Janet Rivenbark

After Lynn posted Weekend in New England on Tunnel Tales, several people asked if I planned to write a sequel, well, for those of you who asked, here it is.

SoonÖA week ago, Vincent had said "soon" when sheíd asked him when he wanted to make another trip to the cabin in Connecticut.

Her question also had included the unspoken inquiry as to if and when they would make the final step in their move toward love.

"Soon," heíd said.

Since heíd uttered that momentous word, sheíd been very busy.

She called the caretaker who looked after the cabin to make sure that the place was fit for habitation; she hadnít been there since last April.

Sheíd decided that she needed a new car. There was nothing wrong with the old one, except that she seldom used it anymore. She traded it and purchased a van. It would come in handy for picking up and delivering things for Below, and if things went her way, she was sure that she and Vincent would be making more trips to Connecticut so it just made sense. It was a comfortable luxury model and the rear windows were tinted as dark as was legal in the state of New York.

Her planning had really started the day after she returned from their first trip to Connecticut when she called Peterís office and made an appointment. Peter was surprised to see her; sheíd had her annual checkup back in January.

"Is something wrong, Cathy?" he asked as he entered the exam room.

"No Peter. Iím fine. I just needed to talk to you and probably get a prescription."

"Talk doesnít need an exam room," he said with a smile. "Come on to my office. Weíll be more comfortable there."

She followed him down the hall and when they were settled in the seating area in the corner of his office, she spoke.

"I havenít seen you much lately, Peter," she chided. "You havenít even come to see the new house."

"Itís been a busy spring. I donít remember last summer being particularly warm, nor were there any major blackouts, but there seems to have been a baby boom among my patients," he said with a laugh.

"Thatís a good lead in to what Iím here for," said Cathy.

Peter looked at her strangely.

"Youíre pregnant?"

"God no!" she said with a laugh, "I meant Iím here to ask for a prescription for birth control pills."

"Birth control pills?" he asked with a look of mild confusion.

"Yes, you know those little pills that come in the small plastic cases; the pills that keep you from getting pregnant? I took them a few years ago?"

Peter smiled. "Well, they do keep you from getting pregnant, most of the time, but you donít really need them unless you are having sex. You know, regardless of what my grandmother used to say, you just donít Ďcatchí pregnant."

"I donít need them right now, Peter, but I could need them soon. At least Iím hoping I will," she said with a smile and a blush.

"So your trip with Vincent went well?" he asked with a grin.

"You know about that?"

"Yes, I went Below on Saturday to take some things to Jacob and he told me that you and Vincent had gone to your cabin."

"Well, it didnít go much beyond talking, but Vincent agreed that it was time we started to move in that direction. I thought it best to be prepared."

Peter was thoughtful for a moment before he spoke.

"You know, Cathy, it may not even be necessary."

"What?" she asked, puzzled.

"Birth control. There is every possibility that Vincent is sterile."

"Sterile?" she asked. "How so? Has anyone mentioned this to him?"

"Iím sure that Jacob has discussed it with him at some point, but to answer your other questionÖ we have no idea why Vincent is as he is; how he came to be. Jacob and I have discussed it for years: hybrid, genetic mutation or genetic experiment. Weíve tossed around all kinds of ideas. We each have our own pet theories, but there is a good chance that whatever he is, is not reproducible; that either heís sterile or his genetics are not compatible with yours and you would not conceive."

"But to know that for sure, youíd have to have sperm and tissue samples. You could check a sperm sample right here in your office, but to do the genetic testing youíd have to send it out to a lab that does that sort of thing, and that would be too risky," she said.

"That is exactly why we havenít done genetic testing and Jacob has always refused to ask him for a sperm sample."

"I can understand that, it would probably embarrass them both. Besides, Iím sure Father never dreamed that Vincent would ever be on the verge of taking this step. Maybe later, once weíre comfortable in our relationship, if we ever make it to that point, but not now. Iíd rather take care of it and be prepared just in case. If we ever have a child I want it to be something we both have agreed to and planned for."

"That is good thinking," Peter agreed. "As I recall, you didnít have any problems with the pills you took before."

"No, in fact I liked not having cramps. I was very tempted to keep taking them just for that reason, even though there was no need after I broke up with Tom."

"One good side effect," he agreed with a smile. "Youíre sure you want to take this step?"

"Yes, Peter. I love Vincent and he deserves everything, every happiness that any other man hasÖ" She hesitated a moment then went on. "There isnít any reason that we shouldnít, is there?"

"None that I know of," Peter assured her. "Not to breach doctor-patient confidentiality, but I can tell you that Vincent is equipped quite normally, if a little more substantially than most men; not enough so to present a problem; but I was referring to the birth control, not the physical aspects. I know how much you love and want children."

"Yes, I do, but I know that one of Vincentís concerns is the possibility of fathering a child like him. Itís not that his life has been awful, itís just been restricted and he wouldnít want to have to deny any child, especially his own, the joy of playing in the sunshine and being able to live up to his or her full potential. Personally, I would love to have Vincentís child or children, no matter what, but if we made love and I got pregnant Iím not sure how he would react. Iíd rather take things one hurdle at a time."

"You always were a smart woman!" said Peter. "Just like your mother."

He reached for his prescription pad and started writing.

As he handed her the prescription, Cathy asked a question sheíd had floating around in the back of her mind since Peter had mentioned it earlier.

"You said that you and Father each have your pet theories; what are they?" she asked.

"Actually, all three of us, Jacob, John Pater and I had theories. Each is a reflection of our chosen fields, as you would expect. Jacob has always leaned toward some kind of genetic manipulation; possibly a scientist, working privately who had made some discoveries that never made it to the mainstream. John tended to think that Vincent is a hybridization experiment and I lean more toward a spontaneous mutation.

Cathy nodded. "Not a birth defect?" she asked.

"Not likely. In my experience, birth defects are seldom as symmetrical as Vincent. For example: a cleft lip. Iíve never seen one cleft exactly in the middle, and his isnít truly cleft; it doesnít affect his teeth or palate. Itís like a cat. Believe me, after I saw him for the first time, I went home and subjected our pet cat to a thorough exam. Vincentís teeth are perfect and similar to a catís in the front up to the canines, but he has regular molars in the back, he even got wisdom teeth when he was 19. As far as I can tell, his skull, jaw and facial structure are almost that of any man, except for the flattened nose and slightly more prominent cheekbones. I would love to be able to do a complete x-ray exam of his skeletal structure; maybe someday. As far as I can tell, he is human with a few anomalies. His normal body temperature runs a little above normal, his heart rate is slower, he heals faster, is very strong, weighs more than he looks because he has very little body fat, and I suspect his bones are denser than usual. He took some pretty good spills when he was a child, but heís never broken a bone."

"Iíve always wondered how he wound up in the trash outside St. Vincentís Hospital. Who would have thrown any living being out like so much garbage?"

"Your guess about that is as good as mine," he said with a sad smile. "Anna said that she found him near the trash and he was wrapped in what Jacob has always called rags, but I recognized as the receiving blankets that they used at St. Vincentís. They were old and a little ratty, but they were clean. I did my OB-GYN residency at St. Vincentís. They had their own design of receiving blankets.

"Jacob asked me to come Below within hours of Anna bringing Vincent to him. When I arrived, Vincent was still wrapped in a couple of the blankets. His umbilical cord was properly tied off and cut and heíd been cleaned up."

"So you think he was actually born at the hospital?"

"Yes I do, but beyond that I donít know. I just canít see any of the staff of the hospital, especially those that I knew, disposing of a baby that way, even if they thought he was dead and not entirely human. It was just lucky that Anna was there in the right place at the right time. They often went through the trash at the hospitals because they found a lot of blankets and sheets, cleaning materials, occasionally even drugs, syringes and surgical instruments. Anna heard him before she saw him. Sheíd thought someone had left a kitten out in the cold to freeze."

Cathy was still shocked that anyone would treat any baby that way.

"Have you ever told Vincent this?" she asked.

"He knows about the blankets, but beyond that, I have no idea what he thinks."

Before they could continue, the intercom buzzed and the receptionist announced his next appointment.

Cathy shook off the somber mood that the story had induced, stood and hugged Peter.

"Thanks, Peter. Iíll let you know how things go." She kissed his cheek and left the office.

That conversation had taken place almost six months ago. During those six months, she and Viincent had made progress. Kisses were an almost normal occurrence, although they always happened in private. Vincent had become more at ease with touching her in public, though. They often held hands as they walked through the tunnels and if they attended some function Below it wasnít unusual for them to share the settee in Fatherís study; sitting close with Vincentís arm around her shoulders.

Catherine had become a much more frequent visitor Below. She often spent the night in the guest chamber.

Then there was that night in August. Theyíd spent most of the afternoon with the children at a pool where they swam. The temperatures Above had been stifling for days and the heat had even made its way Below. Vincent finally suggested that he take the children swimming, and heíd invited Catherine to join them. Catherine had actually been in the water with them, but Vincent had stayed on the edge of the pool, fully clothed and keeping an eye on everything and everyone, including her. Sheíd noticed him looking at her as she stood on the edge of the pool in her simple white tank suit.

Later, they had been lounging on his bed taking turns reading to each other. She was tired from the afternoon of playing in the water; she had also eaten a good dinner and was having a hard time keeping her eyes open. She was sure sheíd fallen asleep first and she wondered later why Vincent hadnít carried her to the guest chamber. Heíd covered her with a quilt from the foot of the bed, then gone to sleep himself. When she woke the next morning, she was snuggled up to his side with her head on his shoulder and her arm across his chest. It was the most heavenly feeling she had ever experienced and she just lay there savoring it and storing every sensation so she could take them out later and examine them.

Vincent was a little shocked to find her in his arms when he woke and he was even more shocked at his bodyís immediate reaction. He drew his left leg up to hide it. Catherine was tempted to mention that she knew that most men woke in the morning with an erection, but she decided not to; she didnít want to embarrass him any more than he already was.

After a few moments, he untangled himself from her and sat up on the side of the bed. Then he rose and left, muttering something about a bath and clean clothes.

In spite of Vincentís embarrassment, that seemed to have marked a turning point. Although they didnít spend any more nights sleeping in Vincentís bed, they did share it a few times for naps. Catherine was very pleased to note that they always woke up wrapped in each otherís arms.

Her change in job status, quitting her job as an ADA and starting to work a lot less was a big step, but her move from her old apartment to a house on the other side of the park had been the biggest. She had been a little worried at first but it had turned out well, it allowed Vincent to visit more often and in more safety.

In fact, she hadnít mentioned it to anyone but everything sheíd done since Vincentís illness had been for his safety and well being. Sheíd felt so bad after his illness, knowing that all heíd gone through for her, for their dream, had been a major contributor in his illness. His collapse and near death in that cavern had been the decisive factor; sheíd vowed that it would never happen again. Sheíd already asked Joe to move her out of investigations and into something safer. But her work with domestic violence victims had been depressing and it had started affecting both her and Vincent. Her decision to leave the DAís office had a major affect on her peace of mind as well as Vincents.

The move into the house had been her chance to fulfill her dream of having a safe place where they could be together and where Vincent could experience as much of the world Above as possible.

Then came that evening only a week ago, when he had kissed her so passionately and she had been the one to lose control. She had all but begged him to take her to bed. Vincent had regained his equilibrium and put the brakes on. Sheíd been disappointed, but then heíd asked when they would be able to make another trip to Connecticut. She had asked when he would like to go and heíd answered "Soon."

She wasnít sure when "soon" was, but she had started preparing the next day. The day after she took delivery of the new van she asked Vincent when heíd like to make the trip. She told him that sheíd checked and the fall color was expected to peak during the second week in October and she knew from experience, that the weekends drew the most people. If they went up during the week, it would probably be more private and theyíd have less chance of running into anyone.

Vincent listened to her and then told her that he could go any time, he would just get Father to cover his classes.

They planned to go the following Tuesday evening and come back over the weekend.

They left from Catherineís house. She parked the van at the curb early in the day and loaded it as she got things together, when they were ready they just walked down the front steps and got in. Late on a Tuesday evening in a nice residential neighborhood, there wasnít that much going on and very few people on the sidewalk.

Vincent settled into his seat and buckled his seatbelt as Catherine pulled away from the curb.

"This van is smaller than the other one," he observed as he settled back in his seat and pulled his hood forward, "but it is a lot more comfortable."

"I traded my car and bought this. Itís almost like a car but will carry eight people, or I can take out the rear seats and carry more cargo. I thought it might come in handy, and itís a lot more convenient than renting a van every time I need one."

The trip was quiet; Catherine tuned the radio to an oldies station and they enjoyed the music as they drove.

It was close to midnight when they reached the cabin. It didnít take long to take everything in and put it away.

"It has been a long, busy day," said Catherine with a yawn as she looked at her watch. "I feel like I could sleep for a week. Sleeping arrangements are same as last time." She picked up her bag and moved to kiss Vincent on the cheek before she headed up the stairs.

"Good night, Vincent."

"Good night, Catherine. Sleep well."

She woke earlier than she expected, but she felt rested so she got up, dressed and went downstairs. She put a kettle on the stove to heat and started a pot of coffee. As she was sipping coffee and watching the morning news on TV she heard the shower in Vincentís bathroom and took it as her cue to start breakfast.

By the time Vincent came into the kitchen she had bacon, scrambled eggs and toast ready. The teapot was on the table next to Vincentís place and the coffee was next to Catherineís.

"Smells good," he observed as he sat down. "I didnít expect you to be up so early this morning."

She put a bowl of fruit on the table and sat across from him. "Since I quit the DAís office Iím not nearly as exhausted as I used to be. I was seriously sleep deprived back then."

"I didnít help matters much by keeping you up reading and talking so many nights," he said contritely.

"No Vincent, donít ever think that. Time spent with you was more relaxing and restorative than a full eight hours of sleep. If it hadnít been for you I wouldnít have survived the stress of the job much less the dangers," she assured him.

"Whatever you say, Catherine," he agreed. "So, what did you have planned for today?"

"I thought perhaps a little tour. When we were here last spring we didnít go far from the cabin, but when I was going through stuff when I was moving a found a map that Dad had drawn when he bought this place. He had all kinds of things marked on it that I had forgotten about. Some of it is on this property and some is in the state park that is just north of us, but all of it is within walking distance. We can go this morning, then come back for lunch or wait and go after lunch. We shouldnít be gone more than a few hours."

"Why donít we go after lunch," suggested Vincent. "I noticed that the woodpile is a little depleted but there is plenty of wood that can be split and stacked. I thought I would take care of it."

"Have you ever split wood before?" she asked with a look of concern.

"What do you think we burn in the braziers?" he answered. "We have special crew that collects firewood that is stored in a chamber that has a constant breeze. It dries, we split it and that is what we use to warm the chambers. The dryer the better; there is less smoke that way."

"I have a lot to learn," she said with a laugh. "I never even thought about it. I guess I thought the firewood fairies just brought the wood in."

"We do have Helpers who send wood down: scrap lumber, trees, all kinds, but we still have to process it to make sure it is burnable and small enough to handle."

"Iím sorry I doubted you. You just go and split some firewood, and Iíll find something to do. Too bad we donít have chickens to feed or hogs to slop; we could be like real pioneers."

"Now youíre being silly, Catherine," he said with a smile.

"Yes, I am. I just feel good, and silly seems apropos."

They had finished breakfast and she rose to clear the table. "Iíll take care of this and then get dressed. Iíll see you later."

Vincent headed out the back door and a few minutes later she heard the rhythmic thunk and crack as he got to work on the woodpile.

An hour later she went out to take Vincent a cold drink and was treated to something that she didnít see often. Heíd left his cloak inside, and as he had worked and warmed up heíd shed a couple layers of clothing. His vest and thermal shirt were hanging over the porch rail, and he was wearing snug jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. The t-shirt was tight enough that she could watch his muscles flex and bunch as he swung the ax. The sight affected her breathing, and she knew that he had sensed her reaction through the Bond when he turned and smiled at her.

"Is that for me?" he asked, nodding at the glass of iced tea in her hand.

"AhÖyes, it is." She quickly regained her composure and walked over to hand it to him.

She turned to look at the pile of newly stacked wood standing next to the porch steps.

"Wow, youíve got a lot done," she said.

"There isnít much left, I thought Iíd finish what is here. If you decide to come up during the winter youíll have plenty of fire wood."

"The cabin has central heat, but the fire is nice on a cold night. It is also perfect for drying wet socks and gloves after a snowball fight."

"You did a lot of that up here?" he asked.

"We spent every Christmas up here until Mom died." She had to laugh at a memory. "Our place in town didnít have a fireplace or a chimney, and we had to be here so Santa Claus would have a chimney to come down."

"And you would have a mantle to hang stockings on," added Vincent.

"Exactly," she nodded. "Youíre probably working up quite an appetite. I thought Iíd heat up some homemade chicken noodle soup I picked up at the deli, and make some grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. How many sandwiches can you eat?"

"Whatever you want to fix, Catherine."

"But how many sandwiches do you want?" she asked again.

"I donít want to be greedy," he hedged.

"How many?" she insisted.

"UmÖtwo or three, maybe."

"OK, Iíll fix six, that way you can have as much as you want and if there are any left Iíll just put them in the refrigerator for snacks later. They are easy to heat up in the toaster oven."

Later, when they ate lunch, Vincent did eat four, two of the cheddar and two of the Jarlsburg. He said it was because they were so good, made with some of Williamís homemade bread and deli cheese. Catherine ate one and only one made it into the refrigerator for later.

A short time after lunch Catherine led the way for their afternoon hike, map and compass in hand.

The first destination was a small brook with several small waterfalls. It had been a wet summer and there was plenty of water to make it truly a babbling brook as her father had labeled it on the map. They sat for a while on rocks hear the bank. Vincent closed his eyes and listened to the sounds.

"The sounds here are so different from any that Iíve ever heard before," he commented. "I noticed it when we were up here last spring. Even running water sounds different without the echoes."

She closed her eyes and concentrated. "Tell me what you hear," she said after a few minutes.

"Itís quieter now than it was last spring," he said. "I donít hear as many insects."

"Weíve already had a couple of freezes, that usually takes care of the majority of the bugs," she put in.

"And birds, lots of them. And I thought I heard a loon last night after I went to bed."

"You may have. I think they are endangered, but Iíve heard a few up here. It is a lonely sound."

"I can also hear little things scurrying through the dried leaves and brush. Probably field mice and rabbits. There isnít much breeze today."

"That is why it is so nice and warm." Not long after they had left the cabin, Catherine had taken off her sweatshirt and tied it around her shoulders and Vincent was carrying his cloak.

"I guess this is what they call Indian Summer?" he asked.

"Yep, the last little warm spell before it starts to get cold. It is my favorite part of fall."

They continued their walk with Catherine occasionally checking her map. Theyíd been out about an hour stopping now and then to admire a view, when she tugged Vincentís hand and pulled him to a stop.

"You have to close your eyes now," she said.

"Why?" he asked.

"Itís a surprise, and I hope it is the same as it was the last time I saw it at this time of year." She closed both her hands around his. "Come on. Close them, and no peeking. Iíll lead you. Just donít open them until I tell you."

"All right, Catherine. Whatever you say."

He closed his eyes and allowed Catherine to lead him the last twenty or so feet. They came out into a clearing, he could tell because the sun was warm on his face. Catherine took his cloak then placed her hands on his shoulders and positioned him where she wanted him then she stepped to one side.

"OK, you can open them now."

When he opened his eyes, the sight before him took his breath away. They were standing on a low bluff overlooking the lake. The lake was surrounded by forest. Theyíd visited the same spot last spring but that time the forest had all been in shades of green, now it was in every shade of yellow, orange, red, russet and brown that he could imagine; the clear, vivid blue sky above just made the colors of the forest brighter.

He stood for a long time, turning slowly, drinking it all in.

"Itís beautiful, Catherine. I donít have the words! Iíve seen autumn leaves before. Iíve been up to the park and taken some Below, and the children are always collecting them, but our candlelight just doesnít do justice to the colors. Iíve never seen colors like this before."

He turned to look at her and was taken with the look of love on her face as she gazed at him.

"What is it, Catherine?" he asked.

"You! I wish I could take your picture and take it back to show Father what you look like in the sunlight. And the smile, Iíve never seen you smile like that."

"Itís hard not to smile," he said. "Itís all so beautiful."

"Weíll stay as long as you want. We have a few hours before sunset, and I left lights on in the cabin and took some bearings before we left, so we should be able find it, even if it gets dark."

She turned and spread Vincentís cloak on the grass and sat down to watch him.

She didnít know how much time had passed, sheíd stretched out on the cloak to enjoy the warm sun and had dozed off. She woke when Vincent sat down and then stretched out next to her propping his head on his hand, looking down at her.

"Thank you, Catherine," he said as she opened her eyes.

"For what?"

"For bringing me here to see this. The colors are unbelievable. I can almost taste them!"

He leaned over and kissed her. It was meant to be a thank you kiss, but it quickly grew into to something more.

She reached up and pulled him back down to her as he started to withdraw, and the kiss continued and deepened. Catherine was concentrating on what was going on above her shoulders. Kisses werenít all that rare anymore, but they never went any farther. Her arms around him, his around her, bodies pressed together, but all the activity took place above the shouldersÖthat is if she could ignore that fact that Vincent would become aroused quite often, but that was usually when he would move away from her. This time they were on their sides and she could tell that he was becoming aroused, but he wasnít moving away, in fact, his hand had moved down and was resting on her hip. Just when she noticed that, he rolled over on his back, not unusual if things started to get hot and heavy, but this time he took her with him, so that she was lying on top of him.

She was afraid to move, for fear of calling attention to what heíd done, she just continued to enjoy what was going on. Vincent seemed to have lost himself in the sensations, his hips straining upwards just a bit, rubbing his erection into her stomach. That was when Catherine lost her grip and parted her legs to straddle him. She lifted her head just enough to get a breath of air and to look at Vincent, but something had broken the spell. She didnít know if it had been her move to bring him between her legs, or if it had been her breaking the kiss to gasp for air, but in a flash, he had dumped her on her bottom, and was on his feet pacing back and forth on the bluff.

"Iím sorry, CatherineÖ" he began.

"Donít you dare apologize, Vincent," she said in as calm a tone as she could muster, "unless you are going to apologize for stopping."

He turned to look at her, "Catherine, this is neither the time nor the place."

She took a deep breath and got to her feet.

"Well, you are probably right about that, but no apology, unless you allow me to apologize too."

"But you have nothing to apologize for," he protested.

"And neither do you."

She reached down and picked up her sweatshirt, and pulled it on, then she picked up Vincentís cloak and handed it to him.

"Itís starting to get chilly, and it will be dark soon. We should probably get back to the cabin."

With that she headed off down the path theyíd walked up on.

The walk back to the cabin was quiet, neither one of them spoke unless it was to warn about an obstruction in the path or to point out something interesting.

Vincent continued in that vein for what was left of the afternoon and Catherine was almost positive that what had happened on the bluff bothered him and he would probably ask that they return home that night. She was disappointed, but resigned. As always, it was three steps forward and two back, but at least they were making some headway.

The quiet continued through dinner, not much more than "please pass the salt" was uttered. Afterward Vincent helped her clear and load the dishwasher before he went to bring in some more firewood and throw a couple of logs on the fire in the fireplace.

"Would you like some tea, Vincent?" Catherine called from the kitchen.

"No thank you, Catherine."

He stood, dusted of his hands and went to sit on the couch.

Catherine turned on the radio and tuned it to a classical station before she joined him.

She propped her feet on the coffee table and relaxed next to Vincent.

"Youíve been awfully quiet since we got back," she commented.

"Iíve been thinking," he said as he stared at the fire.

"I gathered that," she said with a slight smile. "Have you been thinking about going home?"

He turned to look at her and the crease in his forehead showed his confusion.

"Home? No. Why would you think that?"

"Well, after what happened earlier and then you were so quiet; I thought maybeÖ"

"Of course not, Catherine. Weíve only just arrived. Itís been lovelyÖbut if you want to leave because of what happened, I will understand."

She quickly sat up and turned toward him.

"No!" she said emphatically. "What happened was wonderful! I welcomed it, but I thought that maybe you were upset about it."

"No, Catherine, Iím not, but it did make me think."

He opened his arms and she moved over to snuggle into his chest.

"About what?" came the muffled question.

"About how to go about asking youÖ" he hesitated and took a deep breath. "Will you stay with me tonight, Catherine? I donít know if it will go beyond what weíve shared in the past, but we have to start somewhere."

She closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. Sheíd been holding back her emotions all day and Vincent could feel the warmth of them engulf him as she relaxed that hold.

"Yes Vincent, Iíll stay with you. I love sleeping next to you and waking in your arms."

They remained quietly snuggling for a few minutes then Catherine sat up and smiled at him.

"I think Iíll just run upstairs and get ready for bed. Iíll be back in a little while.

She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek and was gone in a flash.

Vincent sat for a few more minutes, breathing deeply to calm his nerves before he too got up to go prepare for bed.

Catherine was in and out of the shower quickly, but then she stood in the middle of her bedroom in a towel trying to make up her mind what to put on.

Back in April after she left Peterís office she had walked for a while and had eventually passed one of her favorite lingerie shops. A gown on a mannequin in the window had caught her eye and she had stopped. Before she knew it, she was inside trying it and the matching robe on. It was even better on her than it had been on the mannequin. The gown was a simple design in ivory silk. The top was cut like a modest tank top that hugged the curves of her torso then flared out slightly at the hips and dropped to the floor in a cascade of shimmer. She turned to look at the back that dipped all the way down to a little past her waist. The matching robe was just as simple. Yards of fabric were gathered into the yoke that settled smoothly over her shoulders. The sleeves were slightly bell shaped and hung past her wrists. It was collarless and tied at the bottom of the yoke. She could just picture the whole ensemble by candlelight.

After sheíd tried it on, she couldnít resist so sheíd bought it and put it away for "someday."

"Has Ďsomedayí arrived?" she wondered. "Or does this call for the pink cotton knit pajama bottoms, matching tank top and terry cloth robe I brought?"

She looked from one to the other, then threw caution to the wind along with her towel and reached for the ivory silk.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," she told herself.

As she descended the stairs a few minutes later she was surprised to see Vincent standing at the bottom holding two glasses of wine. Heíd also showered and was dressed for bed. He was wearing the bottoms of a pair of dark blue silk pajamas that Devin had sent him and over that he wore the dark blue plush terry cloth robe that Catherine had given him the previous Christmas. What truly astonished her was that he didnít have on the top of the pajamas and he hadnít tied the robe. She had a very good view of his chest and he didnít seem to be at all self-conscious about it.

As she reached the bottom of the stairs, he handed her a glass of wine and gave her one of his rare smiles. He touched the rim of his glass to hers and she heard the faint ring of crystal.

"To you, Catherine," he said. "You are beautiful."

"Thank you, Vincent," she said with a smile, "but Iíd much rather say Ďto us.í"

She touched her glass to his then took a sip of the sweet, white wine.

"UmmÖAuslese. Where did you find this? I didnít know we had any."

"In the back of the pantry; I went in search of something to bolster my courage," he admitted a little sheepishly.

"Must be some of what Daddy brought back the last time he was in Germany. I love it and I think it is the perfect choice."

They stood a little awkwardly, sipping silently, at the bottom of the stairs until Vincent spoke again.

"Catherine, Iím not sure what will happen, if anythingÖ"

"Nothing will happen if we stand here all night," she pointed out with a smile.

She reached out, took his hand and led him across the room and into the master bedroom. She hid a smile as they entered the room and she saw that he had turned down the bed and lit candles on the nightstands. He really was trying.

She left him on at the left side of the bed and she walked around to the other side where she set her glass on the bedside table. Vincent had turned to watch her. She removed the robe and as she turned to drop it on a chair she heard his sharp intake of breath when he saw the back of the gown. She sat down and made herself comfortable with some pillows against the headboard as Vincent hastily set down his glass, removed his robe and joined her.

They were sitting, sipping their wine, and they were as uncomfortable as they had been standing out by the stairs.

Catherine decided that she would have to take matters into her own hands. She drained her glass and set it on the night table then blew out the candle. She fluffed up her pillow, grabbed the blankets, pulled them up and lay down on her back.

"You might as well finish your wine and put out the light, Vincent," she said quietly. "Like you said earlier, we have to start somewhere, and if sleeping in the same bed is the first step then we are taking it."

Vincent didnít say anything, but he followed her instructions. As he blew out the candle, the moonlight flooded the room then he too lay down on his back.

They stayed like that until Catherine finally moved. It wasnít meant to be seductive. She just rolled over onto her side facing him, pulled his right arm under her body and around her, then snuggled her head into his right shoulder and draped her arm across his chest after she pulled the blankets up around both of them.

She waited until she felt him begin to relax before she turned her face up and stretched to press a kiss on his cheek.

"Good night, Vincent," she said just before her lips touched his cheek.

The timing was perfect. He turned his head just as she stretched up toward him and their lips met. She never knew if it was accidental or if heíd planned it, but she didnít care. The kiss was meant to be a simple good night kiss, but Vincent deepened it, coaxing her lips open so he could taste her as he had that afternoon.

Catherine could feel the heat of his hands on her sides through the silk of her gown. He pulled back to look at her and she looked up into his face.

"CatherineÖIím not sure, but I want to try. I have a lot of book knowledge, but Iíve never had the opportunity to put any of it to use. You will have to guide me," he said earnestly.

She nodded. "The Bond will guide you, Vincent, that and our love."

With her head still pressed into his shoulder, she brought her arms up around him, drew his head down to hers and kissed him again. The world around her faded as their lips met. The heat of his mouth radiated through her, and as she pressed herself to him, she was sure this time that Vincent wouldnít panic and run away. Vincent held back at first, then surrendered and kissed her back and between kisses, he murmured, "Catherine, is this real? Will you disappear with the sunrise?"

She answered his queries with kisses, growing weak from the intense passion that was flowing between them. No one else had ever had this effect on her.

Vincent pulled back again and they lay quietly for a time, gazing into each otherís eyes, catching their breath. He seemed unable to keep from reaching out to touch her. He kept one hand on her at all times. She was of two minds: one was singing halleluiahs that they had finally come to this point, but the other was almost afraid to blink for fear that he would disappear. When his hand came to rest on her thigh, she placed her hand over it...pressing down, feeling the solidity of him...holding it firmly as if to keep him from slipping away.

He once again reached for her, gathered her into his arms, and kissed her passionately. His lips pressed against hers, and Catherine felt herself melting against him. Her mouth opened to his tongue, and as they kissed, the heat of the moment spread through Catherine. Her arms went up around his neck and she ran her hands through his hair.

"Where has he been hiding this passion for so long?" she wondered.

Suddenly he sat up and lifted her into his lap, his arms around her. He kissed softly all over her face. He tenderly kissed her eyelids, her forehead; his hands cradling her head. He pressed her back against the pillows again. She was filled with love and desire as he carefully began to slide the gown down one arm then the other. She watched his face as he moved his hand down her arm. He was as amazed with her as she was with him. As his fingertips brushed along the edges of the silk, the gown caught just as the tops of her breasts; she was breathing deeply, shivering as his fingers brushed her skin. He pulled her back into a sitting position, and he slowly traced upward until his fingers grasped the top of the gown, then he pushed it the rest of the way down. She felt the soft silk flow down her arms as his hands followed palms down, sweeping down her arms.

He sat cross legged on the bed and she still sat on his lap, gown around her waist. He put his arms around her waist and bent to lay his head on her chest, just resting it there. He looked up and into her eyes. She could drown in those eyes. They were filled with longing, passion, lust, but mostly love. She had never had a man look at her with the wonder that she saw in Vincentís eyes. She reached to touch his face, traced her fingers lightly over the bridge of his nose, trailed over his eyebrows. She ran the back of her hand over his cheek. All while he stared at her. It all felt so natural, so right.

He lifted her out of his lap and settled her on the side of the bed. He moved to kneel in front of her. She moved closer, her legs straddling his kneeling body. It was her turn; she leaned toward him and worked her fingers under the elastic waist of his pajama bottoms, then around to his back. Tenderly she slid forward a little and pressed her body to him, turning her head slightly to kiss him. As she ran her hand down his back, he surprised her and brought his arms around her, holding her firmly to him. He knelt there holding her for what seemed like forever, both of them resting against each other, peaceful and content in their closeness.

After what seemed an eternity, Vincent began sliding his hands over Catherine's bare back. His palms pressing hot against her skin. His hands then climbed upward to her shoulders and he leaned back, sitting back on his heels in front of her. He stared intently, and a look of ecstasy came over his face. She had small firm breasts with small rosy aureoles. Her nipples were already firm. He reached out tentatively to touch one, seeming almost afraid that she was a figment of his dreams and touching her might wake him and end it.

Catherine sat still, her hands at her sides. As she watched Vincent, she was amazed that such a man truly did exist. His tender touches were so much different from the frenzied groping of her past experiences. His fingers barely tickled across her nipples, his hand softly caressed and cradled the weight of her breast in his hand. Just the act of reaching out to her, aroused and excited her.

"Is this what it is supposed to be like?" she wondered.

As her breathing started to deepen and catch, she found she could no longer think about her past; the present was too overwhelming. She pulled him back into her arms, she pressed herself to him again. The warmth of his bare skin and the softness of the fine hair on his chest sent a deep tingle through her body, settling in lower abdomen: need.

Upon finding Catherine in his arms, Vincent enveloped her and held her close, kissing her neck. He shifted and stared deep into her eyes, searching for a sign that she was ready.

"Sweet Catherine," he breathed.

Catherine, at a loss for words, merely looked up at this man, this gentle perfect dream, and smiled. She then leaned forward to kiss just below his Adamís apple. A soft gentle kiss, lingering there with her lips pressed against him. She then began moving her fingers into the waistband of his pajama bottoms again. They both rose to their feet and her gown slithered to puddle around her feet, leaving her bare. She worked his pajama bottoms down his thighs. She followed them downward with her hands, sliding them over his hips and down the outside of his thighs. Vincent moved back from her and finished removing them, and dropped them on the floor beside the bed.

Once free of his pants, Vincent moved back to the bed and pressed Catherine downward and back onto the soft pillows. Lying next to her, he rested his left arm over her stomach, and turned her toward him. He pulled her into another kiss. He started slowly then abandoned all thought of control, sinking into pure passion.

Laying there with him, Catherine felt no shame or embarrassment. She had never been with a man who made her feel so comfortable. Nakedness seemed a perfect and natural state. Vincent was thinking the same thing. He and dreamed of this, but in his dreams it had always taken place in complete darkness. The reality of it was that the moonlight was streaming in the French doors across the room from the bed, and they were completely revealed to each other.

Vincent sat up beside her gazing at her, eyes trailing over the curve of her thigh, the soft mound between her legs, the dip of her stomach and the swell of her breasts. He stopped only when he reached her face, and there he bestowed a look of utter and complete happiness. Catherine was thrilled by the love in his look. They were a perfect match. She had no doubts. Nothing but peace and longing filled her.

Reaching for him, she invited him back down next to her. He took her hand, and instead of lying beside her, he dragged her upward to sit beside him, her torso turned toward him. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her into his embrace. In his arms, she had always felt so safe. So welcome. So loved. She would willingly remain forever. His lips tickled her ear as he whispered "My love, God, you are a beautiful woman."

He hugged her tight and released her, then slipped to kneel between her legs. Placing his hands upon her hips, he gazed up at her. He then rested his forehead against the hollow between her breasts, and held it there. Breathing deeply, she placed her arms around his head, pressing the sides of her breasts against his head. He then dragged his hands along the sides of her legs, the first time tonight she felt his nails. He rested his hands on her thighs. Looking up once more at her, he started to trail tiny kisses down between her breasts, and along the center of her belly, pausing at her navel. She was very still, one hand running through his hair. Catherine felt his tongue trail across her belly. His arms went around her waist and he angled back up to her breasts. She shivered as his fingers moved back to the front and feathered over her breasts. Then he rubbed his cheek against her stomach. Any other manís face would have been rough from the growth of stubble, but Vincentís was different, softer, not the scratchy sandpaper that other men had.

He moved back to her breasts and ran his tongue around one nipple then he moved to the other and did the same. She gasped when his mouth closed over it and he suckled like a baby. His teeth, those lethal, sharp fangs; she never even felt them. After a few minutes he moved his attentions to the other breast as he cupped the first one reverently in his hand.

Catherine moaned in response, her fingers digging into his shoulders. Vincent left her breasts and moved to her mouth and kissed her deeply as his hand moved to the soft hair between her legs. She shuddered in anticipation. His touch was so gentle, so careful. Not at all like Tom who had thought nothing of just shoving a finger down there and rubbing without care whether she was ready or enjoyed it. The concept of foreplay had been totally foreign to him.

Vincent's fingers moved slowly and carefully through the folds, as if searching for something precious. He softly ran his finger from the base of her opening upward, until he found the hard knob of her clitoris amongst the folds there. Catherine could not help but shudder and shiver under his touch. Vincent was taking this opportunity to learn her completely. He rubbed his thumb over her clitoris, feeling it swell in response until it stood out from under its hood. When it was fully extended he tentatively rubbed and then stopped. He was listening to the Bond and it told him that he was doing it right so he continued.

Catherine's hips moved upward toward his hand, pressing tight against it. She cried out in pleasure "Oh, Vincent! Yes!"

He could feel her body tense as she neared orgasm, he kept rubbing, alternating light pressure with heavy; his hand pressed over her lower stomach. He could feel the muscles of her stomach going into spasms. The Bond told him she was close. She moaned and he could barely hold himself back from climbing up onto her and sinking deep into her, joining with her, but he wanted to do this right, to give her everything.

Her body shook with ecstasy, until she had to grab his hand to make him stop.

She lay before him, shaking, and said "Had I known it would be like this, I would have jumped your bones long ago."

He laughed softly and helped her settle more comfortably, then he moved to lie on his side next to her. He caressed her stomach, and leaned to kiss her. She responded immediately to his lips on hers, she turned toward him. Wrapping a leg over his hip she pulled herself close to him. He could feel her breasts pressed to his chest. He pulled her into his embrace, and held her tight and they both rested.

He felt her body relax and the Bond told him she had drifted off to sleep. He lay there holding her. He looked at her sleeping face, memorizing the soft hair cascading over her forehead, the fringe of eyelashes, the slope of her nose, the strong line of her jaw and the perfect shape of her lips. He longed to kiss those lips but didnít for fear of waking her. Catherine turned slightly and snuggled her head closer. He felt the soft puffs of her breath on his neck. He lay there like that for a while, until the moonlight faded as the moon moved to the other side of the cabin.

He gently rubbed his hand down her arm. She awoke with a start, then seeing him, smiled. She was surprised to see that he was really there and she hadnít been dreaming. Her hand went up to his lips and traced them, and she leaned forward to kiss him.

As she kissed him, she pushed him onto his back, moving to straddle him. She leaned forward, resting on his chest, both arms supporting her as she kissed him passionately. She could feel him hardening under her as he responded to her. She pressed herself tightly against him, feeling him almost slipping into her, but not quite penetrating. Once she felt him there, she started to rock gently back and forth, feeling him slide against her. She continued slowly sliding back and forth until she heard him start to moan and felt him thrust upward. She raised her body slightly, so she could see him better in the faint light.

Looking down at Vincent, his face tensed in pleasure, she slowly rose and lowered herself onto him just a little. Teasing him and herself at the same time. It took all her control not to slam down on him, driving him deep. She wanted that sensation so! Catherine loved and wanted this man more than any man she had ever known, and denying herself immediate pleasure was a test of will.

She felt him just barely enter her, felt herself close around him as he slipped into her, and as she lowered herself more, she shivered with pleasure. It was something new to her to be in control; Vincent was special to allow this. She could feel his body shudder with pleasure and feel his hips lift slightly trying to press into her, but she could also tell he held back, allowing her to set the pace.

Slowly she lowered herself...each time taking him a little deeper. It had been a long time since sheíd been with a man, several years. And neither of the men she had been with in the past had been as well endowed as Vincent. She wanted all of him, deep inside her, but she had to go slowly to acclimate her body to him. Then finally, she succumbed to the feeling and in one stroke, sunk him deep into her, all the way.

She wanted to hold him there for a moment; forever, but it was then that Vincent lost his control and grabbed her hips, holding her to him as he drove even deeper into her. She felt him inside her, and as he loved her, she met his thrusts with her own. They moved together in the rhythm of pleasure. Her body arched forward to rest on her arms, her breasts swaying as she took him deep. Lost in passion, she and Vincent drove one another to the brink of orgasm, until Catherine felt a wave wash through her, and she groaned in pleasure.

Vincent felt her tighten and grip around him as she climaxed. He continued sliding into her, holding deep inside her for a moment then pulling out, to start the process again. He loved her through her orgasm until she collapsed on top of him, breathing in huffs of pleasure. He wrapped his arms about her, and held her to him.

Swinging her to the left, he rolled her over onto her back, he drove deep into her, feeling himself slide against the silky slick walls, feeling the heat of her. He had never experienced anything even close to this before. He could feel his passion peak as he climaxed, driving deep one more time as she joined him; her body shuddering with bliss as he finished deep inside her. He collapsed over her, his weight pressing her into the bed.

They lay that way for a while, locked together, he still within her, both breathing heavily, recovering. He rolled off her, snuggled up close to her and kissed her shoulder. She looked over at him, as he tenderly caressed her hip. Catherine had never known a man who was so tender and loving. She couldn't stand the thought of ever leaving his embrace.

"It was never like that before," she sighed as she rolled over to face him. She caressed his cheek.

"Like what?" he asked.

"Iíve had sex before, but I donít think I ever truly made love. With Steven we were young and he was clumsy, and Tom just didnít give a damn. A man has never given me an orgasm before, and you just gave me three, and this was the first time you ever made love." She sighed again and kissed him deeply.

They slept. Probably better than either had slept in a long time.

Vincent woke just as the sun was rising. He lay and watched as Catherine was slowly illuminated. The prospect of being able to wake to this every morning was intoxicating. Catherine slept with abandon; on her back with one arm thrown above her head the other across her waist with the sheet down under her arm.

As the sun rose higher, and crossed her face it must have disturbed her because she turned on her right side with her back to him. In her sleep she sighed and snuggled back against his warmth. Thinking she might be chilled and seeking his warmth, he gently pulled the blankets up around her then slipped his arm around her waist under the covers.

Catherine woke to delicious warmth in a room that was just barely lit by the morning light. Vincentís arm was around her waist and he had pulled her bottom snugly against him. He was kissing her shoulder and he was aroused.

"Good morning, Love," she whispered as she eased herself up, tilted her pelvis to accommodate him and then slid down enveloping his erection in her warmth.

Her action surprised Vincent, but he only hesitated a moment before he took up the erotic rhythm heíd learned the night before. Their loving was slow and languorous; Catherineís climax leading Vincent to his where she joined him again.

They slept again.

This time Catherine woke first. She glanced at the clock; it wasnít even 9AM yet. She carefully slipped out from under Vincentís arm and out of the bed. She picked her gown up off the floor and slipped it on then put on her robe and turned to look at Vincent.

He was beautiful lying there, tousled and relaxed. She had to put a lid on her emotions for fear of waking him. She tiptoed from the room and closed the door behind her then made her way to the kitchen.

She prepared the coffeepot and turned it on before she filled the kettle and put it on the stove over a low flame. She walked over to look out the window in the back door, and was disappointed to see that it was raining. Not a heavy downpour, but just a light drizzle that looked almost like a mist over the lake.

Before she poured her mug of morning coffee, she prepared the teapot and set it aside to wait for Vincent to wake before she added the hot water. She walked out to the back porch to sip her coffee as she leaned on the porch rail.

Vincent woke and reached for Catherine before he even opened his eyes. When he found her side of the bed empty his eyes flew open and he immediately noticed that her gown and robe were gone. He searched the Bond and was relieved to know that she was awake and somewhere in the cabin. He rose and went into the bathroom to shower, as he showered he monitored the Bond. He could feel her contentmentÖand to his surprise, he could feel her pain. The pain puzzled and alarmed him. He quickly finished his shower, dressed and went in search of her.

He hadnít put on his boots so when he entered the kitchen in his stocking feet, Catherine didnít hear him, even though sheíd left the door open. He could see her leaning on the porch railing as he poured the hot water into the teapot.

That done he walked out to the porch and up behind Catherine so he could slide his arms around her waist. He leaned over and kissed her neck.

"Good morning, Catherine."

"VeryÖ" she agreed, he could hear the smile.

"Better than most," he agreed with a chuckle.

They stood quietly for a few moments.

"Itís raining," observed Catherine.

"I noticedÖI also noticed that you areÖin pain, Catherine," he said with concern.

"NoÖI mean yes, a littleÖ"

"Did I hurt you, Catherine?" She felt his arms tighten as he tensed up.

She quickly set her coffee on the railing, turned in his arms and put her hands up to take his face between them. She wasnít going to give him the opportunity to look away.

"No, Vincent, you did not hurt me. The discomfort Iím experiencing is normal. I participated in activities, last night and this morning, that I havenít in literally years; I exercised muscles that I havenít used in ages," she smiled at him. "Any muscle that is overtaxed after a period of disuse is going to be a little sore afterward."

He blushed a little, and dropped his eyes as she continued. "That coupled with the fact that you are a bit better equipped," she was trying to phrase it delicately so he wouldnít be too embarrassed, "than either of my previous partnersÖ"

"Iím sorry, Catherine. I should have let you sleep this morning."

"Please, Vincent, donít ever apologize for waking me to make love. That was the best wakeup call Iíve ever had," she ducked to look under his hair and he raised his head to meet her eyes.

"Catherine, the last twenty four hours have been indescribable; the colors, the countryside, coming back here and loving you. I wonder now why I held back for so long. I was a fool to have waited, to have made you wait."

"No, Vincent. I wouldnít change one thing, except possibly your illness and everything that lead to it; but, even that had the byproduct of bringing us closer; we did both learn and grow. I prefer to look at the present, and at what we have now. And at the future."

Vincent pulled her into his arms and buried his face in her hair as he kissed her neck again. He held her tightly for a few moments, until he noticed that it was quite chilly outside and she was only wearing a couple layers of thin silk.

"Catherine, youíre freezing. Come back inside and Iíll cook breakfast."

"Weíll cook breakfast," she corrected as she picked up her now cold coffee and preceded him through the door into the warm kitchen.

As they were finishing breakfast Vincent suggested that Catherine go take her shower while he cleaned up the kitchen.

"I was thinking Iíd take a soak in the tub in the master bath," she said. "To take care of some of that pain you were sensing."

As she was soaking, Vincent appeared with a fresh cup of coffee that he sat on the edge of the tub.

"I was wondering if you were planning to move your things downstairs," he said in a matter of fact tone.

"I will if you want me to," she answered.

She knew that Vincent seldom used the words "I want" or expressed anything in that way.

He didnít say anything for a moment then "Yes, Catherine, I would like you to move downstairs with meÖI would be more convenient than you running up and down the stairs several times a day."

So, even if he had said that it was something he wanted, he still made it out to be more for her convenience than for his wants. "One step at a time," she thought as he left the bathroom.

Before she could bring herself to get out of the tub, he was back carrying all her toiletries. He placed them on the counter.

"Your clothing and suitcase are in the bedroom," he said. "I hope I didnít miss anything."

He left the bathroom again and returned with her terrycloth robe. He hung it on the back of the door, next to his.

"I thought you might need this."

They spent the day inside, snuggling and reading on the couch in front of the fire. The sun came out the next day, but the rain seemed almost to have washed away some of the vivid colors of the forest. Still it was a beautiful day and they spent part of it walking hand in hand along the lakefront.

On Saturday, they reluctantly packed up in preparation for their trip back to the city that night.

They arrived at Catherineís house a little after midnight. It was raining again, and the street was deserted. Vincent helped her carry everything back into the house and then helped her put everything away.

"Will you stay with me tonight, Vincent?" she asked as he helped her carry her suitcases up the stairs to her bedroom. "When I furnished the master bedroom, I purposely bought a king size bed, just in case I was ever lucky enough to entice you into it." She looked back at him over her shoulder and winked.

Her wink brought a smile to his face. "How can I resist such an invitation, Catherine?" he joked. "Iíll just go Below to the pipes and send a message to Father. He is expecting me tonight. Iíll let him know that Iíll see him in the morning."

"Weíll see him in the morning," she called after him as he turned. "Iím looking forward to Sunday brunch and some of Williams muffins."

Catherine was brushing her teeth when she heard Vincent in the bedroom.

"Youíre tired," he observed when she came back into the bedroom.

"Not too tired," she assured him as she crossed the room and slid into his arms. She was wearing a light blue silk nightgown that he remembered from her balcony.

"Catherine, you should sleep tonight," he insisted as she started to unbutton his shirt. "We will both still be here tomorrow, and so will the bed."

"What, Vincent," she asked with a laugh, "you donít want to break in this bed?"

He hesitated for a moment then drew in a deep breath and looked into her eyes.

"Last Wednesday, I didnít think I would ever have occasion to say this, but I think Iím the one who needs my rest," he said with some embarrassment. "Itís not that I donít desire you, Catherine, it is just that we have made love every night, and at least once each day. I know I said I was sorry I had wasted so much time, but even I need more sleep than Iíve been getting. Youíve been getting the same amount. Iím tired; you must be exhausted."

"I am a bit tired," she admitted with a laugh. "Youíre right, thereís always tomorrow and every day after that." She stretched up to kiss him. "It will still be lovely sleeping in your arms, even without the loving."

Vincent tucked her into bed and told her he would be right back, as soon as he brushed his teeth. He wasnít surprised to find her sound asleep when he returned.

They slept late and had to rush around getting dressed to make sure they made it Below to the dining chamber before William stopped serving brunch at 1PM.

Olivia and Kanin were eating in the corner when Olivia noticed Vincent and Catherine at the serving table and elbowed her husband.

"What?" he asked, hardly looking up from the paper he was reading.

"Itís Cathy and Vincent," she whispered.

"Oh, theyíre back. Good. I need to talk to Vincent about a project he wants me to work on with him." He started to rise and Olivia grabbed his arm and pulled him back down onto the bench.

"It can wait," she hissed.

"Why?" he asked.

"Look at them!" she told him.

He looked across the chamber at the couple who seemed to be lost in conversation as they carried their plates over to a table and sat down.

"So? They look like Catherine and Vincent. Am I supposed to be seeing something?" he asked.

"No, look at them!" she demanded. "Something is different. I think itís happened!"

"Whatís happened?" asked Kanin, truly confused.

"Oh God, men can be so dense!" she exclaimed as she stood and stalked from the chamber, leaving her husband to clear their table and carry their dishes to the kitchen.

On the other side of the chamber, someone else was watching Vincent.

"Looks like Catherine and Vincent are back," commented Pascal to Lena, who sat across from him helping little Cathy with her juice.

Lena looked up just in time to see Vincent reach across the corner of the table to touch Catherineís cheek then settle his hand over hers on the table.

Her eyebrows went up and she smiled.

"Well, itís about damn time."

"What? Theyíve only been gone a few days," said Pascal.

"Not that. They probably should have stayed gone longer in light of whatís happened."

"Whatís happened?" asked Pascal, puzzled. Nothing happened Below that he didnít know about.

"Theyíve finally done it!" said Lena triumphantly.

"Done what?" demanded Pascal, now completely confused.

"Had sex," she whispered, "made love, done IT!"

Pascalís head swiveled in the coupleís direction and he inspected them as if he expected to see some kind of a neon sign flashing above their heads. When he didnít see anything out of the ordinary he looked back at Lena.

"What makes you think that?" he asked.

"Body language!" she stated as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Theyíve been working up to it for a while, but I guarantee, it has finally happened."

Pipe language Pascal understood, but body language needed more explanation.

"I donít get it," he admitted.

"OK, just watch them for a while. Look at the way heís looking at her; the way their bodies are angled toward each other. Theyíve even seated themselves so that they can eat and hold hands at the same time. Heís left handed and is holding her left hand with his right hand, leaving her right hand free so she can eat."

Pascal watched for a while and although he noticed everything that Lena had pointed out, he still couldnít see where she got the idea that the couple had finally consummated their love. He shook his head and rolled his eyes.

"Whatever you say, Lena," he said and went back to eating.

As Catherine and Vincent were leaving the dining chamber, Vincent heard a message on the pipes that he translated for Catherine.

"Looks like we will have to wait to see Father. Heís been called to the hospital chamber."

"Nothing serious, I hope," she said with concern as they changed direction away from Fatherís chamber.

"No, it doesnít sound like it. One of the children fell and took a good thump one the head. Father always likes to check those out and make sure that whatever adult is supervising the child understands what warning signs to watch for in case of a concussion."

They walked for a few minutes.

"Where are we going, Vincent?" asked Catherine.

"Short cut from the Dining Chamber to the Mirror Pool," he said.

When they arrived, he guided her over to a cozy little bench cut into the wall and they sat down. He pulled her into his arms and they sat cuddled on the bench for quite a while before Vincent spoke.

"You havenít fallen asleep again, have you Catherine?" he asked.

"No, Iím awake," she answered. "I thought you could tell when Iím asleep."

"Usually I can, but youíve been so contented, and the Bond has been so quiet at times that Iím having a hard time telling the difference."

"Thatís all due to you," she pointed out.

"Or due to the lack of sleep," he joked.

"Well, that too possibly," she admitted.

The sat quietly for a little longer.

"Catherine, we need to talk." He sat up so abruptly, holding her arms and pushing her away a little so he could see her face that she had a momentís panic.

"No, itís not that," he said when he picked up on that panic.

He smiled and cupped her cheek in his hand and leaned toward her to kiss her. "I probably should have said that I need to talkÖI need to ask you something."

Her heart started to beat double time and she was suddenly a little breathless.

"What is it, Vincent?" she asked.

"These last few days have showed me something. Something that I think Iíve always known, but just couldnít accept. Youíve told me since the beginning that you loved me, that you accepted me just as I am, that you want me just as I am. I had a very hard time accepting that. But now, after loving you, I understandÖYouíve tried to beat it into me, Iíve just been very thick and couldnít see how you could possibly love me. I love you to distraction, but no matter what you said, I didnít think I was loveableÖ" his voice trailed off as if heíd lost his train of thought.

"What are you trying to say, Vincent?" she asked.

Vincent turned to look at her. "I love you, Catherine. I was serious when I said that I donít want to waste any more time. I donít want to spend any more time away from you than is necessary, and I surely donít want to spend any more nights not sleeping at your side. Catherine, will you stay with me? Below, Above, or a combination of the two. Will you marry me, or join with me, however you want toÖ"

Catherine threw her arms around him and interrupted his meandering monologue.

"Yes, yes, yes! Iíll marry you; join with you. Hell, Iíll live in sin with you if that is what it takes for us to be together."

She pulled his face down to hers and started to kiss every inch of it she could reach. He was so surprised at her enthusiastic answer that he didnít respond at first. Then it sunk in and he started to return her kisses. Only the sounds of childrenís voices brought them to their senses, and they had just moved apart when Kipper, Samantha, Zach and Geoffrey entered the chamber.

"Hi," called Samantha. "Welcome back. Did you hear about Eric?"

"Is he the one who hit his head?" asked Catherine as she stood and walked toward the children leaving Vincent back in the shadows to regain his composure.

"Yeah," said Zach. "He dropped his glasses down in a hole and was leaning in feeling around for them, when he lost his grip and fell in. Lucky the hole was only three feet deep, but no one knew that when we saw him go over the edge. Iím surprised you didnít hear Sam shrieking all the way back to the home tunnels."

"Is he all right?" asked Vincent walking up to stand behind Catherine.

"We left him in the hospital chamber," said Kipper. "Father says he is fine, he just has a big lump on his head and a black eye. Mary is staying with him. But he landed on his glasses and smashed them to smithereens. Heís blind without them, says he canít see a thing."

Catherine looked at Vincent over her shoulder. "Looks like Eric and I will be making a trip to the optometrist soon," she observed. "He was probably due for some new glasses anyway. Heís been Below for over two years, and I donít know how long he had those glasses before he came."

Vincent caught her hand. "Come, letís go talk to Father about it. We have a few things to tell him."

Father was just pouring a cup of tea when they walked into his chamber hand in hand.

"Ah, there you are. I heard the sentries announce that you were Below, but we seemed to be missing each other."

He offered tea and everyone sat around the table.

"How is Eric?" asked Vincent.

"Heís fine. Just a bump on his head, and a black eye, but he broke his glasses, beyond repair."

"Iíll make an appointment for him with my optometrist and take him sometime this week," promised Catherine. "In fact, all the children could probably use an exam. Iíll tell my optometrist that Iím working with some group and Iíll make appointments for everyone over the next few weeks."

"Thank you, Catherine. That is generous."

Catherine just smiled and sipped her tea.

"Father," began Vincent. "We have something to tell you."

Catherine noticed that Father sat up a little straighter and looked a little apprehensive.

"What is it?" he asked, looking from one to the other.

"Catherine has just consented to be my wife." Vincent reached out and took Catherineís hand as they waited for Fatherís reaction.

He was quiet and looked a little stunned at first, then he broke into a huge smile and pushed himself to his feet.

Vincent and Catherine also stood as he approached them. He gathered them both into a hug, kissing first Vincentís cheek then Catherineís.

"That is wonderful news!" he exclaimed, hugging them both again. "I was wondering how long it would take this great oaf to get around to it." He winked at Catherine, who was standing there stunned at his reaction. At best she had expected a quiet blessing, at worst, an angry tirade.

"Will you perform the ceremony, Father?" she asked when she found her voice. "Actually, I would like both you and a minister. I love the ceremony you perform, but I would also like to have Godís blessing on the union, even if it canít be recognized by the state."

"Certainly, my dear, I would be honored!" he said as his eyes got misty. "Wait just a moment, I have something here."

He went to his desk and rummaged around in the bottom drawer. It was the same drawer where he kept a bottle of brandy and glasses, and she figured he was going to break it out to make a toast. She was surprised when he came back with a small jewelerís box that he handed to Vincent.

"Margaret gave these to me. She said that she thought you might like to have them, and asked me to give them to you at the right time. I do believe that time has arrived."

Vincent opened the box to see a Margaretís engagement and wedding rings.

"I chose sapphires and diamonds because they reminded of the beautiful spring day when I first saw her," Father said as Vincent took the engagement ring out of the box. "The blue of the sky and the bright sparkle of the sun off her hair."

Vincent took Catherineís hand and slipped the ring on her left hand; it fit perfectly. Catherine looked up into Vincentís eyes and smiled.

"And they will forever remind me of Vincentís eyes and the sparkle I see in them right now."

Vincent gathered her into his arms and kissed her thoroughly.

At first Father just looked on and smiled, but as the kiss went on, and it didnít look like they were going to come up for air any time soon, he first cleared his throat, then he picked up his cane and started toward the door.

"Well, ahÖ" he said, "I guess Iíll just go tell Mary the good news. She will want to be in on all the planning, Iím sure," and he left the chamber with the lovers still locked in their embrace, oblivious to the world around them.