The Power of Night

by Rhonda Collins

*Author's note: At this point in time, Vincent has only recentlylearned that Diana is empathic and that she has been able to sensehim since the beginning of their relationship. She has been blockinghim to keep him from realizing she could sense him, to protect bothof them for various reasons. They have also recently found that thebond works both ways, and that rather than being a blessing, it canbe more of a curse. They've been sharing dreams--some of which arevery erotic--others merely extremely strange. Neither of them feelsthey have much privacy left. Strangely enough, Vincent seems toaccept the bond easier than Diana does, though at times the lack ofprivacy and the threat he feels of loss of control does disturb him.Consequently, the whole issue of the bond has become rather a touchysubject.

The idea occurred to Diana suddenly, and she wasn't even sure whatstarted her thinking about it. They'd been watching a movie--some oldadaptation of Tom Sawyer--and Vincent was about as relaxed as he evergot. He was draped across her couch like an overgrown house cat. Shesat at the other end of the couch with her feet stretched out, toesbarely touching his thigh. Just enough contact. Not too near to be adanger...not so far that the ache would become painful. Since Vincenthad become aware of the bond between them, things had become morethan a little sticky at times.


His head never turned as he watched the screen. "Yes?" Distracted,comfortable.

"Do you ever take vacations?"

His entire body shifted as he turned to her, his expressionpuzzled. "In a sense. You know I sometimes go away for a day orso...go below the Catacombs to be by myself."

Diana pulled her feet up and wrapped her arms around herlegs--chin resting on her knees. "No. I mean go away for fun."

An expression of indescribable sorrow passed swiftly over his faceand was gone. Diana wished she dared to lower her emotional block soshe could understand a little better, but things were still toosensitive between them...too raw...where the bond was concerned."No," he said quietly. "Where would I go? Occasionally I goexploring. That is enjoyable. Sometimes Mouse accompanies me." Hiseyes took on a faraway look and he smiled wistfully. "Once...whenDevin and I were children we planned an expedition on a raft. LikeTom and Huck on the Mississippi."

Diana grinned, trying to picture this. She'd never met Devin, butshe'd heard stories...mostly from Father, but a few from Vincent."What happened?"

Chuckling softly, he answered, "The raft sank."

"Oh. Sorry."

"No reason to be sorry. We enjoyed ourselves building it. It was achild's dream." Vincent rose sinuously and stretched as the moviecredits rolled. "I must go, Diana. Thank you for your company."

She grinned a little as their eyes met. He was still always soformal. "Thanks for yours."

Diana made no further comments about vacations, but her mind filedaway the thought. She followed him to the roof, and they stoodsilently regarding one another in the moonlight. There was asweetness to the peace between them. For once, neither of them waspushing--testing limits.

Before he left, Vincent put out his hand and touched her hair verysoftly--the gesture infinitely tender--and achingly restrained."Goodnight, Diana."

She nodded and wrapped her arms tightly around herself. "G'night,Vincent. Soon."

• • • • • • • •

As Vincent traversed the darkness of the uninhabited uppertunnels, he thought about Diana's question. No. He did not go onvacations. Only on escapes. Sometimes he felt a little desperate. Theclosest he ever came to a "vacation" now were the scant hours hespent in Diana's loft, where he had peace of a sort. The nearest he'dever come to managing an actual "vacation" was when Catherine hadwanted them to go to her lake in Connecticut. And that, of course,had proved to be impossible.

As much as he loved his home, every time Vincent turned back fromthe light of the loft into this darkness it was an effort. He knewthat the moment anyone knew he was back, someone would need him forsomething. It was wonderful being needed, but it was stifling aswell. He felt as though he were being parceled out in tiny bits andpieces daily, and he saw no end to it, even for the space of a"vacation." He sighed heavily.

• • • • • • • •

The next few days passed in a flurry of activity for Diana. Hercase, which really hadn't been too involved to begin with, ended witha slamming impact that took her breath away. Everything happened sofast that despite Diana's psychic impressions and all her commonsense--everything done by the book--it still ended with three copsdead and one in the hospital. The killer was eventually brought downand dragged away, and Diana felt a savage satisfaction...tinged witha lot of bitterness and pain. She'd known those dead cops realwell.

Diana insisted on being the one to tell the cops' families oftheir deaths. One of the men had graduated the Academy with her, andhis wife clung to her, sobbing. Diana felt numb. She didn't dare letthe emotion in. It would swallow her if she did.

She still felt numb when she walked into her loft that evening,but the lack of feeling didn't last long. The tight control she'dkept all day began crumbling, and once she'd gotten undressed andinto the shower, the emotions all came back in a rush--like a tidalwave of despair. Her tears washed away as the hot water poured overher, and she stood there shaking uncontrollably.

Diana was brought back instantly to attention by a pounding on herbathroom door and Vincent's desperate voice calling out to her.Diana! Answer me! What is it?"

Stung into immediate action, she grabbed her robe and pulled itaround her, tying it savagely. Still dripping, she threw the dooropen and launched herself into Vincent's waiting arms.

• • • • • • • •

A half-hour later found them sitting quietly on Diana's batteredcouch. She was huddled as close to Vincent as she could get, and hisarms were folded around her like a barrier against the world. She'dcried until there were no more tears. It had astounded Vincent. Diananever cried. As she curled against him and buried her blotched faceand red nose in the folds of his shirt, he could feel her emotionalpattern settling into what he supposed was normal for her. It wasstill difficult for him to ascertain just what "normal" was, forDiana. She so seldom allowed him to sense her at all.

He sighed and settled his chin on her head. The last few days hadbeen difficult for him, as well. All he had done since leaving Dianalast was deal with one problem after another...minor irritations andmajor disasters. Over and over again. Today, for example, he'dsettled at least five minor disputes, argued in council for theadmission of a man he'd found on the streets, helped Kanin do someheavy excavating work...and a dozen other things. All in addition tohis normal teaching and security duties. He was tired. He'd hoped fora quiet night with Diana and found turbulence instead. It didn'tmatter. She'd let him in. She allowed herself to "need" him soseldom. She was the one person who never took advantage of him...evenwhen he wanted her to. This giving felt more like taking. Tonight washers. He closed his eyes and hummed quietly.

Diana startled him when she spoke--her voice a little harsh fromher tears. "I need a vacation."

He settled her more firmly against him. "Take one. Go somewherequiet. Forget everything."

She shook her head slightly. "No place I want to go. I need to bewith you."

Vincent didn't speak for several minutes. As Diana once moreregained control of her emotions, he could feel her beginning to pullback inside herself slowly, and the bond became impossible to hold.He stroked her back gently. "Come Below if you need to get away. Icannot be with you all the time, but I would be near."

"I'll think about it." She looked up and brushed a strand of ambermane back from his face. "You look tired. I'm sorry--dumping on youlike this. Didn't mean to. It just slipped."

He watched her a moment, a little saddened to realize that onceagain all he could feel of her was the body beneath his hand. Of heremotions there was nothing. He still had conflicting feelings aboutthis new bond. He missed being able to continually sense her, as hehad Catherine--but he still felt uneasy about her sensing him. Thatwas something he'd been totally unprepared for.

Since he could no longer feel her emotions, he allowed himself theluxury of his other senses--just a little--for example, her haircaressing his face and the clean scent of it. He managed a smile. "Iwas planning to dump on you--as I have so often in the past.Turnabout is fair play. Besides...I like it when you're open tome...for whatever reason. You know that."

Diana snuggled in closer. "Tell me. It's your turn."

So Vincent told her of his day--of the petty arguments and themajor disasters--his frustration in dealing with all of them dayafter day. "More and more they come to me instead of to Father. Orperhaps it is merely that there are more of us...more problems tosolve...and it is easier to divide the responsibility."

"Have you mentioned it to Father?"

He sighed and shook his head. "No. What would be the point? Thereare simply some things that people feel more comfortable coming to meabout...and some things that Father cannot physically handle, in anycase. The others, they take to him. I often wonder, though, how Iwill handle it once Father is gone. It almost buries me now. It is mylife, Diana, and I love them all. It is not that I wish for them tostop. I need to be needed. But sometimes...."

She chuckled. " need a vacation."

He pulled away and looked at her, startled. "I cannot go anywhere,Diana." He gestured to indicate her loft. "Here is my vacation. Withyou. The times are brief, but they must be enough."

Diana sat up abruptly and looked into his face. "Maybe." She gotup and paced to the window and turned. "How would you feel aboutbuilding that raft? You and me. And taking that trip down yourriver?"

Excitement rose immediately, almost overwhelming Vincent. Atrip...with Diana. No one clamoring at me for attention, no problemsto solve other than those involved in the trip...and...and.... Butthen he stopped. With no outside problems to divert them, and withthem in close proximity for that long.... No. Too dangerous. Tonightit had been all right. There had been so hint of the sexual tensionthat had been so close to the surface in recent months. But whatwould happen with them alone--so isolated. In the darkness that theOther loved so much.... "No. I think, perhaps, that would be unwise,Diana.

He watched for her response and was vaguely disappointed when shenodded, seeming to agree. Surprisingly, though, her verbal responsewas not agreement, but was instead her usual tenacity mixed withuncharacteristic enthusiasm. She got up and began pacing, glancing athim occasionally through unruly strands of red hair, half of whichwas dry and curling around her face, the other half damp and limp. "Iunderstand your reluctance...I do. But we can handle it. And justthink of it! It'd be great! Getting away. Really away. Me with no badguys to victims to mourn; you with no one picking at youfor constant assistance in minor and major repairs--both public andprivate. That raft." She grinned. "Just think of the mess we couldmake while we're making it...the total lack of order...and of thepeace we'd have while we're on it."

Vincent couldn't help it. He laughed outright...long caninesflashing in the bright light of the loft. He pictured them finallygetting the raft built...and it sinking as they left. But it would befun. How long has it been since I had any fun? When he answered, allhe said, was, "When?"

• • • • • • • •

Two days later, Diana attended the funeral for Mike Mason, the copshe'd known at the Academy. Behind the family and closer friends, shestood stiffly in the late February chill, hands poked deep in herpockets. She watched the dead leaves blowing around her feet andthought about death and how much a part of her life it was. GregHughes stood behind her, looking equally uncomfortable. When theyleft, Greg drove her to the station.

After filing her report Diana asked for vacation. Enough of it toget away for awhile. Greg thought it was a great idea and agreedenthusiastically. He was always trying to get her to take time off.Diana knew he thought she worked too hard. Maybe he's right. God, I'mtired.

She thought about Mike. Dead at thirty-four. Young wife, two kids.She remembered him from the Academy. He'd been so earnest anddetermined. So sure he'd be able to make a difference. Her visionblurred a little and she squeezed her eyes shut a moment to force thetears back. Mike had made a difference. So did she, every day, andshe knew it. But it was a drop in the bucket. She knew that too, andthe thought made her furious. Her Dad had told her time after timethat it was every person's responsibility to do what they could inthis life to make it a better place. That everyone was given talentsthat God had meant for them to use to do just that. It was somethinghe'd expected of her, and she'd grown up expecting it of herself. Butlike Vincent, sometimes she felt as though she gave until there wasnothing left to give...and then gave some more. It's time to rest.Just for awhile. Time to get close to someone I care about. A littleshiver of anticipation ran up her spine.

When Diana left the station, she still had no real plansmade...only vague remnants of ideas. She stopped at a sporting goodsstore on the way home and did some shopping. She examined thesleeping bags carefully and agonized over whether to buy one thatonly slept one, or one that slept two...or maybe two singles. Buyingtoo small could discourage Vincent if things happened to go thatway--but buying too large could embarrass him and put pressure onhim, too. She sighed and fingered the larger sleeping bag. This tripwas for them both to rest and relax. She didn't want to causeunnecessary problems. She wasn't sure she was any more ready to hopin the sack--no pun intended--any more than he was. They had enoughto contend with trying to keep their friendship intact with thatdamned bond interfering. Yeah, there was a sexual pull to that was damned near irresistible at times. At first thathad been exciting--before Vincent had learned about the bond andfound that he could sense her. Then at first it had excited him, too.But now neither of them was entirely happy about the inevitability ofthe entire thing. They both felt a little trapped. Damn. What do Ido? Buy one single one for me, two single ones--one for each of us,or one double one just in case? If I just get one for me, who knows,I might be sending him the message that I don't want him. Ditto withthe two singles. If I get the double, he could interpret it a comeon. Oh, Hell. I'm sure he already has something to sleep in.Eventually she gave up and bought the double sleeping bag. She alsobought canteens, and a large sack of the "survival rations."Unappetizing looking stuff to take along on a vacation, but it'd beeasy to carry and fix.

Dragging her treasures home, she dumped them all on the couch. Shecalled Susan and told her she'd be gone camping awhile. She spent anhour digging through her clothes, trying to decide just what to takewith her. Can't take too much. Has to be warm--durable. On impulse,she dug out a pair of jeans and then rummaged around in the bottom ofthe closet until she found Mark's old sheepskin vest. After an hourof frustrated cursing and a number of pricked fingers she'd managedto cut and sew heavy sheepskin patches over the knees of the jeans.She did the same thing with the elbows of one of her sweatshirts.Vincent had explained that if they did any exploring off the raftthat she'd need protection on knees and elbows for crawling. She putanother set of heavy sweats in the knapsack and tossed it on top ofthe growing pile on the couch.

While she was nibbling on some leftovers, she surveyed herrefrigerator. There wasn't much there that would spoil, so sheshrugged and left it. She was ready.

All she needed was Vincent.

• • • • • • • •

Vincent and Father discussed the upcoming trip for over an hour.Despite lingering doubts on Vincent's part and some reluctance onFather's, plans were made to cover Vincent's duties while he wasgone. Cullen stated he'd be delighted to fill in on security andFather agreed to take the classes. Mouse eagerly volunteered to dothe maintenance sweeps--which caused Father more apprehension thanVincent felt was warranted. "Mouse is more than capable, Father. Givehim a chance to prove himself." Vincent smiled a little at Father'sindecision.

"Are you positive, Vincent, that this is a good idea? I mean...youand Diana...down there alone?"

Vincent shrugged uneasily. "No. But Diana seems certain that wecan do this. And it seems to mean a great deal to her."

"And perhaps to you, as well," Father commented sagely.

Vincent bowed his head. "Yes. To me, as well. For manyreasons."

Father settled back into his chair. "I hear that Cullen and Mousehelped you find all the supplies to build the raft."

"Yes. We even shifted all the supplies down to the river. Takingthem through the maze was difficult, to say the least. It took usalmost two days."

Father's eyes met Vincent's and both of them smiled. Fatherremoved his glasses and cleaned them industriously. Without lookingup, he commented: "I do hope Diana knows what she's letting herselfin for. Conditions down there will be very primitive."

Uneasily, not wishing to worry Father, Vincent merely replied: "Ihave a feeling that Diana always knows what she's letting herself infor. I do not believe that the word `impulsive' is in hervocabulary."

• • • • • • • •

Later, as Vincent made his way toward Diana's loft to pick her up,his thoughts were running in circles. This is insane. To take Dianabelow with me...into the dark. To put her at such risk. I must tellher that we cannot do this. Even as he made plans for what he wouldsay, he knew it was useless. She would see through any excuse orevasion and merely brush it aside. But he felt he must, somehow,impress upon her the possible dangers of this enforced and lengthyintimacy.

Reaching her roof, he hesitated. Looking down through the skylighthe could see her wandering the loft--but almost immediately shesensed his presence and glanced up at him. The joy that lit her faceand shot through him before she closed off the connection made himgiddy...and forgetful of his apprehensions.

• • • • • • • •

"Vincent!" Diana threw the door to the roof open and skidded to ahalt. Her first impulse was to throw herself into his arms, but sheknew he was apprehensive enough about this entire trip. She didn'tneed to scare him off completely. She stood balanced, swaying just alittle, and grinned. "Hi. I'm ready."

The statement elicited a restrained smile. Whereas she feltriotously eager to go, he seemed scared to death. Looks like hethinks I'll bite him.

"I can see that," he commented wryly. "Do you need help with anyof your things?"

"Yeah. There's quite a bit."

Vincent followed her down into the loft and stared with aperplexed expression at the mass of gear on her couch. "Diana...isall this necessary?"

Irritated, she enumerated: "Bedroll, food, canteens for water,flashlight and batteries, extra clothes. Yeah. No sense in sleepingon the rock, in the dark, starving and filthy. I told you I'd get ussome food."

Vincent gingerly picked up one of the cans of food. His eyebrowraised in such a Spock-like expression that she burst out laughing."I thought this kind of food would make it easier to carry. I don'tmind roughing it." Then when the look on his face didn't change, sheasked, "Whatever's the matter, Vincent?"

He cleared his throat. "Actually, I'd only thought vaguely offood--of having William fix us something--until you said you'd bringit. I suppose I keep thinking the raft will sink."

Their eyes met briefly, and they both smiled. Then Vincentcommented: "You must remember, Diana, that normally when I go on my`escapes' I go alone. I take no food, or even water." He paused andlooked away, seeming distracted and embarrassed. "When I go, I am notthe Vincent you know. I behave--somewhat immoderately. Perhaps thisis not a good idea."

She slipped her arm under his and found his hand. "The Vincent Iknow often behaves immoderately. I kind of like you that way.Besides...I've seen you driven by rage, desire, fear, and grief. I'mnot afraid of you in any way, shape, or form. Believe that."

He turned weary blue eyes to her and regarded her for a longmoment--seeming to weigh her words. "I do believe it. Sometimes youworry me--because you are not frightened, Diana. You should be."

She shrugged and moved away. Picking up the heavy pack with thefood and other supplies, she handed it to him. "If I'm afraid ofanything, it's of getting hungry...and I've taken care of that."

Diana refused to be drawn into a deep discussion of his bestialnature. One of these days he's got to find out that what he's reallyafraid of is that he'll find out he is human, after all, and he can'tblame his desires on the `beast'. "If you'll take that one, I canhandle the rest. I'll meet you Below." She gathered up the bedrolland pack with her clothes and headed for the elevator. Slapping thedown button, she turned back and grinned at him. "Race?"

• • • • • • • •

Vincent watched Diana disappear down the elevator shaft, thenshook his head ruefully. He knew it was useless. He could refuse togo, but she'd only badger him for the rest of his life. He'd neverlive it down. He slung the canvas bag with the food and supplies overhis shoulder, securing the straps for climbing. By the time hereached the alley, Diana was leaning against the brick wall of thebuilding, waiting for him.

As he approached, she asked calmly: "You're not getting into thespirit of this at all, are you?"

"You seem to have enough enthusiasm for both of us," he commentedin what he hoped passed for a normal tone of voice. He walked pasther. Moving the heavy iron cover, he lowered the bag into the holeand motioned for Diana to go ahead.

Once they were safely in the tunnel below, he slid the heavy metalcover back into place. He lit the lantern he'd left there and beganwalking. He could feel Diana's eyes burning holes in his back. Theywalked silently for several minutes before Diana responded a littleanxiously: "You're not having second thoughts, are you?"

Vincent stopped and glanced up at her. She was magnificent.Totally undaunted by anything they'd been through since they'dmet--since she'd found him--a stranger in a strange land. Nothingthrew her. She adapted, chameleon-like, to every situation. Yetsomehow, she never truly changed. She remained the one constant inhis life...besides Jacob. A solid truth. An anchor. In addition, hefound her anxiety to please him absolutely charming...though a littleunsettling.

Taking a deep breath, he said quietly: "No. But I am entitled to afew misgivings."


He joked feebly, "The raft will sink."

"I'll swim."

"You'll get cold."

"That's why I have you."

He sighed and repressed the elation he felt...and the firststirrings of desire. "I give up."

She shouldered her bag and winked. "I knew you would."

• • • • • • • •

As they walked, Vincent told Diana about the supplies they hadacquired for the raft and about moving them to the river. He wantedher to know that he, too, wanted this vacation to be a success."Everything is down there, ready for us to begin building."

"Did you tell Jacob goodbye?"

He nodded. "He is already in Mary's care. The vacation has begun,Diana."

She smiled at him critically. "Where's your gear? Your clothes andstuff."

"I have a small pack near the maze. I...travelconsiderably...lighter than you do."

They met Kipper, Zach and Samantha traveling the oppositedirection--on their way Above to a movie--and said their goodbyes.Again, they fell silent. As they reached the maze and picked upVincent's absurdly small pack, for some reason the tension eased.Vincent felt a kind of peace settle upon him. They were committed tothis. It seemed there was no backing out, so he resolved to attemptto enjoy himself...and still be watchful of the Other. The dark washis place. Surely forewarned is forearmed.

Vincent warned Diana that after a point there would be no lightuntil they were much deeper. He cautioned against the use of thelantern or flashlight as they would hinder her night sight, making itmore difficult in the areas where the lights would prove impossibleto carry. He turned off the lantern. "We will need the light forbuilding the raft, but after that we will have to rely upon our nightvision as much as possible. You will find that in the deeper tunnelsand caverns there is some light from phosphorescent fungi. It isgenerally enough."

She nodded, and though her emotional block was still up, there wasenough of a resonance between them that he could feel her acceptance.She was unconcerned. He noted the sheepskin patches on her knees andelbows and praised her forethought.

Before long, she was to see for herself how helpful the patcheswere to be.

Vincent stopped at a Y-shaped junction and regarded herthoughtfully. "There are two routes to the river, Diana. One way, theway we took the lumber and building supplies is easier, but takes farlonger. The other is not so much difficult as uncomfortable. It is aseries of long, low tunnels where we would need to crawl and drag thepacks."

Diana was silent while she considered, then asked, "How muchlonger is the easier route?"

"About half a day. At least five or six hours."

She shrugged and grinned lopsidedly. "Then we crawl. I have nointention of wasting my vacation."

Vincent went first down the left passage. Before long, the roof ofthe tunnel sloped downwards sharply until there was only headspacefor them on their hands and knees. It was as dark as a tomb, andsilent except for their breathing and the sounds they made as theycrept along.

Diana never spoke, but Vincent was aware of the gradual lesseningof her emotional barrier--and the slow expansion of their connection.With her need for contact and awareness of the world around her, shewas instinctively reaching out with her other senses. All of them.The bond flowed between them like running water, and Vincent had tofight to push the Other keep him caged. It was not that atthe moment there was anything more between Diana and himself thancompanionship--but as he'd feared, the darkness and this place byhabit and by consent belonged to his darker half--and the Other wasready to claim his time. The bond only made it more difficult forVincent to keep control.

Vincent lost track of the time as they traveled...and as he baskedin the close bond, but eventually the tunnel opened up and he stoodto hand Diana down out of the confined space into a huge cavern.

• • • • • • • •

As Diana emerged from the crawlspace and felt Vincent's hand closeupon hers, she gasped. She could still see absolutely nothing. Thiswas total absence of light, yet she could sense the immensity of thecavern around her. With her barriers down, she could sense, throughVincent, even more. She was aware of her surroundings in some oddfashion that she couldn't really explain. There were no words...andno need for them between them. The sensations and senses were allbeing fed through the bond and through Vincent. She was seeing thedark cavern through his eyes--feeling with his hyperacute senses--andit was incredible. It was the most marvelous thing she'd everencountered.

Finally, after taking a few moments to orient herself, Dianapointed and spoke. "The river is over there."

Vincent squeezed her hand gently and smiled. She could feel thesmile. "Yes. Can you come...without the light?"

"I...I think so. If we move slowly."

Still holding her hand, Vincent moved off slowly, and shefollowed. She stumbled a few times, but gradually her steps becamefirmer and more sure. The sound of the water became louder, andbefore long Vincent stopped.

"We are at the river. At the building site."

Diana laughed a little shakily. "If we're gonna build a raft, Iguess we're gonna have to have some light, huh?"

She thought his response was a little hesitant, and she felt aquick stab of sorrow. His, she thought, but wasn't completely sure."Yes. A small light, at reaccustom our eyes."

He released her hand and she stood alone. A little cold, suddenly,she wrapped her arms around herself and listened to him rustlingaround in the dark. There was the sound of a match striking andsuddenly there was a blinding light. She blinked and turned away. Thelight was only the glow of the lantern--with the light turned low.But after the exquisite darkness, it seemed harsh and intrusive. Themassive form standing next to the light, with the deeply shadowedeyes--face all angles and shadows--seemed a stranger. Withoutrealizing it, she had already withdrawn the bond and set up herbarriers again. Vincent's voice, coming from this massive form,reassured her.

"In a few moments, your eyes will readjust and we will turn thelight up a little more."

Diana nodded and looked around. The pile of building suppliesseemed daunting. "I guess we should get started, huh?"

Vincent waited a few moments and turned the lantern up higher, andto them it was like daylight.

They worked for awhile, sorting the lumber and the waterproof winecasks that would supply the floatation they needed. Eventually, Dianastood and stretched. Her back ached. "I don't know about you, but I'mstarved. Let's eat something." She looked at her watch. "God,Vincent. It's the middle of the night. I'm surprised we're notexhausted."

He chuckled as he began making a small fire for tea. "Down here,there is no time. It would be best if you simply packed the watchaway. It will become confusing after awhile."

Moving to him, she touched his shoulder. The first physicalcontact they'd had since he'd released her hand hours before. Shecould feel a slight shudder. He looked up at her, his eyes gentle anda little questioning. "I'm glad we came, Vincent."

Smiling, he answered, "Even if the raft sinks?"

"Even if we turned around right now and went back." She dug in thepack and brought out some rations. "A little something to go with thetea."

As they sat back and ate, Diana commented, "I am a little tired. Iguess once you sit down, it catches up with you, huh?"

His voice held a hint of amusement. "It can. Diana...there is norush. Remember, we are here to enjoy doesn't evenmatter if we never finish the raft. The vacation is simply beinghere."

She yawned. "Sorry. You're right. It's's so much fun!"She yawned again, wider. "God. I really am tired. Guess it'sbedtime."

She got up and unrolled her sleeping bag. She stood watchingVincent for a moment, noticing again how distant he seemed as he satwatching her. She walked over to him and looked down into his face.He wouldn't meet her eyes and looked away. She decided to plungeahead. "I noticed you didn't bring a sleeping bag. You're welcome,you know."

He jerked as though she'd struck him, and when he answered, hisvoice was rough. "I will sleep there...against the rock. When I amdown here, I need nothing, Diana. It will be all right.Goodnight."

She thought about kissing him goodnight, but decided against it.Instead, she touched his hair gently, letting the rough strands slidethrough her fingers. "Goodnight, Vincent. Sleep well."

She settled into the sleeping bag, feeling guilty--not for thewarmth and comfort of the bag--but of the position she'd put Vincentin. She sighed. I should have thought this thing through a littlemore, maybe. She knew she had a tendency to "jump into things"impulsively, and commit herself to them. She did that with her casesall the time. If she felt something very strongly, she'd let herfeelings--and her empathy-- carry her through and not her thoughtprocesses. She'd known there would be things that would be hard forhim, with her down here and so near, but perhaps she hadn't thoughtit through well enough. Too late now. Probably anything I did wouldhave been wrong, anyway. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

• • • • • • • •

Vincent settled back against a boulder and opened his pack. Hepulled out the heavy blanket he'd brought and settled it overhimself, then gazed across the embers of the fire at Diana. She wasalready asleep, her breathing deep and regular--and her emotionalbarriers were down. It occurred to him only then that to sleep couldvery well be the worst thing he could possibly do--for then both hissubconscious and Diana's would be free--and the bond completely open.And the Other would be waiting for him to let down his guard.

In one fluid motion he threw the blanket off and stood. He pacedup and down the riverbank, throwing a quick look now and then atDiana. What am I to do? I must sleep...for to avoid sleep will in theend only make matters worse. Once more his frustration with the bondcame to a head. If only it would allow us the privacy of our dreams,at least! Perhaps then, the rest would be easier to resolve.

Moving with his customary quiet, he knelt beside Diana's bedrolland watched her sleep. He felt a desperate urge to run. As far awayas he protect her from the Other. But he remembered whatDiana had told him--that she'd seen him driven by rage, desire, fear,and grief--and was not afraid. She had met the Other before and hadseen the results of his actions. He shook his head thoughtfully.She'd also reminded him over and over again that he'd not harmedCatherine when he'd lost himself. Perhaps nothing will happen.Reaching out a shaking hand, he brushed a stray strand of hair backfrom Diana's face. She murmured in her sleep...his name...and smiled.It was too much for him.

He bolted.

He ran as though all the Hounds of Hell were after him.Sure-footed in the darkness he splashed through seep holes andclambered over rocks until gradually some sense began seeping throughthe fear, and he slowed. He couldn't just run away and leave heralone in the dark. Why did I run?

He turned slowly back the way he'd come. He wanted to reach outand touch the bond with Diana to see if she still slept, but he wastoo frightened. The thoughts running through his mind terrified him.As he neared the campsite, he slowed. There was no glow from thefire: it had gone out. By the time he reached the river he realizedhow tired he was. Perhaps all will be well after all.

Vincent knelt at the river and drank, then returned to his boulderto settle himself and try to sleep. The rock and the ground werehard, but the blanket provided a little warmth. He was so tired,emotionally and physically, that before long sleep overtook him.

Sensations of running--burning chest, pumping muscles in thighsand calves. Hunting in the dark for the slightest glimmer oflight--the slightest sensation of life to fill the emptiness. Yet,the emptiness and the dark were all one. And they were freedom. Theysurrounded and encompassed him...let him be. There was no sight, butthere was a sensation of warmth, and life nearby. As he focused, thesensation coalesced into a distinct otherness. With the realizationof identity came sight--and a form. A woman, who opened her arms tohim gladly and the emotion which caressed him was love. He felt thedesire wash over him, infusing him with power--and with rage for thehunger, long denied. He was coming full awake. "Abstinence makes theheart grow hungry."

Vincent woke with a start, jerking himself out of the dreamconnection. Too close. The Other had been so near the surface it hadfrightened Vincent out of the dream.

"Vincent?" Diana called to him softly.

He could hear a thread of confusion and distress in her voice, butcould no longer sense anything. She, too, had been brought awake bywhat had happened, and her automatic barriers had returned. He knewshe couldn't see him, and that made her uneasy. "I'm here, Diana. Goback to sleep."

She kicked back the top of the sleeping bag and padded over tohim. "Can't. I'm awake, now." Her hand found his arm and slid upwardsto his face. "You okay?"

He almost flinched when she touched him. The arousal remainingfrom the dream was hard to put away and the touch was like flame. Hisvoice sounded coarse and heavy as he answered, though he tried tocontrol it. "I'm fine. Truly." He paused a moment to collect himself,then gathered her hand in his. "But like you, I am awake. I will makea fire and we can continue with the raft, if you wish. It is almostfinished."

She stepped back, a little reluctantly it seemed. "Sure."

Vincent disappeared into the darkness, explaining that nearbythere were the remains of entire grove of them. At onetime, this must have been above ground. When he returned with anarmload of wood, he knelt to build the fire. Once he'd finished, theyate a little from the canned rations. She commented with what seemedto him a forced cheerfulness: "Kind of bland, but filling. I thinkI'd even prefer some of William's stew."

After eating, they worked in near silence for several hours. Atfirst that silence seemed strained, but as time went on their usualease with one another returned and they found themselves smiling andjoking in short, disjointed comments. Vincent became less aware ofthe darkness pressing around him and more and more aware of the smallworld they were creating...and their places within it. When the raftwas finished they stood back and surveyed their work.

"Not bad," Diana joked, standing with hands on hips. "A littlelopsided."

In all seriousness, Vincent replied, "Our packs will compensateand level it, you'll see."

"What do you think Devin would say?"

Vincent glanced over at her to see her smile...and he returned it.Her hair had begun escaping the loose braid and curled softly aroundher face. She was adorable. "If Devin had helped build it, itprobably would sink...he is not as meticulous as you."

She gave him a mock salute. "I aims to please, Capt'n."

• • • • • • • •

After a short rest and another small meal, they packed the raftand began their journey. Vincent pointed out landmarks...the deadgrove of trees standing alone in a grey forest of stone, an ancientstair carved into the rock, a waterfall of crystalline minerals.Diana noticed with an odd sensation of relief that the deeper theywent, the more of the phosphorescent fungi appeared on the walls andthe lighter it seemed to get. If she'd been more honest with herself,she'd have realized that her own opening awareness was as muchresponsible for her "sight" as any minute difference the fungi couldmake. She was also aware of Vincent's increasing psychologicaldiscomfort. She once more closed down on the barrier and tried tocheer him as much as possible, drawing his attention away fromthemselves and into the adventure.

"This is great! It's so...immense. It's another world,Vincent...just for us."

He seemed to hesitate as he gazed out over the black river. Heanswered slowly, and so quietly she could barely hear. "Yes. It hasbeen here forever, the river and the darkness. And it is...immense.It is almost alive." His head swiveled and he peered at her betweenstrands of mane. "I wanted to share this with you. Because you canunderstand...the power and mystery of the darkness."

Diana caught a hint of embarrassment and anxiety, but he hadturned away again... and though she'd felt the emotions, she knew hewould not welcome her recognition of them. So she only answeredsoftly, "Thank you for bringing me. For sharing this with me."

He nodded without speaking, but the tension seemed to ease oncemore...just a fraction, but it was noticeable.

Diana remained still and purposely opened herself a little more toVincent. Once again, seeing and sensing things through him, throughhis heightened senses, she could tell so much more about hersurroundings. Shapes became more firm, the air fresher, the darknessmore palpable...almost a presence. And Vincent was more aware of her,as well. Though he didn't look back, his entire body tensed. She,too, could feel the powerful pull between them...something thatneither of them was quite ready to explore just yet. She closed downon the connection a little, and the tension eased.

Vincent put the guide pole down and let the raft drift with thecurrent. He turned to face her and knelt, staring into her eyes. "Thedarkness pulls everything in...powers and people. You can feel theenergy moving around us...within us. Releasing us."

Looking into those wild eyes, Diana knew the time had come to headback. She needed to defuse this situation. For the first time, shetruly knew what Vincent meant when he said he was losing himself. Shewasn't frightened...just suddenly very aware of him in ways she'dnever been before. And she knew that if he went completely over theedge there would be no controlling him, or the situation. She wasn'tsure she'd want to try...and that would be the worst mistake shecould ever make. "I can't feel anything, Vincent...except you.There's no darkness here." She reached over and lit the lantern andturned it up to bright, blinding both of them for a few moments, andat the same time she pulled out of the connection completely. Theshock seemed to snap him back to himself. Without a word he turnedand went back to guiding the raft.

Diana turned the lantern down a little, and sat still, watchinghim. The clarity of her surroundings was gone. Without theconnection, without her own heightened senses working full-out, itwas very dark and oppressive down here. She ached to open up andbecome lost in that feeling of utter freedom again. It was becomingaddictive.

Her mind was working a mile a minute. Pieces were beginning tofall into place. This had been a terrible mistake...coming with himdown here. He'd told her that he'd come here to get away, when thepressures became unbearable. When he was "losing himself." She'dthought that he'd meant he'd come here because it was simplyaway...that here he could vent his anger and frustration and simplybe alone. And that was part of it. But by far the largest part of thereason he came was because down here he had to open himself up inorder to survive--open all his senses--become all that he was. Andthe darkness down here was almost a presence. One could easilyimagine that presence being a part of oneself.

All his life Vincent had denied himself the release of his angeror his desire, considering them dangerous. He felt it was not safe toallow himself to feel these powerful emotions. For obvious reasons:if he became enraged, he could easily kill...had killed. But what ofthe desire? Until Catherine, there had been no outlet at all, andhe'd denied himself that as well until.... Oh, Jesus, Vincent. Whatam I gonna do with you? Talk about walking into the lion's den.

"Vincent," she said very softly.

His head swiveled to glance back at her. "Yes?"

"How will we get back? I mean...the current is too strong to polethe raft upstream...maybe we'd better start back."

He turned away and shrugged. "Soon."

She knew that "soon" could very well mean "never." Right now, hedidn't want to go back to being half of who he was; and if he kepther here long enough, she might get to where she didn't care, either.Before long, however, he poled the raft into an inlet.

"Come. We'll rest here." He helped her unpack the raft and takeout the supplies.

"Aren't you gonna make a fire?" Diana wanted that fire. Thatcircle of light to keep out the darkness. To help keep Vincent...andherself...sane and reasonable. He made the fire, but he seemedreluctant. As they ate, Diana tried to make small talk and open thesubject of return. "It's gonna take awhile, heading back onfoot."

"Not so long." He seemed distracted, uneasy, as he knelt besidethe fire...staring into the flames.

"Long enough," she persisted.

He glanced up, eyes bright in the light of the fire, but gentle asalways. "You are ready to leave?"

A stab of remorse at the lie lanced through her. "Yes." As helooked away, she touched his shoulder. "I think we both are. It'sbeen wonderful, Vincent."

He idly tossed a small bit of wood on the tiny fire. They wererunning out of wood. "You've seen, and felt...something of what it isto be me, Diana. Does it frighten you?"

When she didn't answer immediately, he looked up to meet her eyes.There was a challenge in them, as though he were expecting her torecoil in fear and loathing. Instead, she reached up and stroked hisface with the back of her hand, and she felt him lean into thecaress. "Yes. I'm afraid. But what I'm afraid of is us, Vincent. Notjust you. It's so tempting just to open up and let it all in....letyou in...and me out."

He groaned and turned away abruptly, burying his face in hishands.

Diana hesitated, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other, notknowing what to do. Finally, wrapping her arms tightly around herselfto keep from touching him and setting him off, she said gently,"Maybe...maybe we're wrong, Vincent. Maybe we should forgeteverything we ever learned, or fought against, and just accept who weare for once...." Her voice trailed off, because he'd turned to herthen, his expression unreadable.

Vincent stalked past her, fury in every abrupt motion he made. Heturned back, crouching, his hands spread wide. With the firelightdancing over his angular features and over the long hair, he lookedfearsome...dark and bright, menace and promise all in one. His voicewas more like a growl as he addressed her. "Look at me, Diana.This...this is what I am. If we did as you suggest...we would neverleave here."

By now, Diana was becoming more angry than frightened. She wasn'tsure why, but this whole thing made her very angry. She understoodnow, why he was so afraid. She was scared too--but she'd all butoffered herself to him on a silver platter--couldn't he see into her,as she'd seen into him? Couldn't he see that she'd been willing torisk everything just to try...scared as she was? The bond scared herworse than anything--worse than his killing her, worse than facinganything Above, in her own world. She wanted to be close to him, butshe wanted it on their terms.

Well, that's it. If we can't be together, then I'll at least keephold of who I am! She absolutely refused to lose control of herself--her life--and she damn sure wasn't going to let Vincent losehimself either. Not again. She put all her will into controlling herbarriers and spat at him. "Maybe so. Maybe we wouldn't. But thenagain, it's our choice, isn't it? Or I guess it's your choice. Youchoose not to try to handle it." She shouldered her sleeping bag andgrabbed a smaller bag with some of the provisions and the lamp in it.She stared hard at him. "And I choose to leave. Not because theprospect of spending my life down here with you isn'ttempting...because damn it, spending my life anywhere with you isdamned tempting. But I want it to be our choice...our terms. Notbecause we're forced together by this...this damned bond!" She almostgrowled the last word. She walked past him and into the darkness.

• • • • • • • •

Vincent stared after Diana as she disappeared into the darkness.After a time, he saw a soft glow that was the lantern. The angersimmered a little and he was hurt. She'd left him. Just like everyoneelse...Lisa, Devin...even Catherine. Walked away--off into thedark--as though she didn't need him. He pictured the various pitfallsthat could be awaiting her in that darkness, and anxiety began tocreep in, taking the place of the anger. He couldn't just let herstumble around in the dark, but even as the thought of going to helpher crossed his mind and he started forward, he stopped--wonderingjust how he would approach her. In her present frame of mind, he knewthat if he dared to suggest she needed him his offer would berebuffed. Adamantly. He tried to sense her and realized her barrierwas up...and very solid. There was nothing there but ablankness...which in addition was totally non-directional. If she gottoo far ahead, he'd have to track her. With a shrug of resignation,he picked up and shouldered his pack and the remaining food andfollowed her--at a discreet distance.

Some time later, Vincent slowed and stopped. Apparently Diana haddecided to settle and rest, because the lamplight was getting closer.So far, Diana had been following the river so there had been littlechance for her to become lost. However, up ahead the river camethrough a gorge where the walls came close to the water, and therewas no pathway. She'd have to leave the safety of the riverbank, andhe knew without doubt there was no way she could find her way back.She would simply have to accept his help. I cannot even remember whyI was so angry to begin with, nor do I understand why she reacted asshe did. This is ridiculous.

As he made his way carefully down the slope toward her campsite,he saw Diana's head turn in his direction. She'd heard him coming,despite his care. "Go away. Go play in the dark. We're safer apart,remember? It's easier that way. No complications."

"I brought wood for a fire. Would you care for some tea?"

There was a long silence, then Diana nodded. "I guess." Shegestured upriver. "The cliffs are up there. I'd forgotten aboutthem." She stared hard at him, as though she'd rather bite her tonguethan admit she needed him.

Vincent settled on his haunches facing away from her and built thesmall fire. He offered an alternative. "I could draw you a map, butit would be easier to go with you. Would you allow me to accompanyyou?"

He heard her come up behind him and struggled to keep hiscomposure as she leaned against him, sliding her hands up under hismane and caressing his neck. The length of her thighs against hisback felt warm and welcoming. "Yeah. You can come."

There was no sense of the bond to heighten their responses to oneanother--only the physical touch--but a warmth spread from thattouch, and a giddy feeling of delight. It felt, to him, like thefirst taste of food after a long fast...the sweetness of honey in hottea. He fought desperately to force his mind back to the issue athand.

"Diana.... Please. If we travel together...safely...youmust not...."

"Touch you?" She sounded hurt, and he couldn't bear that he'd hurther.

"Yes." Vincent stood and turned to face her. Without thought, hedrew her, trembling, into his arms, holding tightly for a moment.Then he forced himself to release her. "Another time, perhaps...buthere...this place...I cannot hold myself apart from you...or theOther. Please understand."

She raised her eyes to his, and in the dim firelight he thought hesaw a glimmer of emotion...hope, perhaps. Then she turned away. "Iguess we'd better get some rest if we're going spelunking later,huh?" Her voice was nonchalant--as though nothing had occurred. Heenvied her control. He knelt again to tend the fire, and askedsoftly: "Do you still wish to have some tea?"

Diana opened her pack and rummaged inside. "Yeah. Sounds good.Thanks." She started down to the river, and Vincent startled.

"Where are you going?"

When she turned, he couldn't see her expression, but she had aclean pair of sweats under her arm. "I'm going to get cleaned up.I'll be back by the time the water boils."

Vincent's mouth went dry--thinking of her bathing only scant feetaway--but he could hardly ask her to forego bathing simply to humorhim. He looked down and busied his hands with the fire. "Be careful.The river is slow-moving here, but watch the depth. Stay close toshore." He hoped he sounded confident in her ability to protectherself.

He watched her walk away and died a small death as she disappearedaround the bend. Holding the handle of the small aluminum pan, hestayed immobile for so long that he burned his hand. Growling alittle to himself, he thrust the edge of his palm into his mouth. Helooked down. The water was boiling. She wasn't back. He pacednervously a moment, then removed the water from the fire. Busying hisshaking hands with the tin cups and teabags, he tried to sense herand of course felt nothing. After pouring the water, he stood andstarted toward the river. I must know...must see...that she is well.He stopped abruptly as she rounded the corner, coming back--andunaccountably felt a sense of disappointment... though he wasn't surewhy. "The tea...." he began lamely.

"Good. I'm a little chilly after that dip. The river's cold."

She did look cold. Vincent dug in his pack and pulled out hisblanket. Without a word, he wrapped it around her, then handed herthe hot tea with the small jar of honey she'd brought to sweetenit.

They sat for awhile, drinking their tea and watching the fire, andDiana commented on the difference the firelight made down here. "It'slike there's nothing except us and this fire--the small area here, inthe light. It's easier to ignore the immensity of that darknesspressing around."

Vincent had relaxed some, and leaned against a rock watching her.She'd taken her hair down and was brushing it out. Colors were mutedhere, but in the firelight her hair was a mixture of bright anddark--shimmering. The ache began again deep within him. A hunger fortouch and sensation--and a deeper hunger for the touch of the bondalong with it. His entire body seemed to vibrate with his need. Hepressed his head hard back against the rock and closed his eyes,hoping that the pain would distract him.

"Vincent? Are you okay?" Her voice was anxious.

Taking a deep breath, Vincent opened his eyes and answeredquietly, "Yes. I'm fine."

"Well, I think I'll get some sleep. How much longer before we makeit back, do you think?" She stretched, flattening the material of thesweatshirt across her breasts.

"I...don't know." He looked away, then down at the fire. "Perhapsanother sleep. Remember, there is no time down here." She stoodacross the fire from him, with the firelight casting dancing shadowsover her face and form. He could sense the warmth and life in herfrom here...such a contrast to the cold stone and quiet dark. He knewthat if he touched her that warmth would spread through him,awakening his senses. He forced himself away from thoughts of thecaressing warmth of realize she was speaking to him.

"....going to get some sleep too? You must be tired."

Vincent rose and gathered up the teacups. "I will sleep later. Go,and get some rest."

Diana said goodnight and slipped into her sleeping bag. Once shewas settled, Vincent turned and went down to the river to rinse theteacups. His hands lingered long in the cold water, and he thoughtthat perhaps he, too, could do with a bath. A little shock of icywater would do him good, about now. I simply will not sleep. I willremain awake until she is safely home...until we are well out of thisplace.

Vincent walked upriver to a place where the water was deep, andstripped. He waded out into the deeper water, where the current ranslowly. Diana was right. It was cold. Not as cold as the water underthe falls, but cold enough. He swam the width of the river severaltimes and dove to the bottom. His body became numb with the cold, andfinally he left the water and shook himself dry. He sat shivering,trying very hard not to think of the warmth of the fire, or thesleeping bag, or Diana.

There was a sense of presence beside him, and he turned to see theOther standing next to him, his visage dark and threatening. This ismy place. Why did you bring her here, if not to meet me?

Vincent began dressing and looked away from the apparition. Shehas no need of you. She protects herself.

The Other cocked his head mockingly...falsely innocent-appearing.Has no need of me? Don't you know yet that there are deeper needsthan that of protection? Deeper desires than those of the kill? Hegrinned then. Although I must admit, she would make wonderful prey.Think of it, Vincent! Hunting her through these thedark. She would be marvelous to hunt...and even more incredible oncecaught.

Vincent snarled and leapt toward him, but the figure merelyreappeared behind him. Of course, who's to say what the outcome or death? The Other laughed, as he added...I suppose itwould depend upon what I felt like at the moment.

Then he was gone. And Vincent was alone again. Yet not alone.Apart, yet never truly parted. Together, yet never whole. He weptsilently as the picture of Diana fleeing him through these darkcaverns flitted across his mind's eye. Never!

He dressed and returned to the campsite and the fire, which wasnow only embers. Moving as quietly as possible, he positioned himselfonce more against a rock and wearily dragged his blanket over him. Iwill not sleep, but only rest. I will keep her safe...will not allowhim to touch her.

As the hours wore on, Vincent dozed lightly several times, butnever deeply enough to allow the dreams to come. When eventually heheard Diana stir, he rose and took the remaining wood to make theirlast fire. Hopefully, they would be back in the Home Tunnels beforethey slept again.

• • • • • • • •

Diana watched Vincent as she followed him through the series ofnarrow tunnels that led back to the river. He'd been even more silentthan usual since they'd left the campsite, and she didn't dare lowerher barriers to try to sense his emotions. They'd traveled for hoursand she was tiring. Without the bond working between them and theexpansion it offered her senses, the darkness had becomeoppressive...and the silence was worse. Then she fell and skinned herknee.

"Ow! Dammit!"

Instantly, Vincent was at her side, examining the injury, hisstrong hands gentle as he pulled the torn cloth away from the injuredarea. But she saw that his hands trembled, and when she looked intohis face, he looked away. He poured a small amount of water onto apiece of cloth (torn against her wishes from his shirt) anddelicately cleaned the scrape. It was ludicrous. She'd hurt herselfmore bumping into furniture in her own loft. But it was also touchingand endearing. Her hand closed over his. "It's okay, Vincent. I'm notbleeding to death."

He recoiled as though she'd struck him. "Of course. Forgive me,Diana."

He started to back off, and Diana wrapped her fingers in his mane,saying gently, "There's nothing to forgive. It's're okay."When he glanced up, she smiled. "We're okay. Anything you do is finewith me, Vincent. Anything...."

There was a long moment when time seemed suspended. She thoughtfor sure he was going to kiss her...he even tilted his head and movedtoward her. But then, suddenly, he stood, taking her hand and drawingher with him. His expression was strange--totally enigmatic. "Youmust go, Diana. Get away from here. Can you...can you find your wayto the point we started from...the entrance to the maze?"

Diana watched him, puzzled, trying to figure this new angle. Thepieces weren't fitting. "Yeah. I think so. But why? Hey. I'm notgoing without you. I won't leave you if there's something wrong."

He took a deep breath and let it out in a ragged sigh. "You must,Diana. Please. I cannot control my thoughts...or my actions...muchlonger."

Diana understood that completely. The dark, this place, herconstant presence, were all acting to release in him those emotionshe always held in check...just as it had begun working on her,before...on them. She stood her ground, refusing to be pushed away."No."

His eyes were dark pools, and his breath came in harsh pants. "Youmust...leave me. Now. Run."

She tightened her barriers so as not to add to the problem, andsaid shakily, even as she put her arm around him: "No. I won't runfrom you. To you, yes. But never from you. I guess we got no choice,huh? We've gotta meet this head on sometime. Maybe now is better.Let's get out in the open, though...I feel like all this rock isgonna fall on me somehow."

She moved ahead quickly, allowing him no time to argue, and notedwith satisfaction that he was following. When they came out of thetunnels into the larger cavern and the light from the lantern dancedover the water, she turned and set the lantern down, and unrolled hersleeping bag.

She turned to face him, pulled off her sweatshirt and began slowlyand deliberately dissolving her emotional barrier...and began losingherself in him. It frightened her beyond belief, until she beganfeeling his panic. She forced herself to concentrate on how much shecared for him--not desired him--but merely loved him for who he was.She tried to retain enough control to sort through his sheer need andto reach for the underlying love and respect for her that was alsothere.

• • • • • • • •

Vincent stood, panic stricken, as Diana began casually undressing.She can't...I can't.... Then he felt the connection, the bond, beginto flow--one to the other--and felt her trust of him. She trustsme...despite everything. Looking past her, Vincent could see theOther reaching for her. The apparition flashed him an obscene grin,and commented rather obscurely: She refuses to become prey.Interesting.

Vincent's fear rose, but he could neither run, nor hide. As thefigure of his darker self faded and he lost the image from his mind,all he could think of was how exquisite Diana was, standing there.She'd released her hair from the ponytail and it streamed over hershoulders in a red river--red even in the light of the lantern. Itflowed like blood over her pale luminous skin, and the fire thatburned within him threatened to devour him. His hands clenched andflexed reflexively and he shuddered as he felt the red, shifting hazeof desire settle over him. He knew Diana felt it too. He could nolonger separate his own desires from hers. No longer wanted to.

When Vincent reached for her, Diana put a hand solidly on hischest and pushed him away. The supposed resistance elicited a lowwarning growl. But apparently she'd only meant to help him undress,and in his confusion he allowed the delay. He found himself watchingher fingers, which were working diligently at the layers of cloth andvarious ties. He reached to assist her. The sensual contrast betweenher slender white fingers and his own--furred and clawed as theywere--provided a gentle distraction from the heavier, more insistentdesire for completion. Together, they slowly removed each layer ofhis cloth and leather "armor"--and with each layer they removed,there fell away a deeper, psychological barrier. And somewhere alongthe way, the red haze lifted and some semblance of controlreturned.

After a moment or an hour--Vincent wasn't sure which--he foundhimself warmly snuggled next to Diana inside the large sleeping bag.His mind was clear and he was at peace. It had been extraordinary andstrange. Nothing at all as they'd expected. Either of them. All hisfears of harming her and his reticence in allowing her "inside" hadcome to nothing. As had her fears of "losing herself" inside him...orher fears that he would not accept her. They were together now in thebond--a completion of a kind he'd never expected--this doublesharing--this openness. And there was more, so much more, waiting forthem to learn and experience about themselves and each other.

Vincent reflected on the acceptance Diana had for the Other. Noone had ever accepted his dark side as she had. In the end, Catherineloved both my aspects, and she accepted on faith and love alone.Diana accepts because she understands. I am still unsure which is thegreater gift.

Feeling Diana's silken body shift against him, Vincent adjustedhis own, fitting his angles to her curves. The bond was more openbetween them than it had ever been, and the desire was stillpresent--a sweet ache. It seemed they'd had a choice, after all, andchoice had been important to both of them. With this power of choicethey'd chosen to explore the new dimensions to their relationship attheir own speed. They'd not made love, but only touched, petted andexplored one another--more empathically than physically. It was arevelation to both of them that it was they who controlled the bond,not the other way around.

Diana's voice drifted to him in the soft, welcoming darkness thatenveloped them. "I was so scared that you wouldn't like me...and...ofgetting lost."

His arms tightened around her and he buried his face in her hair."Thoreau said: `Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves.'I think we both have a great deal to find in ourselves and in eachother that we are only beginning to learn...and we need to `loseourselves' more often."

She chuckled, the sound deep and satisfied. "I'm ready for anothersession...of intensive study."

He noticed that although she said this, she didn't stir fromwithin the circle of his arms. He found her hand and clasped it. "No.Not yet. For now there is peace and a deep silence within. For toolong we have hidden from shadows and darkness. We must learn to bemirrors for one another and chase those shadows together." He brushedher hair aside, reveling in the touch of the silken strands and thesoft resiliency of her flesh under his callused palm. He gentlykissed the back of her neck. "For now, we sleep. I find I am veryweary...and now I have no fear of the dreams."

Diana snuggled in closer and seemed contented with his answer.Before long they both drifted off to sleep, secure in the knowledgethat whatever dreams might come, the bond would not steal away theirchoices.

With all he could desire quite literally at hand, Vincent foundhimself to be content. For now. Tomorrow was another day.

"Not until we are we begin to find ourselves, andrealize where we are and the infinite extent of ourrelations."--Thoreau