In Just Hours


Important context note: A few days after "Blessed Whispers", and about a week after Vincent's breakdown.

Catherine hated trials like this ... where the perpetrator was guilty as sin, and the judge was as stupid as a block of ice. He wouldn't let any of her objections stand, nor would he quiet the gawkers and paparazzi that had flooded into the courtroom.

Then there was the defense! They could apparently do no wrong, much to the jubilation of the whoopers and cat-callers. And if that annoying man in the third row didn't stop tapping his pencil soon, Catherine was going to shove the thing...

Luckily, before she could do any damage, she sat up with a start. Paperwork for one of her cases was spread across her little desk, atop of which she had politely fallen asleep. And that tapping pencil, as it turned out, was actually Vincent at her balcony doors.

"Damn it!" she muttered to herself, detecting his shadow through the curtains, then swinging around to check her clock.

The chastisement was for herself of course. For the last few evenings, she'd been very consistent with her nightly visits below. She knew she had less time tonight, but had still planned to at least check on her beau once the sun was down properly. ... ... Instead, she'd passed out.

... ...

"Vincent?" she asked with a hint of disbelief as she opened the doors and stepped outside to meet him. "Should you be here?"

It was far from the greeting he'd hoped for. Part of him had been dreading the moment he would awake to discover these last few days were only a dream. Her doubtful questioning of his presence did not help.

"You mean, to see you?" he asked, trying to disguise his trepidation.

"No," she replied, touching his arm in reassurance. "I mean you shouldn't be scaling buildings after only a week."

Vincent smiled, moved by her constant concern. "It was not my strength that was compromised that night." His hand motioned briefly over the edge of her balcony. "This is nothing. And I wanted to be sure you were all right. ... I felt your exhaustion."

With the truth apparently out, Catherine allowed herself a short yawn. "I'm sorry I didn't make it below. I was going to come down as soon as I finished my notes, but ..."

"Catherine, there is no need to apologize," he smiled. "I have been wishing you would be more vigilant regarding your own health. In truth, I'm a bit relieved that your body finally made its demands clear. You haven't been sleeping enough ... we both know that. ... ... I even felt it, especially strongly this evening."

She eyed him for a moment. "And you wanted to make sure that I hadn't passed out somewhere inappropriate?" Hiding her amusement was harder than she thought.

And apparently he couldn't do it either, because he let out a brief puff of laughter. "No, I ... ..."

His explanation faltered, especially when she stepped the last inches closer. Her arms skimmed gently beneath his cloak, curling around his waist and anchoring him to the spot with a hidden force unmatched. His own hands gravitated to her shoulders, strong fingers beginning a careful but modest massage of the tired muscles that spanned out across her back. ... ... Touching her was good. Being able to offer healing and relief within that touch, was even better.

"You came," was her light tease, "to tell me to 'wake up then go back to sleep'?"

This time he only shook his head, the shy expression on his face silent admission that he knew he'd been caught.

"You came," she began again, her voice growing far more sincere. Here was a risk, and she was going to take it. "To tell me you love me?"

"Ohhhhh," he exhaled in a meaningful sigh. "I do love you. ... So very much."

The joy such small words could bring to her countenance, still amazed him. The last few weeks had contained so many bleak moments. -- -- To see her eyes now rejoicing was a gift worthy of the gods. Powerful enough to steal a beat of his heart, yet generous enough to add the last little bit to his courage.

"I came because ... ," he murmured, then leaned down ... choosing to show her instead.

... ...

He was getting distinctly better at such kisses, if Catherine's welcoming response was any indication.

The sweet sigh from her throat, humming right past his lips to flutter within his lungs. The most demure, muffled giggle she made, at the hesitant flick of a scratchy tongue-tip against her own. And perhaps most wonderful of all, the tightening of her arms when his shyness threatened to initiate too soon a retreat.

Maybe the agonizing he'd done over his decision to arrive so unannounced -- and for little other reason than this -- had been unnecessary after all. Maybe she was even happier at his appearance than he'd ever dared to hope. And maybe, far from being a dream, these last few days were actually the dream coming true.

Eventually, she allowed his undercurrent of shyness to have its way. A willing relinquishment on her part, because she knew she was slowly but surely winning it over.

"I should let you get your rest," he admitted reluctantly. His actions, however, spoke the opposite ... pulling her further into his arms, his head tilting protectively above hers. Even if she was tired, she was so at peace here in his embrace. So content. It resonated into him, bringing him the same comfort.

"I'll come down tomorrow," she promised, pressing herself to his chest. "For dinner. Then we'll do something. Whatever you feel like."

He squeezed her in agreement, letting his fingers flex gently into her flesh. No, he didn't particularly care as to the activity either. It was frightening how quickly he'd grown accustomed to her presence every evening. He had dreamed of it for months. Lived it for a week. And, tonight, missed it acutely in just hours.

These few minutes though -- -- they were enough to sustain. After days of nursing him, she needed her rest. ... ... And he should go.

Again he drew away, consciously forcing his arms to release her. She took advantage of the sudden freedom, catching his shoulder as he began to turn. The lightest touch skimmed into his mane, making him almost shiver when it progressed to his neck. Unbelievably soft, warm fingertips traced across his Adam's apple, up his tightening throat, then out to the stubble on his chin. How wondrous it was that she didn't have to tug ... didn't even have to coax ... ... only guide, as he closed the distance in search of one more ephemeral kiss.

"Tomorrow evening," she whispered.

He nodded solemnly. "Sleep well, Catherine."

"And you."

Her fingers dropped away. Had no other choice, as he stepped toward the corner of her balcony. She needed rest, he dutifully reminded himself, so he had to go. One last gaze exchanged ... one promissory smile ... and he disappeared back into the darkness.

... ...

She stood silently for a moment. Watching the place where he'd been. Trying to feel his departure the way he so often claimed to feel hers.

"Goodnight," she whispered -- -- knowing that somehow, someway, he'd hear it -- -- then retreated back into her apartment.

Her work still lay politely on her desk, disheveled from her sleep and waiting to see if it would yet again become an impromptu bed. Instead, it only earned her passing smile, as she made her way to the bathroom.

True, she probably could have put another hour or two into her notes. She was wide-awake, unlikely to so indelicately pass out again. But concentrating -- that was out of the question.

She would sleep ... properly. She would dream ... properly. Of things as they should be, and a future as it would be.