This Chapter is Rated R for sexual situations
I bring you with reverent hands
The books of my numberless dreams
-William Butler Yeats, “A Poet to His Beloved”
“Why don’t you take Catherine to one of the warm springs,” Mary suggested as they sat together around Father’s counsel table.
So innocent an idea; for Catherine’s discomforts, Vincent was sure Mary meant. So she can bathe was what Mary wanted, he was certain, innocent and yet…being alone with Catherine, in that place, and where that could lead, felt both dangerous and inevitable.
After waking from her nightmare, to her dream – Vincent with her, finally, hers – Vincent and Catherine’s morning had been spent in each other’s company, although not alone. Mary and Father had found them early and kept with them, attempting to draw Catherine out of herself, assuring her, assessing her. Vincent understood
Catherine’s contradictory annoyance and appreciation for them. No one else came. Mary and Father had clearly put the word out to keep the other Tunnel dwellers away, but they themselves would not leave. They were Vincent and Catherine’s constant chaperones.
It wasn’t helping.
What had started as a single candle flame, sparked by Vincent’s confession and Catherine’s convictions, and most of all by their claiming of their mutual fate, quickly had grown into a conflagration. They had built this pyre together, year upon year, throwing on it their desires, piling them high until what they had created was too large to even hope to control.
Not a small part of Vincent took comfort in the elders’ presence, but the other half chafed, wishing them gone, wishing only for her, and he knew Catherine felt the same, anxious in every sense. So, throughout the morning, they took what they could get, either her arm wound around his, or he would encircle her waist, or guide her with his open hand upon her back; some part of them touched.
Vincent found he could not part from Catherine willingly. Father had asked him to do so, for a few moments only, leaving her to Mary’s care. They were barely a room’s breath away from one other, Father hoping, in vain, it soon became clear, to ask Vincent about a pressing repair in the eastern tunnels, but Vincent, try as he might to keep his mind on task, could not forget how close she was. Catherine at the same time was speaking to Mary quietly, so quietly he couldn’t hear their conversation. His eyes told him she was questioning Mary about something important; her lips spoke, but her gaze didn’t leave the floor. What his heart discerned from her felt like anticipation…like hope. And when Catherine had looked up, when their eyes had met, the need flared again, raging.
She must be close, his entire being demanded, the smell of her, the feel of her, as needed as air.
The chains of their former life, those that had held them apart for so long, were falling away, or found to be made of nothing but smoke, broken with a word or a look. Catherine, his destroyer of certainties and boundaries, had a shattered one by simply being alive, and another without intention, and with every intention, by showing him her back as she changed gowns that morning – it lay bare and unmarred by him, open to him.
From their first moment together, love and protection had held sway over his emotions, but the new truth of how bound they were, the dreadful, beautiful truth that they were each other’s fully, had loosed a pulse previously suppressed by danger and damage. The stirrings between them, dark and glorious, drew them, pulled them together. It was a new type of chain. Even now, sitting at the table in Father’s chamber, sharing a small meal of bread, cheese and what was left of the fall fruit, he could barely keep the fever in check. He shuddered with the need to touch her everywhere, anywhere. He steeled himself to be content with just her hand, held on his leg, covered by his own.
Just before Mary’s suggestion, Catherine had recounted the story of the last months, all of it. She had confirmed Vincent’s memories of the tiny cave within the earth where she had bartered with Death for his existence, courted the edge of the abyss, and had brought another soul back with her. By all rights he should have felt embarrassed at least at the recounting, but seeing her, alive and beautiful, all disgrace gave way to her strength. He felt pride, and gratitude…and the echo of her desire, once again, for him.
Catherine had continued her story, her regret plain when she told them of waiting to tell them of her pregnancy. He felt such desperate guilt from her as she spoke of John Moreno’s betrayal, of the investigation and the book, and where it was now. This was a part of the tangle of emotions he perceived within her, the self-reproach. Why? He had wished to reassure her, but before he could think of what to say, Father had urged her to continue. She did, with a brief telling of her captivity, and underneath the words Vincent had heard what she did not say aloud, of the torment of months, the days upon days of aloneness. She spoke of her captor’s death in the most surface of terms.
“I killed him,” she had said simply. “He can’t hurt us anymore.”
Father had looked to Mary, perhaps for reassurance that Catherine was strong enough to question, but he could not be put off, Vincent knew, Father’s natural fear for his son’s safety always his foremost motivation. “But, my dear,” Father had fretted, leaning into her, his hand pressed over her free one, the other still safely held in Vincent’s care. “What about records? You said he had cameras, tapes, maybe medical reports….”
“Perhaps I could try to search….” Vincent began.
He had barely spoken before she stopped him, her eyes wide, her fear evident to all. “No! You can’t go anywhere near that building! What if the guards are there, the police…Please, Vincent, we’ll find another way.”
Father had looked to his son, wanting to discuss it further, but her insistence had cut off all debate. They had sat in uneasy silence until Mary’s suggestion.
Now, with the echo of Mary’s offer lingering in the air – take her to one of the warm springs…take her – they were faced with the freedom that privacy could bring. Could he accept it, accept them as something they had never been previously to each other? He knew he could curb the desire if he had to, for her, for her safety; he had so many times in the past, the denial of it felt almost like sanctuary, a familiar escape, but if she said yes….
But Catherine said nothing. Instead, she only turned to him with a gaze that indeed asked for him to recognize their new selves. She wanted them, she wanted him, and in that moment he found his answer and his courage in her eyes. He had no words, at least none he would give her now, just a look of earnest and intimate promise meant only for her. He rose from the table, turned and stood over her. Her eyes still locked on his, the current between them racing and powerful, then he helped her off the bench. They took their leave, briefly, with barely a mumble, and headed off in the direction of his chamber.
They walked in silence, still close to one another, but now not touching for fear of the fire taking over. She walked in front of him, graceful despite the child she carried, but then she stopped, just for a moment, uncertain where he wished her to go. She looked back over her shoulder, her hair a cascade of brown and gold in the torchlight, and he was nearly undone – by her beauty, by her gaze, needful and only for him. He was about to reach for her when he heard others coming towards them from the opposite direction. He seized her arm, gently but firmly, and placed her into a hidden alcove a few steps away, his body towering over hers, hiding her in the shadows, away from the light. She was his, all of him required it. The fierceness in him, now horrifically close to the surface, claimed her. Vincent feared what would happen if forced to share her, even in friendly conversation. He waited, wary, and the voices passed. Cullen? Kim? Rebecca? He could only care with the smallest part of him. Catherine looked up from her hidden place under his protective body.
“Catherine?”- one last question within her name. Could this be safe for her? Could she stop him, please, if it wasn’t?
She reached for his head and brought him to her, and he was again lost. He kissed her hungrily and felt her matching hunger. Yes, she said without words. She would be his, again, now.
He drew away only to take her hand and stride as quickly as he thought she could on their present course. He stopped her with a look that demanded stillness, just outside his chambers. He let go of her hand reluctantly and tried, as calmly as he could while still feeling her desire’s blue flame arching to him, to gather what they needed…a lantern, soap, towels, clothes…and then, reaching for her as he brushed past, grabbed her hand again. He led her to the warm spring nearest to his chamber. He had never taken her here; fear of what it suggested had precluded it. How much would he show her if he could, in the months and years from now, if only they had the time. She had given him time, time to remember, time to love her as he had desperately wanted. His only dream now, to return that gift.
When he placed the lantern on the sand down the long curving hall outside the entrance of the cavern that was this warm spring’s home, she was perplexed. Didn’t they need it? But when he drew her into the large cave, she saw the natural light from somewhere high above, and he whispered, low and soft, answering her unspoken question, “For privacy.” Why hadn’t she known that signal? Had they truly never needed it before?
This place, she realized, was why they were all so clean despite the dust and hard work that went into daily living Below. She had always wondered, with the want of precious fuel, how they supplied hot water for bathing, and he showed her. It was a beautiful cavern of golden light, arches of stone and mineral, shadows and hollows. Here there was grace and beauty that could only be held secretly in the heart when existing in the world Above. Here cool stone, variegated with age and a myriad of substances conveyed by dripping water, created a natural cathedral. Here all things seemed magically possible.
He led her towards an outcropping where the stone dipped into a shallow well and then dropped off, taking the wash water away. Next to it sat a large enameled metal pitcher, a wood bucket, and a stone bench. He placed their supplies next to them on the low bench and helped her sit. He bent to her and unlaced her boots with an ease that belied the nervous energy she felt from him. He pulled them off and then his deft and warm hands removed her stockings. She should be cold, she marveled, but the currents here, all the currents, were all the warmth she could wish.
He helped her stand and began to unlace her homespun dress. The gentle scrape of his claws, the fur on the tops his fingers rubbing her skin, were almost too much to bear. This was the dream she had caged in her heart for so long. She looked down so she would try not to devour him again. She felt his intentions. He wanted her to feel clean first. He wanted to wash away all the hurt and violence, before….
Vincent gently, reverently, opened her dress, parting each side with his hands over her pale shoulders, and carefully pulled it down her body, trapping her arms just above her breasts, seductively framing her shoulders and neck. He left it a moment so he could experience a sight he had dreamed of, then carefully pulled the dress over the swell of her breasts, over her rounded abdomen, and let it fall. She was naked underneath, and exquisite. “The nakedness of woman is the work of God,” he recalled the line of Blake. Blake was one of her favorite poets, and now, without the bitterness of unfulfilled dreams, could be his as well. He would understand, with more than academic knowledge what it was to truly belong to a woman, and it was because of her. He wanted to roar with love and victory.
She felt his joy, his triumph, and smiled at the gift that she could give and take from him, with him.
He studied her as he would not allow himself before, and she blushed under his gaze. Her breasts were fuller, the tips darker, her body lusher, different from what he remembered, from what he imagined, but no less beautiful. He ran his palm slowly down her arm until he took her hand and gently led her to the shallow well where they washed.
He filled the pitcher and bucket with the warm water. She watched him, his grace, his powerful movements now muted, precise in serving her. She watched him watching her, the current still gnawing between them.
With a light touch of his fingers, he asked her to tip her head back. He poured the water over her hair and began to clean it, soaping his hands and then gathering it and pulling through with his claws. It was sensual and it was healing, feeling his claws moving through her hair, gently grazing her scalp. He repeated his ministrations starting at her crown, then down her neck, pressing in with the pads of his fingers. Months of tension eased underneath them. He moved to her shoulders and arms and across the top of her collar bones, tracing them, gently sweeping over her bones with his claws, with a press and a light scrape.
Vincent hesitated, as a man who has been starved for food might hesitate at a banquet placed before him. With infinite care, he lifted her breasts. The tips hardened immediately in his palms. To her, this was months of barely being touched erasing under his beautiful hands. To him, it was exquisite torture. He didn’t stay long there; the heat they created would override his good intentions.
More soap and he ran his hands over her belly, a crisscross of attention, over and around and across. For a moment she felt a flare of anger, not at her, but for her, but then he slowed, eased down, breathing out the discord until he was simply caressing her abdomen again. This is ours, he would have said if he could; no one should have touched you but those you asked. His words, however, were lost in the feel of her skin. She bent to him and kissed him for his intent, and while they kissed, just while they kissed, he placed his hand at the juncture of her thighs, over her, protecting, claiming. She liquefied instantly into his hand, her legs weakening, but in the space it took for her to gasp at his assurance, he was down her legs. He supported her there, clutching her as he washed her ankles and feet. Finally, he traveled up the back of her body, over her rounded cheeks, and stopped at the expanse of her back. He pressed his hands there, moving apart her worn muscles as he bathed her.
His touch was the most perfect thing she had ever known. How did he know what she needed? No other man had treated her like this. She stood amazed at his already thorough knowledge of her. She felt the cord between them, his need vibrating like a harp’s strings, and realized…how could he not? They were so much more open to each other now. She felt his eyes all over her, learning her, loving her. He rinsed her with pitcher and bucket, and she felt baptized, born again as his own. It was his sacrament for her, a sacred thing, that he trusted her, trusted himself with her, a benediction.
She looked over her shoulder at him. “You’re getting wet,” she said low, not chiding. Whether it was her words or it was the time he had already chosen, he started to remove his sweater and then his shirt, and then the rest of his clothes. He had never done this while she watched, at least, that she could recall; their first time together was so urgent, she hardy remembered, as much as she had wanted to. She was awed by how deftly he could undo the barriers between them. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, aware of, and solicitous to his shyness with her. He in turn looked to her so he would not lose his nerve.
Watching her was reward and penance. She was a Botticelli’s Venus and Madonna all at once, a bringer of desire and life. His hunger pushed him, her acceptance pulled him, and soon he was as naked as she and he was leading her down the carved steps into the spring itself.
Once they were both in the water, he gestured for her to swim freely. She moved, not quite walking, not quite floating, into the deeper water, warmth and weightlessness easing her physical burden and building her desire. She was free in all senses, free to be her. He had given her freedom. She could let go.
It was the beginning of bliss.
She turned to him, her hair slick against her head. She took his work-roughened hand and placed it on her belly. He molded around the curve of it. Under his deft fingers he could feel movement, limbs, life.
“It’s you,” she whispered to him. “It’s you, inside me.”
He was within her, and she wanted him there. Knowing that he had been able to love her without pain or violence allowed him to love her now. He caressed her a moment longer, and then slowly his fingers followed the swell of her belly, then over the curve of her hip, down, and then, moving around her to her back, he stroked his knuckles up and down her spine, causing the most beautiful, sparkling sensation that she ever experienced. He could feel the ghost of his touch through her. It was such a gift.
“I remember,” Vincent whispered into her ear. Her loving words reminded him, and he realized he had never told her.
She looked over her shoulder at him. “You…,” she began.
“I remember,” he whispered, so close to her scar he could almost taste it on his lips. He slowly ran his knuckles again down her back, to her hips, sending more chills through her. He felt her desire, the ache only he could fill, and her trust – more gifts.
“I remember everything…. I remember, ‘Yours….’”
The word echoed through her as he kissed her cheek, her neck. It echoed as he took her with him to the side of the pool, as his hand moved up her thigh to her center and, with exquisite care, brushed his finger against her.
Catherine reached out to the wall to steady herself; she could hear herself make a sound between a keen and a sigh and could feel his reaction to it. As he kept his hand there, unmoving, just holding, feeling her need build, as she allowed herself to finally let go, he could feel her word.
He felt her shatter from just his barest touch, and he knew what she had said was true: she was his, and she would know his answer.
Low, a growl, meant only for her, “Yours, Catherine….” His words echoed all around her as he carefully pulled her leg up to a natural ledge in the water, as he gently held her hips, drew her body impossibly closer to his, and as he with infinite adoration entered her.