Catherine stirred and Vincent stilled his motion, not wanting to wake her. Her hair fell over his arm in a silken river and her scent still bore the tang of leaves and damp earth from their walk the previous day. She turned towards him, her head nestled against his chest. Vincent smiled; this was a usual, ordinary thing, lovers waking up together, and it seemed magical to him that in this place, he, too, was normal and ordinary.
“I'd never call you ordinary,” Catherine murmured against his chest.
It wasn't the first time she'd caught his thoughts, but it always startled him when she did. The bond between them was growing and changing in ways that not even he could predict. “What would you call me, then?” Mindful of his claws, Vincent stroked the smooth, soft warmth of her back. This, too, was freedom, the ability to love her, to touch her.
He groaned as she nuzzled his neck. “Mine.”
“You were asleep,” Vincent said, turning to kiss her.
“I was,” Catherine said, voice lowering to a near-purr, “but now I'm not. See?” Her green eyes were verdant in her passion as she gazed up at him.
“Yes, I see very well,” he rumbled. His fingers traced the faint roughness of her one remaining scar, then trailed down the softness of her skin. Her scent changed slowly, coiling around them and Vincent understood; she had arisen from her sleep wanting him. The miracle of that was enough to halt his breath---that she had seen, and accepted, all that he was and wasn't, and still wanted to share her life with him. Still wanted--needed--to share this with him. “You need this,” he said wonderingly.
“'This' is more properly termed 'making love,'” Catherine said as primly as any Victorian schoolmarm, or at least as primly as a schoolmarm could sound, naked with the sun casting halos on her fair hair. “I want you, Vincent.” Her hand drifted lower and she chuckled, a full, joyous, wicked sound that he'd never tire of hearing. “I see that you...need me too.”
“Was there a doubt?” Vincent murmured against her throat and felt the last need for words withdraw as the bond opened full and bright between them. That soft warm scent just there, the scent that was just hers, rose in a wave and he inhaled it, tasting the sweetness of her desire. It was addicting, her desire, and it fed his own as he nuzzled against her, tasting the warmth of her skin and all her secret places. Her nails dug into his scalp and back and the low moans she made rose over him like the tide, pulling him in the undertow as he moved within her. They came to that brightness and it was like falling, but not, as the light shimmered and danced between them.
The echoes of his own roar and her hoarse shouts were still vibrating in the room when Vincent put his head upon her chest and listened to the fast galloping of her heart. “Am I heavy?” he asked.
Her hands wove a comforting, soothing rhythm in his hair. “No, love,” Catherine breathed. “You're light. You're always light for me.”
They had lain together, talking of inconsequential things, for nearly an hour when Catherine remembered the leaves pinned to the drawn curtains downstairs. She sat up and tugged at his hand. “Come downstairs with me, love.” To his surprise, she didn't move to put a robe on and at his bemused glance, she chuckled. “Vincent, we're five miles away from anyone else and if you're worried about scaring the wildlife, we've already done that today.”
Vincent looked down at himself and suddenly felt as ungainly as he had that day, long ago, when he'd first realized that the other boys weren't getting fur and didn't have claws and couldn't roar. But he made an effort to shake off the feeling. Catherine loved his differences. “Very well,” he said, walking with her down the stairs, the hardwood cool under his bare feet. He heard the muted whirr as the central heating came on. It would be a chilly day today.
Catherine took him by the hand and led him into the library. What he saw stunned him. The leaves, pinned to the background of their linen curtains, filtered the incoming sunlight into the soft, muted colors of fall, reflecting gold and red and green on the hardwood floors. “It's like stained glass,” he breathed, drawing her close to him.
“Yes,” she replied, her face nestling against the soft fur of his chest. “My grandmother wasn't particularly religious. But she always said we should be thankful for creation and for the miracles it brings us.” Catherine stood on tiptoe to kiss him. “As I am for you.”
She was small, she was slight, yet she had brought him back from the brink of madness and despair more times than he cared to remember. And Catherine was grateful for him? The wonder of that struck him anew. “Catherine, I...”
One finger pressed to his lips stopped his words. “Don't make me out to be a hero, Vincent. I love you. I saved you because in losing you, I would have lost the best part of myself. Everything I learned about being strong, about what it means to truly love, I've learned from you.”
“I was going to say I love you,” he said mildly. “And you are my heart's core.”
Catherine smiled and the impishness was back in her eyes. “Now that we're done complimenting each other, how about you kiss me again?”
And so he did.
Vincent towel-dried his hair, listening to the sounds of Catherine puttering in the kitchen. They'd made love once more after their first shower. Catherine had laughingly chucked her towel at him, insisting now she needed another. Later, while finally she dressed, he tried in vain to wring the moisture from his thick dense hair.
While his hair dried, Catherine finished making breakfast. “It's toast today,” she said. “We're out of eggs.”
“Toast is fine,” Vincent replied. “What would you like to do today?”
“Well, your cloak is finally dry. How about a walk around the lake?”
Vincent thought of Devin and Huck and Jim on the Mississippi. “I'd like that.”
She touched his hand. “Devin made me promise to take you there.”
“I'm not surprised,” Vincent said. “We made this raft out of the spare wood that not even Solomon—our carpenter, at the time---would touch. It turned out there was a good reason—the wood wasn't dry enough. We got on the raft, and it sunk about three minutes later.” He shook his head at the memory. “Devin was furious. It'd taken us the better part of a week to scavenge the materials and it all went to waste.”
“But it wasn't totally a waste, was it?” Catherine asked softly.
“No. Devin made me a part of his dreams, and for that, I'll be forever grateful.”
The autumn sky was a bright, stunning blue, the colors of the leaves reflected in the still lake water. “So what other things did you and Devin get into when you were a kid?” Catherine asked as they walked.
Vincent's mouth quirked. “The usual. Water balloon fights. Cowboys and Indians. Father rued the day he'd read The Three Musketeers when he caught us playing with real swords.”
Catherine's eyes opened wide. “Real swords? How on earth.....?”
“I used to go exploring when the other children were Above. I found them in an old chamber that's long since flooded. Devin and I thought they were prop swords, of the kind our helpers used to bring down when a theater production would end. They weren't. They were very old and very real.”
“Did you hurt yourself?” Catherine asked.
Vincent nodded. “I still have the scar—that hairline scar on my right shoulder. I don't know who was more frightened, Devin or I.”
Catherine thought of all the kids below, and the inherent dangers of the place. “No wonder Father's all grey. I'm surprised he has any hair left at all.”
“I often wonder how he survived us,” Vincent said wryly. “Devin and I weren't the only children raised in the tunnels. There was Pascal and Livvy and Winslow and Rebecca and Ike and Stuart and Janelle, and others as time went on. We had some injuries but for the most part, we all survived with no more than the usual bumps and bruises.”
Catherine chuckled, remembering her own childhood of prim and proper dresses, of dance lessons and horse lessons and debutante balls. Sword fights, real or imagined, had never played a part in her childhood. “You will hide the knives when we have children, won't you?” she asked..
A light breeze stirred the ends of Vincent's mane as they walked. They stopped once, while he skipped a stone across the lake. “Who taught you that?” she asked, bending to tie her shoe. “Devin?”
“No,” Vincent said. “Winslow.”
He bent his head then, hiding his face under the copper curtain of his mane. The brief wash of guilt reached Catherine through their bond and disappeared. “He was a good man,” Catherine said, remembering the gruff blacksmith.
“He was,” Vincent said. “I miss him still.”
“Of course you do.” She pulled on his wrist to make him stop walking. “Vincent, you do know it wasn't your fault, right?”
He didn't answer for a bit. Finally, he said, “I know it wasn't my fault, that the fault lies with Paracelsus and those who served him. But I wish I could have left Winslow behind.”
Catherine's hand tightened on his. “He wouldn't have left you alone to face that risk.”
Vincent did stop, then, his blue eyes dark as the storm clouds beyond them. “I know. After Devin left...he took me under his wing, more or less. I just wish I'd been able to protect him.”
They walked in silence for a time after that. The wind had picked up, coming off the lake in deep cooling drafts. Catherine shivered; she had forgotten how frigid the breeze could be when it came off the water. Vincent stopped and drew her closer to nestle her under the warmth of his cloak. “Better?” he asked. She nodded, loving the feel of his warmth and the steady, slow beat of his heart. How many nights had they spent on her balcony in the late fall and winter, with only his cloak as shelter?
Vincent tensed, shoulders stiffening and head tilted. It was a posture of extreme alertness and Catherine had only seen its like before when danger threatened. “We're being watched,” he whispered.
Click here for Chapter Eleven....