As Soft Wings Unfold

Chapters 7 to 10

The beautiful story of the special love between Vincent and Catherine and an abused child that enters their lives.

With poetry by Katrina Relf


Chapter Seven

The night was perfect and it had been so long, too long since they had walked the park at night.
Arm in arm they strolled, happy just to be together, so close. There was no need of words, and Catherine felt that whatever Vincent had a mind to ask her he would do so in his own good time.
She had speculated all day on what it could be and was growing excited at the prospect of all manner of things so that that she almost didn’t notice when they suddenly encountered Father and Mary, of all people! walking through the park arm in arm. Catherine was left totally stunned, though Vincent did not seem to notice. In fact he acted as if Father and Mary walked through the park every night arm in arm! Looking from the two of them to Vincent in turn, she caught a ghost of a smile gracing Vincent’s mouth, and for a moment had the distinct impression that she was caught in the middle of some conspiracy, until Father spoke that was.
“I hope you won’t mind my boy.” Father patted his son on the back, “But your suggestion of a midnight walk sounded so good in view of the stuffy tunnels we’ve encountered since the warmest spring on record arrived, that I talked Mary into joining me in following your example.” Mary nodded enthusiastically, “We should do this more often Jacob.” She looked into his eyes, then back at Vincent and Catherine standing at the side of her, “I can see why the two of you come up here so often, its magical.”
“But you wouldn’t come up here alone promise me?” Vincent told them his voice showing his concern.
Mary shook her head, “That was the beauty of coming tonight knowing you would be up here to protect us if we should need it. Don’t worry Vincent wild horses wouldn’t bring me up here if you weren’t here already.”
“You know though…” Father spoke eager to get rid of the preliminaries and onto the matter at hand, “Mary has never been inside your apartment Catherine, is it far?”
Still unsure of the three of them Catherine looked hard at Father to see if she could tell whether he was serious or not. He appeared to be so but Vincent had still not said anything. Still something told her they had planned this…but why?
And if that were so then she would have to play along with whatever they had planned. Somehow she had a feeling that whatever Vincent wanted to ask her would come at the culmination of all their planning and outright devilment by the mischief she could see lurking in Father’s eyes.
“No Father it isn’t far.” She hesitated. Would he ask, or should she offer? It was fun just watching him squirm as he struggled with his next question.
“Would you like to go there?” The speed of his reply would forever after have her chuckling at the memory.
“Yes!” his answer came out with great gusto.
Inside Vincent chuckled, ‘Go easy Father, don’t over do it.’
Mary followed it up with her own delight, “Oh yes Catherine could we really?”
Catherine nodded and smiling enigmatically turned Vincent around and asked, “Will you be joining us Vincent?”
“I shall escort you to the park entrance Catherine and then see you later.” Beneath his breath he uttered, ‘sooner than you think my love.’ And though only Father caught his wink of merriment, Catherine had the strangest feeling that an unspoken message had passed between the two of them.
Still a little perturbed at the state of affairs Catherine left Vincent at the park gates and led Father and Mary up to her apartment. It had been a while since she had been, and she apologised along the way for the fact that everywhere was probably covered in dust. Father and Mary smiled knowingly to one another, something Catherine missed, but she did not fail to notice the feeling of conspiracy once again lurking around their countenance.
She smiled knowingly, wishing she could suss what was going on, but they gave nothing away, engaging only in idle chit chat as they made their way up to her floor in the elevator.
Alighting from the car, they stepped out into the hallway, and Catherine stopped dead, “Oh.” She raised a hand to her lips, smiling impishly, “Guess I’ve forgotten to bring my keys.” She told them, feeling it necessary to explain, “I didn’t know I’d be coming here, so I left them Below.” She shrugged her shoulders, “I’m sorry, we will have to come another day.”
But Father and Mary did not seem to mind, in fact both their faces wore the silliest of grins and promptly Father tapped on the door of her apartment.
Catherine gasped feeling a little amused. Whatever was he doing? But to her surprise the door opened from the inside. For a split second Catherine was surprised but then she remembered the key upon the balcony. Vincent must have anticipated this and had come to let them in. Her words of thanks left her lips as who should step out of her apartment, was not Vincent but William of all people!
Catherine had taken just about all she could take of this! She laughed, “Tell me. You’ve got to tell me? What is all of this?”
William bowed, and for the first time Catherine noticed he was wearing a dinner suit and over his arm was draped a white napkin, “Would Madam please enter.” He spoke in a posh voice standing back a little so that Catherine could walk past him.
Catherine turned intent on ushering Father and Mary in ahead of her, but they shook their heads both grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat.
“I feel like I’ve been had.” Catherine told them, “And I don’t know what all this is about, but thank you anyway for I am sure it is going to be something delightful.” She stepped forward and hugged and kissed them both, “Are you sure you won’t come in?”
“No, don’t worry about us Catherine, you just enjoy yourself.” Mary told her, “We’ll see you tomorrow, and don’t worry about Rachel, it’s all taken care of.” Mary noticed the look of concern on Catherine’s face.
“Of course I am concerned for Rachel, but also for the two of you. Will Vincent be escorting you home, or is he…?” She couldn’t finish. What was all this if Vincent were not a party to it?
“That’s all arranged too, don’t worry we have escorts to take us home, and as to your other question, yes my dear Vincent awaits you. Go now have fun.” Father felt a trifle silly adding the last in view of all he knew would soon take place, but he couldn’t give anything away, and could think of nothing else. Besides it was no worse than Mary’s ‘enjoy yourself’ was it?
William still awaited her entry, and so with a final nod of acceptance Catherine entered her own apartment, with her heart very firmly in her mouth.

*** *** ***

She would remember it for all of her life.
From the moment William closed the door behind her shutting off the light from the hall, the first thing that Catherine became aware of was the candles, dozens of them, and the scent of roses permeating the air amid the scent of burning wax.
In the centre of her lounge stood her table upon which rested a tall candelabra filled with seven long white candles which illuminated the pale blue of the cloth and the white of the napkins placed in two tall glasses.
To one side of the table stood a bucket filled with ice, and protruding from that bucket was a bottle. Catherine could not see with which it was filled but from its shape it looked decidedly like a champagne bottle.
William she knew stood at her side, and though she did not look at him, she could feel him smiling.
A click from her tape deck caught her attention, and she turned to the sound. There, silhouetted against the city lights shrouded by her net drapes she saw him, and her heart pounded in her ears. He looked magnificent.
Her first thought was how on earth had Vincent managed to scale the eighteen floors of her tower block before her change into his stunning attire and still not be out of breath? For a fleeting moment she wondered if he might have a double, then the foolishness of that thought made her chuckle out loud. She was pleased at the sound, it brought her out of her reverie and she was able to distinguish the music that Vincent had selected with some incredibility.
Almost on cue as the words of Unchained Melody filled the apartment she noticed William’s discreet absence. Where had he gone? It was almost as if he had vanished into thin air. That thought brought another delightful chuckle from Catherine as she visualised William’s over large frame disappearing through a mere crack.
It soon became apparent however that William had not left the apartment, but had, in fact gone into the kitchen if the wafting scent of delicious food was anything to go by. But Catherine’s feet were rooted to the spot and it was only as she became aware that Vincent was now beside her that she doubted her own sanity, for she had not seen or heard him leave his spot from across the room. It would appear that everyone seemed to melt with the shadows this night.
“Catherine.” Vincent’s voice husked at her side sending a delicious shiver through her veins, followed by another and another in quick succession as he trailed one long clawed finger gently down her cheek coming finally to rest upon her lips. He traced a line there, then followed the action with his mouth, leaving Catherine’s mind whirling into space. Her heart pounded and she had the uncanny feeling of being everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
It was a dream. It had to be. She wasn’t here and Vincent hadn’t just trailed a line of delicious kisses down her cheekbone. And the warmth of his breath wasn’t now tantalising her mouth and his lips weren’t now fastening against hers. Surely it was a dream, but oh if it was, may she never wake up!
Those hungry lips devoured her sanity, her reason and her mouth. She whimpered when his tongue pushed into her sweetness. And though for long moments she froze he did not seem to be put off by that fact.
Instead somehow he knew that if she was in a state of shock it wasn’t because of his kisses, no but merely that he had taken the initiative to kiss her in such a way at all.
It seemed to take an eternity for Catherine to remember that she was a human being with anything other than lips and she slowly became aware of a rush of liquid fire spreading through a body that had somehow malfunctioned and stood frozen in time. The liquid fire spread through her limbs bringing with it the ability to move again, and move Catherine did. In his arms she positively squirmed, her arms coming up and around him, burying her fingers into his hair just the way that she had always dreamed. Her body plied close to his, yearning, yearning. She felt his growing arousal, and revelled in it.
Leaning into the kiss their tongues danced a rhapsody of love in tune to a beautiful song that filled the room, one that Catherine had always loved. It was perfect and she wanted the moment to last forever. But no! wait! For his kiss to last forever would mean that she would never encounter the possibility of his love making, and right now that became the only thing on Catherine’s mind and Vincent had something he wanted to ask her! This had to be it. The wining, the dining, the romantic setting for two. Catherine gasped, and thoughts of William being there went right out of her head.
Vincent wanted her. He had brought her here to make love to her. In a trance Catherine pushed Vincent slowly in the direction of her bedroom, her happiness searing her soul.
Vincent was in heaven. They had kissed before but never like this and never with such total abandonment. His mind whirled, and all he could feel was his Catherine in his arms, with their connection telling him no lies. She wanted him, and she wanted him now.
They reached the doorframe of her bedroom both oblivious to any thing but each other; their lips still fastened, when a sudden cough broke them apart.
Their chests heaving, both swung around to encounter William standing with tea towel in his hands and wearing a very bemused expression indeed. He pretended not to notice the significant embarrassment of the two people shuffling towards the table in front of him, and instead pulled out first Catherine’s chair and bade her sit down, before going around to Vincent’s and doing likewise. Catherine felt that food was the last thing she could partake of.
“I’ve taken a long time over this meal Vincent, so do me the honour of eating it before you eat each other eh?” William whispered into Vincent’s ear, making Vincent blush beet red. Catherine could not hear what was said but Vincent’s acute embarrassment spoke volumes, and she giggled, stifling it with her hand as William glared across at her, but all pairs of eyes were filled with laughter and Catherine felt a warm glow spread through her.
William certainly had outdone himself. First piping hot tomato soup with hot crusty rolls was brought to the table, which despite her earlier misgivings Catherine ate with a relish. Next followed William’s speciality but something he rarely got the chance of cooking Below. Guard of Honour Lamb served with crispy vegetables, cooked to just the right consistency and before he brought desert he uncorked the champagne and filled both glasses.
In all of this time he noticed with some humour that neither Vincent nor Catherine had spoken to each other, and save for the customary thank you when he had served the food, neither had they spoken to him either.
The champagne however changed all that. As William returned to the kitchen he heard a clink of glass upon glass and Vincent’s soft voice announcing, “To us.”
At that moment he would have gladly have given his right arm to be a fly on the wall to have witnessed the scene, but instead remained discreetly in the kitchen, just as he had promised Vincent he would.
Catherine had echoed his words and was waiting for Vincent to speak again. She could tell that he was fighting with something on his mind, but let him set the pace, remaining silent although she surged a flow of love through their connection to strengthen him.
Vincent looked up as her love hit him and smiled. Now the moment was almost upon him Vincent found it impossible to know which of the two options that lay open to him should be encountered first.
In one pocket the box that contained the ring he intended to present Catherine with was burning a hole there, while in the other the box that contained the condoms was burning a hole there also.
It seemed incredulous to him, that he was even here contemplating either. There was Catherine sitting opposite him, her beauty leaving him speechless, and there was he… a what? Half animal, half man, a man-beast expecting that this beautiful woman would either agree to spending her life with him as his wife or would even contemplate going to bed with him!
Vincent shook his head trying to clear his jumbled mind. And he had thought this was going to be easy!
Earlier he had had no such qualms, earlier caught up in the moment and led by the pulsating melody of a love song, he had known exactly what to do, and for split dizzying moments had known exactly from which pocket to extract a box. But now his fingers shook at just the mere thought of considering either. And then there was William.
Catherine took pity on him. Whatever it was he wanted to tell her, he was obviously having second thoughts. That saddened her, but knew they could overcome it if it weren’t for the third party there in her apartment, as much as they owed him this night.
Pushing back her seat Catherine rose, “Excuse me Vincent.” She whispered, hoping he would not follow her. He didn’t, but his eyes did. He watched her warily as she crossed to the kitchen and disappeared inside.
“William thank you.” Catherine hugged her friend the moment she stepped into her kitchen, then before he gave the game away, hurried to prevent him speaking, “I don’t know yet what’s going on here, and I know you haven’t yet served desert but.” She bit her lip, not wanting to sound ungrateful, and not wanting to hurt his feelings. But William understood. “He’s got cold feet hasn’t he?” William’s joyous laughter boomed, “And I’m probably the fly in the ointment.” William chuckled to himself, oh well he’d gotten to be a fly in some place after all. “Don’t worry Cathy I wasn’t here to chaperone the two of you and you will probably enjoy desert all by yourselves anyway.” He winked at her causing a flush of embarrassment to creep up Catherine’s throat and infuse her cheeks.
“Do you know anything of all this William?” Catherine surprised herself that she had asked.
“I know it all lassie, and I’m sworn to secrecy.” He laughed, but could not prevent himself from giving her a clue, “It suffices to say that a lot is riding on the outcome of this lassie, so be a good girl and say yes, huh?”
Catherine’s heart came up into her mouth, as its beats sounded erratically in her ears. Say yes to what? To sex? Surely William didn’t mean that? Surely Father and Mary hadn’t played the part to perfection of the grand conspirators for sex? No it had to be more than that, something that had caused all of them to act strangely this day, almost as if they were all on something. For now she remembered, as thought by thought her mind led her back over the unusual happenings she had witnessed but had not dwelt upon this day in the tunnels. Every body knew something but for her and whatever that something was it made every one happy, gloriously so. It could only be one thing then! Her heart soared as her eyes opened wide and William felt like putting his foot in his mouth for giving away a clue to a very clever lawyer.
“You don’t know a thing – okay?” he mouthed a whisper as he brought the desert out from the oven, “I’ll leave it here for you to help yourselves to.” He told her preparing to leave.
“William no. Serve it please. You’ve said nothing, and I’ve realised nothing, but serve the desert please, I feel the need to sit down.” She turned and walked back to her seat, her eyes refusing to meet Vincent’s, and with words stuck firmly in her throat.
But she had to say something, though in the main Vincent didn’t seem to notice that she had returned, his mind was still firmly engrossed in whatever indecision he fought with, and again Catherine took pity on him.
He looked up enquiringly, his head cocked to one side, “Yes?” “Thank you.” She stopped as an unusual word had risen unwittingly to her lips, but she hesitated to utter it. Ordinarily in such a situation such an endearment would be easy, and she wanted to say it she really did, for she loved this man like no other, but the moment had passed, she had left it too long, and it would come out wrong now. He would know the struggle she had had in saying it, and he would wonder why she had doubted. She wondered why herself now.
Looking at him, into those stunning blue eyes, she wanted nothing more than to lose herself in him, and it was then that she heard the word as it slipped from her lips, sending goosebumps trailing along her skin. “Darling, I love you.”
Vincent shuddered, as memories of the lovers in the park rose to his mind. All those wonderful words that they uttered to one another, all those endearments that had thrilled him and made him yearn with an aching poignancy to have them uttered to him. How good the word sounded in his ears.
Breathless he stared at her, and suddenly he knew. Father was right, there was a correct sequence to things. And Catherine loved him. She may never have seen him naked, but she had yearned for a union with him regardless of that fact. She would not turn from him with disgust he knew that now, rather she would accept him for what he was, because she loved him totally.
“Catherine.” He spoke softly, the word filled with all the love he held for her, and her name upon his lips brought forth a flood of tears that stung at her eyelids threatening to overflow but for her determination to halt their course.
William was just about to carry desert through when something stopped him. He was forever after pleased that something had. Maybe it was the air of expectancy surrounding the two people in the room before him, he didn’t know, and he never quite understood it, but that he was privileged to witness something very remarkable he would forever be indebted to.
A hushed silence hung over the pair as they gazed with love at one another, then very gently Vincent eased back his chair, and came to stand before Catherine, their eyes locked firmly with each other.
William held his breath as Vincent extracted a box from his pocket, and very slowly got down on one knee before Catherine, who had not uttered a sound before but now a small gasp escaped her. His gaze never leaving hers, Vincent fingered the box and for split seconds Catherine felt him panic. Then she calmed as he calmed, and he opened the box before her, and it was only then that her gaze left his to look down at the contents of the box he held in his hand.
As her eyes rested upon the beautiful gemstone ring twinkling beneath the golden candlelight they rose instantly again in time to see Vincent smile. A little uncertain, a little timidly, and with a little trepidation his mouth formed words she had never thought to hear him utter, “Catherine, my love, my life, will you marry me?”
William fought back the tears. He felt terrible at being a party to this, but wild horses couldn’t have spared him this night. He felt choked and had to turn away lest he disgraced himself by making some sound that would show he had witnessed this moving event. And so he missed Catherine’s incredulous smile, one that lit the dancing lights of her eyes, but he turned back just in time to see Catherine almost knock Vincent off of his feet as she threw her arms around his neck and whispered into his ear. “Yes, yes, yes, oh yes,” with great joy and happiness.
William thought their kiss was endless, and he allowed the tears to flow, wiping them away every so often with the tea towel still in his hands. Peeping out from time to time to see if it was courteous yet to distract them, and each time deciding that it wasn’t. The kiss went on and on, and William was left feeling very privileged to have witnessed the occasion, but then he had played no small part in bringing the evening about.
Finally he coughed again, and brought Vincent and Catherine slowly back down to earth, feeling that perhaps taking a breath for the both of them was long overdue anyway. What did they do draw breath from each other? He had never seen anyone hold onto a kiss for so long in his life!
When he had coughed, he had anticipated following it up with the arrival of desert, but he realised with a pang that Vincent hadn’t finished. What a clot he had been, of course the ring!
And so he waited and he watched once again spellbound, as Vincent extracted the ring from its box and very gently placed it upon Catherine’s finger, before once again fastening his lips to hers and kissing her very passionately.
William watched while mentally counting, he couldn’t help it. When he reached thirty, from somewhere his mind recalled an article he’d read that reminded him that holding one’s breath for thirty seconds could be dangerous, but still the kiss went on. It would seem though that Catherine had thankfully read the same article at one time in her life for suddenly she came up for air, giggling as she did so, her eyes alight with joy.
‘Thank God for that’ William told himself as the thought of having to resuscitate either of them winged its way out of his mind where it had momentarily settled.
“Vincent thank you for all of this.” Catherine found her manners at last, “Was it your idea?”
“ In part though I have to confess to it being the idea of Father in the main part.”
“Which main part?” Forgetting William was there, because he was being so quiet and because they were unused to having him there, Vincent continued, “You remember our discussion concerning our…” Vincent fidgeted unable to continue.
“Union.” Catherine ventured.
“Yes that.” He paused again unsure of how to tell her.
“We had left it up to you.” Catherine reminded him.
“Yes, and I did speak with Father and he promised to get me some.”
Catherine smiled tenderly; she could just imagine that conversation over a game of chess!
“And did he?”
“Yes, he got some, but not before he had encouraged me to do things in the correct order. Only I was never certain, I kept having doubts.” “Even until moments before asking me?”
Vincent stared at Catherine with surprise, “No Catherine. I never doubted once I had made the decision.”
“But I felt your panic. It was gone in an instant but it was still there nonetheless.”
Vincent smiled somewhat impishly, “Oh yes I remember now.” He grinned before a ripple of laughter escaped him.
“Care to share the joke my love?”
It was hard to admit to but Vincent felt he owed her this. “Father gave me the box of condoms this afternoon just in case I changed my mind and decided on…” he hesitated again, as unfamiliar words threatened to come up and bite him for uttering them.
Catherine however had no such qualms, “Sex first?” she smiled impishly, how she loved him, he was such an innocent.
“Yes.” Vincent whispered.
In the kitchen William’s face coloured up. He should do something, make his presence known. Drop a plate, anything. He shouldn’t be a party to this! Perhaps he should close the door? No it might creak, and then they would know he’d overheard everything. He felt terrible standing there eves dropping like this.
He tried bunging his fingers into his ears, and even though Vincent and Catherine were speaking softly to one another odd words filtered through to him that left him wondering. Oh to hell with it, he had witnessed most of their romantic interlude and he would only be wondering forever what he had missed if he missed it. So he took his hands away from either side of his head and as quiet as a mouse he continued to listen.
“So why the panic my love?” Catherine was asking after Vincent’s silence had proved too much for her.
A smile graced Vincent’s lips then his eyes lit up as he confessed, “I placed the ring in its box in my right pocket and the box containing the condoms in the left. Catherine you must believe me…” he implored her, “all through dinner I wasn’t certain which box to extract until the last moment and in that time I had got their positions muddled up. When I knelt at your feet and presented the box for split seconds it suddenly occurred to me that I may have brought out the wrong box until I realised that the box Father had given me was encased in a cellophane wrapper, and it was then that I relaxed.”
William could not help himself, and it seemed that Catherine had equal trouble, as both burst into a loud fit of laughter, though Catherine’s stopped abruptly upon hearing his. Vincent was mortified. William!
He had completely forgotten. Oh how he understood the expression, ‘if only the ground would open up and swallow me!” He felt terribly embarrassed and wanted to run and hide. Catherine however would have none of it, “It is funny Vincent, and Father will have a field day. I can just see it now…” her voice trailed away, as the delicious thought presented itself.
“The first rule of married life Catherine, thou shall not split on thy husband.” Vincent told her solemnly.
“We’re not married yet Vincent.” She smiled impishly at him; “there may still be time.”
“You wouldn’t?”
“Mmm let me see, I could be persuaded to keep silent Vincent…” she told him mischievously.
“Or I could find a way to silence you.” Vincent picked up on her mischief.
“And how would you do that my love?”
“By seeing that your lips were forever sealed.”
“With what?” she looked at him mystified and realised as Vincent leaned into kiss her, “With mine.” He husked as his lips claimed hers.
Catherine’s body responded immediately, it had been way too long since last he’d kissed her. And they parted only reluctantly again to come up for air. But the one kiss wasn’t nearly enough and once again forgetting William’s existence they leaned into another kiss, just as William noticed that his previously well risen chocolate soufflé’ now had a decidedly big dent in it. He frowned, knowing that it would spoil if anymore time lapsed, so with another timely cough announcing his presence he marched straight into the room taking desert with him. He winked at Vincent as he approached; noticing that both Vincent and Catherine were looking a trifle stunned by his sudden appearance and had seemingly forgotten all about him again, if their acute embarrassment was anything to go by. Placing the soufflé’ upon the table William patted Vincent on the back, “May I be the first to congratulate you Vincent.” He beamed, then turned to Catherine, and taking her hand in his drew it to his lips, “Catherine, my sincere congratulations. I know you will be very happy together.”
Catherine smiled at him impishly knowing that William had overhead everything, and Vincent feeling somewhat contrite about that didn’t know whether to be annoyed or not. He decided not, as Catherine’s laughter filled eyes told him how amusing she thought it all was until William looking coyly from one to the other as he served up the desert told them both quite innocently, “Don’t worry your secret is safe with me. On condition…”
Vincent groaned, “Not you too, you wouldn’t?”
“Now don’t try silencing me the same way as you silenced Catherine. I’m not into suffocation.” He laughed at the look on Vincent’s face and encouraged by Catherine’s snort of laughter went on, “There’s a certain satisfaction in being a cook, you know what I mean Vincent?” Vincent nodded, though he couldn’t really know.
“And there is a certain satisfaction on seeing people consume with relish the things a cook produces, you know what I mean Vincent?” he patted Vincent firmly on the back and winking at Catherine
continued. “And that certain satisfaction is somewhat marred when someone, not mentioning no names that is, comes along and pilfers that which has been produced with such satisfaction and robs others of a larger share. You know what I mean Vincent?”
Catherine squealed with laughter, as Vincent’s midnight feasts in the kitchen had become uncovered.
“And what are you laughing at?” William turned to her. “I have it from a reliable source that you have had your finger in more than one of my pies on occasion too young lady.”
Catherine blushed, acutely aware of Vincent beginning to grin and the impressive description of a Cheshire cat rose swiftly to her mind before being dismissed as totally out of character to her mind of thinking.
“So that is the forfeit?” Vincent whispered feeling somewhat like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“You’d better believe it Vincent.”
“But supposing someone else takes from the kitchen and you blame me?” Vincent had the sudden thought and panicked.
“Then you had better be on your guard and stop them hadn’t you.”
William told him seriously.
“But that’s unfair!” Vincent exclaimed.
William relented and smiled so that Vincent realised he had been having him on, and sighed with relief.
“But let me know it was you and I’ll tell all. Have we a deal?”
Vincent nodded somewhat sheepishly, but William wanted blood.
“Say it.”
“Let me hear you say it. Both of you. Repeat after me. I Vincent and Catherine…go on say it.”
Reluctantly two voices echoed his own, “I Vincent and I Catherine…” “Promise never…”
“Promise never.”
“To steal anything edible.”
“To steal anything edible.”
“From William’s kitchen ever again.”
“From William’s kitchen ever again.”
William gloated, how glad he was now to have been a witness to tonight’s events. Vincent had quite an appetite rivalled only by Catherine on occasion. A sudden thought crossed his mind, “There is only one loop hole and it’s extended only to Catherine, so you can take that glint out of your eye Vincent.”
“What’s that?” Catherine asked laughing as she became caught up in the fun of all this.
“If you should ever find yourself eating for two or more Catherine, you will have exclusive rights to my kitchen at any time night or day to partake of whatever you fancy.” He had meant it as a joke, but it brought their situation full circle, and it was William who was suddenly wishing for the ground to open up and swallow him by the look on their faces. So many varying emotions. Fear, regret, dismay, sadness. All of them were there, and William felt terrible all over again.
“I’m sorry.” He mumbled his apologies, and decided it was long past time that he beat a hasty exit. “Look enjoy desert, enjoy each other. I’ll see you both Below tomorrow. I’ll see myself out.”
He gathered up his coat, the washing up could wait, though most of it was already stacked in the dishwasher anyway, and let himself out of the apartment to lean on the other side of the door with a big sigh of relief.
He didn’t quite know what he had said, but it was so obviously the wrong thing and he regretted opening his big mouth.
Inside the apartment things were no better. A miserable silence had settled over the couple, preventing the magic of moments earlier from seeping through and Catherine felt that she would never feel warm again.

*** *** ***

Without Catherine, Vincent, Father or Mary, Rachel would have been at a loss, if it hadn’t of been for Mouse. In the few months that she had lived below, she and Mouse had secured a firm friendship, each seeing the other as a means to have fun.
Arthur played no small feat in such fun and in the absence of William also, Rachel set about seeing exactly how much mischief she and Arthur could actually get into.
The result of which was the sight that met William’s out-on-stalks eyes the moment he entered his kitchen!
Not only were there trails of flour everywhere, but if it hadn’t of been for the knowledge of Vincent’s recent blackmailed promise or the fact that he knew Vincent was above, he may have concluded that his kitchen had been ransacked by one very large person.
It would appear that most of the lids belonging to the smaller jars had been taken off and the whole contents consumed with the exception of the crumbs leading from one jar to the next.
The culprit was obvious, as through the trail of flour leading from the kitchen were two sets of very distinct footprints; at least it appeared so at any rate. On closer inspection the footprints he had assumed to belong to Mouse did in fact look a trifle too small.
William rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Obviously Arthur was involved, but whether Arthur had been the instigator of all the mess was another thing, and without Vincent’s help it would be impossible to know who had raided the kitchen first. (With Vincent’s sense of smell being what it was he could usually suss out the real culprit in no time at all unless it was himself, whereupon he usually pretended his nose was blocked and that he couldn’t smell a thing). There was only one thing for it then, and that was to follow the pesky little bliters footprints and see where they led.
The flour thinned to a mere trickle after some distance, and then only to the odd blotch here and there. William felt sure that they would lead to Mouse’s chamber anyway, so he was most confused when they came to an abrupt halt and veered off to the left slightly, and then stopped completely.
William scratched his head. This was most unusual. He would stake his life on Arthur going straight home after such a disaster in the kitchen, and there had been some and more since the furry little thing’s arrival many years ago.
Looking down the tunnel he knew that the only persons living in that vicinity at that precise moment in time was Catherine and Rachel. But Catherine too was above. But wait! That left Rachel and Rachel he knew was often these days glued to Mouse’s hip. Ah hah! William beamed, his big smile creasing his face and eyes that told of Bingo!
He marched down the tunnel heading straight for the chamber Rachel shared with Catherine, slowing to a lesser pace as he approached when he heard sounds coming from within.
Outside the chamber entrance he listened, a conversation was being held within. Well it wasn’t so much as a conversation, more of a lesson on the rights and wrongs of living Below and much to William’s delight it was Mouse that was laying down the law. Father would be impressed! So, much of the tickings off that Mouse had received over the years had actually entered the head of that thick sculled rodent. And William listened with absolute glee to the things Mouse and Rachel were saying from within.

“This is bad, worse than bad, worse than worse. Father will be angry when he finds out.”
“Then we won’t tell him.” Rachel stated simply.
“Have to. He’ll know. He always knows. Mouse knows about these things.”
“I’ve cleaned up Arthur, so he won’t know.”
“I clean up Arthur, and he always knows. Shouldn’t take what doesn’t belong to you. Isn’t fair, others need it too, and Father always finds out. Vincent helps.”
“Vincent isn’t here.” A sigh of relief followed.
“But he’ll be back Rachel. And when he does he will be mad, real mad. You have never seen Vincent when he gets mad. He growls, and roars and he uses his claws to hurt you.”

From outside the chamber William froze, now that was a bit near the mark and there was no need to frighten the child Mouse should know that. Almost on cue he heard the sound of sobbing, and each in-drawn breath between sobs quavered with fear.
Mouse had told the truth but Vincent never got angry with the children, and never with any one over something like this, not when Vincent knew that he had very often been the culprit himself at times. No this time Mouse was totally out of order and as the sobs increased in momentum William knew that he had to do something.
The first sight of William took Rachel’s breath away. She cowered into a corner, trying to hide behind a chair and her whole body shook with fear. William froze. He couldn’t approach her. He could see that she would not let him near her. A great deal of anger rose inside him for the people that had done this to her. And it wasn’t the first time a child from the world above had reacted this way. It made William feel sick inside, almost to the point of despising the fact that he was human and was by that linked to those others that caused innocent children such pain.
Rachel’s lips trembled, “Want Catherine.” She whispered, her eyes bulging. William knew that there would be no other way.
“Mouse!” he bellowed, regretting it at once as Rachel cowered away still further and covered her ears with her hands. William spoke softer, “Mouse, stay here with Rachel. Don’t touch her, just stay with her, and don’t say anything more to her about today’s incident in the kitchen, it’s all right, every things all right.” He would let whatever happened there be forgotten. One day Rachel would know that it was wrong, but not today. Today he had to bring Catherine home, or all the long months of gaining the child’s trust would be gone in an instance and they would be back to square one.
“I’m going to get Catherine honey, stay put will you. I’ll bring her back with me, don’t worry.” And then he was gone, his heart hammering painfully, Lord he had all ready spoilt Catherine’s evening, and now he was going to have to do it all over again.

*** *** ***

Chapter Eight

For a long moment after William had left her apartment Catherine had sat staring out into space, her heart bleeding. What was worse was being able to feel Vincent’s distress, and Catherine didn’t know what to say to make him feel any better.
It was true that her own maternal need had lessened somewhat since she had become mother to Rachel, but Vincent she knew would have liked his own child if it had not of been for passing on his genetic code to a descendant.
The evening planned with such precision, and culminating in the most wonderful experience of her life was now ruined. It lay before her chard like some burnt out shell and left a bitter taste in her mouth.
Vincent felt her distress but misconstrued the reason behind it. Catherine was a woman with much love to give, and he had fooled himself into believing that he could give her enough so that she wouldn’t regret the decision to remain childless. He felt cold inside. His joy of moments earlier dashed to a million pieces.
He too stared out into space, to an empty void where he could not meet her eyes. His voice when it finally came was barren, empty of all feeling. “Catherine, we have to resolve this.”
Catherine turned her head slowly. Her neck felt stiff and her movements were stunted. She moved as if in a dream.
She could not speak. Her eyes were hollow, lifeless and she could barely nod in acquiesce.
Vincent moved to fold her hands within his. He recoiled as he touched her fingers. They were icy. His heart died a little bit more. Catherine was momentarily surprised by the warmth of his hands a warmth that seeped through her tendons, and seemed to release some of the tension in her body. She felt herself thawing and knew the precise moment when the feeling returned to her stiff joints. Mentally a thought passed through her mind of people attacked by arthritis after receiving some kind of shock and she could appreciate that now.
“I’m so sorry Vincent.” The words were out of her mouth without realisation of it. Vincent crumpled before her. His mind raced. For what was she apologising? Had she changed her mind about marrying him? He knew that he squeezed her hands in an attempt to offer some kind of comfort but the feeling was lost to him. He seemed to act from far away as if his body had been caught up with the clouds and he moved and felt through a density of which there was no escape.
But Catherine was speaking again, and through the fog he picked up on her sincerity if not her choice of words.
“What did you say?” He felt foolish having to ask.
The corners of Catherine’s mouth lifted, forming into a slight smile. She was smiling! Vincent felt astonishment that she could.
“Was it so unbelievable my love?” This time he heard the words, but did not understand the content, that to which they related.
Vincent shook his head; “No it wasn’t that. I confess to being so far away that I never heard you the first time.” He was amazed that he had the strength to utter so many words and in the right order too. His tongue felt like cotton wool in his mouth.
Catherine smiled again, this time the light of it caught her eyes, and Vincent was spellbound.
“I know how much you want a child of your own Vincent, but I also understand the risks involved.”
Vincent ‘s mouth dropped open, it was not quite what he had expected Catherine to say and Catherine was smiling again. “Vincent?” she enquired.
He didn’t know how to answer. It wasn’t something that they had ever discussed neither was it ever something he had allowed himself the luxury of consideration. Until he met Catherine, even love was something he had never dared to share with a woman, let alone have a child with her.
Catherine was awaiting his answer with an enigmatic look upon her face. Her hands within his untangled themselves so that she could squeeze comfort into him now. Vincent looked down at their clasped hands. Hers so silky smooth, his so lethal with his long claws and coarse fur. He tried to withdraw them. What right had his hands next to hers? What right had he to come here and offer her a life with him? How could he do that to her? To take her from the world above and expect that she would share a life with him deep in the bowels of the earth?
When he thought about it, it was almost laughable if it hadn’t been so downright traumatic. He had no right to presume such things! He stared at her face. Such beauty shone from there. Her eyes were filled with a suppressed laughter, obviously deriving immense pleasure from his passive expression.
How could he take such beauty from the world Above? How could he deprive the weak and the lowly from the help that her hands brought them?
Those eyes and hands touched him now, and Vincent knew he would forever be lost in their wondrous depths and their remarkable aptitude for healing. If he never saw Catherine again in body he would forever feel the touch of her eyes and her hands in spirit. They alone had given him such happiness. And an immeasurable joy that he would forever be indebted to.
His mind was filled with raging thoughts that galloped one upon the other and threatened to engulf him. Only Catherine’s lifesaving hands and eyes held him from insanity, and helped him to put the moment into some kind of perspective. But still the one thought persisted, and as he thought of these things he knew he’d be lost without her.

There is something in my sadness which you touch with your eyes,

Something in my aloneness which reaches your soul,

And is held close in your arms.
,br> When I am afraid in a night that never ends

I come to you in my darkness and you give me your hands.

You touch me with the fingertips of your strength,

And my pillow becomes your breast

And the night becomes your arms.
,br> I know that I am safe, that I am loved, that I will never be alone,

For there is no darkness when I am with you.

Only in Catherine had the darkened corners of his soul been brightened. He owed her so much, but to take her from the world? How could he even expect that he had the right to do so? And to expect that one with so much love to give could agree to spend endless years with him without even the merest hope of a child to come.
Vincent looked at his Catherine long and hard. He had presumed too much. In all of this he had presumed that their love would conquer all the sacrifices that had to be made, but he had been wrong. For those sacrifices were worth their weight in gold and as such the loss of such treasure would eventually become tainted until the sparkle had faded, never to return.
Vincent could not do that to Catherine. He could not bear to see her long for something that could never be and know that she was not to blame for that. Neither could he deny her the right to a child of her own, any more than he could allow himself the joy of knowing it for himself.
Deep down Vincent knew that Catherine had uncovered the secret yearning of his heart, a yearning which even he had no knowledge of because it was impossible to believe. He would never father a child for he could never place that risk upon another person ever.
“It is I who is sorry.” He spoke at last in response to her statement. She had patiently waited while he had fought the battle within himself. “Catherine, I can never agree to giving you my child.”
With those words said he had expected to see sadness etched in fine lines across her beautiful features. He expected her eyes to cloud over and fill with tears. He expected her to deny the fact and argue with him. He did not expect to see her smile, nor for that smile to light up her eyes.
“It doesn’t matter anymore Vincent. Not for me. Don’t you see? In Rachel I have everything. It is for you that I grieve. For one who has so much to give you can never give to your own. Vincent…” she drew his hands back into hers, “I love you so much and to give you a child of your own well that would be the icing on the cake as far as I am concerned, but Vincent I know your fears, and those fears are grounded. Sometimes whatever the sacrifice, the rewards still come. Peace of mind Vincent. Peace of mind that no one ever again has to undergo the trials you faced or to know the aloneness of being different.”
Her words penetrated the fog that surrounded him like tiny spears that burst through the pain that had settled around his heart. Everything suddenly melted away. All the doubts, all the fears and sorrows melted away. Vincent breath came out in short sharp bursts, and filling his lungs again with air became a literal fight that could only be conquered by Catherine giving him another squeeze of her hands.
“My love you are right… We have to resolve this, because we must never let it destroy what we have. Come let us retire to the sofa and settle there and talk frankly about this.” Catherine pushed back her chair, never letting go of his hands, and walked around the table still holding them tightly. He felt a gentle tug and relinquished his desire to remain where he was, to allow her to lead him as passive as a lamb towards the sofa.
There they sat side by side, and Vincent felt an overwhelming rush of love as Catherine snuggled into his shoulder. Only then did their hands part so that he could place one arm around her shoulders and hold her closer still.
“I’m still going to marry you Vincent.” His body liquefied at her words. For split seconds he remembered a paragraph in one of Father’s medical journals, and expelled a breath of humour that he could. The body is 70% water and without skin to hold it in one would flow straight off one’s seat. Right now he could relate to that and he felt he would always remember that feeling when he thought of that from now on.
Encouraged by his humour, Catherine hugged him harder. “Do you feel like discussing this now Vincent?” she asked gently.
“Yes. For long enough we have skirted around it. You know how I feel and I presume to know how you feel, but neither of us has really sat and discussed those reasons of for and against having a child between us.”
“I understand the problem Vincent, truly I do, and only you can know the pain of being different. Of being the only one like you in the world.” Catherine’s voice trailed away, she understood those facts she really did, but still to her it didn’t matter, because she loved him, and she would cherish a child in his image.
“Tell you what Catherine, we will both talk about ourselves and how having or not having a child between us would make us feel, does that sound fair to you?”
Catherine nodded, “Then let’s start with the positive reasons, you go first.”
Vincent leaned his head back against the sofa, and closed his eyes. “It’s not something I have ever considered…” he spoke softly keeping his eyes tightly closed, “but if I were to do so…” he sat forward again opening his eyes, “Oh Catherine to have a child with you, there are no words to describe how that would make me feel.”
“Try one.”
He smiled so beautifully at that moment that the sight almost broke her heart. Such tenderness shone through those intense blue eyes. He was right, there were no words, but his look conveyed every wonderful word in the universe.
He spread his hands; “I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
“I understand Vincent. I believe that you have the same feelings as I do on the matter. The thought of having a child in the image of the one that you love is so delightful that it makes you feel all gooey and cuddly inside.”
Vincent smiled, laughing a little. “Of all the delightful words that there are Catherine, those that you just used convey the feeling totally. I fully agree. The thought of fathering a child born in your image makes me feel exactly as you have described.”
“And to hold in my arms a baby with a face and hands exactly like yours makes me feel the same way Vincent. I have dreamed of that for so long.”
“I know you have. That’s what makes all this so traumatic, I have felt those yearnings in you for a long time now.”
“It’s probably my age and my hormones.” Catherine attempted humour that didn’t quite ring true.
“Don’t be brave for my sake Catherine. If you think that you could never get over those feelings best that we…”
“Don’t say it! Don’t you dare say it Vincent. Not again, never ever again. I’m going to marry you, I’m going to give up my life Above to be with you, don’t deny me that Vincent, I love you so much.” For long moments both fell silent, then Catherine amazed Vincent and even herself by stating sincerely, “I can live without having a child Vincent, but I can’t live without you.”
They were miserable for a time, each lost in tragic impossibilities but they came through it because they shared a connection that both calmed and strengthened them.
“So, the question now is, are we tough enough to discuss the negative reasons.” Catherine attempted a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.
Vincent nodded and rubbed a hand across his temples. His head ached. It matched his heart.
“Try as I might Vincent, I cannot think of a single one. I’m sorry my love but the ball’s in your court here.”
Catherine felt his distress, not only through the bond but also from the way his body tensed beside her, and a deep sigh escaped him as he started to speak.
“To have a child like me…” he changed direction, “Catherine try to understand the way of things please. I was abandoned…” Catherine tried to interrupt, she would never abandon his child… “No Catherine let me continue, please.” He pleaded with her and she grew silent again letting him speak, knowing it was already difficult for him to do so.
“For whatever reason Catherine my mother abandoned me. Perhaps that wasn’t her choice; perhaps even someone took me from her and thought they knew better. Perhaps my mother never saw me, perhaps someone told her that I had died. Whatever the reason the fact remains the same, I was abandoned, and not just abandoned, but left out in the snow to die.
I don’t know how I was created. Once you asked, and once I told you that I had ideas. Not a day goes by without one of those ideas reminding me. I may have been a scientific experiment. I read a book once called First Born. It was about a man who artificially inseminated his own seed with that of a gorilla. The child lived and grew to adulthood, though he had to have an operation to enable him to speak. And though he looked entirely human he had the traits of the gorilla, and in the end his own mother, the gorilla killed him.
That story rocked me for some years. I know the difference between fact and fiction Catherine. I know when a writer creates something in his or her mind and puts it to paper. But it causes one to wonder how much of that written word is based on fact, or how much of that written word will put ideas into the mind of the reader.
Somewhere out there, maybe not even in America; someone holds the secret to my being born. For whatever reason someone meddled with nature I do not know, maybe I will never know. That in itself causes a frustration that unless you have experienced it you can never hope to comprehend. Many of the children that have come and gone through our world throughout the years have expressed an aptitude to understand this feeling. Those that were abandoned at birth feel in a kind of limbo. Having nowhere to truly belong. There is a great truth in the expression of being alone in a crowd Catherine. Having no knowledge of a beginning, of relatives or a family can leave you living in a kind of void. There is nothing solid to hold on to, and for all the love that you receive you never really feel that you belong.
But being different Catherine adds another perspective to all of that, sometimes I truly feel as though I am all alone in the whole world.” Vincent paused collecting his thoughts surprised that his inner heart had uttered so much already. For some reason he felt slightly light-headed and realised it was because the weight of a thousand unseen hands that in the past had ground him down were at last lifting from his shoulders as he spoke from the heart.
Catherine had listened throughout, occasionally wiping away a fallen tear, but silent now allowing him to set his own pace.
“Whoever created me obviously did so with the aid of the seed of a big cat, a lion. Sometimes I wonder about that a lot. Generally speaking lionesses have large litters. Was my mother a human being or was she a lioness, as with the gorilla in First Born? If she were a lioness or even if she wasn’t then had my mother been artificially inseminated with more than one embryo, and if she had then were there others that survived? Could it be that whomsoever delivered the babies handed to my mother the children that resembled humans and took me away so that she and the rest of the world may never know? So often I have wondered this. So often I wonder if one day some person will unwittingly give birth to a genetic abnormality and find that instead of looking into the face of a new born child, they look into the face of a lion cub.”
Catherine gasped then; she was beginning to see where he was headed.
“None of these things may ever come to pass, because it may be possible that there is only one of me and that I was the only one born from such an experiment. This fills me with a sense of hope. If I am the only one in the world like me, then it can end here. No woman in a hundred years from now will be stunned into insanity by giving birth to a child with the face of a lion, and that alone brings me a sense of relief. Even if I was to think only of the good times, the joy I have experienced, especially since coming to know you, none of it was without cost because of the darkness I endured to gain the light and I would not wish that on my worst enemy. If ever I had one.
If I were to consider bringing into this world a child of my own I would have to consider other things, other possibilities relating to the very fact of my creation. Catherine…” He turned to face her then, no longer staring openly into space as he had throughout, “Remember the saying that the sea always reclaims its own. One day my love the safe sanctuary of our underground home may not exist. If the sea were to reclaim the land then the tunnels would be flooded. No amount of love ever bestowed upon a different child would then suffice in view of being confronted with the sea of humanity or the literal water itself. If a child of ours or even a descendant of ours should be faced with nowhere to go, what then would become of them? Could we, allow ourselves the joy of parenthood for a few years in view of those future risks to another? I know I couldn’t allow that to happen Catherine and I’m sure that you couldn’t either.
And it’s not just that, maybe the sea would never reclaim its own, and maybe these tunnels will last forever, or maybe another man like Elliot Burch will come along and risk their existence with another dream.” Catherine winced, and Vincent held her tighter kissing the top of her head sorry to have to remind her of that time. “Even if none of those things occurred, there is still another greater possibility, that must never be overlooked my Catherine.
Some time in the future a child of ours whether he or she looked like me or not would risk for love the chance of a child of their own. They might undergo the same discussion we are enduring right now. Or perhaps they wouldn’t. Perhaps they would disregard the risks and hope against all the odds that they would create a perfect child. And imagine his or her relief to bring forth a child that did not look like his predecessor. Years may pass, centuries perhaps and in time someone may forget or choose to forget, and some day the genetic fingerprint will surface, as it always does eventually, that made me what I am. Perhaps that is even how I came into being; perhaps the creation of myself was moulded centuries ago. Catherine my being here is nothing short of a miracle for those that know me, but for someone that has to live with that fact daily it is a burden I would wish never to pass onto another living soul. In view of all this Catherine tell me please that you understand my reasons against having a child of my own.”
Catherine nodded, she understood perfectly, she knew of an example and that helped. “I was at school with a fair skinned girl whose parents were also fair skinned. She had fair skinned grandparents on both sides, who in turn had fair skinned ancestors as far back as the eye could see. I can remember the excitement that little girl felt to know that her mother was expecting a baby brother or sister. I remember it well because I was an only child and could relate to her feeling of excitement with a sorrow of my own. One day not long before the baby was due, the girl stopped coming to school and I never saw her again.”
“What happened to her?”
“Her parents split up and they moved to other parts of America taking the girl from school with the father. For many years I did not know why, nor cared to know why, but I always wondered whether the baby had been a girl or a boy. For many years I thought of it until one day I found out. It was Jenny that told me. Funny that how things come full circle. I didn’t know Jenny at that particular time in my life, but later when I came to know her she mentioned this family and the details fitted. Apparently the child had been born with black skin and the man had divorced his wife for an adultery that she denied. His wife swore that she had not slept with any other man, and he never believed her. Imagine that Vincent, it could drive a person crazy. So the wife delved into her past and much to her horror and subsequent relief she discovered that centuries ago one of the family’s male ancestors had been a Negro slave from Africa and had been bought by a white man to work on his plantation. That man’s wife had had sexual relations with the slave without her husband’s knowledge and luckily for her had produced a white skinned child. It was incredible, but she saw it as an answer to her prayers, and allowed her husband to believe the child was his. Otherwise she would have been whipped to death for adultery. She had kept the secret until upon her deathbed when she gave a letter to her lawyer and asked him to file it away and have it handed down to generation upon generation until such time that someone may start asking unusual questions. And that was as long as hundreds of years later. So you see Vincent I understand exactly what you are saying, and believe it or not in view of that, I agree with you wholeheartedly.”
Vincent hugged her, “So we are as one accord on this matter, but it does not alter the fact that you are deprived of having a child of your own. Something for which your heart yearns.”
“Once perhaps…” her words were cut short by a loud hammering on her door, followed by a voice they both recognised; “Vincent, Catherine, it’s William, you must go Below at once. Something has happened to Rachel.”
He said no more as the door swung open, a hand shot out and an arm dragged William inside closing the door behind him. “What?” Catherine was frantic.
Quickly William outlined the problem. The colour drained from Catherine’s face. “I’ll meet you at the park gates Catherine. “ Vincent told her already heading for the balcony.
“Yes, yes.” Catherine agreed reaching for her coat. William noticed his soufflé still untouched upon the table. It filled him with sadness. So whatever had transpired between them after he had left obviously hadn’t given them an appetite then. William was filled with foreboding as he followed Catherine from the apartment and knowing the sight that yet awaited her Below he suddenly felt cold all over.

*** *** ***

Rachel hadn’t moved from the same spot when Catherine and then Vincent burst in through the chamber entrance, and Rachel’s slight smile was replaced with fear as she saw first Catherine and then Vincent enter. “No, no”, she cowered further into the corner as Vincent approached, “Go away.” Her voice shrilled.
Stunned Vincent stopped dead, as Catherine cast him a look of sheer horror over her shoulder and stooping down in front of Rachel, Catherine attempted to gather the child into her arms, but Rachel backed away, whispering, “Tell him to go,” her eyes wide with fear.
Mouse still hovered to one side looking immensely guilty and Catherine turned to face him, “What have you said?” her voice rose to fever pitch, “Mouse look what you’ve done.”
Mouse remained silent quietly shaking as William came through the entrance, “I’ll tell you what he’s done.” He shouted angrily advancing on Mouse.
Rachel screamed “No don’t hurt him, he’s my friend.” She shook and the tears flowed relentlessly.
“Your friends!” William bellowed, then more softly, “Honey, real friends don’t go around frightening one another.”
Rachel remained silent but still she looked warily in Vincent’s direction. Catherine glanced at him with sadness evident in her eyes, at the same time beseeching him silently through the Bond to leave them alone. Vincent turned and without a word left.
Turning her attention back to Rachel Catherine reached out a hand, “Come sweetheart tell me what is all this about. I thought you liked Vincent?”
“I did.” The child murmured.
“I’ll go see if Vincent is all right” William left the chamber, but Catherine did not acknowledge his exit. She felt torn knowing how Vincent would be feeling, and also wanting to understand the changes Rachel had towards him.
“What did you say to her Mouse?” Catherine turned in the direction she had last seen Mouse, but he too had gone.
Exasperated, Catherine edged closer to Rachel but the child edged further away, “No leave me alone.” She begged as the tears gathered momentum. Catherine felt her tears prick at the back of her own lids, “Rachel please I love you, please let me hold you, tell me why you fear Vincent so?” Rachel hesitated. It was not the first time she had heard Catherine say that she loved her, but it was the first time that she believed it. A little fluttering started inside like small butterflies taking to flight. Rachel liked the feeling, it warmed her through and through.
A smile touched the corners of her mouth and she relented a little, edging back towards Catherine.
Rejoicing Catherine reached out for Rachel, allowing the child to come at her own pace all the while speaking consolingly to her, until Rachel finally allowed Catherine to gather her into her arms and hold her there tightly.
Catherine let the tears fall, tears of joy, tears of anguish knowing how Vincent hurt through their connection.
Reaching Rachel was the first step, reaching Vincent was yet another to be accomplished, she knew how he would take this to heart.
“Please Rachel tell me, why are you afraid of Vincent? He loves you too.”
A shudder went through Rachel’s slender body; she seemed incapable of believing that. “It’s true.” Catherine told her tenderly, “We both love you, and Vincent has asked me to marry him, so he can become your father.”
Rachel drew back in Catherine’s arms, a smile broke forth and her eyes took on a new light, “Did he give you the ring?”
Catherine’s face broke into a smile, a somewhat watery smile, “You knew?”
Rachel nodded delighted.
“You knew?” Catherine reiterated, “And you never said anything?” “It was a secret.” Rachel told her solemnly “ I promised Vincent I would keep it.”
Catherine hugged her harder, “Oh Rachel I love you.” She told the child sincerely, making Rachel glow all over, until a slight shudder spoiled her equilibrium.
“What is it?” Catherine asked concerned.
“Vincent gets angry and bites and uses his claws.” She shuddered as the fear consumed her once again.
Catherine frowned, “Who told you that? Mouse?”
“And why did Mouse tell you that?” Though William had already told her she wanted to hear it from Rachel.
“Because he said Vincent would be angry with me and Arthur.”
“Vincent would never be angry with you. He never gets angry with any of the children.”
“But he does bite and scratch sometimes?”
“Only to protect those he loves. He would never hurt you Rachel or me, or Father or any of his friends here Below.”
“Then who would he hurt?”
“If someone from Above tried to hurt you or anyone that Vincent cares about then he would get angry and hurt them back, but only then, and not unless he really had no other choice. It isn’t something Vincent enjoys doing. He doesn’t even like to roar or growl if he can help it.”
“Have you ever seen him hurt anyone?”
“Yes, but only when he was protecting me.”
“Like Vinny would protect me?”
“Yes like that.” Rachel fell quiet for a time assimilating these things while Catherine held her tight and tried to rub the tension out of Rachel’s body by gently caressing her back and shoulders and stroking her hair.
“Is he loud?” Rachel asked at last.
“Loud? What do you mean, Honey?”
“When Vincent roars, is he loud?”
Catherine smiled, “He can be.”
“Does he frighten you?”
“Not anymore. When I first heard him, it sent shivers through me, but I love Vincent and eventually I found that the sounds that he makes are just a part of him different to me. Just as Vincent can roar I can scream. Vincent can’t scream and I can’t roar. It’s just another sound that we each express when in fear of someone. Or to bring help.”
“I used to scream when daddy….” Her words caught on a sob. Catherine was both fearful and jubilant. It was the first time since before the court case that Rachel had spoken about her past in any detail.
“It’s all right, Honey you can tell me.” Catherine coaxed.
Rachel drew a deep breath, “I thought mummy would come and help me if I screamed, but she never came and daddy hurt me more when I screamed and no one ever heard me.” She sobbed as Catherine rocked her all the while making soothing sounds to calm her.
Catherine’s heart ached. “You must never be afraid anymore Rachel, there is no one to hurt you anymore, and if you should scream here for any reason at all someone will always come.”
“Promise?” Rachel sobbed into Catherine’s chest.
“Yes I promise, would you like to try it?”
Rachel looked up, nodding, her eyes still swam with tears but there was hope in their depths.
“Do people come if Vincent roars?”
“If they don’t know why, then yes. Vincent might be in pain, and it is his way of crying as well as being angry.” A sudden thought passed by Catherine followed by hope, “Would you like to hear Vincent roar?”
Wide-eyed Rachel stared up at her, nodding shyly, a slight smile curving her mouth.
“Let’s go and find him shall we?” Catherine prepared to stand, pulling Rachel up with her, delighted when the child took her hand and hurried out of the chamber.
“Where will he be?” Rachel asked excitedly. “Probably in his chamber, but there’s no telling. Vincent was hurting when he left us, he might have gone somewhere to be by himself.”
“I’m sorry.” Rachel spoke softly. Catherine marvelled that one so young who had gone through so much terror in her young life could feel regret over causing another to hurt and to recognise when she had.
“You can tell Vincent that, he will be happy to hear it I think.” Catherine told her and through a somewhat watery expression Rachel smiled tremulously.

Vincent wasn’t in his chamber, nor was he in Father’s or at the mirror pool. Catherine tapped out a message on the pipes asking if anyone had seen him. William replied back saying he had left Vincent intending to go to the Great Falls. Catherine tapped back and without telling Rachel she also issued a message that she wanted to speak to someone before she sought Vincent out.
Father replied to her message. He had been visiting Cullen and would be returning to his chamber, Catherine tapped back that she would leave a written message for him inside him chamber.
The need for this was purposeful. She didn’t want to frighten the tunnel dwellers when they heard her screaming or Vincent roaring, but wanted for Rachel’s sake to have someone run towards the sound, plus she didn’t want Vincent to know of this request until she had first spoken to him about it.
The message written and left on Father’s table, Catherine felt better, and then hand in hand with Rachel, the two set off towards the Great Waterfall.

*** *** ***

Sitting upon the ledge with his head bowed low Vincent saw rather than felt his tears falling as they hit the dusty floor between his bent knees.
He had no feelings at all surrounding him, and the only awareness he did have was a heaviness of heart and his mind was void of thoughts and feelings as coldness seeped into his bones rendering him almost incapable of breathing.
He almost didn’t hear the approaching footsteps, and only turned at the very last when his eye caught a movement to one side of him. Catherine moved silently, her hand clasped tightly to Rachel’s, stunning Vincent into awareness more at the sight of the child than to Catherine herself. That Rachel came willingly gave him cause for exultation, as his heart thumped painfully in his chest, the exertion of which caused his breath to gush forth in a great sound of relief.
“Vincent.” Catherine acknowledged his presence; “We have something we wish to ask you.”
Vincent nodded, warily, something in her tone making it so. “It would seem that Mouse frightened Rachel by telling her that you can growl and roar when you get angry.” Catherine almost couldn’t look into his eyes. She knew how he hated references made to his non-human side.
”Yes.” Vincent’s reply was almost inaudible.
“I explained to Rachel that some people would scream when they were hurt or angry, but you roar because, because…” Catherine could find no words to explain and was loath to say the obvious. Vincent however was not, “Different.” He finished for her on an exasperated sigh.
Weakly Catherine nodded, still unable to meet his eyes, “Yes different.”
They lapsed into silence for some moments each fighting with the words to express themselves, each trying desperately to alleviate the pain.
“It’s what I am.” Vincent said at last, “No matter how you word it, I am different, perhaps too different, from you.” He added sorrowfully.
Catherine’s eyes rose to meet his then, “No Vincent!” she stepped forth almost dragging Rachel with her, “You know I don’t believe that.”
Vincent shook his head. He wasn’t sure what to believe anymore. Rachel’s reaction to him had been a bitter blow, especially in light of her firm acceptance to him from the very beginning.
“What have you come here to say?” Vincent spoke quietly as another silence descended and he could feel Catherine’s anxiety through the Bond.
“I was telling Rachel that when you, you…” she shook her head, mad at herself for being unable to voice words which had to be said, but would only slap Vincent’s differences into his face.
This time Vincent did not come to her aid, and she looked at him desperately pleading for his help. Instead he looked away. Exasperated Catherine tried to tackle it another way. “Vincent?” he would not look up.
Looking from one to the other Rachel felt their distress, and felt very sad knowing she had caused it, she desperately wanted to do something or say something to help. Holding onto Catherine’s hand, she stared at Vincent, saw the silent tears falling and her young heart went out to him and suddenly she became the protector, the healer now.
Letting go of Catherine’s hand, Rachel walked the short distance to Vincent’s side. Draping her arms around his neck she buried her face into his shoulder and small sobs escaped her, “I’m sorry.” She sobbed, “I love you Vincent.”
Closing his eyes to the sound of her words Vincent felt his whole body react to her love, and swiftly draped his arm around the child’s waist drawing her close to his side before turning her onto his lap. Rachel clung to him and her small sobs hiccuped to a halt when she felt him kiss the top of her head, “I love you too.” He told her sincerely.
Gingerly Rachel took courage and told him, “Catherine said you could roar but couldn’t scream, and that she could scream but couldn’t roar.” A half smile graced her mouth as an impish glint filled her eyes. Vincent caught the glint and reacted to it. “Says who?” he asked her, “I could scream if I wanted to do.”
Rachel’s eyes lit up, “Could you?”
“Prove it.” Catherine joined in the humour. This is just what she had hoped for and she wasn’t about to let the chance pass by.
A mischievous glint filled the blue of Vincent’s eyes, and he rose to the challenge on condition, “Only if you prove you can roar.” He told Catherine with laughter in his voice.
“I didn’t know I’d said I could.” Catherine told him.
“Oh go on Catherine, try please.” Rachel begged.
Catherine relented, “Only if you try too.” She told Rachel. Rachel needed no second bidding, “Grrrr.” She cried, making both Catherine and Vincent laugh out loud.
“No” said Vincent, “That’s not the way. Try it louder.”
Rachel happily obeyed, “GRRRR”, she shouted causing an echo around the chamber of the falls.
“Now you do it.” Catherine asked Vincent.
“No, ladies first. I insist.” He looked at her. There was a strange twinkle in his eye. Catherine blushed scarlet almost wishing she hadn’t thought of this now, it was so embarrassing.
“You said you could scream.” She reminded him.
“So I did. Tell you what Catherine, I’ll scream if you roar.”
Laughing Catherine told him, “No deal, I’ll scream if you scream.”
“And what’s the fun in that?” Caught up in the game now, Vincent found he was beginning to enjoy this.
“Okay, I’ll growl if you scream, but I won’t roar.” Catherine told him laughing as much.
“That’s because you can’t.”
“I can too.” Catherine caught herself in her own trap. She knew it and Vincent jumped at the chance. “Prove it” He cried jubilant and laughed heartily as a flush infused Catherine’s cheeks.
Rachel was giggling, holding onto Vincent’s arms tightly watching the two of them battling it out between them with delicious humour.
“You go first then, expert.” Catherine poked her tongue out at Vincent, making Rachel giggle so hard her sides ached.
“Excuse me sweetheart.” Vincent manoeuvred Rachel from his arms; “I have to be standing to give credit to this.” He put her down onto the sandy floor to one side of where he’d been sitting, and drew himself up to his fall height, “Hold your ears.” He told Rachel as he drew in a deep breath.
Rachel did just that and her eyes grew wide as she heard the first sound of rumbling begin in Vincent’s chest. She grew almost afraid, if it hadn’t of been for the wink that Vincent shot her and his nod in Catherine’s direction. Rachel turned, delighted at what she saw, Catherine’s face portrayed genuine awe as she watched Vincent prepare himself for a full-throated roar.
She’s heard it before of course, many times, but never like this. Those other times were spontaneous, and though deafening, Catherine had an inkling that this one was going to be really impressive. She wasn’t mistaken.
As the chamber fairly shook with the vibration of the sound, Catherine too covered her ears. The roar went on and on filling the chamber to capacity, bouncing off the walls and ripple after ripple of echoes thundered through the tunnels.
“Wow” thought Catherine if that doesn’t bring someone running nothing will. She smiled to herself as the thought went through her mind “Maybe we’ll even see Joe come running down here.”
“Now it’s your turn.” Vincent turned to her.
Catherine feigned regret. “Oh I could never hope to compete with that, you win hands down.” She told him.
“Catherine…!” Vincent told her sternly.
“I’ll just scream.” She smiled impishly, “Besides isn’t this how it started. As I remember you promised you would prove that you could scream.”
“So I did, but while I regain my breath, you could entertain us with your version of a growl.”
“A growl, no problem.” She laughed, drawing in a breath.
“Did I say growl?” Vincent looked at Rachel for confirmation, when she nodded, he went on, “I meant to say roar, you haven’t got out of it yet Catherine.” He laughed.
“Will you stop antagonising me.” Catherine laughed, “and shut up. The more you talk the less chance you have of recovering and the longer it’ll take you to scream.” She joked with him.
“I’m going to scream with frustration in a minute, now ROAR!” He growled as he said it, making Catherine jump and Rachel giggle again.
For long moments Catherine stared at him, she felt so ridiculous.
Vincent on the other hand was enjoying himself immensely and had no intention of rescuing her from this one.
Unbeknown to Catherine several tunnel dwellers had arrived brought there by Vincent’s roar and Father’s command that they should go to the falls following the contents of Catherine’s note.
Drawing in a deep breath, Catherine pretended she wasn’t there at all, and tried to tell herself that this was some game between friends to see who could shout the loudest. It all seemed so ridiculous though when she heard herself utter the first notes, “Gr..” she attempted.
Vincent chuckled at her pathetic attempt, “Louder I can’t hear you.” He told her.
Catherine shot him a look, which said it all and more besides, and Vincent doubled over with laughter unable to help himself. Seeing the funny side of it, Catherine jumped on the chance and drawing in another deep breath let it out in an almighty rush of a roar before Vincent looked up at her again.
“Impressive.” Vincent told her looking up sharply, “Did that come from you?”
Catherine blushed and nodded.
“Or did it come from Rachel?” He looked at Rachel and winked without Catherine seeing.
Rachel rose to the bait; “Yes it was me.” She told him.
“Why you…It was not…It was me!” Catherine exclaimed.
“I never saw you, you will have to prove it.” Vincent told her grinning from ear to ear.
“Why you!” Catherine stamped her foot, “Look at you standing there like the cat that got the cream, you’re loving every moment of this aren’t you.”
Vincent’s face fell, and Catherine slapped a hand to her mouth, “Oh Vincent, I’m sorry I didn’t mean…” her face lit up as she caught a twinkle in Vincent’s eye, “God Vincent don’t do that to me, you almost had me there.”
Vincent laughed, catching sight of a large group of tunnel dwellers now at the entrance and slipping inside the chamber to sit and watch.
Catherine still hadn’t seen them. Which was fortunate he reasoned.
“All right turn about is fair play, that was an impressive roar Catherine even if it was done behind my back. How about you closing your eyes while I scream?”
Catherine nodded, and covered her eyes with her hands.
“No peeping.” Vincent told her sternly as he drew in a deep breath and let it go in a cracked scream, “Arrrrr.” Catherine doubled over in fits of laughter, “That was more like Tarzan.” She cried, “Call that a scream.”
“Be fair Catherine, I did say your roar was impressive at least.” Vincent looked hurt.
A burst of chuckles sounded behind them, and turning Catherine blushed, “How long have you lot been there?” she asked.
“Long enough.” Father’s voice boomed out from behind the crowd, “I must say this is very entertaining, can anyone take part?”
“Be my guest.” Catherine told him, “Which do you want to do a scream or a roar.”
“Oh a roar most definitely, if only to rattle my son’s brains as he has so often rattled mine.”
Vincent exhaled a breath of humour, his eyes lighting up and waited as his father hobbled over to the ledge where he and Catherine had been standing before.
“How does it go Vincent, you will have to help me.” Father told his son.
Vincent smiled, and came to stand at his father’s side, placing his hand on his stomach. “You build it up from here, bring it up and up, feeling it fill your lungs, and then push and let it all come out in one great rush.”
“I don’t know if I can. Surely you need some stimulant?” Father asked. “Think of something that always annoys you, or someone that annoys you.” Vincent told him.
Father thought. Paracelsus! The effect was spontaneous. Following Vincent’s advice, Father brought the rumble up and up from his gut through his chest and gave expression to the mightiest roar ever uttered by a human being. “Ow my throat.” Father whispered hoarsely as a thunderous applause sounded from behind them and Father turned and bowed, “Thank you my friends.” He told them sincerely.
Vincent smiled a smile that lit up his whole face, and Catherine not about to be outdone came to a decision. Besides if Vincent taught her the same way as he’d taught Father then she’d gain immense pleasure from the lesson.
“How about you talking me through another one?” she asked innocently.
Vincent caught her ulterior motive through their connection and smiled lazily.” Just talk?” he asked her innocently. Father giggled, as did several others causing Catherine to blush again.
“Well no, not just talk.” She sidled up to Vincent, causing him to blush this time as she took his hand and placed it on her midriff. “Show me like you showed Father.” She asked him sweetly looking straight into his eyes.
All this was lost on Rachel, but she was enjoying the fact that Catherine wanted another go at roaring, and she was happy to see that everyone had come running towards the first sounds just as Catherine had promised they would.
Vincent’s heart hammered, as he felt Catherine’s warmth beneath his hand. He wanted to withdraw it, but knew that to do so would create more of a scene. He nodded just enough to accept, and then standing behind Catherine, drew her back against him, with one hand fastened around her waist firmly, he showed with his other hand from where the sound should come. “You start here.” He told her sliding his hand over her stomach, “And build it up to here.” His hand travelled and lingered (Catherine would swear to it), between her breasts. Her breath caught in her throat. Vincent whispered huskily into her ear, “You can’t hold your breath Catherine or nothing will come out. Now shall we start again?”
He placed his hand back to her stomach and deliciously let it travel again slowly up to and between her breasts talking all the while, though it seemed to Catherine that his voice had grown huskier. “From here to here.” He told her softly. Catherine knew she would never do this. His nearness alone turned her limbs to mere jelly and what was more behind her she could feel him harden as he pressed himself closer to her.
Looking around wildly Catherine searched for their audience, surprised upon seeing that many were discreetly moving away, ushered it would seem by an embarrassed Father. So he too had noticed the subtle shift in their actions. This caused acute embarrassment to Catherine. Vincent either didn’t notice or didn’t care if he did, he just held her more firmly relishing in the way his actions were making Catherine respond.
“And then what?” Catherine spoke breathlessly.
“You push it out in one mighty gush.” Vincent whispered into her ear and literally nibbled the lobe.
Catherine let it out all right loud and clear but it in no way resembled a roar or a growl, instead a sensuous moan left her lips causing a chuckle to vibrate through Vincent.
Believing the sound to be Catherine's attempt of a roar Rachel shouted, “Vincent wins, Vincent wins.” As she leapt to her feet dancing with happiness, “Vincent can roar the best.” She cried.
“So how about a kiss for the winner.” Vincent told Rachel bending down to her level, to which Rachel ran to him willingly covering his face with soft kisses, “And Catherine must give you one too.” Rachel told him happily. Vincent straightened and turned to Catherine, his eyes liquid pools of passion, “Oh yes Catherine must too.” He told her huskily, his body melting as their lips made contact.
“Oh yes.” Catherine agreed happily, “Vincent certainly wins every time.”
Vincent grinned, and Catherine was surprised to hear another sound start up in his chest as their kiss deepened a sound that she found extremely pleasant and very erotic indeed. Vincent smiled down at her humoured by her thrill of the sound.
“You’re purring!” Catherine remarked with surprise, “Now that I can do.”
And just to prove it and just as their lips met again; Vincent chuckled as Catherine managed a purr that even rivalled his own.

*** *** ***

Chapter Nine

After their discussion back at her apartment, Catherine gave the matter a lot of thought. If it were best that they never had children, then perhaps it was best that she took drastic measures to ensure that they didn’t. But taking those measures proved harder than even she had supposed.
The first person she saw about it was Peter, who was stunned to say the least by her request.
“Catherine you do know how serious this is don’t you? I mean sterilisation is so final.”
“I know Peter, but I cannot think of any other way. Everything else carries such a risk.”
“But what if something ever happened to Vincent, God forbid, and you then marry someone else. Have you thought of that?”
“Briefly, but women have remained widows for decades after a husband dies, I shouldn’t think I will behave any differently. I couldn’t function without Vincent nor love another for a very long time if ever I could, and by then I would be way too old to have a baby safely anyway. So you see it does make sense all round.” Catherine searched Peter’s eyes willing him to understand.
“All right young lady, but it’s not me you have to convince. As your GP I cannot find a single reason medically speaking as to why you should be sterilised. And if you were to tell the consultant it was because your partner carried a gene that could cause a future deformity in someone else, he would insist on meeting your partner to see for himself. He would insist on tests being carried out, and only until he was absolutely satisfied that they had explored all the avenues and still met a dead end would he agree to your request. You don’t know what you are up against here Catherine. You’ve never experienced it, but I have with other patients. It can be a harrowing experience believe me.”
“Then what is the alternative?” Catherine was almost in tears. “Ordinarily I wouldn’t involve myself in this and not because I haven’t the experience because I have, but basically because it is usually handled by a gynaecologist, but I could at a push force the issue and operate on you myself. However that alone carries its own risk because if I should be discovered not going through the correct procedures, I could be struck off, and without even thinking of myself, I don’t know that I would want to subject you to a back room operation like this.”
“So what would you advise Peter, there must be something you can do?” Catherine was growing frantic now, having made the decision, she had assumed the rest would be straightforward enough.
“Yes there is something I can do, but it doesn’t involve you, except for giving your consent that is.” Peter hesitated, gauging Catherine’s reaction.
“You mean Vincent don’t you?” She whispered. And as Peter nodded gravely, she continued, “Peter I don’t even want to think about it.”
“But it is the answer. The problem lies with Vincent after all. And Cathy, you know Vincent. Even if he is happier with the thought of you sharing your life with him now, how would he feel to know that he is has forced you to consider such a drastic measure as sterilisation. Can’t you just see it now?”
Catherine nodded. Oh yes she could see it clearly. It would give rise to another of Vincent’s insecurities about himself, another reason to bring a halt to their relationship.
“It’s better this way Cathy and I’m sure Vincent will agree. This way poses less of a risk to yourself in more ways than one, and you both win.”
“Can you do it? I don’t have to tell you that Vincent could never go into a hospital or a clinic.”
“Yes to your first question and no to the other. That is yes I can do it but I haven’t got the equipment we need to sterilise Vincent, and we do need the clinic, but I feel pretty confident that we could manage it undercover, and it’s a straightforward procedure these days Cathy.”
“Yes I know, they use a laser method don’t they?”
“Yes and the beauty of it in Vincent’s case is that the patient doesn’t even have to be put to sleep.”
“You make it sound like a trip to the vets Peter. Put to sleep I ask you.”
“All right anaesthetised then, same thing, and I will endeavour to put it that way to Vincent, young lady, don’t worry, I won’t fall short twice.” He chuckled softly, as did Catherine.
“Is it painful, I mean will he suffer? I’ve heard it does hurt the following day.”
“Yes it’s painful. People tell me it feels as though they have been kicked in the groin by a carthorse but the pain is temporary although the bruising is intense, and it is a reliable form of contraception. Should we discuss it with Vincent later?”
“Will you come Below? Should I speak to him about it first, what about Father do you think we should bring him into this too?” Catherine was clearly anxious about the whole thing.
“Yes to all your questions, I think we should all sit down and iron out this problem like rational adults and the sooner the better, but I also think that you should speak to Vincent about it first. In fact if you should tell him why you came to see me today, it might be that he will offer to have this done in your place, and then we are halfway there.”
Catherine nodded, “I feel as though my tummy is full of butterflies already.”
“Then young lady I suggest you don’t put it off any longer for I am positive Vincent will now be picking up on your anxiety and feeling pretty insecure about it. Do you have any more appointments today?”
“Then I suggest you make haste and go straight to him.”
Catherine nodded rising to her feet.
“Before you go and nothing to do with this, would you sometime make an appointment for Rachel to see me. I have received word from the authorities regarding a report on her health. Do you think she will come?”
“She knows you as a friend Peter, but a few more visits would add favourably to her coming here for you to examine her, or can the examination take place in the tunnels?”
“I see no reason why not, wherever the child is comfortable. Just give me the word, and we can even put the examination into game form if you like. There is no need to worry the child. You’ve never seen me in action have you with unwilling patients, usually children? You might find it very entertaining as will Rachel. Anyway I’ll see you both tonight, though tonight it will be Vincent that comes under my scrutiny.”
Catherine nodded, “All right Peter. If there appears to be any problems regarding that I’ll get a message to you before seven.” With that she hugged him goodbye and left his surgery to head for home.
,br> The butterflies continued all the way through the park, and as she presumed Vincent was waiting for her at the drainage tunnel. They embraced, happy as always to hold one another close, and as Vincent led her through the tunnels with his arm securely around her waist, he asked her, “Catherine what troubles you so. I have felt your anxiety for the last hour?”
“There is something we must discuss Vincent, can we be by ourselves for a while?”
Vincent grew concerned and some of those butterflies transferred themselves to his stomach.
“What is it about?” he felt rooted to the spot.
Catherine was quick as ever to reassure him, “Nothing you are thinking of my darling. I love you as much as ever, I’m not about to leave you, I still intend to marry you and I still intend to live down here with you.” Vincent smiled the relief in his blue eyes evident. “But there is something that still concerns the two of us, and you are wondering how to come out with it?” he questioned her softly.
Catherine nodded. It was such a hard question. Eventually she tackled it the way Peter had suggested.
“I went to see Peter earlier.” She watched his expression change again to one of horror and quickly reassured him, “I’m not ill. I haven’t got a life threatening disease, at least not that I know of. Vincent don’t worry it’s none of those things.” Again he relaxed, but still felt apprehensive as did she.
“Vincent, remember our talk at the apartment two nights ago. We decided quite forcefully against having children?” A sigh left Vincent’s lips, now he understood, almost.
“I knew we would have to take a drastic measure Vincent to ensure that our wish to remain childless kept so. No matter how one might resolve to avoid risks, passion is a funny thing. It can blot the mind and alter one’s whole perspective and then in the cold light of day we would repent at leisure for the risk that we took. We both know the responsibility lying upon us, not to bring children forth between us, but it takes more than knowledge to prevent it happening."
“No let me finish. Please Vincent?” He nodded reluctantly almost afraid of where she was leading.
“I went to see Peter to see if he would sterilise me.” She got no further.
“No!” Vincent exclaimed, “I can’t let you do this.”
Catherine smiled, “That’s what Peter said you would say.”
“And you listened?”
“Eventually, when he came up with another option.” She gazed up into his eyes willing him to understand. It was such a delicate subject for anyone to face, let alone someone like Vincent with all his insecurities about himself.
“You want me to be sterilised?” He sounded incredulous.
Catherine nodded, “Peter thinks it would be best all round if you agreed, so yes.” She held her breath. This could go so wrong if he took it the wrong way. Vincent sensed her fear, her anxiety, and amazingly he saw it all perfectly clearly.
“Peter is right. The fault lies with me.” He half expected Catherine to argue with him, and wasn’t certain whether he was relieved or annoyed when she said nothing but he could tell how much this grieved her and that was enough for the moment.
He surprised her by his next statement, “Do you think we are doing wrong by being the courageous ones?”
“What?” she drew her brows together not understanding.
“When we spoke of this the other night, or rather when I spoke of this the other night, I felt courageous in sacrificing my dreams for the sake of future generations. Was I right to do that?”
“You are doubting?”
“In a way. Supposing it is our destiny to create a child between us? Just as it was our destiny to meet and see our dream unfold. Catherine I don’t know if we should just do the best we can to prevent a child and let nature take its own course or to do something so drastic as to prevent it happening entirely."
“I only want what is best Vincent. Now you are confusing me. The things you spoke of the other night were well grounded. You said it has to end here, and we are strong people, we could carry that out. Why have you changed your mind?”
“Remember I said that I might not be the only one to carry this genetic fingerprint.” Catherine nodded. “Well if that was so, would those others be so courageous as to put an end to it now?”
“Vincent if I didn’t know you better I’d say that you were telling me that you want a child like yourself.”
“Not like myself Catherine, but certainly I would love to be a father to a child like you.” The way he said it brought forth goosebumps upon her skin. “I’m sorry I have confused you Catherine. But I’ve been thinking too. Do I have the right to prevent you from carrying a child? You have so much love to give, it seems too great a sacrifice to prevent it somehow.”
Catherine hugged him tightly, her heart hammering. She had succeeded in telling herself that not having his child was unimportant so long as she had him. Now he was making her analyse her true feelings and she didn’t like the emotions that were coming through. They made a mockery of the conviction she had gained over the matter.
“Can you honestly tell me that you could live without having a child Catherine?”
“Fifteen minutes ago I could have.” She replied truthfully, “Now it is I who is having doubts.”
“Should we agree to let nature take its course then?”
“Is that what you want? Earlier you spoke of it as being your dream?”
“Yes Catherine. It hasn’t always been so. Before we met I never gave myself a chance to have such dreams. But since I’ve known you, and more especially since I came to love you deeply, then I allowed myself to dream Catherine and I should like to share that dream with you.”
“And the consequences?”
“We’ll face them if and when they come.”
“That is so unlike you Vincent.”
“Do you think I am being irresponsible?”
“I believed in your reasons. I still believe we could make the sacrifice. We already have more than we ever deemed possible, couldn’t we let it be enough?”
“Don’t you want my child Catherine?”
“Vincent, you know that I do, it is my greatest wish, but we have each other, and there are always children here to need us. Rachel needs us, in truth Rachel will need us far greater than any child of our own, because she has been so badly damaged, and needs to learn to trust again. We can give her that, and we alone can make a family for her.” They looked at one another for long moments, “Vincent I understand how you feel. There is such finality to sterilisation but sweetheart we have to make the sacrifice. You know in your heart of hearts that we must.”
Vincent looked away. He would have given her anything even his child if she had really wished it. He knew she was right, and deep inside he knew that the words he had spoken two days ago were also right. Already he had gained far more than he had ever dreamed he would in Catherine, surely that was enough? Yet he could not rid himself of the feeling of anxiety at the finality of sterilisation. It wasn’t that he was afraid. If Peter thought it could be done, then he would go along with that, but somehow everything they had gained so far had been the realisation of a dream. A steady natural progression with nothing to block it but his one time fears. So this seemed to him unnatural and wrong, and yet to do nothing drastic at all also seemed wrong. To take a great risk and ruining the future life of someone, but then did they have the right to prevent the future life of someone? Surely it bordered on murder? In preventing the course of future life who knew what that future might unfold for one such as him, or for one with the genetic fingerprint from one such as he. Perhaps his creation wasn’t a mistake, perhaps there was a sound reason for it, and more to the point perhaps there were others like him or others carrying that genetic code.
If only he could be totally sure what to do.
Catherine watched him struggle with himself and tried to see things from his viewpoint. How disastrous was it to him to make things final? Other people had used the sheaf for years to prevent pregnancy, and with her age against her they would only need to use some form of contraception for the next fifteen years or so, maybe sooner if she had an early menopause. Of course there was always a risk even then, but the risk would lessen with the older she got. Slowly and soundly she talked herself into it, they would let nature take its course, and their destiny too.
“All right Vincent, whatever comes, whatever happens we will let it be.” The rush of relief upon his face made her words have real meaning. She never thought that this would be so important to him not after the things he had said two days before with such conviction, but then everyone, even Vincent, had a right to change their mind. “I dread to think what Peter will say mind. He thought I was being so practical.” She laughed her eyes bright with happiness.
Vincent chuckled and drew her close, “Or Father. He will think I have lost my marbles.”
Catherine laughed loudly, and couldn’t resist, “Wasn’t that what this was all about Vincent?”
It took a second or two for her words to dawn on him but when they finally did he actually blushed scarlet, “Catherine!” He exclaimed.
Catherine burst into another fit of laughter, but they hugged one another tightly and rode out the storm of giggles fit to burst them, until their humour turned to passion and they kissed long and hard. And unbeknown to either of them they shared a tranquil dream of Catherine reclining in Vincent’s chamber holding close to her breast, a child, their child, created by their love.

(See When the Crystal Rain Falls – A sequel to this story.)
*** *** ***

Catherine had sent Peter a message as promised but he came anyway. And he listened with calm acceptance to their reasons for a change of heart, and though he had his misgivings, he could see that here was a couple unlike anyone he had ever known, and could see that they hadn’t taken the subject lightly. They had gone over and around the reasons for and against, and really when it came down to it, he had nothing to add, and Father was never brought into the discussion at all. What they had decided was between the two of them alone and Peter left it that way. However, his being down there provided the opportunity to make Rachel’s examination, and Catherine was quite impressed at how tactfully he did it.
Rachel had been with Mouse when Peter had first arrived and they allowed her to come back to the chamber at her own pace. Thus when she arrived home she did not suspect that Peter was there for any other reason than a visit to see Father or anyone else below.
As soon as she arrived though, Peter who had already been there some hours, decided to get straight down to it, and pretended she had missed out on a lot of fun. “Oh Rachel you have arrived just in time.” He told her, winking towards Catherine and Vincent. “You almost missed all the fun.”
Rachel’s face lit up, “What fun?”
“It would seem that Vincent hasn’t read Father’s medical books as well as he should have, and he hardly knows the names or the reasons for half of the stuff I have in my medical bag. You should have heard some of his answers.”
Vincent who had missed the wink was about to deny this, when he caught Catherine’s gaze and gentle probing of the Bond for him to listen.
Peter took out his stethoscope from his medical bag, and Vincent quick to help responded, “Is that for Pascal Peter? He will be thrilled with that. Can I take it to him now?”
Peter looked somewhat mystified; “I beg your pardon Vincent?”
“That thing, whatever it is. It is for listening to the pipes isn’t it?”
Rachel burst into laughter, trying to stifle it behind her hand.
“It most certainly is not.” Peter sounded indignant; “I have you know this is an expensive piece of equipment Vincent.”
“Then I shall tell Pascal to take great care of it. Give it here Peter, I’ll take it to him, he will be thrilled.”
“It’s not for listening in at the pipes!” Peter’s voice rose, but he could not stop a twitch of a humour touch his lips. Vincent was playing the part excellently especially as they had had only seconds to tell him in advance of Rachel’s examination.
”Then what is it for?” Vincent asked.
“It’s to listen to people’s hearts.” Peter remarked.
“Then I was half right wasn’t I. It is for listening to something?” Vincent told him. Then added, “So how does it work?”
“Here let me show you. Pull up your vest.”
“I’m not pulling up my vest Peter!” Vincent’s voice rose; “There are ladies present.” Rachel giggled harder.
Peter feigned exasperation and looked towards Catherine, “How about you my dear, will you comply?”
“And pull up my jumper in front of Vincent? No way!”
Peter looked around the chamber and pretending he had only just spied Rachel, asked her, “What about you young lady, would you like to show these bashful people what this instrument is used for?”
Rachel jumped up and raced forwards pulling up her sweater as she went. Her giggles filled the chamber, and Peter tried not to look too delighted as he first warmed one end of the stethoscope in his large hands, before placing it upon Rachel’s chest and asking her to breath in and out.
Next he went round to her back, explaining to Vincent as he did so what he was looking for. “Sometimes people have chest infections that aren’t noticeable by their breathing alone. This instrument allows me to check for any abnormalities that mean the difference between good health and bad.” He told them all. When he had finished, he discreetly filled in Rachel’s health record.
“Thank you Rachel.” He winked at her. “If Vincent doesn’t know what my other tools are for, would you kindly sit for me again? Perhaps you might even like to tell us what the things are for if you know?” Rachel nodded, thoroughly caught up in the game and not suspecting a thing. Peter pulled a strange object from his bag. Rachel’s eyes lit up, “That’s for counting heartbeats.” She told him proudly.
“Good girl.” Peter told her.
“No it isn’t.” Vincent exclaimed. “How can it be? Look it has a balloon inside it partly filled.”
“No silly.” Rachel told him. “You pump it up with that.”
“Should we show him Rachel?” Peter remarked sounding like someone exasperated with his audience.
Rachel giggled and nodded her head vigorously pulling the sleeve of her sweater up.
Peter placed the black bandage around her upper arm, and then placing a tube beneath it proceeded to pump air into it by pressing the little balloon shaped ball. Doing this until he was satisfied it had grown as large as it should, whereupon he let the air out slowly and checking his pocket watch he spoke to Vincent at the same time explaining everything, before telling Rachel “You young lady are a very healthy little girl. Must be all that good food you have been eating down here. How tall are you do you know?”
Rachel shook her head.
“Well how about you standing there and letting me measure you? And then I will measure Vincent and Catherine. Do you two have any objection to that?”
Vincent and Catherine shook their heads, and watched with wonder as Rachel allowed herself to be measured and then even to be weighed. And finally to even let him look into her mouth, her ears and her eyes, but only because she expected him doing so to Vincent and anticipated the fun of that.
She wasn’t disappointed. Vincent continued to act the fool much to Rachel and Catherine’s delight. When Peter placed a wooden spatula onto Vincent’s tongue, Vincent said through a muffled voice, “What’s this, something to eat perhaps?” And bit it clean in half. Peter pretended to be cross and scolded him telling Vincent he would have to do it again. “Open wide Vincent. Whoa Vincent not that wide! Lord I thought you were going to bite my head off!” Rachel collapsed onto the floor in a fit of giggles.
And when he shone a small torch into Vincent’s eyes, and asked Vincent to look into his eyes, Vincent retorted “ I bet you do this to all the girls. But I’m not a girl. Is there something you’re not telling us Peter?” His words were lost on Rachel though she caught the humour and laughed, but Catherine doubled over just as Vincent had intended she should.
And finally when Peter looked into Vincent’s ears and exclaimed, “Just as I thought, no brains, why look Rachel surely you can see the light coming out of the other side?” Vincent growled menacingly making Rachel laugh all the harder.
All in all the whole examination was one of the happiest experiences that Rachel had encountered and not just Rachel but for all the four of them. Peter had successfully gained his report and was pleased with it, and his three patients had had a wonderful evening of fun.
“Well then.” He bent to kiss first Rachel’s cheek and then Catherine’s, “The next time I see you will be for your official engagement party I guess. When’s it to be? Jacob mentioned something about having one for all the helpers this weekend?”
“Actually Peter…” Catherine winked at Vincent and shot him an endearing smile, “I think we could dispense with that. Why don’t you just make sure you are down here by nine o’clock on Sunday to give me away as father of the bride?”
A gasp echoed around the chamber, and it wasn’t just from Peter. Vincent too had uttered one. His eyes bright he stepped towards Catherine, “Do you mean it?”
“I don’t see why we should wait my love. After all I think we have already waited long enough don’t you?” He caught her meaning and blushed causing Peter to laugh out loud. “Ho-ho Vincent, you’ll see, once women get their claws into you they never let you go.” A sudden silence hung around them at his words, and Peter felt terrible as he realised the implications of what he had just said, but Vincent was the first to break the silence. “Catherine can get her claws into me anytime she wants Peter, so long as I can do likewise.” He told them and his eyes said it all making both Catherine and Peter blush. Peter changed the subject quickly, turning to Catherine to tell her, “Well then I accept. So I guess I’ll see you nine o’clock sharp on Sunday then.” He bent again to kiss Catherine’s cheek, “And I suppose there is no prizes for guessing who the bridesmaid will be?” he winked at Rachel who gasped with delight “Me! Me?” her eyes lit up, and Catherine stooped low to enfold the child into her arms, “And you’ll make the most beautiful bridesmaid in the world.” She told her.
“Oh it’s going to be so wonderful.” Rachel exclaimed, “I can’t wait.”
Over her shoulder Catherine’s eyes met those of Vincent’s and her breath caught in her throat. He looked absolutely gorgeous and the way he was looking at her…well…
“Neither can I Rachel.” She told the child sincerely as the way Vincent looked at her continued to thrill her and she anticipated a wedding night held tightly in his arms. She sighed a sigh of pure bliss and reiterated softly so that only Vincent could hear, “Neither can I wait.”

*** *** ***

Chapter Ten

Some memories never die

They live on, golden in our hearts,

Like candles burning in the wind,

Forever lighting our way.

They become as dreams,

Always to be dreamed anew,

Always to be remembered.

So many memories – dark and light –

Bitter and sweet,

Never ending, never letting go.

Yet one moment remains above all else,

One moment in time that I shall never forget.

You touched my soul with eyes filled with longing,

With words filled with love,

And you took me in your arms,

Tiny hands around my heart.

Then, in a heartbeat that lasted a lifetime –

You kissed me.

Why he should remember that time above all else that they had shared Vincent did not know. But the poignant memory stirred him anew as he watched Catherine walk towards him on their wedding day.
She was, to him, the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes upon. In fact to him, the most beautiful woman in the world, and as she came towards him, floating on the arm of Peter, he could see the brightness of her eyes even beneath the lace veil that she wore to cover her face.
That she, the beautiful one, could have dared to have kissed him at all, let alone agreeing to spend her life with him, was the most wonderful dream he could ever have dared to dream.
As Catherine reached his side, she lifted her veil and her eyes were dancing with happiness as she gazed upon him. Vincent’s heart missed a beat. This was the dream beyond all dreams, and he had to keep pinching himself to believe that the dream had come true.

Looking back it had seemed they had been on a voyage, certainly a voyage of discovery but then more than that. To Vincent the very fact that Catherine now stood at his side while both awaited Father to begin the ceremony was nothing short of a fairy tale come true. In his mind’s eye he could see them both upon the back of a mythological flying horse awaiting the grand moment when its mighty wings would unfold and take them both into a glorious future beyond anything they had ever dreamed. And they would ride the great beast, flying through time both past and present and on into the future as one being, one entity, solid, safe and reliable, and nothing or no one would ever end their flight forever.

It was a strange feeling, but whatsoever things were righteous and true, he had to consider those things. And whatsoever things were fantasy and whatsoever things were fact he had to consider those things too for they were something that had never been and there was no one set to guide them.
They were what they were, he and his Catherine, for all time and he fully believed in that.
The dream had become reality, the soft wings had unfolded and together they would fly as a legend together through all of eternity.

The ceremony was simple and beautiful and Vincent’s heart was full as he looked forward to a future with the woman he adored with a searing joy he had never before known.

*** *** ***

Vincent tried so hard not to succumb to the desire to drag Catherine away with indecent haste as they mingled for the first time as husband and wife among their guests, but it was indeed proving difficult. He wanted her so much.
And Catherine, her eyes locked to his wherever she wandered felt the pull to him via their bond that linked them wherever each might be.
At last though when they had shaken hands and shared hugs with everyone in the room, had unwrapped presents and thanked everyone with all their hearts, Vincent saw a convenient opening to whisk Catherine away without being noticed too much. She went with him, floating in satin and lace, the splendour of her mother’s wedding gown wafting around her slim form as they passed through the Chamber of the Winds. Here Vincent lifted and gathered her to him, his mighty chest pumping furiously with nerves and excitement and carried her to a chamber he had prepared the day before, and where several of the women tunnel dwellers had since placed fresh glowing candles and flowers. Catherine remembered Olivia and Kanin’s anniversary the moment she lay eyes upon the chamber that was filled with fresh lilacs and roses. “Oh Vincent this is so beautiful” She gasped as he settled her down to look.
“Yes but not as beautiful as you.” He gazed at her with eyes that spoke of his need. “Let me love you my Catherine.” He told her softly making her limbs go weak with longing. She nodded, not willing to trust her voice, and shuddered as he enfolded her into his arms capturing her lips beneath his in a passionate kiss that went on and on.
She could feel his arousal hot and hard against her belly and thrilled at the feel of him there. Her hand reached out to stroke his length and he shuddered from head to toe and Catherine chuckled, as his pants grew damp beneath her hand.
“We need to get you out of these.” She tugged at the material and Vincent blushed but quickly complied by unbuckling his belt and easing his trousers down his legs, until he stood in full magnificent glory just in view of her. “Wow.” Catherine exclaimed delighting and embarrassing him all in one go, “Is all that for me?”
Vincent could only nod speechless as he helped her out of her wedding dress.
“Have you got that other box Vincent?”
“What other box?” his voice was hoarse as he gazed at her naked beauty.
“Remember in my apartment when you proposed? You almost brought out the other box? Well have you got it? We shall need it now.” She smiled up at him trying to relieve some of his tension and embarrassment.
“No.” She read panic in his eyes, then regret and dismay, as he made to pull his pants back on.
“I’m sorry Catherine I forgot them. They are still in my chamber. I’ll go and fetch them.”
Catherine blew upwards, jostling her fringe with an exasperated sigh, “Don’t be gone too long darling will you?”
Vincent looked down at her, she positively simmered, and gave her a look which said, ‘as if’ but instead he replied, “I’ll be as quick as I can.”
He left the chamber, pulling his cloak tightly around him. He didn’t think anyone would be around to see his aroused state, but it was necessary to cover himself as best as he could just in case someone was in the tunnels for whatever reason they needed to be there.
He was almost level with Father’s chamber when he heard voices. Vincent froze, and was just wondering whether he should go a different way to his chamber when Winslow exited the chamber and walked right into him.
“Vincent! You almost killed me. What a shock, you were the last person I thought to see this night. What are you doing here?”
“Who is it Winslow?” Father’s voice sounded from inside the chamber.
“It’s Vincent.” Winslow shot over his shoulder as he waited for Vincent’s reply.
“Vincent.” Repeated Father, “What is he doing here?”
Vincent felt acute embarrassment rising up. He stammered, “I wanted something from my chamber.”
“Let me fetch it for you. You shouldn’t leave Catherine alone on a night such as this.”
“No!” Vincent cried, then seeing the perplexed look Winslow shot him, he quickly added, “It’s all right Winslow, don’t worry Catherine understands, and besides I am almost there now.”
“Yes I know but then you’ve still got to look for whatever it is. Come now Vincent, you get back to Catherine. Have you not noticed the state of your chamber since you started moving Catherine’s things into it? It could take all night for you to find anything, even if you could get past some of her furniture. Look, just tell me what it is and where it might be and I’ll bring it to you. You don’t need it right this minute do you?”
“Well as it happens…” Vincent began, then brushing Winslow’s aid aside told him, “No it’s all right I’ll get it Winslow, but thank you anyway.”
But Winslow was adamant “I insist.” He told his friend and stood in front barring his way. “ Now tell me what it is and I’ll find it and bring it to you.” He said somewhat sternly.
Exasperated, embarrassed and growing a trifle annoyed Vincent stared at Winslow for long moments before resignedly giving in, “Oh all right.” He told him, but knew that he could never tell Winslow the real reason for needing to go to his chamber, so he knew he would have to tell Winslow a lie. And that bugged Vincent because he hated telling lies. For several moments as Winslow waited Vincent struggled to think of something that he could pretend he needed, but as the seconds ticked by Winslow sighed. “Oh come on Vincent, I haven’t all day, and you haven’t all night, and then there’s Catherine to think about.” Vincent blushed, and said the first thing that came into his head, “a book.”
“A book?” At Vincent’s nod, Winslow repeated, “A book. What book?” It seemed the most unusual thing to need on your wedding night, Winslow thought, nonetheless he knew Vincent and he had an idea. “Is it a poetry book?” He had the sudden thought that maybe Vincent, being the romantic that he was wanted to read something beautiful to Catherine. But Vincent wasn’t on Winslow’s wavelength. In fact his acute embarrassment wanted him to get out of the situation as quickly as possible. “No.” he replied.
Winslow stared at him, “What then? Come on tell me?”
“You know Winslow the time it has taken us to go through all this I could have been and got it by now.”
“Yes I know so quit stalling and tell me for heavens sake! Which book do you want?” Winslow almost shouted leaving Vincent quite stunned, ‘what on earth was wrong with him?’ Winslow was acting almost as if he wanted to get rid of Vincent. And why was Father here? He had been at the Great Hall when he and Catherine had left for the specially prepared chamber where they were to spend the next few days.
Winslow was glaring at Vincent and it was obvious that his patience was growing thin. What also seemed most odd was that Father had appeared in the entranceway and seemed to be making gestures to Winslow that Vincent could not decipher. Winslow was replying wordlessly, but Vincent could read his lips, ‘I know, I know’ he was saying to Father. What did he know?
Totally mystified Vincent wanted nothing more than to get out of there and return to Catherine, he said the first thing that came into his head. “Great Expectations.” He blurted.
“Great Expectations!” Winslow and Father exclaimed together. Father started to laugh, “And why my dear boy would you be needing Great Expectations on your wedding night? Is it a metaphor perhaps? Is there something you can’t tell Catherine, and thought the title of that particular book might help?”
Vincent blushed, “No Father.” And tried to tell him what it was he really wanted with the use of his eyes.
“Have you something in your eye Vincent?” Father frowned. “Here step inside, let me take a look at it for you.” He stood aside, and Vincent distinctly heard him whisper ‘stall them’ to Winslow as he waited for Vincent to enter.
Something peculiar was going on, that Vincent did know, and as it slowly dawned on him, he grew more and more uncomfortable. They were planning a surprise! He’d caught them in the act of doing something that involved his chamber! Of course the bag of rice that was positioned above the entrance to fall onto the newlyweds! Of course that was it!
He couldn’t let them know he knew and he had to go before he gave himself away. “Just bring the book Winslow, anytime, don’t worry there’s no hurry, in fact tomorrow will do.”
Father looked from Vincent to Winslow and back again as Winslow looked from Father to Vincent and back again.
“I’ll see you both in a couple of days.” Vincent tried to keep any expression out of his voice and it took all he could not to laugh as he turned and called after him grinning from ear to ear. Winslow scratched his head thoughtfully, “What was all that about?” he asked but Father had thought of something else, “Vincent what about your eye?” he called after his son, but Vincent had gone, leaving Father only to stare after him.
“I shouldn’t worry Father, it was probably just an eyelash, and it’s a good job he has gone, the others will be bringing that bag of flour and rice at any minute.” He stopped to muse, “Great Expectations indeed! What on earth did he want with that in such a hurry? And such a large book too. It would take all night to read it!”
“A large book, of course!” Father exclaimed.
“You know why he wanted it?” Winslow looked totally baffled.
“Well I have an idea. It’s a bit of a dopey one, but that particular book does mean a lot to both Vincent and Catherine. It was the one he read to her when she first came Below and was healing after the attack. Maybe it was appropriate that they used that particular book.”
“What’s on your mind Father?”
“You said yourself that it is a large book?”
“Well it stands to reason doesn’t it? Vincent is so much taller than Catherine is. He wants to stand her on it so that she can reach to kiss him!” Father snorted and started laughing at the picture that presented.
“That is the dumbest idea!” Winslow exclaimed. “You’re not serious?”
“Can you think of a better reason for someone to have Great Expectations on their wedding night?”
“Winslow laughed. What Father had said was so funny, and the more he thought of it the more he laughed, “You yourself said it.” He boomed holding his stomach. Father thought about what he had said and a merry twinkle filled his eyes, “Oh yes.” He cried, “oh yes I see what you mean. Oh Winslow!” and he too laughed and laughed until his sides ached.

*** *** ***

“Did you get them?” Catherine had been on the verge of coming to look for Vincent when he finally turned up. “You’ve been gone long enough to have gone Above to a drugstore and buy some.” She laughed.
“I’m sorry Catherine and no I didn’t get them. They are still in my chamber.” He explained what had happened, and what he supposed Father and William had been up to. “Give it an hour or so and hopefully everyone will have returned to the celebrations then I will have another attempt at fetching the box. I will just have to be careful that I don’t trip their trap.”
Catherine sighed, “ Oh no you will not!”
Vincent stopped undressing and turning to look saw her give him an impish smile, “Remember Vincent we promised whatever comes…” she laughed, “Cute that isn’t it, rather apt in the circumstances.” Vincent blushed. She smiled and continued; “Whatever happens Vincent then we now leave it to destiny. You forgot them and then you couldn’t get them, so perhaps that should tell us something. Perhaps it’s already time to take that risk my darling?”
For long moments Vincent stared at her, wrestling with some inner thought and then she saw him relax and held her breath as he stepped out of his corded trousers and came towards her to draw her into his arms. They kissed passionately and his hands caressed her tender skin, trailing goosebumps in their wake, before he lifted and carried her over to the bed and lay her down upon it. His manhood throbbed with life and longing, and Vincent smiled down at her tenderly. “Yes my Catherine, whatever comes…” They kissed long and hard and as he finally entered her, his mind whirled away into infinity on the wings of an eagle. And Vincent knew, at last he knew, that he was indeed a man, standing upon the threshold of an unfolding dream with the woman he loved, forever.

Thoughts of you – of the night you entered my world,

My heart, my dreams

And when you left so soon you took a part of me,

Leaving me empty and longing for something I thought

Could never be mine.

Thoughts of you – when first you spoke of love,

And bathed my soul in the warmth of your eyes.

You held me as no one had held me before,

So close in your arms – so close to your heart.

I was not worthy then, I am not worthy still.

Thoughts of you – never will my heart forget

Those moments we shared in your world –

Nights bathed in moonlight,

The sky ablaze with stars glittering in the snowy park.

Or shining as the warm breeze of a summer night brushed your hair.

The wind, the rain, the magic of your world.
,br> Yet there was magic in my world too –

The first time I saw your face in the candlelight –

Was anything more beautiful?

Thoughts of you – as I gaze upon you now, my love – my bride,

As we begin this journey together, through love, through life,

A life that could never be

Save for your strength, your courage.

Let me feed on your strength, touch my heart with your gentleness,

Take my soul in your tiny hands and lead me towards love.

As I look into your eyes and see me, I am afraid no more,

For you are my life, and for all of my life and beyond

My Catherine – I am yours.

*** *** ***

For the sequel to this story please see...

When The Crystal Rain Falls



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