Summary: The morning after the night before. Pure fluff.
A/N: This story was originally written for Winterfest Online 2012
Dawn wasn't the same Below; there was no increase of light to start the wakening, none of the city sounds of traffic and noise that frequently—even seventeen floors up---had made Catherine wish for quieter lands. Instead, there were the sounds of tapping on the pipes slowly growing louder and the steady lump-lump-lump rhythm of a beating heart under her ear.
She opened her eyes a crack, just a bit---enough to confirm that she rested in the cocoon of Vincent's arms, in the shelter of Vincent's bed. In his sleep he drew her closer and his arms---his bare arms---pulled her closer even as his muscled thigh drew between her legs.
This wasn't a dream. They really had....
It should have been a shock. She should have felt surprise, but all she felt was a dawning wonder. The evening that had begun so normally---an invitation to dinner below, a performance at their concert shell, the nuzzles that turned into kisses and bolder caresses, Vincent's hoarse whispered insistence at returning to his chamber. And then...this...
Wonder. Him. Them.
She lifted her head a little to study him, all sleep-warm and golden in the candlelight. The covers—sheets worn to a silken softness, a colorful quilt---had slipped down, resting on the jut of his hip. His chest rose with his breath, the fine curly hair on his chest glowing amber in the dim light.
Sensing her regard, Vincent's eyes opened, and Catherine held her breath. Would he retreat, ashamed that he'd encouraged their lovemaking? Would he regret waking here...now...with her? “Catherine,” he said, voice quiet with a joy she'd never heard from him. “You're here.”
“It's no dream,” she told him, sinking back onto the bed and into his open arms. Unexpectedly, she felt her eyes fill with tears.
“You were worried,” Vincent said, brushing the tears aside with a gentle hand, the claws so light against her skin that they almost didn’t touch her at all. “Why?”
“I don't want you to regret this,” she managed, but the look in his eyes was reassurance enough. There was no pain in his blue eyes, no shame...just the echo of the same dawning wonder she felt.
He stretched, the covers sliding down further with the arching of his body, the long lines of muscle gleaming. “I have no regrets, Catherine. None.”
And it was true, she knew; he really didn't. “Though,” he continued, some imp dancing in his eyes, “I might have changed one thing.”
“Oh?” she asked, matching the dry tone of his words.
He ran one hand down her thigh. “I wish we'd have done this earlier.”
Catherine nearly choked on her laughter. “You do? Vincent, last night was the first time you ever kissed me!”
“Mmm-hmmm,” he replied. “I shouldn't have waited so long for that either.”
And so swiftly that it would surprise her (later, when she had time to think about it,) he gently wound his hand through her hair and pulled her close for another kiss.
His visions of Catherine were always in shades of gold and silver---her hair gilt under light of the Connecticut sun, which they had not yet seen together, the blue of the ocean at dawn haloing the pale smoothness of her skin. None of those dreams compared, though, to the reality of Catherine in his bed. All it had taken was him reaching out...reaching out for her...for the last barriers to fall. Why was I so afraid of this? She nestled against him, bare skin touching his own, and Vincent smiled. She had known him better than he'd known himself, and not for the first time. There was never any danger for her in his loving. There never had been.
“I dreamed of you so often,” he murmured against the silk of her hair. “But when I awoke, I was alone.”
Catherine sat up and folded her legs underneath her. The blankets fell away, revealing again the curves he'd seen for the first time the night before. Her tone was gentle, soothing. “Vincent, I can't promise we'll never be apart but...you'll never be alone. Never.”
And that too was true, Vincent knew; in spite of everything---the horrors of his illness, his numerous attempts to encourage her to find the life he thought she deserved, a life without him---Catherine had chosen, and chosen…him. “I am sorry, Catherine.”
She tilted her head and he noted absently how the candlelight reflected gold in her hair. “For what?”
“I was a fool for so long. Too long.”
Her fingers traced his features, the features Vincent always thought too grotesque, too other; if he could not bear the sight of his own reflection, how could he ask any woman to? But Catherine had no such doubts; she accepted him precisely as he was. That understanding was clear in her eyes as she gazed at him. “And I didn’t have my foolish moments?” she asked lightly. “Don’t put me on some pedestal, Vincent. I’ve done things I shouldn’t have done, made mistakes I should have known better than to make.”
She blamed herself, he knew, for the times he’d been injured Above, never mind that virtually none of them were her fault. “It’s over now,” he said softly.
Her hand brushed his temple, drifted lower to cup his chin. “Yes,” she agreed firmly. “It is.”
The words were simple enough but Vincent smiled. There was, he decided, nothing quite like being outwitted by an attorney, particularly this attorney. “Come here,” he said quietly.
Catherine’s answering grin was brighter than all the sunrises he’d ever imagined. “I thought you’d never ask.”
They dozed for a time, after. In their warm, sated sleep, dreams began and merged, answering and echoed by the reassurance of touch and breath. Catherine visited a running river she’d seen as a child, where the rocks were worn smooth and polished by the force of flowing water. The river continued on its unerring path, but Vincent walked beside her.
Vincent saw the brightness of sunflowers as high as his hip, which turned always towards the eldritch light of the sun…seeking, finding…The soft susurrus he heard might have been the soft rush of a river, or the beat of a woman’s heart, calling…pulling…He opened his eyes slowly and with some regret. Though Catherine slept still in his arms, a miracle greater than any vision or dream he’d ever had, she would have to return Above; they would be separated yet again. But not forever. That was her promise, spoken from her heart to his.
The insistent clanking of the pipes grew louder. “What time is it?” Catherine murmured into his shoulder, withdrawing from sleep nearly as reluctantly as he had.
“Nearly lunch,” Vincent translated; though her command of pipecode was more than sufficient, some of the more idiomatic shorthand escaped her, as it did nearly everyone at one time or another. “William warned the Winterfest crew to stop by for sandwiches before returning to finish decorating the Great Hall.”
The jolt of alarm was impossible to miss. “Winterfest?!?” Catherine squeaked, sitting bolt upright. “Winterfest…is tonight?”
“Yes,” Vincent replied. “In a few hours, actually.”
Vincent watched as she fairly leapt from their bed and scurried around the chamber, gathering up shoes and socks and underwear (so that’s where her bra landed, he thought, amused, as she pulled the lacy undergarment from the rim of the Grecian vase) and throwing all of it into a pile on his bed. “You don’t understand,” she said, tugging the underwear onto slim hips and her jeans over that. “I have to go Above. I have to get ready. Winterfest is tonight!”
“I know it is,” Vincent said mildly. “I just told you it was. But Catherine---”
“I have to hurry…oh, I’m never going to be ready in time!”
She pulled the sweater over her head. It was inside out and backwards but she didn’t seem to notice. She ran a hasty brush through her hair and then turned to him. “What?”
He opened the door to the armoire. Inside stood a dress of deep emerald green, the cloth bag containing the shoes carefully looped over the hanger, just as it had been when she’d first shown it to him, over a week before. Catherine opened her mouth, and then closed it. “What…how…?”
“You told me yourself your patio door was unlocked and I should ‘come on inside already.’” Vincent asked, smiling. “I brought the dress down late last night.”
“After---” she began, and flushed a deep rose color. “I’m amazed you had the energy. But why?”
His hands rested at her hips. “Stay.”
“I want you to stay here with me. I want you to wake in my bed tomorrow morning and for all the mornings we’re given. Stay, please.”
“Are you asking me to---”