(Author's note: This story takes place soon after "Visions of Love" which is the quest referred to. My Alternate Universe version also leaves Charles Chandler very much alive.)
A Halloween to Remember
“My dearest Catherine,
I will be below in the lower tunnels for the next few days.
Know that you are in my thoughts and always in my heart.
I will return in time for the Halloween party at Peter’s.
Nothing within my power will keep me away.
All My Love,
Catherine had been disappointed, but not really surprised, by the note from Vincent a few days after their newfound path toward life together. With faith and understanding, she immersed herself in her work to clear as much from her desk as she could. This Halloween, she hoped would be as special as the last one … if not more so.
* * *
Far below the city streets and the tunnels of home, Vincent spent his days wrestling with inner conflicts. His vision quest had resolved a lot of his doubts; he hoped that the time he had alone would help settle things more solidly in his mind.
The quiet and vastness of the nameless river had allowed him to be quiet and also, to roar. He had needed this time and had no doubt that he would need such trips in the future. It was his nature, to study his inner self.
He was a man … but not only a man.
He was quiet and studious … he roared.
His hands held those of children … they had also killed.
He was not beautiful … but Catherine found him so.
He loved Catherine with a pure and virtuous heart, so very deeply … he desired her in ways that made him blush and take himself to task for his beastly desires.
All parts of him converged into one knowledge. He was what he was, and Catherine loved all of him; that was the most important truth; he held onto it desperately with both hands.
He loved Catherine more than any other man could ever conceive to love. He was what she desired above all else. He had heard it from her lips as she talked to Father and to him. He felt it from her through the bond and saw it for himself when he looked into her eyes.
He understood the concept of wanting to be “claimed,” but the mechanics escaped him. He recognized the desire to claim, and feel claimed by her, every moment of every day. To be claimed by that one who loves and desires you above all …. The mere thought was intoxicating! Especially in regard to Catherine … her name alone filled his heart … his very soul responded to it.
Vincent had been slow in realizing that, long before he was aware of revealing it, the people around them had accepted the claim between Catherine and him. It was hard stepping forward when one felt so unworthy, but he realized he didn’t feel that way anymore. Slowly and surely, Catherine’s love, faith, and determination had opened his heart and his courage. How could he have denied her so long? Her heart’s desire mirrored his own.
She deserved everything! She wanted him. She deserved the greatest of loves. He knew his love for her was never-ending, selfish, and unselfish. There was no part of her he did not cherish and love beyond his life … and suddenly he understood. Catherine loved him in exactly the same way, if not more—if that were possible.
He stood quietly by the secluded underground river and allowed the gift of it all to fill him. His muscles lengthened and his posture grew strong. His chest filled with all the hopes and dreams he’d never allowed room for until it widened and made his shoulders broaden. His head tilted up as if accepting the blessings of Heaven above. His mind grew clear, his heart grew steady. The change inside showed in his outward appearance.
Suddenly anxious to leave this solitary place, he gathered his stuff together and started toward home … and Catherine. He had a party to attend.
* * *
Peter’s house was perfect for just such a rare but special event. The foyer was large enough for people to be received and announced, with a wide sweeping staircase leading down a few steps into the large open drawing room. A five piece band played a gentle bluesy number as guests began to arrive.
The guest list was just as well planned out. Along with his tunnel friends, Helpers, and old friends from Above, Peter had invited a few interesting guests to intermingle and provide those from Below the opportunity to meet an eclectic group of people. A world renowned chef, who would learn and teach while talking with William … a prominent internist and up-and-coming surgeon for Jacob to engage in conversation … an artistic weaver for Mary and Rebecca. Even a celebrity or two was thrown into the mix just for fun. Most people here tonight wouldn’t even know who they were … a good thing for celebrities who sometimes thought too much of themselves.
Halloween … it was perfect for Vincent and his family to blend in comfortably and safely with people in costume. The food was good, the company most interesting, and one guest in particular wasn’t averse to lending his well known voice to please the crowd for the obstetrician who had delivered his first grandchild.
Vincent arrived quietly from the tunnel entrance and made his way to the main room. It was a little past eight, and he knew Catherine was not there but would be arriving soon. He paused briefly in the small parlor that had been set aside for those Below to use for their coats and removed his cloak. There was an antique, free-standing full length mirror in the corner, which Vincent caught with his peripheral vision. He took a deep breath and turned slowly to face the reflection captured there.
He wore the clothes Mary had helped fashion for him—Catherine’s favorite ruffled shirt, his soft, brown thigh-high boots which she found “so sexy.” He suppressed a blush. The new blue suede vest and soft cream suede pants, they were form-fitting but very comfortable. He wore his brown leather, fringed gloves which Gentian had rendered in his painting. He was rather pleased at the women’s efforts. They always seemed to outfit him with an old world, romantic flair. They had, in their own way, always made him feel special. With a new-found confidence, Vincent knew Catherine would be pleased.
He took another moment to reacquaint himself with this different version of himself. His shoulders were back, standing tall and straight, head up and eyes steady. Yes, he would do. Vincent turned to go find his Lady.
* * *
Catherine tried to calm the butterflies dancing in her stomach. Vincent had sent a message. He would be there. She had missed him so much and couldn’t wait to see him.
Her father helped her from the limo and placed her hand on his forearm. He was again dressed in Confederate gray.
“Come, my lady daughter,” he boomed, leading her up the steps to Peter’s with pride. “The party awaits its most beautiful guest!”
Catherine giggled at her father’s antics. “Oh Daddy, you are such a ham!”
Pretending affront, Charles drew himself up with assumed self-importance.
“I beg your pardon. I … sniff … am never a ham!” Then, “Oh, I forgot my sword!” Charles left her at the door and hurried after his driver.
Still laughing softly, Catherine went in and handed her cloak to one of the greeters at the door. She paused quietly at the top of the stairs, looking out over the crowd in search of a certain mane of golden hair.
Waiting for her father, Catherine spotted several friends from Below and listened as the band struck up a particularly sultry rhythm. She glanced with surprise over at the musicians as she heard Rod Stewart’s voice begin its soulful rendition of “Just the Way You Look Tonight.” She caught his smile and briefly returned it before turning back in search of Vincent.
Suddenly, a few people in the crowd parted and there he was—looking up at her and making her heart skip a few beats.
Vincent couldn’t move for a moment. Her beauty and smile stunned him, rendered him speechless and immobile. The soft sparkling lights reflecting from the chandelier danced over and around her. As always, Catherine looked and held herself as royalty. Vincent knew it wasn’t assumed for the evening, she always looked like a princess from a fairytale to him.
She was draped in a fitted gown of ivory satin and velvet. She held the gown’s satin train in an above-the-elbow gloved hand. Her honey-blond tresses were swept up allowing only curled tendrils to escape, reminding him of the first night’s visit to the tunnels. A sparkling tiara nestled in the upswept style. Her neck and shoulders were bare except for the chain holding his crystal pendant nestled in her generous cleavage. She wore an ivory owl mask that did nothing to block the luminous green of her eyes as she looked at him.
“Someday, when I’m awfully low … when the world is cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you … and the way you look tonight.”
Catherine took a moment out of time to just look at the amazing man before her. He stepped forward after what felt like eons, but in truth was only a few seconds. His beautiful blue eyes didn’t waver from her face, never faltered as he moved toward her from across the room. Something was different, her breathing sped up as anticipation grew. Oh God, he was magnificent!
“You’re lovely, with your smile so warm … and your cheeks so soft. There is nothing for me but to love you … just the way you look tonight.”
Vincent stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked up at his beautiful Catherine. He was unaware, as was she, that they were the center of attention of almost everyone in the crowded room. An aura of enchantment glowed and shimmered around them. People held their breath as Vincent reached out a hand to the Lady on the step above him; released it in a sigh as she unhesitatingly stepped down to take it with a beautiful smile.
“With each word your tenderness grows … tearing my fears apart … And that laugh that wrinkles your nose … touches my foolish heart.”
Vincent drew her into his arms and started to move in a slow, graceful waltz. He held her far enough away so that he could just take in all that she was for a moment before drawing her in closer. That fellow with the spiky blond hair was doing a marvelous job, touching on the words in his heart.
Catherine moved with him without effort. She would willingly go wherever he led. She saw so much in his eyes and couldn’t stop looking into them. They held everything … love, desire, adoration, aching tenderness, and confidence. That look of confidence was new, and very, very welcome. Slowly, she slid her arm up his shoulder, her hand underneath his hair to stroke the warmth of his neck. It brought her in even closer to him, their bodies touching. Catherine saw his eyes darken, and he didn’t pull away. He actually tightened his embrace.
“Yes, you’re lovely, never ever change … keep that breathless charm … Won’t you please arrange it … cause I love you … just the way you look tonight.”
Charles and Peter stood over to the side at the top of the stairway, watching the couple, as was everyone else.
“Peter?” Charles’ voice was distracted as his eyes followed his daughter and the big man moving with her so fluidly.
“Yes, Charles.” Peter was just as distracted. He’d never really seen love so visible as that encircling the couple below.
“Who is that man my daughter is dancing with?” Charles’ eyes never left the couple, neither did Peter’s.
“That, my friend, is Vincent.” His voice held a note of pride.
“Vincent.” Charles murmured. “That’s the man who saved Catherine? He’s Catherine’s Vincent?”
“Yep … and I very much suspect that she’s ‘Vincent’s Catherine.’”
Catherine and Vincent remained focused only on each other. The music was slow and sensual and their bodies responded.
“With each word your tenderness grows … tearing my fears apart. And that laugh that wrinkles your nose … touches my foolish heart.”
Effortlessly, Vincent guided her through the other couples who appeared to be enjoying the dance, but he still managed to keep his eyes on Catherine. Every time he looked at her, she couldn’t help but notice the look of gentle awe that shown from the depths of his blue eyes. She realized that he felt the same dazed wonderment that she felt when she absorbed the surreal knowledge that not only was he real, he loved her!
Lovingly, she moved her hand from his nape to softly stroke his lower jaw then tilted his face as if to kiss him. Vincent gifted her with a glimpse of his elongated canines in a loving smile of his own and his eyes flickered down to her mouth.
“Yes, you’re lovely … never, ever change … Keep that breathless charm. Won’t you please arrange it … cause I love you. Just the way you look tonight … Darlin’ … Just the way you look tonight.”
Applause broke the spell, and Vincent took the opportunity to guide Catherine outside onto the patio. Finally, they had realized from the smiling faces turned toward them that they were not alone. He wasn’t embarrassed; he just wanted her to himself for a few moments.
Catherine linked her arm through his, and they moved slowly out to the softly lit shadows of the garden. She caught the ribbon that tied her mask in place and pulled, letting the mask dangle at her side.
“I’ve missed you, Vincent.” She squeezed his arm to her a bit tighter.
“I’m sorry I left so abruptly, but .…” He hesitated and then stopped to turn toward her.
Catherine lightly shook her head. “You don’t have to explain. You needed the time, and you’re back.” She smiled and moved closer until their bodies touched once more.
Vincent’s breath caught then huffed out. His arms enclosed her gently and she melted against him. He felt his body’s swift response to hers and could not fully exert his steel-like control. Without permission from his brain, he pressed infinitely closer, almost groaning in pleasure.
His voice was deep, his eyes a bit hazy as he asked the one thing he’d never asked before. “Catherine, why do you love me?”
Catherine could almost feel her heart crumble a little. How would she ever get him to understand just how truly magnificent he really was? Well, she would keep at it forever if need be. Swallowing the lump that had formed in her throat, she edged them backward a bit more into the shadows, hoping they would remain uninterrupted.
“I’ll answer that easily, Vincent, if first you will answer me …” At his nod she continued. “Vincent, why do you love me?”
A little surprised that she would have to ask, he answered easily.
“I love the warmth of your soul … your generous heart … your courage and your strength. I love the sound of your voice, the way you laugh …” He smiled a little and his eyes glowed. “I love the way you give one hundred percent of yourself to those around you.” He tilted his head but maintained steady eye contact. “I really love the way your eyes soften when you look at me. I love your beauty and grace, both inside and out.” He paused, a little embarrassed at his waxing poetic, but all of it was from the heart. “I could go on forever and still not find the words to explain why I love you.”
Catherine’s eyes welled with happy tears. The gift of his words touched her heart.
“Oh, Vincent .…” She pushed past the lump. “What you just told me is the answer to your own question.” She saw his puzzlement, so went on.
“Vincent, I love everything about you. I love the warmth of your soul … your generous heart. I love your courage and your strength. My knees melt at the sound of your voice, and my heart flutters when you smile or laugh.” She stroked his soft bristled cheek. “I love the way you give one hundred percent of yourself to those who depend on you .…” She saw slow comprehension dawn in his eyes. “And I really, really love the way you look at me. It lets me know that—out of all the people in the world—you chose to love me.” She stretched up and nuzzled into his neck, pressed a quick kiss then whispered. “I love your beauty and your grace, both inside and out .… But most of all, I love the way you love me.”
His eyes closed as he absorbed her words into his heart. He was so very glad he had found the courage to ask that question. When they opened again, Catherine saw his joy and acceptance of her gift.
Slowly, he lowered his head and his mouth met hers in a gentle, loving kiss. They both savored each other for a long moment before reluctantly parting. Vincent took a deep calming breath as his clear blue eyes held hers lovingly.
In the most beautiful of voices, he spoke. “Catherine, you honor me with the gift of your love … the gift of your heart. I love you beyond eternity. Please, Catherine, would you be my Beloved? Will you join with me in marriage?” His saw the green depths of her eyes fill with magical sparkles of happiness. He hadn’t really planned to ask her here, tonight. But it was right; he could feel it.
“Vincent!” She struggled to breath around the happiness that filled her chest. Her knees went weak and she threw her arms up and around his neck. “Oh,Vincent!” Her voice was muffled, and a joyous sob escaped into his shoulder as she hugged him tighter and turned her head. His strong arms held her steady in a gentle embrace.
Vincent’s voice rumbled in his chest as he pressed his face into her hair. “Was there an answer in there somewhere, my Catherine?”
She pulled back just enough to see his face and beam a radiant smile up at him. Happy tears made her eyes shimmer luminously in the low light.
“There is nothing in Heaven or on Earth that would make me more happy than to be able to call you ‘my husband.’ She cupped his face in her hands, and with every ounce of love she had, she sent it through the bond and her voice. “I love you, Vincent, and Yes! I’ll marry you anytime, anywhere.”
His heart lighter than he had ever experienced before, Vincent lifted her high up from the ground and held her to his heart. Mouths met in promise, love, and joy. Catherine’s arms were strong around his neck and she couldn’t suppress the pure happiness that escaped in a bubble of laughter and entered into him making him smile against her lips.