Aftermath

Pat K.

Night had fallen and the lights of the city spread out beyond the balcony like a Christmas display.   Cathy leaned against the ledge in the cool night air, not seeing the brilliant panorama as she tried to focus inward on the bond that she shared with Vincent.  She had hoped that he would come to see her, she had hoped that for the past two weeks.  She was still waiting.

He had gone away, deep into the earth, to reconcile himself with his actions.  It was her fault . . . again, and he had shut her out . . . again.  She castigated herself for putting them both in danger and for causing him such pain.  She realized that what little good she accomplished in her work was not worth the danger to herself, and therefore to Vincent.  This had to stop!   It would stop.

In the days following the assault by the two evil preppies, she had been stunned to find herself elated that they were dead, but she was angry that Vincent had been forced to do the deed.  He had killed them to protect her, and she was unsettled by the realization that she wished that she had had the means to exterminate those vermin herself.  Anger consumed her; he should not have to bear the anguish of their deaths.

She had sent her love through the bond, and her apologies.  Her anger had faded, leaving her with the lonely emptiness of his absence.  As she waited, night after endless night, panic had clutched her heart.   He was such a gentle soul, and she knew the toll the violence took on him.  What if he blamed her?  What if he couldn't put this behind him?  What if ... what if ... what if he left her to preserve his sanity?

The thought filled her with dread, and she began to shake.  Lowering herself onto the chaise, she huddled there, trembling, with her arms wrapped around her stomach.  The thought of Vincent removing his love was physically painful, and she doubled over into a ball, tears flowing freely down her cheeks.  No ... no ... he couldn't ... he wouldn't ... would he?

"Catherine?"  Vincent's arms folded around her and pulled her against his chest.  She hadn't heard him arrive or felt him sit beside her on the chaise.  As he drew her into an embrace, she wrapped her arms around him and held on for dear life.  He held her close and rocked her as one would hold a frightened child, letting her sob into his quilted vest.

As the crying eased he whispered,  "Tell me."

"I'm sorry . . . I'm so sorry.  I love you, Vincent . . . I need you.  Please don't leave me."  Catherine's response was disoriented as she kept repeating these phrases over and over.  Vincent continued to rock her and waited for her to calm down before trying to decipher her remarks.

"Catherine, I don't understand.  What has frightened you?  Why are you sorry?"

Catherine hiccuped as she tried to regain her composure.  She continued to hold Vincent tightly, both to keep him close and to reassure herself that he was really here.

"Oh, Vincent.  I'm sorry for everything . . . for putting myself in danger . . . for causing you pain.   I love you so much and when you didn't come for such a long while, I was afraid that you had left me for good.  It hurt so bad . . . I couldn't stand it if you left.  I'd die, Vincent.  I'd die."

Vincent was incredulous at what he was hearing.  He leave Catherine? What was she saying?  She was his life, why would she think that he would leave?  Through the bond he could feel the depth of her despair, the pain she was experiencing. It startled him to realize that her pain was as deep as his would be if she were to go away; she was voicing the same feelings that he had often felt but wouldn't admit.

"Hush, Catherine.  I'll never leave you.  You're my life."  The strength and security of his love flowed through his arms as he held her, and he projected the depth of his feelings through the bond.  Catherine, cocooned inside and out by the warmth of his love, soon calmed and snuggled into his embrace.

His soft, husky voice murmured in her ear.  "I'm sorry my absence frightened you . . . I never want to frighten you, Catherine."  He thought of the times that his darker side had surfaced   -- she had never been afraid of him . . . even when Paracelsus' drug had held him in its grip.  The only fears she had were for him . . . and of losing him.  He struggled with this insight, resisting the acceptance of its meaning.

While he had been away, during those long days deep below the tunnels, he had grappled with himself.  The beast within had gained more control during the past few months, and the episode with the murdering young men had given it a stronger hold.  He was frightened -- frightened for himself, but more especially frightened for Catherine.  If the beast emerged and hurt her, he would not be able to live with that anguish.  He struggled to maintain control.

Then one night he had a dream -- a nightmare actually -- that had changed everything.  In his nightmare he had killed once too often and his control had been lost.  Paracelsus had come to the tunnels masquerading as Father and had pushed the delicate balance of his mind further with lies about his birth.  In his rage, he had killed him -- not finding out it was Paracelsus until the deed had been done.  Knowing that the confrontation with his darker side was being lost, he separated himself from those he loved and retreated below the catacombs.  There he battled the beast.

Then, Catherine was there . . . somehow . . . in that isolated cave . . . her presence helping to subdue the dark power that engulfed him.  And, in that distant cavern, they gave themselves to each other, as a man and a woman.  He recovered from the breakdown but the bond had been severed.  Catherine was by his side during his healing and, though he knew he loved her, he couldn't remember her name and didn't remember what had happened in that far away place.

Next, Joe Maxwell was hurt; and, in the process of helping him, Catherine was abducted.  Without the presence of the bond he had been unable to find her, though he searched for months.  Finally the bond reappeared, but when he arrived, Catherine died in his arms telling him of their love in the cave, and that she had had a child of that love.  The bond he had felt was not with Catherine but was with his son.

The loss of his truelove was unbearable, but though his only wish was to follow her into death, he had to continue -- he had to find his child.  Through frustration, pain and torture he continued, and he finally brought his son home.

When he awoke, his body wet from tears and sweat, he realized that it had been a nightmare . . . that he hadn't really lost Catherine.  He tried to interpret the dream, to determine its meaning and how he should proceed.  He had finally realized that Catherine's love was the key to his existence and that he needed to talk to her.

The memory of his dream, of his loss, washed over him as he gently rocked Catherine in his arms.  Silently, warm tears traced through the golden fur on his cheeks.  Catherine felt the wave of sadness, of dispair, and pulled away to look into his face.

"Oh, Vincent.  I didn't mean to make you sad . . . you're back, I'll be okay."

He shook his head.  "It's not that, Catherine."  As he held her close once again, he told her of his dream.  Her fingers clutched his shirt as he told her of her death, but he felt a stab of joy when he mentioned their son.

"It won't happen like that, Vincent.  I won't let it."  An idea that she had entertained earlier took shape in her mind; a decision was made.  "But I do think we need to talk.  There are issues that we dance around, afraid to discuss for fear of hurting each other, but I believe that not discussing them is more destructive.  Tomorrow is Friday, why don't we spend the weekend together, just the two of us?  I can come Below, or you can stay here."  She looked at him with loving anticipation.  "But, if we're Below, we need someplace private where we won't be interrupted every five minutes."

The thought of spending that much time alone with Catherine filled Vincent with excitement and trepidation.  She was correct, however, they did need to talk.  Both locations had their pros and cons.  Catherine sat quietly while Vincent contemplated the choices.

"I believe that Below would be best, Catherine, if you don't mind.  I know of a place where we will not be disturbed." She nodded her assent.  "Now, I must leave so that you can get some rest."

Before stealing over her terrace wall, he held her tightly, kissing the top of her head.  "Whenever you're ready tomorrow evening, I'll meet you at the threshold below your building."

 #########

It was almost seven the next evening when Catherine finally got home from work.  Dropping her briefcase and purse on the sofa, she decided to take a quick shower before heading Below.  Twenty minutes later, having thrown some clothes and toiletries in a bag, she was climbing down the ladder into the sub-basement.  Walking out of the beam of light that filtered down from the world Above, she flowed into Vincent's arms.  This was the only world she needed, or wanted.  This was heaven, this was home.

Picking up her bag, he took her hand in his, and they walked quietly Below.  They turned into a side tunnel before reaching the hub of the underground community, a tunnel that Catherine had never traveled.   At one point, Vincent lit a lantern that had been left in the passageway and led her down a tunnel that had an air of disuse about it.  She followed him fearlessly through the dark; her confidence in him touched his heart.

They finally reached their destination -- a large cavern containing a small underground lake.   The firewood stacked in a corner and the blankets, cooking utensils and other necessities she saw scattered about led her to believe that he came here often.  As if reading her thoughts, he explained that he and Devin had come here as boys, having grand adventures -- sometimes it was Mark Twain's Mississippi; sometimes it was Camelot; and sometimes it was Robinson Crusoe's desert island.  After Devin's disappearance, he came here alone . . . to remember and to dream.

He put her bag in a small cave off of the main chamber.  He had brought a pallet down so that Catherine would not have to sleep on the hard ground, and several extra blankets so that she would not be cold.  His thoughtfulness moved her as she looked around at the little touches he had added for her comfort.

He showed her the primitive but adequate bathroom facilities, and a large, shallow pool nearby that was fed by a warm spring, to use for bathing.  While she explored, he lit the fire and put a pan of water on to boil.  Soon she returned to sit beside him before the flickering light.  Knowing that she would probably not eat before coming Below, Vincent had prepared a sandwich which he now unwrapped and handed to Catherine.  He made a pot of tea as she slowly ate her dinner, then handed her a mug of the soothing brew.

She sipped the warming drink and leaned against Vincent, feeling a tremor as her head rested against his shoulder.  She concentrated on relaxing, and her serenity helped calmed his unease.  She knew that being together like this was a trial for him, one that he had to resolve at his own pace.  She hoped that the discussions they were to have would convince him that the relationship could be advanced.

"This is nice," she said, watching the dancing flames.  "Thank you for letting us have this time together."

 "I would do anything within my power for you, Catherine, you need only ask."

She smiled slightly as her eyes began to close.  "I'll remind you of that, Vincent."  Her voice dropped off as she fell asleep within the circle of his arm.

After a while, he gently carried her to the bed he had made for her, slipped off her shoes and covered her with the blankets.  He left a candle burning in a niche in the cave so that she wouldn't be afraid when she woke.  Returning to the fire, he wrapped himself in a blanket and stared at the flames until he, too, drifted into the oblivion of sleep.

Catherine awoke to the darkness of the dimly lit cave.  The slow-burning candle provided enough light to remind her where she was, and she stretched contentedly knowing that she was here with Vincent, alone.  She entered the large chamber to see her love preparing breakfast by the fire, his damp hair evidence that he had been awake long enough to bathe.

She poured herself a cup of tea and watched as he expertly scrambled some eggs.  They conversed during their meal -- how they had slept, things that had happened Below, how Father was -- general topics that didn't address the reason they were here.  Breakfast finished, dishes washed, they sat by the fire, and Catherine finally decided to break the ice.

"I've been thinking about us a lot during the last weeks."  She looked at Vincent, his golden beauty illuminated by the fire.  "I love you, Vincent, and that's not going to change.  I meant what I said the other night -- if you left me, I'd die.  How could I live without my heart?  It just isn't possible."

She sighed in resignation.  "However, I've realized that I'm the cause of so much of your pain . . . if not all of it."  She shook her head to still his protests.  "Yes, I am.  I stupidly put myself in danger time after time, and you rescue me.  I know how it affects you, and I should have been more careful.  It's going to stop!"

He was surprised at the vehemence of her words, at the tears in her eyes.  He wanted to hold her but could tell that she needed to be apart at the moment.

"I talked to Joe yesterday.  I told him that I wanted out of investigations . . . now.  I'm not going to risk our safety any more, it's just not worth it."

"What did Joe say?"

She smiled at the recollection.  "He was shocked, probably more by my demeanor than the request."  Vincent heard her quiet laugh.  "I was highly assertive, to say the least.  Anyway, we talked, and he agreed with me.  So, starting Monday, I'm going to be working in the trial division.  I'll be doing research, preliminary work, stuff like that . . . but it won't be dangerous.  I also told him that these sixty hour work weeks are history.  And weekends are mine!"

Vincent chuckled at her determined look, and cocked his head in that endearing way of his.  Her face softened. "Well, I'm going to try, anyway."

He could sense that there was something else troubling her.  "What else is bothering you, Catherine?  Tell me?"
 
"As I thought about us, and our relationship, I came to a disturbing conclusion.  I think that maybe . . . subconsciously . . . I put myself in danger just so you would save me."

"Catherine!"  There was disbelieving reproach in Vincent's tone.

"I think it's true, Vincent.  You know I wouldn't intentionally do anything to hurt you; but maybe, just maybe, I do it unintentionally."  Her voice softened, and her eyes refused to meet his.  He could feel sadness and remorse emanating from her.

"I know that you love me, but I guess I need tangible proof, and, in a way, that's what your protection is."  She paused as if gathering her thoughts. "I've also been thinking about your dream."  Her tear-filled eyes finally rose to meet his.  "I think that your dream was a sign that only our love . . . physical as well as emotional . . . can make you whole.  You fight this other side so much, afraid to let any of your passions out, that it's tearing you apart.  Everyone has that primal side, that part of them that is passionate and protective.  You can't live without it, and that's what you're trying to do.  You have to learn to accept that inner self -- only by accepting him can you control him."

"But Catherine, you've seen that side of me . . . you know how dangerous it is.  I'm not like normal people.  I can't give in to those feelings."

She moved closer to him and took one of his hands in hers.  "You must, Vincent.  Only by incorporating those feelings will you weaken them.   They stay bottled up with no outlet until there's an emergency, and then you have to let them out.  It's like putting a hole in a balloon -- if the balloon isn't filled, the hole will let the air out slowly, but if the pressure is too high, the balloon will explode when pricked."

She rubbed his golden hand, marveling in the work-roughened pads, the velvety fur and the deadly claws on his fingertips.  These were her hands . . . she had told him that before.  How she dreamed of these hands on her body, ached for his touch.  How to get through to him?  His voice penetrated her thoughts.

"There is merit in what you say, Catherine, but the beast wants to control me.  You cannot understand the power he has . . . and the desires.  I'm afraid I would hurt you if that need is fulfilled."

Her hand stroked his cheek.  "I know that you are not an evil person.  I know that you are, by nature, a gentle soul.  Perhaps this beast, as you call him, only wants to exist.  The only choice you give him is total control or nothing.  If you accept him, accept that part of yourself, he won't need control . . . he'll just have that part of your existence that is his.  And you could never hurt me, not physically.  I believe that with all of my heart."

He shuddered at her words, at the nearness of her.  He rose from the fire and began to pace. Those feelings that he suppressed so precariously threatened to emerge.  If she knew of his desires . . . his wants . . . his lusts, she would be repulsed.  Perhaps then she would realize how right he was in wanting her to find a life with a 'normal' man Above.  But, the thought of her with someone else burned his soul.

Catherine had risen too.  She stilled his frantic movement by standing before him, taking his face in her hands.  Maybe it was the nearness, the intensity of his feelings, or the slipping of his control; but Catherine could feel his passion straining to be loose.  She could also feel his distress and self-loathing.

"Tell me what you're feeling.  Put it into words."

His hand grabbed her wrist and held it tightly.  His voice contained a low growl.  "You don't want to know what I'm feeling, Catherine.  It would shock you . . . disgust you.    You can't imagine the things I want to do."  His eyes darkened as he stared down at her, pulling her close.

Her pulse quickened, her breathing became labored.  He felt vindicated as he reached through the bond to feel her fear and found -- passion.  He gasped in disbelief.  There was no fear in Catherine, none.  Only love and passion flowed to him.

Her stormy green eyes captured his as she leaned closer, her face inches from his own.  There were things he needed to understand, things he had never experienced, and she was about to give him a lesson.

"But I do want to know what you're feeling.   I do want to know the things you want to do . . . your desires.  Shall I tell you mine?  Can you feel my desires, Vincent?"  Her sultry voice sent shivers through him.

The bond coalesced into something almost tangible -- something so real that not only could Vincent feel the intensity of Catherine's emotions, he could read her thoughts, see her desires as they played out in her mind's eye.  His eyes closed at the onslaught of her passions, and he watched in horror -- then fascination -- her wants, her needs.  His skepticism and fear crumbled as he realized that all that he wanted, she wanted.  In fact, she wanted things he'd never even dreamed of!

His eyes, when they opened to look at her, were almost black in the firelight.  His blood burned as it flowed through his veins, his passions igniting with hers.  He swept her to him, holding her tightly against his trembling form.  As her body melted into the strong length of his, his desire for her was evident.  Normally, he would have pulled back to hide that proof in shame; now he pressed against her more firmly, and she rubbed herself against him in abandon.

"Is this what you want, Catherine?"  His husky voice fueled her excitement.

"Yes, Vincent, yes.  Oh God, I love you, Vincent.  Love me . . . please love me."

His lips were urgent and insistent as they found hers.  Catherine's mouth moved against his, her tongue flicking out to tease his lips.  Erotic sensations charged through him as her tongue dipped into the cleft of his upper lip. He gasped, though his lips never left hers.  She took the opportunity to eagerly explore his mouth.

The feelings created in Vincent as she probed his mouth and ran her tongue along his teeth were driving him crazy with desire.  He needed more of her.  His own tongue plunged and plundered.  He was intoxicated as he drank in the sweetness of her, his mind spinning.  Catherine was overcome by the heady sensations which engulfed her, and her body went weak.  His strong arms held her securely as her legs buckled.

They broke apart, gasping for air, and Catherine's head fell against his broad chest.  She heard his heart beating wildly against her ear -- or was it her heart -- or was it their heart?  There was no way to tell.  The sound merged with the pounding in her veins.

Vincent's hands stroked her back and managed to work themselves under her loose sweater.  The feel of his fingers against her skin reignited her frenzy.  Her own small hands worked their way beneath his vest to pull at his multiple layers of clothing, finally managing to extricate the shirttails from the waistband of his jeans.

Running her hands up under the offending clothing, her nails lightly scraped the soft fur she encountered.  His strong muscles rippled beneath her fingers, and she reveled in the experience.  Her face nuzzled under his vest, and she nipped his chest lightly through his shirt.

Vincent was consumed by the hunger that drove him -- hunger intensified through the bond by hers.  There was no more he . . . no more she . . . there was only they.

He swept her into his arms and carried her to the sleeping chamber.  The candles she had lit on rising provided a romantic glow to the small area.

Catherine untied the laces to Vincent's vest as he carried her.  Her frantic, trembling fingers worked the fastenings loose and began on the shirt beneath.  She stood before him and ran her hands up his chest and across his shoulders to slide the garments off.  He stood there, bare to the waist, waiting for the revulsion that he was certain she would feel.

Her eyes widened in appreciation.  He was beautiful . . . more beautiful than she had even imagined, and that was saying a lot.  He was muscular, but not muscle-bound.  His broad chest tapered to a slim waist and hips.  A fine coating of golden fur covered most, but not all, of his torso, thicker on his chest and down to his stomach.

No words were necessary as she moved closer and rubbed her cheek against him.  He felt her acceptance, her approval. Her hands stroked his back as she nuzzled and nipped her way to one partially hidden nipple.  Her questing mouth laved it, circled it, and then finally sucked lightly on the responsive pap.

Vincent's head fell back in ecstasy and a growl rumbled forth.  She stopped when his hands tightened on her waist, then slid upward, removing her sweater in one fluid motion.  His head bent to hers again, tasting her lips, then traveling down her jaw to her throat.  She whimpered and leaned back in the strong circle of his arms.  He kissed, he licked, he nibbled.  Her body was on fire for wanting him.

His lips trailed lower across the soft swell of her breast.  As his mouth encountered the lacy barrier of her bra, he almost roared in irritation.  Before Catherine could assist, a sharp claw had sliced the front band and the lacy lingerie fell to her feet.

Satisfied, his mouth searched lower finding the rosy bud of her nipple.  It tightened and peaked under the loving assault of his lips and tongue.  Catherine's hands wove through his golden mane, holding him to her.  As he began to suckle, the feeling sent tremors through her, centering at the core of her womanhood.

She gave a small sob as he ceased his ministrations, but his head just moved to love her other breast.  His thumb began to tease the abandoned nipple, and the onslaught of sensations pushed Catherine to completion, her body arching and quivering against his.  Vincent was stunned by the impression of a million tiny stars exploding in his body as he too experienced her orgasm.

As the tingling subsided, he lowered her to the pallet.  Catherine toed off her shoes as Vincent carefully removed her slacks and panties.  She lay on the bed basking in his adoration -- a rosy hue flushed her ivory skin.

Catherine looked at her love through heavy-lidded eyes.  She drank in the glory of him and craved more.  Even in the flickering candlelight she could see his erection straining against the confines of his trousers.  Vincent shared her longing, her need.

He removed his boots and socks.  Catherine bit her lip as his hands moved to the buttons on his jeans.  She could feel apprehension mixed with his passion, and projected her admiration with her love.  When he finally stood before her, naked to her inspection, she decided that feelings alone were not enough.

"Vincent, you are so beautiful.  Why have you ever been ashamed of your body?"

He felt the truth of her words, the pleasure she found in his appearance, and he nearly wept with the love he felt for her.  He lay beside her on the pallet, the length of his body pressed against hers.  Catherine reveled in the softness of his short fur against her skin, the warmth of his body infusing hers.

Catherine's hands stroked his wonderful face -- the angled brows, the unique nose and delightfully different mouth.  They traveled down his powerful throat to play across his well-built chest.  Scraping lightly through the light coating of fur, they teased his nipples before continuing lower to his stomach.  Her lips followed the path of her wandering hands, nipping and licking, causing explosions of delight in Vincent.

Her tongue dipped into the hollow of his naval as her fingers drifted down the outside of his leg and returned up the tender skin of his inner thigh.  Her mouth lowered to his erection as her hand cupped the furry fullness below.

She kissed the darkened head of his engorged sex and circled its tip with her tongue.  Her teasing tongue licked down the impressive length of his erection and back up, where it flicked against the little ridge of skin where the head joined the shaft.

Vincent arched, and his hands clenched the blankets at her actions.  No book, no dream could have prepared him for the sensations as her lips enclosed his throbbing organ.  The slow, steady rhythm of her mouth sent spasms through him.  He relinquished what little control he had maintained and bucked and thrust into her loving mouth, coming with a mighty roar.

Once again the heavens exploded as this time Catherine shared his pleasure and fulfillment.  He pulled her up to embrace her tightly.  He was intrigued by the taste of him in her kiss.

"Oh, Catherine, I didn't know," he murmured in her ear as he hugged her.  He marveled that he could feel elated and content at the same time.  She gave a secret smile as she snuggled against his shoulder.

His hands caressed her body.  He marveled at the silky feel of her skin -- the softness, the smoothness.  She shivered at the feathery touch.  He nibbled her ear and gently sucked the tender lobe, his warm breath exciting her.  He moved down her neck leaving dozens of butterfly kisses in his wake.  His mouth traveled the now familiar path to her breasts, licking and kissing the rosy buds and nuzzling the warm valley between.  The shivering became tremors as her body responded to his tactile persuasion.

His mouth moved lower: his teeth grazing her flat stomach, his tongue exploring her naval.  The scent of her femininity called to him, and he continued his journey.  He kissed the springy curls protecting her secret core -- that core that cried out to him and made his blood boil.  He kissed her hidden lips -- soft kisses at first, gradually building to passionate, delving ones.  Her scent, her taste drove him on -- drove him wild.

Catherine squirmed beneath him.  Vincent's hands clutched the soft mounds of her derriere, holding her still against his questing tongue and lips.  Her mewling cries intensified. She screamed his name as the ecstasy overwhelmed her, and even Vincent's powerful hold could not still the throes of her orgasm.

As her quivering subsided, Vincent heard Catherine's plaintive cry, "Please, Vincent, I need you in me . . . please."

He raised above her.  They were both ready again . . . so ready.  He hesitated as he saw how large he was compared to Catherine's daintiness, but her whispered pleas and her hands clutching his buttocks urged him on.  Her body expanded to accept him within her warm, wet channel as he slowly eased inside.  Nothing in his lifetime, even the sensations from earlier in the evening, could have prepared him for what he was feeling now.

Tears rolled down his cheeks at the wonder of being one with Catherine.  It was if a piece had been missing from his life and had now been found.  Her inner muscles clenched around him, and he began to move.  His slow, short strokes lengthened.  He withdrew until only the head of his erection was still within her.  At her whimper he plunged forward, sheathing himself completely.

Pleasure, passion, urgency, need: his emotions blended with Catherine's until they were one.  Soon his thrusts were frenzied, the resulting friction sending them to simultaneous release.  He collapsed beside her, ever mindful not to injure her with the weight of his body.  They held each other, wrapped in a cloud of euphoria, and drifted off to sleep.

Catherine awoke to the warmth of Vincent's body pressed against her.  As she lay there enjoying the closeness, she could tell that he was awake too.  She peered up into his brilliant, blue eyes and realized that the glistening she saw was unshed tears.

"What are you feeling?" she quietly asked, giving him a comforting smile and cupping his cheek with her hand.

"Love . . . gratitude . . . amazement . . . joy."

"I think you're leaving out 'smug'."  She gave him a devilish smile.  His eyes lowered and she knew she was right.  Giggling, she poked him in the ribs.  "Do I get to say 'I told you so'?"  His eyes raised to look at her again.

"Yeah, I told you so.  I told you that the beast, as you call him, wouldn't take over in the throes of passion.  I told you that you wouldn't hurt me.  I knew that you had a fantastic body under all of those clothes, and I was correct.  Boy, was I correct!"  Her voice dropped and her hand began to stroke his face again.  "I also knew that you'd be a wonderful lover, and wonderful is not a complete enough word.  You, my darling, are beyond imagination."

The tears that threatened before now streamed down his golden cheeks.  He loved this woman so much.  He had trouble believing that she loved him too, but she did -- there was no question of that anymore.  He hugged her tightly as if loathe to let her go.

"You know what I'm feeling?" she asked.

He shook his head, afraid to trust his voice.

"Sticky.  Why don't we go try out that warm pool.  It looked large enough for both of us."  She gave him a leer, and he chuckled.

The playfulness he felt from Catherine was something he hadn't expected.  He realized there was much he had to learn about love -- no, not love, lovemaking.  He relaxed and let her exuberance carry him along.

They splashed and frolicked in the water like two children.  Then Catherine began to wash Vincent. Playfulness became passion with the slow, arousing strokes of the washcloth.

She knelt in front of him and leaned forward, her hands moving in slow circles on his back.  The feel of her breasts against his wet chest, her nipples peaking in his soft fur, excited him.  His growing desire was evident as she moved against him.  Vincent was embarrassed by his reaction to her caresses, ashamed at his lack of control.

Catherine looked him in the eyes, her face inches from his.  "Relax, my love," she whispered.  "Never be embarrassed for wanting me.  Your desire excites me.  Can't you feel my desire for you?  Never hide yourself from me, Vincent."

As he relaxed, he could feel her mounting desire through the bond.  It was wonderful to have permission to just be himself, not the Vincent that everyone expected, the one who was restrained and reserved.

Catherine washed his arms, his sides and down his legs. As she massaged the soles of his feet, she discovered that he was ticklish.  Next, she soaped the broad expanse of his chest, fascinated by the softness and strength beneath her fingers.  Vincent lay back in the soothing water as her hands drove him to distraction.  Catherine felt a vibration and, as she leaned closer, she heard a purring sound emanating from him.  Before he could become self-conscious, she kissed him and told him how much she enjoyed the sound.

She continued the lazy circles on his chest, spiraling to tight rings around his taut nipples, and then expanding out again to include the entire expanse.  Her hands drifted lower to rub his firm abdomen and a slight tensing of the muscles told her that he was ticklish there too.

He held his breath as he waited for her hands to fondle the erection that had embarrassed him minutes before.  He exhaled in a sigh as her soapy hands firmly stroked the length of him. She moved lower to cup and squeeze the furry balls.

He lay in the water, eyes closed, enjoying the erotic sensations washing over him.  He had not been bathed since he was a small child and found the experience, as performed by Catherine, remarkable.  He floated in that place just beyond reality as her hands worked their magic.  A rippling of the water indicated that she had moved, but he thought nothing of it until he felt himself enclosed in the warmth of her womanhood.

He opened his eyes in surprise.  She knelt astride him, her body clinching at his throbbing flesh.  Slowly she raised herself and, just as slowly, lowered.  Her unhurried movement aroused him further.  His hand moved to carefully rub her hidden nub of desire.  She threw her head back and her hands came up to rub her breasts.  The sight of her caressing herself inflamed him.  His hips thrust upwards, deepening his penetration and increasing the speed.  Vincent tried to hold back as the combination of stimuli pushed Catherine over the edge, but she tightened around him with such intensity that he was carried along with her.

The water lapped around them as she fell forward onto his chest.  Their breathing finally calmed.  She raised her face to see him looking at her in wonder.

"You are a miracle, Catherine,"  He smiled at her.  "But I believe you will be the death of me."

Her eyes filled with tears as she remembered all of the times in the past when she had put him in danger, but smiled as an errant thought flitted through her mind.  "You better not.  If you die then I'd have to face Father."  They both laughed trying to picture that scene.

Later, they sat quietly by the fire.  Safe within his arms, Catherine watched the flames and let her mind wander.  She thought of all that had happened today.  She thought of the changes which would need to be made.  She thought of how much she loved Vincent.

"Where are you?"  His voice was quiet as he rested his chin on her shoulder.  She snuggled closer before answering.

"With you . . . always with you."  Her voice was dreamy.  "I was just thinking of our future.  You do realize things are going to change, don't you?"  He tensed at her words.  "I won't be able to be apart from you for weeks at a time.  Not even days.  In fact, hours will seem an eternity."

"I will come to you as often as I can."  His tone told her that he understood her longing.

"I know . . . but it isn't safe for you to come Above too frequently, and you'd have to leave before dawn."  He felt her determination as she spoke. "Therefore, I must come Below more."

"You have a life Above, Catherine."

"No . . . I have a job Above.  You're my life, Vincent.  I've been trying to tell you that for a long time.  Now that Daddy's gone, you and those Below are my family.  I want to be with you Vincent.  Please don't say no."

She turned her head to look at him.  "You told me last night that you'd do anything in your power for me.  Well, this is what I want."

His awareness of her through the bond was still heightened, especially with her in his arms as she was now.  He sorted through all he was feeling from her and made a decision.

"If that is what you wish, Catherine, then I will not object.  However, there is one condition I would make to your staying Below."

She looked at him apprehensively.  "And that is?"

"Our world Below is very conservative, my love.  We are not ignorant of the world Above.  We keep abreast of what is happening and it's influence filters down even to where we are.  We try to live by a moral standard that might seem old fashioned to some, but it has served us well."

"Are you saying that this new aspect of our relationship must be kept a secret?"

He smiled as he held her.  "No.  I don't believe I could keep this a secret even if I wished.  I want everyone to share in my joy . . . our joy.  What I'm trying to say is -- Catherine, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

Her happiness flooded over him, and she kissed him tenderly.

"It's I who would be honored, Vincent.  There is nothing I'd like more than to marry you.  Yes, my love, yes."

She began to rain kisses on his face and neck.

"We should tell Father," he said, eager to share their news.

"Tomorrow," Catherine replied, as her kisses grew more passionate.

"Tomorrow," Vincent agreed as he picked her up and headed for the smaller cave.  "Late tomorrow."