Lady of the Balcony

by Clairisant

FEEDBACK: Would love to hear both good and bad feedback but please try to be kind and constructive.

CREDITS: A special thank you to my beta readers Qupeydoll and Pricilla

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story takes place before "The Watcher."


To the lady of the balcony,

My name is Elizabeth Faber. Although you do not know me, I feel that I have come to know you and your love. I live in an apartment across the way from you and have spent the last two years watching you and your love meet. The relationship that the two of you have is very special and I have felt very privileged to share it with you even though you did not know it. Please do not be alarmed about getting this letter, I do not wish either you or your love… oh, how I wish I knew his name. I know your name, my dear Catherine, because you have been in the newspaper so often with your job, but I have wandered from my story.

What I had started to say was that I wish neither you nor your love…oh, I can't keep calling him that even though I know that he is your love. So, if you don't mind, for this letter I will call him Vince. You see he reminds me very much of my husband who has been gone from this world for thirty years now. Vince was kind and gentle as I am sure your love is and my Vince was very handsome just as your love is also. So if you don't mind I will refer to him as Vince from here on. And again I have wandered…old minds tend to do that, my children…but I mean you and Vince no harm, Catherine, just the contrary, in fact; I wish to be of help. I know that there must be a special place that Vince lives because he could not live in this world of suspicion and hate and I would like to help the people of his world.

When you read this letter I will already have left this earthly world to rejoin my Vince. How I wish that I could have met the two of you and spent time getting to know you. I think I would have enjoyed the conversations that we could have had and I have to tell you, dear Catherine, that I find your Vince very handsome! If I had been fifty years younger I might have tried to turn his head, but no, the two of you are so in love that he would never look at another. I remember the night that you lit the balcony with candle light and both of you were dressed in your finest clothes. You gave each other gifts. I only saw that his gift to you was a necklace and yours to him was something to wear around his neck also. How I would have loved to have seen what you had given each other, I am sure both gifts were very beautiful and given with so much love! How I envy you the love that you share! How rare it is to see a love like yours! I am glad that you two have each other.

Again my mind has wandered from what I had to say to you. This letter should have been delivered to you by my lawyer and you should be reading it together. I still wish I knew his name! My entire estate, such as it is, will be given into your hands, Catherine, to help the people that Vince lives with. They must be good and generous and caring people, because he is, is he not, my dear? Please use this meager amount to help them in anyway you can. The two of you and your love for each other have given me so much joy over the last two years! This is just a small way to thank you for showing me that there is still love in this world, like the love my Vince and I had so many years ago. A love like that can conquer all odds just to exist! I wish the two of you all the best and many happy years to come. I only wish that I could be around to share them with you as I have during the past two years.

With all my love,

Elizabeth Faber

Catherine looked up from the letter she had just read aloud to Vincent and into his amazed eyes. "I don't know what to feel first!" she said as she looked uponher love and smiled.

"I know what you mean, Catherine. Shock that she knew about me and did not report it to any kind of authorities. Invaded that she watched us for two years without our knowing about it. Amazed that she saw the love that we share from even that distance, wonder that her she called me Vince after her husband, amusement that she would have tried to take me from you, gratitude that she thought to help people that she did not even know, and love for someone who could accept and bless us with such kindness," Vincent said to her.

"Why do I continue to be surprised that you know exactly what I'm thinking and feeling?" Catherine laughed, cuddling into Vincent's arms on the balcony where they had met to read the letter from the wonderful stranger. "There is another letter here from her lawyer, let me read that to you too."

Dear Ms. Chandler,

Enclosed is a letter from our client, the late Mrs. Elizabeth Faber. She left instructions with us to deliver it to you upon her death, which occurred three weeks ago. Her will named you sole beneficiary and you have only to come into our office at your convenience to collect. The contents of her apartment have been sold and included in the amount of the settlement that has been left to you. She did ask us to enclose this photo taken of her and her husband Vincent Faber on their wedding day. Once taxes and other fees have been taken out of the estate, the amount that will be passed to you is $3,472,093. She told us that you had instructions as to what to do with this money in the sealed letter she had left with us to deliver to you.

Condolences at your loss,

Gruber and Sons Attorneys at Law

Catherine looked up into Vincent's stunned face, knowing just what he was feeling at that moment. "How in the world could anyone call three million a meager sum?! Think of all the good this can do for those Below!"

"No, Catherine, think of the harm it will do! Remember when the gold was found on the ship?"

"But much of that strife was over who found it! This time the money is a gift and will be used only to help."

Vincent quietly pondered her words before he spoke. "What can this money give us that we do not already have? We have enough food to eat, and clothes to wear, we have books to teach the children with, and the love and companionship of a close-knit community."

"What you say is true, Vincent, but many of those things would not be possible without your Helpers in the world Above. Think how the money might help them, and with it they could give even more aid to your world. Father is always short on supplies for the hospital chamber even though I know Peter does all he can to help. This money could buy penicillin and other needed drugs."

"You are correct, of course," he replied after a pause, then continued, "Even so, there is so much more money there than any of the things you mentioned would take."

"Yes, but what about setting up a college fund for the children that want to go to university? Think of Geoffrey learning to be a doctor, Samantha a writer or poet, and Eric a…well, whatever he wants to be."

"A lawyer like you, Catherine. That is his desire," Vincent informed her.

Blushing slightly, she dropped her head at the compliment. Speaking to try and cover her embarrassment, she said, "There are also many here Above that could be helped. Why not open free medical and legal clinics for those who cannot afford to pay for such things? It would also be a future source of employment for the children when they graduate with their degrees."

Shaking his shaggy head slowly back and forth, Vincent said, "Catherine, you never cease to amaze me! Those are goals not even Father could argue against. With you overseeing these funds, we can be sure they will be used wisely."

"Vincent, I don't want to be the sole administrator of this money! Many Below still view me as an outsider and wouldn't approve. I think there should be a committee to oversee it. I would suggest some long-time Helpers like Peter and Mr. Smythe, and members of the Council too. Father, of course, and maybe Mary or William."

"Catherine, no one Below considers you an outsider!" Vincent raised his hand when she started to protest. "Not even Father. There was a time he saw you as a threat to our world, then as someone who would devastate his son emotionally. However, since the cave-in and your help when Mouse was 'detained' by Burch's men, he has revised his view of you. In his eyes now, you are a valued Helper. Plus, since you helped give Margaret and him that final week together, he might even be changing his opinion on his son's feelings of love for a wealthy socialite topsider."

"I pray that is true, Vincent, but the fact remains, I'm not a part of your world as I would be if I were living Below. I don't know everything needed and who would benefit most at any given time. With a committee to oversee the funds, it would be much more wisely put to use."

"All right, Catherine, I can see your point there, but I never want you to feel that you aren't a part of my world. Because truthfully, since the night we met you are my world."

"And you are mine, Vincent. I wish I could make you see that!"

Vincent knew that conversation would only lead him to insist that she had a life Above waiting to be lived, but knew it would only cause him pain and his Beloved stress. Instead, he led the conversation back to the money. "When would you be free to come and talk to Father and the Council about this?"

She sighed, knowing that he was once again trying to avoid the awkward conversation of her place in his life. If there was only a way to make him see that she would give up everything to be with him! But anytime that conversation got very far, he either ran to the lower levels of the tunnels to hide away for days on end, or he would send her away from him. So to keep the peace or to keep him from running away, she simply answered his question, "Since it's already Thursday, could we do it this weekend? I have a light caseload and could come Below both days."

"If the Council meets Saturday morning after breakfast then the rest of the time could be used planning what to do with this gift."

"Yes you're right, Vincent, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that this money was a gift, a gift of love."

"Of love, Catherine?"

"Maybe I should have said 'for love,' but I think both are true in this case. Mrs. Faber was a witness," Catherine giggled a bit and added, "Some might even say a spy to our love, but she gave the money out of the love in her heart. She saw in us the same love she had with her Vince. I wonder if he was as handsome as you…"

"Catherine! I am not handsome! This face inspires fear in others!"

"Yes, Vincent, that's why you're a favorite of all the children Below. Why they love you so fiercely! They're afraid of you…"

Shaking his head in denial of her words, he argued, "The children have gotten used to me."

"Of course, Vincent…just the way Eric did the first time he saw you! I remember the wonder in his eyes as touched your face. Something I had never even had the courage to ask you."

Vincent actually blushed at her words and typically looked away from her. She, however, didn't want to let yet another opportunity like this pass her by. Placing a finger under his chin, she lifted his head and turned him to face her. When their eyes met, she asked, "Vincent, may I touch you?"

He was stunned. Utterly speechless. Vincent truly didn't know what to say. Her voice held such intensity. He had no idea what she was asking for and therefore no idea what he would be allowing by saying yes to her. She could have been asking for something as innocent as her hand touching his cheek, but he could feel the desire burning deeply inside of her. Could she be asking for much more than what Eric had wanted? Was her true meaning to touch him in the most intimate manner imaginable? And if the truth were known, he had imagined Catherine touching him in such a way even if he knew it would never happen…

His thoughts were interrupted when she took pity on the turmoil she saw in his eyes. "May I touch your face, Vincent?"

With a sigh of relief at her clarification, he smiled sheepishly for what he had been thinking and said, "Yes, Catherine."

She approached him slowly as if not to scare him, but that was odd because he had given her permission. Another oddity he noticed was that even though she expressed her desire to touch him, her hands were clasped behind her back. The gleam in her eye was the last thing he saw before she stopped almost nose to nose with him.

Vincent had bent his head down so she wouldn't have to reach up so far; that made her true plan even easier to accomplish.

"Catherine, what are you doing? I thought you were going to touch me?" he inquired, sensing the nervousness within her.

"Yes, Vincent, I am, but I didn't mean with my hands…and remember, you gave me permission!" she said, as a kiss landed on his forehead. It was quickly followed by two others placed above each eye, the second of which almost landed on his eye since he was trying to straighten up. Her hands quickly came from behind her back to link behind his neck, preventing his further escape. She proceeded to place quick little kisses down his furred nose and, when he dreaded that his mouth would be next, she switched to one cheek and then the other.

He was so stunned at this turn of events that he didn't think to offer any protest. Just when he was sure his mouth would be her next target, she placed a kiss just under his left ear and then trailed a line of kisses along his jaw, over his chin, and onto his other ear.

For the first time since this ritual began, she paused. Pulling back slightly, she still held him in place with her hands. Meeting his unsure glance, she said, "Vincent, you must know that I want to kiss you. The last time I did was to thank you for caring for me after my father died. This time, I'd like to really kiss you, but I don't want to presume if that's not what you want."

"Catherine, I have dreamed of you kissing me, and even of me kissing you, but I always thought the reality was impossible. However, you seem intent on shattering every impossibility in my life and making them a reality."

"Does that mean I have your permission to continue?" she questioned softly.

"You not only have my permission, but I might even find the courage to respond."

"You're the bravest person I know, Vincent."

"Not in matters of the heart, Catherine."

"Be brave, my love, there's nothing to fear," she whispered as she brought her lips within a breath's width of his.

He groaned at her pause and her lips curved in a triumphant smile just before she placed them on his unique feline mouth.

The kiss seemed to go on forever once it started and, truthfully,Vincent hoped that it never would end even though he knew that wasn't realistic. Nonetheless, this was an experience he would remember all of his life.

When Vincent didn't pull away from the kiss, as she had almost expected him to do, Catherine took that as encouragement and snuggled closer in his arms. At that action, Vincent finally took action himself. His arms came up around her and he pulled her into his embrace. Her sigh of pleasure told him she approved and as if to prove it, she began to urge him to open his lips so she could deepen the kiss.

Her tongue found the cleft of his upper lip and Vincent gasped at the sensations that caused. Catherine backed away just far enough to see his face and when she saw the wonder there, asked softly, "Did you like that?"

"Oh, yes, Catherine! Do you think you might do it again?"

"Anywhere and anytime you'd like me to, my love," she answered him.

"Now?" he asked tentatively.

With a light giggle she quickly moved back into his strong arms. Her tongue immediately found the spot that had pleased him so and she explored it leisurely, much to Vincent's delight.

His groan of enjoyment allowed her access to his mouth and her eager tongue invaded! Her first thought was that he tasted so good, and then she wondered what it would be like to explore his canines. Even knowing that they were probably dangerously sharp, her inquisitive tongue reached out to caress one sharp point.

At that, Vincent did pull away. "Catherine! This isn't wise!" he protested.

"Vincent, I'm not hurt, and even if I was, it would have been my own fault for not being careful."

"But I don't want to ever cause you any hurt, even if it is involuntary, Catherine!"

"Vincent, people suffer a dozen small hurts every day and don't stop doing what they need to do. I don't think I've ever had a day at the office that I didn't get a paper cut or bump into something that was left where it shouldn't have been. Every day I wear heels that cause my feet to hurt by the end of the day, but I do it because they look good. So if I happen to get a scratch or scrape when we are exploring each other, I will recover, I promise you!"

"Catherine, how did you get to be so brave?" he asked with a rueful grin.

"I had a good teacher," she told him tenderly and then gave him a tight hug.

"It's late and you have work in the morning. I should go, Catherine."

With a reluctant sigh because she knew he was right, she asked, "Could I have one more kiss before you go?"

Vincent groaned and answered with a shy smile, "Catherine, I would love that also, but it will make it all the harder for me to leave if we do."

"I think you know by now that I would have no objection to you staying, but even as far as we've come tonight, I don't think you're ready to go any farther yet…are you, Vincent?"

"My definition of impossible has been altered so many times since the night we met, that although I would normally say it was impossible for us to go beyond this new level in our relationship, I am sure you will prove me wrong yet again."

"Vincent! I do want to make love to you, have a life with you, children with you, but only if that is your desire as well! I would never force you into something you didn't want!"

"I know this, Catherine, and I have dreamed of those things too, but how can I ask you to live that kind of life with the restrictions it would involve for you?"

"It's simple, Vincent, you ask me and let me be mature enough and wise enough to have considered all that before giving you my answer."

The look that came over his face was priceless and if the subject hadn't been so important to her, she would have laughed out loud.

Vincent had suddenly realized that it really was that simple. He had been treating Catherine like she was a child and he the parent that knew what was best for her. Even though he admired and respected the talent she had to do the work she did, in their personal life he hadn't been affording her the same consideration. He dropped his head and said softly, "You have given me much to think about tonight, Catherine. I will see you Saturday morning at your threshold." Turning, he was over the edge of the balcony and heading home before either of them realized he had forgotten his good-bye kiss.

Catherine smiled at the night sky. She would've liked that kiss, but loved that he had been so flustered by her words that he had forgotten it.

The next day both Catherine and Vincent practically floated through their day.

In the DA's office, her fellow workers noticed the smile Ms. Chandler was wearing, but only Joe and Edie had the boldness to say anything about it, although both approached their inquiries in different ways. Edie simply demanded all the "juicy details," while Joe teased her about taking "happy pills" and asked if she had any left over. To both of her none-too-subtle friends, Catherine just smiled and went about her work.

On the other hand, in the tunnels Vincent's continual smile was causing a sensation. Oh, sure, you could see him give a smile to the children when they had done something well, or hiding one behind his hair or hand when Mouse was once again caught doing mischief, but he rarely ever smiled widely or laughed out loud because his fangs would show. Today it was as if he'd forgotten that would happen. Everyone was treated to a full toothy grin and they all knew that only one person could have caused this happiness in their friend. It had to have something to do with Catherine.

All the tunnel residents were overjoyed to bask in the glow of Vincent's happiness. Everyone, that is, except Father. He was very concerned about what had put the smile on his son's face. He was sure he knew who had put it there, but Vincent and Catherine had been seeing each other for almost two years now and he had never been smiling like this before! Father tried all day to find a time to talk to Vincent alone, but everyone seemed to want to be close to Vincent while he was in this mood, so Father was thwarted in his plans.

Vincent did find time during his day for some quiet contemplation of the realization he had come to the night before. Catherine had been right. He had been the one putting all the limitations on their relationship - those limitations ingrained in him by Father, never tested but always believed. Yes, there had been a couple tests in his youth; Lisa and Devin sprang to mind. He hadn't let go of Lisa when she pulled away and had scratched her badly with his claws, and an even younger self had struck out at Devin in anger, scarring his cheek forever.

He had learned to control his anger and now only lashed out to defend himself or others. So why then wouldn't it stand to reason that with the mental disciplines he'd developed over the years, he could learn to control his desires the same way so as not to hurt Catherine? The problem was the only way to test that theory was to put her in danger's path. What if he was wrong and couldn't control his desire? His greatest fear was hurting Catherine, but she believed that he would never do that. His mind was awhirl with all the questions that had no answers. Then he remembered his own words to Catherine, "one either moves towards or away from it, there is no other direction." Vincent resolved that with Catherine's help, from this day forward he would move towards love!

After the decision he had made,Vincent knew that he couldn't wait until the next morning to see Catherine. Not only didn't he want to wait, but he also knew that his well-meaning family and friends would want to spend time with Catherine as well, and this needed privacy.

Glad that the arrival of fall was shortening the days, Vincent landed on Catherine's balcony less than an hour after she got home from work. He could tell by her emotions that she had already changed out of her work clothes and had eaten. Because she wasn't expecting him, she was settling in for a cozy evening at home.

His tapping on the glass doors brought an immediate leap of joy to her heart and she hurried to fling open the doors. "Vincent! I wasn't expecting you! Has something happened?" she questioned with a worried frown creasing her brow.

"Actually, something has come up…may I come inside to talk with you about it?"

Catherine stood there stunned for a moment. This really must be something big! Vincent never came in - she could only remember two times and neither of them had been because he wanted to. Realizing that he was waiting for her answer, she backed up to allow him to enter. "Of course, you can come in, Vincent! Would you like to sit down? Can I get you something to drink? Water? Tea? Coffee?"

He stopped her babbling with a gentle hand on her arm. It was clear he was calmer than she was about having him in her apartment. "Catherine, if having me inside makes you uncomfortable, we could talk on the balcony."

"No!" she exclaimed, and then with a nervous laugh continued, "It's just that I've wanted you to come in for so long and now you're here asking to come in and I have no idea why…"

"It is something important, but nothing for you to be nervous about…or at least, I think not…"

"Now you have me even more curious."

He led her to one of the two couches that flanked her fireplace and, after making sure she was comfortably seated, sat down close to her. Taking her hand in his large furred one, he started to speak. "Last night you gave me quite a lot to think about, and throughout the day today that is what I've been doing. You were right in the fact that I've been the one who has not let our relationship go forward and that is wrong of me. We are in this together and we should be making those decisions that way. I know that you believe our relationship should move forward and that I could never hurt you. After much thought I would like us to slowly and cautiously do that, as long as that is what you want too."

"Vincent, we have already started down that road together with the kisses that we shared last night. I do have the entire weekend free, so we can spend as much time together as you like."

"Could you stay Below the whole weekend?"

"I could, but your chamber hardly provides any privacy, Vincent."

 

"I know of a place we can go to be alone…" he admitted hesitantly.

"That sounds fine then. Shall I come down tonight, or wait until morning like we planned?"

"I would like some time to prepare the chamber. Could I stay for a while here with you and then we could meet for breakfast, talk to the Council, and when that is all settled we could…be alone…"

"Vincent, the plan is fine, but I don't want you to feel that we have to progress at any certain speed. We can go at whatever pace feels comfortable to you."

"Thank you, Catherine. While I am not without theoretical knowledge, I still must learn what pleases you."

"And I must learn what pleases you as well, Vincent. Remember, this is uncharted territory for both of us."

"But you have had other lovers, Catherine."

"Yes, two, but neither of them put together meant as much to me as you do, Vincent. I want you more than I've ever wanted anyone, love you more than I have ever loved anyone. I want to spend the rest of my life with you!"

"Even not knowing what the future could bring, you really do mean that, don't you?"

"Vincent, none of us know what the future might bring. No one is promised a tomorrow, so we can only make the most of the todays that we are given."

He simply held open his arms and she went into them happily. They would have a future together, both of them were sure of it. They held each other for quite some time without saying a word, and then Vincent reluctantly withdrew, saying that it was getting late and he should go. Catherine walked him to the balcony doors, promising to see him for breakfast. With the briefest of kisses he was gone.

Catherine went inside to pack for her weekend Below. Seduction was foremost on her mind.

The next morning Catherine was up early and, after making sure she had everything she would need for the weekend, she headed for the basement of her building. Moving the boxes that concealed her own personal entrance to the tunnels out of the way, Catherine dropped her bag down and then carefully started to climb down the metal rungs. Before she reached the last one she felt Vincent's hands at her waist and he lifted her away from the ladder.

The moment her feet touched the ground, she turned in his arms and gave him a fierce hug. "Mmmm, you feel so good," she told him.

Trying to conceal his blush behind his curtain of hair, Vincent murmured that she did as well.

Backing out of his arms slightly, Catherine wrapped her arms around his neck and drew his head down to meet hers. "I want my morning kiss, please," she insisted.

With a tender smile, Vincent gladly complied. As the kiss ended he sighed and said, "I don't know how I've lived without your kisses for as long as I have, Catherine. I was a fool!"

"No, Vincent, not a fool. You just didn't know what you were missing. Believe me, before this weekend is over I hope to show you some other things you've gone too long without."

Blushing once again, he replied, "I am looking forward to that, my dear Catherine. But right now we are expected for breakfast, and if we want William's vote on your ideas, we'd better not be late!"

"Then we should hurry!" she agreed with a laugh. Taking his hand and reaching for her weekend case, she found that Vincent had already picked it up with his other hand.

They arrived in the dining hall and were cheerfully greeted by everyone but Father. He still hadn't had a chance to talk to Vincent about the change he'd seen yesterday and now here was the person he was sure was the cause of the problem at his side.

Last night at dinner when Vincent had told them he and Catherine had something they wanted to present to the Council, his worry had gone into hyper drive. Then, to make matters worse, Vincent had left right after dinner to go Above. Father had tried to wait up for him, but having had almost no sleep the night before and on top of a day of worry, the stress had taken its toll and he'd fallen asleep in his chair somewhere around 2am. He awoke this morning stiff and sore, but had no time for a soak in the hot springs if he had any hope of talking to Vincent before the specially called Council meeting.

Unfortunately, when he'd arrived at Vincent's chamber he found his son had already left to meet Catherine. So, there he sat watching everyone greet their favorite couple. Father could tell that speculation was running high as to what this meeting was about.

After going through the line for food, Vincent and Catherine joined Father's table. He could see something about the two of them had changed. They were more at ease with each other than he'd ever seen them before and yet there was a new tension in the air as well. Father was afraid to speculate what it could all mean.

Thinking that he would have some time after the meal while William supervised the clean-up to talk with Vincent and Catherine, Father was once again thwarted when he heard William ask Olivia to take over for him so he could leave for the meeting.

Because they were all so eager to learn what Vincent and Catherine had to say, everyone gathered quickly in Father's study. Once everyone was seated, Father, who had remained standing, said, "Since Vincent and Catherine called this meeting and I have no more idea what it is about than any of you, I will turn the meeting over to them now." He sat down and waited with dread for what was about to come.

Vincent took the floor and announced, "Two days ago, Catherine received two letters that we want to share with all of you. When she is done reading them we would like to tell you of a plan of action that we've come up with. Catherine…" He took his seat as Catherine stood with a file folder in her hands.

She read the letters aloud and then while they were still trying to take in the news of the amazing windfall, Catherine started to explain the plan she and Vincent had come up with for the money. "So you can see all the good this money could do for both our worlds. Even though Mrs. Faber had said the money should be used for Vincent's world, he and I feel that there is more than enough to benefit both Above and Below."

When Catherine stopped speaking and sat down there was a moment of stunned silence, and then it was as if everyone started talking at once.

William said, "It will be wonderful to be able to help our Helpers!"

Cullen remarked, "The idea of a free medical and legal clinic will be a great asset to the world Above."

Vincent replied to him, "And give our children a place of employment as well."

Mary observed, "The money will certainly be useful when we need medical supplies. I know Peter does his best for us, but this would take a lot of strain off of him."

Pascal added, "I am happy that Catherine wishes to share the responsibility for the funds with all of us."

It seemed that everyone had something good to say about the news except Father. When the room had fallen silent all eyes turned to him as the only one who hadn't commented. After a few moments of continued silence, Vincent asked, "Father, is there a concern you didn't see addressed?"

Jacob Wells sat there for another full minute before speaking. He had been as shocked as everyone else about the news and it had actually taken some time for him to clear what he'd been expecting to hear from his mind. But now he wondered if an engagement announcement or Catherine's request to move Below might have been less disruptive to his secure little world than what had really happened. Finally, he spoke. "While there is fear that this money could become like the treasure ship Mouse discovered, it seems that Vincent and Catherine have thought of safeguards to keep that from happening. The idea of scholarships for our young people to go to university, if they so desire, is a wonderful one. However, the more comings and goings we have from the tunnels, the greater our risk of exposure."

Catherine spoke as Father paused to draw a breath. "Vincent brought that up as a concern as we were discussing this, and our proposed solution would be to look for a multi-story building for the free clinics. The top floors could be used as apartments for the students and then we could create a private tunnel entrance in the basement of the building. That way no one would see anyone coming or going."

Everyone waited for Father's reaction and didn't relax until he said, "Yes…well…I guess that could work if you could find the right building."

The sigh of relief at this response was almost audible. Vincent shared a smile with Catherine that everyone but Father missed seeing. The rest of the group had already started speculating on how the money could best be put to use. Father, however, had been keeping an eye on his son and Catherine. All the planning for this money could have been what had kept Vincent Above for so many hours over the last two days, but it certainly did not explain the smile Vincent had been walking around with!

Talk turned to who would be on the committee to administer the funds and once again Vincent explained that he and Catherine had considered this subject. Since Catherine's name was known to the law firm dealing with Mrs. Faber's estate, it was only logical that she be on the committee. They also wanted to suggest Peter Alcott. Added to that, they felt that there should be three tunnel residents to fill out the group. With five there would be no ties if things needed to be put to a vote, and since the money had been designated for Vincent's world they felt that the largest contingent be from Below.

It took very little discussion for the Council to decide that along with Father, Mary and Pascal should be the other two on the committee. Catherine and Vincent both suspected that this was Father's way of giving the Pipemaster something other that his beloved pipes to focus on. William had been willing to serve, but at Father's suggestion of Pascal, he quickly decided that he would be too busy with Winterfest coming up in just a few months to be able to take the time away from his kitchen.

Pascal looked a bit dazed to find himself on the committee, but when Mary and Vincent added their urgings that he was needed, he agreed. Catherine then laid out the plans and said that she would take care of letting Peter know he would be on the committee too.

Father reminded Catherine that the tunnel group needed to see whatever building was being considered for purchase for the clinics. She said she would remember and Pascal recommended that they take Mouse along when looking at any property to determine the best tunnel access.

As Father was about to protest at the young man's unsuitability for such an important task, Vincent spoke up saying that this would be a wonderful learning experience for Mouse, and that he would also be there to help with anything that was needed. Seeing Mary's smile of approval to this new duty for Mouse, Father remained quiet, reassuring himself that if Vincent was there to oversee things, it should be okay.

Once everything had been finalized and William and Pascal had drifted back to their duties, Father looked at his son and said, "Vincent, there was something that I've been meaning to talk to you about. Could you please stay for a while?"

Sensing Catherine's disappointment to this further delay to their time alone together, Vincent still knew that if he didn't talk to Father now, the elder man might come looking for him later or have him sent for. It would be worse to interrupt what might be going on then than to delay it a bit longer now. "Catherine, if you will wait for me in my chamber, I'll be along as quickly as I can."

"All right, Vincent," she said as both she and Mary rose to leave the study.

"I'll walk with you, Catherine. I'm going that way as well."

The two women were well out of earshot before Father spoke. "Vincent, I know you're in a hurry to leave, so I'll come right to the point. What is going on between you and Catherine?"

"What do you mean, Father?"

"I've seen a change in you in the last few days, Vincent, and I'm sure it has something to do with Catherine. Tell me."

"We are moving cautiously forward in our relationship, Father."

"And what exactly does that mean, Vincent?"

"Father, I am an adult! When and if I need advice, you can be sure that I will consult you."

"Vincent, if you are contemplating a…physical relationship…"

"Father! Whether Catherine and I have a physical relationship or not is a personal matter! Now, if there was nothing else, Catherine is waiting for me."

Vincent got up and started out of the study when Father called after him, "I will see you for dinner, Vincent…"

His son paused at the top of the stairs and just turning his head, looked Father right in the eyes and said, "No, Father, you won't. Catherine and I are going to be away until tomorrow night. I will see you at breakfast on Monday."

"Vincent, that's not wise!" Father protested to his son's retreating back. Vincent just kept on walking. Father knew this was all Catherine's fault! Vincent had never been this defiant before Catherine entered his life. He would certainly have a good long talk with Vincent on Monday…if it wasn't too late by then!

Vincent could feel Catherine's agitation as he approached his chamber. He could tell she was worried that Father would change his mind about their time together. He needed to reassure her that nothing would get in the way of their love ever again. Vincent was determined to do his best to fulfill all of Catherine's dreams.

"Are you ready to go, Catherine?" Vincent asked as he entered his chamber.

Catherine had been too worried about what was going on to sit quietly; she had been pacing when Vincent came in. Hurrying over to him, she was enfolded into a comforting hug. "Oh, Vincent, I was so worried that Father was going to send you off on some emergency work detail or have some project that only you could do that just had to be done this weekend!"

"No, nothing like that. He was just concerned that I've been smiling too much lately."

"Huh?" She lifted her head from his chest to ask the question.

"It seems that since Thursday night I've been smiling much more than usual."

"Oh, you have, have you?"

"Yes, and Father wanted to know the cause. Well, actually, he assumed you were the cause, but he wanted to know what had changed to cause me to smile more."

Catherine giggled. "And what did you tell him?" she asked.

"I explained that our relationship was moving forward."

Wincing, she said, "I bet that didn't go over very well."

"He did seem concerned, but I told him when I needed advice that I would ask him for it."

"Ohhhh…I bet I'll get blamed for that one!"

"Blamed? I don't understand…"

"If you worded it to Father the way you just did to me, it sounded like you were trying to tell him to basically 'butt out and mind your own business'!"

"Ah…then my point did get across," he said with a smile.

"Vincent!" Catherine couldn't help it, she had to laugh at the mischievous look on her beloved's face.

"What?" he tried to ask innocently, but the chuckle that went with the question gave him away.

"Nothing…just that I'm proud of you for standing up to him! Now, hadn't we better get going before someone comes looking for you?"

Just as she finished speaking, Mouse came into the chamber and said, "Okay fine, Vincent. Come and see now!"

The crestfallen look on Catherine's face told Vincent just how disappointed she was that Mouse had come in. She knew that he was one of Vincent's favorite people and that he wouldn't say no to whatever it was that Mouse wanted him to see. Sadly, she was right. She heard Vincent say, "Thank you, Mouse, Catherine and I will come and see now."

Taking Catherine's hand and picking up both her bag and his with the other, Vincent said, "It's part of our getaway that Mouse was helping with, Catherine. Here Below we never go somewhere without letting someone know where we will be. You never know what emergency might come up. I thought that having Mouse be the one to know where we will be would still give us the best chance of not being disturbed."

She smiled gently at him. "Thank you for the explanation, Vincent, I want to get used to your ways."

He smiled at her in return, hoping she was implying that the reason she wanted to learn the way things were done in his world was because maybe, just maybe, she was thinking of living Below herself.

They walked in silence for a time, until Vincent shifted the load in the hand that wasn't holding hers. It was as if she noticed for the first time that he was carrying both their bags. "Vincent, let me help you with those! There's no reason for you to carry all that by yourself."

"The weight is nothing, Catherine. I can manage it easily."

"I'm sure that you can, Vincent, but I don't want you to treat me like a helpless flower, I want to carry my own weight."

"Catherine, because of who I am, there is so very little that I can do for you. Allow me to at least do what I can."

She stopped dead and faced him with just a bit of anger in her voice; somehow she had to convince him of how wrong he was! "Vincent, you give me so much! Comfort when I'm sad, support when I'm weary, a shoulder to lean on when I'm weak, companionship when I'm happy. You take me to fantastic places like the whispering gallery, the mirror pool, and the chamber of the winds. We attend concerts both under the park and the ones that the children put on. We also go to their plays, as well as sharing Elizabeth's art on the painted walls, and I've never been to a party Above that can come close to comparing to Winterfest! We share a love of poetry and literature, and above all that, you've given me a gift far beyond anything anyone else has ever given me!"

Softly, Vincent inquired, "Your crystal?"

With a gentle smile Catherine told him, "While I cherish it above any other piece of jewelry I have, that's not what I was referring to."

"The only other things I have ever given you were books, Catherine."

"Not those either, Vincent. The gift that I was speaking of was more precious than any of those things combined…"

Both of them had forgotten Mouse's presence until he interrupted the tender moment by saying, "I know what it is!"

They turned to face the eager young man and both asked at the same time, "What is it, Mouse?"

"It's love! Right, Catherine?!"

Her smile told both males that Mouse was right even before her words did. "Yes, Mouse, it is love."

"I knew that!" he exclaimed happily, then continued earnestly, "Asked Vincent once what love was…still remember what he said!"

"What was it, Mouse?" Catherine asked, eager to learn what Vincent's definition was.

"He said," Mouse took a deep breath and tried to lower his voice to sound more like Vincent, "'For me, Mouse, it was the end of my aloneness.'"

A furred finger came out to capture the single tear that slid down Catherine's cheek as she reacted to what she'd just heard. "That was beautiful," she said, but it wasn't clear if she was speaking to Vincent, or Mouse, or to both of them.

"We should continue on, Catherine, we still have a way to go," Vincent told her.

She nodded her agreement and, with her hand once again tucked into his, they continued on their way. After nearly an hour of walking, Vincent stepped into an open area from the passageway that they had been traveling along. He watched as Catherine took in the sight before her and as she turned and hugged Mouse. "Thank you, Mouse!" She knew that it had to have been Mouse that had done this, because Vincent had been with her since before breakfast, with the exception of the short time he had been with Father.

The blushing boy stuttered, "Wanted to help! Vincent my friend…you my friend too, Catherine!"

Before them was a table set for two with candles just waiting to be lit. Her normal thoughtfulness made her ask, "If this is for us? Where is Mouse going to eat?"

He grinned at her shyly and replied, "Have food with me. Knew you would want to be alone. Mouse go now! Have fun!" Mouse scurried off just as his namesake would have done.

"Oh, Vincent, are you sure we should let him go off on his own?"

"Yes, Catherine. Mouse knows these tunnels as well as I do and he will be fine."

"But shouldn't we have asked him to join us?"

"Catherine, he knew when I asked him to set the table for two that I would want to be alone with you. Does that thought make you uneasy?"

"Not at all, Vincent! If you only knew how often I've wanted to have time alone with you here Below!"

"I did know, Catherine. I'm afraid that it was my own unease that would not allow that to happen."

"I'm so glad that has changed! Do we really have until tomorrow night all to ourselves?"

"Yes, Catherine, and hopefully, if all goes well, we will have many more such times."

"I hope so too, Vincent, but what do you mean 'if all goes well'? Is this some kind of test?"

Vincent took his time in answering. He held out her chair and lit the candles before taking his own seat, finally saying, "Not a test really, but more of an experiment. I have something that I want to ask you. If this time together proves I can…I mean if we can…I…ummmm…need to know that I can…Catherine, I'm so afraid that I will hurt you!"

"Were you trying to say, if you can 'have sex,' or if we can 'make love,' or that you can 'pleasure or satisfy me'?" At his nod Catherine went on. "Vincent, don't you know by now that I have complete faith in you? There are three reasons: first, I know that you would never hurt me; second, our Bond would tell you right away if you did and you could stop; and third, I'm a grown woman, able to let you know if anything is bothering me in the least little way. As for the other things, even if we aren't able to have sex in the 'traditional' way, there are other ways to make love that are just as pleasurable and satisfying. Vincent, I want to share everything with you! Sex is just a small part of it…don't get me wrong, it's a very nice, fun part of it, but I could live without it, if that is what we discover tonight. However, I can't live without you, nor do I want to, so please tell me what you wanted to ask me before things go any farther."

"But Catherine, I know you are a woman of strong desires. I can feel that in you. How can I ask you to live without that aspect of a relationship?"

"Vincent, my strongest desire it to have a life with you! Even if it turned out that we could have nothing more than we have right now, that would be enough! I just want us to explore every avenue to see where it will lead us. But ultimately, there are other ways to please each other than intercourse if that proves to be not an option for us. So won't you please trust in our love for each other and ask me what you were going to?"

"I do trust in our love, Catherine," he told her as he got up from his seat.

Catherine had been hoping that Vincent was going to ask her to move Below. Hopefully, into his chamber, but at the very least into one of her own so they could spend more time together. When he went down on one knee next to her and reached into his vest to pull out a small jewelry box, she was stunned speechless.

Opening the box, he took her left hand into his and asked, "Catherine, will you do me the honor of being my wife?"

Inside the box was a ruby and diamond ring. Catherine could only stare at it a moment before her gaze returned to his beautiful face. "You bought a ring?" was all she could think to say.

"No, this was the ring Father gave to Margaret on their wedding day. When she was Below that last week of her life, she saw how we felt about each other and she gave the ring to Father to give to me. She said it was for whenever I was ready to propose to you."

"Father knows you are asking me to marry you?!" she gasped.

"No, after Margaret's funeral he gave me the ring and told me what she had said. I kept it hidden away until last night."

"Oh, Vincent!"

"Catherine, you haven't answered my question!" He looked up at her, his hair for once completely away from his face - his dear sweet face that was full of anxiety.

Tenderly cupping his cheeks in her hands, she smiled tearily and said, "Vincent, I would love nothing more than to be your wife and someday hopefully the mother of your children!"

"Children?" he asked, startled at the very idea.

"Yes, Vincent, don't you want children?"

"Catherine, have you thought about what kind of children I could have?"

"First off, I think about our children, not yours or mine, and secondly, yes, I have! I stood and stared at Elizabeth's painting of Father holding you as a baby and dreamed of our child looking just like you. I know that no matter how many times I tell you that I find you beautiful, you don't believe me. But I defy you to look at our child, when he's born looking just like you, and tell me he's not beautiful!"

Vincent could tell that Catherine wasn't seeing him right then, even though she was still facing him. Her eyes held a faraway look and the tender smile on her lips told him that she was picturing their child in her mind. "You really have thought about this, haven't you?" he questioned in wonder.

"Yes," she said simply.

"Then if that is what you want, Catherine, I will try my best to fulfill your dream."

"Vincent, this has to be both of our dreams. A child shouldn't be brought into the world with only one parent wanting him or her."

"Having you in my life was my dream, Catherine. Marriage and a child is so far beyond that dream as to almost be incomprehensible!"

"Then why don't we have our lunch so we can begin to make the incomprehensible come true?" she asked with a gentle smile.

Vincent nodded and opened the picnic basket by the table.

They finished the cold lunch William had packed for them rather quickly. Both seemed eager and a bit nervous about the afternoon and evening ahead, if their lack of conversation was anything to go by. Vincent told her that Mouse would return when they had gone to take the picnic things back.

He offered his hand to help her to her feet and threw her a teasing grin when he reached for her bag only to find she already had picked it up. "We have another hour walk, Catherine, are you sure you don't want me to carry that?"

"I'm sure, Vincent, but thank you for the offer," she replied politely.

They walked for a while in silence until Catherine thought conversation might ease their nerves a bit. "I was pleased at how well the Council reacted to our plan this morning. I thought there might have been more resistance to it all after what happened with the treasure."

"I think that our forethought in what we presented was enough to show everyone that would not happen again. Father seemed very pleased with the scholarship part of the plan."

"Yes, and I saw a twinkle in his eye when the free clinics were brought up. He can envision the tunnel children working there long after he is gone. Father has always been a visionary, it shows so clearly in this world that he created."

"He respects you as well, Catherine. I know it took him a while to admit that, but he considers you one of us now."

"One of the community is one thing, but will he accept me as a daughter-in-law?"

Vincent stopped walking and turned to face her with a shy smile. "I'm sure he will, Catherine. I think it is me that will take some time to believe that this is real."

"It is real, Vincent, and we have a wonderful future together ahead of us!" she told him, hugging him tightly.

Having had only hugs since the beginning of their relationship, Vincent was now ready to move beyond that safe place. Backing out of her hug slightly, he placed a fur-covered finger under her chin and lifted her face. Lowering his head, he gently took possession of her lips. The kiss was brief and sweet, but it was the first one that he had initiated on his own and Catherine was thrilled about it.

Her sigh of pleasure encouraged him to bend his head again and claim a second kiss from…his fiancée! Would he ever get used to the thought that Catherine was going to become his wife? "I love you, Catherine," he whispered softly against her lips.

"I love you too, Vincent, but we'd better keep going unless this is where we're stopping for the night."

"No. It's not much farther now, but this isn't it."

Taking his hand once again, she started off in the direction that they had been going. "Then we should keep moving," she urged.

"Yes, Catherine," he responded with a toothy grin at her eagerness.

They reached their destination less than twenty minutes later. It was actually a nice-sized chamber with a bed, dresser, table and two chairs. There were candles placed all around the room and Vincent began to light them so they could save their lantern for the return trip.

Catherine placed her bag on the bed and then lifted Vincent's there as well. She was surprised at how heavy his was. When she mentioned it, he explained that most of the weight was the food he had brought. "You know how William insists that you can never have too much food on a journey."

"I didn't even think! And there I was going on about carrying my own weight when you had a pack that heavy!"

"Catherine, you have to know that our definitions of 'heavy' vary greatly!" he admonished as he approached and began to unpack the supplies from his pack.

She sighed and rolled her eyes at him, saying, "You should have at least told me to shut up!"

"Catherine! I would never do that!" he protested.

"I know! But there are times that you should!"

Whether he agreed and didn't want to say so, or he didn't agree and just thought she wouldn't listen to any argument, Vincent instead changed the subject. He pointed out where the necessary facilities were and said that there was also a hot springs nearby if she wanted to take a bath later.

With a rueful grin at his successful change of topic, she placed her hand in the middle of his chest and with a seductive voice asked, "I hope it's big enough for two?"

Blushing slightly, he admitted that it was.

"Vincent as much as I want to make love with you, if you're not ready we can wait. I mean, we've waited this long. Would you rather wait until we are married?"

"While I was raised on Victorian literature and by a father with ideals firmly planted in the last century, I know that couples no longer wait for their wedding night to consummate their love for each other."

"That may be what others do, but I'm asking what you would prefer, Vincent. I want this to be special for you!"

"Oh, Catherine, don't you know that nothing could be more special to me than the mere thought that you could desire me?"

"Then let me show you just how much I do desire you," she suggested, moving her bag and his, which now just contained his clothes, to a nearby chair.

Turning back, she found that Vincent had already turned back the covers on the bed. With a smile she stood before him and asked, "May I undress you, Vincent? Or would you rather do that yourself?"

He looked her in the eye and slowly said, "Catherine, I don't know if you've thought about it, but you must realize that there are differences about me that you haven't seen…"

She put up a hand to stop him. "Vincent, unless you have a different number of something I don't know about, I can assure you that I have thought about what you look like under all those layers of clothing. With your hands to go by, I'd guess that you have a lot more body hair than average and I have to admit that I can't wait to run my fingers through it. Was there anything else I should know about?"

"No, that was what I was referring to."

"Then my previous question stands," she told him and patiently waited for his decision.

It actually did take a minute for Vincent to decide. This first time was so special that he knew he would remember it forever. All he had to do was to choose what memory he wanted.

Finally, he spoke. "Catherine, I'd like you to undress me, if you will allow me to do the same for you."

"I would love that, Vincent!" she answered him as she reached out and began to undo the laces of his vest.

Even with the reassurance of her words, Vincent still couldn't stop the feelings of trepidation from filling his mind. 'What if she takes one look at my body and runs away screaming? Okay, Catherine is much more refined than that, she wouldn't run away screaming. But she might be sickened…or laugh…or cry…'

"Oh, Vincent!" Her gasp broke into his thoughts and he realized that she had his vest off and his shirt open to his waist.

"You're even more beautiful than I dreamed you would be!" she whispered.

He tested their Bond for the truth of her words. It wasn't that he thought Catherine was lying, but maybe she was being kinder than she needed to be. But what he found astonished him. She was telling the whole truth! She really found his body beautiful! "Thank you, Catherine."

Somehow she knew he wasn't thanking her for the compliment. "For what, Vincent?"

"For being the incredibly generous-spirited person that you are."

"I learned that from you, Vincent. You wouldn't have liked the person I was before we met."

"I'm sure that's not true, Catherine."

"Yes, it is. I was all about me back then. You are the one that taught me it was so much more rewarding to put others first!"

"It was something that was within you all along, Catherine, you just needed something to bring it into the open."

"And I'm so glad that you did," she told him and started to slide his shirt off of his shoulders and down his arms.

When it hit the floor, she reached for his belt, but he stopped her hands and guided them to her sides. Gently touching the buttons on the blouse that she wore, he asked, "May I?"

With a breathless little sigh, she nodded and said, "Yes, please."

Slowly, carefully, and with a face full of wonder, Vincent unbuttoned her blouse. Catherine hadn't wanted to frighten him with some of her most ultra sexy lingerie so instead had chosen something simple yet beautiful. Her bra was the lightest shade of blush, almost exactly the color of her skin, and made of delicate lace and satin. She had thought a lot about front versus back closures, finally choosing the front one because she wanted to watch him take it off of her. Catherine figured he would have no experience in the workings of either style and as an added bonus, with the front closure, she could help him.

Realizing her blouse was on the floor with his shirt and that Vincent was just standing there staring at her, she asked, "Is there anything wrong, Vincent?"

"I'm afraid I'll rip it since I can't see a button or hook or…"

With a finger on his lips she told him, "The clasp is hidden behind the satin rose. You just twist it and lift."

Since she did nothing else to help him, Vincent took a step closer to see if he could find what she had described. Carefully following her directions he soon had two parts in his hands rather than one. Slowly drawing them away from her skin, he stared in fascination at the flesh he'd uncovered.

"Catherine, you're so beautiful!"

"Thank you, Vincent. I want to be as beautiful in your eyes as you are in mine," she told him lovingly, and stepped closer to do something she had dreamed of for a very long time. Her nipples had hardened from a combination of the cool air in the chamber as well as the desire generated between them. Pressing herself close to him in a hug, she was finally able to run her nipples through the fur that covered his chest.

"Oh, Catherine!" he moaned at the feeling this created.

"I know," she sighed. Reaching for his belt, this time he didn't stop her hands. Instead he just watched the fierce concentration on her face as she worked to free the complicated mechanism.

As his belt hit the floor, he did stop her as she started to undo the snap on his jeans. "Boots, Catherine," he said and, sitting down on the edge of the bed, he removed them as well as the thick pair of socks he always wore.

Catherine saw that she'd been right. His feet were very much like his hands, although it seemed that the fur was lighter there, maybe because of the constant rubbing of his socks and boots. However, that wasn't important right then. Getting him out of the rest of his clothes was. Encouraging him to stand, she again reached for the snap on his jeans. This time nothing stopped her and she quickly moved to unzip them.

Vincent closed his eyes as she slid the jeans down his legs. This was the final test. Would his beloved Catherine find his differences too much to take? Would this be the end of the dream? Her voice interrupted his doubts. "All right, Vincent, it's your turn now."

His eyes snapped open as he tried to figure out the meaning of her words. Testing the Bond, he found her as aroused as she had been, but with a light layer of amusement over the top of it. Was she laughing at him? Before his doubts could take hold any stronger than they already were, Catherine said, "I've undressed you, now it's your turn to do the same to me…" She paused before continuing, "unless you want me to do it for you?"

Stepping out of the material gathered around his feet, Vincent at last put his fears aside. Catherine accepted him for who he was and actually seemed pleased with his differences rather than worried by them.

Gently pulling her into his arms, he told her, "No, Catherine, it would be my pleasure and delight to finish undressing you." So, carefully and with great reverence, he did just that.

When she stood before him in just her lace panties, he took a deep breath before continuing. Ever so slowly he hooked a finger in at each hip and with great care not to scratch her with his nails, he lowered them until she could step out of them. Once again standing, Vincent looked at her and said softly, "Catherine, you are more beautiful than any of the females in any of the art books in Father's library!"

"Vincent, you've never seen another nude woman?"

"Once, Devin managed to keep a Playboy magazine hidden from Father for about a week. All the boys had a chance to look at it, but I preferred the art books."

"But never a live woman?" Catherine had heard the story of how Lena had offered herself to Vincent, but none of the details. She only knew that he had turned her away, but not how far Lena had gotten before that.

"No, Catherine, only as children, when we all used to bathe together, but then my hair started coming in and Father thought it would be best if I bathed alone."

"Well, you may look…and touch to your heart's content, Vincent. I freely offer myself to you."

"As I do to you, Catherine," he said as he took her hand and led her to the bed. Pulling back the covers, he allowed her to get in first before lying down next to her.

Catherine noticed that he didn't put out any of the candles or pull the covers up over them. She was glad that he seemed to be losing some of his shyness. With a smile, she tenderly reached out to caress his face and place a kiss on his lips. "What would you like to do first, Vincent? I want this to be very special for you."

"You need to tell me what pleases you, Catherine. Remember, this is all new to me."

"Vincent, we'll learn together what pleases the other. Now, I'm sure as well-read as you are, you have some things you want to try. When you're alone late at night and you're thinking of me…what do you think of doing?"

His eyes closed as he remembered all those nights that he'd dreamed of her, nights that no one was supposed to know about, but Catherine seemed to. Could it be that…"Catherine, did you have nights when you thought of me too?"

"Oh, so many, Vincent! Now tell me what you want, my love."

"May I touch you, Catherine?" he asked with a slight hesitation in his voice.

"Yes my love, anywhere in any way. You may explore all you like."

Vincent's hand came to rest on her shoulder. After receiving a nod from his beloved, his hand moved almost reverently to cup her breast. Catherine's indrawn breath almost had him withdrawing until he felt the rush of desire through the Bond. As his wrist rested under her breast he could feel her heart rate speed up.

Emboldened by her reaction, Vincent trailed his thumb over her nipple. Catherine gasped and arched up on the bed. Her moan of, "Oh, Vincent!" was all he needed to tell him he'd pleased her, but he also had the rush of passion he felt from her through their Bond.

Through glazed eyes she looked up at him and said, "Vincent, will you suck on it?"

"Would you like me to, Catherine?"

"Oh, yes!"

With a tender smile at her, he lowered his head to take her hardened nub into his mouth. The feel of his lips around her flesh was better then she had ever imagined in all her dreams, but when he tentatively ran his tongue over her nipple, Catherine lost all control! She flew apart in his arms. Her orgasm not only rocked her world, but Vincent's as well. Never having experienced anything like that, Vincent was unprepared for the reaction of his own body.

Catherine felt the shudders convulse through Vincent's body moments before she felt him spill his seed on her thigh. The dazed look on his face almost made her smile, but she restrained herself before it could appear on her face. She just knew that if he saw her smiling about him losing control like that he would think she was making fun of him.

Capturing his sweet face in her hands, she was quick to reassure him. "Vincent, it's okay! I would have been amazed if something like that hadn't happened! For heaven's sake, you barely touched my breast and I came!"

"Catherine, I would hardly call taking your…ummmm…putting your…"

"Vincent, its okay to say 'nipple.'"

"I know, Catherine, it's just difficult after all this time to voice things like that! But having your…nipple in my mouth was much more than 'barely touching' you!"

"For us, maybe, Vincent, however, I have to tell you that in the past it has always taken a LOT more foreplay than that before I was ready for sex. But with you… well, all you have to do is look at me and I'm ready for you!"

"It has always been my fear that I couldn't please you like the other lovers you've had."

"Vincent, there have been only two other men. Steven when I was in college, and I broke that off because I had outgrown him, and Tom, who I was engaged to at the time of the attack. I broke that off because he was too controlling and domineering. Even though I hadn't admitted it to myself at that point, I also think you were a part of that decision."

"How so, Catherine?"

"I had finally met a gentle, caring man who put others ahead of himself. Neither Steven nor Tom knew how to do that. Your kindheartedness spoiled me for anyone else."

"There was Elliot Burch…"

"At first, I was attracted to that part of his personality that wanted to please me. But I realized it was just a ploy to gain control of me. When it came to a choice between his career and me, I came in second - not once, but twice. Vincent, you are the only one I've ever met that didn't have a hidden agenda for me."

"That's not true, Catherine. I secretly dreamed of one day having you as my wife."

"Yes, and it took you almost two years to admit that! Tell me, Vincent, why do you want me to be your wife?"

"So I can love and cherish you and take care of you!" he declared with sincerity.

"I rest my case!" she exclaimed.

Vincent couldn't help but grin at her comment. "Always the lawyer, my Catherine."

"And don't you forget it! If you try and get out of marrying me, I'll sue you for breach of contract!"

"I think we might have a bigger problem than breach of contract if you took ME to court, Catherine." Vincent actually chuckled at the thought.

"Well, if you keep your promise to marry me, we'll never find out, now, will we?"

"I will, Catherine, I will," he promised.

"Good. Now that's settled, why don't we retire to the bathing chamber and clean up a bit?"

Vincent agreed with a shy nod.

Careful not to spread the mess to the bed, the two of them got up and walked hand in hand to the bathing chamber. Catherine sighed as the hot water enveloped her. "Oh, this is heavenly! How did you find this spot, Vincent?"

"Devin and I used to explore the tunnels as children. We found this place one time when Rebecca was with us and she was the one that said it would be perfect as a getaway for couples. She told Father, and after he finished yelling at Devin and me for taking her places that we shouldn't have, he settled down and had it checked out. Everyone agreed about Rebecca's idea and they all helped to furnish it. It has become a favorite place for married couples that want time alone and as a honeymoon spot."

"Or as a perfect place for lovers to sneak off to?"

Hanging his head, he replied, "I wouldn't know about that, Catherine."

She snorted and rolled her eyes at his blatant lie, but decided to change the subject in any case. "Vincent, will you let me wash your hair? It's always been something I've wanted to do."

His head popped up and with a startled look in his eyes, he asked, "You have?"

"Yes, your hair is so wild and beautiful, just like you! I've longed to run my hands through it and when I've had shower fantasies about us, I've dreamed of washing it."

Vincent gulped, "Shower fantasies?!"

"Come on now, Vincent! Are you going to stand there and tell me that you haven't had a thought or two about us bathing together?"

She had done it again! Delved into his deepest desires and read his secret thought about the two of them together! He couldn't count the number of times he had thought of sharing his bathing chamber with her. "Yes, Catherine, I have thought about it," he finally admitted, because he wanted there to be nothing but honesty between them.

Catherine smiled at him and moved close with the bottle of shampoo in her hand. "Well then…may I wash your hair?"

"Yes, Catherine, anything you want," he replied, stepping deeper into the pool so she could more easily reach him.

Pushing down slightly on his shoulders, she urged him to duck his head under the water to get his hair wet. When he emerged and sluiced the water and hair out of his eyes, she was ready to begin. Pouring a generous handful of shampoo, Catherine started working his hair into a lather.

The sensual feel of her hands in his hair this way made him moan. No one had performed this task for him since he had been four or five years old, when he'd been deemed "old enough" to do it for himself. How could he have ever guessed that the feel of his beloved Catherine performing such a simple act could be so intimate?

She worked and played at her task for several minutes before she indicated that she was ready for him to rinse. Again coming up out of the water and pushing his now very tangled hair out of his eyes, he discovered Catherine ready with another bottle.

"More shampoo, Catherine? I think my hair is clean now."

 

"No, Vincent, this is conditioner. It helps to remove the tangles and makes your hair easier to manage when you comb it."

"That sounds like something very useful." Then he laughed and added, "I can never get a comb through my hair, and usually pull out a brush full every time I wash it."

Catherine applied the conditioner to Vincent's hair and once again the sensual feeling of her touching him in this manner caused him to react. If he had been able to think clearly, he might have realized that this application was taking even longer than the shampoo had, but that was not the case. It wasn't until Catherine moved around in front of him and started trailing her conditioner-slick fingers through the matt of hair on his chest that a coherent thought intruded in his mind. "Catherine, I usually don't have problems with that hair tangling…"

Sighing, she replied, "I know, but I just love to touch you." She brought her body close and rubbed herself against the evidence of his arousal. "And it seems that you don't mind it either…"

Stepping back in embarrassment, Vincent said, "Catherine, shouldn't I rinse now?"

"Yes, Vincent, why don't you do that."

"Then, maybe I could wash your hair for you?" he asked, thinking that at least that way he would be behind her and she wouldn't be able to see the reaction he had to being this close to her when they were both undressed.

"Mmmmm, yes, afterwards…" she answered.

"After what, Catherine?"

"After we make love."

"You want to make love here? In the water?"

"Yes, unless you have your heart set on our first time being in a bed?"

"Whereever you would like is fine with me, Catherine."

"This hot water is so sensuous…moving around us almost like a caress…"

"Then here it shall be, my love."

"Rinse your hair first, darling," she advised.

When he was standing in front of her again, Catherine moved closer until she was pressing her body against him. His erection was captured between them, and as she placed her arms around his neck, she felt him grow even harder.

He quickly started to apologize. "Catherine, I am sorry! I don't seem to be able to control myself any longer when I am around you!"

"Shhhh," she whispered, pressing a finger over his unique lips. "You have no need to apologize, or for that matter, any need to control yourself when you're around me. At least, not when we're in private. This might not be an acceptable sight in the middle of the family tunnels."

"Not to mention giving a certain tunnel patriarch a heart attack."

"Yes…well…let's not mention Father right now. What I was trying to tell you was that I like the fact that you have this reaction to me!" Catherine told him, as she let one hand slide from around his neck to slowly stroke down his chest and then firmly take hold of his manhood.

He couldn't control the jump this caused and saw Catherine smile at that response. As his legs began to tremble in reaction to the desire in her eyes, he said, "Catherine, I think I need to sit down."

"I think that's a wonderful idea, Vincent," she said, as he moved towards the ledge carved into the side of the bathing pool. She followed along with him and stunned him when she sat down on his lap straddling his legs. His shaft was still trapped between them and her core was open and vulnerable in that position. Catherine took his hand and placed it on her breast. She encouraged him, "Touch me, Vincent, please, touch me!"

Drawing air into his lungs, something he seemed to have forgotten to do since she'd sat down on his lap, Vincent did as she asked. He even brought up his other hand so he could caress both her breasts at once.

Catherine arched her back at the sensations this caused, giving him full access to her body. After a pleasurable time of caressing, he lowered his head to take one of her nipples into his mouth. This time, there was no hesitation in using his tongue. Vincent remembered her reaction to the first time and wanted to see if it would happen again.

This time, however, she was a bit more in control of herself and only moaned out his name. When he switched breasts to see if that made a difference, he felt Catherine squirm a bit on his lap. It was as if she was trying to get even closer to him, but he didn't see how that was possible unless she wanted to be inside of him. Then it dawned on him…she didn't want inside of him, she wanted him inside of her!

This realization caused Vincent's manhood to swell even more. Looking deeply into her eyes, he asked, "Guide me, Catherine."

She smiled gently at his lack of confidence; it was so hard to believe that a man as innately sensuous as Vincent was had so little self-assurance. Taking his hand, she guided it down her body until their joined hands brushed his erection. Before he could react with the embarrassment she knew that would cause, she quickly moved his hand even lower. He resisted a bit when he realized what she intended, but Catherine kept a firm hold on his hand.

"I want you to touch me," she told him, placing his hand between her thighs.

"There, Catherine?" he sounded so unsure.

"Yes, I want you to feel how wet I am for you. That isn't just from the water around us, it's from the feelings you create in me. Men may have a harder time hiding the evidence of their arousal, but women are just as affected."

Slowly and oh, so carefully, Vincent took her at her word and began to stroke this most intimate area on his beloved. He allowed Catherine's sighs and gasps to guide him as he tenderly explored. When his thumb found her clit for the first time, Catherine gasped and shifted on his lap. The shift caused his middle finger to slide inside of her.

Vincent instantly started to apologize and withdraw his finger when he felt Catherine's hand on his wrist.

"Please don't, Vincent! That feels wonderful. Feel how wet I am for you…imagine how it will feel when your…" Catherine knew Vincent wouldn't be comfortable with her world's terms for his manhood, so she chose the one he would be most familiar with from Father's medical textbooks, "penis is inside of me."

His groan told her that he was taking her at her word and imagining just that. Because he was distracted with his thoughts she was able to move up and down a few times on his finger before he realized what she was doing.

"Catherine, my nail could hurt you!" he protested.

"Vincent, don't your nails soften in water when you're taking a bath or washing your hands?"

It was as if a light went on in his mind! What Catherine had just said was the "truth beyond knowledge" that Father had spoken of that time he'd gone to deal with Paracelus! The lies Paracelus had told him about his birth were just that, LIES! As Catherine had so eloquently demonstrated, the intimate area of a woman was very wet and the womb would be even more so. His nails would be very soft, especially after months inside there. It would have been impossible for even a baby with claws to tear his way out!

However, even as world-shaking as that realization was for him, this was neither the time nor the place to dwell on it. He would be happy to tell Catherine about it…later. For now he had more important things to do.

Vincent suddenly beamed at her, but before she had a chance to ask why, he was kissing her deeply and passionately. It was a quantum leap from the last kiss he had initiated, but Catherine certainly wasn't complaining! His tongue invaded her mouth and began exploring as if he had every right to. Catherine was thrilled beyond belief. If he became an expert kisser with as little practice as he'd had, she could only dream of what their sex life would be like in the future!

His finger inside of her had taken up the same rhythm as his thrusting tongue. Catherine was quickly gasping for breath, finding it hard to draw air into her lungs. She finally had to pull back from the kiss so she didn't pass out.

Crying out his name, Catherine came as Vincent held onto her so she didn't fall off of his lap. This time he had been a little more prepared for the overwhelming emotions flooding through their Bond and he had managed to control his own reaction.

As Catherine recovered from her second orgasm an odd look came across her face. She'd been feeling things she never had before, but until a feeling of nervousness assailed her, she hadn't realized they had been from Vincent. She was feeling what he was feeling through the Bond! With an astonished gasp, she asked, "Why are you nervous, Vincent?"

When Vincent opened his mouth to deny it, Catherine shushed him with a finger on his lips. "Vincent, I can feel what you feel…almost as if we're one…" she repeated the words he'd spoken to her long ago.

"I'm sorry, Catherine, I guess I let my guard down."

"You mean that I could have been feeling your emotions all along, but you've been blocking them from me?"

"I didn't want to burden you, Catherine!" he protested.

"Vincent, don't you know by now that I want to share everything with you?! We will have a long talk about this later! But right now I want you to relax and make love to me."

"Catherine, I don't think I can do both of those things at the same time!"

"All I meant was that there's nothing to feel nervous about. This is the most natural thing in the world between a man and a woman." She smiled tenderly at him and lightly kissed his furred nose.

Slowly trailing her hands down his body, she stroked his erection back to full power. Then, standing, she carefully began to lower herself onto his shaft.

The first contact of the head of his penis with her intimate folds was more than Vincent had ever imagined it to be. With a groan, he flung back his head and closed his eyes, letting the sensations wash over him.

Catherine slowly lowered herself on him watching his face the entire time. She was experiencing everything twice! As she enjoyed the feeling of her lover inside of her for the first time, she was also feeling all the emotions of Vincent's first time with him. His eyes popped open and he stared at her as he felt the overriding joy coming at him through the Bond.

There were so many things bombarding both of them that for a moment they just wrapped their arms around each other and held on tight.

"Oh, Catherine, I never knew!" he exclaimed, when they parted enough to look at each other.

"Vincent, I don't think anyone could be ready for something like this!"

"I'm so sorry that I didn't believe this was possible for us!"

"I'm just glad you found the courage to learn the truth!"

"Wasn't it the cowardly lion in 'The Wizard of Oz' that couldn't do what he had to do until he found his heart?" At her bemused nod, he went on, "Catherine, you are my heart! Loving you is what gives me the courage to do everything!"

"Oh, Vincent!" she sighed and hugged him close once again. The "L" word had never been spoken between them before. She felt that at long last all the barriers that had ever been between them were finally coming down. Cupping his beautiful face between her palms, she smiled and said, "Make love with me, Vincent."

And he did! Catherine had been right about Vincent being a quick learner. As they made love both of them took turns leading the other where they wanted to go. Vincent helped her to move up and down on his lap as he pressed his face between her breasts and nuzzled.

Catherine had a hard time concentrating on the wonderful feeling of making love with him the first time once he started that, because the fur on his cheeks and nose was tickling her. She tried to squirm away from the object of this torture, but Vincent held her firmly to him. He had never felt as free to be this playful with Catherine before and the experience was almost as exhilarating as making love to her.

She had never laughed through an orgasm before, but like she had told Vincent earlier, this was uncharted territory for both of them. Her only regret was that this time she had wanted them to come together.

Vincent sensed this regret in her as he felt his release begin. Pulling her close in his arms, he whispered in her ear, "We are, Catherine, we are!"

Catherine realized he was telling the truth when she felt his body begin to tremble, but the truest evidence was the kaleidoscope of colors that burst upon her senses as the two of them held onto each other for dear life.

It could have been minutes, hours, or even days later when she was at last coherent to speak. All she really knew was that she was safely and securely held in Vincent's arms. Barely able to lift her head from his shoulder to look into his face, Catherine nonetheless had to see his reaction to her question. "So, Vincent, what did you think of your first time?"

The rumble that started deep in Vincent's chest surprised her a little until he threw back his head and let loose a full-throated laugh. Catherine had never heard this magical sound before. Oh, sure, she'd seen him grin and an occasional smile, there had even been rare occasions when he let loose a bit of a chuckle, but never this full-body laugh! There was nothing she could do but join in.

When he could draw a breath without starting another round of laughter, Vincent finally said, "My beloved Catherine, if I had but known how glorious loving you would be, I never would have denied us so long."

"Oh, my love, I swear it will only get better as we learn from each other!" she promised.

"I don't know that I could survive that!" he chuckled.

"You will my love, you will," Catherine told him, then added, "I don't know about you, but I sure could use a nap. Will you join me?" Rising from his lap, she stepped out of the water and held out a hand to him.

Vincent was still a bit hesitant to stand before her naked, but as he rose from the water he told her, "Catherine, if I don't dry off first, our bed will be very wet."

She handed him a towel with a smile and said, "Why don't we dry each other off?"

"Because if we did that, my dear Catherine, we would not get that nap you desire."

"Hmmm, well, napping has always been overrated!" she replied, approaching him with a second towel she had picked up.

Vincent had been right, drying each other off had led to other things, but at least this time they were actually in bed after making love again. Their nap had only been delayed an hour or so.

Catherine's tummy woke her with a rumble that told her it had to be past dinnertime. But when she woke to find herself in Vincent's arms and realized it had not been another dream, she knew that food could wait a while longer.

During the next twenty-four hours they explored their newfound physical relationship, learning ways to please the other and a few other secrets along the way. Vincent discovered that the backs of Catherine's knees were extremely ticklish and delighted in tormenting her with that knowledge. To Catherine's delight they both found out that the bottoms of Vincent's large hairy feet were as ticklish as the backs of her knees were.

No one had ever really attempted to tickle him before, except for the occasional child who quickly realized that it was no use. Their little fingers couldn't penetrate the numerous layers of clothing he always wore. The fact that his feet were ticklish had come as a surprise to Vincent, and Catherine didn't know whether she liked the startled look on his face when he discovered it, or the pleading look he gave her as he begged her to stop tickling him more.

After dinner on Sunday, Vincent reluctantly told her they should head back. Catherine had work in the morning and he had promised to have breakfast with Father.

"Vincent, do you want to tell him privately about our engagement or should I be there to protect you?"

With a teasing grin he asked, "What do you think he'll do to me, Catherine? Beat me with his cane until I change my mind?"

"He might…" she teased back as they walked towards the home tunnels hand in hand.

"I'm pretty sure he won't attempt that, my love. If he didn't do it to Devin and me for some of the pranks we pulled while growing up, then I think I'll be safe."

"All right, but remember if worse comes to worst, you can out-run him!" she laughed.

Vincent joined in and agreed.

They also discussed wedding dates on their long trip and even though both felt that Winterfest would be a wonderful choice, neither wanted to wait four months to be husband and wife. "Two months, Vincent! That's all the longer I'm willing to wait. Anything that can't be planned in that time isn't important enough to wait for!"

"Two months…that would be some time in October. Is there any particular date you had in mind?"

Catherine stopped dead at the mention of October. A strange gleam came into her eyes and she asked, "Vincent, do you trust me?"

"With my life! Catherine, you know that!"

"Then yes, Vincent, there is a special day in October that I want to be married on!"

He could tell from the feelings coming to him through the Bond that she was very excited about her plan. The thing that puzzled him was the feeling of apprehension he was also sensing. Was she afraid to marry him? But how could that be after the wonderful weekend they had just spent together? He knew that doubts and worry could eat away at what they had fought so hard to gain so he felt he had to find out. "Catherine, are you afraid to marry me?"

"Oh, Vincent, no!" After a pause Catherine continued, "You sensed my worry?" When he nodded sadly, she sighed and explained, "Vincent, sometimes our Bond is misleading because you only get my feelings and not the thoughts that go with them. There is nothing more in all the world that I want than to be your wife and someday the mother of your children. What you sensed was a bit of worry about how you would react to my idea for the wedding, and I wanted to think it through a bit more before I presented it to you, but I don't want you worrying either. I know how much you long for sunlight and that is what I want to give you as a wedding gift!"

Vincent could see the excitement in her face, but he didn't understand what she meant. Then he realized she was probably talking about the gifts couples usually gave each other on their wedding day. "Catherine, are you talking about a trip to your parents' cabin for our honeymoon? The trip that Father vetoed the last time you planned it?"

"No I hadn't actually been thinking as far ahead as our honeymoon yet, but that is a good idea!"

"Then how were you going to give me sunlight?" he questioned with his head endearingly tilted to one side.

"I want us to be married on October 31st…" She paused.

He nodded his agreement to the date, still not understanding the rest.

"On Halloween…"

"Yes, Catherine, I know, but I still don't see…"

She interrupted him to add, "At noon…"

"That still doesn't…"

Once again she stopped him, this time by saying, "In the middle of Central Park!"

Vincent shook his head; surely he hadn't heard her correctly! "Catherine!"

Placing a finger on his lips she said, "Before you protest, Vincent, hear me out. What could be more perfect? Everyone could come in costume; passers-by would think it was a play or something. We can both have all our friends there, and best of all…I will get to see you in the sunlight!"

"Catherine, you know what Father will say! The danger! The risk!"

"Whose wedding is it, Vincent? I know how important Father is to you and I love him as well, but this will be our day! I want to give this to you! With everyone in costume you'll be safe! Heck, we can even have photos taken for an album!"

"Photographs!? Of ME, Catherine?!"

"Yes, Vincent, wouldn't they be wonderful to show our grandchildren some day?"

"Grandchildren? I still haven't gotten used to the idea of us having children yet!"

Contritely she looked up at him through her bangs and asked, "Are we moving to quickly for you, Vincent? Should we put the wedding off until Winterfest after all?"

"The date of the wedding is not what has my head reeling, Catherine. It's the time and location!"

"Vincent, if I can find a way to convince Father that the time and place are all right, do you really have any objections to them?"

"Catherine, to marry you outside in the sunshine would be more wonderful than any dream I have ever dreamed!"

"Hooray!" she exclaimed and pulled him close into an enthusiastic kiss to seal the bargain.

When they parted both were breathing heavily. Vincent took a deep breath and said, "We really should be on our way, Catherine, it will be quite late when we get back as it is."

"All right, Vincent. Will you come up to the apartment for a while when we return?" she asked as they started walking once again.

"Catherine, it will be nearly midnight!"

"I know, but I want to say a proper good night to you…"

"You can say a 'proper' good night to me at your threshold," he admonished with a grin.

"Okay, sue me! I'd like to say an improper good night!"

"I would like that too, Catherine, as long as you aren't going to be too tired for work in the morning."

"Let me worry about work, Vincent. Being with you is worth any loss of sleep."

They walked in silence for a time, both lost in their memories of how their relationship had so recently changed. As they drew close to the home tunnels Vincent spoke. "I will tell Father of our engagement at breakfast and deal with his reactions throughout the day. Will you come Below so we can make an announcement at dinner?"

"Yes, and maybe by then I'll have a plan ready for talking him into approving our time and place for the wedding."

"I will help with that in any way I can, Catherine, just let me know what you need."

"I will, my love."

A short time later they reached the threshold beneath her apartment and parted for the time it would take them to reach their destination separately.

On her trip up to the apartment Catherine had time to think. It was the first moment she'd been apart from Vincent since learning he'd kept his side of the Bond closed to her all this time. 'How could he have done that?' she wondered. 'Didn't he know that I wanted to share everything with him?' A quiet despair began to creep into her heart. The only conclusion that she could come up with was he simply didn't feel he could trust her with his emotions.

Vincent, on his solitary climb to the balcony of Catherine's apartment, felt this feeling of despair from her. As she had pointed out earlier, he didn't know what thoughts accompanied the feeling, but he did know it had something to do with him. 'What could have caused this in the short time since we parted? At this time of night she shouldn't have encountered anyone on her way to the apartment. So what then had changed since we kissed on her threshold?'

He landed on the balcony lightly for such a large man and peeked into her bedroom. She wasn't there. Entering through the other set of French doors, he found her slumped on the couch crying. Her jacket was still on, but she hadn't even turned on the light. Luckily his vision was such that he could cross the room to her side without it.

Falling to his knees beside the couch, he placed a tender hand on her back. "Catherine, what is it? Tell me," he urged.

Lifting her tear-streaked face, she looked at him forlornly. "Vincent, why did you hide yourself from me in the Bond? Didn't you trust me?"

"Catherine, no! I always knew I could trust you, right from the first! When Father kept telling me to tell you nothing about our world, I knew even then that I could trust you with our secrets. I've always trusted you!"

"Then why?"

With a heavy sigh, he allowed himself to sit on the floor next to her before he answered, "It was myself I didn't trust, Catherine. I felt our Bond from the first and knew that I would come to love you as I do now, but Father's teachings ran deep. I knew that a life of love with a woman, any woman, was not for me. I didn't want to burden you with my feelings of love for you when you didn't feel the same."

"But what about when I did realize that I loved you? Why didn't you tell me then?"

Their eyes met, hers full of pain and questions, his full of worry and shame. His gaze dropped as he hung his head. "Catherine, the feelings you had for me were so new. I had never felt anything like that before. I wasn't sure what to do. It was just so new. Also, I was unaware that the passion and desire I felt for you was 'normal.' I had thought those feelings were…'animalistic.'"

She was quiet for a time thinking over what he had said; when she finally spoke he could still hear the hurt in her voice. "Vincent, all that aside, I guess I still don't understand why you didn't feel you could let me sense when you were worried, or happy, or lonely…" she trailed off.

"Because if I had let you feel those things from me, but not the others…you would have wondered if I didn't have those feelings for you."

"I see…" she said slowly.

"Do you, Catherine? My love for you was never a question in my mind, but the other, more intense feelings were something no one ever talked about to me and so I believed that they were 'unnatural.'"

"And because I tried so very hard to keep you from knowing that I had 'those' kinds of feelings for you, I was contributing to that belief. I'm sorry, Vincent, I didn't know. If I had, I would have made you aware of how much I desired you!"

"I know now, Catherine, and that's all that matters!"

Sitting up on the couch, she wiped her tears away and smiled at him. "Let's make a vow to each other never to keep our feelings from the other ever again!"

"Yes, Catherine, I promise you that!"

She happily threw herself into his arms that opened automatically to her.

As their kisses became heated, Vincent reluctantly backed away a bit to say, "Catherine, I should go. It's late…or rather, early, and you have work in the morning."

"I'm much more worried about you facing Father alone than about my workload, Vincent."

"In either case, we should both get some sleep."

"I can't wait for the day when we no longer have to part to do that."

"We wouldn't have to wait until we are married for you to move Below, Catherine, if you don't want to."

"Why don't we wait and see what the reaction is to our announcement tomorrow night? We can talk more about it then."

"All right, my love," he told her, and with one last kiss he was gone.

After Vincent left, Catherine made her way slowly into the bedroom. As she began to undress for bed, she noticed the light flashing on her answering machine. One of the messages was from Joe Maxwell, telling her that the Coolie deposition had been changed to 8am. She groaned knowing she would have to be up an hour earlier than usual to be ready for it.

The other six messages were from Jenny Aronson asking…no, demanding to know what 'monumental event' had occurred to Catherine that weekend and why, she, as Catherine's best friend, hadn't been let in on it?! Cathy laughed as each message got more frantic and demanding. She couldn't wait to see Jenny's face when she told her that she was engaged! And wait until Jenny met Vincent!

Making a mental note to call Jenny the minute she could in the morning, Catherine planned to invite her friend to lunch to tell her the news.

The next morning Vincent went to Father's study wanting to tell him about the engagement in private rather than in front of everyone at breakfast.

Father took one look at his son when he entered the room and knew it was too late for his abstention lecture. Sometime in the last two days his son had become a man. All he could do now was pray everything had gone well. Since he hadn't seen Catherine, he had no way of knowing if she was all right, but surely Vincent wouldn't be so calm and at peace if something bad had happened. Needing to know, he got right to the point. "Good morning, Vincent. I trust Catherine is well today?"

Vincent paused a moment, probing the Bond for Catherine's feelings before answering Father. He could tell she was tired from their late night, her feet were bothering her a bit from the long hike, but under all that she was blissfully happy. However, all he said to Father was, "Yes, Father, she is well."

"I gather that your relationship has moved forward?" the elder man probed.

"Yes, Father, it has. Catherine and I became lovers on our trip, but not before I had asked her to be my wife."

"Your WIFE?! Vincent! You know you can't…"

"Father! I know our marriage cannot be legally recognized in Catherine's world, but we want our family and friends to know that we wish to share a life together. So whatever we are, be it partners, mates, or husband and wife, we will be joined!"

"I see. You seem to have thought this through. I can assume then that Catherine said yes to your proposal?"

"She did. Even now, she's wearing Margaret's ring."

A soft and far away look came into Father's eyes and after a time Jacob Wells looked up at his tall son and said, "I hope that you and your Catherine are as happy as Margaret and I were during that last week, Vincent."

"Thank you, Father, I will do my utmost to see that Catherine is always happy and well."

"I'm sure you will, my boy! Now have the two of you set a date yet?"

"Catherine is coming to dinner tonight and we would like to announce our engagement then. After that she and I would like to talk over plans with you here in your study."

"That sounds like a fine idea!" Father approved and the two of them made their way to the dining hall to have breakfast.

Everyone felt the need to stop for at least a moment at their table to speak to Vincent after his time away with Catherine. They all knew something had happened and hoped for some details. They were disappointed. Neither Father nor Vincent were forthcoming about anything other than the work details for the day. The two of them shared a secret smile, knowing that everyone would find out what they so desperately wanted to know at dinnertime that evening.

Cathy and Jenny had been playing 'phone tag' all morning. Cathy had called her friend to invite her to lunch. Jenny had been on her way to work so Cathy had to leave a message. When Jenny got the message, she called Cathy to accept the invitation only to find her in a meeting. Cathy laughed out loud when she read the note Jenny had left with Edie to 'meet me at the usual place, usual time, but don't be your usually late self!'

Whether it was because everything just seemed to be going her way that day, or that sooner or later it just had to happen, Cathy was right on time for her lunch with Jenny. This was the same person that had every intention of grilling Cathy until she gave up all the juicy details of what had happened over the weekend. However, the moment Jenny spotted Cathy coming towards her down the sidewalk with a spring in her step, she knew!

"Oh, my God, Cath! You 'got some' this weekend, didn't you!?" Jenny questioned loudly while Cathy was still several feet away.

Blushing furiously as she narrowed the space between them, Cathy suggested. "Why don't you say that just a bit louder, Jen…I don't think they heard you in the lower East Side!?"

"Sorry, Cath, but I'm just so happy for you! I mean, it's been a long time…hasn't it?" Jenny demanded, not embarrassed in the least.

"Yes, but all of New York doesn't need to know about it!"

"Okay! Okay! Geesh! If it was some kind of national secret you shouldn't be going around with that goofy grin on your face!"

By the time they were seated in their favorite café Jenny was insisting on 'knowing everything!' They placed their order and Cathy could no longer hold her friend at bay. "I know that I've never mentioned Vincent to you, Jenny, but I had made promises to keep him and his world a secret."

"His world? You make him sound like an alien or part of some kind of secret society hiding from the rest of humanity!"

"You're more right than you know!" Cathy admitted.

"He's an ALIEN!?" Jenny squealed.

"No, you nut! The other part of your guess." Taking a deep breath, Cathy went on. "Because of the way Vincent looks, he has to stay hidden from the rest of the world. The people he lives with are his family and friends. Each of them has his or her own reason for being there, but they are all fiercely loyal and protective of each other."

"So why are you telling me all this now?"

"Well, if you're going to be my maid of honor, you're going to have to know."

"Your WHAT?!" Jenny shouted.

"Well, if you don't want to…I guess I could ask Nancy…"

"Don't you dare! I was just shocked! Here it is the first time I've ever heard about this guy and you're already talking about marrying him! When did you meet him? Where, if it comes to that? I mean, if this place is so secret, then how did you find it?"

"When I was attacked two years ago, Vincent was the one who found me in the park. He took me to his world, to his Father who is a doctor. They took care of me and nursed me back to health."

"Those ten days you were missing?"

"Yes. Vincent was the one who showed me how worthless my life had become and how I was wasting it away. That was why when I got back I started changing things."

"This guy must be pretty special!"

"He is, Jen!"

"So, he's deformed in some way? You did say it was his looks that made him hide away from the world…"

"Yes, it is his looks, but he's not deformed! He's beautiful! And I would give anything if I could convince him of that!" she stated earnestly.

Jenny looked deeply into her friend's eyes and understood what a delicate situation this was for Cathy. She simply asked, "When do I get to meet this fiancé of yours, Cath?"

"I'll need to check with Vincent, but soon. Hopefully, some evening this week if you have a night free?"

"Sweetie, for this, I would cancel a meeting with the President himself!"

"Sure!" Cathy laughed along with her friend.

"Okay, so when is the wedding going to be?"

"Late October. We are going to announce the engagement to his people tonight and afterwards we'll have a meeting with Father to talk over our plans."

"Why do you sound nervous about that? Is his father an ogre? And what about his mother? You've never mentioned her."

"Vincent was raised by the man he calls Father. He was abandoned as a baby, so no one knows who his real parents are."

"Well, if Vincent is as great as you say, does it do me any good to hope that he has a brother?"

"He does have a brother, but Vincent and Devin are nothing alike. Devin is Father's natural son, there's no blood relation between him and Vincent at all."

"Darn!" Jenny sighed.

The girls finished lunch chatting about Vincent and the wedding. Cathy was still careful to tell Jenny very little about Vincent's world. She knew she would have to get Council approval for Jenny to become a Helper and that needed to wait until after she met Vincent.

Vincent could feel Catherine's frustration mounting throughout the day. The only break seemed to be around lunchtime when he felt her happy and content, and at times very amused. He could tell that the frustration had something to do with both work and him. As the day wore on, the feeling became more and more pronounced. All he could think was that she had so much work to do that she might be late getting home for their date. Then around 6:30pm there was an explosion along the Bond. He knew she wasn't in danger, but she was certainly very upset about something!

"Radcliffe, this case is right up your…"

Catherine looked up to see Joe Maxwell approaching her desk with a file in his hand. Slamming down her pen, she barked, "No! No! No! I've been here nearly twelve hours already today and I have a date tonight! Nothing is going to keep me from that! Not even a case right up my alley!"

"Listen, Radcliffe, there's no need to get so upset! Take the file home, study it when you have a minute. You can start the interviews tomorrow," he offered magnanimously.

"Joe, you weren't listening! I have a date tonight and I'm going to be late as it is! So you just take that file back into your office and bring it to me in the morning just like this conversation never happened!" she insisted as she grabbed her briefcase and coat and brushed passed him on the way towards the door.

"Really, Radcliffe, you know that a romantic life will cut into your work!" he called after her.

"Yeah," she said pausing with her hand on the door, "And if you don't like me cutting back to a sixty-hour work week, then I can always quit!"

Holding up his hands in a gesture of surrender, he begged, "Okay! Calm down Radcliffe! Geesh, you'd think I was a slave driver or something!"

As Joe watched her retreating back his heart was heavy. This sounded like it might be a serious relationship for her and that would mean the end of any hope that he ever had that she might one day look his way. Who was he kidding? Even though she worked like a plow horse when she was there at work, Catherine Chandler was still a thoroughbred through and through and too good for the likes of a back-alley kid like Joe Maxwell.

All he could do was hope that this guy made her happy and be there to pick up the pieces if he didn't. Joe would have to find out who he was, so if he did let her down, he could put the hurt on him!

Catherine and Vincent arrived at her apartment at the same time, although by different doors - she used the front door and he the French doors from her balcony. They met in the living room and after a quick kiss Catherine looked at her watch and said, "I know I'm running late, but I thought we were going to meet in the basement?"

"I felt your agitation through the Bond and was worried, Catherine."

"Oh, that was just Joe trying to give me a new case as I was leaving. I told him where to stick it!" she laughed as she headed for the bedroom to change clothes.

"Catherine! You didn't?!" he protested.

"I sure did!" she called out as she stripped off her business suit and reached for an outfit more suited to Below. "I told him to put it…back on his desk 'til tomorrow morning!"

She heard Vincent's deep sigh of relief from the next room as she slid her feet into a comfortable pair of loafers. "Okay, I'm ready to go. I'll meet you downstairs!" Catherine told him as she hurried past him, pausing only to place a quick kiss on his cheek.

Still stunned at these casual gestures of intimacy from Catherine, Vincent was standing in the living room unmoving as she turned off the lights and locked the door behind her. Shaking himself out of his trance, he hurried out to the balcony and over the side.

Vincent was slightly out of breath when they met up a few moments later. This told Catherine that he had rushed more than usual to arrive at the same time as she had. They shared another quick kiss and then hurried towards the dining hall.

When they arrived it was clear the meal was well underway. Quickly selecting their food from the serving table, Vincent saw that there were two seats for Catherine and him between Father and Mary.

They had hardly sat down when Father rose and held up his hands for attention. The room full of people quickly quieted down and soon the only sounds that could be heard were those of parents feeding the youngest children. Everything else had stopped as they waited to find out what Father had to say.

Jacob looked at Vincent and Catherine to see if they wanted to make the announcement themselves, but both nodded for him to go ahead. Clearing his throat, he began, "As you all know, when Catherine first came into our lives I wasn't very approving, but since then I've had many dealings with her and I have come to respect and admire her. In fact, I have actually come to look on her as a daughter."

When Father paused for dramatic effect, Jamie couldn't resist throwing out a sarcastic question. "So are you about to tell us that you're going to adopt her?"

The laughter that filled the room wasn't in answer to Jamie's comment, but instead it was in reaction to the look of consternation on Vincent's face. As he looked at his son, even Father had to join in the merriment.

Just as the crowd was quieting down and Father thought that he would be able to finish his announcement, Samantha's young voice could be heard above the silence. Ever the romantic, she had seen the flaw in the proposed event. "But if Father adopted Catherine, then she and Vincent would be sister and brother and they couldn't get married!"

This protest set off the laughter once again but there was a speculative gleam in several pairs of eyes as they noted Catherine and Vincent's shared smile at the comment.

When the room started to buzz with conversation he knew that if he didn't step in it could be a very long while until everyone settled down enough to listen. Raising both hands in the air had no effect until Vincent stood up next to him and quietly said, "Excuse me."

It might as well have been a shout for attention; the result on the room was instantaneous. Everything stopped and not a sound could be heard. Vincent quietly went on to ask, "Father, will you finish your announcement now?"

Standing up straighter and clearing his throat, Father said, "Thank you, Vincent. I should like to, if everyone is ready to listen."

There were a few nods around the room, but most everyone had recognized it for the rhetorical question it had been.

"Even though I wouldn't mind at all having Catherine as a true daughter, the reality is just as wonderful. Soon she will be my daughter-in-law!"

It took just a moment for the information to be processed and another for it to be explained to the younger children, and Mouse; then the cheering started. No one seemed willing to leave the dining hall until all of them had a chance to congratulate the happy couple. Everyone had questions for them, from 'How had Vincent proposed?' to 'When would the wedding be?'

Vincent and Catherine answered what they could and explained that the date was still to be decided. When most seemed satisfied with the answers that had been given, Vincent asked if they could adjourn to Father's study. Father, of course, agreed, and Catherine asked if Mary, Jamie, and Mouse would join them.

Mary made a pot of tea and after the six were settled Catherine began to speak. "Vincent and I do have a date in mind for the wedding, but we wanted to talk with all of you before we made it known to everyone. The one and only thing that Vincent lacks in this wonderful world you've created here, Father, is sunlight, and I've thought of a way to give him that gift on our wedding day."

"Oh, that would be marvelous!" Mary exclaimed. "How would you do it?"

"Yes, how, Catherine? This sounds very dangerous already!" Father interjected before Catherine could answer Mary.

"Everyone at the ceremony, with the exception of a few guests of mine, will be aware that other than attending our wedding, their only focus is to keep Vincent safe."

"You still haven't told us…"

Vincent would never normally interrupt anyone who was speaking and this was especially true when the person in question was his father, however, he also needed Father to be aware that this wasn't just Catherine's idea. "Father, Catherine was only explaining the safety features first because she knows how protective you are where I'm concerned. But you need to know that even though the original idea was Catherine's, I am in total agreement with her choice for our wedding."

"All right, Vincent, that is noted, however we have still not been informed of what this choice is."

"We want to be married in Central Park at noon…on October 31st," Catherine told him.

"Oh, that's perfect!" Jamie exclaimed. "With everyone in costume, Vincent will be perfectly safe!"

"Better than good. Better than best idea!" Mouse added.

Silent tears were sliding down Mary's cheeks and Vincent being Vincent, he was the first to notice. "Mary, what is it? What's wrong?" he asked, squatting near her chair and taking her hand in his.

Her free hand reached out to caress his cheek and a tender smile peeked through the tears. "Nothing at all, my dear boy! I was simply overwhelmed at how Catherine's love for you has given her the courage to find a way to give you something I always wished I could!"

"Mary!" Father gasped. "Surely you can't mean that you approve of this ludicrous plan!?"

"I not only do, but I also hope that there is a way I can help with any arrangements that need to be made! I'm sure we haven't heard all their thoughts on things, what with all the interruptions. You can be sure that you two will have no end of volunteers to help. I know for a fact that William has been planning your wedding feast for over a year, and Rebecca designed a special candle just for the event almost as long ago!"

"WHAT!?" Father shouted as Vincent and Catherine shared bemused glances. They had been thrilled at the response to their engagement, but to discover that their friends had been secretly planning for this event for months left them both in awe at the show of support.

"I can't believe this!" Father sputtered.

"I thought you approved of their marriage!" Jamie protested.

"I do! However I do NOT approve of this location!"

"I am sorry, Father, but the choice is really not yours. Catherine and I will take every precaution that we can, but ultimately this is what we both want," Vincent quietly but firmly told his father.

Catherine looked Father directly in the eye and said, "Father, I love Vincent with all my heart and want to give him this gift. We will do everything in our power to keep him safe!"

"We'll help Catherine, Father! Vincent my friend!" Mouse added in the silence that followed Catherine's statement.

Looking from one hopeful, expectant face to another, Father's gaze came to rest on Vincent's last. He could see how very much this meant to his son, so even though he still had reservations, Father nodded his head and said, "All right, as long as everyone is aware to be very watchful! I guess it would be okay."

Standing and grabbing the elder man into a bear hug, Vincent told him, "Thank you, Father. Your approval means a lot to us."

Once that had been settled, Mary began to wring her hands. "Oh, my dears! Only two months to plan! We must get started right away! First we'll need to notify all of the Helpers, and everyone Catherine wants to invite, then we'll need costumes for everyone. Have you chosen your attendants yet?"

Catherine was the first to answer her. "Yes. I want my friends Nancy Tucker and Jenny Aronson. Jamie, I was hoping that you would consider being my third bridesmaid?"

Jamie immediately got misty-eyed, although she tried to hide it by wiping her eyes on her sleeve. She replied, "I'd love to, Catherine! Thank you!"

"Wonderful!" Mary exclaimed, then turning to Vincent she informed him, "That means you will need three as well, Vincent."

"I am going to try and contact Devin, and for my other two I am hoping that Pascal and Mouse will agree to stand up with me."

Mouse's eyes widened at this honor and he could only nod eagerly since he was too choked up to talk.

"Well, I'm sure Pascal will agree as well, Vincent. I just hope Devin can be found, if he's out globe-trotting, your letter might not catch up with him," Father stated.

Vincent admitted that was a possibility and said that he would come up with an alternate just in case.

"I'd like Eric to be our ring bearer. It's too bad that little Cathy is too young to be our flower girl."

"Do we really need a flower girl with the wedding being outside?" Vincent asked.

"Good point!" Catherine told him. "Now the only position that needs filling is Father of the Bride."

"I assumed that you would ask Peter to stand in for your father," Vincent replied.

"Actually, I was thinking it was much too big of a job to be filled by one person." Standing, Catherine walked over to Jacob Wells and said, "I thought maybe you and Peter could both walk me down the aisle. Would you, Father?"

"My dear child, I would be honored to, but are you sure you want that? With this cane, I would just slow you down."

"It's taken us this long to come to this point in our relationship, the extra few minutes your speed would add to the ceremony won't matter at all."

"Then I would be pleased to do this for you, Catherine," he answered.

Father was a bit surprised when she bestowed a fierce hug on him, but he was happy to return the gesture. He was a bit flustered to find himself almost ready to shed tears, so to cover this up he blustered, "Yes, well, we should get back to the plans!"

They talked for another hour until no one could think of any more to add without consulting others not there. As the group was breaking up, Vincent said he would like to stop by the Pipe Chamber before he and Catherine went Above. Catherine smiled and agreed as she anticipated the look on Pascal's face when Vincent asked him to be in their wedding.

The two of them discussed the best way to try and contact Devin so he could be there for the wedding as they walked along. Knowing that the cabin he and Charles were living in was very remote, Catherine suggested that they try a telegram first. Vincent smiled and agreed, although he admitted he had no idea how to go about doing that. Catherine promised to show him as soon as they got to her apartment

Pascal was alone and hard at work when Catherine and Vincent arrived. He grinned and told them that the news of their engagement was the reason for the heightened amount of chatter on the pipes that night.

"That is the reason we came to see you tonight, Pascal. Well, actually there were two reasons. We thought you might like to be the one to spread the word that we have settled on a date for the wedding." At Pascal's eager nod, Vincent went on to inform the Pipemaster of their plans. Pascal's eyes got wider and wider with every passing piece of information. By the time Vincent stopped speaking, he was almost hopping up and down in his excitement to spread the news.

"And everyone will wear costumes?"

"Yes," Catherine assured him with a grin.

"Wow!" he exclaimed, pulling out his pipes in preparation to send this all-important message, but Vincent reached out a hand to stop him.

"Before you do that, Pascal, there was one other reason we stopped by. I wanted to ask you if you would stand up with me in the wedding?"

Pascal stood there utterly speechless. His eyes became suspiciously bright and Catherine wondered if he might actually start crying.

After several minutes of silence Vincent gently prompted him, "Pascal?"

"Oh! Sorry! I would love to, Vincent! I've always looked on you like a brother! Are you going to ask Devin too?"

"Yes, if we can reach him in time. Catherine is going to help me send him a telegram."

"That should do the trick then! It'll be good to see him again, it's been too long."

"Yes, it will, and we should be going to do that now."

"And I need to send out the wedding announcement!" Pascal said eagerly. He was already tapping out the news as Vincent and Catherine walked away.

When they reached Catherine's apartment she gave Vincent a pad of paper to write out his message to Devin. Telling him she would put on a pot of tea while he worked, she left him alone in the living room. Vincent smiled and thanked her.

By the time she came back he'd composed a short message. Taking the pad from him, Catherine read it over to see if she had any questions before calling it in. She grinned when she saw he hadn't told Devin they were getting married, only that he needed to talk to him about a matter of great importance.

She called Western Union and paid for the telegram with her credit card, then joined Vincent on the couch for tea. Catherine cuddled close to his side as they put their empty cups down. She had something important to ask him and she was just a bit worried over how he would feel about it. "Vincent, I was hoping that one night this week I could invite Jenny and Nancy over here to meet you…"

"That would be fine, Catherine. I look forward to meeting your friends," he answered calmly.

"You do?" she asked, raising her head to look into his face.

"Yes, Catherine. I know how much they mean to you and would be glad to meet them."

"That's great! I'd like to ask the Council about Jenny becoming a Helper too! I know she would love it, and with her being in the publishing business, I'm sure she and Father will get along. Nancy, on the other hand, I'm not sure about. Since she has a husband and children that won't know about you and Below, I don't know how much she could do."

"Catherine, they don't have to be Helpers for me to want to know them."

"I know that, Vincent, but I do think that Jenny would love to be one."

"When do you think we would meet?"

"I'll call them both tomorrow morning and see when their free." She got up from the couch and returned the tea things to the kitchen. When she returned to the living room she reached out her hand and invited, "Are you ready for bed, Vincent?"

With a shy smile he nodded, rising to take her hand and follow her to the bedroom.

Vincent still felt a bit out of place in Catherine's apartment because he had only been inside a few times. He was uncomfortable around her things because of his size and their delicacy. He was much more used to massive and over-sized furniture. Here he was afraid that he might break something.

Catherine, sensing his unease, smiled gently and turned down the bed. "You know, Vincent, there's nothing in this apartment as important as you. Everything else can be replaced or repaired, please don't worry." She held out her hand for him to join her and with a rueful grin he did. He was going to have to get used to their Bond working both ways now!

Putting aside all the worries of being in her apartment, Vincent took Catherine into his arms.

***********

Plans were progressing quickly for the use of Elizabeth Faber's money. The real estate agent that Catherine had hired had already shown her three properties and with each she could tell that Mrs. Alexander was getting closer to what Catherine was looking for.

Two days had passed since their engagement was announced and still there had been no word from Devin. Tonight however, was the night Vincent was going to meet Jenny and Nancy. Catherine had actually managed to leave work early and started making dinner as soon as she got home. The casserole was in the oven and she was in the shower when Vincent arrived.

To say she was startled when he joined her in the shower would have vastly underrated her shriek of surprise.

Vincent laughed and pulled her into his arms. If he'd meant to soothe her, he was certainly going about it in the wrong way! The kiss heated up quickly and soon they were making love.

When their passion was spent, Catherine offered him a tired smile and said, "It's a good thing I made a casserole, because anything else would have been burnt by now! What possessed you to surprise me like this?"

Throwing aside the fourth towel he'd needed to dry off, Vincent stepped into his pants before answering, "I didn't stop to think. I came into the apartment and followed the sound of running water. When I got here I could see you running your hands over your body and could feel you thinking of me as your desire rose. I undressed without thinking and then just opened the door and stepped inside. Did I do something wrong?"

"No, Vincent! It was wonderful, but we do need to hurry now and get dressed. We don't want our guests to find us like this!" She giggled at their mutual state of half dress.

Catherine had asked Vincent if he would prefer to meet both of her friends at the same time or if separately would be less stressful to him. Always thinking of her first, he knew it would be easier on her if she only had to go through the 'explanation' about him once, so had told her he would meet Nancy and Jenny at the same time. In reality, it didn't matter to him. Their reactions would be the same if they met him either way. He hoped for Catherine's sake the meeting would go well.

They worked together to set the table and light the many candles Catherine had in the apartment. She knew he was more comfortable with them than with electric lights. The few lamps she did have on were set on dim to avoid the harshness to his sensitive eyes.

Right on time came the knock on her door. But they had already had time to share a quick kiss and for Vincent to make his exit to the balcony because the doorman had called up to let Ms. Chandler know her guests had arrived. Vincent would wait outside until she had 'explained' about him.

Her friends arrived together. Since Nancy lived outside of the city, she'd driven in and picked up Jenny on her way. The two of them greeted Catherine with enthusiastic hugs and as they stepped inside Nancy looked around and demanded, "Okay where are you hiding him? You did say we would get to meet him tonight!"

"Yes, and you will." Catherine laughed a bit nervously at Nancy's eagerness. "He's waiting on the balcony. I wanted to have a chance to prepare you…"

"Prepare us for what?" Jenny demanded. "You said he's beautiful! Now haul him on in here so the drooling can begin!"

Vincent couldn't hold back his chuckle at Jenny's comment and this, of course, was heard by the three women in the apartment.

"There, you see! Even Vincent thinks all this melodrama is silly! Come on in here, Vincent, or we'll have to come hunting for you!"

A cloaked figure came inside and a gently melodious voice told them, "We didn't want the two of you to be frightened by my appearance."

Catherine moved to his side and linked her arm with his. She looked at her friends and said, "Nancy, Jenny, this is Vincent Wells, my fiancé."

Vincent lifted his head and his hood moved slightly to reveal some of his face. As Catherine continued the introductions, he pushed back the hood the rest of the way with his free hand. "Vincent, this is my friend Nancy Tucker from Westbridge."

"How do you do, Mrs. Tucker?" Vincent inquired politely, not holding out his hand in case she was afraid to touch him.

Nancy gulped in amazement and could only reply, "Fine!"

Then Catherine introduced Vincent to Jenny. She would always remember the look on both their faces, but it was Vincent's expression she wished she had a camera for. Jenny stepped right up to him and exclaimed, "Good God, she said you were beautiful, not drop dead gorgeous! No wonder she's kept you hidden all this time! Come here and give me a hug," she instructed, pulling him into her arms and then, when the hug broke, she shook a finger in his face with this warning, "Just you remember that Cathy is my best friend and if you hurt her you'll have me to answer to!"

Vincent bowed his head and said with all the seriousness he could muster as he looked down at the small woman in front of him, "I'll remember that, Ms. Aronson."

"See that you do! Oh, and call me Jenny! I have a feeling we're going to be good friends. Now, what's for dinner? It sure smells good! Nancy, don't stand there with your mouth hanging open! Cath did say he was different!"

Nancy seemed to finally shake herself out of the daze she'd been in. With a smile she told Jenny, "Yeah, but she didn't say that he would remind us of that Lucky Charm's commercial!"

"Huh?" both Jenny and Catherine asked.

"You know…'magically delicious'!"

Vincent gasped and blushed.

Jenny nodded and laughed.

Catherine glared playfully and scolded, "Listen, you two, just you remember he's taken! And Nancy, you're married!"

"I might be married, but I'm not dead! And I was only looking!"

"Just remember, Cath, until the 'I do's' are said, he's fair game!" Jenny declared.

"Okay, that does it! You're not going to be in my wedding!"

Vincent looked on with worry that these three friends were going to have a serious falling out over him, when all of a sudden each of them started laughing and hugging each other.

"Oh, look! I think Vinnie was really worried that we were going to fight over him!" Jenny laughed.

"Vincent," Catherine corrected her friend.

"Okay, Vincent."

"Now can we eat so you can tell us all about the wedding plans? With Vincent as the groom, I'm sure they're going to have to be pretty special plans!" Nancy asked.

"Oh, yeah, that's true. Come on, Cath, give us all the low down!"

The four of them sat down at the table after Vincent and Catherine brought in the food and poured the wine. They chatted and got to know each other a bit as the main part of the meal was eaten. As things started to settle down a bit, Nancy and Jenny again began asking questions about the wedding plans.

"Oh, my gosh, that's great!" Jenny cried when Catherine told them about where and when the wedding was going to be.

"It is actually perfect!" Nancy added a bit more quietly than Jenny. "I bet I know just what costume you'll be wearing, Cath!"

"Costume? I hadn't really thought about one for me. What did you have in mind, Nancy?"

"Really?" she asked in amazement. "I just remember how much we all loved that movie 'The Labyrinth' and thought Sarah's gown from the dream sequence would be wonderful on you."

Vincent watched a slow smile spread across Catherine's face as she pictured the scene in her mind. He could tell at once that she loved the idea. Even before she spoke, he knew she would agree.

"You're right, Nance, that would be perfect! What do you think the chances are we could get Vincent into the same outfit David Bowie wore?"

"Oh, god, he would look awesome in skin-tight tights!" Jenny drooled, looking Vincent over like he was a seven-course meal.

"Tights, Catherine?!" Vincent protested plaintively.

"All the women were swooning over them, Vincent…but on the other hand, I'm not sure that I want all the women falling at your feet!"

"Like they won't anyway!" Jenny assured her.

With a pleading look in his eyes that all three ladies found endearing, Vincent begged, "Please, don't ask me to wear tights, Catherine."

"I won't, Vincent. Mary has asked me to take her shopping for material this weekend; I think she has something special in mind for you."

"Thank you, Catherine."

The phone rang and Catherine, with a reluctant sigh, got up to answer it. She thought it was probably Joe calling about work. However, she was pleasantly surprised when she heard the voice on the other end. The three at the table could only hear her side of the conversation.

"So you got it! I'm so glad."

"Yes, it is important."

"Yes, I know what it is, but he will want to tell you himself."

"No, you don't have to wait. He's here, we just finished dinner."

No one was more surprised than Vincent when Catherine called him to the phone. "It's Devin," she told him, holding out the receiver to him.

A smile fought the wary look on his face as he took the phone from her hand. Even though he was thirty-five years old, he had never used a telephone before.

As Vincent tentatively placed the receiver to his ear, a faraway look came over Catherine's face as she remembered 'discovering' his ears that first night they'd made love. It was funny that in all the time she had known him she'd never seen them before. They were always well hidden under his golden mane. Catherine had found that they were lightly furred like his nose was, but the reason that he kept them so well protected was a secret that she now shared with only one other, that person being the very one Vincent was now talking to. He had told her that when he and Devin were young they'd shared the bed he still used to this day and one night while tussling around, as boys will do, Devin learned his secret. As Catherine watched Vincent talking to his brother on the phone, a mischievous grin came across her face.

Alerted by her change in mood through their Bond, Vincent looked over at her with a question in his eyes. She said nothing, just allowing her smile to widen. Lifting her hand she swept her hair away from her face tucking it behind her ear. As Vincent watched her, his expression changed to one of trepidation. He could no longer concentrate on the story Devin was telling him about a trip he and Charles had gone on. All he could do was send a pleading look at his beloved.

Catherine, however, was not to be deterred from the secret torment she had in mind for her love. Her fingertip slowly traced over the back edge of her ear and she could feel Vincent shudder all the way across the room. He was actually squirming as Catherine continued to play with her own ear. She had found out something Devin would never know: Vincent could even be tickled from across the room when you shared a Bond like he and Catherine did!

Not realizing that he should cover the mouthpiece if he didn't want the person on the other end to hear, Vincent finally begged, "Catherine, please!"

With a devilish grin that promised she would continue later, Catherine nodded her agreement that she would stop just as Vincent heard Devin ask, "Okay, so what did you need to talk to me about, Fuzz? I assume it has something to do with the wonderful Ms. Chandler. Do you need romantic advice?"

Vincent took a deep breath, wishing he could see the look that what he had to say would cause on Devin's face. He savored the image in his mind for just a moment and then said, "Actually, Devin, what I find myself in need of, is my brother to act as my best man…"

He waited as the dead silence told of the shock Devin was feeling at that announcement and then finally from the other end of the phone came, "WOW! Did the Old Man live through that shock?"

"Father is very much alive and has given us his blessing."

There was a disbelieving laugh from Devin and then he asked, "What did you have to do for that? Promise to name your firstborn after him?"

"You can ask him all those questions and more if you'll return to be my best man."

"I'd love to, Fuzz, but what about Charles? I can't leave him here alone."

"Bring him along, Devin! With the wedding we are planning, he won't stand out at all."

"Vincent, you know he will even Below! I'll think of something."

"We aren't getting married Below."

"Huh? How can that be?"

"What did you call her? The amazing Ms. Chandler?" Vincent laughed.

"I'm pretty sure I said 'wonderful,' but do tell - what has she cooked up?"

"Catherine wanted to give me sunshine on our special day, so we're getting married at noon in Central Park."

"Are you insane? The Old Man will have you under lock and key when he hears that!" Devin's voice protested so loudly that the three women heard it.

"Devin, our wedding is on Halloween and everyone will be in costume. That was why I said Charles would be fine. He can come 'as is' like I will be doing, or he can wear a mask if he prefers."

"Halloween?! Oh, my lord, that is perfect! You tell Chandler that I'll be there and will give her a 'proper' welcome to the family for doing this for you! Did I tell you that I'm very happy for you? Who'd have thought my little brother would beat me to the altar? Too bad your Catherine doesn't have a sister!"

"Catherine might not have a sister, but her friend Jenny wanted to know if I had a brother when we were introduced."

"You're meeting her friends?"

"Yes, we just finished dinner with Catherine's bridesmaids when you called."

"Good heavens! I need to get back more often! Things are changing very quickly these days. So tell me, Fuzz, are these friends attractive?"

"Nancy is a happily married lady with two children, however Jenny is single. As for the rest, you'll have to come and see for yourself."

"We will both be there and I'm keeping good thoughts that Chandler has only gorgeous friends!"

The call ended a few minuets later and Vincent rejoined the ladies, where he found that Catherine had already explained about Charles' condition.

Jenny and Nancy both were reluctant for the evening to end even though Nancy had her family to get home to. Catherine made arrangements with Jenny to visit Vincent's world later in the week and promised that Nancy would get a chance to as well before the wedding.

It was during her lunch break on Thursday that the realtor showed Catherine the property that she immediately knew was perfect. She made arrangements to get her group together that evening for another showing, but Catherine could already tell this was the place! The six-story building that used to be a warehouse had been empty for almost a year, the agent told Catherine, and she was sure that the price would be reasonable.

The committee didn't take long at all to decide that Catherine was right and Mouse's eyes kept getting wider and wider as each floor revealed more 'stuff' that had been left behind. He also confirmed that it would be easy to create a basement entrance to the tunnels.

Vincent could feel Catherine's excitement as the group spent time in the building with the realtor. He knew the moment the committee gave their approval by the leap of joy that flowed through the Bond to him. Catherine had carefully left the door to the roof unlocked when they were all leaving, so that after the realtor had gone she could give Vincent a private tour.

They met at the nearby tunnel access point and walked along the back alley together. The metal fire escape attached to the back of the building allowed them easy access to the roof.

When the private tour was nearing completion and they were once again heading towards the roof, Vincent asked, "Catherine, do we really need six floors? Wouldn't a smaller building do just as well?"

"It would, Vincent, but with the extra floors we can have more storage or extra apartments, and I also have a special plan for the sixth floor if you agree to it."

"What would that be, Catherine?"

"Well, none of the other buildings on this block are over three floors, so even though there are a lot of windows no one would be able to look in, and I thought the roof could be divided in half - one side for a vegetable and herb garden, and the other for a private retreat where you could enjoy the sun any time you liked."

"Me? Catherine, what do you mean?"

"I thought that once we were married we might make the sixth floor and half the roof our home. We could still keep your chamber Below, but you know how little privacy you have there…I just thought that this might be a good…am I babbling too much?"

"But what about your apartment? Catherine, you love it and you would miss your balcony!"

"Not as much as I love you, and the roof would replace the balcony. Since this building will have its own tunnel entrance, it would also be safer for you to come and go."

"You've really thought this out, haven't you?" he questioned tenderly.

"Yes, but you haven't said what you think of the idea."

"Catherine, I would be happy with you anywhere, but you're right. With the height of this building and the roof as our balcony, it does seem to be made to order. I would love to live here with you."

They hugged tightly, staring out over what would soon be their new view of the city.

As the weeks flew by to the wedding, Catherine and Vincent despaired at how little time they were able to spend together. Everyone wanted to help with the plans and they all wanted their favorite couple's approval every step of the way.

Jenny had her first visit Below on Friday and once Catherine had actually pinched her, at her own request, she had become an instant hit with all the tunnel folks. She quickly started spending every free minute she could Below. Some days she spent more time there than Catherine did! Her friend laughed and told her it was because she had a more understanding boss. Catherine sighed and agreed. Jenny was her own boss.

William needed several hours that weekend with the Ladies Committee to go over the complex and varied menu for the wedding feast. Vincent had become the 'go-to guy' for costume approval, and not just on the finished products either, but on each new accessory as well. Mary had measured him and made notes that she wouldn't let Vincent see. She asked simply to be trusted and through her giggles promised tights would in no way be involved. The tunnel seamstresses had also been consulted on Catherine's gown. They had promised it would be no trouble at all to re-create the dress from the movie. Armed with pictures from the internet, Catherine and Mary headed to the fabric store.

Pulling a clerk aside as soon as the arrived, Catherine instructed her to cut ten yards of any fabric that Mary admired. Mary, having no idea what was going on, was happily ooohing and aaahing her way down the aisles. She almost fainted when she went around a corner and saw an entire row of every color thread imaginable. Catherine told the clerk to add a spool for every fabric Mary had selected. The two finally reached the "bridal" section where the fancier fabrics were and spent some time choosing the material for Catherine's dress. Vincent's outfit would match hers, so they added more material for that.

Catherine cheerfully paid for the very large purchase with her credit card and asked that it all be delivered to Mr. Lee's Tea Shop. He had a large tunnel entrance in his basement that made it the perfect spot for big deliveries.

Later in the day when the material arrived and was brought to the sewing chamber, none of the ladies could believe what Catherine had done. The news spread quickly and word of it reached Father and Vincent, who were going over the plans for the tunnel entrance to the newly purchased Faber Building, as they were calling it.

Vincent just smiled and shook his head resignedly when they were told. He knew the joy that doing this for the people that had become her family as well as his had given her. Father, on the other hand, blustered about her extravagance and muttered that they shouldn't accept such a large gift. His son looked at him and said, "Father, you have never turned away any of the help that any of our Helpers have managed to give in the past, no matter how large or small the size of the gift. Why then would you deny Catherine the pleasure of doing this for the people she loves?"

With a sigh, Jacob said, "You're right, Vincent. I only worry that she will be taken advantage of."

"You know better than that, Father. Everyone has known almost from the beginning that Catherine has money and it has never been an issue before."

"That's true," Father conceded and the two of them went back to the plans for the new building.

The legal clinic would be named for Mrs. Faber. It would be the Elizabeth Faber Memorial Clinic, and the medical one for her husband, Vincent. The plan was to use the second floor of the building for storage and beds for the clinic's overnight patients. Floors three through five would be converted into thirty apartments, ten per floor. The Council had approved Catherine and Vincent's plan to own the sixth floor. So one-sixth of the building's purchase price would come from Catherine's personal account rather than the Faber money.

Vincent had protested at her using her money to buy "their" home and she countered with the fact that she was going to rely on him to do most of the work converting it from a warehouse space into something resembling a home for them.

He still protested that it wasn't the same until she told him what contractors were paid by the hour, and after estimating how long the rehab would take, was staggered at what they would save. Catherine laughed at the look on his face and suggested that the tunnel work crews could start hiring themselves out.

Her fiancé replied, "Oh, I could just imagine the reactions if I showed up on the site in a hard hat and work boots!"

"My darling, believe me, if you showed up, the last thing they would be looking at would be your hat and boots!" Catherine giggled.

"My point exactly!" Vincent retorted with a grin.

The weeks flew by as the wedding drew closer and finally they had found an opportunity for Nancy to visit the tunnels. She was just as amazed as Jenny had been, but because of her family commitments she would be limited to just a few visits per year. Catherine insisted that Winterfest had to be one of them and Vincent agreed.

With only a week left to the wedding, they received word that Devin and Charles would be arriving two days before the big day and would have their costumes with them. Catherine was only slightly worried when Devin asked her if he could rent a horse for the ceremony. Surely he wouldn't deliberately ruin their special day, would he?

It was also during that week that Catherine started feeling a little "off." When she was queasy for the third morning in a row, she figured she'd better see Peter just to be on the safe side. She didn't want some bug ruining their honeymoon!

Peter asked a lot of questions and then ran one test. He came back into the exam room with a huge smile on his face.

"I take it by your expression that I'm not dying?" Catherine questioned.

"Nope, not at all!" he replied happily.

"Are you going to stand there and try and tell me that it's pre-wedding nerves? Because I have to tell you that there is not one thing I have to be nervous about! I love that man like crazy and we are going to have a wonderful life together!" She stopped speaking and sat there glaring at him.

"How long have you and Vincent been sexually active?" Peter asked blandly.

Stunned at the question that seemed to come out of left field, she finally took note of the gleam in his eye and the goofy smile he was wearing. "Are you trying to tell me…I'm…" she trailed off, unable to put it into words.

"Have you and Vincent talked about having children?" he asked, neither confirming nor denying her guess.

"Yes, but Vincent said that Father always told him it was impossible!"

"Well, unless you've been with someone else…"

"PETER!!!"

"I thought not. Well then, Jacob will just have to revise his definition of impossible!"

"I'm really pregnant?" Catherine asked almost breathlessly.

"Really. Sweetie. I hope that's good news?"

"No, it's great news! Fantastic news! Better than best, even!" she finished and both of them laughed at her quoting Mouse.

"Now I'm sure you'll want to tell Vincent in private, but I would pay good money to be there when the two of you tell Jacob!" Peter hinted.

"Vincent! Oh, dear!"

"What is it, Cathy? Do you think he'll be upset?"

"Ummmm, no, it's just that I had no idea about this, so I didn't tell him I was coming to see you and it's so hard to keep anything from him with our Bond..." Having said that, she immediately clamped down on the Bond, hoping that it wasn't already too late.

"Okay, your secret is safe with me, but remember I'd like to be there when you tell Father."

"All right," she said, hugging him and returning to work.

Vincent, of course, had felt the giant leap of joy through the Bond and was wondering at it. Catherine hadn't mentioned any cases going to trial, so it couldn't have been the happiness she felt when a guilty verdict came in. Plus this had been much stronger than any of those had been in the past, added to the fact that Vincent knew Joe had her on desk work since this was her last week at work.

So what could have caused that feeling? Devin and Charles weren't due in town until tomorrow and he couldn't imagine even their early arrival would have caused that reaction. Nancy had said she was done having children, and Jenny wasn't seeing anyone, so he ruled out news of a coming baby.

Well, he would just have to wait until she got home that evening, Vincent told himself, and went back to work on their new home. He was determined to have it finished before the wedding so they could spend their honeymoon there.

The grand opening for both clinics would be right before Thanksgiving and even though one floor of apartments was finished, no one was going to be moving in until Catherine and he had a week alone in the building.

Catherine knew that the only place that they would truly have the privacy she wanted to deliver this news would be at her apartment. She infused the Bond with her need to see him as she mentally urged the cab to go faster.

Vincent felt her desire to see him and a grin split his face at the joy warming his heart. Catherine had brought more into his life than he had ever thought possible. Here he was preparing to get married in just three days' time, which was a miracle in itself, and all the accompanying feelings that went with it. Added to that, he was putting the finishing touches on a home ABOVE for himself and Catherine! His own personal world had undergone so many changes since that night a year and a half ago. He simply couldn't imagine his life without her in it now.

After packing up his tools, Vincent took a quick shower in the unit that he had just installed that day and then, via the tunnels, hurried across town to Catherine's apartment. He landed lightly on the balcony just moments after she had let herself in.

The last two months had changed many things, not the least of which was how comfortable he now felt in her apartment. Even though most of her things were boxed up and ready to move to their new home, he no longer hesitated at the French doors. He just pushed them open and seconds later the two lovers were in each other's arms.

After their kiss, Vincent looked down into her excited face and said, "Something wonderful happened today to make you very happy…tell me."

"Oh! I knew you would know! Well, Joe finally said that he would come to the wedding even if he did have to wear a costume…" They had decided to invite Joe and the rest of the staff from the DA's office, but they wouldn't get any pre-introductions to the groom.

"Somehow I can't see that making you as happy as you felt…"

"Well…ummmm…Devin hasn't called to say he isn't backing out at the last minute…"

"Catherine…"

"Oh, all right…but you'd better come into the living room and sit down."

Once they were settled on the couch, Catherine faced Vincent's worried glance and tried to draw out the moment just a bit longer, "I haven't felt quite right the last few days and so I went to see Peter today on my lunch hour."

When she didn't continue on her own, Vincent encouraged her, his ever deepening frown creasing his forehead. "What did he say, Catherine?"

"He told me what was wrong and then asked that he be allowed to be there when we told Father."

"Catherine! What is it?!"

"Oh, he didn't think he would have to explain anything to Father, he just wanted to be there…"

Vincent's growl of frustration told her that she had reached the end of his seemingly unending patience, and she couldn't help but grin when she said, "Peter wanted to see the look on Father's face when he found out he was going to be a grandfather…"

There was a blank look for just a moment and then there was a stunned look, which made sense, if he'd always believed Father telling him it wasn't possible, and then finally a look of wonder came over his beautiful face. Catherine almost cried when she saw the single tear slide down his cheek right before he pulled her into his arms. "We're going to have a baby?!" he gasped.

"Yes, my love, we are."

He looked down into her lovely face and asked in a hushed whisper, "Are you happy about this?"

"Vincent!" she scolded him for doubting. "You felt my happiness when Peter told me! You have to know that I'm overjoyed about having your child!"

"Our child!" he countered, placing a tender hand over her tummy.

"Yes," she agreed softly, putting her hand over his. "You do know it's too soon to feel anything…"

"Yes. Did Peter give you a due date?"

"He's guessing I'm about two months along, so we should be parents around the end of May."

He shook his head. "This is all so hard to believe! You make the impossible possible! If I were to ask you to relieve the world of all sickness and injustice, could you do that too?"

She gave him an indulgent smile and asked, "Well, we are opening a medical and legal clinic…will that do for a start?"

"Yes, my love," he told her, and then as a thought struck, he laughed.

"What?" she asked.

"So Peter wants to be with us when we tell Father the news?"

Catherine laughed too. "Yes, he said he'd pay good money to be there. How much do you think we should hit him up for?"

"Well. if we didn't already have more money than I think we could even spend, we could have asked him for a donation to the clinic. How about, instead, we make him do the recruiting for the medical staff to work there?"

"That's a great idea!"

Vincent then hesitantly asked, "When do you want to break the news? I'm afraid if we do it before the wedding everyone will change focus."

"You're right there. How about if we find a moment with Father, and Peter of course, after the ceremony to tell them, and then while everyone is together at the reception we could make the announcement?"

"Catherine, are you sure? I know our friends have been very supportive of us getting married, but we don't know how they'll react to us having a child."

"Vincent, they'll be as overjoyed as I am! Why would you think otherwise?"

"They might worry that the baby could look like me…"

Understanding dawned! He wasn't worried others would think that, he was worried about it himself. "Vincent, I do hope that our child looks like you!" Catherine declared fiercely.

"Catherine! Why?!"

"Because I defy you to look into the face of our son or daughter and tell me that he or she isn't beautiful! Maybe then you'll finally understand what I feel when I look at you!"

There was a long moment of silence as he considered her words and tested the truth through the Bond. Taking her into his arms, Vincent said, "Catherine, you never cease to amaze me with the depth of your love for me and your understanding of my fears."

"So we'll announce the baby at the reception? Or are you worried about their reaction to me being pregnant before we've had our wedding night?"

"I'm sure even as sheltered as some of the tunnel residents are, they can count and will know when the baby is born seven months after the wedding that we were 'active' before the ceremony," he told her with a grin.

"We could try and attribute it to your unique DNA," she offered with a matching grin.

A thoughtful look came over his face and Catherine wondered if he was considering that possibility or if he was coming up with new worries about his uniqueness and the pregnancy. Hugging him tightly she reassured him, "Vincent, everything will be just fine! Remember I'll have not one, but two, worrywart doctors overseeing every second of the pregnancy. You know between Peter and Father I'll be driven nearly crazy with 'care'!"

He came around enough to give her a faint grin and nod, then asked, "Is there any more that needs to be done here before the movers come?"

"No, I have everything tagged to where it should go. Mouse and company will be here later tonight to get everything that goes Below. Most of the furniture will stay here for Jenny when she moves in. All my personal things that go to the new apartment will be picked up tomorrow. I think everything is ready. All we have to do now is relax and have our last few fittings for our wedding outfits."

His grin turned to a frown at that and he said, "You might be able to relax during a fitting, but in my last one Mary stuck me seven times with pins!"

Catherine tried to keep from laughing, she really did, but the urge was irresistible as she remembered her conversation about that very topic. "I know, dear, but you have to stand still for a fitting. Mary said you wiggled more than the children do!"

"I didn't know Mary had a mean streak either! Somehow I believe Jenny relayed the conversation about tights and Mary threatened me with them!"

"Although I still think you would be incredibly sexy in them, I'll make sure that doesn't happen, my love."

"Thank you, Catherine!"

The two of them decided to spend the night there at the apartment since Mouse would arrive soon to help them move things. Because the kitchen things had already been packed up Catherine said she would order pizza for dinner, then she remembered Vincent's first pizza experience and she ordered for everyone. Vincent smiled indulgently at how willing she was to spoil him and his family and friends at every opportunity. When the delivery boy arrived, Vincent stayed hidden in the bedroom until he was gone. He emerged just as the doorbell rang again. About to retreat, Catherine assured him he didn't have to as she looked through the peephole.

Moments later Mouse, Caleb, Kanin, and Michael came into the apartment, sniffing at the aroma of pizza. Mouse was ready to dig in until Caleb swatted his hand and said, "Ask first, Mouse!"

"More here than Vincent can eat! Has to be for us!" he protested.

"It is, Mouse, but it's still good manners to ask first," Vincent admonished gently.

"Okay good, okay fine. Catherine, can Mouse have some?"

With a laugh, she informed him that he could as Michael protested, "You could have asked for all of us!"

Catherine and Vincent both laughed as Mouse just grinned at the others, his mouth already full of pizza. "Please everyone, dig right in. I did get it for all us," Catherine invited them, as they quickly did as they were told.

After the pizza was consumed, their crew got down to work and before long everything Catherine wanted Below was installed in Vincent's chamber. Many of his things had already been moved to the home they would share together.

Catherine remembered the night before with a fond smile. The two of them had been unpacking Vincent's things and choosing the best places to put them around their new home. Their new furniture had been selected from catalogs since Vincent couldn't go out shopping with her and the last of the things they'd ordered had arrived on Tuesday.

Vincent had asked the work crew to finish up the bathroom that morning without him. Since Catherine's wondrous announcement last night, he had something very special he had to do that morning. He considered himself lucky to find what he was looking for in the third storage room he had searched through. Wrapping his find in a large blanket so no one could see what it was, he transported it on his shoulder to their new home.

When he arrived he was questioned as to what he had hidden, but all he would tell them was that it was a surprise for Catherine. That seemed to satisfy them. They returned to work sharing knowing grins with each other.

Late in the afternoon a white panel van pulled up in front of the Faber Building. Since they weren't expecting any deliveries, Caleb went down to see what they wanted. Vincent remained out of sight, but close by in case there was trouble.

It turned out to be trouble all right, but of the brotherly kind! Devin and Charles had arrived. As soon as they were inside the building, Vincent came out to greet them. Hugging Devin first, he then turned to open his arms to Charles, not knowing if he would be receptive to a hug or not.

With a tear sliding down his cheek at the easy acceptance he received from Vincent, Charles stepped into the hug and returned it. Once the welcomes were out of the way, Devin couldn't wait to ask, "So, where is the blushing bride, little brother?"

Vincent quickly checked the Bond to see where Catherine was and happily told his brother, "She should be here any minute."

Even though the work crew and Charles were still in the room, Devin felt the need to tease, "So has the Old Man given you the 'birds and bees' talk or do you need my expert advice in that respect?"

Caleb came to his friend's defense. "Since he's been spending many nights Above since the engagement announcement and the tapestry on his door has been getting more use than in all the years it's been there, I'm pretty sure Vincent doesn't need any 'help' in that area!"

Having only been sexually active for two months, and being a very private person on top of that, this was a subject that Vincent still didn't feel comfortable discussing. So he retreated in his usual manner. He lowered his head so his hair would fall forward and hide his expression.

Catherine breezed through the door just as that happened and gave a fake sigh. "If Vincent is embarrassed, that must mean Devin's arrived!"

Everyone but Devin laughed at that comment; even Charles gave a faint chuckle. Devin, on the other hand, tried to look offended but failed miserably when he couldn't control his pleased grin.

Devin watched the change come over his younger brother when Cathy entered the room. It was astounding! Vincent straightened up to his full and impressive height, his chest seemed to swell with pride, and his eyes sparkled as if a light had been lit behind them. You only had to look at him to see that he was a man in love!

Completely unwilling to quell his mischievous nature, Devin wanted to test Vincent's reaction. "Hey, Cathy! I bet you've missed me!" he exclaimed and swept her into his arms for a more-than-brotherly kiss.

Everyone was too stunned to react at first, even Catherine, but finally the silence was broken by Mouse saying, "Not good, worse than bad!" The others on the work crew laughed at that.

Vincent, however, had taken a step forward, prepared to pull Devin away from Catherine, when she took matters into her own hands. Pushing him away from her, she debated for a second about slapping the smug look off of his face before remembering that he WAS Vincent's brother. "If you EVER do that again, you'll be permanently singing for the girls' choir!" she snapped and then stepped over to Vincent to give him a reassuring hug.

Devin grinned at Catherine as if he didn't believe her, until he saw the look in her eye telling him that she did mean every word. Trying to laugh it off, he turned to his brother for support and found the same look of determination that was on Cathy's face. Deciding that a change of subject was in order, he cheerfully asked, "So, what is everyone going as to the wedding?"

Mouse brightened and replied, "Mouse going as Arthur! Arthur said it okay!"

The laughter at Mouse's comment relieved the tension and the conversation moved on to what culinary delight William might be serving for dinner that evening. All of them moved towards the tunnel entrance in the basement, because talk of dinner had reminded them that they were hungry.

Over dinner everyone seemed to be talking at once. People wanted to catch up with Devin and Charles. The children were focused on their costumes and trick or treating after the reception. But without a doubt, the main topic of conversation was the wedding.

The next bit of excitement was when Jenny hurried into the dining hall just as they finished eating. Charles tried to hide his face from this stranger as she approached the table he was sharing with Devin, Vincent, Catherine, Father, and Mary.

With a gentle grin she held out her hand to him and said, "Hi, you must be Charles. Vincent and Catherine have told me so much about you! I'm Jenny Aronson."

Charles shyly reached out to take her hand and quietly said, "Hello."

Devin gave her a dashing grin as he stood and offered her his hand. "Hi, I'm Devin, the Fuzz's older brother."

Taking in the brashly confident man, she just couldn't resist trying to take the wind out of his sails. "Ah, yes," she sighed sadly, "Cathy did say she'd gotten the better-looking brother!"

There was a moment of stunned silence and then everyone began laughing. Vincent looked over at Catherine to confirm that she had told her friend this and she nodded at him with a chuckle. His blush was the cause for even more laughter.

The rest of the evening passed with everyone catching up with each other. Before long it was time for the children to be sent to bed, but they wouldn't go before getting a story from Devin. He always told the best stories, because they were always about all the people and places he had visited.

It seemed like the last day before the wedding everyone was conspiring to keep the happy couple apart. They had spent the night in Vincent's chamber together, but as soon as breakfast was over they were pulled in different directions. Catherine had her last fitting and then was needed desperately in the kitchen to answer William's last-minute questions about the feast he was preparing for the reception. Vincent's presence was demanded by the children for the final dress rehearsal of the play that they were going to put on at the reception. They had hoped to meet for lunch and then sneak away for a few hours of time alone. That, however, was not the way things turned out.

Catherine only had time to grab a quick sandwich as Jenny informed her they had forgotten a majorly important piece of wedding attire! So, the two of them spent over an hour that afternoon garter shopping.

Vincent could sense her amusement and frustration at such a silly errand when all the two of them wanted was to spend some time together. They knew that plans were made to keep them apart that evening as well. Not intentionally, you understand, but each was to be going to a party in their honor that neither of them really wanted to attend.

Jenny and Nancy were going to take Cathy out for a night on the town. It was to be her bachelorette party. No matter how much she protested that she had no desire to celebrate her "last night of freedom," her two friends wouldn't hear of her getting out of this traditional wedding ritual.

Devin had announced his intention to give Vincent a "traditional" bachelor party as well, but had made sure to do it within Father's hearing. He, of course, got just the reaction he'd intended. Father had exploded! After letting the "Old Man" rant on for a time, Devin admitted that he'd only been kidding. Those hearing that, with the exception of Vincent and possibly Charles who knew him so well, didn't know whether to believe that, or if he was just claiming it after the fact to mollify Father.

Instead, Devin said, of the "traditional" party, any of the tunnel males of legal age were invited to the Mirror Pool to share in some good quality alcohol and storytelling around a campfire. Father was much more approving of this plan, but promised himself to keep an eye on both Devin and Vincent's alcohol intake so they weren't still drunk for the wedding!

That night Cathy, Jenny, and Nancy had a pajama party after their night on the town at Cathy's old apartment. They talked of their college days and how different their lives had turned out from their younger plans. And of course as the night wore on and they all became a little tipsy, talk turned to questions of Cathy and Vincent's love life…okay, her friends were really more interested in their sex life! Cathy, after much protesting that this was a "private" issue, finally broke down and told them most of what they wanted to know.

She didn't reveal that Vincent had been a virgin, or how shy he had been at first. Instead, she told them what a kind and considerate lover he was, always making sure her pleasure came before his own. Both of her friends sighed dreamily at that, recalling lovers they'd had that weren't that way at all, although Nancy assured them her husband was a very considerate lover too. Jenny mourned ever finding someone she'd want to spend the rest of her life with.

Cathy grinned and suggested Devin. Jenny groaned and said she'd rather have someone a bit more mature. An idea came to Cathy that almost had her smacking her hand into her forehead for not having come up with it earlier. She would introduce Jenny to Joe! He was a very mature and responsible guy, in fact, too much so at times! Maybe a free spirit like Jenny would be just what he needed to loosen him up a bit and introduce some fun into his life!

Finally, the three of them wound down enough to go to sleep. However, Below, the male members of the tunnel community were still going strong. They had gathered at the Mirror Pool around a campfire and the bottles of alcohol were being passed around freely. The more they circled the looser tongues became. Kanin told a few "marriage" stories and then Devin started to tell stories about the many and varied women in his life. So in the tunnels it was nearly dawn before sleep came to those gathered around the Mirror Pool.

The day of the wedding was as bright and sunny as Catherine could have hoped for Vincent. There was just a hint of a nip in the air telling that fall had well and truly arrived, but the day would not be ruined by needing to wear coats over their costumes. Catherine stood on her balcony for the last time looking down at the Park where she would finally fulfill her dream in just a few hours.

Jenny joined her, bringing with her a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Nancy was in the shower, Catherine had already had hers and Jenny would be next. This was probably the only time the two would have alone together for the rest of the day.

"So today is your big day," Jenny said.

"Yours will come, Jenny, I'm sure of it."

"Oh, sweetie, thank you, but today is, and should be, all about you! I just want to say how very happy I am for you!"

"Thanks, Jenny," Cathy said in a sort of choked-up voice.

"You and Vincent are like a dream come true. He's so magnificent and the two of you are so perfect together! I wish that I could have known about him from the beginning, but now I understand why you made all those changes in your life."

Hugging her dear friend, Catherine could only say thank you once again. Nancy then came out to announce that the shower was free. As soon as Jenny finished, the three of them would head down to the tunnels to dress.

The three's arrival in the tunnels became a concerto of skill in keeping the happy couple apart while the dressing for the wedding occurred. Finally Catherine was dressed and escorted out of the tunnels with a large female entourage. They arrived at the Park where the ceremony was to take place to find that it had been transformed into a magical wonderland.

Taking in the immense amount of work the tunnel dwellers had done to make this day even more special for her and Vincent almost brought Catherine to tears. She was overwhelmed at the visual expression of their love for her and Vincent. These people had taken her into their hearts as one of their own, and the fact that their most beloved son loved her didn't hurt either. It was like gaining a whole new family after she and her father had been alone for so many years. That was one of the reasons her father's passing had been easier on her than her mother's.

Vincent had spotted Catherine the moment she had entered the Park and now he stood there watching her as her emotions swirled about. Joy had been the predominant theme through the Bond since she'd awakened that morning. Throughout the morning she'd felt silly, concerned, anticipation, frazzled, and a bit lonely. However all of those emotions had taken a back seat to the happiness in her heart.

When she arrived in the Park he could tell how pleased and grateful she was about the work that had gone into decorating the area. Then he sensed her thoughts go to her parents and felt the regret at not having them with her on this special day.

He didn't have to see her face to know the moment she saw him because he felt the leap of her heart. The love flowing through the Bond washed over him like never before. If he'd had any doubts at all that this was truly what Catherine wanted, they were forever laid to rest in that moment.

Their eyes met and they shared a special smile before she was distracted by Father and Peter's approach. Nancy, Jamie, and Jenny took their places in front of the other three, and when the music started slowly walked across the bridge to the archway of red and white roses where the men were waiting. They took their places and everyone stood as the Bridal March began to play.

Catherine linked her arms through both Peter and Father's arms and the three of them slowly started forward. Having timed out the minutes it would take them because of Father's limp, she had made sure the musicians would continue to play even if they reached the end of the song and had to start over again.

She had thought that when this day arrived she would only have eyes for Vincent once she started down the aisle, but instead Catherine found herself looking at all the faces in the crowd. Even with costumes on most of them were recognizable to her. She was amazed at how many of her old friends were there, as well as her co-workers from the office. Joe and Edie were standing next to each other, she saw Nancy's family, and even District Attorney Moreno was there. After spotting Isaac Stubbs, a strong feeling of unease came over her.

Catherine's eyes scanned the crowd to see if she could figure out why she was having this feeling. Vincent had also become aware that something wasn't quite right. The Bond telegraphed her disquiet to him.

Then she spotted the reason for her feelings. There was someone in the crowd that had definitely NOT been invited!

Her eyes met his and even as she wondered how he'd learned about the wedding, she could see the intense pain in his eyes - eyes that pleaded with her not to go through with this, begged her not to marry anyone that wasn't him. Even as she slowly came level with the row he was in, Catherine could almost touch the agony he was experiencing.

This was why you didn't invite a man that you knew loved you to your wedding to another!

Catherine dropped her eyes to the flowers that she carried, unable to look at him any longer. Her heart wept for his pain, but there was no one she would ever consider marrying but Vincent. Knowing she could draw strength from him, Catherine looked up to search for his gaze, only to find that her beloved was staring at the cause of her unrest.

Glancing back at Elliot Burch, Catherine found that since she had passed him, he was now staring at Vincent. She could easily read Vincent's feelings over what was happening, and knew that he was wondering if she still had any lingering feelings for the other man.

Elliot was just as easy to read simply because of what she knew of him and the expression on his face. He was wondering why he'd never heard of Vincent before this. Why were they having such an unusual wedding? Why had she chosen Vincent over him? And finally he wanted to know who the man under the mask was!?

Catherine and her escorts had reached the flowered archway by this time and it wasn't until the reverend asked, "Who gives this woman to be wed to this man?" that Vincent's eyes were pulled away from Elliot and back to what was happening.

Both Peter and Father answered, "We do," and turned to take their seats. Catherine reached out to take Vincent's hand and give it a reassuring squeeze. Their eyes met and she saw the questions that could tear his heart in two. Knowing that he loved her enough to step aside even at the last minute like this told her once again that he was the only choice for her. Beaming him a smile, she mouthed, "I love YOU!"

Vincent lowered his eyes for a moment, humbled once again that knowing she could have a man like Elliot Burch, she still chose him! His eyes came up again as the ceremony started.

Catherine and Vincent both froze, and waited in tense anticipation when the reverend asked, "If anyone has any objections to this union, let him speak now or forever hold his peace." Both feared that this would be the opening that Elliot needed to voice his objections to the wedding. They were worried that this might be the very reason he was there.

But after the traditional few seconds' pause, no one had spoken up and the reverend continued on with the service. He asked them to face each other and told the congregation that they would recite their own vows. Vincent was first, and chose Shakespeare's twenty-ninth sonnet. After all, as he had once told her, Shakespeare knew everything!

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,

Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;

For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Vincent added his own words to those of the famous bard. "Catherine, you are the lark in my day and as long as you promise to love me until my dying day, then I wouldn't change my state with a king!"

Catherine took a moment to control her tears before she could reply, "I will!" Then she began her own vows. Even though she had used the same passage in her father's eulogy, there simply wasn't anything else that expressed her feelings for Vincent so clearly.

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

She added her own words, "Vincent, you are the most real thing in my life and I hope that you will love me long after my hair has gone gray and I have become loose in the joints."

"I will," he answered with a tender grin.

When they were pronounced husband and wife, a cheer went up from the crowd that only grew louder when Vincent was told he could kiss his bride. Knowing Vincent's reticence about public displays of affection, Catherine expected a brief chaste kiss; what she received was anything but!

Whether it was the cheers from the crowd that urged him on, or a still-lingering shred of doubt, or perhaps it was simply to lay claim to "his" woman because Elliot Burch was in the crowd, the kiss was one of the most passionate he'd ever given her! So much so, in fact, that there were several interesting reactions among the witnesses: couples began thinking how quickly they could sneak away; parents wondered whom they could get to watch their children that night; single men and women alike, that had no partner at that time, looked on with envy; young girls dreamed of "someday" while the young boys looked away thinking 'ick'! Devin wondered how soon he might become an uncle, and Elliot Burch started out of the Park.

Catherine, after her first second of surprise, threw her arms around Vincent's neck and responded with all she was worth. It wasn't until an amused Devin cleared his throat that they separated. The reverend introduced them as Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Wells, and amid fresh cheers they made their way down the aisle.

As they walked past where Elliot had been, Catherine looked over to see how he was doing, only to find him gone. Looking around to see if she could spot him, it was Vincent who squeezed her arm and nodded in the direction of the road. There was Elliot, about to climb into the back of a limo, his driver holding the door open for him. As if sensing Catherine's eyes on him, he looked back towards them. Seeing Catherine staring at him, he paused, then simply nodded his head at her and got into the car. She had a feeling that he had just disappeared from her life for good.

"Catherine, are you all right?" Vincent asked her.

"Yes, Vincent, I'm fine," she answered with a tender smile.

"He still loves you," he told her quietly.

"But I'm a married woman now," she sighed.

"Yes, you are." He smiled down at her and gave her a brief kiss as the rest of the wedding party took their places beside them in the reception line. Vincent was embarrassed at just how many kisses the groom got, much to Catherine's amusement.

The plan was that they would serve cake and punch to everyone at the wedding, and as the tunnel residents finished eating they would start to slip away back to the tunnels so there wasn't a large exodus at one time. After an hour had passed, Vincent and Catherine would thank everyone for coming and slip away themselves. That would be the signal for the remaining tunnel dwellers to clear away the mess and rejoin everyone Below for the massive lunch William had planned.

Parents had warned the children that this was a special event and that was why they were getting dessert first, but that they had better not fill up on it since lunch would be served shortly. Devin and Jenny would load Devin's van and take the wedding gifts to the new apartment where Vincent and Catherine could open them at their leisure.

When the newlyweds arrived in the Great Hall, cheers went up from those gathered to partake of the luncheon prepared. Vincent and Catherine were shown to the front of the line where William himself served them. Taking their loaded plates to the head table, they sat and waited for the others to go through the line before eating. Mary joined them at the head table and encouraged them to start. She scolded that they didn't want their food to grow cold and thereby insult William. With sheepish grins they began to eat.

As people finished eating and the tables and chairs were being moved to the edges of the Hall so there would be room for dancing, Vincent and Catherine looked for an opportunity to get Father, Mary, and Peter off to the side. When they finally had all three rounded up and in a semi-private area, Vincent shuffled his feet just a bit nervously. Peter was grinning like a Cheshire cat because he was pretty sure what was going to be said.

Catherine looked at her new husband and gently asked, "Do you want me to, Vincent?"

Taking a deep breath, he shook his head no and then announced softly so as not to be overheard, "Father, Mary, Catherine and I are expecting a child."

Mary was beside herself with joy for the young couple. She couldn't decide who to hug first so put an arm around each of them and pulled them close as she exclaimed, "Oh, my dears, I'm SO happy for you!"

As this was going on, Dr. Peter Alcott watched with amusement as Jacob Wells stood there in stunned silence.

For so long he had believed that his youngest son would live out his life alone because of his unique appearance. But as Vincent came into his teenage years, Father saw that the girls were very attracted to him. There were many reasons he discouraged this interest in his son, but through it all he even convinced himself that it was in Vincent's best interests. After the incident with Lisa, it was made clear that Vincent was only to be a brother to the females of the tunnels and nothing more. When Catherine came into Vincent's life years later, Father once again began the lectures of a life that could never be with his son. For a while Vincent seemed to listen and refrained from seeing the woman from Above. Then there came a day when Vincent could no longer stay away from her and the relationship with Catherine began.

He tried to keep Vincent away from her and whenever she came Below, he was as cold to her as he could be without causing problems in the community. Then she went and saved his and Vincent's life! After that it became harder and harder to dislike her. No matter the trials she and Vincent went through, she remained. He admitted that he had based a lot of his feelings against Catherine on what had happened between himself and Margaret, but her actions in getting them back together had changed his view of wealthy socialites forever.

By the time they had announced their engagement, he had come to love and respect Catherine and consider her a fit mate for his son. Now Catherine had once again proven him wrong! Not only wouldn't his son face a life alone, he was to become a father! Which would make him a grandfather!

As this realization hit, he became aware of four pairs of eyes staring at him. Peter and Mary as well as Catherine and Vincent were all waiting for his response to the news. As a tear slid down his weathered cheek, he said, "You children have blessed this old man more that I could ever have hoped for! Today we officially welcomed you to the family, dear Catherine, and here you are already making it larger! When will you announce this happy news?"

"We thought we would do so here today, Father," Vincent replied.

"I think that would be perfect," Father answered him.

Reaching out to hug him, Catherine simply said, "Thank you, Father."

Vincent walked over to where the musicians had just finished tuning up and held up his hand to get everyone's attention. They quickly quieted down when they saw that it was Vincent that had something to say to them. Holding out his hand to Catherine, he waited until she reached his side before starting to speak. Placing his arm around her shoulders, he said, "Catherine and I would like to thank all of you for the work you've done to make this day all the more special for us. Thank you also for being here to celebrate with us. You are more than friends to us, you are all family! And as our family, Catherine and I hope that you will rejoice in some wonderful news with us. We are going to have a baby."

It took a single heartbeat before the applause and cheering started. Everyone crowded forward, eager to be the first to congratulate the expectant parents. Vincent actually became concerned for Catherine, so he stepped in front of her slightly to keep her from getting pushed around.

Father and Peter had seen this starting and made their way as quickly as they could through the group to Vincent and Catherine. The tunnel community had become used to Father and his bad hip and instinctively parted for him to pass. Peter took advantage of that and quickly followed in his wake. When the two got to the front, Father held up his hands and waited for quiet. "I'm sure you are all as happy as I am to share this news with Catherine and Vincent, but we also need to remember that this is their wedding day! There will be months to talk of and plan for the baby. Today let's celebrate their marriage! If the band will strike up a waltz, I'm sure they'd like to share their first dance as husband and wife."

With a tender smile Vincent offered his arm to his new bride and escorted her onto the floor. They were alone on the dance floor just as they had been the first time they danced in this room, but this time the music wasn't just in their minds and they weren't completely alone. The room was lined with their family and friends, well-wishers all.

The newlyweds floated across the floor, having eyes only for each other. They were lost in each other's gaze. Soon, with Devin's encouragement, others joined them on the floor and soon they were surrounded by other couples.

Before long Devin cut in on Vincent, claiming that it was time for his best man's dance. So Jenny wasn't left alone, Vincent politely inquired if she would dance with him. In the next hour Catherine lost count of the number of different partners she had. Every time she thought she saw Vincent heading her way, she would once again be swept away by another partner. She didn't have a moment's rest or a minute to even grab a glass of punch.

Vincent was happy that his tunnel family liked Catherine so much that they all wanted to dance with her, but he selfishly wanted to do so as well! The third time he saw Mouse dancing with Catherine he decided to take action! He had only danced with her once! Heading deliberately towards the pair, he firmly cut in. As Mouse pouted but allowed Vincent to take his place, Catherine gave him an exuberant welcoming smile.

Saying nothing, he firmly danced her in the direction of the door. Devin saw what was happening and hurried over to help. He held the great door open for them and Vincent danced them right out of the room.

With a happy wave back at Devin, they hurried off to begin their honeymoon.

As they neared their new home, Vincent stopped her in the tunnel and kissed her thoroughly. Then, sweeping her up into his arms, he carried her to the hidden door that gave them access to the basement of the Faber Building. Even though Catherine protested that it was too soon to pick her up, he didn't put her down. He stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for their door, and didn't even let her down when they reached the door that would guard their privacy. It wasn't until they reached their bedroom that Vincent finally put her on her feet again.

Catherine sighed and said, "Can you believe that we're really married and here in our new home together? There were so many times that I was sure this day would never come."

"For so very long, I didn't believe this was possible. There have been days since our engagement when I woke to think that it was all just a dream."

A mischievous grin appeared on her face and she offered, "I could pinch you!"

"I don't think that will be necessary, Catherine," he told her with all the dignity he could muster. "I will just live each day that we have left eternally grateful that you love me."

"Oh, Vincent! We are both truly blessed to have found each other and now to have a baby on the way as well!" She tenderly placed a hand over her still flat tummy.

"That doesn't feel real either! Maybe once the baby starts moving or you start showing…"

"Don't remind me! There goes my figure!" she exclaimed with a fake sigh.

Vincent laughed and said, "Don't worry, my love, I'll still love you when you're fat."

"Just you remember that it's your fault that I'll be fat!"

He laughed again and took her into his arms for a kiss, thinking that she had something to do with it too, but being too much of a gentleman to say so. Talking was quickly forgotten as they helped each other out of their wedding finery and made love for the first time as a married couple.

They slept for a time in each other's arms. When Catherine awoke she laid staring at her husband for a while and then, with an eager smile, she got out of bed and walked to the closet.

Vincent felt her absence beside him and woke in time to see her walk across the room as naked as the day she was born. That thought made him think of Peter and the story he always told about his and Catherine's first meeting.

What amazed him the most was how unselfconscious she was about her nudity around him. Ever since they'd become lovers, she never hesitated to get out of bed and head to the bathroom or kitchen without putting anything on. He was still very aware of his nakedness around her and, although Catherine's love had gone a long way towards erasing his fears about how his physical appearance would affect her, he was still a very modest person.

While he'd been contemplating such matters, Catherine had reached into the closet, pulled out a lovely green velour robe, and slipped it on. She reached in again and this time pulled out one in deep blue. She turned to come back to the bed and saw that Vincent was awake.

"Hi," she said softly.

With a wide grin he said, "Hi, yourself. Why are you out of bed and getting dressed?"

"I'd hardly call a robe 'getting dressed'!" she laughed, handing him the blue robe. "Will you come with me? I have a surprise to show you."

"Is this the reason I wasn't allowed on the roof for the past two days?" he asked, getting out of bed and quickly putting on the robe.

"Yes, I wanted to create something special for you. I hope that you'll love it."

"I'm sure I will."

"Will you bring that comforter?" she requested, pointing to the one on the foot of the bed. Vincent picked it up and followed her to the stairs that led to the roof.

The two of them climbed the stairs and when they reached the roof door, Catherine asked him to close his eyes. Trusting her completely, he took the hand she offered and closed his eyes.

She led him to where she wanted and then asked him to wait a moment. He nodded and she let go of his hand and removed her robe. With a grin she reached out and untied the belt of his as he stood there unsuspectingly with his eyes closed. His start of surprise had him opening is eyes and demanding, "Catherine, what are you doing? We're outside!!! "

"Yes, I know!" she giggled. "This is your surprise," she told him.

"Being outside naked is my surprise?!" he gasped.

"No, silly, this is!" she said and gestured to the rooftop that he hadn't even looked at yet.

His eyes followed her gesture and saw for the first time all the work she'd done up here to surprise him. There was an odd-looking wood-framed couch with a matching low table in front of it. There was also a small round glass-topped table with two wrought iron chairs at it. Large potted plants and some small trees were placed around, adding to the feeling of a park-like atmosphere. "Catherine, this is amazing!"

"I was hoping that you would like it. If you go to the other side of the couch," she directed as she went to one side, "All you need to do is pull out the peg there in the side and when the back drops, then place it in the holes that align at the bottom. Now the couch is a bed!"

He did as she directed, watching in amazement as this happened. "What is this? I've never seen anything like it before!"

"It's called a futon. I gave Kanin a picture of it and he made it for us. Of course I had to stop Mouse from adding what he insisted were essential gizmos!" she laughed.

Vincent laughed along with her at the thought of their young friend and his gizmos. Mouse was a wonder, but should never be allowed to do things unsupervised! Vincent wondered if Mouse would ever outgrow the childlike innocence he had. But now was not the time to be thinking of Mouse. He and his new bride were still standing on the roof of a building in the middle of the city without clothes on! "Catherine, this is wonderful, but do we really have to be naked to enjoy it?"

"Actually, yes, we do!" she laughed as she reached out to take the comforter from him. Spreading it over the futon, she climbed under it and motioned for him to join her. "The decorating is only part of my surprise to you," she told him. "The rest of it is we can make love here, sleep here, and best of all wake to the sunrise…" She waited expectantly for his response to this, the best part of her surprise.

"Wake to the sunrise? Here, outside?" The wonder in his eyes was all she could have hoped for. She could tell how stunned he was by the fact that he was still standing there naked when he could have been crawling under the comforter with her.

"Vincent, don't you want to join me under here?" she asked him with so much love in her eyes.

He shook his head slightly and then with a sheepish grin joined her. "Catherine, you never cease to amaze me!" he whispered tenderly.

"I hope I never will, my love!" she answered.

Vincent was becoming more confident in his rights as a lover and now a husband and boldly took her into his arms. Their kisses quickly heated up and they began to caress each other as the cool night breeze caressed any area of their bodies that remained outside of the comforter's warmth.

During their time as lovers, Vincent had discovered many things that pleased Catherine. One of them was when he nuzzled his furry nose in the bend of her neck. He would lightly tickle her with the short hairs on his nose and it would drive her wild. She would squirm and wiggled under his gently restraining hands. Catherine would beg and then demand to be set free.

Usually when she reached the demanding stage he would relent and let her go. He would then be rewarded by her rolling over on top of him and receiving her assurance that she would make him suffer for what he'd done!

Oh, and suffer he did! First, she would usually punish his offending nose by placing kisses down the fuzzy length of it. She was, however, mean when she ignored his eagerly waiting lips and proceeded on down his neck. Then the search began for his nipples, hidden among the mat of fur on his chest. Vincent truly suspected that she often prolonged the search much longer that necessary just to torment him. However, when she did find her goal, she began her torture once again. Sucking and nibbling them until he was the one writhing in desire. Then the cruelest punishment of all, she would slide down his body until she could take his shaft into her mouth and eagerly lick and suck him to completion.

Then, as he was recovering, she would lie herself down next to him openly displayed, indicating that she was more than ready to have the punishment returned.

They would lie and softly exchange words of love while they both recovered, and then would make love to each other in what Vincent called the "traditional way." After all, deep in his heart he was a very traditional man!

He did so truly love nuzzling her neck! Catherine giggled and then groaned when he began to do so after their kiss.

In the afterglow of their lovemaking, Catherine propped herself up on his chest and playfully looked down into his eyes. She asked, "So, after this, do you think that you will miss my balcony?"

Smiling back at her lovingly, he replied, "Catherine, no matter that we are on a roof rather than your balcony, you will always be my lady of the balcony to me."

THE END