By Ginny Shearin

Chapter 7


Vincent woke first, realizing it was morning and finding that the softness and warmth beside him was real. He propped himself on one elbow, left the other arm around her, and contentedly watched her sleep.

Catherine woke curled up next to him. She found herself making a quiet sound of pleasure as she nuzzled her face into the soft hair on his chest, planting small kisses here and there; but she kept her eyes closed, luxuriating in the delicious, soft movement of his hand on her back and shoulders.

“Do you plan to open your eyes today?” she heard from her favorite voice.          

“No,” she answered. “I’m afraid if I do it might be a dream again.” There was movement as he leaned to kiss her cheek. Her eyes finally opened to find him watching her with a smile and a look of love that melted her completely.

“It wasn’t a dream?” she asked.

“We weren’t dreaming,” he answered softly.

“Do I remember that we weren’t dreaming more than once?” she grinned.

He chuckled softly, gracing her with a look that left it unnecessary to repeat the question. He loved watching her wake up.

“What?” she asked, looking up at him. “That look?”

“I’m trying to believe reality,” he answered, his hand unable to stop moving over her back and shoulder. “Every time I woke during the night, you were here, your soft, warm skin against mine, wanting my touch . . . .”

“I plan to want your touch for a long time.” Running her fingers through the hair on his back upward toward his shoulders, she asked with a teasing smile, “Does it bother you when I move your hair in that direction?”

“When your fingers touch my skin, Catherine, my fur cares very little what you’ve done to reach it,” he assured her, bringing a giggle and another grin from her.

“Can we keep this between the two of us for a while?” Catherine asked. “We’ve waited so long to be this close . . . .”  She took a little breath and explained, “We deserve some time to savor it just for ourselves.”

“That was my intention. I had no thought of sharing this with anyone else. Did you think me dishonorable enough to kiss and tell?” he teased. “It’s certainly no one else’s concern . . . but the way I look at you might give us away.”

His hand moved slowly up and down her arm and traced small circles on her back. “I heard Father moving around. As much as I hate to suggest it, we should probably dress before he decides to check on me,” he told her, and he heard Catherine’s resigned groan.

“If we have to,” then she added with the grin she couldn’t seem to control, “and if I can just remember where to find my clothes. I think I put them away rather indiscriminately last night.”

He looked on with amusement as she leaned across him to retrieve her shirt, which was clinging precariously to the upper edge of the bed, and leaned down from the other side of the bed to find her jeans and Vincent’s shirt. She playfully threw his shirt at him before putting her jeans on. She pulled her shirt into place, and going to the other side of the bed, found her shoes and socks and the other two wayward garments. She held up Vincent’s pants and threatened to make him leave the bed to get them before finally dropping them across the covers. He could find his own socks. She brushed her hair quickly and found soap, towels, and clean clothes.

“I’m going to bathe, change clothes and bring breakfast,” she said, still unable to wipe the smile from her face. I don’t think I can look at you and Father in the same room right now and retain any of my composure . . . and I hope you can stand to wait for breakfast, because I plan to take my time. Maybe he’ll be gone by the time I get back.           

Vincent sat quietly, chuckling at her flurry of activity.

“Come here,” he said, amazing even himself at his assertiveness, holding his arms out to her. Unable to refuse that invitation/command, she threw herself back into his arms and heard him whisper, “Don’t go yet.”

“Not a chance, big boy! He’s your father. You’re on your own,” she exclaimed quietly, pushing herself away in spite of her instinct to never leave that spot.  Picking up the shirt she had thrown at him and handing it to him again, she commanded in a near whisper, “Put your clothes on. You look much too satisfied sitting there naked. Father will know.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he smiled in amusement, dutifully pulling the shirt over his head. She left just in time. Vincent was barely dressed when Father entered his chamber, and Catherine quickly made her escape.

“Good morning, Father,” she called over her shoulder as she hurried away.

Father was concerned that Vincent had seemed tired at dinner last night; so he brought his medical bag, insisting on a brief check-up. He was also concerned that the nightmares might be returning. Vincent assured Father that he had just tried to do a little more than he should have, but his mind strayed badly as he did his best to keep the conversation running smoothly. Father suggested that Vincent forego morning visits and lunch in the dining hall in favor of rest.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Father finally asked him as he put his medical paraphernalia back in his bag. “You seem distracted this morning.”

“Catherine has to return to work on Monday. I’m having difficulty imagining being without her again,” he answered, moving to sit at his desk.

“I’m sure it will be difficult for both of you,” Father answered sympathetically. “The love you share and the obstacles you’ve had to face to retain it inspires all of us. It’s an almost palpable presence around the two of you when you’re together.”

Vincent smiled, thinking of Catherine’s very palpable presence in his bed last night. Under this morning’s circumstances, maybe her flight instincts were right. Father took Vincent’s smile as simply a sign of appreciation for his understanding.


Catherine had gone straight to the bathing chamber, avoiding as many people as possible. She was afraid the look she probably wore on her face would be hard to explain . . . or worse, need no explanation at all; and she wanted to keep this new joy between the two of them for now.

There were a few of the original bathing chambers like the one Father and Vincent shared. When the tunnels were first occupied, those were created from the chambers where there were warm natural springs. Bathing pools were hewn from the natural rock to allow the water to roll in one end of the bathing area and out the other. They were like hot tubs - the water bubbling in and rolling past tired muscles. Those were now outfitted with rails to make it easier for the elderly to soak their arthritic joints or for those with injuries to use for therapy. Occasionally couples slipped in after everyone else was asleep and had a warm, soothing, romantic bath together. Vincent and Father weren’t begrudged their own private chamber. Father was the head of the community, as well as in need of the soothing spring for his hip; and everyone understood Vincent’s aversion to allowing anyone else to see his physical differences.

Most of the present bathing chambers were like the one Catherine now intended to use. As the community grew, it had become a necessity to create more bathing areas, and the living areas had no more natural springs. These newer chambers had pitchers and buckets constantly warming on grates above a low fire. That allowed bathers both comfortable bath water and a little more warmth for the small chamber. It was extremely bad tunnel manners not to refill whatever you used and return it to the grate to warm while you bathed. There was an in pipe from one stream to fill the old-fashioned tub. An out hose took the used water into a second small stream that emptied into the abyss and served as drainage for several bathing chambers, necessary rooms and the kitchen.

Catherine filled the tub partially with cold water and used several pitchers of warm water to make it comfortable. After refilling the pitchers and returning them to the grate, she undressed and lowered herself into the water. Leaning back she closed her eyes and allowed herself to think about the night before - probably adding to Vincent’s distraction as he tried to talk to Father. Their first lovemaking had taken them by surprise. It moved more quickly than her dreams had imagined, but it was still extraordinary. It had quickly taken the character of impatience and need. Even in that state, Vincent had been gentle and careful not to hurt her. She had always known he would. They woke later to the freedom of knowing they no longer had to worry, neither knowing nor caring which of them had initiated the contact. That time the loving was slow and patient, experimental, tender . . . and feeling his responses as well as her own . . .  Mmmmm . . . .  Then toward morning . . . . Her reveries broke when she suddenly realized how long she had been there. Breakfast hour was quickly ticking away, and she certainly didn’t want to cross William this morning.  

“Come on, Chandler,” she said to herself. “Pull yourself together.”

She quickly finished her bath, dressed, toweled the water from her hair, emptied and wiped the tub, and took a deep breath to steel herself to meet the world with a straight face. She gathered breakfast as quickly as possible. With a concerted effort she managed not to grin as she reassured those who were concerned about Vincent after dinner the previous night; then she hurried off as quickly as manners would allow.

To her distress, Father was still with Vincent when she returned. He was about to leave, but stopped long enough to let her know that Vincent was to have no visitors that morning and was to have lunch in his chamber.

“Do your best to see that he rests this morning. No sense in taking chances,” he said. He let Catherine know he intended to check on Vincent in the afternoon and would decide then whether he should be out again in the evening. “He seemed a little distracted this morning. Let me know if you notice anything unusual,” he ordered in a very medical manner as he picked up his bag to go.

“I will, Father,” she said, turning her back to him to hide the smile she couldn’t smother as she placed the breakfast tray on the desk.

“Alone again,” Vincent joked in a tone of disappointment.

“What a shame,” Catherine chuckled and leaned down to kiss him.

“I missed you,” he told her, enjoying the new freedom of pulling her close to return her kiss.

“You should eat your breakfast,” she grinned. “If you persist in this behavior and you’re going to be stuck here alone with me until this afternoon, you may need your strength.”

He smiled and held out his plate.

Walking past Vincent’s chair after the dishes were cleared, Catherine was surprised to be caught around the waist by a large, hairy arm and pulled into his lap.

“Do you know how many times I’ve wanted to do this?” he asked with a smile.   

“As many times as I’ve wanted you to?” she answered, smiling back and slipping her arms around his neck.

He laughed lightly, leaning his head back against the chair.

“I feel as if a weight has lifted from me and I could nearly fly.”

“So do I,” she answered, burying her face against his neck and leaving a small kiss there.

“I’m sorry I made Father a part of last night.” He said, looking back down at her. He paused, as if he wanted to say something else. She searched through their bond for any hints of what might be bothering him, then she knew.

“Are you thinking that your response wasn’t human enough?” she asked from the warmth of his neck and shoulder.

“Yes,” he admitted, quietly. The truth was gradually becoming easier to voice, at least to Catherine, even though it still left him feeling uncomfortable. He had kept it within himself for so many years.

“The sound was different, but wanting to make it was perfectly normal. It made me happy,” she reassured him. As an afterthought she added in a teasing, childish, sing-songy sort of chant near his neck, “Made you want to growl.” She followed it with a girlish laugh and a kiss under his chin.

Feeling the truth in her assurances, he felt confident enough to again answer honestly.

“Yes, you did,” he agreed, kissing the side of her neck and growling softly against it. He found that she liked that - something he would remember.

“Don’t ever hesitate to do what pleases you when you’re with me, Vincent,” she said, sitting up slightly to look at him. “I know there are things about you that are different, and you should have someone to share those things with you. If something frightens me or displeases me, you would know; and I trust you completely. I’ve seen things that most of the others haven’t. I’ve shared the worst of your rages, and I’ve seen you at your most vulnerable; and you know those things haven’t changed anything between us. Trust me with the rest. I want you to be yourself when you’re with me.” 

She snuggled back against him.

“What do you need to do that you can’t do around the rest of your family? What do you need that you think they can’t allow you?”

He looked down at this small woman snuggled lovingly against his shoulder, realizing that no one else had ever understood him enough to even ask that question. She was really willing to accept, and even share everything about him. She was right. He needed to not be alone in his differences anymore, and those differences didn’t frighten her or turn her away.

“Sometimes I need to use my full strength,” he answered quietly, still a little uncomfortable about putting such thoughts into words, “for something free, something spontaneous - not just construction projects. In my adult life no one here had seen me in a full run until the first time I felt you were in danger, and it frightened them. Sometimes my voice needs the same freedom - I need to growl or roar, openly enough that I stand among its echoes.”

“I’ll bet you have a place to go where you can do those things, don’t you?” she asked.

“Yes,” he admitted, kissing the top of her head.

“May I go along sometime . . . and stand among the echoes with you?” she asked, and smiled up at him.

“Catherine, I can’t begin to tell you what a miracle you have created in my life,” he breathed against her hair and pulled her tightly to him.


When Father returned that afternoon, he walked into a delightfully domestic scene. Catherine was straightening the covers on the bed, looking very relaxed. Vincent was bathed, dressed and writing in his journal, looking as well rested and content as Father could ever remember seeing him.

“Let’s have a look,” Father insisted, in spite of Vincent’s protests. “Well,” he announced, after a brief exam, “you seem fine. Catherine, has he seemed distracted? Has anything in his manner seemed unusual?”

“No, Father,” she answered, standing beside Vincent and resting a hand on his shoulder, “He seemed quite well focused on everything since you were here this morning.” Vincent reached up and placed his hand over hers, and smiled.

“Catherine has been very attentive, Father. You said I should rest, and she insisted I spend a good bit of time in bed.”

Before he left, Father pronounced Vincent well enough to be allowed dinner with everyone else. Catherine looked at Vincent in surprise after he walked his father to the door.

“Vincent, you just completely misled your Father without ever stating a single untruth,” Catherine teased, turning his own words on him.   

“There’s an attorney I keep finding in my bed,” he said, offering one of his half smiles; then he growled softly against her neck.

Before dinner the two of them walked to the nursery to visit the children, who were delighted with their surprise visit. They played a few games, listened to some childish chatter and read a few stories; then they went to the dining hall for dinner and visited with the adults, again staying longer than necessary to discourage any visits in his chamber later. They were determined to have as much time to themselves as they could before Catherine had to leave.


Sunday arrived faster than they thought possible. Catherine’s heart gave thought to staying Sunday night and going straight to work from the tunnels. However, knowing how much work was likely to be waiting for her on Monday, her common sense insisted it would be best to leave after dinner and have a good night’s sleep (something she was pretty sure she wouldn’t get if she stayed) and a shorter commute to face the week. Besides, if the truth were told, she and Vincent both knew her body could use a break from the last three days activity between them. That wasn’t likely to happen if she stayed, either, she thought with a quiet smile as she finished packing the few things she had brought with her.

“Do you have more of those things at home?” Vincent asked, watching as she started to pack the little basket of soap, shampoo, hairbrush, etc. she had kept on the chest in his chamber.

“Probably. Most of them, anyway,” she answered, sounding puzzled.

“Would you leave them here? And a change of clothes?”  Vincent suggested. “I’ve come to enjoy finding your things in my chamber. I’ll put them away and you’ll have them any time you want to stay.”  She smiled, then pulled some clean clothes from her bag and handed them to him.

“I would be honored to have a place in your chamber,” she answered, with an accompanying kiss.

“May I come in, children?” they heard Father call from the other side of the screen.

“Come in, Father. I was about to come to you to say ‘Good-bye’.” 

“I shall miss you, Catherine,” he said, hobbling toward her, “and I shall be forever in your debt for your part in my son’s recovery.”

“No thanks are necessary, Father.” she told him, giving him a warm hug. “I wouldn’t have been anywhere else.”

“No, I don’t believe you would,” he answered, lovingly patting her arm.

Vincent watched this exchange between two of the people he loved most in the world with a deep feeling of warmth. It hadn’t been so long ago that they had been at odds with one another and he had been caught in the middle. Now it seemed he was temporarily on the outside. His father had really learned to love and appreciate Catherine.

“I know you aren’t happy at the idea,” he said, turning toward Vincent, “but Kanin should be here shortly to see Catherine back to her threshold.”

He wasn’t happy about it, but both Father and Catherine had insisted he shouldn’t try to travel that far yet. Father argued that Catherine would probably worry about him until she heard from someone that he had returned safely, and that if anything happened to him, she would never forgive herself. He said she would have a busy week ahead of her and didn’t need the added stress of worrying about Vincent. As always, Catherine’s best interests came first; and Vincent gave in to their demands, but not without a feeling of exasperation. He was now tired of being treated like an invalid, and it was his place to see Catherine safely home. With Catherine’s departure, he was about to become the difficult patient Father had expected to see before now.        

Father gave Catherine a hug and kissed her cheek.  

“I’ll go now. The two of you don’t need an old man hanging about while you say ‘Good-bye.’ ”

Catherine took Vincent’s hands in hers and kissed them.

“I’ll be back on Friday . . . probably very late on Friday night. I’ll be counting the minutes until I can be in your arms again.”

“I shall count as well,” he smiled sadly.

“Hey, you two. Can I come in?” Kanin called from the passage.

“Come in Kanin,” Vincent answered in resignation.

“Hey,” Kanin said, entering with hands held up in front of him, “Don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t apply for the job. I was drafted. We both know she’d rather have you.”

“I do appreciate your help. I understand there have been some minor changes made near Catherine’s building, and I’ll rest easier knowing that someone will be with her. I just find it very frustrating to be this confined.”

“Are you ready, Catherine? Is this one bag all you have?” Kanin asked.

“That’s all,” she answered. “Would you mind giving us a minute or two alone before we go?”

“Sure,” he answered, smiling sympathetically as he picked up her bag. “Take your time. I’ll wait outside.”

Catherine turned to Vincent, tears threatening to spill down her cheeks at the slightest provocation. He gathered her into his arms and held her tight, then kissed her as if he might never see her again and pulled her back against him.

“I already miss you,” he told her.

“Friday night.” she promised, holding him just as tightly. “Only five days.”

She backed away reluctantly, still holding his hand. He held her hand to his face and kissed the palm, unwilling to let go.

“I shouldn’t keep Kanin waiting too long,” she said softly, gently sliding her hand away. “I love you.”

“Only five days,” he thought. After having her with him every day for several weeks, it might as well have been eternity.

Kanin was waiting patiently, and Catherine unnecessarily apologized for keeping him waiting. He understood. They walked for a while in silence, giving Catherine time to salvage her spirit.

“So, with all that time together did you get him to talk about some of the things that clutter his mind?” Kanin asked when he thought she was ready to talk.

“Yes,” she answered, “We talked a lot. How do you know about his cluttered mind?” she smiled.

“He talks to me sometimes,” Kanin answered. “He never says too much, just enough to give me a little insight. I’ve never seen a man so in love . . . or so tormented about it,” he smiled.

“I think I left him less tormented,” Catherine grinned back. “He’s finally accepted a few things I was beginning to think we might never resolve. We have a few more hurdles, but we’ll get past them.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” he answered.

“Kanin, will you keep an eye on him? Don’t let him over exert himself.”

“Don’t worry,” he answered. The whole community loves him. He’ll be fine. We’ll all gang up on him if necessary.” 

“As stubborn as he can be, it may be necessary,” she laughed.

A few more minutes of small talk brought them to the threshold below her building. She thanked Kanin, took her bag, gave him a quick hug and reluctantly climbed the ladder back into her world.


Chapter 8