Debbie Ristick

The last strains of Mozartís "Magic Flute" reverberated off the tunnel walls, and closing his eyes in appreciation, Vincent lifted his chin. He stood in silence, lost in thought upon the bridge spanning the Whispering Galleryís splendor, a copy of Byron clutched in his strong hands. His best thinking was done in this vast chamber, and he had sought the solitude of the voices on many occasions in the past.

Walking slowly across the much repaired bridge, he sighed heavily as the emphasis of this perplexity forced its attention on him. Catherine had been a part of him for so long now, yet there was a miserable emptiness inside of her that she refused to acknowledge. He felt it acutelyóas though the never ending distress she experienced originated from inside of him. Yet when he asked her about it, or told her of the feelings he sensed in her, she denied she lacked anything and insisted his love and companionship was enough for her. But the enigma of her unspoken longing remained with him, denying him sleep, disturbing his work, and affecting him strongly in everything he did.

"Catherine," he whispered her name softly, listening as the word echoed throughout the magnificent chamber. Her affection was like a beacon, drawing him close, urging him to feel, to touch, to experience. But he would not, he should not think of her in "that" way. Inside himself, he was certain that avoidance of her yearning for him was the answer.

A sigh touched his lips and Vincent paced across the bridge once again. How could he tell her of his desires? How could he even think them? But he did, and sometimes those needs were so strong and devastating, that the suffering it caused him was unbearable. The love that raged between them consumed them both, and it was all he could do sometimes to stay in control and not allow himself to hurdle headlong into the flames.

But what to do? How could he put aside the teachings of a lifetime, the dread and anxieties that had been formed in him? He could not effortlessly abandon those ideals. Yet a part of him wanted desperately to cast that restrained part of him away. He dreamt of holding her close, of allowing himself the liberty she would happily grant him, to see reality in its most exquisite form. He wanted to love her, wanted to touch the heat.

And besides that, his mind insisted as he made his way to the inner chambers, he must think of Catherine. She gave so much of herself, asking for so little in return. What she wanted and needed now, was what he wanted and needed. Their happiness had been put on hold for far too long and it gnawed at them both. It was for both of them, he thought, the joy that awaited, but the decision fell to him for it was his fear that held them back. Filled with worry and trepidation he forgot about their dream. It was the definition of the dream they shared that gave them strength, gave them the will to continue, and put aside the pain. In all honestly, Vincent knew she deserved unconditional love, and his trustófor trust there must be to go further as one.

Entering his chamber, a long, troubled grimace pulled at the corners of his mouth. Did he not "trust" Catherine? Could something deep inside himself not allow that simple consideration?

"No," he whispered tensely to the room, tossing the poor copy of Byron onto his bed. "It is not possible." The affection, and truth be told, passion that he felt towards Catherine was unquestionable. There was no going back.

His own words to her so many months before replayed in his mind. "One either moves towards love or away from it, Catherine," he had stated. "There is no other direction."

Knowing what must be done, Vincent scooped up the leather trimmed cloak that would protect him in the world above. He placed the copy of Byron upon the shelf behind his bed and smiled. "For us, there is no other direction," he whispered with sudden conviction, "it must be."

* * *

Sitting at her desk, Catherine Chandler found herself lost in a notion she thought was long since buried and with an exasperated sigh she swore softly under her breath. No wonder Vincent looked at her so strangely when they spent time together, no wonder he asked so many times if she was all right! She was broadcasting her need of him, not so much in words, but in the urges she allowed herself to experience, the desire that sometimes crept slowly unheeded to the surface of her mind. She tried to exercise self-control, for allowing him to feel what she wanted would definitely be upsetting to him. But those eyes, the way they caressed her! How could she not want him? All that was Vincent was sensual. All he said sent shivers of longing flying up her spine. This was insane!

"Calm down, Chandler," she admonished softly, "no sense in getting out of control now, just when Joe might let you go home."

Looking up, she spotted the attractive figure of Joe Maxwell striding purposefully towards her, grinning, his eyes alive with amusement. "Well now, Radcliffe, seems youíre all packed up. Thinking about going home for the weekend maybe?" He sat back on her desk, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Guilty as charged, Counselor," she returned with a smile. "Now, if there are no objections? You donít have another deposition hidden under your shirt do you?"

"No more work Radcliffe and no objections," his tone changed to one of seriousness. "Cathy, the report you filed on the Thompson case was terrific; Moreno is pleased as punch. I just wanted you to know that your hard work paid off. You deserve the time kiddo."

"Thompson deserves as much as the courts will give him," her reply was soft as she lost herself in the memory of all the children she had interviewed. "Iím sure the Grand Jury will be more than accommodating."

"Sure thing, Radcliffe," Maxwell patted her shoulder. "Now, get out of here before I change my mind."

Grabbing her briefcase, Catherine headed towards the exit, but turned back briefly to find Joeís eyes on her, a smile as bright as sunshine on his face. "You heard me, get outta here, Radcliffe."

"Night, Joe," she called, then disappeared into the hallway.

All the way to the elevator, and subsequently to the parking structure, Catherine felt a stirring in her heart that she knew was Vincent. He was on his way to her, the feeling of his anticipation was very strong. It had been nearly three weeks since he had been on her balcony, nearly three weeks since he had rescued her from Elliott Burchís would-be murderers. In the time since, she had gone over and over that night, picking apart what he must have felt, what he must have sensed. Yet, when she saw it in her mind, she remembered vividly only one momentóher confession to him. "And I," she had spoken with intense honesty, never taking her eyes from him. His reaction was quiet and afterwards he had not spoken much. When she had left she had felt him stronger than ever before. It was as though something in their bond had blossomed and strengthened. This feeling had left her breathless as she hurried towards her car.

* * *

He stood on her balcony, lost in thought, his face passive, contented, and for a moment, Catherine did not want to disrupt this peace in him. She knew how much in the past the discussion she needed to have had hurt him, but these feelings could no longer be put aside. They must realize the demons within them were not imaginary; and they must come face to face with them, accept and ultimately deal with them in the only way they could.

"Catherine..." his voice broke her reverie and she turned, smiling into eyes that glowed a brilliant blue in the darkness that surrounded him.

"I knew you were here," she started softly, gliding through the french doors onto the balcony. "I can feel you sometimes, your thoughts; it is quite comforting to me. I can finally understand how itís been for you."

"Yes," he smiled and turned towards her, opening his arms.

"Vincent," she whispered contentedly as she moved beside him, sighing as the solidity of his body molded itself to hers. "There could never be enough time for us to share, never enough hours. If only morning would never come, if only you could stay with me."

"I know," he whispered as the grip on her tightened possessively. "I affected by all that we feel, by the ghosts of passion we deny exist."

Tilting her head back, Catherine gazed up at him, green eyes sparkling with emerald fire in the moonlight. "You know then? You know what I need to discuss, what needs to be said?"

"It disturbs us both, Catherine. We fight this enemy collectively, without recognition of what it is." His voice grew softer until it was hardly audible. "Yes, I know what it is, and I accept that it must be discussed."

"And what can we do?" The question was asked, the evidence understood by them both as they stood there. "How can we go on, Vincent?"

Releasing her suddenly, he turned, facing the obscurity of the night, seemingly lost in the magic of the stars above them. "One either moves towards love or away from it, Catherine." His head turned slightly, "there is no other direction, now, or ever."

Intense emotion built inside of her, and Catherine was first overjoyed, then terrified at his words. Did he mean that he would leave her again? Or did he mean it was time to forge ahead in their relationship? Could he accept his own enlightenment as well as her awareness of the problem?

"Vincent," she began slowly, her voice carefully measured to hide her nervousness. "There have been times recently when you asked if I lacked anything, if I was unhappy about something. Iíve always told you no, always told you that there was nothing I needed." She turned towards the night, looking up at the brilliant light beaming down upon them from the moon. "We always promised to share the truth with one another, and Iím sorry, but I have been less than honest with you in those moments."

Glancing into his eyes, she saw only acceptance with her words, so after a moment, she continued. "I have wanted to spare you pain, Vincent, wanted more than anything not to cause you undo stress. Iíve seen how the slightest adversity affects you, how deeply you are troubled by it. I do not want you to experience pain because of me, my love. I want you to be happy, to know joy. I can hide nothing from you. I realize that now, but Iíve hidden my feelings simply because I knew they would cause you pain."

Listening to her confession, Vincent felt his heart bursting with the intense love she felt for him. She suffered greatly because of his fear, yet she feared to hurt him with her pain!

"Catherine," he began gently, taking a hesitant step towards her. "You must not fear my reaction to your feelings for me. I understand them, accept them, and realize that they are there. I too have feelings, desires for things I have never before dreamt possible. I have buried them, denied they existed, and shut them away. In so doing I have caused you great discomfort, and for that, I must beg your forgiveness. I promised countless times...that I would never hurt you. But I have, so I too, have been less than honest." At the conclusion of his words, he moved to the end of the balcony, grabbing the trellis as though to leave.

Hope for the future began to edge its way into her mind and Catherine attempted a smile. "I see that we both had things to discuss tonight. Iím glad youíve decided to share those things with me. Iím glad we know the truth. It is sometimes hard to live with, Vincent, the secret we keep, but nothing means more to me than you. Please believe that."

Hearing the anguish in her voice, Vincent turned quickly, sensing more than seeing the intense trembling of her body. Instantly, he was hypnotized by the magic in her eyes and lost in the spell of her need. He was captured by the desire he celebrated in his own soul.

Releasing the vine, he took a step towards her, then another. Her eyes opened widely as she realized that he was not leaving and she gasped loudly as she closed the distance between them.

Finally, they were together...with moans of surrender, muffled whispers of endearment, tears and laughter. Their embrace was that of lovers, body to body, feeling the sparks of a love long denied surface in all its glorious reality. He knew in that instant that with her love, anything had always been possible. Without her, life had no meaning, nor would it ever.

"Catherine," he whispered her name reverently, " you."

Through the bond, Vincent was bombarded with feelings of joy so fierce that for a moment, he lost his footing, and that lack of balance sent them both down, falling almost comically to the balcony floor.

"Catherine!" He was suddenly filled with fear for her. "Are you..."

His question was drowned out by first giggles then outright laughter coming from her as she rolled a few inches away from him, staring in wide-eyed wonder at his distress. "Iím fine," she managed after a moment. "Really," she insisted. "I love you, too."

With her assurance, Vincent realized the humorous nature of their current predicament and he relaxed. Smiling down at her indulgently, he whispered, "I know."

Without thought, Catherineís hand reached up to him, gently caressing his cheek, allowing her fingertips to linger in a sensuous journey to his mouth. Her eyes closed as the desire she knew began to build, and realizing what she was doing, pulled her hand away as though his touch had scorched her.

But Vincent was quicker and his hand snaked out to grab hers and pull it back to where it had rested. Applying only slight pressure, her touch began to warm him, to fan the ever-present flame of need in him and he pulled her to him suddenly, crushing her body against his chest.

Catherine relaxed immediately, for she was where she felt safest; on her balcony in Vincentís arms. She was in heaven. No other need was crucial now, nothing else held any importance to either of them, except this certainty they had accepted.

After a moment, Vincent pulled back from her and allowed his gaze to linger on her face, taking in the flush on her cheeks, the dazed look in her eyes, and the slight opening of her mouth. He was attuned, in that instant, to her body as well. He felt her increased heartbeat, the rapid rise and fall of her chest, and the grip on him that she refused to loosen. She wanted him now with a passion stronger than he had imagined possible. Inside he felt it was right, and knew that it was meant to be.

Trembling, he slowly lowered his head to hers. The resolve he had felt urged him on, and when their lips met he knew that all would be well. He lost himself in her kiss, allowed himself to experience all that it offered, all that love promised. The kiss deepened and he was dizzy, the world around him spinning as the surrender he so wished to make was forced to the surface of his mind.

Parting slowly, Catherine opened her eyes first and was touched by the look of awe on Vincentís face. When he opened his eyes, she smiled at him and knew through their bond that he was no longer afraid.

"I love you," she whispered, dropping her head to his chest. "I donít ever want you to go."

In that instant, Vincent knew without a doubt that he had been right, for he had decided that toward their love was the direction he must go and that was why he had come tonight. He understood in that span of time just what had driven their friend Demitri from Russia all those months ago, what drove him to climb eighteen stories, and what caused Catherine to constantly leave the city she loved and seek the sanctuary of the tunnels. It was love. In that moment, he understood Catherineís words to him on the night she returned from Westport; "itís worth everything."

Seeing her eyes still upon him, he smiled, and touched her chin tenderly. "Then, I will not go, Catherine, I will never leave you."

Their lips met again and they shut out the rest of the world from their lives for the night, cast aside the pain they had experienced and caused one another. It was time for words to be put aside, for yearning hearts to be completed. Souls that were spiritually joined at the dawn of time became one in love and dreams were allowed to be realized. A path was chosen for a future together, as the stars twinkled overhead, and the darkness of fear disappeared from their worlds...forever