“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
~ Oscar Wilde
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when any woman finally makes love for the first time, with the man she adores beyond all words or reason, she would prefer he was awake for the whole process! Loving someone with desperately silent intent can be a lonely, soul-destroying affair.
But Catherine was not about to give up, not now when they had come so far. With Vincent alive and well beside her, she was whole. Without him to guide and protect her, she knew she would wither and die.
In the blackness of that rocky cavern she’d been denied the luxury of her love’s whole-hearted participation in their first lovemaking because Vincent’s unknown illness had stripped him of all signs of life. But Catherine could not retreat from her self-appointed task. She would not allow him to be taken so far away from her.
The only way to bring him back to her from whatever darkness had tried to claim him, was to love him back to her. Surely her undying love and care would make him whole again? Wordlessly and with frenzied, unbounded passion, she set about her task. She prayed that wherever his inert body was led, surely the broken remnants of Vincent’s mind might soon follow. And become aware of everything.
And finally he did return to her, in some fashion. But the blue eyes that opened and finally locked with hers in the darkness of that rock-hewn chamber, did not seem to belong to someone she knew and loved. Confusion hovered in their depths, and a frowning question she did not know how to answer. She drew his heavy body unresisting into her lap, watching him watch her. For now there was nothing more she could do for him. Hold him close and show him he was loved.
Vincent was alive, that was all that truly mattered. She had to believe everything would return to normal, given sufficient time…
After what seemed like endless hours of anguish, she had allowed Father and the others to assist Vincent from the blackness of the cavern back up to his chamber. She followed, carrying her lover’s heavy cloak.
Sitting beside him on his bed as she tucked the covers under his chin, Catherine tried to keep her eyes open. But everything that had gone before had exhausted her in both body and soul. She should have felt elated that they had finally made the ultimate connection. Instead she felt defeated and very much alone. She decided it was better she left the tunnels for now.
“You should stay with him.” Behind her, Jacob bent closer. He placed a detaining hand on her shoulder, keeping her seated. “He needs you now.”
“He needs to rest.” Catherine breathed deeply, trying to decide what was best for her to do. Go or stay, she could not decide.
She clasped Father’s sympathetic hand briefly, intending to rise. In the same moment she began to move away, Vincent’s fingers closed around her free hand, tugging on it wordlessly, pulling her back towards him. He pressed the flat of her hand against his chest, his blue eyes open and staring, seeming to beg her to stay. That frowning question deep in his gaze remained unanswered. But he appeared afraid to release her.
“Very well…” Helpless against his soundless pleading, Catherine nodded before sliding onto the bed and lying down against him.
Vincent sighed, long and low. A shudder rippled through his whole body, seeming to well up from the depths of his very soul. He lifted his head to look around, before resting it back onto the pillows, his eyes closing.
Beneath her hand Catherine could feel the tense muscles of his chest, despite the sigh. He seemed to be dreaming, and that dream terrified him. She raised her head to look across at him, at a loss to know what to do for the best. Should she try and wake him?
“Vincent?” she questioned, moving her hand beneath his.
She saw his closed eyelids tremble, quickly losing the struggle to lift and open. Beneath them Vincent rolled his eyes from side to side, as if searching for something he could not find. His low moan of distress filled Catherine’s heart with sadness. Her love was still lost and alone, somewhere in the roiling darkness of his own mind and she was helpless to assist him.
“I am here,” she said softly, lying down again, cuddling him closer to her. “I won’t leave you.”
Father cleared his throat. “I will leave you for now. Thank you, Catherine. For giving my son back to me. If we had lost him down there…” The old man’s voice broke and he compressed his lips tightly, swiping a hand across his eyes. “It is enough to know that he lives.” Nodding brusquely, he turned away and left them alone.
“I will never leave you again, Vincent…” Catherine tucked her head in against the side of Vincent’s neck, lying still and listening to the rapid sound of his breathing.
Her hand was still pressed tight against his chest, held there by both of his. She pressed closer still, her leg sliding over both of his in the unconscious possession of the lover who had known the joy of complete connection with another soul.
She sighed against his moist skin, wondering how, when and where she would find the words to help him through whatever this strange affliction was.
“I love you…” The words slipped out, whispered against the pulse that beat in Vincent’s neck. “I will always love you…always…”
She yawned, finally surrendering to the struggle to keep her eyes open and her body aware of every movement of his. A couple of hours sleep was all she needed before she had to go back Above… Catherine’s breathing lengthened and evened out as she finally fell into an exhausted sleep.
Sensing her slender body pressed close against his, her heartbeat matched with his own, Vincent stirred. His hands tightening their grip on her slender fingers. He did not immediately know where he was, or even who he was. His memory was filled with darkness and terror. He knew nothing beyond a strangely primal sense of connection to this other precious creature who lay with him, her body claiming his.
He moved away slightly so he could turn his head to stare at her. His battered mind could not recall her name, yet his soul knew hers as it knew no other. She was the woman he loved. He was aware that her touch had brought him comfort and solace. Her warmth had drawn him back into the light from some vast, chilling blackness that had beckoned to him, tried to swallow him whole. That was enough to know that much for now.
“Mine…” He sighed the word.
Still frowning over things he did not understand, he drew his sleeping companion closer still, wrapping his arms around her slender body to keep her with him. Then his eyes drifted shut once more, and the deep, restorative power of sleep finally reclaimed them both…
~ * ~
Vincent carefully replaced the winged figure on the mantelpiece, where he had found her. He cast wondering eyes over it and then all the contents of the chamber he stood in. Nothing made sense, but he felt a sensation of belonging here. It comforted him to know that.
Catherine entered quietly, watching her love move slowly around the room, as if it was all new to him, and confusing. She smiled, sadly but with love. “How are you feeling?” she asked softly.
Vincent started before turning towards her, spreading his arms and sighing deeply.
“I’m not sure…” He looked so lost and alone.
Her eyes stinging with unshed tears, Catherine hurried to say, “Try to tell me.”
Vincent sighed again. Then the words rushed from him. “Like a stranger…”
Catherine tried to understand, even as she worried the point. “What seems unfamiliar?”
Vincent appeared to debate how to tell her what was in his mind. “Many things. Many things I can’t…” He looked around helplessly. “I don’t remember.”
Catherine watched him closely, trying not to cry. “Do you feel like a stranger with me?” It felt as if her heart was breaking. They had come so far, and yet, now…
“No, not with you.” Vincent hurried into speech even as he stepped forward, quickly. “You’re the woman that I love.” He uttered the words without hindrance or hesitation. As if he had been saying them to her throughout their relationship. This new Vincent seemed determined to keep nothing from her.
Catherine nodded quickly, her heart singing. “I'm glad,” she breathed. She could not help wondering about how much of their recent love-making had stayed with him, somehow giving him the courage to finally tell her how he felt. It was all so new, and unknown.
Vincent looked down, hurrying away from her. “But there are things in my mind. Things I can’t reach… I reach for words for things…” His shoulders slumped and he looked lost. “But they’re not there…” He sat down heavily on the bed.
Catherine moved closer, crossing the chamber to sit on the bed by his side. “Vincent, the words will come.” She prayed they would, and soon.
“Names…” Vincent said softly, turning to look at her, his blue eyes deeply troubled.
“I wouldn’t worry,” Catherine reassured him quickly. She decided she may have to stay with him once more. It was becoming a habit to spend the night with him, and her work was suffering. But she could not help it. I could get Kipper to send a message up to Joe…
Beside her Vincent shifted his position to turn and look at her more fully. “Your name…”
Catherine drew a sharp breath. She stared at him in stunned silence, then said, “My name? You mean, you can’t…?” Tears filled her eyes, then.
Vincent stared at her, shaking his head in wordless confusion.
“Catherine,” she replied softly. She so badly wanted to hug him. Her arms ached to hold him close once more. But she didn’t move. He must find the courage come to her.
Vincent smiled, huffing his relief as he looked down, capturing her linked hands, enfolding their slenderness within his larger grip. “Yes,” he breathed. A faint smile curved his lips.
“Vincent, don’t worry. I won’t let you forget.” Catherine leaned closer to rest her forehead against his, breathing the same air as he, warm and scented with candles and leather. And his warm masculinity that enfolded her tired senses once more to the exclusion of all else. If only we could stay like this forever…
Vincent’s hand held onto hers tightly, as if he dared not allow her to pass from his sight ever again. Lifting his face, his lips brushed lightly over her forehead in benediction, before he dropped his head once more, his frowning eyes studying the faded pattern of Aubusson carpet beneath his feet.
Catherine felt the moment slipping away, and she could not afford to allow this opportunity for renewed closeness to pass her by. She needed to seize it with both hands, be brave and bold as her love had taught her to be.
“It is all right, Vincent. Truly.” Catherine moved closer to her love, taking his downcast chin in the palm of her hand and lifting his face to hers.
“But I have to know. Do you…can you remember anything of what happened down there, in that cavern? Anything about the first time we loved? Anything at all?”
Her warm green eyes gazing frankly into his startled blue ones, she finally allowed all barriers to fall, and placed all her cards on the table. Winner take all…
“I…we…we loved?” Vincent frowned as he held himself erect for a long moment, staring down at her. His mouth moved in silent torment, but he didn’t continue. That same questioning stare filled his eyes, and he seemed to gather himself, trying to accept what she had just told him.
“Oh, Catherine…” He shook his head, his great shoulders slumped in defeat. His breath rushed between open lips on a gusty sigh of intense regret. “No, not…exactly...”
Illustration supplied by the author