"I wonder if I'll ever not be surprised to see you standing there."

(Catherine, Arabesque)

The tunnels were silent, at last, and Vincent was glad of that. The festive mood that had reigned in the world Below throughout the last days was too far from his own feelings for comfort. Tomorrow night was Winterfest, and the tunnels were filled with bubbling, joyful anticipation as their dwellers busied around with the preparations. Vincent had gone through the motions along with the others, done his own sizable share of the work and feigned to take part in the children's excitement but now that exhaustion and the prospect of a late night to come had sent everyone to bed for a well-deserved rest, he could take time to sit in his chair, and brood. Tomorrow night was Winterfest, and Catherine was away. She'd flown off to Texas the day before to interview a potential witness for one of her cases, and had promised she would do her very best to be back in time for Winterfest, though he knew she doubted it would be possible. She had let him know through a helper that she had safely arrived, but that was all. No indication as to the date of her return. At least she wasn't in any danger; their connection, though greatly muted by the distance, still gave him that reassurance.

Vincent sank deeper into his armchair with a sigh. He just didn't want to envision Winterfest without Catherine at his side. Especially this Winterfest he'd come to look so much forward to. A Winterfest of "great expectations", for both of them. Over the last months their relationship had been slowly but steadily moving forward, as they began to talk their way through the fears and obstacles that had kept them apart. Not an easy process, but Vincent had come to believe that for them there was no other direction. They spent more and more time together, whenever they could steal away a few blessed hours from their demanding respective lives, and it felt good.

It felt good also that violence hadn't raised its ugly head in their lives for some time. Paracelsus's death in that huge fire in the lower levels ten months ago had certainly something to do with it, but Vincent suspected Catherine was partly responsible for that respite as well, that she must have made some changes in her job. That was a subject they hadn't discussed.Yet. But they would come around to it, eventually. Even with the reduced risks they were both aware of the heavy toll Catherine's job took on them, and Vincent knew Catherine was ready to move on. There were many other, less demanding positions where she could be useful too, make a difference, and the main reason she stayed at the DA's office was her fear of disappointing him by giving up a job that made him proud of her. Vincent let out a frustrated growl. Well, right now he felt much less pride than exasperation and as far as he was concerned she could resign anytime.

He'd made such great plans for Winterfest! He would put on the ruffled shirt and thigh-high boots he knew Catherine found becoming, and that new patchwork vest Mary had made for him. He'd go and wait for her in her basement, feeling her joy and excitement as she approached. She would appear, even more radiantly beautiful than usual, and he would bask in the sight of her, revel in her own warm, undisguised appreciation flowing through their bond. Together, they would go to the Great Hall, and enjoy the warmth and friendship of the celebration. Together they would dance, this year to real music, while all the time listening to the music in their hearts. Late into the night, the last guest led back above, the last tunnel-dweller gone to bed, he would walk Catherine back through the desert, silent tunnels to her building's entrance.

And then, maybe, just maybe, if he could muster the courage, he would kiss her goodnight.

Vincent was aware this was a huge step to take, but one that, all things considered and carefully weighed, he found himself ready for. So ready that the thought of all that a kiss might unleash between them left him with less fear than thrilled anticipation.

As for Catherine, he knew she'd been ready for a long time, though she would never push. However, feeling intellectually ready was one thing, being able to act on it was something else, and he'd counted on the Winterfest mood to help him at least part of the way. It might have worked.

Well, he'd never know, now! All for naught! Catherine would spend the Winterfest night in a hotel room out there in the Far West, and he'd have to do his best to keep a cheerful face, not spoil everyone's fun with his somber mood. Of course he could, and hopefully would, work up his courage at a later moment for that kiss they both yearned for, but Winterfest had been such an ideal opportunity!

Vincent sighed again in discouragement, so enmeshed in his brooding thoughts that he felt nothing coming. He was startled into a snarl by the unexpected touch of two hands blinding his eyes as a cheerful voice said:"Guess who?"

He jumped out of his chair and wheeled around to gape at a much-beloved, and very smug-looking face.


She beamed at him. "How do you like my surprise, Vincent?"

"But... I thought you were in..."

"Texas, yes. I was. But things went well. By pushing a little I was able to complete the interview early and hop aboard the next flight. I was missing you too much!"

"And I you, Catherine. I'm so glad you'll be here for Winterfest!" Suddenly it struck him: he was feeling her presence now, full strength, alive with joy and mirth, but until she touched him there had been nothing in their connection but a dimmed, faraway presence. "Catherine, our bond? How come..."

She looked slightly, if somewhat unsincerely contrite. "Oh, that? I wanted so much to surprise you, for once, so a little with our connection." The smug look came back. "I'm becoming rather good at it."

He chuckled. "So it would seem. I was sitting here, and I must confess brooding a little because I didn't like the idea of a Winterfest without you... and I had not the slightest clue that you were so close!"

"Gotcha, didn't I?"

Catherine's feelings were bubbling with love and happy mischief, and her crooked grin as she spoke was so adorable that Vincent felt an irresistible urge to kiss it. And without thinking further he did just that. Pulling Catherine against him he closed his arms around her and lowered his mouth on hers, savoring her stunned, gasping breath as their lips connected. So easy, finally, was his last conscious thought before he lost himself in her taste, in her touch, in the warmth of her response once she got over the initial shock. Catherine's body molded itself to his, her arms rose to circle his neck, clinging as if for dear life as she let out a small, incredibly arousing moan of pleasure. Her mouth opened eagerly to welcome him in, her tongue caressing his before going for some exploration of its own. Their connection was roaring with surprised joy, mind-stunning pleasure, and happy hunger, both Catherine's and his so intimately merged Vincent couldn't tell anymore where one ended and the other began. The sensation was so new and so deeply fulfilling, even while it aroused further, deeper needs, that both of them could have gone on that way for hours, lost in the simple joy of their first kiss, but for the mundane necessity of breathing that finally made them break their embrace. For a while they just stood there, staring at each other, panting as much from shocked awe at what had just happened as from lack of oxygen.

Vincent recovered first, and his immediate reaction was to check on Catherine, both visually and through their bond, to make sure she hadn't been hurt in any way by his momentary loss of control. But she was all right. Much more than all right, if truth be told, and Vincent couldn't help a rush of self-satisfaction, not to say smug pride, as he registered her still wild heart rate, rushing breath, flushed face and dreamy, not quite focussed gaze. Now who had been surprised?

Some of his smugness must have permeated their bond, for Catherine grinned and poked him playfully in the chest, finding enough halting breath to speak. "All right, Vincent, you win. I like your surprise even better!"

He smiled back. "To be perfectly honest, Catherine, I have surprised myself as well."

She cocked her head to the side. "Oh. You mean you didn't intend to kiss me?"

Under the apparent lightness he felt her rising fear that he might regret their kiss and pulled her back into his arms. "Oh yes, I did!" he said, breathing in the sweet fragrance of her hair. "I was resolute on kissing you for Winterfest. That's one of the reasons why I was so distressed by your absence. I have wanted to kiss you for a very long time, Catherine. I love you so!"

He felt another rush of stunned joy through their connection as she tilted her head back to gaze into his eyes, her face radiant. "I love you, Vincent!" she answered, adding with a touch of mischief "Guess that doesn't come as a surprise!"

He chuckled in answer and took her lips again, slowly and softly, with soulful tenderness. Without releasing his hold he sat back in his chair, Catherine on his lap, and for a while they just cuddled contentedly together, savoring their blissful new nearness.

Finally Catherine spoke, without lifting her head from Vincent's chest. "Tell me, in what way did kissing me surprise you?"

She felt a deep rumble of amusement under her cheek before he answered. "It was so easy! I had thought such a step would ask for all the courage I could muster, but all it took was your sudden appearance, and your smile. I acted without thinking."

It was her turn to laugh. "Now that's good news! But beware! I could get used to your thinking less and acting more, you know!"

He sighed. "Yes, Catherine, I know. I'm so grateful for your patience!"

"Don't start feeling guilty!" she retorted, tapping his chest lightly. "The moment was not right before, we both knew it would take time. I don't mind waiting when it's worth it, and you're definitely worth it!" she added, allowing her hands to roam over his chest and shoulders. "You're worth everything!"

She was thrilled to feel his hands move in response, possessively caressing her side from shoulder to knee as the throaty answer came. "So are you, Catherine." She sought his lips for another kiss, freely unleashing all her pent-up desire, somehow aware at the deepest level that this time he wouldn't shy away from their shared feelings.

Pulling away from her was the last thing Vincent wanted, as he greedily devoured her offered mouth, revelling in the fast-escalating passion that held them both in its throes. He was fully aroused now and, positioned as Catherine was, there was no way she could ignore it but he didn't care. The small, faraway portion of his mind still able to reason registered the fact, and dismissed it with a mental shrug. The time had not been right before, but now it was, and everything that had for so long seemed difficult, unsurmountable even, was now simple and easy, just as that first kiss had been. Vincent felt at last free to follow his heart and, yes, his body too, wherever they would take him.

His hand slid down to Catherine's thigh to pull her even closer to his hardened flesh and he flexed his hips against her, welcoming the increased pressure with a sigh. He was dismayed for a second to feel her pull away slightly, but it was only to move her leg so she could straddle him, and they both moaned with pleasure at the fuller, more satisfying contact.

Catherine had stopped thinking. Even if deep inside a small doubt subsided that this could really be happening, that all she had wanted for so long was now hers for the taking, she just didn't care, lost in the sensations that assailed her through all her senses. Vincent was everywhere, everything. The taste of him, the scent of him, the possessive roaming of his hands on her body, his erotic growling moans as she shamelessly rubbed her aching core on his erection, were driving her to a frenzy. More, she wanted more! Boldly she untied the laces at the neck of his shirt and slid eager hands under the fabric to find his warm flesh, savoring the feel of the silky-soft fur covering his chest while her mouth travelled on his face, nibbling his chin before seeking the heat of his bare neck.

Vincent growled softly at her touch, a reaction that would have shamed him only days before, but he didn't even notice, overcome with the sensation of Catherine's touch on his bare skin. He, too, wanted more, much more, and one of his hands cupped her bottom to press her even closer to meet his thrusting hips, bringing a momentary relief to his craving need, while the other daringly slipped into the v-neck of her blouse to find her own warm flesh. Impatiently pushing aside the satin and lace that impeded their quest, his fingers sought and found the silky, softly rounded treasures that had caused him more than one erotic dream. Vincent felt the jolt of pleasure his touch sent through Catherine's whole body and eagerly continued his exploration. He cupped one breast fully, his thumb caressing a hard, erect nipple, and revelled in Catherine's throaty moans. Yet that was not enough. He had to see, he had to taste. He deftly unbuttoned Catherine's blouse, and her own hand rose to undo a hidden clasp, causing the offending wisp of lace to fall apart. Then she pulled away slightly, offering herself to his gaze.

For a while Vincent just looked, filling his eyes with the sight of his Catherine's creamy, dreamlike perfection. Then he ventured his hands, his large, hairy, clawed hands, on the delicate flesh, and just loved the way they fit there. The sight of her nipples, taut with arousal, made his mouth water and without hesitation he bent to taste them, giving each in turn his loving attention, aroused to new heights by Catherine's taste, the erotic fragrance of her skin, and the waves of her pleasure inundating the bond. He began to thrust against her, seeking her core in rhythm with his suckling and he felt her eager response, her own hips flexing hard to meet his thrusts. They both wanted more, and they wanted it right now.

Reluctantly, Vincent lifted his head from Catherine's breast and fought back the instinctive urge to take her there and then. He wasn't feeling in the least uneasy or ashamed of what had just taken place, but he felt the need to slow the pace a little, take time to settle down before letting things go to their now inevitable conclusion.

Catherine took her cue and straightened up, pulling her shirt together to cover her breasts, trying to catch her breath as her heart slowly came back to a normal rhythm. Her physical frustration was acute, as she knew was Vincent's, but she was not disappointed. What had happened tonight between them was much more than she had dared hope for when he'd first kissed her. Vincent was moving things forward at a much faster pace than she'd expected...and the night was young still. She smiled warmly at him, sending her love and complete trust through their connection. "Wow!" she said. "A night for surprises, it would seem."

That made him want to smile. And you aren't through yet, Catherine. Yet he kept a straight, almost solemn face as he spoke. "Catherine, it's late and you must be tired. I should walk you back to your apartment, or take you to a guest chamber..."

Nooooo! Catherine wanted to scream. Why did he send her away now? She just couldn't stand the thought. She opened her mouth, ready to protest, ready to beg, even, but something in their bond, a sparkle of happy mischief he wasn't totally able to hide from her, made her quiet down and listen as he continued, the sparkle now showing up in his eyes.

"...but I find myself unable to part from you. I want you too much to let you go tonight, Catherine. So please, will you stay?"

She gasped and her eyes opened wide. His candid statement and request were clear enough, yet she had trouble making sense of them. She had to make sure she hadn't mistaken his meaning.

"Stay? You mean here, in your chamber? With you? All the way?"

She heard the deep rumble of his laughter and his eyes shone with mirth.

"Yes, Catherine, all the way, if this means what I think it does." His gaze darkened and his voice was deeper as he added "To make myself perfectly clear, I want you in my bed, naked in my arms. I want to make love to you through the night, as I have dreamed to for so long."

A wave of heat swept over Catherine at those long-awaited words, and she had to fight the urge to throw herself on Vincent and ravish him on the spot. One question to ask, just one more.

"Are you sure, Vincent?"

"Do I sound unsure?" he retorted.

She grinned widely. "No, actually you don't. So I'll quit questioning my luck. I'll just take you at your kind offer, tumble you into bed and make wild love to you through the night!"

"That's a promise," he said, pulling her against him for a possessive and very thorough kiss. When they broke apart, panting with renewed desire, they gazed in each other's eyes for a long time, a wealth of feelings flowing freely through their connection. Without needing to mention it, they were both fully aware that they had just committed themselves far beyond the coming night. The life together that had been their dream was about to begin, and there were still many unsolved questions in that area, but neither of them worried about that right now. Now that the decision had been made, they knew that they could go from there. They were two clever-minded, strong-willed individuals, both ready to do whatever it would take to make it work. They trusted that they would find a way, if only because they had no other choice. After this night, there would be no turning back, they both knew it, and rejoiced in it.

Vincent rose from the chair, set Catherine back on her feet and made sure she could stand on her slightly trembling legs before going to the entrance to let down the drape that hung there, a drape normally always tied to the side to leave his chamber open to all visitors. But not tonight.

He turned back to find Catherine sitting on his bed, untying her sneakers. She apparently intended to waste no time! Her jacket, blouse and bra were gone, leaving her bare to the waist, and for a second he just enjoyed the view, remembering how her silky skin had felt in his hands, how wonderful she tasted. The sight of her nipples hardening in the chilly tunnel air was just too much to stand and in a few strides he was kneeling in front of her, reaching for her.

She indulged him, and herself, for a few delicious seconds before pushing him gently back. "Vincent, you're wearing entirely too many clothes for my taste. You surely know how much I've wanted to rid you of all those layers. Please allow me!"

This was a moment Vincent had expected to dread, uneasy as he felt in the past about displaying his differences, most of all to Catherine, but all it brought him now was thrilled anticipation at the thought of feeling her touch on his skin again. He knelt there, helping her pull off his heavy padded vest, his sweater and shirt, and finally found himself bare to the waist in front of his Catherine. She took a moment to enjoy the sight, as he had done with her, before reaching out to him with eager hands and mouth, his moan of pleasure echoing hers as they both revelled in the skin-to-skin contact. "Mmmm, Vincent, you feel wonderful. You are wonderful!"

"Oh, Catherine!" he half-growled in response, lost in the feel of her. "You are so beautiful, so soft. Your touch is driving me to madness. Now, please! It has to be now!"

"Yes, my love, now!" Feverishly they struggled to get rid of their remaining clothes. Catherine's went first. Vincent's boots caused a few seconds of frustration, but they were soon gone, and his pants followed, revealing all of him to Catherine's eager eyes. The sight made her swallow hard, the surge of raw need in their connection so strong it nearly sent Vincent over the edge. When she eagerly reached out to touch him he stopped her hand. "Please don't, Catherine," he managed to utter, fighting to keep control. "I don't think I could...stand it."

"Then come inside me now! Please, Vincent, now!" she breathed, pulling him down with her. He lost no time to comply and pinned her down with his weight, kissing her hard and deep as his legs pushed hers apart. She opened to him, flexing her knees to grant him easier access, and the tip of his erection easily found her waiting core. He broke the kiss to gaze into her darkened eyes, trying to keep control of of his raging need. He entered her cautiously at first, then more boldly as he felt her welcoming flesh yield easily to his, and finally slid all the way home.


Vincent nearly let go, then, nearly exploded in Catherine's smooth heat, so overcome was he by the sensation of her slick, tight flesh enclosing him, by her own sharp surge of pleasure when he entered her and the soft, moaning sigh she let out. He gritted his teeth, restraining his urge to thrust until he had regained some measure of control. He knew he wouldn't be able to make it last, not this time, but he wanted Catherine's pleasure even more than he did his own, and attuned himself to her reactions as he started to move, slowly at first, gradually building up to full, deep thrusts as the waves of her sensations rose to match his own. She had been almost as close as he and soon she moaned and writhed under his now frantic strokes, sobbing his name. One more powerful thrust was enough to send her over the edge and Vincent eagerly followed, losing himself in her convulsing depths as they tumbled as one into a maelstrom of incredible sensations.

When the waves of their shared pleasure finally receded, they slowly, reluctantly became aware of their surroundings and rather incomfortable position across the bed, Catherine's head nearly touching the stained glass window, Vincent's full weight on her. He shifted slightly to allow her to breathe, and kissed her with all the tenderness their mindless urgency had left no room for. "Oh, Catherine, I love you!"

"I love you, Vincent." she whispered back, still somewhat breathless. She felt his twinge of unease that those words should come only now, and stroked his back soothingly. "Don't. It just had to be that way, hard and fast. We'd both been waiting for too long for it to be another way. And, such as it was, it was just wonderful."

She felt him relax. "Wonderful doesn't begin to describe it."

"You were definitely worth the wait, as I knew you would."

He chuckled, back to playful mode. "And you haven't seen anything, yet."

"Oh, really? But then, neither have you. I've been saving up, you know."

Her suggestive tone stirred him anew, still buried inside her as he was, and he thrust lighly against her, making her moan. "I can't wait to find out."

"What about now?" she asked, flexing her hips to draw him deeper. "We can take all our time."

Reluctantly he pulled away from her and got up, smiling at her dismayed moan. "I said I wanted you in my bed, Catherine, but we got on our way there. Come, now, before you get cold.

"Oh, I trust you could keep me warm!" she pointed out, but obediently rose to slip under the covers he held up for her. He went around the chamber to put out all the candles and she followed him with appreciating eyes, her openly lusty thoughts causing him to tease "Just hold on, Catherine I'll be right back!"

"You'd better!"

Laughing, he slipped into the bed and pulled her in his arms. "Or else?"

"Oh, nothing, nothing at all," she purred, happily burrowing in his warm strength.

Now they could take the time to leisurely explore each other, and they did. Now was the time for tender touches, teasing caresses, whispered words of love and daring kisses, until their shared need became too demanding and their bodies joined once more to move together in perfect harmony. As one they rode the crest of their rising pleasure and soared into the starlit heights of completion. Then, still deeply joined, they slept.


Catherine woke up for the third time ľor was it fourth, she'd lost the count- in the night, feeling astonishingly rested and refreshed, considering how little they'd slept. Vincent's slow, even breathing under her cheek and the quietness of their bond told her he was still asleep. A well-earned rest, she had to admit. Vincent may have been a bit slow in reaching a decision, but once he was there he certainly made up for lost time. All the way. And all the ways. Let me count the ways... she mused. Wild and passionate, sweet and tender, slow and thorough, light and teasing, their loving had been all that, and more. And they'd only just begun...

As she came to full awareness, Catherine realized the pipes were no more silent. The tapping was continuous, messages going back and forth, so it must be morning. She couldn't understand all of it but caught Vincent's name code several times. Tonight was Winterfest, and he must be needed.

She felt a stirring in their bond as Vincent woke.

"Hello, handsome!" she said, kissing him lightly. "I'm afraid we overslept a little."

She saw his eyes open wide as he registered her presence in his bed, then shine with love as he recalled how she'd gotten there. "Good morning, Catherine!" he said, pulling her down to him for a loving kiss. The pipe-tapping went on and when they broke apart Vincent reluctantly sat up. "It's past nine, already! It would seem I'm needed in the Great Hall."

The sheet had slipped down when he moved, revealing his fully aroused state, and Catherine couldn't resist fondling him, eliciting one of those delightfully erotic growls she'd come to know so well. "I could object you're just as needed here, my love, but that would be selfish of me. Let's get up and dressed, and I'll volunteer to help as a compensation for detaining you!" She glanced toward the entrance. "A wonder no one's come to look for you, yet."

"The drape is down, a strong enough barrier in the tunnels to ward everyone off. Or almost everyone," he added with a wry smile, as laborious steps and the tapping of a cane could be heard approaching.

"Vincent?" Father sounded definitely annoyed. "Vincent what are you thinking? You should know better than to lazy around in bed, and today of all days! I sent Geoffrey to wake you up, but he said your drape was down and he dared not disturb you. Vincent?" the tone had become slightly anxious "You're not ill, are you? Vincent I'm coming in, now!"

As they hastily grabbed the quilt to pull it up to their chins, Vincent and Catherine exchanged a mischievous grin. Someone was in for a surprise!