Chapter 13

AND

Catherine touched her head, half hoping it was yet another of those odd dreams she'd been having. Nope. No coma, no hundreds of files to move at work, no wedding ring from Mr. Wrong. But there really was a sore spot on her forehead, and there really was a singing package under her sofa.

"I guess Ellen is getting that player she wanted for Christmas," Vincent said neutrally.

"Any idea how to shut it up?" Catherine asked plaintively, fantasizing about dropping it over the balcony. Surely she could buy a new one in the morning, no one would ever know...

Blue eyes peeked sideways at her, and she realized that someone would know - even if he secretly sympathized.

A couple of quick shakes didn't solve the problem, so they finally ended up dragging the package out and piling pillows and blankets on top of it to muffle the sound. While they buried it, it cycled through the biggest hits of Mary Poppins and started working through other Disney movies. When it hit Beauty and the Beast, Catherine bit her lip so hard she almost drew blood. Vincent bowed his head, shoulders shaking.

...uh oh... "Vincent?" Oh, it was just a stupid movie, surely it wasn't upsetting him that much...

When she touched him Vincent threw his head back and gathered her into his arms, literally roaring with laughter. "This is NOT how I expected this evening to go!"

"Me either," Catherine admitted, resting against his chest. This moment, as silly as it was, was better than anything that could ever be wrapped in paper and ribbon. To have Vincent with her, in her home, to see that solemn man relax so completely into laughter - nothing could feel so good.

Vincent caught her mood and hugged her tighter, pulling her half into his lap. "What are you thinking?" he whispered in her ear.

"That I finally understand that poem. The one with ‘my heart is like a singing bird.’ Catherine turned in his arms so that she could look into his eyes. "You make my heart sing, Vincent. You. This. Thank you."

He snorted. "I'm not sure what you're thankful for. We've taken over your apartment, you've been hit on the head - these are not things most people are grateful for."

"Well, I am." Catherine nestled closer. "So tell me, what are you all up to down there? I figured out that there's something you're all hiding." She poked out her lower lip. "If I'm going to have to live on aspirin for a while and try to have a romantic evening while The Jungle Book plays in the background, all because of your people, you at least owe me that."

"It's not my secret to keep," he replied, with a consoling squeeze. "You give us so much, you might be surprised how hard it is to offer something for you to take in return. Handmade presents seem shabby next to the things you have, and we can't buy anything. At least, nothing as nice as you could buy for yourself. Oh, how we talked and argued! And finally we agreed that this year, there would be trinkets and baubles. So we have been working, all together, to give you something that only we can give."

"Which is...?"

"If I spoiled the surprise now, half a dozen people would stake me out in the park at high noon," Vincent said mildly.

"Mmmmm. That would be bad." Catherine yawned, laying her aching head back down on his chest. "So when does all the mystery end? Winterfest?"

"It's too big for that." He was stroking her hair and cheek again, luring her back to sleep. "We were going to have it the night before, but now we don't dare over stress you. Rest now. It will wait until you are stronger."

"Awww, after all this I still don't get to find out?" Catherine was almost asleep again, her words starting to slur. She was balanced on the edge of unreality again. The last thing she heard before she went under again, circled safely in his arms, was Vincent's voice.

"Some things are not ready to be revealed. Do you remember the rest of that poem? She lists many things and ends 'My heart is gladder than all these, Because my love is come to me.' I have come to thee, Catherine. And I will stay with you until the end."

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