DAWNING

For the first time in his life, Vincent woke to the sound of birds. He took a moment to orient himself and realize that the light that filled the room was sunlight and the warm weight against his back was Catherine pressed against him. A few candle flames still guttered in pools of melted wax and Mouse's stars, faded now in the daylight, still shone on the ceiling.

Vincent lay quietly on his side, blinking a little in the unaccustomed brightness and wishing he could stretch. Catherine was still deeply asleep, however, and he was afraid if he moved, he would wake her.

The matter was taken out of his hands by the softly muffled sound of a ringing bell. Catherine stirred as Vincent sat up and reached for trousers and a shirt from the neat stack of clean clothes waiting on a chair. Pulling them on, he returned Catherine's sleepy smile before opening the hidden door and descending the dark staircase. When he opened the door at the bottom, he was greeted with bellows of rage from his son. Jamie deposited the baby unceremoniously in Vincent's arms.

"Sorry," she said with a wry look. "Mary says he can't wait any longer." She offered him a cloth-covered basket. "This is for you. William thought you might be hungry."

"Thank you, Jamie." Vincent accepted the basket before closing the door again and carrying Charles, still screaming, up the stairs.

Catherine had found his discarded shirt from yesterday and was slipping it on as he entered the room. He smiled as he handed her the baby, who stopped in mid-scream and began to nurse hungrily.

Vincent watched the tender scene for a few moments before he was once again attracted by the sounds outside. As he moved to the open french doors, he could see a pair of sparrows scolding each other as they built a nest in a nearby tree. From another tree, an impudent squirrel leaped to the low terrace wall, scampering along it surefootedly. Vincent smiled as the squirrel stopped, sat up, and gave him a long, cool look of assessment before disappearing over the side of the terrace.

The floor under his bare feet was warm where the sun had been shining on it and a mild spring breeze blew gently. Squirrels and birds were a new experience for Vincent. The only days he had ever spent Above had been in Catherine's apartment, which was too high for squirrels and where the only bird was an occasional pigeon.

Catherine came to stand beside him, still wearing his shirt. Vincent liked the way she looked in it, with the sleeves rolled up several times but still too long for her, and the hem falling just above her knees. She'd left the top button open and the ruffled stock was untied and hanging loosely. Charles drowsed against her shoulder and Vincent put his arms around both of them protectively.

"My wife," he whispered softly, savoring the way the words tasted on his tongue. "My wife."

Finally turning away from the doors, they spied Jamie's basket on the floor beside the bed. The enticing aroma of cinnamon made them realize they were hungry. Inside the basket they found fresh fruit and some of William's sweet rolls, which were still warm. Underneath these were a loaf of fresh, crusty bread, a wedge of hard cheese and cold sliced roast beef and ham, which they set aside for later. There was also a small package of tea leaves, and Catherine and Vincent laughed together, realizing they had no way to heat any water. The house, with the exception of the bedroom, was still unfurnished and the new kitchen appliances wouldn't be delivered for several more days.

In the light of day, Catherine could see the miracles Jenny had worked in the bedroom. Four days ago, when Catherine had last seen it, the walls were still bare drywall and the hardwood floor had been sanded but not yet stained or varnished. Now the floor gleamed gently in the sun and the wallpaper Catherine had picked out adorned the walls. Even a few pictures had been hung and thick, hand-woven drapes shielded the windows.

After eating their picnic breakfast on the floor near the french doors, Catherine took Vincent to explore the newly restored house. She saved the large room at the front of the second floor for last. This would be their study and Catherine hung back, letting Vincent enter first. As he stopped in surprise, Catherine slipped her arm through his, watching his face.

Arched fanlights reached for the ceiling like rays of sunlight above each of the three large windows in the room, and, as a wedding present for Vincent, Catherine had replaced them with richly colored stained glass. The center window was an exact replica of the one in Vincent's chamber. Although the side windows were different, they were of complementary designs and colors.

"Catherine, they're beautiful." Vincent turned away from the windows to look at her. "Thank you."

"I want you to feel at home here," she explained, leaning against him.

"I am always at home," Vincent said softly, "when I'm with you."

* * * * *

Sharing dreams, making plans and playing with Charles occupied the rest of the morning. When the baby went down for an afternoon nap, they realized they were hungry again and reached for the basket once more. This time, the picnic took place in the middle of the bed. Catherine frowned as she brushed at a few stray particles of food.

"I hope you know," she said in mock severity, "that this does not set an official precedent. I don't like crumbs in my bed."

Vincent had stretched out comfortably, his head and shoulders supported by pillows. He smiled. "Our bed," he reminded her softly, and Catherine's expression changed.

"Yes," she agreed, moving the basket to nestle beside him, her head on his shoulder.

Vincent had never put on his boots, or even socks. Instead, like Catherine, he was barefoot. Catherine had never seen his feet before and she found herself studying them. They were large, strong, and well-shaped with carefully trimmed and blunted nails. Dense fur similar to that on his hands covered the tops and she stretched one of her own feet down to stroke it gently. It felt silky, almost ticklish on the tips of her toes. Vincent drew the foot up to rest firmly beneath hers. She curled her toes into the fur and looked up to find him watching her with a trace of a smile.

"I've never seen them before," she explained lamely, embarrassed by his amused scrutiny. She looked down again. "Your feet are like the rest of you," she whispered. "Beautiful."

Vincent made a noise deep in his throat. "Catherine," he began, demurring.

"They are," she argued, a trifle indignantly. "You are," more softly as she elbowed herself up. "Always to me." She touched his cheek tenderly, first with her fingers, then with her lips. "Kiss me, Vincent," she murmured, her voice suddenly husky.

He did, softly, but drew back when her lips parted, inviting passion. "Catherine," he said again, glancing uncertainly toward the sunlight streaming through the french doors.

She followed his look and smiled. "We're married now, Vincent. It's all right." She took his face between her hands. "I want to love you in the sunlight, too."

"Starlight, moonlight and candlelight weren't enough?" he inquired, the faintest touch of humor coloring his tone.

"No," she said, forsaking subtlety for outright assault.

* * * * *

The sun had gone down and twilight was fading fast when they finally gathered up their things and prepared to return to the tunnels. Catherine reluctantly relinquished Vincent's shirt in favor of her own fresh clothing, while Vincent pulled on his boots for the first time that day.

Catherine lingered at the entrance to the secret stairs. "This was a wonderful day," she said, looking back. "I hate to leave."

"It's only for a few weeks," Vincent reminded her. "We'll soon be back to stay."

With a smile and a nod, she stepped back to let him close the door. Settling Charles more firmly in one arm, Vincent took Catherine's hand as they started down the stairs on their way to their new life together.

THE END