AUTUMN WISHES

By Cathy Moran

Part 1

Catherine gently placed her sleeping son in his crib, pulling up the side with the wooden slats that were supposed to keep him contained if he awoke during the night. It was still early in the evening, but after the long day behind them Jacob was exhausted, and she knew he would sleep soundly until morning. The crib sat in a tiny alcove that had been carved out of the tunnel wall, just big enough for the piece of baby furniture and a dresser. It allowed Jacob and his parents some privacy as well as some much needed space in the main chamber. She quietly covered her son with a light blanket, the sweltering heat consuming the city Above showing no signs of reaching the tunnels Below.

The day at the beach with her tunnel family had been all Catherine had hoped for, when she first dreamed of the idea all those months ago. It was just past Labor Day and the children in the city had returned to school, leaving the beach almost deserted. They had gone in several vans, driven by Jenny and herself, as well as a few Helpers. The children had been ecstatic yet well-behaved, getting out of hand only when their dog Arthur raced through the sand castle Jamie and Mouse had painstakingly built. The ice cream cones they stopped for on the way home had topped off the day perfectly.

Throughout it all, Catherine's only regret was that it was not possible for Vincent to join them. Vincent, however, had no such regrets. He was infinitely grateful for all he'd been blessed with, and refused to dwell on the minor things he knew would always be out of his reach.

A wistful sigh reached her ears and Catherine turned her attention to the young woman sitting cross-legged on the floor, her back resting against the bed behind her. She smiled at the glazed expression written across her friend's face - she'd seen it often in the five months since Jenny had been reunited with her best friend and introduced to the tunnel community.

"You're looking a little too serious for someone who recently relived her childhood," Catherine teased her affectionately.

Jenny groaned, covering her face with her hands for a moment. "Don't remind me! The kids will never consider me an adult again!"

Catherine laughed and moved to sit next to her, displacing a very tired Arthur who crept across the room and curled up under the crib. "So... what's going on in that pretty little head of yours?"

"Oh, I was just thinking, about you... Jacob... Vincent... all of this," Jenny waved her arm and looked around the chamber to indicate her surroundings. "I mean.... setting aside the fact that I thought you were dead and now I'm sitting here next to you - that in itself is too great for words - but in all of my best wishes and dreams for you over the years, a life like this never once entered my mind. Yet I see you here and I know without a doubt that you've never been happier or more content. And that was exactly what I would have wished for you had I only known. I mean... we both know that you and I didn't grow up in the same social class - heck, I was as close to the tunnel end of the social ladder as one could get - yet I still don't think I would have accepted that a life like this was possible. But here I sit, looking not only at the possible, but the desirable. Despite what they don't have, the people here have more class and more love than anyone I've ever met."

Jenny wrinkled her forehead, sighing in frustration before continuing, "I know I'm not making much sense; I don't know how to explain it. It's just that... being here feels so good! "

Catherine laughed softly, moving closer to put an arm around her friend and squeezing gently. "Hey, this is me, remember? You don't have to explain anything; I know exactly how you feel. And you're right, I am happier than I've ever been. Despite everything I've had to endure to get to this point, I'd do it all over again if that's what it took. To love someone as much as I love Vincent, and to have him return that love... I can't tell you how that feels. I can only hope that someday you'll know a love just as strong and wonderful."

Tears glistened in Catherine's eyes, the contentment she felt showing through her face as she spoke. "As for living in the tunnels, I don't think I could ever explain it adequately to someone Above - nothing I could say would do its beauty and tranquility justice. Oh, I know it's not perfect. We're all human so we encounter the same conflicts as those Above, and the tunnels themselves leave us exposed to danger often; yet when all is said and done everyone knows that we depend on each other for our survival - not just because we have to live here, but because we want. But along with the struggles there is also an abundance of love and compassion. I may not have all the material things I would be surrounded with if I lived Above, but I have everything I need in Vincent and Jacob and my tunnel family. And you and Joe, of course."

Jenny smiled, knowing she and Joe were always included without saying. "But what if... what if some miracle were to occur that would enable Vincent to live Above. Would you do it?"

Catherine laughed, quickly lowering her voice when Jacob started to shift around in his sleep. "Well, that miracle would have to be a change in people's hearts regarding those that are different, because I don't ever want to change the way Vincent looks; but even then my answer is no, I wouldn't live Above again. I guess it's like someone who lives in the suburbs but works in the city - I may shop, or someday go back to work in the city, but at the end of the day the tunnels are my suburbs, and I can't wait to be home."

Jenny nodded in understanding and Catherine's face lit up as she continued to speak, the love she felt for her family resounding in the lilt of her voice. "And having Vincent and Jacob to come home to - nothing can compare to the feeling that gives me. Whenever I'm away from them, whether it's for an hour or a day, I feel like a part of me is missing; I'm not totally complete until we're together again. And I know that...."

Catherine stopped in mid sentence and though it seemed impossible, her face shone brighter, the light in her eyes undeniable. Turning her attention to the doorway, her heart skipped a beat when Vincent's large frame filled the entrance. With a cry of joy she scrambled to her feet, hastily moving to embrace him. As she melted in his arms she reflected with complete certainty the truth of the words she had spoken to Jenny; her love and her life were in this room.

 

Vincent's long stride quickly took him through the home tunnels to his own chamber. He'd seen Catherine briefly only an hour before when she ushered the last of the sleepy children to their chambers, catching a glimpse of her while he helped Mary prepare the youngest ones for bed. Still, after spending the day apart - their longest separation since Catherine's return almost five months ago - he was anxious for her nearness. He laughed at his own feeble attempt at reasoning; he was always eager to see Catherine after any length of time apart - whether it was one hour or one whole day. Besides, he knew Jenny was with her, and they wouldn't really be alone for awhile.

He turned the corner and stopped for a moment outside the entrance to their chamber. His eyes drank in the sight of her, his Catherine, and once again he was stunned anew at this love he'd been blessed with. She turned her head to face him and her joy at seeing him shone on her face. Through their bond he felt her eager anticipation for his presence and his touch, and he hurried to join her. He gathered her small form into his arms, holding her tight for a moment before releasing her ever so slightly.

"Oh, Vincent," Catherine cried happily, her head resting against his chest, her arms around his broad shoulders. "I missed you so much! I know you said you were okay about not going with us today, but it really wasn't the same without you!"

Catherine raised her head to meet Vincent's gaze before lifting up on tip toes for the kiss she knew he wouldn't deny her, even with Jenny in the room. Vincent lowered his head, placing a soft kiss upon her lips which, though brief, left them both anxious for the moment when they could affirm their love in a more intimate way.

"I missed you as well, Catherine. Much more than I can say. The tunnels seemed very empty today without you and Jacob."

He bent to give her another kiss equally as stirring as the first, before turning her and guiding her to his large velvet chair in the middle of the room. He pulled her down to sit on his lap, placing a possessive arm around her waist while she snuggled close, her arm around his neck and her head upon his shoulder. Vincent kissed the top of her head, inhaling the scent of sand and sea in her hair before lifting his head to turn his attention to the other occupant in the room.

"Hello, Jenny. I see you survived the day with our gang of vivacious children. I trust they didn't wear you out too much."

"Ha!" Catherine interjected before Jenny had a chance to reply. She straightened in Vincent's lap, throwing a teasing grin in her friend's direction. "It was more like the kids surviving her!"

Vincent chuckled at her words, knowing their friend was oftentimes a bundle of energy herself. "Do I dare ask what you mean by that?"

Jenny laughed, at the same time giving Catherine a look that promised severe retaliation later. "Never mind. Let's just say the children and I did very well, thank you."

Vincent joined in their laughter, pleased that Catherine had had a good time, despite his absence. "Okay, I can take a hint. I won't mention it again; but don't be surprised if the children relay the experience tomorrow, complete with vivid details, of course."

Vincent's hand lovingly caressed Catherine's back as he turned slightly to take a quick look at his son, peacefully sleeping in the small alcove. "Did Jacob have a good time today?"

"Oh, yes!" Catherine answered happily, giving him a quick enthusiastic peck on the cheek. "Jacob had a great time, although I think he spent half the day looking around for you. He isn't used to not having you near, especially when there's fun involved."

Vincent nodded, his tone a little more somber than a moment ago. "I know. I don't regret missing the beach, but I do regret not being with the two of you. If you'd like we can take Jacob to the Falls tomorrow. It's not the beach, but we'll be together."

Catherine agreed, thinking it was a great idea. "He'll love that; it's been several weeks since we've been there. But it will have to be later in the afternoon. Joe said he's going to come down after lunch."

Jenny sighed and the couple in the chair turned their heads to see the sense of wonderment in her face as once again she let her gaze wander around the chamber. "I'm still amazed that something as beautiful as the Chamber of the Falls is here below the city. I don't think I'd believe you if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes."

"I know what you mean." Catherine responded before addressing Vincent. "Jenny was just telling me how much she loves the tunnels."

Vincent sent an appreciative smile in Jenny's direction, knowing how much hers and Joe's acceptance of their world meant to Catherine. "Does that mean you've convinced her to stay the weekend with us?"

Catherine shook her head in response. "We hadn't gotten that far yet. What do you say Jen? You don't have to work tomorrow and Rolley's piano students are giving their first recital Saturday night. What better reason to stay Below."

"Again?" Jenny's face registered surprise, but she couldn't hide the delight she felt at the possibility of another weekend spent in the warmth and safety of the tunnels. "I don't know... I've been here so often - if I'm not careful Father is going to accuse me of overstaying my welcome."

Vincent gave her a lopsided, knowing grin; it was no secret how much Father enjoyed Jenny's visits and their discussions about the world of literature. "Yes, Jenny, we're very sure. You're part of the family now; we all enjoy your company, not just Catherine."

Catherine's arm tightened around Vincent's neck, leaning to press her forehead against the the side of his head. The pleasure she felt at Vincent's words - the expression of his feelings for her friend - left her speechless for just a moment. "Absolutely, Jen, you know how much we love having you here. Besides, you more than earn your keep with the books you bring for us."

Jenny wrinkled her face, waving her hand to brush away Catherine's words. "You know I don't think of that as anything special. They're just promotional books - extra copies made to freely distribute as a means of advertising. I know of no one who needs, wants and deserves them more than the children Below."

Catherine nodded her agreement. "Even so, they are appreciated much more than we could ever tell you." Forcing herself to leave the comfort of Vincent's lap, she took his hand for a moment, unable to break their contact as she stood and addressed her friend. "Come on, Jen, I'll help you make up your guest chamber."

Jenny got to her feet, saying a quick good night to Vincent. True to her friend, she left the chamber, allowing the couple a moment to themselves.

Catherine turned toward's Vincent and leaned down, her bright gaze locked with his. She reached for the arm of the chair to brace herself as she slowly, deliberately moistened her lips with her tongue. Vincent's hand raised to cup her cheek and Catherine turned her head slightly, placing a soft kiss in his palm. Savoring the calloused warmth beneath her lips, her eyes slid closed. Vincent gasped at the erotic sight and slipped his fingers into the silken tresses at her neck, drawing her closer until his lips met hers. They moved slowly, sensuously at first, simply taking exquisite pleasure in the intimate contact they'd both craved throughout the day. The length of time apart and the great distance between Above and Below had made them anxious and passion soon took over, momentarily consuming them with its firey heat. When at last they broke apart it was with much reluctance, yet both knew they couldn't continue as they were with Jenny waiting outside. With a husky voice full of promise Catherine whispered, "Don't move. I'll be back before you know it and I have every intention of continuing where we left off." Vincent's gaze was once again locked with hers as he silently nodded. Catherine placed long, slender fingers to Vincent's cheek and gave him a brief, tender kiss. She smiled, her eyes full of love and longing, before she turned and silently left the chamber.

 

Thirty minutes later, Catherine once again stood at the entrance to their chamber. Much as Vincent had done earlier, she watched with adoration the being that she loved beyond all else. Vincent's large velvet chair was pulled up to the table where he sat writing in his journal. He was shirtless, the broad span of his well-muscled chest bare to her appreciative gaze. The usual jeans, heavy belt and thigh-high boots were replaced by a pair of light blue fleece pants which, Catherine thought with a grin, she had every intention of removing as soon as possible. She had pictured him often today - running along the beach clad only in a pair of swim trunks, the gloriously bronzed body with its slightly dense covering of golden hair glittering in the sunlight, the rock-hard muscles of his arms and legs revealing a strength and power comparable to no other - yet the vision in her mind's eye couldn't compare to the real sight of Vincent sitting before her.

Catherine sighed dreamily, tilting her head as she leaned against the tunnel wall. God, how she loved him! Just the sight of him, or the sound of his voice, was enough to make her skin tingle, her knees go weak. They had come so far to be together, and it was worth every step they'd had to take. Suddenly, she thought with dismay of the discussion she knew they needed to have, one they'd both put off for a few weeks now. She'd half hoped the quietness of the tunnels later tonight would give them the opportunity and the motivation to bring the topic out into the open. Having sensed her presence, Vincent looked up from his writing. Catherine smiled in response and walked happily towards him. Their talk would just have to wait awhile longer.

Catherine was still smiling as she stood behind Vincent, her hands resting on his shoulders. Her arms slid down to cross upon his massive chest. She leaned forward, her hair cascading down his arm, and her lips nuzzled the warm, sensitive skin below his ear as she whispered throatily, "So... did you miss me?"

Vincent raised his large furred hand to caress Catherine's arms as they lay on his chest, while she continued to ply him with soft, warm kisses down his neck. "As always, Catherine. I miss you every second we're apart."

"Mmmm...." Catherine responded in agreement, barely shifting her attention from the warm skin beneath her mouth.

Pulling her arms apart in front of him, Vincent turned his head to enable him to see her better. "Catherine?" he spoke quietly.

"Hmmm?" Catherine answered, finally looking up to meet the deep blue eyes that peered at her questioningly.

"Come here," Vincent replied simply, taking one of her hands to guide her around the side of his chair, then pulling her down to lay across him, her legs dangling over the arms of the chair. When she was settled on his lap, her head cradled in his arm, he gazed into the emerald green depths of her eyes before lowering his head and hungrily capturing her lips in his.

Catherine released a blissful sigh against his mouth and twisted slightly, molding herself to him. Wanting him even closer she brought her arm up around his neck, tangling her fingers in the red-gold mane still damp from an earlier bath. Vincent tightened his hold around her waist, caressing her back as their kiss deepened. Catherine moaned softly, drowning in the ecstasy of this kiss that was all Vincent's; intoxicating - to say the least, powerful - as everything about him was.

The pressure of his mouth lightened, his tongue stroking her upper lip for a moment until finally only the lightest touch of his lips upon hers remained. Vincent raised his head slowly, pausing to bestow a light kiss upon each of her still-closed eyelids. His look of love and devotion met Catherine's as her eyes fluttered open. His hand left her back to lightly brush the bangs from her forehead. His voice took on a solemn note as he broke their silence. "Shall we talk, Catherine?"

At his words, Catherine searched his face and knew immediately that he'd felt her earlier emotions - fleeting as they were - and had guessed what she'd been thinking. She shook her head. "No, Vincent. It can wait."

"Yes, it can." Vincent sighed, looking up for a moment at nothing in particular, collecting his thoughts. "But it shouldn't and we both know it."

Catherine nodded. She lifted up to give Vincent a brief but thorough kiss, then with his help she shifted around until her feet landed on the floor. She walked the few steps it took to reach the other side of the table and the wooden chair she usually sat in. She dragged it by the arm across the carpeted floor, placing it just in front of Vincent. The seat was a little high and when she sat down, her knees touched his. Their gazes locked as they each reached for the other's hands, clasping them together in the space between them. It was a position they'd used often over the past few months when they needed to talk. It was too easy for them to get carried away by passion, and they needed this slight space to keep their heads clear.

Raising her hands in his, Vincent bent his head to place a feather light kiss on the backs of her fingers. The physical sensation of Vincent's heated breath upon her mixed with the surge of love that flowed to her through the bond, and Catherine's eyes misted. "Oh, Vincent, we can talk about anything - we've even discussed what we both went through at the hands of Gabriel - why is it so hard for us to broach this subject? To talk about celebrating on the one day we lived our worst fears?"

Vincent reached up to wipe a stray tear from her cheek. He shook his head as a cloud of despair filled his eyes. "I don't know, Catherine. At times it just seems so overwhelming."

Catherine nodded and looked down at their hands twined together in front of them. Once Vincent would have been appalled at the sight - the dense fur and deadly claws of his large hands possessively holding and caressing the creamy softness of her small ones. But living his life without her - believing she was dead - had empowered him to change his mind. Their differences no longer mattered. The only thing that did matter was their love. She slowly raised her head to meet his gaze. "I don't want... I can't bear the thought of you having to relive the pain of that day. It makes me wish we could just skip it altogether."

Vincent spoke quickly, desperate to ease her mind. "Catherine, no! I'm not worried about me. I would do anything to erase the pain of that day for you, to spare you the memory of having your son taken away...."

Catherine's fingers on his lips silenced him. "Shhh.... Not just Jacob, but you, Vincent. You were taken from me. And you in turn thought I was lost to you forever. We both saw our dream shatter into a million pieces. It was the worst day of my life."

The rustling of bed clothes and a small gurgle caught their attention. They both turned to look at Jacob, still sound asleep in his crib. The pride they felt for their son flowed strongly through the bond in both directions. Vincent smiled as he turned back to face Catherine. "But it was also the best."

Her smile lit up her face for a moment and she nodded slightly. "Oh, yes, Vincent, it was the very best. And trying to ignore the day won't keep the painful memories away; they will always be with us. Most of the time they'll be buried deep down inside, but naturally this time of year will bring them closer to the surface. But as the years go by, that memory will hopefully become dimmer and less bitter."

Vincent sighed, bowing his head to hide his face behind the golden veil of his hair, a gesture he unconsciously exhibited to hide his feelings. He squeezed her hands, holding them tighter as he looked up into the beautiful green eyes that could see right into his soul. "You're right, Catherine, I know you are. Of all people, I should know how destructive it can be to allow my fears to hold me back. It's just so difficult sometimes; I don't know how you do it. You're incredibly wise, Catherine. I don't know what would I do without you."

A stricken look appeared on Vincent's face as soon as the words were out of his mouth. For anyone else they would have come as an innocent remark, as the old cliche' was meant to be. However, he knew all too well the pain he would feel at having to live without his Catherine - for he'd been forced to do exactly that for over 14 months.

"Oh, Vincent!" Catherine cried, tears spilling from her eyes as she shared his pain. She raised one of his hands to her face, closing her eyes as she rubbed the soft down on the back of his hand along her cheek, losing herself in the silken sensation. When at last she opened her eyes she faced him with all the love and commitment she felt in her heart. "Don't worry, my love, I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me." She'd added the last with a slight grin, hoping to lighten the mood. When the look of despair left Vincent's face and she knew she'd succeeded, she continued on. "And it isn't wisdom, it's experience, something we've both had plenty of. I'm scared too, Vincent. My words are easier said than done; I have to keep repeating them in the hope that eventually I'll believe them myself. Unfortunately, logic tends to disappear when it's ourselves we're talking about. But the most important thing is that it was also the day Jacob was born. If we let the other circumstances of the day keep us from celebrating and enjoying it as we should, then we've given Gabriel a victory - and I'll be damned if I'm going to do that!"

Vincent gazed into the green depths that were fierce in their determination. Usually even the mild swearing that Catherine had displayed was frowned upon in the tunnel community, however this time even he could not have found a more appropriate way of voicing his feelings. He broke into a smile and bent forward to press a kiss upon her forehead, before taking her hands firmly in his. "My dear, sweet Catherine, once again you are right. So... tomorrow we talk to Father and Mary about a party?"

Catherine nodded and smiled, her face lighting up as she finally allowed herself to think joyfully of the day only two weeks away. "And William about a cake. I think he'd disown us if we didn't allow him that pleasure."

Vincent's grin showed his agreement. "Yes. Despite his gruff attitude, William's favorite assignment is baking birthday cakes for the children. He never seems to run out of ideas for making something new and different for them." Vincent paused a moment. He searched her eyes carefully, his smile fading, his tone somber. He hesitated to even ask the question; through the bond he knew what she was feeling but still, he needed to hear the words. "Are you feeling better, Catherine?"

Catherine sensed his concern, understanding what he needed to hear. She took his face in her hands, projecting all her love through the bond and in her gaze. "Being with you, talking with you, always makes me feel better, Vincent. My concerns may not disappear, but they do become more bearable. How about you, you gonna make it?"

"Oh, Catherine!" Vincent responded, his eyes moist as he gazed adoringly at her, marveling at this wondrous love that was his destiny. He leaned forward and at the same time pushed his chair back until it slid out from under him and he was kneeling on the floor. His arms wrapped around the outside of her legs, his hands reaching around to cup her buttocks. He raised up on his knees until he was eye level with her, his voice confident and sure when he spoke. "I love you, Catherine. With you by my side I feel as if I can do anything. You are truly the light of my world."

Catherine leaned in close, folding her arms around his neck. "As you are mine, Vincent," she whispered, her heated breath playing upon his waiting lips.

Their mouths touched lightly, gently nipping, sucking, losing themselves in the familiar tastes and textures that neither could get enough of. Tongues slid between parted lips, seeking, caressing the sweet, warm moistness held within. Their love consumed them, soaring into their kiss, their passionate fears of a few minutes before turning into a lover's passion, heightened by their day apart.

As her mouth clung hungrily to his, Catherine slid out of her chair, slipping down to straddle Vincent's legs below her. With a soft moan she pressed her knees tight around him and squeezed his hard thighs, causing her insides to quiver as her center rested upon his arousal swelling beneath the fleece pants. As Vincent stroked along the planes of her back, she folded her arms snug around his neck, pressing her breasts firmly upon his chest. Her nipples strained hard against the thin cotton tank top, aching to be free of their confinement, yearning for the touch of his bare skin.

Ever attuned to her desires, Vincent's hands gathered at her waist, clutching the edges of her shirt. He raised the top up over her breasts, reaching around to unhook the strapless bra and toss it aside before pulling her roughly to him. Their kiss abruptly ended as Catherine threw her head back, moaning at the first touch of the sensitive hardened peaks upon his chest, burying themselves in the soft hair.

Vincent's reaction was immediate. With a low growl he leaned forward until his parted lips met the exposed column. His questing mouth traveled the soft creamy skin, kissing, licking, slowly down her neck, across satiny shoulders, slipping the thin shirt strap down her arm to continue his pursuit.

Catherine gloried in the sensual feel of Vincent's unique mouth upon her heated skin, his thick golden hair cascading down her arm and back. She clutched the hard strength of his upper arms, desperate for the feel of him against her naked skin. Her hands reached up to cup his face, drawing him unresistingly back to her waiting lips.

Their kiss was at once fierce, pulling them with a hungry urgency. His tongue found hers again and again, swirling, sweeping inside the honeyed sweetness of her mouth. His right hand gave up its hold on her back, the fur covered backs of his long fingers trailing a firey, seductive path up and down along the side of her breast still pressed tightly to his chest.

Vincent's heart pounded wildly, his loins aching with the need for her touch, for the release only she could give him. Before she knew what was happening his hands held her under her arms, lifting slightly so he could slide his knees out from under her. He rose quickly, snatching up the thick patchwork quilt that lay folded at the foot of the bed.

Catherine whimpered softly at the absence of his mouth upon hers and her eyelids fluttered open, her face registering dismay as she felt him leave. No sooner had she done so and he was back, resuming his kneeling position in front of her.

Vincent smiled warmly at her obvious relief at his return. He had long ago ceased to wonder the how and why of a wonderful woman like Catherine wanting and loving a person such as him, that she could actually miss him when he was absent from her arms for mere seconds. Instead he now rejoiced in the knowledge of her love, reveling in the sensations of her expert loving hands upon him.

With his arms on either side of hers he took a corner of the quilt in each hand. In one quick fluid motion he raised his arms, snapping the blanket in the air before lowering his arms alongside her, the blanket floating gracefully to to the floor. Catherine shivered as the movement caused a draft of cool air on her back.

She looked up a moment later and shivered again, this time the reaction having nothing to do with the temperature in the chamber. Vincent's eyes bore into hers, their smoky, passion-filled depths an intensity that sent a tingle down her spine. His gaze was unwavering as he raised his arms to lift her shirt over her head, tossing it aside where it landed next to the already discarded bra. His eyes left hers to peer hungrily at the creamy softness of her naked breasts. A second later his head lowered to take one taut nipple in his mouth, sucking lightly, sensuously, before turning his head and repeating the action with the other aching peak.

Catherine moaned softly at the sensation, the feel of Vincent's unique clefted mouth upon her bringing erotic delights that were hers alone. They were destined for each other and she knew that no one before or after her would feel the arousing result of Vincent's love and passion. Her hand rose to twine her fingers in his golden tresses and hold his head against her, but Vincent resisted, raising to look at her through half-closed eyes.

His smoldering gaze met hers as her eyelids slowly opened. "I love you, Catherine. Always and forever, I love you." He knew she felt his love through the bond, but after living for so many months with the fear of giving in to their love, and the pain he was sure would be the ultimate result, he knew she needed to hear the words and he needed to say them.

"Oh, Vincent," Catherine cried, a lone tear rolling down her cheek at the poignancy of his words. "I love you too. Always and forever, know that I love you with everything that I am."

Vincent captured her face in his hands, raising on his knees to look down at her. As he lowered his head, Catherine put her hands to his chest, running her fingers through the silky fur coating. His mouth met hers, the full force of their passion igniting immediately. Their tongues danced, stroking, probing; mouths sucked greedily, hungrily.

Vincent lightly brushed her skin as his hands stroked downward to cup each lush, firm breast; squeezing, massaging, caressing the rosy peaks with the pads of his thumbs. Their mouths clung as he slid a hand around to her back, supporting her as he eased her backwards to lie on the soft quilt. He held some of his weight on his hands at her sides but let the majority of it fall, knowing how much Catherine loved it when the length of his body rested upon hers. His mouth left hers to travel down her neck, kissing, nipping, sucking lustily on the smooth silky skin.

Catherine sighed at the sensation, releasing a soft moan. Even with clothes on the feel of Vincent's steely muscled strength along hers was intoxicating. She wrapped her arms around his torso, stroking, caressing, the hard planes of his back. Her hands lowered, slipping beneath the elastic waistband of his pants to cup his buttocks, the muscles rock solid in her palms. She pulled him tighter against her, causing the hard swell of his erection to nestle at the apex of her thighs. Catherine writhed beneath him, arching her body into his, striving to get closer than their clothing would allow. "Please Vincent," she whispered throatily, desperate for the feel of him, all of him, surrounding her.

Vincent heard her pleas through the bond even before she spoke the words, her ardent desires matching his own. His kisses progressed lower, lingering at each beautifully formed breast, suckling, nipping, licking the tender tips and creamy flesh of first one and then the other. His mouth continued its journey down skin that was flushed with passion, along her smooth flat stomach, kissing a path just above the waistband of her shorts.

Catherine moaned faintly, ever conscious of her son asleep across the room. Her body trembled in answer to Vincent's seductive ministrations. As he kissed his way across her stomach her hands reached as far as they could, kneading and caressing the broad spanse of his shoulders before tangling her fingers in the red-gold mass of hair. His mouth and hands upon her body excited, aroused, impassioned, taking her closer and closer to release. But she wanted more; she wanted to go with him to the brink, reaching their fulfillment together, and she refused to give in to her body's early call. Clutching a handful of golden hair, she forced herself to be still.

Vincent sensed her desires and placed one last kiss at her navel, dipping into the small depression and slowly circling its perimeter with the tip of his tongue, the action almost undoing Catherine. His eyes never leaving hers, he sat up between her legs, silently unsnapping and lowering the zipper of her shorts as he did so. With Catherine's help he peeled the blue denim down her legs, tossing it aside to join the rest of her clothing. His sudden gasp as his eyes wandered the length of her body was predictable, yet unstoppable. He drank in the sight of her, unable to get enough of the incredible vision before him. Her beauty never ceased to amaze him, and he was eternally grateful that she was his.

Catherine watched as Vincent gazed adoringly at her, enjoying the expression on his face, loving that she could give him the pleasures he both hungered for and deserved. A moment later her heart skipped a beat, her breath quickening as he stood to remove his own pants, baring himself to her longing gaze. And long for him she did - she desired him with every ounce of her being and she knew his desire for her was no less.

As his eyes blazed with undisguised passion, Vincent lowered his body onto hers, burying his engorged flesh within her. Catherine arched to meet him, joyously welcoming him into her soft, tender folds. Her arms and legs went around him, holding him tighter, closer, moving with him in wild, sensual rhythm. They came together in a frenzied kiss, stifling their cries as their rapturous release burst upon them.

 

They lay together amid the warm fluffy blankets on the large bed. The quilt on the floor was soft enough, but not entirely comfortable, and they had long since retired to the bed. The only remaining lit candle was the tall taper next to their rose bush. Blooming gloriously with small red and white roses, the plant stood in its place beneath Kristopher's painting.

Catherine tightened her arm around Vincent's waist, snuggling closer against his long hard length. She lay on her side with her head on his chest, her bare thigh thrown across his. Vincent's arm around her shoulders pulled her closer and he lifted his head to nuzzle the soft brown hair as they whispered into the night. Their conversation took many turns, each relaying their days happenings - from Jacob's adventures in the ocean, to Vincent's work with Kanin carving out a new chamber, and even to Father's attempt at making homemade bread since, as William informed him, he was the one who allowed most of his kitchen crew to spend the day at the beach.

When they spoke again of going to the Falls the following day, Vincent recalled Catherine's earlier comment. "Do you need me here for Joe's visit? I told Kanin we could finish the chamber for Luke and Baby Caroline in the morning, but if you don't need me here I'd rather do it while you're with Joe. That way we can be together in the morning."

Catherine's hand had moved to his chest, her index finger drawing circles in the silky soft covering. She smiled and tilted her head back, catching Vincent's gaze as she spoke. "I'm sure that would be alright. I know how much Kanin wants to finish the new chamber so they can have some privacy, but I would so love to spend the morning with you. Besides, Joe didn't give me any specifics, only that he needed to talk to me. He did sound kind of serious, though."

Even without the bond, Catherine knew Vincent's immediate thoughts by the panicked look that crossed his face, and the sudden tightening of his arm around her shoulders. She hurried to reassure him. "Don't worry, Vincent. Despite what my heart knows, I felt the same fears at first, but I think Joe anticipated our response. He made a point of telling me that it had nothing to do with us." Catherine sighed, remembering the sudden jolt of fear that had hit her with Joe's initial words. "I guess deep down I knew that. Joe is a one-of-a-kind friend, and he gave his word that he wouldn't divulge his knowledge of you or what you've had to do in the past. He won't betray us."

The pained expression on Vincent's face abated with his smile of relief. He lifted his head to bestow a light kiss on her forehead. "Of course you are right. It's just that after living with my fears and insecurities for so long, sometimes it's hard to dismiss them so quickly when they crop up, especially when it's a threat to my life with you and Jacob."

Catherine slowly closed her eyes, savoring Vincent's love as it held her in the bond, refusing to give in to the distressing thoughts of a life without him. Her eyelids fluttered open again, going straight to lock with Vincent's gaze. She raised her hand to caress his cheek. "I know, Vincent, I know. But remember that I had the same fears when Joe mentioned his need to talk to me, so it isn't just you."

Catherine shifted further sideways, scooting up on the bed to rest the side of her head in her hand, her elbow on the pillow above Vincent's shoulder. His face just inches from hers, she look down into eyes that reminded her of a piece of the sky. Vincent's arm slid around her waist as she lowered her head to kiss him, leaving her breathless when she tried to speak again. "Besides, my love, I don't think it has so much to do with you and your anxieties specifically, but with our love - our wonderful, incredible, unbelievable love - and the fact that we are living our dream; a dream that four years ago we thought was virtually impossible. I think it's only human nature to at some point fear the loss of what we love the most, especially after what you and I have been through."

Vincent nodded thoughtfully, searching the emerald depths that were his lifeline. "Yet through our experience we've learned that we must value what we have and not take it for granted; we know how quickly and easily it can be taken from us."

Catherine silently agreed, knowing the price they'd had to pay for their happiness. However, she was ready for a lighter mood. She reached up to run her finger down the furry softness of his nose, her tone slightly teasing when she spoke. "Well, I for one don't intend to take you for granted - I happen to know that I'd never find another man like you anywhere."

Vincent chuckled, grabbing her hand and bringing it to his mouth to lightly suckle the inquisitive finger. "No, I'm afraid I can honestly say that I'm definitely one of a kind."

"Mmmm, and you're all mine!" Catherine responded happily. She slid down to once again rest her head upon Vincent's chest, her hand moving across him to rest upon the opposite shoulder. She sighed contentedly, softly whispering a barely audible "I love you, Vincent."

Vincent tightened his hold on her, lacing his fingers together at her side. He tilted his head to lay his cheek upon her silky soft hair and murmuring, "And I love you, my dearest Catherine."

 

The young lovers slept peacefully ensconced in the warm cocoon of their love. The tunnels surrounding them rested quietly, the only sound breaking the inherent silence was the intermittent tapping on the pipes signaling the inhabitants' well-being and lulling them to sleep.

Far above them, in a well-kept working class neighborhood, a young woman felt the first gripping pains of labor. With her husband at her side she prayed fervently that her baby would live, whereas her first child did not. At the time she'd been devastated at the thought of bringing a child into her life where luxury veiled lies and abuse - a life that surely would have destroyed him emotionally, as well as physically. In the end, however, the cruelties of her life had defeated him even before he was born. A shattering blow to her stomach forced the premature labor and subsequent delivery of her baby - a beautiful little boy who survived less than two hours. By this time the tragedy that had befallen her was apparent - the bruises on her face and abdomen a telltale sign. Yet the medical staff entrusted with her care were reluctant to alert the authorities - her husband's prestige and very generous annual donation to the hospital outweighing their good conscious. It took one exceptional doctor - known throughout the years for defying authority when he felt the cause was just - to come to her aid. Within hours her husband was arrested for domestic violence, yet a mere four hours afterwards he was out of jail on bond, his affluence in society serving him well once again. Her rescuer-doctor was not to be deterred, however, citing her need for rest in refusing to allow her abuser into her hospital room, despite his insistence that as her husband he had a right to see her. The doctor stood firm again when the young man threatened to withdraw his financial support from the hospital.

His response, as usual, was violent, ordering his chauffeur to take him to his elaborate country club, predictably vacant at that time of night. He proceeded to drink long past the point of intoxication before ignoring his driver's advice and getting behind the wheel himself - only to wrap the limo around a tree less than a mile down the road.

After the funeral his family made it clear that she was no longer welcome amongst them. They had never liked her in the first place and now felt justified in their beliefs - she'd allowed their brother's child to die, and forced him to kill himself. She could have stayed and fought for the money that was rightfully hers, but she didn't care. She didn't want the money - she only wanted out. She gathered some clothes and the few things she had brought into her marriage five years earlier and left.

She had $20 to her name, not enough to allow her a fresh start far away from New York. But the city was large, its people vast, and she knew she could blend in, hiding amongst the hustle and bustle of every day life here. She'd sought out a shelter for battered women where she began the slow process of healing. A year later she moved to a small apartment a couple of blocks away. It wasn't fancy but it was clean, and the landlord respected her need for privacy. She worked in the daytime as a waitress, returning to the center in the evenings as a volunteer until its doors closed due to lack of funding.

She began to spend her evenings in the small park across from her apartment. She sat on the same bench each time, reading, watching the children play, and eventually striking up a conversation with a young man she encountered often in the park walking his dog. The two became fast friends and before she knew what was happening she'd fallen in love with both he and his parents, with whom he still lived. Knowing her tragic history, he understood her cautiousness regarding their relationship. Even so, 12 months after they first met she happily accepted his proposal, almost before he was finished with his well-rehearsed speech.

Thus she entered yet another stage in her life, walking further away from the injustices she'd been dealt. She took with her one fond memory - the bittersweet moments in which she'd been allowed to hold the son she would grieve for until her last breath.

With the pain of another contraction came the young woman's bright smile. She welcomed this child with all the love in which he had been conceived. He had parents and grandparents that already adored him, and those feelings would only grow stronger. They weren't rich, in fact most of the time they barely made ends meet; but what they lacked in material possessions they made up for in love, and nothing could destroy that.

As the pains intensified she gripped her husband's hand. His cooing words in her ear were comforting, easing the transition into the next stage of labor.

Part 2