by Kate Andrews

Mud sucked at his boots and made every step treacherous, threatening to topple him and the bundle of two by fours carried on his shoulder. Vincent heard a mumbled curse from behind and the unmistakable thud of a body smacking into the rock wall. Repairing water leaks was dirty, cold work. It took hours--hiking to the leak, ferrying all the materials needed, standing in mud or water while they reinforced the support structure and repaired the pipe joints. Only after the job was complete, the threat of discovery by the City work crews held at bay for yet another week, and the stink of the mud washed away in the mineral pools did the pride of workmanship descend on them for a few minutes before sleep claimed each one.

The current project had consumed most of the last week with intermittent respites when they thought the job finished only to return a few hours later to a new leak. Water was a very determined substance, Vincent decided. Never content to stay within the bounds set for it, always searching, probing for a new route and wearing away at stone and earth, squeezing through tiny cracks to a destination known only to the water molecules.

The whole business had played havoc with any thought Vincent might have had about spending time with his family. Jacob was too young to understand about duty and responsibility. Catherine, on the other hand, understood only too well--her patient tolerance was tinged with wistfulness. He knew she wondered when they'd ever have time alone again.

Standing in four inches of water with a two by four braced for Cullen to nail into place, he had time to think about the concert at Met next Friday. It had been the focus of an article he'd read in the newspaper in a quiet moment before the newest leak had been discovered.

Perhaps... just perhaps, if the water gods cooperate...

* * * * *

The clamor in the office dwindled as desk drawers were locked, files tucked into briefcases and fervent prayers were sent Heavenward as they glanced fearfully in the direction of Moreno's office: just let me get out the door before something else hits the fan!

Pencil scribbling furiously, Catherine Chandler filled page after page of the evidence pad with the essential facts from a pile of depositions. Her left index finger helped to guide her eye down the pages in her search for the important facts that would be the building blocks of their case.

She was so immersed into her task that some moments passed before the lack of sound penetrated her consciousness and caused her to glance up. The whirr of the copier at the end of the room indicated she was not the only one left. She spared a second to stare at the clock.

It can't be six, not yet! She thumbed through the rest of the depositions, another three inches worth of testimonies to be outlined. Two nights this week she'd stayed late, it wasn't fair to Vincent... Come on, Cath, be honest, she urged silently, you want to be home as much as he wants you there.

Home, it had such a nice ring. She leaned her chin on her hand with a sigh. Living Below and commuting made for some very long days, especially when pre-trial preparation went into high gear. If she didn't stay late, then it was usually because she took work home; and while it was nicer working in their own sitting room with Vincent reading in the big chair nearby and Jacob sleeping in his crib, it was certainly taking a toll on their time together lately. This week, though, Vincent had been repairing water leaks and had arrived in their chamber exhausted. He tried to stay awake long enough to ask about her day, but was usually asleep before she could answer.

Well, the choice was clear, stay or take it home. Catherine sighed weighing the pros and cons.

"Radcliffe, if they gave an award for looking pitifully overworked, you'd be a shoe-in." Joe Maxwell leaned against the wall of her cubicle, tie loosened, the top shirt button unfastened, his suit coat swinging from one finger and a briefcase in the other hand. He gestured at the piles on her desk, "Bodlinger?"

"One and the same," Catherine replied. "Depositions by the pound. I think they're trying to clog the system with paper."

"Moreno thinks they're going to go for another continuance."

"Not again, Joe! The family has been through so much and we're not even to trial yet. Can we block it?" Catherine shuddered at the thought of trying to explain to Frances Evans that the man who killed her elderly mother was to be given still more time to prepare his defense.

"Moreno says we'll plan strategy on Tuesday. So go home, Cathy, there's not much more you can do here tonight and it's a three-day weekend. Give it a rest for a day or two."

"Not a day or three?" she teased. He was right, she needed a break, needed to back up and get a different perspective on the whole thing. Catherine needed no further urging and scooped the depositions into her briefcase with the scribbled notes. Once the decision was made it took only half a minute to clear her desk and be ready to leave.

Once out on the sidewalk, she decided to walk rather than fight for a cab in the mad scramble to exit the city for the weekend. Her thoughts turned homeward where her son and husband awaited her arrival; well, at least Jacob would be waiting. Vincent, Cullen, Mouse and others of the work crew had worked nearly non-stop for the last ten days on one leak after another.

I'll go with him to help, tomorrow, she vowed. Better to be wet and miserable, together! She grinned at the thought of washing away the mud from each other in the bathing chamber. A frisson of desire rippled through her and brought a soft glow to her face before she clamped down on the thought. No point in sending those kinds of feelings skittering through the bond to distract him while he was working. But, later....

* * * * *

Father's eyebrows rose at the sight of a muddy Vincent in the portal to his study. He leaned against the stone as if too weary to stand up straight.

"Dare I ask?" Father inquired, thinking Vincent might have fallen if he hadn't been leaning against the rock wall.

"For the moment. I've asked the sentries to watch carefully and notify me at the first sign of another problem."

"You need to rest, Vincent. I'll listen for the sentries. Perhaps a short nap?" He said the word with trepidation and waited for a protest. He saw the weary nod and barely heard the muttered Thank you, Father.

Vincent had intended to bathe first, but after dragging off his wet, muddy clothes, his bed was just too inviting and he decided to rest for just a minute. He woke an hour later and would have just turned over and drifted back to sleep had the bond not told him that Catherine had left her office. He swung his legs over the edge and lurched to his feet, still half-asleep. Habit guided his hands to the armoire for clean clothes before ducking out toward the bathing chambers. If he hurried, he could meet Catherine at the Park threshold.

* * * * *

The brisk walk through the Park to the threshold brushed away the stress of the day. Even the screech of the gate seemed welcoming as she reached up and tripped the lever to open the door. She heard Jacob's babble of delight as the door rolled back and found him bouncing joyfully in Vincent's arms.

"Ma-Ma, Ma-Ma," he declared and lunged forward as though he'd grown wings. Only fast action by his father saved him from a tumble.

"Did I hear right?" Catherine said in wonder.

"Your son welcomes you home with his first words," Vincent said, depositing the squirming child in her arms. "Your husband is glad to see you, also," he added and leaned down to kiss her.

The kiss, although brief, seemed to ignite a spark that threatened to firestorm. A slightly breathless Vincent reached down to take Catherine's briefcase after flipping the lever to close the threshold door. Catherine leaned against him with Jacob riding on her opposite hip.

"I could get very spoiled by this kind of welcome." She offered her mouth to him while her eyes promised him delights beyond imagining when their child was tucked in for the night.

Not one to let opportunity pass him by, now that all the barriers he had placed between himself and Catherine so many times in the past were but fleeting memories, Vincent drew her close before claiming her lips with his own. Tunnel walls faded away with the full opening of the bond--their feelings meshed so completely that they seemed of one body, one mind. A squeal from Jacob drew them apart with laughter when they saw his little mouth pursed up as if to say, who's going to kiss me? They both leaned down to kiss a downy cheek and he rewarded them with little pats to each face.

On the walk to the Hub, Vincent told Catherine he'd arranged for Brooke to sit with Jacob after he was asleep, and water gods notwithstanding, they were going to listen to a concert.

"I remember how we enjoyed Mischa Dichter last summer when he played in the Park. He's scheduled into the Met for a recital this evening. We haven't visited our special place for a while..." He allowed his desire to bloom on his face in answer to her heightened color from what were obviously warm thoughts of their last sojourn to the chamber beneath the Met.

She reached up to kiss him again, catching the corner of his mouth. "I feel so sorry for other women," she said and at his quizzical look, continued. "They have to be content with second best when it comes to husbands because I got number one!" She watched him duck his head as though to hide his emotions and grabbed a strand of the redgold mane to halt the maneuver. He looked at her, startled by the tug.

"I mean it, Vincent, no one could ever make me as happy. I love you so!"

He was surprised to see the shimmer of tears in her eyes. In the bond there was a hint of sorrow underlying her joy, as if she worried that this love might somehow be snatched away. Gently he brushed the one tear away then bent to kiss the spot.


* * * * *

He lifted her effortlessly and she wove her arms around his neck as he allowed her to slide down his body inch by inch until her legs reached out to clasp him around the hips. Clinging to him like a limpet she breathed a flurry of kisses from brow to jaw before his mouth claimed hers. The broad muscles of his shoulders and back were covered with a layer of crisp golden hair that whorled deliciously under her fingers. So unusual to be at this height and lean down into his embrace.

The slightest touch of his tongue urged her lips apart and he breathed her name into her mouth. The gentle rasping swirled across her lips.

Deep in her throat she moaned with her burgeoning need and he answered her with a tightening of his one arm around her waist. With the lightest of touches he reached beneath her dress already hiked up around her waist, up the rib cage until he could follow the rib to the curve of her breast and cup its warmth in his hand. She shivered and against his hand he felt her arousal harden into a peak.

Gasping she tore her mouth away from his, "love me... love me now," she urged and followed the words whispered in his ear with her moist tongue to urge him on.

With his thumb he teased the hardness that pressed against his palm and felt the beginning circling of her hips in matching rhythm to his stroking. He reached out then to touch their bond and felt the building tension and knew she was close. Never when he thought of their connection had he ever envisioned that this would be part of it--the swelling of his own ardor and the sweet sensual touch of her arousal within him.

But he was not willing to settle for such a quick end and shifted her weight in his arms. He heard and felt her groan of frustration when he pulled his hand away from her. He reached up and stripped the dress from her, and pulled her close--skin to skin. Claws trailed down her back with the most feathery of sensations.

"Please... please... "

She begged him, kissing him deeply and sucking gently on his full lower lip. Her need beat at him and he shifted her again until she sat against his chest, each buttock supported by one of his hands. His ring fingers and little fingers touched the slippery wetness jolting a gasp from her. The pads of his fingers caressed her flesh, rippling in unconscious rhythm with the crescendoing arpeggios overhead. Catherine's body mirrored the strokes in the movement of her hips.

It was exquisite torture and she dropped her head back, turning it from side to side and exposing her neck to his mouth. He bit and sucked at the smooth skin she offered to him. And still he continued to massage her with the pads of his fingers until she began to press against his hands in that age-old counterpoint.

Tension built and tightened her muscles until her legs jumped and twitched. Vincent braced himself with legs wide apart on the stone floor and played her with the skill of a concert pianist. He felt her hovering and with a final stroke sent her tumbling over the edge. It was if the world stood still and them deep inside he felt the spasms that shook her and made her clutch at him as if she were drowning.

They lay side by side on the pallet, his last pieces of clothing cast aside. The feel of her body so sweet against his as her breathing gradually slowed. She reached out to him and kissed him.

"Let me... touch you, Vincent."

The slender fingers trailed across the heavily muscled shoulder to the spine, barely brushing the skin. Below the lean waist, feather-light touches teased the nether cheeks then slipped between the thighs. With the tiniest pressure the fingers urged the thighs apart and delicately explored the treasures revealed. The body beneath the hand shifted to make room for the need that pulsed against the cool sheet.

One small candle lit the chamber with enough light for each to see the other and enhance their enjoyment. Catherine watched the goose flesh rise on Vincent's back as she continued to touch and explore. The first urgent edge was gone and she found the slow pleasuring of his body extremely arousing.

With the most delicate of touches, she drew her fingers down his back from neck to tailbone, skimming the soft hair that covered him, again. He arched his back to her touch begging silently for her caresses against that most sensitive spot at the end of his spine. She obliged him briefly then drew her fingers away and turning the opposite direction.

His feet were surprisingly slender partially due to the fact he always wore boots which made them look larger. Catherine ran her thumbs along each side of the arch then massaged the ball of his foot. She wiggled his toes in This Little Piggy rhythm and was rewarded with a fluttering of the pampered digits. Again she drew her fingers across the skin and up the back of both legs, gradually urging his thighs further apart. Gently she slipped her hand beneath him to touch the delicate globes she found there.

His world had shrunk to the size of two small hands, warm and soft, they touched him and every place they touched smoldered like embers--ready to burst into flame. It mattered not that those hands touched him in places too private to name. The open throbbing of their bond told him how she loved to touch him and her love swept away the inhibitions of a lifetime. Only in her presence with their love surging in the bond, did he shed his clothes gladly and revel in the intimacy she offered.

The hands touched his hips with gentle lifting motions and he rose upon his knees to allow her more freedom. Her warm breath on his hip preceded a trail of kisses as she slithered beneath him with the grace of an otter; he lifted himself on arms that quivered with the power of his need, to allow her more room.

Slowly she trailed kisses from his hip to the middle of his stomach then followed the hairline toward his waist. She squirmed backward pulling herself by her elbows and shoulders until she could reach his chest. She laved a nipple with her tongue, teasing it to a tiny peak that mirrored her own. From above her she heard him groan that was so nearly a growl--sign of his growing arousal. Her teeth grazed the tiny peak and then she blew gently, eliciting another groan.

Balanced on hands and knees, Vincent began to curl his hips forward in time with the loving strokes of Catherine's tongue. He whispered her name and when she lifted her face to him, kissed her deeply. Their tongues swirled together in a timeless dance known to lovers across the ages.

Catherine slid her hands down over his ribs then lower to the pulsing evidence of his desire for her. She touched with exquisite delicacy the warmth that jumped and quivered under her ministering fingers. He tore his mouth away from her to breathe into her ear.

"Catherine, I need... I need you. Let me... love you!

It was only when they were deeply aroused that the bond opened to Catherine. His desire poured over her bringing her instantly to the same fever pitch. She braced her feet and rose to meet him. Gently she guided him to her slickness and could not stop the moan from deep in her throat as he sank slowly into her, filling her with his warmth.

High above them the crescendoing arpeggios rose drove toward the conclusion guided by the controlling hands of the maestro. The sound echoed through the bedrock into the chamber far below where two lovers strained together in quest for the ultimate joining. Twice he pulled away from her nearly separating them before ramming his love home to her welcome.

Catherine clung to his shoulders and urged him on with little cries of Yes, and please. She hovered below the pinnacle and then his passion drove her into the white-hot heat and from a distance she heard him roar her name as he peaked with her.

She became aware of the great heart thundering in her ear where she lay across his chest. He had rolled partially onto his back while they were still joined to avoid crushing her.

"Thank you... for the... lovely... evening..." she gasped followed by a wheezy little chuckle.

"We must... do this... again... sometime" he responded. And in the manner of lovers, they snuggled together and laughed gentle laughter, positive no one had ever loved as they.