By Your Own Accord
Immediately follows "Family"


"Piggy back riding lessons?" Catherine giggled as they entered their chamber. That had been Vincent's excuse to the pair of children they'd passed on their return through the tunnels. "I hope they don't put two and two together and realize that 'piggy back' actually means I should have been riding on your back."

"They should have been in their classes." Vincent explained helplessly. "Their mother will not be amused when she discovers their misbehavior." Looking around their chamber, he delayed putting her down on the pretense that as her personal chauffer, he should leave the decision of destination to her.

The truth? She had been wrapped around his chest, legs still pinching his waist, for almost half-a-mile. With every step, she seemed to cling more tightly, making the journey ... distracting ... to say the least. It was a sensation like no other, and he was loathe to end it, even if it was a required step in their coming dance. Such a battle of needs.

Catherine, fortunately, solved his problem. Her arms looped lightly around his neck, she looked shyly out from beneath her bangs. "On the bed."

Vincent nodded, obeying, then slowly knelt to his knees and deposited her politely on the quilt. Only then, after nearly an hour, did she finally unhook her ankles.

And then he smiled up at her. ... Sitting back on his haunches and resting his forearms upon her thighs. ... Taking a breath and letting it out slowly. ... ... Content. ... ... Anxiousness and desire simmering slowly in his eyes, but otherwise, peacefully waiting for whatever she wished of him. A more subtle flavor of trust he had only recently begun to master.

"Aren't you tired at all?" she asked with a light laugh. Her hand worked at his mane, absently straightening a tangle. Or perhaps she just wanted the touch. "You did all the walking for both of us. Doesn't anything tire you out?"

Vincent cocked his head. "Some things. Perhaps. I believe you could, if you wanted to."

Such lightness of heart absolutely blossomed her smile, raising it practically from ear to ear. With her most coy expression, she leaned forward as if for a kiss ... then paused, just inches away. "Close the tapestry." she instructed.

Two inches. That's all he would have had to traverse to reach her lips. But if there was one thing he knew, it was patience. Tilting his head in a nod of obedience, he did as she asked, returning to the chamber door to lower the heavy, tapestry curtain just in case of Father's return. And when he turned around, she had already kicked off her sneakers and folded her legs beneath herself.

"I was ... very pleased that you came down to the lower chambers today." he commented thoughtfully. He returned to the bed, sitting down beside her. "That you would search me out, even in the newer, less developed tunnels. Our 'frontier', if you will."

He was getting at something. She could tell. Very few of his words were ever without meaning ... she just didn't know what it might be. "I missed you." she replied, affectionately and honestly. "Besides," ... she rose to her knees and repositioned herself at his shoulder. "You look good with a hammer in your hand and sawdust in your hair." Playfully proving her point, she plucked another fleck of wood from his bangs.

He watched her, smiling tenderly. "You're such a wonder." he hushed, the words escaping him before he'd even realized it.

Catherine laughed shyly, not sure what had prompted the compliment, but positive she would someday melt completely away from hearing such things. Coming from this man ... from his good soul ... in the special voice he seemed to reserve only for her ... ... it was like a flame to candle wax.

With difficulty she swallowed around the tightening of her throat, then decided instead to go in pursuit of whatever was causing that ponderous expression on his face. -- -- "What are you thinking, Vincent? Something's spinning in your head. Want to share?"

... ...

Words and deeds from long past swam in his mind's eye. Thoughts that had teased him with a realization earlier ... when the woman he loved had come strolling through that ragged tunnel. Now, under her warm, comforting gaze, they coalesced into a truth.

And she went still further, seeming to instinctually know how to draw these things forth from him. Lowering herself to her haunches, she propped a wrist to his shoulder, and her chin atop that. A brush of his hair out of her way, and her breath was on his cheek.

"Do you remember," he began, taking her other hand between the two of his to lie on his thigh. "Do you recall those days you spent down here, after your father passed?"

"Of course I do." she replied. "They were some of the most amazing days  of my life. I lost my Daddy ... but at the same time ... it was never so clear, what I had also found in you."

Vincent smiled, glancing down as he fondled her fingers. "Do you remember how I kept myself ... away from you?"

Catherine nodded, the movement sending the slightest sway through his shoulder. "You were like a yo-yo." she teased. "Either by my side, holding me while I cried, or hiding yourself away and sending the others to see to my needs."

"I ... ... I didn't want to make you feel pressured. Nor invite the pain that comes from dreaming of impossibilities."

"Not impossibilities." she answered quickly, capturing his fingers and giving them a reminding squeeze. "Never impossible again."

Yes. He knew that now. And gave her the most loving smile in agreement.

"The children probably told you I had been spending some of that time working in the lower chambers." he continued. "It was the same chambers in which I worked today. The same chambers you visited."

"I didn't know they were that new." she mused.

"Your arrival to this world is so recent. You'll learn to discern these things. The rocks are still too rough and ragged for comfortable living. But it is I who cut many of those walls in the first place."

A butterfly fluttered through Catherine's stomach, as she remembered his appearance earlier ... a hammer hanging from his hand as if such exhaustive labor was the easiest, most natural thing in the world for him. Then he could turn around and play with her, read Yeats and Shakespeare to her, make gentle love to her. Even try to cure the world with her. The idea of him cutting through solid rock fit the overall picture so very well.

She crept a little closer, pressing herself more tightly to his side.

"I saw you, Catherine." he stated next, out of the blue. "When I was down there, in those days, working on one of the chambers. It was while I was trying to escape your pull. While you stayed with us in your grief."

That butterfly suddenly flew away in panic.

"You ... 'saw' me?" she stammered. "You mean ... like I saw Daddy?" ... ... ... She had yet to fully come to terms with whatever she had seen that night, when her father 'appeared' to her in one of the guest chambers. She had drawn comfort from it, but the idea of it still sent a cold shiver through her. If Vincent was saying that her own 'ghost' had also gone walk-about those nights ... visiting him as he worked ... ...

"No." he reassured, encasing her hand between the two of his. "Not in that way. You were there, down among those coarse and brutal rocks, because my own heart had taken you there. It was only my mind that imagined you."

"Well ... what was I doing?" She was a bit worried about the answer, only because this all seemed like such a strange thing for him to be dwelling on. But she was honestly curious.

Vincent took a deep breath, letting it out calmly as he refreshed the memories.

"You were sitting in the corner of one of the rooms." he recalled, fondly at first. "I think I imagined a beautifully gilded chair for you. Your legs were curled beneath you, and you were reading something from a book. ... Then you laughed, and shared the joke with me."

"That doesn't sound too bad." she countered jovially.

"It was beautiful." he agreed, the image changing to a flavor of bittersweet in his mind. "Until I saw the larger picture. Until I saw it for what it was. The utter sadness."

Catherine squinted in confusion, and even a selfish moment of personal offense. She would have preferred to think that visuals of herself would only be a pleasure for him.

Vincent caught her eyes again, and tried to explain. Tried to help her see it as he had seen it. -- -- "The vision of you against those boulders ... against those sharp cuts of rock. ... ... In alcoves that were still so far from being true 'rooms'. ... ... With no comfort or softness surrounding you. No civilization. ... ... I saw it for what it truly was. ... ... A tomb. ... ... I had brought you to a tomb."

His voice was already solemn and regretful, and the words themselves were much worse.

She went into defensive mode immediately ... a reaction learned from years of trying to reach this man. "That was so long ago, Vincent. We've come so far. We've become ..."

"You don't understand, my love." he interrupted, shaking his head, then tilting his face a little closer to hers. His expression was already more optimistic. Old memories were being replaced by new ones. "The truth today was so much happier. So much fuller. ... ... When you came to find me today, you came to those very same tunnels. Those very same rooms. All by your own accord. ... ... And when you arrived ... ... when you sat on that table, loving me and inviting me to love you ... ... it wasn't a tomb anymore."

Catherine's eyes widened at such a lovely thought process, when he took it one step further. ... One step even better.

"Do you see it, Catherine?" he urged, his smile returning and growing so hopeful. Even proud. "The larger truth? ... ... ... You came below ... and it's no longer a tomb. I don't think it ever shall be again."

... ...

Her breath shallowed almost instantly. Short wisps of air while his words went through her. "Heaven on Earth". she whispered, pressing a kiss to his shoulder. "That's what it is."

Even that touch still felt too distant, and with the helping support of his hands, she climbed back onto his lap, gluing herself to him just as she had done on their earlier journey. Straddling his lap, she leaned close ... repeating each word with emphasis. "Heaven. On. Earth." And the kiss that followed was enough to weaken him, wilting him back onto the bed.

By the time she was through, she had done more than just tickle that scratchy tongue of his, or tease his canines. She'd stolen his words, leaving him panting. And that look from his mate, hovering above him, a flush rising faintly to her skin ... eyes darkening singularly and solely him. Words weren't quite so necessary anymore.

His hands coaxed her down for another kiss, then set off in other pursuits. Silky fabric clung easily to roughened claws -- almost as if it had been awaiting their arrival -- and he gathered her blouse up her torso. There was the skin he craved, and his arms swept eagerly across it.

It was, in her opinion, such a wonderful and seductive sensation, that she might have whispered those words to him again -- 'heaven on Earth' -- if he weren't already kissing her so deeply. She let her fingers do the talking instead ... or rather, the 'walking' ... slipping in beneath two layers of material in search of bristly furred skin ... prepared to demand it if she had to.

He found himself smiling. Unable not to. It tickled him like a child ... sent fire through his nerves whenever her nails scraped bottom ... and drove him crazy with want. How he'd ever held this woman at arm's length for so many endless months was truly a baffling mystery. She could, should, and would, have whatever she wanted.

Sitting them both up ... his growing need having restored the vigor and coherency to his superior musculature ... he finished stripping her shirt away, then yanked his own off with amazing speed. And she laughed, as he knew she would, when her palms spanned out across his chest to victoriously accept their prize.

Her brassiere ... that damned brassiere that always fought his strong but less-than-nimble fingers ... resisted him yet again. And as was so often the case -- fortunately, for Catherine's clothing bill -- she got to it before he managed to break any of the fastenings.

The elastic stretched away, and soft, supple, feminine pillows relaxed themselves down into his waiting hands. His fingers moulded themselves around the orbs automatically, seemingly requiring no help at all from his conscious thought. Even the instinct to monitor how his claws touched her skin ... that too was becoming blessedly instinctual with his mate.

"Did you imagine this too?" she asked gently, smiling so proudly at the expression she'd put on his face.

He looked up, and let out the puff of air he'd been holding. "I loved you, Catherine. ... ... Of course I did. ... ... But this. ... ..." Bending lower, he placed a suckling kiss to the top of each orb. "This is beyond any joy my mind alone could have dreamt."

... ...

To say his answer thrilled her, would have been a pitiful understatement, especially when he repeated the gesture, this time letting his canines scrape gently across her flesh. A reminder of his differentness. A reminder of his power and virility ... but also the tenderness that always dominated any touch of the mate he loved.

And that mate wanted him more than ever, pouncing against him, diving into a kiss and pushing him down to the mattress.

A low rumble echoed from his chest. -- -- The sound of his desire, groaned only for her. -- -- She answered it with a mumble against his lips. ... "Please, Vincent."

Claws dug beneath the band of her jeans, squirreling in to hook her panties as well ... scratching and scraping, but never hurting. He was getting better at this, and as he'd told her earlier, he was a good pupil for the right teacher. She wiggled and squirmed atop him, her pulse flying with delight as he pushed her clothing down her calves

Kicking her feet in an attempt to help, however, got them nowhere fast. All it did was threaten to bruise her beloved's calves. Eventually she admitted defeat, and climbed her way off of him. He drug himself along, chasing after her, demanding the kiss hungrily with another rumble from his chest.

"These." she gasped anxiously, two fingers yanking on one of his belt loops while he rose to stand before her. He obeyed, his own ability for functional thought slipping away rapidly. He would do anything to get to his mate, even if that meant releasing her.

In the end, it was a race to disrobe ... and Vincent won it stunningly. The good pupil struck again.

With one arm he picked her up, and with the other, he yanked off that pair of panties wrapped frustratingly around her ankle. She laughed at her own defeat, giggling the whole way as he laid her down on their bed.

A passionate murmur of her name was added to the throaty rumble growing in each breath. ... ... An exuberant capture of her lips into a kiss. ... ... The tickle from a sandpapery tongue, followed by a playful nip from blunter, human teeth ... ... Roughened palms floatingly reverently over smooth skin, while smooth palms rubbed seductively into wiry bristle. ... ... The attentive, delicate encasing of her body beneath his.

The rhythmic sway of this woman in his arms, for that entire, long journey back from the lower chambers, had made him more than anxious ... ... and had done the same for her as well, as he discovered when the back of his hand drifted in a gentle pet between her thighs.

Following his lead, Catherine conformed and accommodated her lover with a fluidity that was rapidly becoming second-nature. She had never lied ... it had never mattered what his genetics claimed he was. She was moulding herself to him, not a strand of DNA. A fact that was never truer than at the moment he entered her with a taut, tingly glide. And if her gulp of air ever brought him concern, it was dissipated by the inevitable smile that spread across her face.

It delighted him ... immeasurably so ... but at the moment, he had no prayer of trying to calm himself and simply share her happiness. Every thrust became a gasp and every gasp became a growl, until the best he could do was nuzzle his way into the silky wave of her hair and concentrate his best on holding her steady.

She whispered in his ear ... cooing and coaxing. Any doubts he may still harbor as to her enjoyment would soon be driven away ... she would make sure of that. And in the end -- when his hands clamped onto her shoulders and his abdomen strained against hers -- his most guttural growl escalated to an exclamation mark. A loud snarl, signifying the release of his body to hers.

Whether anyone else in the tunnels heard it was probably irrelevant. While he'd gradually been learning to restrain such outbursts, Catherine had been developing her own. A moan and a cry ... loud in his ear as she clutched around him. Loud enough to resonate and amplify with his own. -- -- He was no longer the only one threatening to give them away.

It took even her by surprise. And while she hadn't planned it, she most definitely found amusement in it, allowing herself a secret smile as she welcomed his sprawl across her. This was the moment he could be weak, if he chose. A wonderful, new experience in his life -- basking in the care and protection of a beloved.

... ...

"Perhaps," he eventually husked to her ear, once his breathing had slowed. "Perhaps I should construct for us a more proper door. If," he teased, "you find yourself so vocal."

Her soothing caress of his sides changed to the lightest, most playful slap. He was certainly one to talk ... the rumble in his chest was still ebbing away. It would go for minutes yet, that telltale purr, announcing his love and joy to the world.

"No." she finally replied, pulling him closer ... ensuring that this last for a little while longer ... always a little while longer.

Maybe, once she'd thought about it, she didn't care as much as she should about echoing, sound-carrying tunnels, or tapestries where doors ought to hang. ... ... ... Why? Because it meant something more. Something else the world should also hear. "All it proves," she murmured, "is how much alike we really are."