Chapter 13: Between the Shores of Your Souls 
A/N: My thanks to Carole W. for her illustration of the flowers in the bouquet.
“I was beginning to think we'd never escape,” Catherine said, a little breathless from all the laughter and dancing as they left the Great Hall.
Vincent nodded. “I'm glad Sebastian brought his flash paper, else I think we'd still be there come morning.”
“Devin challenging Sebastian of all people to a contest of magic tricks,” Catherine mused. “That was inspired.”
One corner of Vincent's mouth quirked. “One might even say...devious...since Devin made his living for a few years as a magician.”
“Did he?” Catherine asked. “Why am I not surprised?”
Vincent chuckled. “When it comes to Devin, anything is possible. Though I also suspect Sebastian let him win.”
“You think the entire performance was staged?” Catherine asked.
“I do,” Vincent said. “And it worked very well as a diversion, didn't it?”
“It did,” Catherine agreed, taking his arm as they walked to their remodeled chamber. The constant tapping on the pipes was silent, for everyone was at the reception---even Pascal. Aside from the clack of an overhead train, there was hardly any noise.
Finally, they reached the entrance of their remodeled chambers. Vincent saw with some relief that the dark velvet theater curtain was still in place, undisturbed. He'd hung it in that last bit of nervous energy just before the ceremony and relocated Marisol's tapestry to the interior of their chamber, but there was always the possibility that he hadn't attached the curtain properly....
Catherine's hand on his arm startled him. “Vincent. It'll be fine. It will. And I'll love whatever you did in there.”
He turned to take her hands in his own, feeling the small ridge of her wedding band as it rubbed against his own. “But if you do not, if you want something changed or removed entirely, you would tell me?”
Catherine nodded. “I will. But I won't have to, because I'm sure it's perfect.”
Vincent smiled. “Close your eyes, then.” He parted the dark velvet curtain and led her inside. “Open your eyes. Welcome home.”
Catherine lost words for a moment, then closed her mouth with an audible click and tried again. “You did all of this in two or three weeks?”
“Not just me,” Vincent replied. “Cullen and Mouse and Kanin and Charles and Warren. Do you like it?”
Her eyes misted. “Oh, Vincent. It's lovely.” And it was. His old chamber had been converted to an antechamber with the same overstuffed chairs, bookshelves, and tables of any tunnel room, and Catherine could well picture him carrying on his classes in this peaceful space. A drop-leaf table---one that had belonged to her father and mother and had been in storage ever since---and two chairs, likely made by Cullen, rested against the corner of the far wall. The wall where his bed and stained glass had once been was now an arched entryway covered by one of Marisol's tapestries.
“This is where the real changes are,” Vincent said, taking her hand. Pushing aside the tapestry separating the antechamber from the rooms beyond it, they walked into a short, narrow hallway. At the end of the hallway, the stained glass shone brightly, illuminating the passageway. The walls were lighter than those of the antechamber, having not had enough time to be darkened by candle-smoke and use, and the candles in their sconces made the whole area glow.
“The bedroom...our bedroom...is in here,” Vincent said, gesturing to a large room off to the right. There was just the smallest of tremors in his hands as they entered the bedroom. “There's a small bathroom just beyond it. Nothing fancy, but...a good bit more private than the bathing chambers.”
“Vincent, I....I don't know what to say,” Catherine finally said, glancing around the bedroom. Candles flickered in their wall niches, and there were a few pieces of furniture she recognized: Vincent's armoire against one wall, another smaller one that she had used since their return from Connecticut. Then her eye fixed on the dresser, graceful on its turned legs, carved at the joining of front and sides with a narrow band of intertwined roses. “You did this?” she asked, though she already knew. All the times she had visited and noticed sawdust stuck in the fur of his hands or in his hair, she'd never thought....
Vincent nodded, smiling. “It wasn't only Cullen's students who were working on their projects.” He glanced at the bed and back to her. “And the bed...is it to your liking?”
She touched the carved finials of the four poster bed, smelling the fresh scent of beeswax and lemon polish. “Oh, it is. It is. But where did you find it?”
Vincent leaned against one of the finials. “This room used to be a stockroom for old furniture that we didn't need; Kanin and I found the bed as we were cleaning it out just before demolition.”
“It's beautiful,” Catherine said. She noticed the colorful flowers bundled together in the center of the bed, bright against the quilts—Mary's work?---and thought of Olivia's bed...the longing she had felt then.
Catherine felt Vincent's hand brush one errant wisp of hair behind her ear. “Yes,” he whispered. “I felt it then too. At the time, it was more than I dared to hope for, but now....”
She smiled. “Yes, now.” Catherine glanced again at the flowers and a memory rose: Grandmother Ellen, arranging fresh blossoms one summer morning, telling stories of how Catherine’s grandfather had courted her using the language of flowers. The flowers on their bed were a bright kaleidoscope of colors: orange, yellow, blue and red...cheerful and welcoming, but Catherine sensed a significance beyond their hues. “Do the flowers mean something?”
Vincent's blue eyes widened. “You know of the language of flowers?”
“My grandmother did,” Catherine explained. “When they were courting, she and my grandfather had a fight, a bad one, and it seemed their engagement would be called off. He mended their quarrel by apologizing with words, but also with the language of flowers. I'm surprised you knew of it---it's pretty obscure."
“I didn't,” Vincent said. “But Renata did. I came to her and asked her for help selecting the flowers and she helped me pick them out.”
“Remind me to thank her, then,” Catherine replied, fingering the satin blossom of the orange lily.. “They're lovely. What do they say?”
“Red chrysanthemum means 'I love,'” Vincent explained, gesturing to the flowers. “The yellow celandine is for 'joys to come.' Forget-me-not means 'true love' and the orange lily means 'desire.'”
She met his eyes then and the desire, the love in them began to set her heart to hammering. Catherine took a deep breath, steadying herself, steadying him. “We've got all night,” she said and was rewarded by Vincent's open, happy grin of agreement. They did have all night, and the rest of their lives. “Show me the other room?”
The other room was a smaller mirror of their bedroom: pale rock walls, candles set in their niches. The long, rectangular chamber had been partitioned by a lace curtain into two living areas. One area was clearly an office, with the carved mahogany desk that had belonged to her mother and her father's bust of Shakespeare resting on one corner. Glass-fronted bookshelves awaited the unpacking of her books, candlelight reflecting in waves in the old glass. There were niches carved in this room, as in their bedroom, places for their treasures and Catherine wondered what she would find over her years here. From Father's leaning towers of books, to Mary's quilts, to Vincent's eclectic collection of pretty much everything, every chamber was a reflection of the people who lived there.
Beyond the lace curtain, though, was a room of promise, of treasures not yet born or found. It was bare and empty, but Catherine's imagination filled it: a cradle, one day, space enough for one bed or two, a growing space for their family…one day. She didn't say anything, didn't have to say anything. Vincent knew it would be possible and that was enough.
“Are you hungry?” Vincent asked suddenly.
“Yes,” Catherine replied, startled to find that she was. “I was too nervous to eat much at the reception.”
“I noticed,” Vincent said dryly. His head turned slightly at a faint scuffing sound coming from the antechamber. “I believe dinner is here.”
“You mean---?” Catherine asked.
A gleam of white fangs reflected in the candlelight as he grinned. “Yes. Even here, it’s possible to get good take-out.”
Catherine laughed. “Will wonders never cease? But first, can you help me out of this dress?”
“Help you out of the dress?” Vincent said, mouth gone suddenly dry, the possibilities, the visions, blossoming like Renata’s flowers. “You need…help?”
Catherine chuckled as if she’d anticipated his reaction and was enjoying it. “Yes. Mary and Marisol did a fantastic job taking it in at the shoulders and bodice, but there’s no way I’m going to be able to undo the buttons myself.”
With difficulty, he forced his attention back to what she’d asked of him. “Of course,” Vincent replied. He undid the first few, being careful not to snag the delicate lace on his sharp claws.
She relaxed under his hands, sighing, as soon as the tighter upper buttons were undone. “Oh, that feels lovely.”
“It does?” he murmured. Her skin was warm and soft under his hands.
“It does,” Catherine confirmed. At that precise moment, her stomach, or his, chose that moment to growl loudly. Her shoulders shook with her mirth and the room echoed with their laughter.
Once Catherine caught her breath, she tugged him in the direction of their bedroom. “Come on,” she said, “the sooner I get out of my dress, the sooner we can eat.”
Vincent glanced down at his own attire, at the new shirt Mary had made for him and the soft breeches which were the best he owned, and considered that in his present state, he’d be lucky not to end up wearing his dinner. “That’s a very good idea,” he replied, following her to their bedroom.
“William really was busy,” Catherine, now dressed in a patched tunnel sweater and jeans against the omnipresent tunnel chill, said as she looked at the drop leaf table, laden with the food that neither of them had been able to eat at the reception. The delicious smells of food and drink hung heavy in the air. “I think he might have left us breakfast as well.”
“I believe so,” Vincent replied, noticing with some amusement that her sweater had been one of his own---or rather, had been his when he twelve or so. The sweater, in the way of all tunnel clothing, had been Devin’s first, and after Devin had left, Vincent had worn it, then outgrown it and forgot about it. Catherine must have found the sweater as she'd transferred her clothing from his dresser to her own. He looked across at the overstuffed chair just to the side of Lady Justice. “They brought our gifts from the Great Hall as well as dinner. That was kind.”
“It was,” Catherine said, darting a look at him under her bangs and waggling her eyebrows. “I, for one, am not planning on leaving these chambers until tomorrow.”
“Really?” Vincent teased. “You’re not? You’re sure there isn’t anything else you’d rather do?”
Catherine’s rich laughter echoed his own. “There are two things I want to do tonight, and only one of them involves eating food.”
“Chess?” Vincent said, trying to keep a straight face and failing miserably.
The look in her eyes turned the green of them to emerald. “Check-mate.”
“So,” Catherine said as they ate, “tell me about the Crystal Cavern. Who found it first?”
“Narcissa,” Vincent said, handing a loaf of bread across the table and uncovering a stoneware dish containing a roasted chicken, “though if you ask her, she'll tell you she saw it in a vision and that I was the first one to visit it.”
“A vision?” Catherine asked, pouring hot tea from the chipped teapot and handing him the cup.
“Narcissa knows the lower caverns better than anyone---her visions tell her how to find her way. Or that's what she tells Father,” Vincent said, mouth quirking in a smile.
“What do you think?” she asked. “How does Narcissa live down there?”
“I asked her that, years ago. Narcissa merely chuckled and said---” and here his voice, with all the talent of a natural mimic, assumed some of Narcissa's Haitian cadences “---'the dark places need me and I need them. Don't worry about me, child.'” Vincent smiled. “That's the best answer anyone has ever gotten from her, but I've never known her visions to be wrong.”
Catherine ladled soup---Italian wedding soup, she noticed with a smile---from a large stoneware tureen. “It must be gorgeous, from everything you've said.”
Vincent nodded. “It is. And at the same time, it's a sad place too.”
“Why sad?” she asked.
“There are many beautiful places in our world, Catherine, many places I've seen or Mouse has seen or Narcissa, but for the majority of the community, they might as well be on the moon. A great many of our people have no desire to explore our world beyond the safer inhabited areas.”
“I can understand that,” Catherine replied, thinking of Paracelsus and his followers, the cave-in at the Maze.
“I can as well,” Vincent said, “and yet, it isn't wise to know so little about where we live.” His eyes were intent as he gazed at her across the table. “I've gone to some of these places with Mouse, but some of the things we'll see tomorrow, I've only ever seen. It seems so wrong that so much beauty should go unseen and unappreciated.”
Gazing at him, strong and fierce and beautiful in a way that still had the power to stop her breath in wonder and awe, Catherine merely drank some more of her tea and let their bond speak her feelings to him. She found him more beautiful than all the wonders of his world, but Vincent might not yet, even now, believe the words.
Dinner eaten and dishes cleared away, they talked of inanities for a time, just enjoying the simple joy of being together, of being married after so long and hard a road. Vincent stood when the conversation finally dwindled and held out his hand. “Do you hear it?”
Catherine tilted her head. His hearing was far more acute than her own; she had heard nothing but the last faint taps of the pipes as the sentries reported in and the quick tap of the time announcement. “The music,” Vincent said, smiling at her.
“I can't hear it,” she replied. “What do you hear?”
“Dance with me, my wife,” Vincent said and the look in his eyes was intent, the blue darker than the depths of the ocean.
Oh. That music. “Yes,” Catherine whispered. “Oh, yes.” Rising, she took his hand and followed her husband to their bedroom.
Vincent had left the candles burning in their room, or she had; it scarcely mattered which. The oil lamp on her dresser flickered, guttering in the perpetual tunnel drafts. The room was lit with a brightness Catherine would scarcely have believed possible a few years before, a mellow, warm glow which echoed in the carved wood of their bed and the bronzed amber of Vincent as he stood in front of her, one hand resting with studied calm on one of the upright posters. That he was not as calm as he appeared was clear through their bond, but he wasn't precisely nervous, either. There was some swirling storm of emotion---joy, love, awe—flooding their bond and that dizzying sense of standing on the edge of a cliff.
She put her arms around him and relaxed against him as his arms drew her close. “Tell me,” Catherine murmured.
He said nothing for a time but she was conscious of the soft slow rhythm of his heart, the large hands that held her near. “I feel as though...I have never felt anything before. That we are here, at this moment...”
Catherine nodded, feeling the softness of fur under his patched homespun shirt. They had made love many times since Connecticut, but tonight...it was not the same. It would never be the same again. “I know,” she murmured. “Everything...and nothing...has changed.”
She felt rather than saw his smile; it was there in the low rumble of joy in his voice. “Yes,” Vincent said, breathing against her hair, nuzzling her neck, the warmth of him dispelling the remaining tunnel chill.
A slight ping startled her, and Catherine looked down to see one of Jamie's hairpins fall to the rock floor. “How many of these did Jamie use?” Vincent asked, amused.
“I don' t know,” Catherine said, distracted by the warmth of his hands against her bare neck.
“May I?” he asked, touching her hair.
The thought of Vincent unpinning her hair was surprisingly erotic. “Yes,” she murmured.
With a deftness that should have been astonishing considering how large his hands were, Vincent carefully undid all of Jamie's precarious handiwork, leaving Catherine's hair to fall free against her back as he ran his hands through her hair. “So beautiful,” he said, voice no louder than her heartbeat.
Catherine tilted her head to look up at him, hands at his shirt collar. It was, she realized suddenly, the same shirt he’d worn when they’d made love in the wooded grove in Connecticut. For a man who did so little without careful thought, it could not have been an accident. “No more than you.”
She remembered him as he had been then, all golden fire under the autumn sun and thought that he could hardly be glowing less now, in the happiness of finally being here, now. His hands pulled gently at her sweater and Catherine smiled as she pulled it over her head.
Vincent looked at her, the same look of hunger and desire she'd seen for the first time just a few weeks before. “You're not...” he managed, voice gone more raspy.
“Wearing underwear?” Catherine replied. “It did seem a bit....pointless just now.”
He flashed a quick, roguish grin. “Not that I'm complaining, mind.”
“Of course not,” she said, returning his smile in kind. “That would be silly.”
She rested her hands on the mismatched carved buttons of the old patched shirt, feeling the thrum of his pulse as it sped up under her touch. “And are you...?” Catherine asked, though she thought she knew the answer. She certainly had never seen it in Connecticut....
“Wearing underwear? No, but you knew that,” Vincent replied dryly.
“I did,” Catherine said. She stood on her toes to kiss him. “Enough talking, don't you think?”
“I do,” he said, his mouth capturing hers as she unbuttoned his shirt. Her hands clenched in the golden hair as they kissed...the taste of him...the taste of him....the softness of his lips....
Vincent's hands were warm against her bare back, the claws lightly flexing, so lightly Catherine barely felt them except as a prickle of sensation, a slow spreading heat, along her nerves. She remembered how he had once been hesitant to touch her with his claws, terrified that he would scratch or injure her. There was no hesitation now; he was no longer afraid. “Beloved,” he murmured against her neck, the short bristled fur on his cheekbones a delicious counterpoint to the warmth of his breath.
Catherine wound her hands in the dense thickness of his hair, searching...finding that one spot...there. Vincent's breath stuttered and his eyes dilated to the endless dark of one of Narcissa's scrying mirrors. His hands released her briefly to tug at the buttons of his jeans; finding the material too tight and strained by his arousal, he growled softly in frustration.
“Vincent,” Catherine said, her hands at the worn denim. “Let me help.” Quickly, she undid the buttons and he stepped back to push the pants off his legs.
The sight of him made her mouth go dry as it always, always did; Vincent was truly unaware of his own masculine beauty, the sensuality in his lithe grace. He had achieved a great measure of peace with himself in Connecticut, but the pain of years of aloneness could not be undone in weeks or months and Catherine knew if she told him, even now, that he was beautiful, he would believe it only because she had told him so.
There was something in his gaze---a demand to claim and be claimed in turn---that Catherine thrilled to see. “Yes,” she murmured, removing her own jeans. “Oh, yes.”
She watched as he removed the bundle of flowers from the center of the bed---their bed, Catherine realized with another thrill of joy and wonder---and pulled down the quilts. The light glinted off his wedding band as he drew her down beside him. “Come, my wife.”
Vincent knew he could easily have taken her, made them one, right then and there, so ready were they both. But their fierce loving earlier in the day had lessened the strain now; he would---he could---go slow. “'For I am running to paradise,'” he murmured against the bright silk of her hair as he gathered her close and felt her smile.
Catherine's legs intertwining with his own, her breasts against his chest, the feel of her---his wife!---warm and loving and desiring him, nearly undid his resolve. He ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath, trying to slow his racing heart and the desire, the instincts that even now were urging him to claim her as his own. “What is it?” she asked, clearly sensing something of his tumult.
“I want this to last,” Vincent said, suddenly feeling quite as uncertain as he had their first time.
She took his hands, the clawed, furred hands that her love had made beautiful, in her own smaller ones. “It will. Don't worry so.”
He was quite possibly, as she sometimes said, overthinking the wheel, and yet.... “But I want...”
Catherine's green eyes were verdant in the candlelight. “I know. I want that too, to savor this...but what I want more is you.”
With a soft growl of need and hunger, Vincent pulled Catherine to him, the scent, the taste of her arousal---sharp, sweet, fierce---wildfire in his veins. Her breasts were soft in his mouth, in his hands and her body arched against his in response, her own low moan echoing in the chamber. He felt the loving touch of her hands kneading his neck, running her fingers through the dense, curled hair. Her hands continued tracing the line of longer, finer fur that ran the length of his spine and he shuddered in her arms, trying to control what desire and instinct told him he must do now.
Catherine's love, her want, in their bond was as loud as the rushing tide of the ocean he'd never seen, but Vincent drew on his restraint again. He would make this first time last. With one hand, he ran a hand along the cool silk of her inner thigh, feeling the gooseflesh as it rose. Her scent rose, stronger than before, demanding in her love and desire. “Vincent,” she murmured, the faint pleading unmistakable to his ears.
The joy that he had put that want in her voice made Vincent smile. Catherine wanted his touch, yearned for it and his own need to know deeply of his mate urged him on. He caressed her gently, mindful of his claws, feeling her craving for his touch there. Vincent felt the shivering jolt of that first touch echo through their bond and her hips lifted against his hand, thrilling to his touch.
Her gaze, dark with arousal, pinned him. The pink flush against her fair skin told him more than any words could: she wanted him. “Please,” Catherine said and this time, he would not deny them both. Vincent moved to rise over her then, hair falling in a curtain. Her hands massaged the long muscles of his back and pulled at his hips as with one swift stroke, he joined them together.
The fire flickering along his nerves and through their bond was a full-grown conflagration now; surely they would both be burned to ashes? The engulfing light danced and sang and beckoned as they moved towards it; his growl of completion mingling with Catherine's own low groan.
For a time, Vincent sagged against her, unable to move, unable to think. Her hands tangled in his hair and when he finally regained the energy to lift his head, he saw that she was crying.
“Did I hurt you?” he asked; his own emotions were in such a tumult that he feared he was unable to read her emotions through their bond.
“Oh, Vincent, no,” Catherine replied. “Never. It was...” and here her words failed her but the renewed radiance shining through the bond told him what he needed to know.
He gathered her close to him again, and gently kissed the tears away. “I love you.” Fearing he was too heavy, he would have withdrawn, but her encircling arms gave mute evidence of her protest.
“Stay,” she murmured against his chest.
“Always,” he said.
Click here for Chapter 14...
 "On Marriage," from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran