A Slow and Steady Light
(Author’s Note: This story follows Beautiful Things and Touch, located in Tunnel Tales.)
The lantern was held aloft and cast a warm glow on the tunnel walls. Catherine watched the shifting patterns of light and shadow as she trailed behind Vincent, far from the populated tunnels, moving down with him into the earth. At intervals, steam from unknown sources swirled around their feet like the white water of a phantom river. She had to smile to herself. Where would Stephen, Tom, or Elliot have taken her on a honeymoon? Paris, Venice, the Maldives? She could have gone anywhere with them, seen any wonder of the world. Yet here she was, underground, and her anticipation was unbearable.
She looked down at her feet again and a feeling of déjà vu rose in wispy tendrils with the steam. It was before her mother’s illness; she was eight-years-old and they were visiting the Grand Canyon. Daddy parked the Oldsmobile at a lookout on the north rim. Young Catherine climbed out of the car, slowly for blinking, and walked to the precipice. There at the railing, looking over the expanse, she marveled how this place could be in the world. And now once more she was experiencing something beyond the natural realm, and he was walking right in front of her.
Vincent. The lantern light illuminated him as well. He certainly looked other-worldly. Strands of his golden hair flashed like sun flares, and stars glittered among the folds of his cloak. My very own celestial body. That thought grabbed and held on, and Vincent’s pace slowed to a stop. He turned around. Shoot, betrayed by the bond again. She grinned at him, so happy that she no longer had to guard her thoughts. "What?" All innocence now.
"What are you thinking, Catherine?" The spark in his eyes tripped her pulse.
"Geography. Astronomy." He looked unconvinced, but said nothing. "Would I lie to you?" He tilted his head as he considered her question. Her smile grew wider. "What’re you thinking about?"
For a moment, Vincent debated giving a full confession, but decided that the fewer the words, the better. He leaned down, slowly enough for Catherine to have time to moisten her lips – but no. She looked at him, trying to learn his intent. He kissed a cheek. Lifted. Kissed the other cheek. Paused. Pressed his mouth to her forehead. Waited. She lifted her chin, and then he came to her mouth. The kiss they had shared only hours before at the joining ceremony was brief and chaste, conscious of its public place. This kiss was no less brief, so why was she left breathless, wanting? Her body tingled in private places, and she knew that he could feel it. His eyes bore into hers; he stroked her hair and straightened. "We’re almost there."
"Oh." The air down here seemed thin. "Good."
The chamber appeared on the right. Vincent looked in and was pleased. His instructions had been followed to the letter. It was a large, comfortable space with simple furnishings: a small wooden table flanked by two chairs, an antique armoire containing towels and blankets, a sideboard for kitchen supplies, and an overstuffed armchair. Two large Persian rugs, faded with age, covered the floor. But it was the bed that dominated the room. A bundle of dried strawflowers, tied with satin ribbon, lay across the pillows, just as he had requested. Another bouquet in chipped Limoges graced the table. And candles, candles everywhere, on every flat surface, and tucked away in nooks and crannies. Mouse had scavenged well. He stepped back and allowed Catherine to enter first. Her expression told him that all of his planning had been worth it.
"Oh Vincent," she breathed. She looked around and slipped off her shoes; this place was too fine for footwear. She began a circuit of the room, fingering the furniture as she went, until she reached the bed. The cream-colored bedspread was vintage chenille. Twin peacocks, plumage spread, faced each other proudly. She touched their cobalt feathers then picked up the profusion of strawflowers. Purple, pink, lemon, white; the crisp, pointed petals were papery to the touch. Her mother’s favorite. Every summer until her death these flowers had grown in a long row in the back garden. How could he have known? Catherine heard Vincent come up behind her, felt his hand on her shoulder. Her throat ached. "My mother called these everlasting flowers. The colors never fade." Carefully she returned the bundle to the bed and turned around. Her eyes brimmed with tears. "It’s all so lovely," she whispered. He gathered her in his arms and for several minutes simply held her. Finally rousing herself, she leaned back. "What is this place?"
"A sanctuary for people who need some privacy."
"It’s four-star, Vincent."
He smiled. "I’m glad you approve." He set their pack down beside the bed. "Are you hungry?"
"You mean for food?"
He gave a short laugh but answered her seriously. "You ate next to nothing at the party and we just walked for two hours."
"I honestly don’t know if I can eat anything."
Vincent took in her wave of soft hair, almond eyes, and generous lips. He barely restrained himself from scooping her up. "Catherine – if you don’t eat now, you will not be eating for some time."
She tried to stem the flow of images his words implied; she sighed and moved to the sideboard. "You’re right. Let’s see what’s on the menu."
Several minutes later they had assembled a simple meal and sat down at the wooden table. Catherine bowed her head and closed her eyes.
Vincent was surprised. "Are you praying?"
She looked up. "I’m saying thank you."
"You’re not religious."
"No." She shrugged. "But Someone must love me." She reached across the table and grasped his furred hand in her smooth one. He looked down at her fingers, so delicate. He raised them to his lips.
She watched him surreptitiously as he moved about the chamber, blowing out candles. Although she busied herself at the sideboard putting away food, she found that she could barely concentrate on the task. The cupboards had been generously stocked for their stay. They had muffins and rolls and loaves of freshly-baked bread, a variety of fruits and vegetables, dried meat, canned goods, tins of carefully-packed cakes and cookies, and bottles of water and wine. They would eat simply but healthfully. She cast another glance over her shoulder and saw Vincent lift the strawflowers off the bed and place them on the armchair, safe from the remaining candle flames. Turning back again, she looked down at the butcher-block counter and breathed out heavily. Please come to me. Perhaps he would prolong her suspense. Perhaps he would suggest they read a book together, play Scrabble, discuss Reaganomics….
"Catherine." Two strong arms stole around her waist; a bright head nuzzled hers. Her heartbeat accelerated. He placed a kiss on her neck and she felt the warm breath from his nostrils. "What are you thinking?"
She leaned back into his arms, wondering where to start. She thought of the lingerie she had tucked into the bottom of their bag; flimsy gowns of satin and lace that were better designed for Paris and Venice than for cool underground chambers. But she thought they would please him. "Should I change into something more comfortable?"
He did not answer immediately. From his position behind her, he gazed down the length of her body, lingering at her breasts and hips. She was wearing a plum turtleneck and gray cords, and everything he wanted was under those clothes. He knew his voice trembled but he was beyond caring. "Just your skin."
She turned in his arms and they fell together in a tangle of lips and tongues. Vincent had no experience to guide him, but he had eyes and ears and the gift of their bond, and they told him everything he needed to know. As he took her mouth in hot deep kisses, mewling sounds came from Catherine’s throat. Her skin was flushed; her pupils dark and dilated. His hands came up to anchor her face. He probed with his tongue and stroked her intimately. When he retreated, she advanced and swept the roof of his mouth. A low growling sound – and then Vincent raised his head.
If she had not known him, loved him, the sight of his face would have terrified her. The cords of his neck stood out, his canines gleamed in the candlelight, and his eyes blazed like black diamonds. It was not terror she felt but triumph. This was what she had waited so long to see: her Vincent, finally, accepting himself. And now, some fuel for the fire….
Very deliberately, she leaned in and pressed her breasts to his chest. Rubbed, paused, rubbed again. Her body ached with need. The turtleneck she wore was lightweight and did nothing to hide her state of arousal. Up the ante, Chandler. She tilted her pelvis and rocked against his thigh. Vincent’s growl intensified. Shaking, he reached down and grasped her hips. His clothes, elaborate and multi-layered though they were, did not hide his arousal either. For a long minute they held each other in that fevered grip where any movement increased their torture. Enough! Her hands went to the hem of her sweater.
"No, not yet."
Both of them were panting, wild-eyed, in heat. She started to whimper in protest, but then lowered her hands obediently. "Vincent, please – "
A blush stained his cheeks. "One more minute?" His hands kneaded her hips then moved to cup her shoulders. "I’ve dreamt of this."
She nodded mutely. Oh God, how was she going to survive? She yearned to feel her bare skin against his. Slow down. Patience. You have forever now.
Then his hands were upon her and all thought fled as he gently caressed her breasts and their hardened tips through her sweater. It was incredible. She threw back her head and looked at the rough ceiling. They say that everything is connected, and she could prove it. With every stroke of his fingers across her nipples, she felt a corresponding tightness in the core of her body. She tried to ease the ache by clamping her legs together, but he noticed. He could feel it. So his hands went there, stroking her hips and the curve of her bottom. Then he placed a hand low on her belly and just held her. One second…two…three. Her eyes fastened on his. Please, just do it. Rotating his wrist, he reached low, cupping her between her legs.
If Vincent had not felt the jolt of pleasure through the bond he would have whipped his hand away. But her look of pain was not pain and he kept his hand where it was, squeezing her, supporting her as she sank into the rub. He was sinking too at the sight of this beautiful woman losing herself in his touch. His touch. Oh, how he loved her!
And then she moved upon him, seeking to return the pleasure. Her fingers traveled along his jawline to his chin, stroking the short fur until his lips parted in a warm pant. Her attention then turned to the tender skin of his neck. Something fascinated her there and he watched her curiously. She leaned forward and treasured his Adam’s apple with a moist kiss, then inched her lips across his neck, searching for some particular spot. She must have found what she was looking for because she stopped and gave a strong suck. His body shuddered with surprise and arousal. "What? Catherine…did you just…give me a…?"
"Yup. Pretty adolescent, huh?" she whispered seductively. She didn’t wait for a response but continued her ministrations. Vincent bowed his head and kissed her hair, letting his own mane fall about her like a screen. She started pulling on the lacings of his vest. One of the leather ties knotted up and she grunted in frustration. Quickly he cut through the narrow tie with a sharp claw and tossed the garment onto a wooden chair. Now only a thin cotton shirt shielded his chest from her view.
This was entirely new territory for Vincent, so new that he had to stop himself from clutching his shirt to his body. Who had ever been allowed to undress him or touch him before this night? Father and Mary, certainly, while he was young had freely provided help and affection. But when he had learned to dress himself, when he had left young boyhood behind, the tender touches to bare skin rarely happened. Since then it had only been Father, tending to injuries, who had placed gentle hands under his clothes.
But now Catherine. Now Catherine. And her touch, so different from Father’s, inflamed him. Vincent remembered the words they had spoken to each other at their joining: I am yours and you are mine. Here was his first opportunity to fulfill his vow. Your body is hers now. Let her get used to you. Let her look. So he relaxed his hands and stood his ground, and opened himself up to the waves of love coming to him through their bond.
When she touched him beneath the cotton, she felt his muscles jump and quiver. She guessed that it was costing him mightily to stand still under her hands, but she was greedy to know him. Lovingly she explored the planes of his stomach, then hiked up his shirt to stroke his sculpted chest. The warmth that radiated from him heated her fingertips as she dove through whorls of fur. Overwhelmed, her head sagged against his shoulder. "Please…."
And he would please her. In one brisk motion he swept the shirt over his head and Catherine saw with her eyes what she had just cherished with her fingers. He was copper, beautiful shining copper. Goosebumps rose on her skin and she shivered. His hands went to the hem of her turtleneck. He peeled it off and uncovered a lacy white bra. Lacy, white…sheer. He took two steps back, transfixed by her body. She twisted her arms, reached behind, and unhooked the strap. The lace slid slowly away.
Vincent bent over slightly, trying to relieve the pressure in his groin, but he could not stop staring at her. He had seen one lovely breast the night before at the threshold of her apartment. He had allowed himself a tentative touch, a limited taste. And now there were no limits, and the reality of it pierced him like a lightning bolt. You are mine. The firm, round breasts and dusty rose nipples were his. And Catherine was begging him to touch her again. So he retraced the two steps and reached out with both hands. Warm and full, she fit perfectly in his palms. She moaned and leaned into the caress, seeking more. He flicked her erect nipples with the pads of his thumbs until she cried out. Then she grasped his hands in hers. "Try this." She turned over his hands. Vincent watched uncomprehendingly as she lifted his fingers to her breasts and brushed the peaks with the smooth, hard curves of his pointed nails.
"Catherine! Not my claws!" He would have wrenched his hands away had he not been fearful of hurting her. But she did not let him go.
"No, it’s wonderful." Again she teased the straining tips of her breasts with his nails, then released his hands. She would not force him. Vincent looked at the incongruous sight of his lethal nails upon her, and remembered his pledge once again.
I am yours. Tentatively he copied the movement she had shown him. Over and over, until her body was drawn taut as a bow. Suddenly she leaned over and wrestled off her gray cords and matching socks. He glimpsed long, slender legs and another scrap of lacy material. And then that last lace was gone too. She unfurled, a goddess from a fiery dream.
"Take me to bed Vincent."
Hardly daring to breathe, he bent down, scooped her up, and strode across the room. With one hand he tugged aside the twin peacocks and laid her gently on the sheets. Then he sat at the far edge of the bed and looked upon her body. Her legs were slightly splayed, the dark triangle of springy curls pointing to lips that already glistened with moisture. Lips that were open, inviting.
Vincent had a vast catalogue of pictures in his mind, images of Catherine – in the gown she wore on their first anniversary; rain-drenched in the music chamber; curled up in jeans and a sweatshirt on his bed, reading; and clad in so many silky robes – but from now on it would be this image that he would see, every time he thought of her. Catherine the seductress. Offering herself – to him.
He arched his head, seeking oxygen. He felt like he was drowning in heat. So he stood up and, with an economy of movement that never failed to impress her, removed the rest of his clothes as well.
Oh Vincent. Vincent. He was magnificent, and she rose to her knees. She held out her hand. "Come?" She wasn’t sure he would; he was like a bronze god rooted to the earth. So she kneed her way to the end of the bed and took hold of his softly furred hips. "Come." And she drew him down beside her.
The contact of their bare skin seemed to galvanize Vincent and he took her mouth in a blistering kiss. Nor were his hands idle. They ran from the top of her head to as far down her legs as he could reach, then returned to linger on the central regions of her body. Tenderly he stroked her breasts and her slightly rounded stomach, then reached behind to pet her bottom. Her hands were busy too and she returned stroke for stroke. His response was electric: every new touch elicited a groan or growl, a pant or sigh. Together they rolled around the bed, limbs tangling, mouths crushing, bodies straining for completion. And Vincent, so careful not to harm Catherine with his full weight, nonetheless completely abandoned any attempt to conceal his arousal. His cock burned at her thigh, and her whole attention spiraled to that spot. Suddenly he paused and framed her face in his hands. He bent his forehead to hers. "I love you!" It was half whisper, half sob.
"I love you too," she said as she trailed her fingers down his back.
He nuzzled her ardently. "I want to touch you."
Hot and eager she opened for him, but he was hesitant. "What is it?"
"I’m afraid of hurting you."
Oh, the nails again. "You won’t hurt me." And she took his hand and pressed it between her legs.
Both of them groaned. Vincent, because she was warm and wet; and Catherine, because finally this was no dream. She snuggled into the curve of his shoulder, his arm cushioning her head. She didn’t care anymore how brazen she might seem to him, but she suspected that he wasn’t worried about that since he was dripping pearls of semen onto her thigh. She opened her legs wider and two of his fingers slid into her slippery folds.
Vincent gritted his teeth so hard that his jaw ached. He felt like he was going to burst. He shut his eyes to block the wanton sight before him, but it was no use; the image flashed neon in his brain. Although their lovemaking had barely begun, he knew that she was close to climax. So was he, but he ignored his own body to concentrate on hers.
Still keeping her tucked into his side, he shifted a little so that the arm around her neck reached her breasts. He nestled one warm globe in his palm and softly pinched the nipple. Catherine whimpered and lifted her chest, pleading for more. The minute movements of her hips spoke of another need and slowly, slowly, he started moving his fingers on her wet lips, mesmerized by the feel and smell of her. Mesmerized, too, by the sight of his hand upon her. It no longer looked foreign to him as his fur blended with hers.
Ah, Catherine, my love. He swallowed painfully. Come. As she writhed in his arms, he noted her quick, shallow breathing and the delicate flush on her skin. He probed deeper between her legs, carefully sliding his fingers up and down and up and down. And up. He found what he was looking for: a little round button, pink and hot, hiding just there at the top. Come, my Catherine. He rubbed her gently, slowly, then with increasing frequency until her hips left the bed. Taking her mouth in a searing kiss, he squeezed everything he had his hands on. Catherine cried out as she lost herself. She ground her pelvis into his hand, then fell back against him, exhausted.