OUT OF THE DARKNESS
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
BY J.A.KEENAN
~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Vincent's anguished cries echoed out of the cavern entrance. Each note cut Catherine deeply as she felt his measureless pain reach toward her. Without hesitation or fear, she approached the cavern, picking her way over the boulders at the mouth of the cave.

Once inside, there was only overwhelming darkness and the amplified sounds of Vincent's tortured mind. There was nothing of *her* Vincent in those sounds. They echoed throughout the tunnel and mingled with the sounds of the howling wind. Catherine made her way unerringly toward the source. Seeing nothing, she felt her way along the cold stone walls, closer and closer to Vincent.

Suddenly, the smooth hardness beneath her fingertips fell away and she came into an open area. He was there, before her. A little light filtered in from an unknown source here, and she could see him dimly at the far end of the chamber. He was standing in profile to her, leaning heavily against the rock wall, completely oblivious to Catherine's presence. Her heart nearly broke when she saw him there, so evident was his torment. She wanted to rush to him, wrap her arms around him the way she had when she brought him back from Pericelsus' drug, and bring him back to her. Desperately, she called out to him.

"Vincent!"

He spun toward her, seeing her there for the first time. Their eyes met, his full of pain and confusion, Catherine's full of compassion and love. For a moment, Vincent battled within himself. Then he rushed toward her with an angry roar. He raised a clawed hand, ready to strike Catherine, ready to kill her. But even at the moment when his deadly claws would rip through her, she felt no fear, none. He could never hurt her, she was certain of it.

Vincent stopped just short of her and froze there, one hand still raised. He stared at her uncertainly for one intense moment. Then she spoke his name again, this time in a low whisper, tender and sweet. Immediately, all the danger in Vincent's eyes was gone and for a moment Catherine thought she could see *her* Vincent again. Elation and hope surged within her. But just as she was about to reach for him, he crumbled to the ground at her feet.

"Vincent!" she gasped and fell to her knees beside him. She put her hands on his shoulders and shook him, gently at first, and then more insistently. Panic rose up within her as he continued to lay lifeless before her.

"Vincent -- no!" she gasped, and clutched the front of his vest. Tears rolling down her face, she called his name over and over. Father's earlier words echoed through her mind... "All vital sounds stopped... No breath, no heartbeat..." She laid her hand on his chest and held her breath, praying to find some sign that he was alive, anything. But there was nothing. Sorrow flooded her soul.

"No, you can't go." she sobbed, and fell against his chest. All she could feel is that she had lost him, just the way Father had almost lost him before... Almost lost him... But Father hadn't lost him before. Vincent had come back that time. From somewhere within the pain in her soul, there was a flicker of hope. Maybe, just maybe... "Oh, Vincent..." she whispered, and moved to touch her lips to his.

His mouth felt warm, soft, exactly as Catherine knew it would. She moved her mouth against his, tentatively at first, and then passionately. She made the kiss as deep as she could without having his participation, giving all that she had to it, pouring her soul into him. Her hands moved from his chest to his neck, and then higher to stroke his thick hair. She buried her fingers in it, holding him tightly to her mouth.

Suddenly, she felt a touch on her cheek. Vincent! The next instant their tongues were moving together passionately, their arms holding each other tightly. Vincent clung to her, drawing strength from her, needing her to be this close and closer still. The bond exploded into activity, healing them both, restoring their connection... making them whole again.

After a long time, they broke apart and Catherine fell against Vincent's chest, gasping for breath, shaking with relief. She was crying openly now, her tears soaking into Vincent's shirt. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her like a lifeline. He cried with her, his face pressed against her hair.

"Catherine," he said hoarsely. "I need you, I've always needed you. I can't be apart from you anymore, ever again... I'm so sorry, I've always wanted you to have your life above away from me, to love you just as we were, but I just can't." he choked through his tears.

Catherine was overcome with joy at his words. Finally!

"I know, I've always known... And I've always needed you, needed to be with you. I'll never leave you again, never." she said, her voice shaking with happiness and love.

Vincent heard the words and could barely believe them. He needed to hear them over and over, especially now. "Promise me, please!" he said.

Catherine braced herself against his chest so that her face was just over his. "I promise." she whispered, and began to kiss him again. This kiss was slow, tender, the opposite of what the first kiss had been. Vincent was still beneath her, letting her do what she would. She explored his mouth with her tongue and stroked his hair back from his brow. Her touch was so gentle, he thought, so completely loving.

She drew back a little to kiss his wet eyelids, tasting the tears on her lips. She sat up then, pulling him to a sitting position beside her.

"Father is waiting outside with some of the others. They're worried, we should go see them. Can you walk out of here okay?" she asked.

"Yes, I think so." he said and slowly got to his feet. Catherine stood beside him, partially supporting him as they made their way toward the entrance of the cave. It was slow going over the rocky ground, but they eventually made it out. The moment they stepped into the light, Father rushed toward them. Pascal, Mouse and the others stayed behind for the moment, letting him have this moment with his son.

"Vincent! Oh god, are you all right?" He hugged Vincent tightly, relief flooding over him. Vincent hugged him back for a moment, and began to stumble. Father and Catherine both held him up then.

"I'm fine, Father, I just think I need to rest." It was true. Now that the danger was past, Vincent was consumed by exhaustion.

"Of course, of course." Jacob said, the physician in him taking over. "I'd like to take you to the hospital chamber, but your chamber is closer. I'll examine you there."

Vincent nodded. The thought of his bed and chamber, familiar, comforting surroundings, was a balm to him. Catherine's presence was also immeasurably soothing. He was used to being uncomfortable with her so near when he was feeling vulnerable. But something had changed during his illness, and he welcomed her presence now, despite his weakened state.

The others who had waited outside the cavern for him began to approach them. There were many tears and hugs then, everyone feeling the need to see and feel that Vincent was truly with them again. True to his practical nature, though, Father soon reminded the group that Vincent needed medical attention. Pascal and Mouse attempted to help support Vincent as they headed toward his chamber, but Catherine insisted on remaining where she was. They eventually managed their task, though, and got Vincent to his chamber and into bed.

* * * * *

Once there, Father ran all the routine checks on him, concluding that some rest was in order, but that the real danger was past. Then, while Catherine waited in the passageway, Father helped Vincent into nightclothes and into bed.

"He's asleep now." Father said as he joined Catherine outside the chamber.

"Already?" Catherine said, unable to contain a small note of disappointment in her voice. The encounter in the cave had brought a closeness they hadn't known until now, and she had wished that she could have shared this closeness with Vincent for a few more minutes. "Can I look in for just a minute, if I promise not to wake him?" she asked. She had come so close to losing him today. Something in her needed to see once more that he was real, alive and with her.

"Well, all right. Only a minute." Jacob hid his smile as Catherine hurried past him and into Vincent's chamber.

A few minutes later she rejoined him in the hallway, looking satisfied and happy.

"It's been a very long day. Will you join me for some late supper?" Father asked, noticing how run down Catherine looked. "And then you'd better get some sleep yourself. I doubt you've had much more sleep than Vincent these last few days."

Catherine smiled ruefully and walked with Father down the passageway toward the main hub. "It has been quite a week." she admitted.

Father smiled at her for a moment, then his expression changed mysteriously.

"What is it?" she asked, seeing his enigmatic look.

"Catherine," he began, choosing his words carefully, "I'm not going to ask what happened in that cave... You know that I've never pretended to understand what's between you and Vincent. I just wanted to say..." He trailed off, unable to continue.

Catherine stopped and put her hand on his arm. She studied his face, unable to read what was there.

"What is it, Father?"

"Thank you so much." he choked, barely able to get out the words. Tears filled his eyes, and he took Catherine's hands, squeezing them tightly. Wordlessly, she let go of his hands and caught him in a tight embrace. He held her close, feeling her own tears against his neck.

"Catherine, I am so sorry. I've put you through so much, and you've given me back my son." the old man said through his tears. "I don't know how I've ever doubted your love for him. I swear that I'll never stand between you again."

Catherine tried to answer, tried to tell him that she understood, but her voice failed her and all she could do was hold on to him. She hoped that she understood that he had always had her forgiveness, that she knew that it was only his great love for Vincent that made him act that way.

"Thank you, Father." was all she managed as they separated. Jacob smiled again and wiped his eyes before putting his arm around Catherine's shoulders.

"Now, how about that supper." he said, and they once again headed toward the kitchen.

* * * * *

After eating, Catherine bathed and headed for bed. Without even stopping to dry her hair, she put on a soft tunnel nightgown and climbed into the bed in the guest chamber that had been prepared for her. She had stayed in this room after her father died, and it felt as familiar to her as her own bed in her apartment above. As she pulled the thick blankets over her, waves of relief and contentment washed over her, pulling her into a deep sleep.

She slept for almost fourteen hours, finally free from the tormenting dreams that had kept her from resting well for weeks. When she eventually awoke, she felt happy and refreshed, anxious to see Vincent. Tunnel clothes in her size had been left in her room the day before, and she dressed quickly. Seeing herself in the large dresser mirror, an unexpected delight filled her at the sight of herself in tunnel dress. She had worn them before, but had always felt a little strange, a little out of place. Today, though, they felt as natural as the suits and dresses she wore to her office every day.

Smiling cheerfully, she brushed her hair and pulled it back from her face, noticing that the dark circles which had been under her eyes for a week were finally gone. Finally, she left the guest chamber and headed toward Vincent's.

Peter and Jacob were there with Vincent. They had pulled the two large chairs away from his writing desk over to the bed, where Vincent say quietly. The two doctors were discussing what medical precautions should be taken until Vincent had recovered fully. They fell silent when they saw Catherine and smiled at her strangely. It took a moment for her to define what they were expressing to her -- reverence.

"Come in, Catherine. You belong here, too." Father said. His words warmed Catherine to her core. 'You belong here' -- how long had she waited to hear him say that?

She moved over to Vincent's bedside and sat beside him. He was sitting up now, though still looking tired. Their eyes met and she took his hand, the contact feeling like a completed current, amplifying the sensations of the bond. Peter smiled at them warmly before speaking.

"Well, our greatest fears are past now, but we still want to be careful. Mainly, my concern is that you recover fully, Vincent, before returning to your regular routine. I want you to stay in bed for the next few days, and take it easy -- no heavy work -- for the next few weeks. Are we in agreement?"

Father and Catherine nodded, looking toward Vincent.

"Of course I'll do whatever you decide is best." he said demurely. He hadn't spoken up to that point, and his voice felt like a caress to Catherine. Her smile changed as she gazed into his eyes, and Vincent didn't miss it. His mind reached out to hers, drawing her into the stream of their bond. The love projected to her there was so powerful that Catherine's breath drew in audibly. Father and Peter exchanged knowing glances and excused themselves, leaving Catherine and Vincent alone.

For a moment, neither spoke. Then Vincent began slowly, almost shyly, looking away from her. "Catherine, Father told me what happened, that you followed me, into that darkness." With visible effort, he met her gaze. "Why? How?..."

"Vincent," she said, stopping his words. "You already *know* why. I love you. I need you. I couldn't lose you to that darkness. As far as how I did it, well, I never even thought about that. It wasn't a choice. It was my destiny to meet you there, to bring you out." Catherine's voice was steady and even, and her eyes stayed with his.

Vincent was silent, her words and their meaning slowly sinking in. The memory of her kiss flashed in his mind, startling him with its intensity. He watched her face as the memory consumed her also. Her gaze dropped to his mouth, and he was overwhelmed, turning his eyes away. It was so much, having her love, too much for him to comprehend.

"I don't deserve you, Catherine." he finally said. "You've given me so much-"

"And you've given me everything." she said, her voice breaking. "Everything I never thought I would have." she whispered, leaning closer to him. A tear ran down her cheek as she reached toward him, lightly touching his face. She cupped his cheek and drew him closer to her, smiling lovingly. "Oh Vincent..."

Her lips brushed across his lightly, drawing a gasp from him. The sound sent a wave of delight and desire through her. Encouraged, she moved into his arms, feeling him stiffen, then relax. She didn't try to kiss him again, just stayed there, so close to him, their lips almost touching, not quite.

Vincent knew he should gently push her away, remove them from this situation, but he couldn't, not when her breath was warming his cheek and her hands stroking his hair and brow. Her eyes were half-closed, and she was smiling. So sure, so calm... there was no fear there. Every time he realized that, it astonished him again. It was unimaginable to him, to be loved and desired, and not feared.

His love for her welled up within the bond, and he saw the answering blush on her cheeks. She was becoming so sensitive to the bond now, he couldn't hide anything from her. Even now, he knew that she was well aware of how much he wanted her to close the small space between them, to once again gift him with her kiss. And he was well aware of her intention to stay exactly where she was, and wait for him to make the next move.

Catherine gazed at him patiently, lovingly, letting him take his time and move at his own pace. He needed this, she knew. He had to make this decision himself, take this step forward. Her hands stroked along his forehead and cheeks, framing his face tenderly. Taking advantage of her new sensitivity to their bond, she listened carefully to his emotions, feeling him weaken.

It was too much. He couldn't take it, not anymore. Despite his efforts, Vincent found himself moving forward to touch Catherine's mouth with his own. His action was much like Catherine's, a gentle brushing of his lips against hers.

Finally! Catherine slipped her hand to the back Vincent's neck, preventing a quick retreat. Holding desperately to the small measure of control she had left, she moved her lips against his, lightly at first, and then more strongly. A shiver of excitement went up her spine as she felt his hands moving to her back, pulling her further into his powerful embrace. Catherine made a small sound of surrender and wrapped her arms around his neck, at last giving in to the dizzying sensations. That motion stole Vincent's reserve, and he held her more tightly to him.

The sensations were incredible. They by far surpassed anything they had ever before experienced. Vincent felt a change taking place in his heart, fear melting away. For the first time, he was certain that what they were doing was right. He reached up to stroke Catherine's hair, savoring this newfound freedom to touch her.

Suddenly, Mary's voice called from the passageway.

"Vincent, I have your lunch, and Father says you have to-" Catherine and Vincent quickly separated, but the older woman wasn't blind, and immediately saw what she had interrupted. Her eyes widened and she took a step back.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I-" she said, flustered. Catherine quickly stepped in, rising from the bed and taking the tray from Mary.

"It's okay, Mary." she said gracefully, attempting to cover her own blush.

"I didn't mean to -- I mean-" Mary continued in stunned surprise. Catherine placed a hand on her shoulder and looked at her directly.

"Really, Mary. It's fine." she said, more composed now. Mary managed to collect herself somewhat, her surprise being overcome by her happiness for the two of them.

"Well, you make sure Vincent eats -- Father's orders. I'll see you later." she said, barely covering the joy bubbling through her words. She put her hand on Catherine's cheek, sighed deeply, and exited.

Catherine and Vincent looked at each other uncertainly for a moment. Suddenly, Catherine burst into laughter. She quickly crossed the room to his bed and flung herself into his arms.

"Catherine..." he began with amazement, but found that he didn't know what he was going to say. He held her instead, more tightly than he had ever dared to before. Catherine lay against his chest, her head tucked under his chin. Her joy washed over him, drawing him to her through the bond. It felt much like a night a while ago, when they had listened together to a summer concert in the park. They had been caught in the rain, much to Catherine's delight. She had laughed and played like a child, and then thrown herself into his arms. Vincent cherished the memory, but it was only a shadow of the joy they shared now. Now there was none of the hesitance or doubt that had been that night, when he had almost been afraid to hold her.

"Vincent," she said, when her laughter began to subside. "Something's different now, isn't it? You aren't afraid any more."

"No." he affirmed softly. "I'm not afraid."

Catherine moved then. She propped herself up on her arms so that she was looking down on him. Slowly then, she lowered her mouth to his, and they met in a tender kiss.

* * * * *
Three months later...

* * * * *

The Great Hall was completely dark, except for a cluster of candles at the front center of the room, standing in an ornate brass holder. Beethoven's 'Pathetique' played softly, and conversation was in hushed whispers as all waited for the ceremony to begin.

Suddenly, Vincent's voice was heard, though he wasn't yet seen.

"The night I found you was a dark one for both of us. You were hurt, dying, alone."

Catherine began to speak, her voice sweet and sure.

"And yet, I thank God every day of my life for that night. I found hope that night. I found you."

At either side of the front of the Hall, a candle was lit, illuminating both Catherine and Vincent.

Catherine wore a long dress of white silk. It was simply cut, fitting her closely in the bodice and falling at the waist in loose folds. Similarly, the sleeves were long and loose. She wore a wreath of red roses and baby's breath in her hair. Her crystal from Vincent hung just above the neckline, catching and reflecting the candlelight. Vincent's first sight of her took his breath away.

"From that moment on," Vincent continued, when he was once again able to speak, "I was changed. It was the end of my aloneness, and the beginning of a dream."

"A dream that we shared." Catherine said. "Though it seemed impossible, we dreamed of sharing a life together."

"We were from two different worlds. It seemed as though that distance could never be crossed. Yet the dream lived." Vincent added.

"The darkness almost took you, but our love conquered it." Catherine answered, a note of triumph in her voice.

They had reached each other, and stood facing each other before the cluster of candles. They reached forward to take each other's hands.

"I can never be without you again, Catherine." Vincent said. "Say that you'll be mine forever, that you'll accept my love, which I will give to you until my dying breath."

"I will." Catherine answered, her voice full of tears. "Vincent, I need you. I love you. Will you let me share your life, live in your world? Will you accept my love, forever?"

"I will." Vincent answered in a whisper.

Father stepped forward then, and placed a hand on each of their shoulders.

"From this moment on, you will be joined. No longer are you living separate lives. All that you have, all that you are, you must share with your partner. You must love, honor and accept all that they are, for the rest of your lives. Do you swear to this?"

"Yes." they answered in unison.

"May your life together be long and happy." he said with a proud smile. "May your love survive all storms; may your hearts never forget this day."

Catherine stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Vincent's neck. His arms slipped around her waist, and he bent to kiss her. In a rush, the kiss went from tender to passionate, and they clung to each other, oblivious to the cheering crowd. Time seemed to stand still, and for those precious moments, there was nothing in the world but Catherine, Vincent, and the bond their love had made.

Rejoin us in Janice's Main Chamber

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