Thy Silver Pinions


Part I


He found her in his chamber, in his chair, with her fingers flat against his table to keep the pages, fragments from a sketchpad, from curling in on themselves. He knew those pages, had hoped they would remain tightly rolled and forgotten in his trunk as they had through summer and now into the final days of autumn, but clearly it was not to be. She studied the sketches with the warm contentment of touching cherished memories while he watched her from his own doorway, and his unease grew by the moment. 

“I still don’t see what disturbs you about these,” she said without looking up; whether she had become attuned to listening for his soft step or if it was a new sensitivity to the bond that so often alerted her to his approach now, he didn’t ask. It was a sweet mystery that he didn’t like to prod, lest it bruise and wilt under his touch. Her smile grew as she moved on to the next page; she had found her favorite, the one that tightened his stomach unpleasantly even now, just knowing it was there. “How can you see anything but perfection in this one?” 

“There is perfection in that drawing,” he agreed, stepping into the chamber enough to claim the space, but not enough to approach her. “But the lie of it is cruel.” 

She looked up at him, sharply, her green eyes wide with surprise for a bare moment before narrowing. “I see no lie in it.” 

“You see what you wish to see,” he answered gruffly, in reference to more than just the drawing. He wasn’t sure why everything threatened to turn into an argument lately, for all that he felt so blessed by her every visit, and so grateful for the relative peace they had shared since his illness. For half a year, they’d known little life-threatening danger, and while Fate had never actually been very kind, she seemed to have lost interest in the overt tortures that had defined so much of their first two years together. But now he found them at cross purposes again and again, with her insistence that his recovery had proven that they could move forward, that they must move forward, and his certainty that the illness had only proven how real and near the dangers were. 

“I see a drawing,” she answered. “I see what Marty put on paper, what Marty saw. And I see no cruelty in it. Only love.” 

“For all the power that love has, it cannot change facts. The drawing is beautiful, Catherine. It’s the reality that is flawed.” He swept one hand out to his side, inviting her to examine the reality. “The beauty of the lie only makes the unalterable truth crueler by comparison.” 

“What truth, Vincent?” 

She knew what truth; they had had this conversation in a hundred different permutations in as many days. 

“Come here and show me the cruel lines,” she continued, baiting him openly. “I can’t seem to find them.” 

“Catherine, I don’t want to argue. Not when our time together is so limited—” 

“Your limits, Vincent, not mine.” 

The harshness of her rebuke stung, and he turned his face away. 

She sighed and stood, coming around the table to stand in front of him. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to argue about this again, either. You only see darkness where I see possibility. I see your fears, Vincent. I’ve tried to understand them. Why can’t you even acknowledge the possibility of joy that I see? Why is it that every time you imagine our future, it’s twisted and dark?” 

“There are things in me that are twisted and dark. They would…infect you, if I lost control. You are so beautiful, Catherine, so full of light, if I ever allowed myself to tarnish your beauty, to suppress your radiance, I could not bear it.” 

She stroked his brow with her fingertips before resting her palm against his cheek. It was a bold touch, both tender and heated, skin against skin. “I’ve seen your darkness. And the light you see in me, it all comes from you. I’d share it with you, if you would let me in. I’m not afraid, Vincent.” 

He closed his eyes against the intoxication of her touch, of her words. “The risk—” 

“I know the risks. I’ve seen the risks.” 

“Then you cannot deny the need for caution.” 

“This isn’t caution, Vincent. This is…this is stagnation.” 

In silence, they left the conversation and the drawings there, both intent on sharing each other’s company, even if in confinement.




Part II


Having taken Catherine back to her threshold for a tender, if understated, farewell, Vincent found himself once more in his own chamber. He lit a few candles off of the twenty-four hour candle that burned always at his doorway so that he could prepare for bed. As he placed a candle on his writing table, he caught sight of the pages Catherine had taken from his trunk in the flickering light. With a hesitant hand, he unrolled the stubborn paper, looking down on the drawing for the first time since Marty had given it to Catherine, since the first time they had argued about it.

 There had been a wedding in the tunnels in July, a grand celebration for a long-awaited union, and not an unwelcome diversion after Vincent’s illness. There was a helper’s son called David that Rebecca had always been very fond of; he had grown up with them in the Tunnels as much as he had with his friends and family Above. Though he had gone away to college and to find his way in life, David and Rebecca had remained friends, exchanging letters and trinkets and news of their respective worlds. And when the world proved unyielding to David’s advances, he returned to New York to help his parents with the family dry cleaning and alterations business. Over time, fondness and friendship grew into something deeper, something more consuming, until the evening that Vincent had entered his own chamber, only days after being declared fully recuperated, to find David pacing restlessly there.

After a brief exchange of greetings, David had said, “I know…I know you’re not her father or anything. But you’re like a brother. To both of us. And I don’t know how to talk to Father about—it’s not like I even really need his permission, anyway, do I? It’s her—but what if the Council doesn’t like it? They—you wouldn’t do that to us, would you? If she says yes. Oh, God, Vincent, I’m not even sure this is the right time. My parents say it is—I think they just want me to shut up about it already, but what’ll she think? She’s happy in her life here. What if she just doesn’t want that to change? I don’t know if I can keep on being…like this.” 

Vincent had dropped a comforting hand on David’s shoulder and guided him to his chair. “Tell me,” he said, leaning his hip against his writing table.  

“I love her,” David blurted first. He watched Vincent for his reaction, but Vincent could only nod; no one who knew the couple could be surprised by the admission. “And…and I want her to be my wife.” 

Somehow, being the first Below to know had its own particular thrill, and the thought of Rebecca as a bride, beaming with her groom on her arm, brought a sharper happiness to him than he’d known in months. “David, that’s wonderful!” 

The other man reacted to the honest joy in Vincent’s voice, grinning freely and surging to his feet. “It is, isn’t it? It really is.” 

Vincent gave him a moment to savor his elation before pressing, lightly, “But you didn’t need me to tell you that.” 

David sobered, a little. “No. I guess I didn’t. It’s just…will she say yes, Vincent?” 

“We both know I can’t pretend to know Rebecca’s mind, David. There’s only one way you’ll have your answer. But we all know that she loves you, just as we know that you love her. You don’t need our permission, but I think I can speak for everyone when I say you’ll have our blessing.” 

That unrestrained grin returned. “See, I knew you were the person to talk to. Even with the mess I made trying to explain, you understand. Thank you. Um. Will you be a groomsman? If she says yes, I mean. We’ll have the wedding down here, of course. And maybe some small ceremony for people I know Above, just so everyone knows, just so it’s all official, but the people we care about most are down here. Please, will you? I’d be honored if you stood with me.” 

And what could Vincent do besides nod and agree? David hardly took the time to shake his hand before disappearing, and if there was a twinge of jealousy in Vincent for the other man’s happiness, well, he smothered it viciously with concentrated thoughts for a sister’s coming joy and the acquisition of a new brother. 

The wedding had come quickly, with all the Tunnels abuzz with news and preparations for weeks. Both Rebecca and David were well loved, and everyone needed something to celebrate, besides. The Great Hall was opened and prepared months earlier than usual, and there were jokes about Winterfest coming early this year. In the end, the hall looked nothing like Winterfest, decorated with bright shocks of flowers, both donated and bought, and swaths of fabric in shades of yellow, red, and white—Vincent suspected some involvement by Catherine in the quantity and quality of such fine fabrics that helpers and Tunnel dwellers alike seemed to very fortuitously happen upon.

The ceremony went off without a hitch, if one excepted Vincent’s slight awkwardness standing with David’s two brothers behind the groom, and once the chairs had been cleared away and the tables laden with countless trays of incredible foods—another aspect he suspected Catherine had involved herself in, judging by the glances she shared with William—the celebrating had begun in earnest. Music and William’s good home brew helped the natural elation along nicely, and soon Vincent and Catherine were watching the dance floor with familiar merriment.  

She turned a playful, radiant smile on him and asked softly, “Vincent, can I ask you something very…personal?” 

And, suppressing his own smile, he had had no choice but to answer, “You know you can ask me anything, Catherine.” 

“Do you dance?” 

In answer, he held out his hand to her, and as he had been unable to do at Winterfest, he led her out among the gliding couples, and set them stepping and spinning, Catherine providing the loveliest counterweight he could imagine. It was a moment in time that he savored, even as he experienced it. Though he kept his hand only in the absolute most correct position at her back, just above her waist, he somehow found her closer than the form of the dance required. For once, he reveled in her nearness, let the barrier be crossed, let the music mark the end to this moment. But it was too much to let go of so quickly, and he allowed the second song to lull him deeper still into this sweet joy. He watched her face, reveling in the pleased smile she turned on him, admired the pale curve of her neck and the ease of her steps with his, marveled at her trust in his arms, in him, and cherished every satisfied hum he received along their bond. But he was sliding too far into the moment, into his want, and it was unwise to loosen his hold with Catherine so near—indeed, with so many people nearby to see and interpret. He knew her disappointment when he led her away from the other couples on the pretense of keeping Father company. He needed the time to regain his equilibrium, to separate the sensations of Catherine moving in his arms from the here and now and pack them away for his enjoyment at a safer, more controlled time.  

But his moment of revelry had not gone unnoticed. A few weeks later, David’s brother Marty—“I never go by Martin anymore, Vincent. Marty, please.”—had come back down bearing a painting he had done of the happy couple cutting their cake together, their eyes more on each other than on their task. It was a sweetly informal image, and no one had been able to deny the beauty of the moment, of the entire wedding, that Marty had captured there. And he had brought more than that painting; knowing that photography was something simply not done Below, he had apparently appointed himself the wedding’s unofficial artist, and he passed out countless rough sketches he had done of moments and people through the ceremony and the celebration after. A crowd quickly gathered around him, laughing and pointing and remembering, the pages shuffled back and forth among eager hands. And still, Marty had one last surprise, a half dozen drawings he’d fleshed out afterward. He handed these out as particular gifts, one to Father, another to Kanin and Olivia, one to Kipper, Samantha, Zachary, and Geoffrey as a unit, two to Mary, and the last directly to Catherine, who looked as surprised as Vincent felt, but quickly flashed a gracious, grateful smile.  

She had unrolled the drawing, a page of quick sketches included, as his family pressed in around to see. He felt her sharp happiness mixed with an aching sense of longing as her eyes became very bright, even in the candlelight. Her audience oo’d and ah’d excitedly, a couple of the older girls squealing—literally squealing­—as they peered over her shoulder and around her elbow. The drawing was decided to be perfect, and Vincent had to come see, and they made a space for him beside his Catherine.  

It was a moment from that dance they had shared, with Catherine’s back turned three-quarters toward the viewer, her head tilted back and her face in profile, but no less beautiful for that. Vincent’s own likeness loomed over her, and he wondered why it was his face that Marty had drawn almost in full and not Catherine’s, but there was yet such serenity, such beauty, in the drawing, that he physically ached to look on it. He turned away from it on the pretense of thanking Marty for what had clearly been meant as a kindness, praising his skill in order to skirt the choice in subject.  

And now, well into November, the drawing cut him no less deeply. With a resolute sigh, he rolled it with the page of sketches, tied them, and stowed them away safely for Catherine. But, even as he closed the lid on his trunk and turned to change for bed, he heard Catherine’s words from earlier in the evening, why is it that every time you imagine our future, it’s twisted and dark? 




Part III


Vincent was dreaming; he knew that. He was in the Great Hall. It was full of people, music, laughter. Winterfest. He would know a Winterfest with his eyes closed, just by the subtle cinnamon-vanilla smell of the candles. This wasn’t a particular memory, but he saw countless familiar faces around him, and he relaxed into the dream, content that it was, at least to start, a happy one. 

In surveying the hall, he felt a jolt when he spotted Catherine, standing and laughing with Rebecca and a handful of other women. She was a vision, but not in the white dress she’d worn to her first and only Winterfest; this dream had put her in a rich, shimmering green that clung to the curves of her upper body, flattered ample hips, and then flowed down around her ankles, shifting enticingly with every unconscious motion as she talked and laughed. She wore her hair in what he had never told her was his favorite style, swept up high on one side and curled, cascading over one shoulder and leaving the other side of her neck exposed to his avid gaze. What was more, her gown fastened under the nape of her neck, but there was a triangular gap underneath that exposed the skin between her shoulder blades, leaving one with the sense of a body modestly covered and yet not fully concealed. He had admired her beauty on countless occasions, but this image of her called to him in a collection of subtle, enticing ways, from the color she wore to the fall of her hair to the exposed contours of her body. He found himself rooted to the spot, watching her happy conversation, marveling at the complete picture his subconscious had rendered, a conglomerate of perfection upon perfection that only visited with his appreciation of an aesthetic before dropping straight down to the doorstep of a far more primal admiration. 

Then Vincent saw another figure, himself, in Winterfest finery, crossing the hall, moving toward Catherine. This version of himself traversed the floor with languid strides and none of the courtly rigidity he normally maintained when he approached her. Nor did he pause a polite distance from her and announce his presence; with mixed awe and disbelief, he watched his counterpart insinuate himself into the space beside Catherine without a word and reach around her, not to her shoulder or even her waist, but to lay his palm against her hip, to draw her closer to him. She didn’t so much as look up at him. She rested her head against his shoulder in tacit acceptance, laughing when Rebecca spoke. Vincent stared at the picture that that couple made, at his own height and the breadth of his shoulders against the flowing curves of her lithe body, so deeply mismatched and yet so comfortable, one against the other.  

Fear crept into him; such a vision of unseemly splendor could only have one purpose: to shatter or burn before him, to be torn bloody by his own hand or to be left cold and desolate by fate. He steeled himself, wondering what cruel allegory his subconscious had devised for this night. 

A child of about four years ran up to Catherine then, tugging at the skirt of her dress. He had wild, blond hair and a pale, chubby face that implied an imminent growth spurt, and she squatted down to speak to him fondly, touching his cheek and teasing a laugh out of him with her customary maternal grace. It was only when Vincent’s counterpart stooped, not to bring himself to the child’s eye level the way he normally would, but to sweep him up into his arms and set him on his hip with practiced ease, and Vincent saw those two tawny heads side-by-side, that he understood 

He looked away, scalded by the vivid glimpse of impossibility before him. He tried to wake up then, to pull himself from this dream, taunting in its detailed clarity. He closed his eyes and willed himself back to his chamber, the predictable—safe—solitude of his bed in the darkness, but the sounds of music and celebration persisted, the smells of roasted meats and hot breads and candle wax held him captive.  

Thwarted, he looked again, and found the scene little changed, the child’s arms still wrapped around his counterpart’s neck, Catherine stood only inches away, radiant in her happiness. It was tortuous, and it was beautiful. It was everything he had refused to allow himself to hope for since that first moment Catherine had begged him to linger on her balcony.  

Long moments of domestic peace passed before the boy asked to be let down and ran off to join a gaggle of children in front of Sebastian. Vincent watched him, but he disappeared among older, taller members of the audience. In fact, one of those audience members bore a striking resemblance to Geoffrey, except that he was a young man, not a boy—and there at one of the tables, grinning over a chessboard at Peter, that young woman couldn’t be Samantha! Vincent spared a thought for the attention to detail his subconscious had clearly put into this masochistic little exercise. 

And, yes, as his counterpart led Catherine across the floor by the hand, Vincent could see that each was a little older. It was nothing overt, just slight changes to the shapes of their faces that implied perhaps half a dozen years—the very beginnings of lines around his own eyes, a gentle shading of fullness in Catherine’s cheeks. It dawned on him then that the rounder hips and heavier bosom he had attributed to his own desires at work would really be the result of childbearing and aging, both of which she had clearly done splendidly. It wasn’t that he would ever want to change Catherine’s looks, exactly, so much as that his vision of slightly more of her gave him a very appealing impression of a greater softness and a happier life.  

The idea thrummed in him like a plucked guitar string. A happier life? This? 

The couple reached the dance floor at ease with each other; his counterpart’s hand rested lower on her waist than he himself could really imagine daring—not so much because he thought Catherine would protest, he knew she wouldn’t, but because so much was implied in that simple touch, to be seen by any passerby. Vincent continued to stare at how easily Catherine slid into his counterpart’s arms, how closely he held her, how contentedly they watched each other. It filled him with hateful longing, with wretched envy, to see how perfectly they fit together as he swept her along, as she stepped as a counterbalance to his every movement. He stared at his own fierce strangeness, softened somehow by the adoration in his expression. He had always tried not to imagine what a picture the two of them must make, his animal savagery beside her refined beauty, and now the sight shocked him less than he expected. He found it a cruel trick that his subconscious had scrubbed away the most depraved details of his nearness to her, shrouding it all in impossible tenderness, masking the incongruity with fathomless love. And he stared at the light grace of his own powerful limbs, as though he not only accepted Catherine’s devoted trust, but as though he trusted himself not to hurt her, not to shift too suddenly or grasp too tightly, not to frighten or repulse her with his boldness. He ached to see her so comfortable in his arms, so happy with his presumption of intimacy.

Others were watching, too, he realized; for three songs the couple danced, and observers all over the room would pause to look for long moments, nearly all with soft little smiles, to see such love swirling before them. He saw Marty pause in conversation with William and Cullen to nod at the couple, drawing the other men’s attention there. He saw Father smile fondly from his chair. He saw Jamie grin a little wistfully and Mary look on with a maternal joy. There wasn’t a trace of distaste or unease in any of the observers, even among the Topsiders and newcomers Below, only an easy acceptance and a gentle pleasure in the sight of Catherine in his arms. He half expected some condemning voice, some old crone or some folkloric devil to rise and spit curses upon them, to pull them apart, to chastise him for his boldness, but the merriment continued unchecked. 

When the couple stopped only a few feet from where Vincent stood, the simple serenity of Catherine’s smile halted his breath in his chest, and then, leaving her face for the first time since they had begun dancing, his counterpart’s gaze raised to stare directly at Vincent, as though remembering. For that moment, Vincent found himself staring into the strangest mirror he could imagine, seeing that shunned reflection with eyes that neither darted and ducked nor stared with humiliated determination, but instead contemplated and reminisced. And stood so tall and comfortable, his beloved Catherine still held loosely to him, this elder Vincent inspired so little of the shame and disquiet that the younger would have anticipated. Vincent shied away from the thought, but as the seconds ticked on, it grew in force, until he had to admit that, even if it was only his own desire for such a thing that colored his vision, he saw in the figure before him something that looked so very much like a man, contented and at peace, his arms around his woman in the simplest, softest acknowledgement of tenderness, as to be nearly indistinguishable from the other men in the hall. Where was the inhuman ferocity? The savagery? The darkness? 

Catherine trailed her fingers over his forehead and down the side of his face, tilting her head in silent askance. 

The elder Vincent considered the space that the younger occupied half a moment longer before his expression turned far less pensive and far more wicked. He stroked the bare side of her neck with one furred knuckle before running his fingers through the ends of her curled hair. He leaned close to Catherine’s ear and complained bitterly, “You’ve been tempting me all evening, Missus Wells.” 

She pressed herself against him, the swell of her breasts yielding to the hard, broad planes of his own body, and Vincent was certain he had never seen anything so deeply erotic, even in his loneliest imaginings. She raised her mouth to his ear to murmur back, “You’ve been staring at me all evening, Mister Chandler.” 

The elder Vincent’s acknowledgement rumbled deep in his chest, and the sound seemed to please Catherine. “Will you forgive me my impertinence, Missus Wells?” 

“There are penalties, Mister Chandler,” she answered.  

They turned toward each other in the same moment to share a kiss, languid and sweet in its gentle intimacy. It was the sort of kiss that had been preceded by countless others, perfected and distilled down to this quiet comfort. The elder Vincent tightened his hold around her, but only enough to improve the mechanics of the kiss and with none of the driving possessiveness his younger counterpart felt surging through his own veins. The driving need to rush forward and force them apart, to take this woman for his own, to clean away the intrusion of this imposter with his own mouth, his own hands upon her, threatened to overwhelm him. It was only when he found himself incapable of moving that he realized he had no corporeal form in this dreamscape. The thought was strange and distracting enough to quell some of his deepest jealousies, but he couldn’t turn his attention from the sweet sight before him entirely. 

After tortuous moments, Catherine pulled back, smiling, parting her lips to say something teasing or lovely, but the elder Vincent shifted forward, claiming her mouth with unthinkable passion. She made a sound of surprise, and he pulled her closer still, angling her to his liking with no pretense of tender overtures. Here, this would be the moment; the beast in him would rise to the surface, hold her until she struggled, until he drew blood, until his teeth sought her flesh.  

Far from protesting, she threaded her fingers through his hair, moaning now in delight, and Vincent could not breathe to watch them. Yet he drank in the vision, terrified and aroused and furiously jealous all at once. To see his own fingers buried in the folds of her dress, pressed so possessively into her soft body, to hear her pleasure loosed into a mouth identical to his own, to smell her heated skin so, so close— 

The elder Vincent pulled back, smiling through a lustful haze, but still very much himself. 

“And what transgression was that for, Mister Chandler?” Catherine asked with an eager grin. 

“Payment in advance,” he answered easily. He drew clawed fingers through her hair with gentle reverence that somehow still spoke plainly of desire. “I intend to transgress most grievously very, very soon.” 

She pulled back from him, but all that did was give him a better view of her flirtatious grin and her deliciously curved body. By the angle of her hips and the intensity of her gaze, the younger Vincent realized that that was entirely intentional on her part. God, she really was tempting him, teasing him with every line of her body and looking terribly pleased with herself, with the inevitability of the result. “That sounds promising,” she said. She looked around the hall, some of her sexual tension easing with practical concerns. “Jacob?” 

“On schedule to run and shout with the others until he collapses in Father’s lap and is carried to the dormitories—our chamber being too far out of the way, of course.” The elder Vincent inclined his head, and both Catherine and the younger Vincent followed his gaze to the small, wild-haired child engaged in a hearty game of keep-away with something that glinted in the candlelight like one of the coins Sebastian magicked out of thin air. All three paused to watch the boy, to measure the careless joy in him, to marvel at the miracle of him.  

The elder Vincent’s hand settled on Catherine’s hip again, at once an assertion of dominion and a tender gesture of devotion. He seemed lost in watching his son and missed the way that Catherine turned to look up at him with such ardent love, such contented relish, that the younger Vincent groaned to see it.  

“We’ve seen such darkness, Catherine,” his older counterpart said softly, still watching his son—his sonhis­ son—across the hall. “Cold nights that I thought would never end.” 

“And heated battles of will, usually against your own stubbornness,” Catherine offered. 

He accepted her jibe with a small smile. “Yes. But Winterfest is a time to remember the light that banished the darkness, the warmth of another person in the cold of night. There are such miracles in this world, such heights of joy I couldn’t even imagine a few years ago.” He looked at her now, and she had tilted her head to take in his words. “You gave me the courage to look beyond my own fears. When the road was hardest, and my resolve weakest, you were the light through my darkness. There will never be words, my Catherine.” 

She leaned into him and pressed her palm against his chest, over his heart. “I feel it in you. Tell me you feel the same in me?” 

He nodded once, slowly, a familiar awe filling his eyes. 

She moved her hand from his chest to his cheek. “What’s brought this on all of a sudden, love?” 

The elder Vincent glanced in the direction of his younger self again. “Memories. Dreams.” He looked at Catherine, bold lust filling his face anew as his gaze swept over her body like a physical touch. “A vision,” he whispered. 

Her own eyes darkened with sensual promise. She took his arm and started them walking. “Let’s see what we can do about making that vision a reality.” 

“Mm,” the elder Vincent answered, “but you already are.” 

She leaned her head against his shoulder as they drifted away. 



A/N: A note about V and C’s use of each other’s surnames, because I’ve been asked: in trying to decide how they might address each other, I got to wondering about who would take whose last name. Vincent could technically be called Vincent Wells, and it would be tradition for her to take his name, but it’s a surname he’s never owned; he didn’t even know it until he was into his thirties. Besides, I don’t imagine Catherine would change her name in any official capacity Above, given the questions it would raise, and she could give her name to Vincent, but it seems to be an entirely pointless exchange Below. So in my own little scenario, the subject did come up before their wedding, and seeing the futility of the formality but liking the sentimentality of the gesture, they each started to claim the other with their own surname as an endearment, particularly when they were teasing. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek mixed with a little tenderness, which I thought would fit them well in happy moments. 




Part IV


Vincent hung in darkness, between worlds. Familiar sounds—wheels rushing along metal tracks, the clink and clang of morning messages—beckoned him from one side, but he couldn’t quite let go of the vision of moments ago, even as it faded and left him nothing but a memory to grasp. Slowly, the sounds of the real world won out, and the blackness around him became as thin and delicate as his own closed eyelids. Still, he resisted, his mind sluggish and his body unresponsive.  

When he did open his eyes, he had to blink them against the weight of reality all around him, and it was only after a few minutes of alternate dozing and staring around the dim, solitary confines of his chamber that his mind slid back into gear. What a strange, intense dream. Stranger still that as he laid and contemplated all that his subconscious had constructed for him, none of it crumbled to formless dust in the normal way of dreams. It remained as bright and solid to him as his memories of other Winterfests past. And that disturbed him. 

He knew that he was prone to predictive dreams and visions. But those had always been vague and allegorical in their imagery. Usually it was the emotion that struck him the deepest, a sense of imminent danger, the knowledge of a threat just over his shoulder or just around a corner, pain in those he loved, the feel of running but hardly moving, not getting anywhere quickly enough. This was altogether different; the details and circumstances of this dream were perfectly clear to him, while his emotions had been entirely his own, separate and apart from everything going on around him.  

As he was puzzling through the incongruity of the dream, the actual images of it began to coalesce and take on meaning in his head. He searched through the visuals diligently, looking for the details his mind had altered to give him such a utopian picture. With a restless energy that had been entirely lacking up to now, he rose from his bed and drew on his robe. By the flame of the twenty-four hour candle at his doorway, he lit half a dozen more before opening his trunk and pulling the roll of sketches from it.  

He sat in his chair and opened the pages to the candlelight, still blinking the grit of sleep out of his eyes. He looked at the quick sketches first, the ones that had been done while he and Catherine danced, all motion and proportion, the artist’s equivalent of taking notes. But still there was the tilt of Catherine’s head, the quick sweeps of pencil lead that marked his arm, so contentedly turned toward the hand on her back. There was the way the flow of her skirt over her hips complemented the angles and planes of his body, masculine and feminine in natural contrast, his height to her grace, her charm to his broad strength. Without the details of his inhuman face, his furred, clawed hands, the sketches looked perfect. He completely bypassed the back of the page, full of facial features, his and hers, some quick and rough, some carefully edited, some unfinished. 

He moved on to the drawing and made himself examine it dispassionately, pushing back against the potent mix of want and anxiety that welled up in him. Catherine, of course, looked just as he remembered her that night. Marty had caught the details of her dress, the sweep of her hair, the shape of her face with careful precision, and yet infused it all with such a sense of light and movement that Vincent could nearly feel her happiness, could nearly hear the music, even through the papery insubstantiality of the image. And the curve of her mouth, the angle of her chin, the serenity in her eyes, focused entirely on him—he tried to deny it, tried to find any minute fault in either his memory or the rendering, but even he had to admit that that had been her exact expression that night, as much as he had tried to close himself to the full meaning of it then. How often had he tried to maintain his own ignorance on this one subject? How much evidence did he disregard out of fear and self-loathing? 

The thought shook him, and he turned his eyes to the image of himself, dismayed to find no immediate proof of the artist’s kind editing. There was the flat furriness of his nose, the split in his upper lip, even a hint of his pointed teeth peeking through the delighted smile his likeness wore. He didn’t remember smiling so openly, but the pleasure and adoration in his likeness’s face matched so perfectly with what he had felt that night, he knew he must have betrayed his feelings. And the hand on her back, the other hidden from view in the two-dimensional image, he could stare down at his own fingers to compare, and he found no detail missing, no omission, only the way his palm conformed to the curve of her body under a mat of fur, against deadly fingers. And still, somehow, the image conveyed such beauty and tenderness. 

He thought back to the dream, finding that the drawing paled in comparison to those images, in three dimensions and full of color and motion. He had seen an almost shocking grace in his own movements; he moved the way his body dictated it should move, and with his size and the wild strength he sought always to contain, he assumed he must always look utterly brutish in his strides and gestures. But in his dream, the dance hadn’t worked because Catherine was good at following his lead and compensating for his inaccuracies; it had worked because both had flowed against each other, not only in time to the music, but so delightfully in time to one another. At Rebecca and David’s wedding, he had felt that harmony, but he had assumed it was the pleasure of Catherine in his arms that had made him insensate to the details of the dance, never once thinking that it could communicate itself so unerringly to every casual onlooker around them. Everyone must have seen his rapt ardor that night—he felt a hot flush in his face at the thought. It wasn’t that his regard for Catherine was any secret, especially in the months surrounding his illness, but to have flaunted it, to have openly implied the depth and breadth of his love, with no apparent care for the propriety of it, what it was for him to look on her with such longing, such expectation 

They all knew, then. They had all seen. This drawing was proof. And perhaps that’s what had rattled him most from the beginning, no matter how hard he had tried to transmute the real problem into something else. They all knew, because he’d shown them what he wanted, what he dreamed of, what he saw in this woman that they all loved as a friend, a sister, a daughter, an aunt. And no one had said anything to him. Even when Catherine had first received the drawing from Marty and shown it to anyone who stopped long enough to take a gander. Jamie had exclaimed over how perfect it was. Mary had shared a fond look with Catherine. Even Father had smiled to see it. And Brooke. He’d actually forgotten about Brooke’s words until now, in a hushed aside to Jamie, Lookit the way he looks at her. Wow. When do you think I’m gonna find someone who looks at me like that? Was that the moment he had lost his patience with the drawing? 

They all knew, and they all accepted. It was a tender, quivering concept under his prodding examination, but it grew stronger. It grew to a strange, apprehensive certainty. Then no one could be shocked or appalled if he—but how could no one, even Father, even Mary, who had seen him through his worst moments, his torments and his savagery bared to them since infancy, have no concern, feel no disquiet? Even Pascal, as good as a brother and as willing to be honest, in his soft-spoken way, had said nothing, had gone on as though all were well. Did no one see the gross incongruities of all that he was and always would be against all that Catherine was and could be? 

He looked down at the drawing again and tried to remember exactly what those insurmountable incongruities were.




Part V


Two days passed, and the odd looks cast on Vincent’s distraction only increased, but he waved off the questions, and his family let him keep his peace. The tumultuous worries and revelations of the morning after his dream had receded, leaving him only with a constant memory of himself holding a willing, happy Catherine to him, pleasing her with his kiss, with his possessive touch, with his assertion that something far more intimate should follow. And the child…that idea was beyond his scope of reason. Beyond his certainty that his was not a body or a soul that could give love without destroying the object of his desire was the desperate fear at the idea of multiplying his genetic code, of subjecting any woman to that danger and of subjecting any child, any new and tender life, to his existence.  

And yet, his certainties about his relationship with Catherine were crumbling. As he saw them cracking and falling, he realized just how thin they had become over two-and-a-half years. She claimed that he gave her so much strength and courage, and yet he daily found some new way that she had altered him, soothed him, utterly amazed him. She was in him, always, a constant source of beauty and hope through empty days, an unfaltering strength when his heart wanted to give out. Last spring, there had been those moments of infinite emptiness, his soul screaming in terror and finding an endless nothingness around him, when Catherine had slipped beyond his reach under the dark waters of that lake, and Vincent expected that unspeakable pain to haunt him in the night for the rest of his life. And in his loneliest moments, when he began to question this need for careful separation between them, he uncovered that ceaseless terror, held that frigid nothingness to his breast, let the memory of that unbearable ache seep into his heart again until the slightest stirring of Catherine through the bond, alive and well, flooded in to sweep away his discontented yearnings. He had come so close to losing her entirely; how could he ever be anything but grateful for any space she made for him in her life?  

But those were the thoughts of a coward. He had always known it, felt the shame of it even as many times as he had stood on her balcony, a lurking shadow, watching, taking, silent and hiding. In the world Above, he was that skulking intruder, voyeur of careless joys he could never know himself, and that was exactly what he had offered Catherine. She had seen him, of course, in the most obvious, physical sense, but he had always shielded himself from her searching eyes, deflected her attention, held his breath and waited in absolute stillness when she searched his face for the hint of truth she thought she might have glimpsed there. And when he might have exposed himself? When some small shred of him brushed the light of her eyes? He fled. He fled into darkness, his retreat physical and complete.  

Those actions had always burned in him, shaming him with his weakness, even as the edge of his cloak disappeared from her balcony, but now his reasons lay shattered and brittle at his feet, biting in their insubstantiality. And with those reasons gone, he still felt the shame through to the center of all that he was, but yet he felt a sudden freedom to do something about it. The light through my darkness, his dream-self had said, and it was with an odd sort of shock that he found that she already was. He had shielded his eyes against that light, covered his own face and turned away, but still her radiance persisted. Had he walked in darkness for so long that he was afraid to see? 

As he finally made the journey to her threshold to escort her Below, he found in himself a new purpose that had been there since some time after the dream, present but not consciously acknowledged. He would try. He would try to move forward—he could see no alternative. He still had fears, insecurities, but he could battle those. They could battle those. The strength of his resolve surprised him, and it added extra energy to his steps, eating up and tossing away the distance between himself and Catherine until he could go no further, and he had no choice but to wait, pacing odd, inconsistent rhythms along the corridor, suddenly excited and apprehensive at once. 

With a jolt, both emotions peaked in him; Catherine was in the basement above him, yards away, separated from his sight, his touch, by a single door. He stood, his breath held in his chest, running through possible words, promises, loving verbosity that all felt brittle in his own head. No, he’d have to do something rash, to demonstrate his decision. Oh God. 

She shifted the boxes overhead with a long, slow scrape of cardboard. She tripped the latch on the door and let it swing open. She twisted herself round, found the ladder with one foot, then the other, making that awkward transition, literally half Below and half Above. She lowered herself down a couple of rungs until she had purchase and leverage to slide the boxes back into place, taking extra care to be sure that nothing about them would alert even the more observant sort of neighbor. She pulled herself fully out of her world and fiddled with the door, the latch apparently eluding her.  

Finally, finally, she began to descend. 

With heart-pounding resolve, Vincent stepped forward on silent feet and plucked Catherine off the ladder. She squawked indelicately, but he set her on her feet and let her turn to face him. 

“Vincent!” she said, and he stared into her face, into her emotions—confusion, surprise, happiness. 

He pulled her close, and she came willingly, pressing her face to his chest while he nuzzled her hair. “I missed you,” he said simply, in answer to her unspoken question. 

She relaxed against him completely, happiness winning out in her. “Tell me what I did to make you miss me so much,” she said, “so I can do it again.” 

He hesitated, but reasserted his resolve and gave in to the impulse to raise his hand to her head, to rest his fingers against her hair. 

“You spoke your heart, and I listened.” 

She pulled back enough to look up into his face, cautious hope in her eyes. 

“I can promise nothing, Catherine,” he told her. “But I will try to see the possibilities you see.” The light through my darkness. “I will try to…let you in.” 

She laid her hand on his cheek, and he leaned into the touch as he had seldom dared in the past. Her eyes told him that she noticed. “That’s all I’m asking for. We’ll walk this road together. You don’t have to brave the dark alone.” 

And there, she smiled so sweetly, so contentedly, that he felt himself tumbling into the depths of her love—her love for him. Joy threatened to surge through him, and though he clamped down on it by reflex, he eased off and let a little trickle flow, hot and heady through his veins. They were so close together, he could—he did 

She raised her face toward his, but waited for him to close the distance, to bring their lips together carefully, fleetingly. It was brief, and it was awkward, but still it thrilled him. He pulled back just enough to examine her face without going cross-eyed, but she remained still, expectant. So he gathered his courage and leaned in again, this time with a little more pressure—and once he had made it that far, he realized he had no idea what to do next. Past observation suggested he was meant to move his lips in some pleasurable way, but he was at a loss. He tried, but doubted Catherine found any more pleasure in the resultant twitch than he did.  

Distressed by his utter befuddlement in something so ubiquitous as kissing, when he had finally brought them both to this moment, he started to retreat, a plea for her not to laugh or tease him already rising in his throat, but she caught his jaw in both hands and held him gently still. She tilted her head and parted her lips just a little, and that was nice, so he copied her. She moved her lips against his, and, yes, that was much better than his attempt. He tried to follow where she led, and they established a cadence that seemed to please her and gave him time to adjust.  

He had seen this sort of thing plenty of times, up Above, down Below. He was meant to pull her closer, or at least put his hands on her in some intimate way. His mind had no trouble with the mechanics of that, even as he was terrified to let things slip out of his control. He shifted his arms to lay his hands flat on her back, to pull her in closer, to feel the slight shifting of her muscles under his kiss, and that was altogether better.  

Catherine moved her arms around his neck, her body stretched over his to reach, and he found the sensation very highly satisfactory. The sort of satisfactory that thrummed in his ears, pounded in his chest, focused his every thought, his every sense on the woman pressed against him. The force of her soft body, the heat of her hand against his scalp, the smell of her skin, the taste of her lips, and—God—yes, that was her tongue peeking out to graze his. He felt his satisfaction begin to smolder and spread, as though one careless spark could ignite it, and he had no idea how hot or how long it might blaze. He needed to collect himself, to examine the situation and find the understanding he’d need to choose how to move forward. He needed time, distance to be rational, to reestablish his hold—emotions and sensations and thoughts had all started to tumble out of their optimal places, mixing and melding and confusing him. She always did this to him. What a fool, to think that such a thing would simply work, with no planning, no preparation—he needed to think. 

He pulled back, rather more abruptly than he’d meant to, and Catherine stared at him in surprise. He expected her to be hurt or angry, but she only looked resigned. He wasn’t sure if that wasn’t worse. 

“Too much?” she whispered, her arms still locked fast around his neck. He reached up to her elbows and pulled them gently away, stepping backward.  

“I just…I need time. I’m sorry.” 

She stepped forward, grasping his hands and keeping them between their bodies, and met his gaze openly. “Vincent, it’s all right. You can stop. You can pull away. You can tell me to slow down, or to go faster. You can tell me what you need, what you want. I want you to be comfortable with what we do. Just don’t run away from me. Don’t shut me out.” 

He focused on the comfort of her hands wrapped around his and nodded, concentrating on not hiding his eyes from her. “I need to think. I need to understand. It was wonderful, but I…was it pleasant for you? I’ve never—I don’t even know—” 

“Stop. One thought at a time. Of course it was pleasant for me. I’ve wanted that from you for so long.” 

“I have no skill—” 

“That’ll come,” she assured him. She smiled impishly. “We’ll practice.” She squeezed his hands in hers, her smile gentling. “But you please me, Vincent. Just, here, being close, allowed to touch you, knowing that you want me to touch’s a step. It’s a wonderful step. The rest will come.” 

Vincent nodded, trying to believe, to accept. He regretted his rashness of a few minutes ago; he’d have to be particularly careful about the distance he kept from Catherine all evening, until he could be alone to center himself again. It was a torture he knew well, and he felt himself beginning to tire under the weight of it. Perhaps he could contrive a chaperone, some reason why they needed to spend time in a third party’s company— 

He ducked his head in realization. 

“What is it?” Catherine asked.  

“I found myself thinking of ways that we wouldn’t be alone together this evening, secret ways that I could arrange to keep us in someone else’s company. I’ve done it before. I would be breaking my word to do it again without telling you.” 

“You’re afraid of losing yourself?” 

“I grow weary of the effort,” he answered with more force, more truth, than he’d intended. He closed his eyes, that slight separation from her giving him time to place a few hasty stitches in the worn parts of his soul. He opened his eyes again and stared into hers. Compassion and frustration warred in her gaze. “To…deny myself—to deny you—it is a task that does not become easier with time and practice. I cannot strengthen myself to it. It is a force that threatens to overpower me.” 

“It’s a battle you don’t have to fight,” Catherine answered. She leaned forward, bracing her forearms against his. “We’ve fought so many battles. Our love is already hard-won, Vincent. Rest now. Rest with me.” 

She was warm and supple against him. She smelled of perfume and shampoo and laundry detergent, and beneath that she smelled of something far less floral, something sharper that ran exquisitely hot in his blood. She stared up at him, love and fledgling hope and lust in the width and depth of her eyes, in the contour of her mouth, so recently tasted and tested for the first time. 

He squeezed her hands once in his and then let go. He stepped back, forcing himself not to look away from the rush of disappointment that filled her entire body, to say nothing of the bond between them. “I need time,” he pled. 

She dropped her eyes away from him, but her nod was resolute. When she looked up again, she touched his arm gently, guiding him toward the jagged entry to his world. She put on a brave, almost-honest smile. “Is Father in his chamber? He promised to tell me a wildly inappropriate story about his first visit to San Francisco. The mystery of what trouble he could have gotten into, even as a young man, has bothered me for weeks.” 

“Then we mustn’t keep you waiting a moment longer.” He laid his hand over hers on his arm in silent thanks and let himself be led.  



To Hope

When by my solitary hearth I sit,
   And hateful thoughts enwrap my soul in gloom;
When no fair dreams before my “mind’s eye” flit,
   And the bare heath of life presents no bloom;
      Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
      And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head

--John Keats