He made himself a cup of tea and sat down at the old oak table. Rain slid down the warbled glass of the kitchen windows. Vincent turned, feeling more than seeing Catherine’s presence behind him. “Hi,” she said sleepily, wearing an oversize robe that made her look like a young girl instead of the woman who’d writhed in their passion only the day before. Her hair was tied back in a sloppy braid and stray tendrils of her honey hair drifted about her face, stirring with her breath.
“I didn’t want to wake you,” Vincent said.
“The storm did that,” she yawned. “How many storms have you seen?” Catherine sat next to him on the long, narrow seat and relaxed into his warmth.
“Not many,” he replied, holding her close, content to watch the play of light and water over her features.
They watched the rain for a time as the lightning flashed and made everything bright and dark, light and shadow. “I remember that first storm, the one you and I saw together,” Catherine said.
“Yes,” Vincent said. “I wondered what I'd done to earn such fortune as to have you in my arms.”
She smiled, nestling further against him. “You were...just you. And you let me be me. I've always loved the rain, but I never felt free to dance in it until I met you.”
“Dance with me now,” Vincent murmured against the softness of her hair.
Vincent smiled. “No, here, in the kitchen.” He pulled her gently to her feet and gathered her near to him, and they moved to the music of the rain and the night.
Catherine awoke shortly before dawn to a grinding ache, low in her belly and an equally fierce backache. Wonderful, she thought. Though I suppose it's only fair. Vincent gets carsickness, cold showers, splinters and spiders. I get cramps and a backache. Gahh, couldn't this have waited until we got back to New York City? She went into the bathroom, and when she returned she found Vincent, wide awake and concerned. “You're not feeling well, Catherine.”
She nodded. Of course he knew. “You're right,” Catherine sighed, climbing back into bed and the warmth of his body curved against hers. “It's just that time of the month, Vincent. The first few days are never fun.”
“I'm sorry it hurts you so much,” he murmured, rubbing one calloused hand into the center of her backache, where the muscles jumped and bunched in a painful rhythm. The pain began to ease off, just a little.
Catherine tilted her head back to look at him. “Have you felt this before from me?”
He nodded, continuing his massage. “Yes. At first, I didn't...recognize what I was feeling, but it didn't take me long to figure out what it was.”
In spite of herself, Catherine chuckled. “There are obviously some advantages to being a doctor's son.”
Vincent smiled. “There are. What do you normally do when this comes?”
“There's some pain medication that helps; I just took it. A heating pad helps too.” She looked up at him. “Why do you ask?”
He looked mildly uncomfortable. “Rebecca and Olivia were discussing their...techniques for pain relief with Samantha the other day.”
From the expression on his face, Catherine knew he hadn't meant to hear their conversation. “They don't know how acute your hearing is, do they?”
“Some do,” Vincent replied, the pain in her lower back receding more with his touch. “Pascal, for instance; it's the main reason why he'll ask me to fill in for him on the pipes if he's not feeling well. And Mouse..” He chuckled. “When he first came to us, he was a shadow, stealing food and supplies. No one else could hear him move, but I could hear his clothing moving against the rock. I'm afraid most people thought I was hearing things.”
Beneath his words, Catherine thought she sensed an undertow of other meanings: Vincent, the different one, the one who was so like his tunnel family and so unlike them, the eternal outsider. “You've had to hide a lot even there, haven't you?” she asked softly.
In a gentle, soothing rhythm, Vincent rubbed her back. “We all hide, Catherine. We all have secrets, things we don't share with our friends or family. My...secrets are no worse than some others.”
She toyed with a lock of amber hair that had fallen over his shoulder. “It's not quite the same thing, Vincent. You're hiding an essential part of yourself, your differences. And there's nothing wrong with them...you shouldn't need to hide them. Not among people who love you.” Catherine touched his high cheekbones, bristled with fine, soft fur. “I love your differences.”
“I know you do, and I can't tell you what a miracle that is to me,” Vincent replied, kissing the top of her hair. “But consider what you're asking. Should I tell Cullen to stop teasing Samantha when he teaches her because I can smell that her period has come and I know she's not anywhere near her normal good humor? Should I tell Lena that her trysts with Warren are not as quiet as she believes them to be, because I---and only I---can hear them? What possible good would that do?”
Catherine chuckled. “Well, in Cullen's case, it might save him from being stabbed with his awl. Not that I'd do it, but there have been plenty of times I've thought about impaling Joe with one of his pens.” She paused. “Wait. Lena and Warren?”
“Lena and Warren,” Vincent confirmed, smiling. “Warren joined our community shortly after I recovered from my illness; he's been a great help to Kanin.”
“And a bigger help to Lena and little Cathy, I'd imagine,” Catherine said. “That's good to hear. Lena deserves to be happy.”
His eyes twinkled. “And the fact that Warren helped her over her infatuation with me is purely incidental, I imagine?”
Catherine grinned. “Well, I don't care how it happened, I'm just glad it did.”
“As am I,” Vincent said. “I've never seen Lena so happy, or Warren. They are very good together and there has been some speculation that they'll marry soon.”
“Oh, how wonderful for them both,” Catherine replied, smiling. “So what are weddings like below? We were about to discuss that a few days ago but---“
“But someone decided to….distract me first,” Vincent said, gazing at her with a decidedly sultry look in his eye. “Not that I’m complaining.”
“Of course not,” Catherine said, giggling. “But as I’m hardly in any shape at the moment for that sort of…distraction, how about you tell me now?”
Vincent smiled, brushing back the hair back from her face. “Very well. Our weddings tend to be relatively informal, for the most part. Sometimes a couple will just announce to Father that they’ve married themselves. He makes a notation in our records and that’s all that’s required by our customs. Other times, couples choose a full ceremony with Father or, more rarely, a helper who can officiate at weddings above.” His voice, never loud unless he was angered or afraid, became softer. “Our wedding will not be legal above, Catherine. Does that trouble you?”
She shook her head. “It isn’t a piece of paper that makes a marriage, Vincent. My commitment to you isn’t something I need a license for.” Catherine touched his face, feeling his disquiet through their bond. “Vincent. I want to celebrate our marriage in front of our friends and family. However that happens, I leave to you. What do you want?”
“You,” he said, and kissed her forehead.
Vincent left Catherine sleeping, and walked downstairs. They'd been at the cottage long enough that he knew where the creak was loudest in the old wooden stairs and he neatly sidestepped it. Catherine's pain had eased enough to let her rest, and he was determined that nothing should disturb her. He put on a pot of tea to brew and gazed outside.
The rain continued, a drenching downpour just on the edge of ice and snow. They would be leaving in the space of a few days, ahead of all the winter's fury. He watched the rain fall and considered all that he had learned and felt. There are no limits, Catherine had said to him once, and he smiled. She'd known better than he, and not for the first time. Vincent had once thought himself to be a creature who could never walk in sunlight, but as a man, he had loved his mate in full daylight and awoken with her in the sunlight. He might never do it again, but he had done it. And he would take that sunlight with him when he returned to the eternal twilight of the tunnels.
Who am I now? Vincent wondered. It was a question he'd asked himself in various ways over the years, but never quite in this context. The fur-covered hands, the claws, no longer seemed quite so fearsome---but Catherine had claimed his hands for hers and begun the process of altering forever how he viewed himself. Some internal weight, long off-center, began to settle. I know who I am. I am...whole, complete as I have never been.
He heard the faint click of the phone connection just before the ringer came on. Crossing swiftly to the phone, he picked it up before the phone rang. “Hello?” he said into the receiver.
“Ah, Vincent, hello,” Gertrude said. “Did I wake you?”
“No,” he replied. “Catherine's sleeping, though; she's not feeling well. Are you feeling better?”
“Oh, thanks for asking. I am feeling better---I'm so sorry to hear about Catherine. It's nothing serious, I hope?”
From the pain that had surged through their bond early that morning, Vincent would have judged it serious, would have considered calling Father if the pain had been his, but Catherine had accepted it as a routine, if painful, part of her life. How strong she is. “I don't think so; she's resting now.”
“That's good. I wanted to thank you and Catherine again for raking up those leaves the other day. Would it be okay if I came by to pick them up before the weather gets too much uglier? Matt has to run into town for a doctor's appointment this afternoon and we can just stop on the way.”
She knows who I am, if not the how of it. What can it hurt? Vincent thought. “Very well, Gertrude. . “What time will you be coming?”
“About two, if that's okay.”
“That's fine,” Vincent replied. “Have a good day, Gertrude.”
“You, too,” she replied and hung up the phone.
“So that's who you were talking to,” Catherine said from behind him. Her color had improved and she looked somewhat better than she had earlier in the morning. “Gertrude's coming by to pick up the leaves?”
“Yes,” he replied, looking at her closely. “Are you well?” The thick haze of pain he'd felt through their bond this morning had disappeared, replaced by a dull ache.
Catherine pushed her hair out of her face. “I'm functional for the most part.” She smiled at him. “Thanks for letting me sleep.”
Vincent handed her a cup of tea and sat down next to her on the oak table. Rubbing her back, he asked, “Are you hungry?”
“Toast would be good, thanks,” she replied, taking the mug from him and smiling her contented smile at him. She watched the rain slide down the windows. “Winter's really on its way, isn't it?”
“Yes,” he said. The bread popped out of the toaster and he handed her a plate of toast with the container of butter. “Breakfast is served, my lady.”
Catherine giggled. “You're too kind, good sir.” She leaned against him as he sat next to her. “I had the strangest dream.”
He pulled her close. “What did you dream?”
“You and I were in Central Park; the snow was falling and we had a snowball fight. Then Father yelled at us for setting a bad example for the children.”
“What happened then?” Vincent asked, sensing there was something more to the story.
She tried, but failed, to keep back a laugh. “You stuffed snow down the back of his sweater.”
Vincent chuckled. “Well, before this journey, I would have said we'd never make love in the sunlight. But we have. So who is to say what is not possible?”
Catherine looked up at him and brushed his hair behind his ears. “No limits,” she said softly.
“No, none,” Vincent replied, and kissed her soundly.
Click here for Chapter 19....