Special notes: This takes place very late on Halloween night, a few hours after the story "What I Wanted to See". Also note, this is a few days after "There Will Be No Virgin Birth", and there are direct references to that story as well.

"I do believe I'm ready to turn in," Catherine decided when she and her mate returned to their chamber. A glance at the clock showed the damage. 5:30am. Not bad for a Halloween night above.

Vincent draped his cloak over a chair -- his movements far less sluggish than his wife's -- then reached out to capture her hand. "Thank you, Catherine. It was wonderful to meet so many people from your past."

She smiled and stepped into his arms, pleased to hear verbal confirmation of what she'd hoped.

"Acquaintances, mostly," she clarified. "But they say that in order to know where you're going, you have to remember where you're from." Looping her arms around his neck, she leaned her head back sleepily. "I wanted you to know where I'm from."

Vincent nodded thoughtfully. "Because where we go, we go together."

"Mm-hmm," she agreed, then took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "And at the moment, I'm hoping the most immediate destination is 'to bed'."

From the small of her back, his hands slid a trail to the top edge of the black, satiny costume, one claw-tipped finger tracing the line where her skin dove beneath the fabric. "Am I still to be granted the privilege of tucking you in?" His head dropped dangerously close, feline lips threatening a kiss from the merest of inches away.

"I thought you wanted to tell Father we were home?"

"I should, and I will," he replied, wondering which part made him the dizziest. -- -- The feel of her warm, bare skin beneath his hands, knowing that it -- and much more -- was his for the taking. Or just the faintest waft of her breath across his face. It was a surprisingly difficult choice.

"If I don't go," he lamented, "we may have a very uninvited visitor wandering down the tunnel. However, I do believe he can wait just a moment more." Closing the distance, his kiss was welcomed sweetly, despite the late hour. And hooray for easy zippers, as the one along her spine willingly gave way to his tug.

She was tired though. So much so that he could feel it seeping into his own muscles. And as badly as he wanted her, he also wanted to see her comfortable.

"Come on, love," he coaxed, bending down to scoop her into his arms. "You lie down while I run the errand."

Catherine found herself deposited on the edge of the bed, Vincent's torso blocking her view while he leaned above her. Roughened fingers grazed her sides as he lowered the top of her costume ... the touch lingering along the underside of one breast, reverently testing the weighted curve. His reward was a drunken smile from his beloved, and her fingers twining into his hair to prompt another kiss.

He savored the touch, knowing he really should pry himself away to assuage Father's one yearly night of panic. Or, at the very least, close the tapestry across their door. And so, he collected the energy already rising within him and put it to good use. Lifting her again, he shifted her farther back on the bed, the blanket collected and opened as they went.

Shoes were kicked off to clatter on the floor, and she wiggled and turned, freeing herself from the remainder of her costume. He helped where he could, bashfully trying to follow her lead ... hands colliding with hers as she gingerly removed the stockings.

The garments were soon tossed haphazardly onto the chair with his cloak, black satin atop thick, black wool and leather. What a pair they must have made tonight.

"Did you really have a good time?" she asked, settling herself down beneath the cover. She couldn't help but notice how he stared at the pile of clothing.

Vincent nodded thoughtfully, then sat down beside her. "The comments were much the same as other years." His voice dropped, about to address his ultimate taboo. "I've grown accustomed to being called 'a man in a cat costume'."

A hint of sorrow crept into Catherine's expression as well. Yes, she'd heard what some of the passersby had said. Even what some of her own former colleagues had said. People who genuinely believed they were paying a compliment, but were unwittingly sticking the thorn right into Vincent's side. And yes, she'd felt the silent squeeze of his hand at those times, gathering not only his own strength, but hers as well.

"They didn't know any better, Vincent." she soothed softly, taking his fingers into her own, burying them into the niche where her chin met the pillow. Warm fur stroked gently across her skin, and she truly hoped he could sense the comfort it brought her.

"I know," he replied. Much to both of their surprise, he almost managed to laugh. "This is the first time, however, that the 'cat' was accused of escorting his own prey."

Catherine actually did laugh ... the lightest chuckle of relief. Yes, the cat and the bunny ... and how wonderful that her beloved could find some humor in it. Maybe even some acceptance ... of himself, as well as the couple they made. "At least some of them got it," she smiled. And just for good measure, she brushed her lips suggestively across his finger. "So ... do you plan on catching your prey tonight?"

His answer was the loving nuzzle of her nose, followed by a kiss powerful enough to press her into the pillows.

"Let me deal with Father."


He was correct. Father had begun pacing, and was prepared to begin the search above if Vincent and Catherine had not come home by first light. Now, at least the patriarch could rest.

As for Catherine, she was doing more than resting upon Vincent's return. -- -- She was fast asleep, curled onto her side. the blanket pulled tightly around herself.

He watched her for a moment, instinctively counting the rise and fall of each breath she took. Hoping he was the cause behind that little smile on her face. Wondering if it was his arms that her hand searched for, when it moved to her midriff, fluttering about for a brief second before finally coming to rest.

This was a pleasure he had only indulged in a few times since her move below. Two months, and he could still barely believe she was here. And she was happy -- a fact driven home especially hard tonight. No matter what his own perceptions were, or which of Catherine's words his demons insisted he doubt, or even the sensations he managed to feel through their bond ... ... he now had her father's opinion as well. And that was far less likely to have been sugar-coated. Heaven help him, he could feel genuine belief beginning to sprout within.

And now ... she'd fallen asleep. It would have been humorous if it weren't for the wonderful evening they'd already shared, and the needs and emotions that had been rising within him ever since their time atop the Empire State Building.

He undressed silently, still watching every nuance of her unconscious movements. Again she smiled -- this time with an accompanying sigh -- then rolled onto her back. And this time, he knew it was for him. One pale arm stretched to skim across his pillow.

Slowly, he sat down beside her, reaching to replace the blanket that had rebelliously abandoned her right breast. A test of his fortitude, accomplished with the utmost respect. And he might have paused in a moment of pride, if it weren't for the fact that she was already waking.

"You're back," she smiled, shifting just enough to completely undo his chaste adjustment of the blanket. Her hand stretched forward, fingers burrowing into the fur on his chest, grabbing and stealing away his next inhalation. "Shouldn't you be in here with me?"

"You should sleep," he husked, realizing the irony of making such a statement while he sat there nude. It was an honest assessment though.

Her fingers flexed, collecting a fistful of fur with which to draw him down. "I'm not sleepy," she teased in a blatant lie. "And there are other things I'd rather do."

He leaned closer, impelled just as much by her words as by the delightful tingle of her hand at his chest. "I love you," he whispered, the words spilling out as easily as air, then met her for a kiss.

Between them, she was already working the blanket away. Why be covered by that, when she could be covered by his body? A philosophy he apparently agreed with, as his concerns over her exhaustion gave way to the desires she was quite deliberately stoking.

For the second time, he lifted her farther back across the mattress; climbing in behind her; amused at the lazy way she enjoyed the ride. "Truly Catherine ... if you're tired, I'm more than content just to hold you."

"Now you're the one doing the fibbing," she laughed, then summoned her energy and coaxed him more properly atop herself. Her laughter was met by his, and she made an impromptu decision. "We're never replacing this mattress, you know. It feels far too good when we do this."

Vincent dipped his head for a teasing brush of her lips. "I would like to hope it is not merely the mattress that brings you pleasure."

"Oh no," she drew coyly. "Far from it." Her legs began freeing themselves from the weight of his, her intention to cradle him the way he liked. Instead, she suddenly let out an alarmingly sharp, "Ouch!"

He pulled back, scanning immediately to determine the problem, surprised even more when she began rooting around beneath her bottom. And when her hand reappeared, it held a soft -- but painfully large -- pompom. The bunny tail.

"It must have torn off," she laughed, tossing it toward the chair. She missed dreadfully ... good thing it could do no damage. "And stop looking at me like that," she chastised. It was no surprise of course. She knew he was probably still waiting for the tragic day he would accidentally scratch or hurt her. "Stop it and come back here," she insisted again, her finger tapping his lips in accompaniment.

The light, the hunger ... both poured back into his eyes, and he gave her fingertip the first kiss, her lips the second. This time he dove into it, reaching to brace her head against his deepening kiss. No, he wasn't so concerned anymore that she only wanted sleep.

Her legs arced low along his, just as he knew they would and just as he preferred. Lying in this soft curve she made was, for him, perhaps the best comfort in the world. And when he raised his head, fully planning to tell her this, he saw it. -- --

His fingers had crept beneath the base of her skull ... and he saw it. Charles Chandler's words flooded back into his thoughts. 'She's in good hands,' the man's spirit had said. It was meant figuratively, but here it was, quite literally.

Like with so many other things, Catherine had praised his hands often in the past. -- -- Praised their strength. Praised their gentleness. Even praised their fur and claws. But it was her father's objectivity that was making Vincent truly listen. Yes. They really were 'good hands'. And they were good because of exactly what he saw now ... how lovingly they held her ... how delicately, and with such reverence.

"What's wrong?" she asked with a bemused smile.

Vincent shook his head and answered with unusual confidence. "Nothing, love. Nothing at all. You told the world tonight. And I think, perhaps, the world heard you." He grinned, his canines exposing themselves.

"I'm getting the feeling," she opined, catching the subtle shift in her mate, "that you did too."

He nodded, holding her gaze. "Yes, Catherine. Indeed I did."

His lips returned to hers, pressing fast gentle kisses before raining the same blessings down her throat. Skin he would nuzzle and nip, having finally begun to accept that the squeals brought forth by his canines were not caused by fear or pain. In fact, that was when she'd arch up all the more, seeking out the pointed symbols of his differentness.

And those hands of his ... good hands ... followed, one set of fingers skimming along behind his damp trail of kisses as he made his way to her chest. Two soft pillows, innocently offered, waiting while a claw circled one, his mouth descending on the other. And it signaled a whole new level when his teeth bravely found the hardening tip.

She arched in surprise, hands raking his back to get tangled in his mane. "Vincent!" she laughed, mid-pant.

Hesitating, he looked up. "Is that all right?" Such a hopeful look on his face ... it easily quelled her humor.

"Oh Vincent." Her fingers slid to his chin and she raised herself onto an elbow. "Of course it's all right. Anything's all right. You must know how much I enjoy it when you touch me. Can't you feel it?"

He answered with a shy smile. Of course he could feel it when her adrenaline surged like this. Especially when the surge came because he was loving her.

"I've told you before, and I'll tell you again," she entreated. "There's nothing you could do that would drive me away. How often do I have to beg you to just keep touching me?"

... ...

Ideas swam in his head. Longings and fantasies. Some as young as this miracle he'd found with his mate, and others as old as his distant boyhood. Waking dreams he'd had of this woman beneath him, conjured up by whispers, words, and allusions of the world around him. ... ... If she only knew the ways he had imagined touching her.

"Are you certain, Catherine?"

"Yes." she assured him, then offered a kiss as evidence. She located an upper canine, sliding her tongue across it in a way that might seem quite risky if she didn't trust him so completely.

He shivered, knowing full well what was rising within him ... what she was coaxing to the surface. His movements took on an air of determination as he deepened the kiss, pushing her back to the pillow. She was readying herself, preparing for her mate to join his body to hers. Her anxiousness and anticipation was so acute and so focused, that he could sense it in ways even beyond the bond.

She was, however, premature.

Again he watched his hands ... his good hands ... as they slid down her neck. The cravings were approaching, stalking and eyeing him as they always did. But, somehow, they didn't feel quite so threatening anymore.

She wanted his deadly, claw-tipped fingers? She got them ... completing their path ... wrapping with surprising force around her torso ... demanding rather than requesting that she remain still while he returned his affections to her bosom.

She wanted his dangerous, animalistic teeth? She got them too ... scraping, nibbling, pinching ... enough to communicate his passion, but insuring there would be no marks or blemishes left behind. That, he knew, he would not be able to stomach.

And it was welcomed. Eagerly and jubilantly in fact, if her frantic hands and hitched breaths were any indication. A glance upward found her eyes closed, her head tilted toward his side of the bed, jaw bobbing as if trying to say something and failing miserably. The message reached him though, primarily because he was finally listening.

Minutes passed ... ticking around the clock while he loved her. Minutes that should have come months earlier. Even years earlier, if he were to be fully honest regarding how long she had been inciting such reactions within him. Minutes that left her scratching into his back. Wouldn't it be ironic if it were he who ended up with the marks?

"Vincent!" she murmured plaintively when he retreated at last. It stirred his blood like nothing else ever could, and he inhaled deeply to rein himself in. Her hands were left grasping at his arms, trying to find some way ... any way ... to pull him back. Somehow he resisted, repositioning himself instead. And when he returned to her, it was her navel that felt the next flick of his scratchy tongue.

Catherine laughed ... actually laughed out loud ... her legs kicking reflexively and her hands rushing to the rescue. Quite frankly, it tickled!

His own hands were waiting, intercepting hers and pushing them back to the mattress. He was laughing too, which only made matters worse ... his nose and lips tickling an even wider area of her tummy.

"That's not fair," she insisted, consciously avoiding the point that he had never done such a thing before. "Tickling deserves a warning."

"I wasn't tickling you," he countered impishly. His head rose just enough to meet her eyes.

Catherine's grin expanded as the perfect answer formed in her mind. He had joked earlier about the comments they'd received this evening. -- -- Compliments on his 'cat mask', and amusement over the 'prey' by his side. The type of subject they usually never made light of, but seemed surprisingly approachable at the moment.

"Is this part of the role?" she queried bravely. "Don't cats play with their prey?"

... ...

The words themselves had always held such a unique pain for him. A lonely, solitary pain. But tonight, maybe something magical really was happening. With the look on her face; the depth of love and trust in her eyes as she lay before him, those words held far less sting.

"Is that what you were doing a few nights ago?" he asked with an unavoidable hush, amazing himself almost as much as he knew he would her. "The night we fled the prostitute in the park? Were you playing with me then, Catherine?"

Instantly, the memory flooded her thoughts, remarkably vivid in its detail. And with it, came understanding. -- -- What this husband of hers was actually implying.

"No," she replied with absolute sincerity. "Of course not."

Slowly, his head shook, his mane inadvertently tickling her further as it brushed across her abdomen. "Nor am I, love," he answered. "Nor am I."

... ...

She knew what was coming. Felt almost delirious, but knew what was coming. Still, her reaction was quite sharp when his tongue scratched intimately up her inner thigh.

If he weren't so fast, he might have been kneed in the side of the head, how quickly her legs shot up in reflex. He caught them, a warm palm covering the damp trail he'd left, then gingerly persuaded her to relax back down. And while her physical reaction was one he might historically have misinterpreted as refusal, the waves of delight lapping at him through the bond were quite clear ... welcoming him home ... begging him to continue.

His forehead came to rest on her abdomen while he collected his wishes and desires. -- -- Closing his eyes as he inhaled her scent. Marveling that she wanted this, and wanted it solely and specifically from him. ... ... At this point, maybe that 'animal within' over which he eternally fretted, wasn't really his enemy after all. Not if it craved to supply his mate with exactly what she wanted.

A kiss for the soft skin of her lower tummy. Another into her wiry curls. Then a swipe of his tongue just breaching her flesh.

This time her flinch got nowhere, his hands already braced against it. And she exclaimed something ... something about his name and her high power. Not that he was entirely certain though. He was already quite lost elsewhere. Again his tongue flicked in, halting the split second he heard her gasp. She was a better teacher than she thought, even if she couldn't form actual words.

And to his absolute delight, the line between what she wanted, and what he wanted to do, blurred away to nothing. Every purposeful nestle of his face against her lips, every deeper sweep of his tongue, even the infinitely careful insinuation of one claw-tipped finger ... was met with a mewl; a whimper; a hitch of her breath. Better yet, her hands had developed a mind of their own, having caught some locks of his mane ... fidgeting with them ... then inadvertently yanking when the tip of his tongue centered in on the button he'd found.

"Oh my God," she finally exclaimed, convulsively sitting up. Certain parts of the female body were perhaps not designed for the highly focused indulgence of a sandpaper tongue -- pliable though it may be. "Spread out," she huffed, her fingers finding a better grasp on his scalp. "God that's right, Vincent. Just, everywhere."

He coaxed her back down, then obeyed hungrily; pressing himself into her; shielding his teeth warily behind long laps of his tongue. When her legs strained against his hands, that was good. When she squealed and rocked, that was better. And when she pushed herself up against him, that was heaven.

The true reward, however, came when her legs went beyond straining, pinching around his head as she spasmed. He gave up all pretense of trying to hold her still. Why even bother? It was far more honest to simply find a better grip and pull her as close as he could. This was for him ... from every movement her body made, to every comfort her heart offered ... and he had a right to claim it. A truth that was sinking in at last.

He could barely even think anymore, when he lifted himself up on shaky limbs and began a crawl toward his equally shaky mate. How good it felt to lie down into the cradle of her body. She was still twitching, her eyes fighting their way open to greet him. How wonderfully familiar it was to gather her beneath himself as he gently entered her. Even his growl, grumbling into existence, had become familiar ... even to his own resistant ears.

The growl; her name; whispers and kisses -- all pressed to her skin as he thrust against her. Not for long though ... he didn't require long, given how far to the edge she'd already driven him.

His release echoed through the chamber, then left him panting for air -- perhaps even more so than usual. And she caught him, just as always, letting out only the slightest exhalation when his chest collapsed onto hers.

"I love you," she insisted -- demanded -- at his ear, wrapping her arms around him and pulling him down.

"Oh Catherine," came his answer, whispered earnestly and sealed with a powerful kiss. She could still do more with three little words than any lauded poet he'd ever encountered. "And I you. Always." he agreed vehemently, repeating perhaps the most important promise of his life.

... ...

At last he rolled away, freeing her from his weight but faithfully dragging her along. She landed curled against him ... pressing closer ... squirming beneath the blanket while he reached to retrieve it.

"Now that," she began, then faltered. She shook her head where it rested in the crook of his shoulder. "I can't even find a word to do it justice." He laughed with a hint of new-found pride, his arm tightening spontaneously to pull her up for another kiss.

She followed it with an exaggerated puff of exhaustion, her happiness and contentment flowing out in waves to seep into her mate. And soon her eyes closed, her fingers sliding forward on his chest. She was getting comfortable. Settling down for sleep, and determined that when it came, she would be well entwined with her beloved.

A stubbly chin brushed across her forehead, followed by the press of gentle feline lips. "Shall I understand then, love, that you enjoyed the holiday."

"Very much," she murmured, trying to snuggle that last inch closer. "I wish it didn't have to end."

Vincent agreed completely with the wistfulness in those last words. But a glance at their little clock told him the futility of such hopes. "The sun will be rising in minutes," he observed. "The night is gone."

Catherine smiled ... the slightest movement on his chest, but still detectable to the lover who watched her so vigilantly. "Can I still be your prey?" she asked softly. "Even during the rest of the year?"

It was a dreamlike tease, he knew, and he could feel her body slowly giving out in his arms. She would be asleep soon. Made tired by an exhaustive evening above, then -- if he dare assume -- worn out even further by his own loving attentions. Now she sought one more comfort. The promise that this step -- this increased trust and intimacy that had grown and spread over the last days -- was not an illusion brought on by one magical holiday.

He would provide that assurance, and do so in spades. His grip strengthened as always -- silent promise that her sleep would be most safe -- and he tilted his head to hers.

"You are not my prey, love," he whispered, then made the statement he was finally beginning to comprehend. "What you are, Catherine, is far deeper. What you are, is simply mine."