by Thomas Mc

Author's Note: This story starts one year after my 'Though Lovers Be Lost (Revised)' story, and one month after the end of 'Candle to Candle' by Edith Crowe. (-) Step by careful step, over the last year since the death of Paracelsus and Vincent's collapse, Catherine has made her dreams come true one by one. Though Catherine saved Vincent and brought him back from the abyss, it was not without cost. For a year Catherine has kept the truth of that night from Vincent for fear of what the secret might do to their, still fragile, happy life together.

The day had been extremely trying for her both physically and emotionally and it was still early afternoon. In fact the whole week had been hard. She was currently working on two very tragic child abuse cases and the depositions had left her emotionally drained.

The first case had involved a step-father that had been physically beating both his five year old and his seven year old step-sons. The original report had come from the hospital emergency room doctor. The boy's mother had also been abused, yet it had taken all of Catherine's skill and persuasiveness to finally get the mother to testify. Catherine found it hard to understand how a mother could allow that kind of abuse to go on. There was more than enough evidence to get this guy but she wanted the mother's testimony to nail this case shut. Also the mother's testimony would help keep her out of jail for neglect.

The second case had been the worse of the two. A thirteen year old girl named Penny had lost both her parents to an automobile accident when she was ten years old. That was the same age Catherine had been when her mother had died. With no other known living relatives she had been placed in a foster home. Unfortunately the man who ran the foster home was the worst kind of pedophile. Listening to the girl's testimony had torn at Catherine's heart till she could barely stand it.

She was certain that in these two cases at least she had the bad guys nailed good and proper. She should have no trouble having them both put away for a very long time. But even so the psychological damage to these kids would take years to heal if they could be healed at all. She just wished there was more she could do for them. Maybe after all the hubbub had died down she could get some help through her friends in the tunnel community.

The only thing that had gotten her through the day had been the loving support Vincent had been sending her through the link they shared. It helped to buoy her up and keep her steady when the testimony got particularly hard to take.

As she sat at her desk soaking up the emotional support Vincent was projecting she began thinking about how Vincent had first learned that trick. It was shortly after the first time they made love that Catherine discovered she had gained the ability to sense his emotions all the time. It had been a revelation. She had learned what it was like for Vincent to always be aware of her emotions. She also found it amazing that she could get used to something so remarkable in such a short time. Now it was like a constant very faint background hum that was always there but hardly noticeable unless some particularly strong emotion forced its way to the foreground. Also when she concentrated her thoughts on Vincent the background would sharpen to crystal clarity. She had also learned about its limitations. She knew what he felt but not what he thought and emotions could be very misleading if you didn't know the thoughts behind them.

Though she had been new to this aspect of their link, it was Catherine that first discovered that she could intentionally project an emotion to Vincent. It was like being in a place filled with a low murmur and suddenly using a bullhorn to voice a message. She had used it to send occasional little bursts of love to Vincent just to tell him she was thinking of him. Shortly after she started doing that Vincent had picked up the trick. Today he was using it to soothe her troubled heart.

Jenny had once asked her how she could take the loss of privacy. Catherine had responded that the lack of privacy was far outweighed by the comfort of always being able to feel his loving presence there in the back of her mind and know that Vincent was always aware of her.

Joe came by her desk several times during this last week to offer her his concerned support. He knew how hard these types of cases were on Catherine. After she finished writing up the results of the last deposition he came by again. This time he looked down at her, compassion written plainly across his face. "Why don't you knock off for the rest of the day? This can wait until Monday. Go home and let that guy of yours rub your back." He raised one eyebrow. "Or whatever."

Catherine was so drained emotionally that she faltered momentarily, before she recovered. She looked up. "Guy, Joe?"

Joe smiled back. "You know, Radcliffe, that guy you refuse to admit exists. Now get out of here. I don't want to see your carcass until Monday morning."

With a sigh of relief, Catherine packed up and headed home.

As Joe watched her leave the office, he shook his head in amazement. That woman was incredible. At work she had passion to burn. She attacked every case she worked on like it was personal, and she was relentless. But that passion came at a cost, it meant that every case was personally draining, yet she always saw it through. Her sense of triumph, when she had saved another innocent from the clutches of some fiend, was so radiant it would light up the whole office for days.

Joe knew how much these two cases had taken out of her and he wondered where she came by the tremendous reserves she seemed to draw from when things got tough. Several times he had seen her beaten down by the weight of what she was dealing with. Then out of nowhere she would draw on that hidden reserve of strength and once more enter the fray.

Today, though, had been too much even for her endless reserves. Her poor attempt to hide her reaction to his 'guy' comment had illustrated to him just how much the day's testimonies had beaten her down. Normally she was much better at controlling her reactions to his verbal volleys. He could only admire and envy the mysterious man that Catherine worked so hard to keep secret. He just knew that someone named Vincent was very important to Catherine and that she had a special guy in her life. Whether or not they might be the same person was unknown. But that was all just speculation. Joe only hoped that some day he could find some woman as special as Catherine. Well, good luck to the both of them. He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer to whatever god was out there to look after her, keep her safe and happy. Sighing to himself, he went back to the brief he was working on.

~ o ~

All the way home, Catherine fretted about how badly she had flubbed her reaction to Joe's comment about her guy. At the same time she could feel Vincent's love slowly rejuvenating her flagging spirits. By the time she entered their home she had pretty much regained her equilibrium.

Catherine was home now and Vincent was looking forward to a quiet weekend together in their brownstone. This place with it's direct access to the tunnels had become the perfect bridge between their two worlds as well as their refuge and home.

Catherine had still been tired and drained when she got home but an hour of quiet cuddling had mostly restored her spirits. Vincent could tell that she was still a little on edge but she was bouncing back. Later, as he heard Catherine singing in the shower, he smiled. He loved hearing her sing. She had such a lovely singing voice which she rarely employed.

He thought about their first month as husband and wife. A whole month and he still felt the need to verify that it was all real. Their honeymoon at Catherine's lake house in Connecticut had been glorious even if it had rained five of the eight days they were there. He thought again of that last day running through the fields and woods on that huge estate, going skinny dipping in the lake, and making love on the grassy bank that evening. He smiled as he remembered lying in the grass with Catherine and watching that beautiful sunset. These were things he would remember with joy for the rest of his life.

Vincent had known that Catherine was well off financially and he had heard reports of her Connecticut estate from the two expeditions of tunnel children she had taken to it. But it wasn't until he had seen the extent of the place for himself, as well as this grand old brownstone that faced Central Park, that he realized how truly wealthy she really was. And yet to her it was only important in as far as it allowed her to help those people and causes she cared about. Every day he learned something new about his wife and the more he learned about her the more he admired her. Sometimes, deep inside, he wondered what this magnificent woman could possibly see in him.

He was considering finally taking her to the crystal cavern over the Memorial Day weekend, since she still had not yet seen it. That gave him two weeks to get ready for the three day round trip.

The singing in the bathroom had stopped when Vincent detected an absence of emotion from their bond which got him curious. Catherine had learned how to clamp down on her emotions when she didn't want to worry him.

Vincent walked over to the half opened door. As he looked in he saw Catherine standing there examining her back in the bathroom mirror and detected a flash of anxiety from her before it was hastily shut off.

"Catherine?" Vincent softly called as he pushed open the door.

Catherine looked around startled and in a panic grabbed for her robe on the wall hook. The robe didn't come free immediately and, pulling herself off-balance, she started to fall over.

Vincent rushed in and caught her. As he was helping her back to her feet, he could feel her twisting around in his arms as she tried to pull the bathrobe across her back. He could also clearly sense her anxiety now. Gently he turned her around, the whole time feeling her resisting as well as sensing an increase in her unease, even a hint of fear. Then he gently pulled her bathrobe off and looked at her back. It took him a couple of seconds to recognize what he was seeing. Too faint to be visible except under bright lights like those in the bathroom, he could see scars running down the upper half of her back. This was probably the first time he had gotten a good look at her back under such bright lights, which would explain why he had never noticed them before.

"Catherine, your back!"

There were eight long scars that ran from her shoulders halfway down her back. Vincent realized that they had to have been caused by his own claws. The image of what he had done to Lisa raced through his mind and the old fears of harming Catherine came flooding back with a vengeance. In horror at what he had done, Vincent yanked his hands away from her like he had just burned them.

"No!" He breathed as his own anguish welled up. Shaking his head, he started backing away from her.

Catherine felt Vincent pulling away from her and she could clearly sense the fear and anguish Vincent was feeling. Then she could feel him closing down, shutting himself off from her. She lost all control over her own emotions as they exploded into full blown fear and despair. She whirled around and threw her arms about him.

"NO, Vincent! I can't lose you! Not now!" she cried. She was suddenly clinging to him so tightly she nearly squeezed the breath from him.

Vincent tried to push her away from him but she was clinging to him so tightly there was no way he could dislodge her without hurting her. She broke into choking sobs against his chest. The link was wide open both ways now and Vincent felt wave after strong overwhelming wave of fear and desperation to the point of panic coming from her. The only other time he had felt anything near this strong coming from her was when her father had died.

She was sobbing into his chest over and over again. "I can't lose you. Not you too."

Her need was so great and her sobs so heartbroken he was unable to ignore them. As he slowly, tentatively, wrapped his arms around her back he could feel her panic slowly begin to subside, but her fear was still present.

He found that he could barely bring himself to touch her. His fear and disgust at his own destructive power and her fear of him began to haunt him again as it had before. He could feel his own reaction coming between them. He was so afraid of hurting her that he was holding her like she was an egg that could crack at the slightest pressure. He was holding back, closing off.

Catherine could feel fear, disgust and self doubt clearly over the link and her own fears were again beginning to rise within her. They were both feeding and reacting off each other's emotions like a runaway train heading for disaster.

"Please!" she sobbed. "Hold me like you mean it … Like you still love me." She begged broken heartedly.

Her frantic need was plain both in her voice and through their bond. He couldn't ignore her and he couldn't deny her need. As he held her tighter he could feel the fear in her beginning to subside again. That's when he realized that it wasn't fear of him that he was sensing in her, but rather it was fear of losing him that was overwhelming her. He could feel her slowly get her emotions under control, but the undercurrent of loss and fear remained.

His mind was swirling with self doubt and worry but he realized that right now his physical embrace and the reassurance of his feelings of love was what she needed and wanted the most. Gently he picked her up, the bathrobe falling unnoticed to the floor, and carried her to their bed. He sat down on the edge of the bed, setting her in his lap. For several minutes he sat there just holding her shuddering body and gently rocking her.

As they sat there he tried to force his own fear and doubt to the side. He knew that right now he needed to keep his own emotions under control. Deep within himself Vincent was fighting a battle with his own deepest fears. It was a desperate battle and Vincent knew that their future depended on the outcome. It was a battle that was taking place in plain sight because Catherine could sense the emotions as they played out inside him, just as he could sense every emotion that was passing through her right now. But he had just learned that the emotions were subject to misinterpretation if you didn't know the thoughts behind them.

Slowly she began to speak. "I'm sor …" she made a sound that was halfway between a sob and a hiccup. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner … I was so afraid you would go away like everyone else …" Her arms, wrapped around his neck, were holding on for dear life as her whole body shuddered again. As Vincent continued to hold her in his lap and comfort her he began to understand that this was something that went far deeper than he had realized. She had lost everyone that she had ever loved. This had left an emotional scar much deeper than the physical ones on her back. He had seen it before when she broke down on the anniversary of her mother's death and again in her reaction to her father's death.

She finally got herself under enough control to go on. "I kept m … meaning to tell you about it … but … I was so afraid of how you would react that I kept putting it off." She sniffled a couple of times. "I … I guess I was hoping they would just f … fade away and you would never know."

Her emotions were still so raw and unchecked. Except when they made love, he had never experienced her so totally emotionally naked and exposed to him. Listening to her words and her emotions he realized with a start that he had reacted exactly like she had feared he would. If not for the overwhelming emotions radiating from her he might have closed in on himself and this new life they had built would have collapsed like a house of cards. Maybe it was just as well he hadn't found out about those scars on her back sooner. Even now with half a year of experience to support him, the thought that he had done that to her back, hurt him deeply and he dreaded finding out how it had happened.

Vincent finally forced all of his own fears deep into the background as he allowed his love for her to rise to the top and he started to caress her and to reassure her. "I'm here for you, Catherine." He was rocking her again like he would an upset child. "I won't leave you. I could never leave you." He nuzzled her hair. "We belong together." He continued to battle his own doubts as he talked to her. "I love you. … I will always love you." He tightened his hold on her as he began sending waves of his love to her over the link. "I could never leave you." As he said it he knew how close he had just come to doing exactly that.

Finally Catherine had herself under better control. She lifted her head and looked up at him. Looking into her eyes, he did the only thing he could do. He kissed her as thoroughly as he could. They held that pose until he felt her body finally relax within his arms.

Eventually he pulled his head back. As he looked into her eyes his love and his fear plainly written on his face he spoke. "Catherine, how did this happen? … When did this happen?" He forced himself to ask. Though he feared the answer deep in his soul, he needed to know.

A little timidly at first she began telling him about the time he had retreated into the deeper tunnels after killing Paracelsus. "When I found you, you had your claws at your own throat trying to kill yourself. I could see the fear and madness … the self loathing in your eyes." She pressed her head to his shoulder and shuddered as that image from a year ago came back to haunt her, drawing a choked sob from her. Then she looked up at him again. The pain of that time showed clearly in her eyes. "I was panicked. I thought I was going to lose you. I charged, crashing into you and then forced myself between you and your own claws." She raised her hand to touch his cheek. "Your claws were still turned inward and they scraped across my back when I forced myself up under them. … It was my actions, not yours, that caused those marks."

Her tone became a plea. "You were in such bad shape then that I knew the knowledge of what happened to me down there could destroy you … could destroy us." Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. "There was no way I was going to let anything hinder your recovery or drive us apart." She again rested her head on his shoulder her voice barely above a whisper. "I needed you too much to ever let anything happen to you."

For a while they just stayed there like that as he mulled over what she had said. Most of that period was just a hazy blur but he clearly remembered the time he saw the blood spots on the back of her shirt. She had told him that it was from bumping into the walls of a darkened tunnel. He realized that she had done everything she had to in order to save him, and he had to admit that her actions had been the right ones at the time.

After a while, he thought he should get her to talk about her fears. He suggested, "Maybe the loss of your mother is still haunting you, like that time you went to Nancy's home for Rebecca's birthday party. It seemed that the difficulties of our situation was causing you so much pain and was going to destroy us."

"The death of my mother really affected me, but it wasn't the difficulties of our situation that caused my breakdown. It was the way I could feel it coming between us. The fear that it was driving us apart. I came back when I realized that it was the fear of losing you that was hurting me so much. That's when I decided that whatever happened, I would make it work." She looked up at him. "It was your own fears and doubts that were coming between us." She took his face in both her hands. "You fear that the dark beast within you might hurt me because you believed it was stronger, but you're wrong, Vincent. Every time the dark beast rose up, even when you were out of your mind from drugs or mold spores, you still couldn't hurt me, because your basic humanity, your gentle nature, goes far deeper and always wins out." Catherine prayed that her words were getting through to him.

She was again becoming desperate. "Don't you see, the scars are proof of what I'm saying? You could have torn me to shreds." She realized how risky her words were becoming, because she could sense his alarm, but she had to see this line all the way through now. "But even in the depths of your madness, you sensed my pain and immediately pulled back your claws so that all I got were these minor scratches." Vincent could feel Catherine's desperate need for him as well as her sincerity as he listened to her words.

Vincent thought about what she had just said for several minutes. As he sat there thinking he realized that the force of Catherine's reaction had pushed his own fears to the side and probably prevented what might have been a disastrous retreat from her that could have destroyed their relationship. "Maybe you're right. My greatest fear has always been that I might hurt you, however unintentionally." He looked into her eyes. "I have begun to realize that life is never without risks. Some risks are unavoidable, and some risks can be controlled." With one furry hand he wiped the tears from her cheeks. A job which they suddenly seemed to be perfectly suited for. "I keep remembering times when I have injured others that I cared about, but you are right. The emotional scars are very deep and hard to ignore." He smiled at her, his sharp canines peeking out. "You have taught me that I am capable of love and you have also taught me that the rewards make some risks worth taking."

Vincent wrapped his arms around her and held her tight for several minutes. He could feel that the fear was eroding away as he talked. "We all live with the scars of our past. The emotional scars are the deepest and the hardest to overcome. ... My fear of hurting those I love ... And your fear of losing those you love ... Those fears run very deep within us but I think our love will overcome them. I think I now believe we will survive and with time we will heal these scars in each other."

Vincent could tell that she was much more relaxed now. After a few minutes of silence Catherine began to speak. "It's strange but as desperately as I wanted those marks to go away before you saw them, a part of me didn't want to lose them. I always looked at them as a symbol of how much you loved me, how much I was willing to risk for you and for your love." She again had her arms around his neck. "They are my proof that no matter how bad it gets, I can always count on your love to protect me." She gave him a single gentle kiss. "It's just like the scar by my left ear symbolized the beginning of my new life with you after the attack. When the surgeon told me on the eve of our first anniversary that he could fix it, I refused."

Vincent looked at her quizzically. "How did we go for so long without me noticing those scars?"

Catherine looked down. "Luck, mostly. We first made love six months after it happened so they were already healed. You've almost never seen me naked in bright light. It's usually by firelight or candle light. That last sunny day on our honeymoon I never turned my back to you, except when we were in the water."

Vincent stood up and placed her face down on the bed. Then with one claw barely touching her skin, he gently traced each scar from her shoulder down to its end then he kissed that point. He could see the goose bumps rise and feel the passion in her rise as well from his touch. Softly he spoke to her. "These will forever remind me of how strong and unconditional your love for me is, but it will also represent my pledge of unconditional love for you as well." Then he began to rub her back while projecting waves of love over their link, to work the last of the tension from her body and her mind.

After several minutes of this Catherine chuckled and Vincent sensed a surge of amusement. "What?" he asked gently, his curiosity aroused over this sudden change in mood.

"When Joe sent me home this afternoon, he told me to have my guy rub my back," she replied.

"Sounds like good advice to me," Vincent responded as the movement of his hands took on a decidedly more erotic range of motion.

After a minute Vincent spoke again. "In the time we've been together, I've learned that we can never lie through our link. We can hide our emotions, we can occasionally misinterpret them, but we can not project false ones. Any emotion we feel from each other is genuine. The feelings of love we project to each other are real."

As she lay there enjoying his attentions, he could feel the love and desire building in her.

Suddenly she flipped over on her back and began undoing his clothes. Very soon pieces were flying in all directions. When the last piece was gone she pulled him down on top of her, kissing him passionately. As before when they began making love the link between them opened wide both ways. This time even the emotional scars were clearly present and open. As they began to merge both physically and emotionally, the scars deep within melted away just a little bit more. They were still there but they were not as deep or as painful as they had been. It would take time but this crisis was over and they had survived it.

Later as they lay together, she was once again laying face down as he stroked her back letting his hand occasionally drift down well below where the scars ended. As he looked down at her he realized that they had ceased to represent his fear of the beast within. If anything they reminded him of Catherine's unwavering trust in his love. They were now just simple old scars. Their love had seen them through and the healing had already begun.


'Beauty and the Beast' and its characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and Republic Pictures.

'Candle To Candle' was written by Edith Crowe. I set my story in the same timeline/universe as the stories by Edith Crowe because I like the overall storyline that she set up in her series of stories.

No infringement on copyrights is intended. This story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans. Original concepts and story elements may be used by other authors as long as appropriate credit is given.