Vincent poured water in the basin and watched as the ripples from the water stilled into an almost perfect mirror. He'd avoided looking into any reflective surface for so long that the avoidance of mirrors, of still water, was almost second-nature, but those fears he had left behind in the shadows of Elysium. Mentally, he shook himself; Catherine had gone above to discuss a transfer with her boss and would be returning below soon. They had plans to attend a concert, but first, he needed to wash up. He'd spent part of the day helping Cullen with some repairs to one of their gates and although the work wasn't physically taxing, Vincent was fairly sure that he had at least some dirt and dust streaked on his face.
He had just finished drying his face off, when a sudden burst of warmth through their bond told him she was near, very near. And then Vincent turned, and there she was, a vision of light in a dress whose color he would never remember later. All he saw was her. Belatedly, he remembered that he wasn't fully dressed. “I'm sorry,” Catherine said, “but traffic was faster than normal so I came down early. I hope I didn't...disturb you?”
“No,” Vincent said, for although he was disturbed, it was...a pleasant sort of disturbance. “Let me get dressed and we'll---”
Catherine sat down in one of his chairs and crossed her legs delicately. He remembered the feel of her legs at night, intertwined with his own and the memory brought a sudden heat to his face. “That's an...intriguing look,” she said, smiling up at him. “What brought that on?”
He reached for the clean shirt on the bed, then released it. “You,” he said hoarsely.
Catherine stared up at him. In the days of his illness, she'd seen him in every state of undress, had even helped Mary give him a sponge-bath when his fever had spiked. But that had been different, tending to a sick loved one. Vincent was almost fully healed now, the faint outline of his ribs the only visible reminder of those dark days. He stood before her now, bare-chested, with the last remaining droplets of water clinging to the fine downy hair on his forearms, and Catherine felt a faint flush climb up her neck. She knew Vincent been working earlier; she recalled him saying something about a security gate that wouldn't close properly. Just the thought of the turn and play of his muscles as he moved was enough to cause her skin to heat. “Oh,” Catherine managed to say.
Vincent laughed. “That's not one of your more...cogent statements, Catherine.”
She tilted her head, grinning. “No, I suppose it's not.” Her eye fell on a heavy dark green velvet curtain—from a theater, perhaps?---anchored partially behind the statue of Lady Justice. “Vincent? You got a curtain?”
“A wedding gift from Cullen,” Vincent replied, smiling back. “He's promised to help us build a door once he and Mouse can scavenge enough lumber.”
Catherine nodded. Their wedding was in a few weeks, delayed to allow Devin and Charles to be at the ceremony. “That was kind of him,” she said reaching out to touch the heavy velvet of the curtain. “It's quite an amazing thing when other people start seeing your dreams as possible, isn't it?”
Vincent nodded, the candlelight glinting red in his mane. “I was stunned. And pleased. I know that we'll need the curtain and the door...but such things were never...I believed I'd be eternally alone until I met you.”
“You'll never be alone again,” Catherine replied, thinking of their love, of how many changes it had wrought in her own life and trying to imagine the isolation he'd lived with for so long. She smiled up at him, impishly. “Though you may come to wish you were. I'm not perfect, Vincent; I'm cross when I don't get my coffee, and I am not a morning person. Just ask Joe.”
He chuckled, the raspy laugh she loved to hear. “I'm awake a good part of the night and I tend to sleep in late. You may never make it to work on time again. What ever will people say?”
“That we're in love,” she responded, laughing herself at the gentle mockery in his voice. Catherine stood and came to stand near him, and Vincent pulled her into the shelter of his arms. The scent of him was candle-light and damp earth and a wilder, spicy scent that was all his own.
“I'm sorry,” Vincent murmured, “you'll get your dress wet---I'm not fully dry.”
She stood on tiptoe to kiss his neck and felt him shiver at her touch. “Who's complaining? I'm not.”
He laughed, bending his forehead to hers. “So I see.”
“You’ve got something on your nose,” Catherine said.
“Do I?” Vincent asked softly and was startled all over again when she kissed the very tip of his nose. He thought of the dust and dirt he’d just washed away and wished he’d not been so quick to clean up. “We’ll miss the concert,” he reminded her, though his hands, rubbing her back---her bare back, he noticed with another thrill of surprise and wonder---seemed to care as little as Catherine herself did.
“Pfft,” Catherine said, nuzzling his neck. “Concert? What concert?”
With whatever remaining sense he had, Vincent stepped back. “Wait, I need to…” he gestured towards the curtain.
“Oh, yes,” she replied. “We can’t waste Cullen’s gift. That would be rude.”
Vincent chuckled. Dropping the curtain, he turned back to Catherine and noticed how the candlelight, now that the curtain had blocked most of the light from the corridor, turned her eyes a dark green. Forest green, Vincent thought, then smiled, thinking how wonderful it was that he should know, through her, the colors of places he’d never see. But then...fool to say “never.” They had survived to reach this place, after all, and who knew what wonders might yet be in store for them?
“I love that smile you have on your face,” Catherine murmured.
“Which smile would that be, my Catherine?” he asked.
Her fingers traced his strange mouth and the smile, quite beyond his own control, grew larger. It probably exposed all his fangs, Vincent thought, but he couldn't bring himself to care. “It's that smile,” Catherine said, “the one that says you're happy and content and you don't much care who knows it. I never saw it before.”
Mindful of his claws, Vincent brushed a falling lock of hair out of Catherine's eyes. “I never had reason to smile like that before. Now I do,” he said, and kissed her. His heart sped up, a spinning carousel of joy and wonder and love, as her lips touched his. Her hands roamed the fur of his chest, grasped the thick, dense hair at the base of his neck and Vincent heard his breath stutter. How had she known, when he hadn't?
The resonance in their bond, Catherine's love and need, were all the reassurance he needed that she wanted this, wanted him. This...what they were, what they were becoming, here and now, was necessary. He didn't ask her if she was sure; she was, as sure as breath, as life, as the future of their life together. But there were other matters to be concerned with, presently. ”Catherine,” Vincent said, “what about...?”
She glanced down at his hand where it rested, ever so gently, on her stomach, and smiled, a woman's smile that promised a future he'd never dared dream for himself. “Someday, but not today,” Catherine whispered into his chest. She looked up at him. “I...made arrangements, during my last appointment with Peter before you became so ill.”
Her appointment with Peter. Catherine had mentioned it in passing---just after their last encounter with Elliott Burch---but he'd been quite oblivious as to to any other significance the appointment might have had. “You...thought of me like that?” he asked, frankly stunned.
Catherine chuckled, nestling against his chest, playing with the fur there and tickling him just a bit. “My God, Vincent, after the balcony...the rosebush...how could I not?”
Vincent felt his skin heat again...but this time, with an odd sort of pride. She had desired him, even then. “Oh, Vincent,” she continued, sensing the direction of his thoughts, “I wanted you long before then, but after the balcony, I knew you felt the same.”
Oh, yes, he had wanted her, yearned for her---much to his own consternation---shame at desiring her so much half-mingled with the love that muttered Why not? “I was....” Vincent began, fumbling for the words, until he remembered one of the Other's sardonic phrases from the shadows of Elysium. “...not terribly bright,” he finished.
Catherine's lilting laugh was muted against his chest but he felt her joy through their bond. “That's one way of putting it,” she said when she finally stopped chuckling. Her green eyes met his and her fingers trailed up his chest to the back of his neck again. “But you've....gotten smarter?”
Vincent kissed her, feeling her back shiver as his hands---the hands he'd once thought so monstrous and hateful---touched her. “I have,” he murmured against her mouth, in that instant before all thought left. He ran his hands through the silk of her hair, loving the feel of it. Catherine was close enough that he could see the pulse point at her neck and smell the scent of her---sunshine, love, light---as it rose stronger with her desire. “You are so beautiful,” Vincent murmured against her throat.
“So are you,” she nearly purred, running her hands through the fur that traced his spine, a caress that made his thoughts go pleasantly hazy and fractured. “And one of us is wearing too many clothes.”
Vincent glanced down at himself, bare-chested, wearing only the faded, patched jeans he normally wore when working on one of the repair crews. Abruptly, he noticed that Catherine was still fully dressed in the gown she'd planned to wear to the concert that night. It was a peculiar shade of blue, he saw, a shade that shifted and shimmered in the light, going to green where the candlelight touched it. “I'm still damp,” he said, not wanting to damage the fabric and astonished all over again that not only did she want to be here with him, but that he felt no fear himself, only what he supposed was a natural nervousness.
Something stirred in Catherine's green eyes as she looked at him. “It clasps at the neck,” she murmured, reaching behind to try and unhook it. “I can't seem to get this...would you mind?”
It occurred to Vincent that she'd been perfectly able to hook the dress by herself, but if it was a ploy, he didn't mind. She turned around and he unhooked the clasp. Then she undid the zipper on the skirt, and the dress fell to the ground. “Catherine,” he whispered, gazing at the satin and lace of her underthings, his mouth gone suddenly dry, “do you always have such...things under your clothes?”
She chuckled, a wicked, happy sound. “Wouldn't you like to know?”
“I did ask,” Vincent replied mildly, grinning, watching as she stepped out of the dress and placed it carefully on the back of the chair. All at once, he felt the urge to help her out of the rest of her clothes, to see her undressed.
“Vincent,” she said, and her voice held a note in it he'd not heard before. “I am yours as you are mine. If you want to...help, all you have to do is come here. But,” she continued and her voice held that teasing tone he loved to hear, “you should realize that turnabout is fair play.” Catherine sat down on the edge of his bed and gazed at him, waiting.
He could not have stayed away from her if an earthquake had struck the tunnels. Kneeling in front of her, he removed her shoes and set them aside, then carefully eased the last of her satin underthings down her legs. Her skin was warm and soft and smooth under the callouses of his hands. She made a soft moan—perhaps only his ears would have heard it---when his hands rested on her thighs and gooseflesh rose on her smooth skin.
“I want to see you,” Catherine said, voice low, green eyes dark with want and need and love.
When Vincent had allowed himself to visualize this moment, he'd always expected to feel embarrassed and worried over what she would think when she finally saw him without all the layers of clothing. Would she compare him to the other men she had known, and find him wanting? Would she be disgusted by the fur that covered him, by the touch of his claws on her skin? But now that the moment was truly here...he felt none of these things. Catherine wanted him, not some other man; their bond fairly sang with her desire and love. She loved him, needed him, in spite of all that he was and wasn't. And for the first time in his life, Vincent allowed that certainty to silence all his ghosts.
His long hair brushed her thighs as Vincent rose from his kneeling position. His hands went to the waistband of his jeans, but struggled with the top button. The jeans were old, snug but comfortable, but the fabric was strained further with his arousal. The button fought all his earnest attempts to loosen it and when he was tempted to use his claws and solve the problem once and for all, Catherine came to stand in front of him and gently worked it free. “Better?” she asked, smiling, her breasts rising against his chest as she breathed.
“Much,” Vincent said in relief, lowering the jeans. He meant to kick the pants to the side, but one leg was caught, tangled in the fabric, and if it had not been for Catherine's arms steadying him, he would have lost his balance. Catherine collapsed in helpless laughter as he sat down in the chair and tossed the jeans into a corner. “I'm sorry, Vincent,” she managed between giggles, “but I've never seen you...unbalanced before.”
He returned her smile, realizing the picture he must have presented and not truly minding her laughter. “Tonight is a night for firsts, isn't it?”
“That it is,” Catherine said, smiling, nuzzling his neck, her flesh warm against his, and Vincent felt his pulse begin to gallop. She reached up and pulled his head down. “It's time to stop talking, don't you think?” she murmured against his lips.
Her scent called to him, pulling him in, drawing her near. It seemed to bypass all rational thought and insisted with the hammer of an ancient, primal drum-beat: Woman. Mate. Mine. The growl rose from his throat unbidden, but this time, Vincent didn't back away in horror. It was a part of him, as surely as his blue eyes or the clawed hands that caressed Catherine's back. He nuzzled her throat where the scent rose strongest and her own faint moan of pleasure encouraged him as her hands clenched again in the fur that traced his spine.
Mindful of his claws, Vincent traced a delicate caress down her chest. “Show me,” he asked. “I want this to be right.”
Catherine smiled, and ran her hands through his unruly hair. “Love, you're here now,” she replied. “That's right enough.”
“But--” he began until her finger on his lips silenced him. “There is no 'right' to this, Vincent,” Catherine said, her gamin smile surfacing. “Don't be afraid to touch me out of some idea that what you feel isn't right or natural.” Taking his hand, she tugged him towards the bed. “Remember, doctor's orders.”
He laughed then, all tension gone, remembering Father's “advice” just after they had awakened from Elysium. “Far be it from me to disagree with medical orders,” Vincent agreed. Turning down the quilts, he climbed into bed and Catherine curled next to him.
Just as he was settling the quilts over them, Vincent heard faint limping footsteps outside his chamber. “I don't believe this,” he muttered, torn between amusement at their predicament and annoyance that having the curtain down wasn't enough to deter his parent from interrupting them. Clearly, they were going to need the door much sooner, rather than later.
Catherine looked at him, bemused. “What?” she whispered.
“Speak of the devil and you see his horns,” Vincent murmured and Catherine's eyes widened. “He's not----” she said, just as Father's voice rang out through the velvet curtain.
“Ah, Vincent,” Father said. “I didn't see you at the concert. Are you all right?”
“Quite well,” Vincent replied, as Catherine muffled her giggles against his shoulder. “I am merely...following your orders and staying in bed.”
Vincent fancied he could feel the heat from the older man's blush across the room. “Ah...yes. Is Catherine...well...then, too?”
Her laughter shaking the bed with mirth, Vincent gave the only answer he could. “She is very well also, Father. Could we perhaps finish this conversation later?”
“Yes, yes of course, Vincent,” Father said hastily. “Good night...um...to the both of you.”
Vincent waited until his parent's retreating steps could no longer be heard then turned to his fiancee, who was quaking with laughter. “I'm just picturing his face,” Catherine said when she regained enough breath to speak. “Why do I feel like I just got caught necking on the sofa with my boyfriend?”
Vincent raised one eyebrow. “Perhaps because we nearly did get caught...necking...on my bed?”
“True,” Catherine said, still grinning, clearly unrepentant. She pushed the hair out of her face. “So, where were we?”
Vincent propped his head on one hand, while the other cupped one breast. “I believe I was here,” he said, lightly kneading the softness. He opened his mouth slightly, tasting the warm pulsing scent of her arousal in the cool still air. The bond sang with her intent, her need and even if it hadn't, what she wanted was plain enough. He bent to take one breast in his mouth and she arched against him, her hands going to the thick, dense hair at the nape of his neck and causing his breath to stutter.
His hands, it seemed, had a will of their own; they traced the curves of her, the hidden softness he'd long imagined but never thought to actually experience. The taste of her was salt and satin, need and desire and he was becoming lost in the sensations of her need doubling his own when she pulled him up for a gentle kiss. “I want this to last,” Catherine murmured by way of explanation. She ran her hands up his furred arms. “You feel so good.”
“I...do?” Vincent asked, gathering his scattered thoughts. It had never occurred to him that she might like the fur that covered his body, not when he had so frequently been annoyed by it.
“Mmm...hmm,” she replied. “It's soft and I love what it feels like.” Her hand traced lower. “Well, well, it's not quite as soft here,” Catherine teased.
Vincent found himself becoming more aroused, if such a thing were possible. He tried to capture her hand but Catherine only laughed as her hand darted away from him. It seemed as though her hands were everywhere, teasing and tickling and he gave into the fun of her teasing, her own wonder and joy cascading through their bond. Tickling her lightly in return, he murmured, “Turnabout is fair play,” and her laugh was like the song of birds to his ears.
Catherine tilted her head, smiling at the look of love and joy in his eyes. “What are you thinking?” she asked.
He didn't reply for a time, running the back of one soft furred hand along the side of her neck and down her chest. It should have tickled, but it didn't. It felt...good. Better than good, she thought, laughing inwardly at Mouse's fractured phrasing being used in this context. “I am thinking,” Vincent finally said, as his hands continued their slow stroking, “that you are beautiful, that you have changed me and I no longer know who I was before you.”
She remembered the conversation she'd had with Peter, during the long, worrying days and nights of his illness and nodded. That other Catherine, who hadn't known of Vincent or this place or these people, seemed a distant, uncharted memory now. “I know,” she murmured as his gentle touch stirred fire along her nerves. In the candlelight, he seemed carved out of golden amber, all the shades of copper and bronze except for the startling blue of his eyes. And it occurred to her that here was a new miracle, in Vincent's complete and utter ease with her, with himself. They had traveled a long, hard road to get here, but if this was the result, Catherine could only be thankful.
The slow fire he was igniting with every touch must have shown on her face or echoed through their bond because his expression changed and the hunger, the need in his face captivated her. He pulled her into his arms and their mouths met in a kiss far removed from the gentle, teasing ones of earlier. Catherine heard the low, needy growl begin in his throat again and something wild and untamed inside her rose to that call.
The taste of Vincent was like late summer's rain...unexpected and startling but welcome too. She traced the sharp fierceness of his fangs with her tongue and felt the last glimmer of his fears disappear like mist in sunlight. Her hands grasped the longer, silky fur that lay in a gentle wave down his back and felt rather than heard the slow rhythmic rumble begin. His arousal rose, strong and fierce against her inner thigh.
The lush copper curtain of his hair fell over her in a wild torrent as his lips traced a fiery trail down her neck. She grasped the firm muscles of his back to urge him closer and heard him gasp. His eyes---wide, blue, and very, very dark---met hers, the question plain. “Oh, yes,” Catherine murmured, nuzzling him. “I need you too.”
Their bond swelled wider as they joined and his thoughts were as clear as if he had spoken aloud....this...I never knew...oh, love, I must...Vincent began to move inside her in an ancient rhythm, unknown to him but unchanged through time. She kissed whatever she could reach---the line of a broad shoulder, the long, bare, lines of his neck, the strange softness of his mouth---and the rumble grew louder.
It seemed to Catherine that a bonfire of dancing light was growing inside their bond—did it come from him? Her? She didn't know, and didn't care, but in the instant the fiery light rose highest, she clasped him close and they fell into the light together.
When Vincent came back to himself, when he remembered what words were and how to use them, it was to find Catherine in his arms, resting against his heart and playing with his chest hair. “You alive?” she asked, a wide, happy grin on her face.
He took a deep breath, summoning the words that had so recently deserted him. “I believe so, yes,” Vincent replied. He ran one hand down the silken curves of her body. “And you?”
“Mmm...well...” Catherine said, stretching lazily, “I could use a little mouth-to-mouth if you're not sure.”
“It'll be terribly difficult,” Vincent said, grinning, enjoying the sight of her, “but for you, I think I can manage.” He leaned over and kissed her soundly just to prove the point. After a time, they broke apart and Catherine smiled at him with a dazed, happy expression he knew must also be on his own face. “Yup, I'm definitely alive,” she said, “I've got the pounding heart to prove it.”
He couldn't help it. Her joy and love flooded their bond and the laughter bubbled up. Soon, Catherine joined him and they laughed until they were breathless all over again. “What time is it, do you think?” she asked when they were finally able to stop chuckling.
“Past dinner, I'm sure,” Vincent said. “I'm sure I heard William bang out the 'last call' message on the pipes a few minutes ago.” He propped his head up on one hand. “Are you hungry?”
“Now that you mention it, a little,” Catherine replied, idly playing with a lock of his hair. “But that would mean moving from this room, and I'm not quite ready for that yet.”
“Nor am I,” Vincent said, laying back against the bolsters and pulling her near, her hair flowing over his shoulder in a river of silk. He gazed down at the picture they made, legs intertwined, bodies pressed close, and wondered just why he had feared this for so long. That lead to other thoughts and a shadow of his old worries rose up. But the fears were only a shadow, not the overwhelming flood he would once have battled. Still, he had to know. “Catherine, I haven't done this before...was it...did I....”
She nuzzled his neck and Vincent had the distinct impression that if she could purr, she would. “It was beautiful and right and past all that I ever dreamed when I thought of us.” Her bright green eyes stared into his own. “You did know I dreamed of us like this?”
Vincent nodded, pleased and humbled all over again that she'd had the strength to believe in the dream of their life together even when he hadn't. “Yes, and you also had some...fantasies at work, did you not?” he asked dryly.
Catherine flushed a bright pink. “How did you....?” She buried her face in the side of his neck. “Oh, no, tell me I didn't make things...difficult for you down here.”
He smiled a wry smile, remembering. “Not all of our bathing pools are warm ones, Catherine.” He pulled her back just a little to look at her. “But honestly...I didn't mind. I was perplexed--”
“Perplexed?” Catherine asked.
“I...was stunned that you could desire me so, and confused by it, when you could have had anyone....normal.” Vincent pressed one finger to her lips, to stifle the protest he knew was coming. “Catherine, that was then...and I understand now.”
He didn't need to say where he'd gained the understanding. Catherine smiled, turning her head to press a kiss into his palm, which caused his heart rate to speed up all over again. “Elysium.”
Vincent nodded. “Elysium.” He pressed a quick kiss to the top of her head, then looked into her green eyes. “My only regret is that I put you through so much to get to this place.”
She shook her head. “No regrets, Vincent. We're here, now.”
Catherine nestled against him, and for a time they were silent, listening to the muted tapping on the pipes, the sounds of the tunnel world settling down to a quiet night. Vincent glanced around the chamber and his eye fell on the small collection of nick-knacks on the shelf just under his stained glass window. He blinked, and blinked again.
“What is it, Vincent?” Catherine asked.
“Do you notice something different about what's on the shelf?” Vincent asked, wondering if he was seeing things.
“There's that shell I brought you from LA, the quartz rocks that Kipper and Samantha found near the Mirror Pool and your statue of Selket and...” her voice trailed off. “Vincent, that statue wasn't there before, was it?”
He shook his head. “No. I've never owned a statue of Ma'at. And I don't believe it was here before Elysium.”
Vincent picked up the little bronze statue of the kneeling goddess with her ostrich feather headdress and smiled, placing it back on its shelf next to the statue of Selket. “I don't think it has to mean anything...except to remind us not to forget what we learned.” He stroked Catherine's back, knowing she enjoyed the feel of his fur against her skin. “As for how it got there....maybe it's magic.”
She didn't dispute it or try to find some rational explanation as she once would have. “Love and joy and magic. Is there a better way to start our life together?”
“No,” Vincent said, and covered her mouth with his own.
 from “Carnal Apple, Woman Filled, Burning Moon” by Pablo Neruda