It was a rare afternoon when Catherine would arrive home early.
On those days she went above, she tended to throw herself into her work. Not by natural default, mind you. Her heart was always down in the tunnels, wherever her new mate was. His voice permeated the world around her. Even if she was hundreds of feet above the Earth's surface and he hundreds of feet beneath, she always felt as though she could hear him ... whispering that he loved her ... urging her to be careful and return safely.
Eventually though, she would manage to force her thoughts back to her work. There was reward in that too. -- -- The more she accomplished per trip topside; the fewer trips she had to make; and the more time she could spend wrapped in his arms ... luxuriating in the authentic rumble of his voice, rather than the remnants of a haunting echo.
So a day like today -- -- when she wasn't pushing her endurance limits, opting for an early departure instead -- -- was unusual indeed.
Inquiring as to her husband's whereabouts upon her return, she was informed that Vincent was down in the newer chambers, helping a carpenter -- Davis -- build some furniture for future tenants. So after a change of clothes, stripping away the hardcore lawyer persona she wore above, then a quick snack from William's kitchen to make up for a hastily skipped lunch, she headed off for the latest construction area.
When she rounded the last twist in the newly excised rock tunnel, she was not too terribly surprised to find Vincent's bulky form filling one of the chamber entrances. He was dressed for work ... a thick, patched leather over-shirt to match equally toughened denim trousers. In some ways, he looked like a typical contractor or builder. Someone you might share a cheery nod with, on an average day above. That is, if you could ignore the furred, feline body peeking out from the uniform.
One hand was propped on the tunnel's coarsely carved wall, and from it hung a large hammer. That was the only sign of his labor though, as he watched expectantly in her direction.
"Catherine." he whispered when she was in sight ... a word she saw and felt more than heard.
"Hard at work?" she teased as she stepped up before him.
The most affectionate smile curved across his face, parting the cleft of his upper lip in a way she hoped no one else had ever noticed. "I felt your approach." he explained, then leaned down for a welcoming kiss. "Come inside."
Taking her hand, he led her into the chamber, brightly lit by wide, chunky candles. Piles of lumber lay along one wall, and scattered around were newly built tables; chairs; two bed frames. Even a wardrobe.
"It's easier to transport the lumber than the finished products," Vincent explained, waving his hammer casually toward his rough masterpieces. "But I can only accomplish the basic construction. Davis will turn them into pieces of furniture worthy of finer use."
"I didn't know you were a carpenter too." Catherine mused. "A man of many talents."
Vincent shook his head modestly. "Merely a good pupil, if I am needed." He caught her eyes to add ... "And for the right teacher."
Against the natural subterranean coolness, she felt a blush heat her cheeks, and she gave his hand an affectionate jiggle.
"You've returned early." he finally noted, obviously pleased by the fact. "Does that bode well, or poorly for your work?" He tossed his hammer amidst jars of nails, bolts, and other tools collected in a large box; and then, with a gracefulness born of unusual strength, grasped his mate's hips and hoisted her to sit atop his newest table. Now she was at eye level.
Catherine let out a puff of frustration, then carefully tugged on his shirt to urge him closer. He most readily obliged, stepping between her knees and dropping his hands to her legs.
"I had a young woman in my office this morning. She's trying to find a way to legally rein in her family. They keep calling the authorities on her boyfriend."
Vincent's brow furrowed in concern. It was unfortunate how often domestic violence cases crossed Catherine's desk. He hoped this was not another. Not only were they hard on his wife, but controlling men were sometimes willing to go well beyond normal, civilized behavior. ... ... Sometimes into to the realm of illegal, and sometimes even against those who prosecuted such crimes.
She shook her head, aware of what he was probably thinking. "No. Nothing like that. He's actually quite nice. And she seems amazingly grounded. I gather he's some sort of artist or something. A bit of a musician too. Nothing that impresses her family though."
Vincent felt himself relax. At least the dangers of this case were of an emotional nature, as opposed to physical.
"They've been causing trouble," Catherine continued, "by sending different agencies in pursuit of him. The IRS, law enforcement, bill collectors." She gave a faint smile and relayed one of the few points of amusement she'd found in the whole story. -- -- "I think even the EPA was on this guy's tail for awhile. All completely bogus of course. But these 'attacks' are spread out over enough different branches of government that no one bureaucrat wants to take the responsibility of stopping them. And even then, the family has some old money behind them, and money often buys a blind eye to those more minor infractions. So she and her boyfriend are pretty much on their own."
Silently, sadly, Vincent nodded. "A modern day Romeo and Juliet."
Catherine gave him a look of implication. ... ... "Among other examples."
Well, yes, of course he'd made that connection too. There but for the grace of God. Maybe it was one small way in which his relegation to the tunnel world had helped them in the end. -- -- It's harder to hit a target you can't even see.
"So she's searching for at least one agency that's willing to fight on her side." Catherine concluded.
A pause, and Vincent asked hopefully for the next chapter. ... "And can you help her?"
"Maybe." she sighed. "I did some research, and I think we can file some false allegation charges against them. Slander. Libel. Defamation of personal character. It's a bit obscure, but maybe I can at least make their life as miserable as they're making their daughter. ... ... ... 'Sisters in arms', as it were."
The phrase brought a grin to her husband's face, and Catherine added, "I find myself impressed yet again with my own father. At least he understood, in the end."
"Having family behind you is a wonderful asset." Vincent agreed. "We're very fortunate."
Catherine was about to agree, truly pleased by the optimism in his voice, when a noise came from the chamber entrance.
It was Davis, stopping short upon noticing their presence. "Oh. I'm sorry, Vincent." he apologized. Then he nodded his greetings to the woman. "Catherine."
She smiled in reply, although part of it was most definitely meant for Vincent. -- -- He'd already begun flinching away from his position between her knees, stopped when she reflexively hooked her ankles behind him.
Feline eyes cast her the quickest, most playful scold, before he offered a summary of his finished work. ... "The tables are done, but we'll need two more beds and at least three more wardrobes for the remaining chambers."
"Wonderful." Davis replied, his cheerfulness over the day's accomplishments overshadowing his embarrassment at having mistakenly walked in on the couple. "Hey, I'm going to head up for an early dinner. Just let the candles lit ... I'll be back soon. And thanks for the help today, Vincent. It's very appreciated."
"I'll try to finish up the rest tomorrow." Vincent replied.
Davis nodded his thanks, after which a faint grin of insinuation fought its way onto his face. "You two hang around as long as you want. Have a good evening."
Vincent just shook his head in amusement as Davis's footfalls echoed back down the tunnels. "You know, I used to receive looks of pity." he mused aloud. "At least, that's what I believed them to be. Now, amazingly, I nearly have a cheering section."
His mate didn't even try to suppress her laugh, taking his hands and coaxing them to clasp around her back. "Well, Vincent ... like you said ... it's good to have family behind you."
He nodded his agreement, then propped his head to hers. "So, would you like to adjourn for an early dinner as well?"
The tone in his voice honestly could have gone either way. -- -- Genuinely concerned if she were hungry, or hoping the answer would be 'no' and they could remain just as Davis had suggested. But the look in his eyes, just inches from her own ... ... they had a much harder time concealing his hopes. Fortunately for him, she'd had that snack back at the kitchens. No, she wasn't hungry.
"Not just yet." she whispered, sliding her hands up his arms. Flakes of sawdust clung here and there, brushed aside mindlessly. And by the time her fingers had climbed across the back of his shoulders, he was already kissing her.
He gathered her closer, leaning his torso more fully to hers. Then came the tickle of his claws at her waist, shyly but purposefully tracing the top band of her jeans. The proposed plan was clear.
"Here?!" she laughed against his lips. "I'd get splinters." Just moving her leg, she could hear the scratch of the unfinished wood. "What happened to never wanting to hurt me?" And as she hoped, her mate chuckled. ... ... Once deep-seated fears slowly healing into something that could even be broached with levity.
"No." he assured lightly. "Not even inadvertently. Let's stop by our chamber before dinner."
On that, he took a step back. Or at least tried to. ... ... She strengthened the hook of her ankles, making his retreat impossible.
He looked at her quizzically, but found only her smirk. Then her hands crept back up his shoulders, promptly reclaiming lost ground.
"If you're getting out of Davis's work early," she explained, "then you can't be too tired either. It's a long way back, and I'd very much appreciate a ride."
It prompted the best laugh he'd had all day. ... "Like this?"
She nodded, then caught him into another kiss, demanding he return the closeness of seconds earlier. But this time his hands shifted, dropping down to insinuate between her bottom and that roughened wood. Finding his leverage was not terribly difficult, and soon he had her scooped up, wrapped around his torso as he returned to his full height.
"We'll raise a few eyebrows." he warned playfully. "Once we're back in more heavily traveled passages."
At the back of his thighs, her ankles secured their grip ... the pinch of her legs making it quite clear that he wouldn't be putting her down in the tunnels either. "I'm not worried -- they're family," she smiled, alluding to their earlier conversation, and offering up one more silent prayer that the young woman in her office that morning would someday find this same kind of joy.
Vincent's grin grew even wider. "Indeed they are." Shoring up his grip the last bit tighter, he stole another kiss ... and off they went.