reflex; he couldn’t bear to even hear his name.

“No! If you think there is nothing to talk about, then you don’t have to talk. But I do! I need you to understand and the only thing I ask of you—the only thing I will dare to ask of you—is that you please listen to me.”

Vincent was angry, but it went against everything he was to even consider denying her such a small thing. He was silent and slightly nodded.

“When I first met him, Vincent, I was attracted to him ...”

He hissed and turned away from her as if he had been burned.

She was quick to continue.

“But my next thought was of you, Vincent.”

He collapsed into his chair, dropping his head into his hands—this was almost worse.

“Vincent, the old Cathy would not have hesitated a second to be with a man like Elliot.”

“You should be with a man like Elliot!” he interrupted, finally looking up into her eyes, but her icy stare quieted him immediately.

“But I did hesitate, Vincent ... not just at first, but the whole time. Something was wrong and I knew it, and I don’t know why I didn’t stop it ...”

You stopped it, Catherine, when you learned he was capable of violence and showed no mercy to those people. What if you hadn’t...?” 

“What if I hadn’t learned the truth about him? Is that what you think? That if I had never learned about his involvement with Mischa and his friends that I would have run off with Elliot and never given you another thought? Is that what you think?” she demanded.

He looked at her again. Of course that is what he thought ... it was the truth, wasn’t it? His eyes pleaded with her not to continue. He could see her anger wane for a moment and her face went soft; she was concerned for him, he knew. But he saw the fire in her blaze again.

“Vincent, I am not the old Cathy anymore. You of all people should know that. I was upset when I found out about him, but ...” she trailed off.

She walked over to the desk and kneeled in front of his chair. He shrank away from her. She did not touch him or come any closer, but she held his gaze.

“Vincent, I was relieved when I found out. As soon as I got over the shock, I realized I wasn’t hurt ... I was relieved. Vincent, how can you doubt the changes you have encouraged and supported in me? You have changed me, irreversibly. We are a part of each other ... our bond ... surely you must know that I couldn’t ... that I would never leave you ...”

Vincent stood up forcefully and moved away from her quickly, silencing her. He strode over to the other side of the room and stood with his back to her.

“You should leave me, Catherine. You must ...” he sighed. “You will.”

“Vincent, please! I don’t love him ... I ...”

“But you kissed him, Catherine,” he interrupted in a low voice. It broke his heart to even admit this to himself, much less say it.

“Yes, but ...”

“Was that the old or the new Catherine?” he said, bitterly.

He could feel her struggling with her anger. He was glad for her anger. Anger would keep them apart, and they should be apart.

When she spoke, her voice was controlled, but heavy with restraint. The passion was just behind every word.

“Yes, Vincent, I kissed him and it felt good.”

Vincent flinched visibly.

“But it wasn’t ... great. It wasn’t magical; it wasn’t even ... memorable. How could it be when I don’t love him?”

He felt a sob rise within him.

“Vincent, please turn around.”

He shook his head.

“Please, Vincent, I need you to look me in the eye, see my face. You need to know!”

Against his will, he felt himself turning to her. She took a step closer, and then another, until she stood in front of him. He still couldn’t look at her. Her small hands grabbed the fabric around his upper arms and tried to pull him down to her, but he refused.

“What, Vincent? What is it? What are you feeling?” she pleaded.

“Did you?” he whispered. “Did he ...”

“Oh, Vincent, you don’t know?” she cried. 

“No, I shut off the bond. I ... I only left it open enough to feel if you were in danger. That is all I could bear ...” he stopped, trying desperately to hold back his tears. To cry in front of her? What was he thinking? He tried to pull away.

She held onto him strongly, but he would not stop struggling with her. He wanted to run, to be as far from her as possible. Every moment was like a dagger in him.

“Catherine, no ...” he told her, but she wouldn’t let go.

“Look at me, Vincent. Look at me and listen to me. Please!” she begged.

“What can you say? You are a woman with dreams and desires. Any man would want to love you ...” he managed, still trying to get away from her without hurting her in the process. 

“Vincent, look at me!” she cried.

It was the despair in her voice that finally made his eyes find hers. He couldn’t hurt her this way. He wanted to run, and he would, once he listened to the words that would shatter his heart. He was struggling against the inevitability of having to hear this. He found her eyes.

Tears were streaming down her face. She looked terrified and overcome with sorrow. Her hands were on his face now; he could feel them trembling.

“No, Vincent. No, I didn’t. I never even considered it. Never. I would never!”

He shuddered at her words. She wasn’t lying, nor was she necessarily trying to convince him. She looked truly horrified that he had even doubted her for a moment, so horrified that he did indeed feel sorrow for not trusting her. But what was there to trust? They had a dream only; she did not owe him anything, certainly not fidelity. 

“It doesn’t matter, Catherine. You do not owe me anything ...”

“It doesn’t matter? I don’t owe you anything?” she cried at him. He was shocked when she hit him in the chest. She hit him again and then pushed him away.

“Dammit, Vincent! Of course it matters. I owe you everything. My life,  my gratitude ... my heart. Everything, Vincent. I want so much to give it to you!”

“No, Catherine,” he sighed, feeling the gravity of his own heart as it hung heavily in his chest. “Please, you are free to do anything you like, with this man or any other ...”

“I don’t want to be free!” she cried, stalking back over to him. “I want to be yours!”

“That can never be, Catherine,” he whispered.

“I already am!” she retaliated, grabbing his arms again.

“Catherine, please!” he told her forcefully. He was losing his hold, quickly. She was wearing him down—and how he longed to surrender to her.

“Fine!” she yelled. “Tell me that you are okay with me kissing Elliot, that you don’t care!”

He ripped himself away from her and sat heavily on the bed.

She immediately followed him, relentless.

“Tell me then, that you want ... that you want him to touch me,” she choked.

Vincent groaned and brought his hands to his face; the tears were falling now. He couldn’t stop them.

“Tell me that you want me to touch him! To give myself to him!” she demanded.

That did him in. He couldn’t bear the thought; it burned through him like poison. Still not raising his head, he slid off the bed and sank to the floor beside her, pulling her to his chest. This was the closest he had ever been to her. His arms were wrapped around her back; her head was against his chest, her hands gripping his vest. They were breathing heavily and rocking with emotion. He put his lips to her hair and kissed the top of her head.

He felt her hands twisting into his hair. Before he could react, she pulled him down forcefully until their faces were right in front of each other. She held him there so tightly, he dared not move.

He could feel her breath on his face; it was warm and labored. She rubbed her cheek against his and he froze. She was so close. He wanted to run, but he couldn’t move. As terrifying as this was, he also wanted it more than anything.

“Vincent,” she whispered, “Please ...”

His heart broke at the need in her voice, but he still didn’t move. Her hands wound their way around his neck, until he felt her soft skin against his. She ran a thumb over his throat and he couldn’t suppress a moan.

“Please, Vincent,” she cried softly. “Please touch me ...”

His whole body was shaking from restraint—desire was building like a wave. How had they come to this point? Moments ago, she had been lost to him forever; now, she wanted him to touch her? God, how he wanted to ... but he had to stop it—the intensity of his feelings was nearly overwhelming.

“Catherine ...” His heart leapt into his throat. “I can’t ...”

“Please, Vincent, please don’t pull away,” she pleaded.

Vincent quickly grabbed her hands and pulled her close to him. She sighed, relieved. He was stopping this, but at least he wasn’t pushing her away. He held her close for many long moments until they had calmed their breathing a bit.

“Please, Catherine, I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to push you away, but I’m ... I don’t understand how you can want ...”

“Understand what? You can’t understand what, Vincent?”

He sighed at her relentlessness. She was so stubborn, a quality he cherished in her. 

“Catherine, I am ... look at me. Look at you! You are ... you are everything ...” he managed.

“Vincent, you are everything, everything to me. How can you doubt how I feel about you?”

“Please, Catherine!” he nearly yelled, jumping up from her at last. He moved to the opposite side of the room.

She pulled herself up and sat quietly on the bed. She didn’t speak. 

Vincent was frustrated with himself. Why wouldn’t he just talk to her? Isn’t that what he would advise anyone in his position to do? Of course it was. But this was Catherine ... he feared he didn’t have the words. He didn’t trust himself to speak with her about this, lest anything slip from his lips. He was afraid that if he opened up this channel even a crack that everything would come tumbling out. All he felt for her, all he longed to tell her—and that could not come to pass.

But he could see no way out of this. She wasn’t going to drop it, he knew. She was giving him space now, but she wasn’t leaving. This is impossible! He growled and started pacing.

“What is it, Vincent? What is really wrong? What are you really afraid of?” she said.

Vincent tensed and continued striding back and forth across the room.

“Vincent,” she said loudly; her voice was clear and firm. “What are you really afraid of?”

Those words—so simple—ran a shiver down his spine; he stopped pacing. He turned from her and grabbed his heart, feeling like the wind had been knocked out of him. He knew that was what truth did. She was right; he was scared. Yes, he was concerned for her and yes, there were many obstacles to consider, but as to the matter of becoming intimate with her, it was fear that held him back. He felt ashamed ... how could he have deceived himself in this way? 

But he hadn’t been dishonest about it; he had not even considered it until this precise moment. And she knew! How did she know?

Suddenly, she was behind him. She slid her arms around his waist and pulled him close, burying her face in his cloak. He couldn’t suppress the growl that rose in his throat. It reverberated in the chamber—she didn’t flinch. She had caught him off guard—he felt cornered. In the one tiny moment he had let his walls down and faced his fear head on, she had sneaked up on him and through his defenses. She was at his very center now and it was terrifying.

But the growl wasn’t all fear or shock, he realized, after he caught himself. Part of it was a surrender to her, a cry of passion and emotion.

“What are you afraid of?” she whispered into his back.

“Catherine,” he sighed and, out of habit mostly, attempted to pull away from her. “I don’t know if you can understand ... I don’t know if I do ...”

“Try me,” she stated, not releasing him.

He was silent for a while longer. They stood in the middle of the room, her arms still around him. She wasn’t letting go—what choice did he have? He tried to think of something that would satisfy her, but only the truth came to him, a truth so deep, he had never even faced it. Before he knew it, the words were stumbling out ...

“Catherine,” he said softly. “I have never been ... I’ve never been touched by a woman, in this way, before. It’s been since I was a child that I have had any meaningful physical contact at all.”

He didn’t know whether to feel alarmed or relieved when she tightened her hold on him.

“Catherine, how can you understand what my life has been like? You are so beautiful, you have no idea. When I realized I was different, all I saw was ...” he choked up. He couldn’t believe the wave of emotion crashing over him; he was vocalizing things he had never reconciled in himself. All his well-laid plans were destroyed; he was powerless to stop the words.

“All I saw was ugliness. I learned to despise my body. I know you see beauty and I know you mean it, but I can’t. I don’t know if I ever will, Catherine. Some romanticize difference, say it’s a quality to be desired, but none have ever walked my path. When I look at your hands in mine, I am repulsed at my grotesqueness.”

Catherine moved to object, but he went on.

“No. You must hear this, I ... must say this. I ...” he paused, gathering his strength. “It would dishonor you, Catherine. If I were to touch you ... to touch my strange and brutal mouth to your soft lips ... to see my claws on your skin ... Catherine, you are so beautiful, can you understand how beautiful you are? I am ... I am a monster, Catherine. This is not a fairytale. The beast lives in the shadows, without love. And your love ... Catherine, your love will not change me; it will not make me a prince. Catherine—I would rather die than dishonor you.” 

He couldn’t believe he was saying this. He wanted nothing more than to kiss her and touch her—nothing!

“Vincent, please, I ...”

He suddenly spun her around and pulled her to his chest.

“Please, don’t say anything yet,” he asked, softly. He felt her nod slightly. Her arms stole back around him. She slid her hands under his vest and against his back, only separated from his skin by his thermal shirt. 

“I long for you, Catherine,” he said, quietly. “Please don’t ever doubt my feelings for you. A weaker man would relent, but I am not weak, Catherine. My ... love for you gives me the strength to do what must be done. And we must never ... we can never know each other in that way.”

He was shocked at the sudden anger radiating from her. It took his breath away.

“Fine!” she cried out. “Fine, don’t touch me! But I want to see my hands on your body, I want to kiss your lips ....”

Her voice broke then. Before he could react, she had snaked her arms up to his shoulders and was touching the skin on his neck. Her hands ran over his face, his cheeks, his throat; he was frozen.

“I know this isn’t a fairytale and the last thing I want is to change you! Vincent, how could you even say that?” She sounded hurt. She grabbed the back of his head and pulled him down. In an instant her lips were at his ear and she started whispering to him.

“You are not a monster. You are not repulsive or ugly or dishonorable. You are the most beautiful thing in my life, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Vincent, my love for you does not blind me—it shows you to me. I know you are terrified, and I don’t know what you are going through and I know I can’t. I know touch must be incredibly difficult for you to accept, but you have to, Vincent. Some things can only be said without words. I need to show you how much I lo—”

“No Catherine, no ...” he whispered.

“Vincent ...”

“No!” he said loudly, surprising them both.

Catherine released him and he slowly straightened up. His head hung so low, she could not even see his face even though she was standing right in front of him. It broke her heart to see him like this. He wasn’t the sort to exaggerate or pity himself—knowing that only showed her how deeply he felt these things, how much he believed himself to be unworthy of her.

Catherine dropped her hands to his abdomen, where she lightly held the bottom of his vest. It was then she noticed he was shaking—literally shaking. How terrifying it would be to have been isolated and set apart for an entire lifetime and now have someone beckoning you to come close. The desire to capitulate, the fear of rejection, the possibility of disappointing her. 

It was so much to ask, but it was not too much. Maybe he did not feel he deserved to be loved, but she did, and if she didn’t show him, didn’t touch him, part of her would be destroyed. Denying touch between them would only lead to desperation and unhappiness; didn’t he see that? There was no other way.

“Vincent,” she spoke through tears. “I have to show you how I feel, I have to ...”

“Please, Catherine, no ... please don’t ...” he cried softly.

She felt as if she might go mad with frustration. Could she push him? Would she hurt him? Maybe he would feel differently once he let down his walls. She gripped his upper arms forcefully.

“Vincent. You have changed me. I was the monster! I was shallow and empty. So much of my heart shut down when I lost my mother and I never did anything to heal it. I was going through the motions of life, doing what others wanted of me. I ignored people in pain; I worked for people who already had everything in the world. I was selfish and oblivious. I am the monster of this story, not you. You saved me. You changed me. The moment you came into my life, my heart finally started to heal; I started to feel again. Vincent, I have felt nothing for years, and what I feel now, for you, is ... devastating ... I can’t keep it inside anymore ... please, I can’t ... you have to know ...”

“Catherine, please, I do not want to disappoint you, or hurt you, but we always knew that this is just a dream. Your life Above is what is real and it is the life you were meant to live, with a man who can give you so much more than I can ...”

“Stop it! Stop it with the robotic answer—you don’t deserve love, you can’t understand how I can want you when I can have a life Above with another man ...”

She stopped. She saw him flinch when she said those words. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself.

“I have heard those reasons and I don’t feel the same way. I feel like I have waited my entire life to find you; I am the one who was meant to love you, to hold you and touch you. You deserve that and you are worthy, Vincent ... I can’t tell you how much I believe that ... that I am meant to love you, that you are meant to be loved by me,” she cried.

She had dropped her head after those words, so weary of fighting him. She was startled when she felt the tips of his fingers gently lift her chin to face him. They stared into each other’s eyes for longer than they ever had before. Vincent was in turmoil. It would be so easy to kiss her and have what they both wanted. He knew he couldn’t withhold himself forever, not when it was hurting them both, especially her. But the moment he gave in, the moment he allowed her to touch him, the moment he touched her ... everything would change—everything—and he couldn’t be sure it would be for the best. If she was repulsed by him and rejected him, he would die.

She was staring at him with hope, her eyes heavy with tears and deep, abiding love. She reached up and briefly touched the side of his face.

“Please, Vincent, let me love you, please let me ...” her voiced failed her. 

There were no words left; they both knew that. She sighed deeply and swallowed hard, rising up on her tiptoes. He didn’t move.

“You are so beautiful, Vincent,” she whispered, her lips a breath away from his. He could feel her hands tightening on him.

And then he did move ... away from her. He turned his head and took a step back. He hated himself for doing it, but he didn’t stop himself. He could not reconcile her love for him with a lifetime of hating who he was. How could she think he was beautiful? He was repulsive, an animal. He moved to the bed and sat down heavily. He did not look at her; he could not. He could not bear to see her face right now.

Catherine stood there, frozen. The tears stopped abruptly and she felt a chill. He felt so far away and it felt like he would be so forever. She was shocked that he had pulled away—not surprised, but shocked at the finality of it, and his ability to completely reject her when she had never opened herself up like this to anyone before. She felt a terrible numbness coursing through her body. There was nothing to say, nothing to do. She had offered him her heart, her love, her body and he had turned away from her.

Damn him for not saying anything! Damn him for letting her stand in the middle of his chamber, alone with the rejection. The longer he was quiet, the more agony she felt. Her strength was gone—her will, shattered. How could he just abandon her like this when all she wanted was to love him? 

She pressed her lips together to stop them from trembling. She dropped her arms to her sides and clenched her fists. She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment, willing him to come to her ... but he did not. She wanted to cry out at him; she wanted to scream, but she didn’t. With the strength she owed only to him, she turned and walked out of his chamber for what felt like the last time. She did not look back.

Once she hit the tunnels, she began running. She bypassed the tunnel toward the threshold, unable to face that special place and unwilling to stop running. She surged on until she got to the Central Park entrance and tripped the lever, opened the door and the gate, and shut them both again in a blur. She burst out of the entrance and kept running through the park. 

Why had Vincent pushed her away? Elliot had wanted her, and it had felt so good to be wanted, to be so desired. He wanted to give her what Vincent could not—what Vincent would not give her. Why? Did he really want her to leave him? To go to Elliot? Could she honestly love anyone besides Vincent? Was this her fault? Had she destroyed everything with her carelessness and foolishness with Elliot? She pushed herself even harder; this was her fault. How could she have hurt Vincent like this? How could her actions have been so far removed from what she felt?

Her mind was reeling, the thoughts coming too fast. She was tired of running; she felt like she was going to fall apart. Her mind was relentless—my fault, my fault, my fault. Through bleary eyes, she cut across to her apartment building, not even caring that the doorman was seeing her like this. She needed to get inside; she needed to be alone. She pressed the elevator button repeatedly until it finally came. When it reached her floor, she burst out of it and trembling, managed to get her door unlocked. She stepped into the room, into the darkness, and then collapsed onto the floor, sobbing like she had lost everything. She had. 

Part Three

Vincent slid down the rock wall to the floor and roared in pain. It had taken him a few minutes to realize what he had done before he had taken off after her. What a fool he had been! He was so worried that she might reject him that he didn’t even realize he was doing exactly that to her. To know the hurt he had caused her was agonizing, to feel it running through him was unbearable. He had reached the entrance just as the door had shut behind her. He almost cried out her name, but it stuck in his throat. He paced furiously as she ran, feeling every stab of pain when she did. He felt her doubts, her guilt, her anger, and finally, when she had reached her apartment, he felt her hopelessness and desperation as his legs gave out.

She was still crying—he could feel it. His chest seized and he could barely breathe. What had he done? Was this pain the best they could hope for?

He looked at his hands—the claws, the fur—before bringing them to his face. He felt his cheeks, the fine hair that lined them. He felt his nose and his mouth—so familiar to him, but so different from hers. Could she really think he was beautiful? Could he imagine himself naked, standing before her? Could he imagine her touching him? 

Yes, and he didn’t doubt her acceptance; he only doubted his courage to face her in that way. She was right—all of his reasons and excuses were well-founded, even well-intentioned, but they weren’t the reason he withheld himself from her. He was scared—and of so many things. That he would never see himself the way she did. That he would disappoint her with his lack of knowledge and experience. That he would do something wrong. 

He was jealous of Elliot, who had taken so easily that which Vincent had agonized so fiercely over, that which he had so painfully denied himself. Still, she didn’t want Elliot; she wanted him. She wanted him and he had practically forced her to return to Elliot’s arms. Did he really hate himself that much? That he would completely reject her pleas and her desire because he deemed himself so unworthy?

Yes, he admitted to himself ... and it would end here.

Wincing with the pain of Catherine’s sadness, he forced himself to his feet and took off running, his destination clear. He came to one of the guest chambers and pulled down the heavy curtain behind him. He lit all the candles within seconds and then walked into the center of the room and closed his eyes. He was nearly panting and was so terrified, he felt ill. With every ounce of strength he possessed, he forced his eyes open to face himself in the large mirror before him.

He stared into his own face and wanted to pull away, but he steeled himself against that urge and continued to look. He was ... different, but not deformed, he thought. He was big, but not grotesquely so. Certainly there were men bigger than he. His hair was unusual, but not inhuman. He made himself open his mouth and examined his teeth; they were not alarming in themselves. He smiled weakly, and realized that it hurt. He paused for a moment, taking that in. He was not meant to smile, but he didn’t let himself get lost in that fact. He accepted it; it did not mean he wouldn’t.

He forced himself to look deeply into the eyes that Catherine did and saw only warmth and kindness. This is what the children saw and they loved him, adored him even. His face had a quiet dignity about it, he thought. He also realized that his face could hide his emotions and lamented the times Catherine must have searched it, trying to understand what he was feeling. But it was in his eyes. In them, he saw everything he felt, everything he was. She had seen it too.

He took a deep breath and quickly removed his cloak. Just as quickly, he removed his vest and pulled his tunic over his head. He brought his hands to his throat and began untying the leather straps of his shirt. He made himself continue, knowing that if he paused, he would lose his courage. Within seconds, he was bare-chested.

He ran his eyes over his chest and his arms. He was very muscular and if he was honest with himself, he was proud of it. He liked being strong. He liked his endurance and his agility. His biceps were powerful and rounded—his chest broad and well-defined. As far as he was aware, his body had more hair than most men, but it was soft hair and it thinned in places. His stomach was flat, its muscles visible. He took a deep breath and watched his body move.

Before he lost his courage, he quickly took off his boots and pulled his trousers off. He felt abysmally foolish, but he knew he had to do this. He knew he had to accept himself before he could allow her to. Blushing fiercely, he yanked off his briefs and forced his eyes to the mirror again.

He was quite a presence, he admitted, but aside from being covered with hair, he wasn’t different from other men. He was proportionate; his body looked like it was built for hard labor, and he comforted himself with the fact that this made it possible to help his family in so many ways. He stood there for many minutes, making himself look until he felt calm. 

He wasn’t a monster—he was a man. He often felt that his outward appearance reflected nothing of what was inside him, but maybe he was wrong. Maybe if he didn’t have this body and all that came with it, he would not be the same person he was inside. Maybe they were attached, mirrors of each other. He was who he was because of this body and this face. Is this what Catherine meant? 

Had he loved her any less when her face was covered with gashes? No, he had not loved her despite those cuts; in fact, his love had heightened because of them. Catherine could have any man she wanted, but she wanted him. He hadn’t forced her to love him. If anything, he had forced her away ... and still she came back, relentless in her belief that he deserved love. Maybe he did.

My God, what have I done?

Remembering his state, he hurriedly pulled his clothes on. He flew from the chamber, already in a sprint with his cloak whipping behind him. He blew past the sentries, who were still reeling from Catherine’s visit, and continued his journey. Within minutes, he was on the roof of her building, and it was only then that he stopped. He searched the bond and found a stillness that puzzled him. He climbed down to her balcony and looked inside.

Part Four

The entire apartment was dark and silent. Was she not here? He searched the bond again and knew she was here. He tapped on the glass, but nothing stirred. Vincent began to worry that something had happened to her, so he did the unthinkable and opened the door to her apartment. He called out her name but she did not answer. He took a step into the room, fumbling for the light switch. Soft light poured out from a corner lamp; then, he saw her.

His heart leapt into his throat and then plunged into his stomach—the sight of her. She was curled up in a ball a few feet from the front door, sleeping. He thought about earlier, when he had dropped to the floor and roared in pain. She had come inside the apartment and literally fallen to where she lay. He caught a pinch of light off the keys still in her hand. Tears welled up in his eyes as he realized he was the cause of this. What he had done had driven her here, to the floor, where she lay, crying because of him. He was sick with the thought that he had done this to her. 

He could not hurt her like this, with her destroyed by his rejection and denial of what they both wanted. He pulled off his cloak and was beside her in a moment. He realized then that she was dreaming—and it was not a good dream. Tears were streaming down her face and her hands were clenched into fists; she was mumbling something, what he could not tell. He searched the bond and found that stillness again and it was only because she was sleeping. She had not found any release from her heartache; it had followed her into her dreams. He gathered her in his arms gently, pulled her to him, and stood up.

Vincent looked around and then walked over and sat down on her couch, keeping her close to him. She had stopped dreaming and he was relieved. He looked at her, wondering what he should do. He was acutely aware of the fact that he was inside her apartment, holding her intimately. What would she think when she woke up? Should he wake her?

He was beginning to panic when she opened her eyes. When she smiled, he returned it, reveling in the pull on his face. But as she woke up more, her face darkened. She looked confused, surprised, even slightly happy, but one emotion towered above them all—she was scared. That fear would be her reaction to him broke his heart. And it wasn’t the kind of fear he had worried so much about; no, she was scared that he would hurt her again.

She sat up in his lap, looking restless and apprehensive. She made to move, but stopped when he clenched her where his fingers touched her. Neither one had spoken. She turned her face to the side resolutely and willed herself to be strong and not break before him again.

“Catherine,” he said, finally. 

She kept her face turned away from him, but the tears were already falling. She couldn’t do this again, she thought. She couldn’t endure any more rejection from him. Already her arms longed to hold him, to curl into him and kiss him ... No. She couldn’t do this ...

“Catherine,” he repeated. “Please, look at me.”

When she faced him and met his gaze, she knew immediately that something was different. He held her eyes and still held her in his arms, something he had never done before. She held her breath as she reached up to touch the side of his face. Tears instantly formed in his eyes, that she could still find the courage to touch him, after all he had done. 

He pulled her closer to him, but his eyes did not leave hers. His stare was so bold in a way, confident almost. Despite her sadness and her fear, Catherine felt a jolt of desire. She brutally forced it back down, but he felt it too, and it encouraged him to continue.

“I am ashamed of myself, Catherine, that I could hurt you so deeply ...He glanced away for a moment, but then caught her eyes again. “The only solace I can offer is that it will never happen again.”

He paused as another wave of guilt and remorse washed over him, but he could not think about that now; he had to be here—for Catherine.

“Catherine ...” he sighed. “I am the monster, but not because of who I am. The way I treated you, the months I have spent pushing you away when all you wanted was some warmth and comfort from me. It was so painful for me to deny what I felt for you—I didn’t think about the pain I was causing you. But yours was compounding mine—what I was feeling was the hurt I was causing you. I’m sorry ... for hurting you and for being so unaware of it.”

Catherine’s bottom lip quivered. He felt her emotions through the bond—they were chaotic. He rushed on.

“Catherine, there is so much I need to tell you, so much I want to share with you, but please know this—Catherine, I ...”

It took his breath away, when her lips came crashing down onto his. His body came alive in an instant and he pulled her into him. Her tongue pushed into his mouth and he groaned. Forgetting his inexperience and his doubts, he instinctively responded to her, kissing her back with more intensity than he had ever expected to permit himself. Her hands came up behind his neck and she kissed him harder, deeper ... their desire whirling through him, drumming on the tips of his nerves.

Needing to breathe and not wanting to lose himself too quickly, he pulled away from her. He saw a frown begin to form, so he held her face between his hands. He stared at her hungrily, trying to catch his breath. Her frown disappeared and her eyes darkened. She blinked once, slowly. She was waiting.

“Catherine,” he breathed, still holding her face in his hands. “I want to tell you something.”

She nodded, her shoulders still heaving. He dropped his hands and held her arms.

“Not long ago, Catherine, I dreamed about you, about us,” he explained.

“Really?” she asked, a soft smile coming to her lips.

“You were in the middle of a great big room. There was light all around you and people surrounded you—from Below, and many from Above as well, your friends and colleagues. Everyone was admiring you—you never looked so beautiful. Your dress, your hair, your face ... everything was so beautiful ...”

He stared at her now and she had never looked so radiant. He wanted to kiss her, but he pressed on.

“Catherine, everyone’s eyes were on you, like you were a queen. They wanted to be around you, but you ...” he stumbled, finally understanding why he felt compelled to tell her about this dream.

“Yes?” she inquired, bringing her hands to his face.

“You ... wherever they led you, you were only looking at me. They would twist and turn you and still, without fail, you would find my eyes. And though we were held apart, we were not. We were connected and I felt so much ... pride, Catherine. That with everyone wanting you, you would choose me, you would find me in the crowd and reach out to me ...”

She was nodding, stroking his hair now. “I will always find you, Vincent.”

“It matters not who is in the room, in your life even, you want ...”

“I want to be with you,” she finished for him.

He nodded, his eyes brimming with tears. He looked down, humbled.

“That’s why it hurts when you push me away,” she told him, pulling him to her and burying her face in his neck. “We belong together, Vincent, and if we don’t find a way to express the way we feel about each other ...”

“We will find a way, Catherine,” he whispered, “I promise ...”

Vincent’s words were stolen from his throat as she nuzzled against it. 

“Oh Catherine ...”

Vincent sank back against the couch in rapture when she kissed him behind his ear. His hands came up and pulled her down with him. Before he knew it, her knees were alongside his thighs and her mouth was hot on his. He was astonished at her boldness until he realized his own hands gripped her hips brazenly, answering her call. He was trying to keep calm, to take this slow so he could savor every moment of it, but he was losing that battle. Her passion for him was pushing against his own. Within moments, they were pulling at each other’s clothes.

“Wait, Catherine,” he whispered, pulling away from her kiss. “Is this too fast? Is it proper?”

“It’s okay,” she mumbled, shaking her head. “Please don’t stop.”

“Catherine,” he said softly. He stopped her hands from moving by holding onto them tightly.

“No,” she whimpered, resisting him.

“Shhh ... it’s okay,” he assured her.

“Please don’t, Vincent.”

He could hear the tears in her voice; she was terrified of stopping because she thought he would pull away again.

“Catherine, listen to me, please,” he said. She stopped struggling and looked at him, her eyes raw with fear.

He brought her hands to his mouth and gently kissed them.

“There is no need to worry, Catherine, I will not turn you away again. I want ...” he took a deep breath. “I want you, Catherine. I want to love you; I want to be loved by you. Please, have no fear, Catherine. I promise ...”

She bent to kiss him softly—once, twice ...

“I love you, Catherine, so much, so much ...”

His words failed as she kissed him harder. Their hands were shaking as they tried to take each other’s clothes off, until they finally gave that up and took off their own. When her hands touched his skin for the first time, his composure failed and he simply stopped thinking—and worrying. Her nails on his chest made him shiver with longing. His hands roamed her body with abandon; his mouth found her breasts and they both cried out. There was nothing gentle about this; their combined desire propelled them blindly toward release—nothing else mattered.

Vincent tensed when her hands went to his belt buckle. His head fell back and he was gasping for air. He clenched her arms tightly as his trousers gave way. He nearly roared when he felt her fingers slide around him; his head slowly moved back and forth as he moaned, lost in her touch. She moved on his length while her other hand gently cupped him.

“Catherine!” he cried. His mind was reeling as he tumbled toward oblivion. Never in his life could he have imagined this ... her ... this feeling.

“Please, Catherine, I need ...” he stuttered.

“Yes ...” she breathed into his ear.

“Oh Catherine, please ... I need ...” he faltered. He couldn’t say it; he felt himself blush even as she pushed him further.

“Tell me what you need, Vincent,” she said, pulling back to look at him.

He stared at her through barely opened eyes. The intimacy of this—watching her as she touched him; it was almost too much. But something in her eyes—the love, the passion, the trust—gave him the courage to speak.

“I need ... to be ... inside you ...” he breathed.

Her hands left him for a moment and he was able to take a deep breath as she shifted and struggled on his lap. As soon as he released his breath, he felt her slide down onto him and in that moment, without hesitation, he completely surrendered to her. Her face was beside his, her hands twisting in his hair, his own hands on the back of her head and around her waist. As she moved against him, he wanted to smile and scream and cry and laugh and break all at the same time. Catherine—around him, in front of him ... with him ... inside him ... he felt as if he was holding the whole world in his hands. Everything he had ever wanted to tell her, every time he had stopped his hands from touching her, every time he sank to his knees in the dark and begged some unknown force to give him the strength to let her go—all of that was gone. She was his—they were each other’s. It was ... everything.

Catherine whimpered against him; her stamina was failing, at least the evenness of it was. He wrapped her tightly in his arms, moved the coffee table with his foot, and laid her down on the carpet. She made the most heart-wrenching and erotic sound he had ever heard—he cried out to answer her—when he covered her and her legs slipped around him. 

“You’re inside me,” she whispered in his ear, her teeth clenching the lobe.

“Catherine, my God ... Catherine, my love ...” 

The music of their love filled his ears. The beginning was gone—the single piano notes, the lone violin. The middle had just ended—the thirds, the counter-melodies and thick harmonies. This was the finale—the driving, pulsing string section was undulating. The dark notes, the minors, were rising to prominence, clashing with the roots and the fifths. The original melody had returned, transformed, but familiar—jumping higher and higher, where instruments ended, where notes ran out. He was hearing their song surely as they were writing it now.

The spark of bright light exploded from deep inside his belly and filled his chest. They were nearly there. He had curled around her, protective of her, as he drove them both to completion. He was not holding himself back and had never felt so connected to her before. She wanted this; she wanted him.

He cried her name when it was over. He didn’t move, either, holding them in that moment, in that tiny place they had carved out for themselves. His lips trembled as he thought about all the nights he had spent alone, wishing for something, love, anything, until he had found Catherine. But now he realized the longing had never been simple wishes or scattered thoughts. The longing was not before Catherine—the longing was Catherine. Whatever he had ever longed for in his life, it had been her. Whenever he had reached for something, it had been her. She was—everything. And he was here, with her now, the closest two could ever be, and he felt so blessed. More than anything else, he needed her.

She couldn’t stop the tears streaming down her face. Vincent. Her heart, her love. He surrounded her, filled her. She had pressed his face to her chest when she’d called out his name. Vincent. Her love. Now he covered her face with kisses, with whisperings of love and faith and devotion. She smiled and kissed him anywhere she could. They ended up laughing softly together.

“What can I say to you?” she whispered.

“Say you’re mine,” he replied, running his finger down her face.

“I’m yours,” she said, without hesitation, her eyes bright.

Something stirred between them again, driving him to breathe her name—”Catherine ...”

“I’m yours, Vincent,” she answered, moving beneath him.

“Catherine ...”

“I’m yours,” she repeated, kissing his throat.

Thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings ... Shakespeare did know everything.