Chapter 7: At Dawn With a Winged Heart 
When they returned from the bathing pool, dressed in clean clothes and refreshed, Vincent noted that Cullen’s woodworking class would start in an hour. By the tapping on the pipes, Catherine could make out William’s announcement that lunch would begin soon and her stomach rumbled, remembering the half-finished breakfast. “The class won’t be canceled, then?” Catherine asked, curious, as they walked towards the commons.
“Usually, yes,” Vincent replied, “but in this case, no. With Winterfest approaching, some of Cullen’s students are working on projects to exchange as gifts. He has many students who are just beginners and I know he’d not want them disappointed.” His mouth quirked. “I expect to see a great many lopsided boxes and bookshelves this year, but we all have to start somewhere.”
“What was your first project?” she asked.
“A letter box,” Vincent replied. “I made it for Father for his birthday when I was eight or so---I believe he still has it.” He shook his head ruefully, grinning. “My next project was the raft Devin and I made. I should have started small but…”
“But the Mississippi waited?” Catherine replied, chuckling at the mental picture of the boys he and Devin had once been.
He nodded. “Exactly. Practical matters---such as neither of us ever actually having built a boat, nor read any sort of instructions as to how one should be built---didn’t cross our minds.”
“Why take the fun out of it?” Catherine agreed, grinning.
Vincent chuckled, the dry, raspy laugh she loved to hear. Catherine could remember a time when she’d never heard him laugh and had wondered---before she knew him well---if he ever did. She knew better now, but it still gave her a thrill of joy every time she heard him chuckle. “What makes you smile?” he asked now, drawing her closer as they walked.
“You,” Catherine replied. “I was just thinking how much you smile or laugh now, and how much I love that.”
“I have many reasons to smile,” he replied. “Sometimes, the fact that I have so many reasons surprises me. I cannot believe we’re to be married so soon.”
“Are you nervous?” Catherine asked. She thought not, somehow; the bond between them fairly throbbed with a vibrant joy.
“Yes…and no,” Vincent replied, smiling down at her. “Yes, because I have never been a husband and no…because I have always been yours, ceremony or no.”
She tilted her head up at him and grinned, wagging a finger at him. “That's right, buster. And don't you forget it.”
“Forget this?” Vincent murmured, as he kissed her right there in the corridor. “How could I?”
The rest of Saturday passed largely without incident. After lunch, Catherine returned to their chamber while Vincent took Cullen's woodworking class. He returned an hour later, covered in sawdust and varnish sticking in his fur but otherwise well for the experience. It was after he'd left to take a quick shower that Catherine heard Father's slow dragging steps outside the chamber.
“Oh, Catherine, I thought Vincent was done with his class today?” he said as he entered.
“He is,” she replied. Belatedly, she remembered that Vincent had mentioned that Father had wanted to see them both today. “He just went to rinse the sawdust off. How is Cullen?”
Father sat down in the smaller chair across from the chessboard. “Well enough,” he said. “Rock-slides are a particular danger down here; we're never sure if there is some underlying instability behind the rocks, undermining the structure. Cullen was quite fortunate that he wasn't injured further---just a sprain and some deep bruising, but nothing he won't recover from.”
“I'm glad,” Catherine said. She watched as he shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “Your hip?”
“Yes,” Father said. “This time of year, it aches more than it doesn't.”
“I imagine so,” Catherine replied, remembering her father's arthritis. He'd always hated the New York City winters, though being wealthy, he'd also been in a position to fly to Arizona or New Mexico to evade the harsh cold. “Would you like some tea?”
“Thank you, that would be lovely,” Father said.
She poured two cups from the pot that Vincent had put to steep before he left and handed one cup to Father. “Do you want anything else in your tea?” Catherine asked. “I'm not quite sure where he keeps the cream and sugar.”
Father smiled. “The tea's fine as it is, thank you.” He sipped at the tea, shifting again. “It's an old injury,” he said. “Did Vincent ever tell you the story?”
“No, I don't believe he did,” Catherine said, smiling at him over the rim of her teacup.
“Vincent was...seven or so. Maybe a little younger. At that age he was quite...well, the people here used to say he was my shadow, never wanting me to be out of his sight for very long.” He chuckled. “We had quite the struggle getting him to stay in the schoolroom at first, until he discovered books. They were my only serious competition for his affections until you.”
Catherine raised her eyebrows. “Until me?”
“Yes,” he said fondly. At her look of surprise, he grinned, a wry glint in his eyes that made him look years younger. “Come now, Catherine. I may have been a fool but hopefully not a blind one---how could I not see what was between you and my son, almost from the beginning?” He took another sip of his tea. “To continue, then. I had gotten into the habit of exploring the tunnels while Devin and Vincent were in school. It was during one such walk that I fell through a hole, a weak spot in the floor. I was far outside the hub, Catherine, and yes, I was afraid that no one would find me until it was too late.”
“But someone did,” Catherine said. “Vincent?”
He nodded. “I don't know how to this day, but he found me. He's always known this place far better than most of us, but even then...it was a near thing. I had two cracked ribs and a concussion and my hip was badly fractured; there was simply no way I could have called out. But Vincent found me and convinced the others to believe him. And so they got me home. I probably should have gone to hospital, but...I couldn't risk being identified, not with a deportation order hanging over my head.”
“I understand,” Catherine said. “Father, why are you telling me this now?”
“Because I saw it in your face when we rescued Cullen. You were scared, remembering when it was Vincent and I who were trapped, weren't you?”
She nodded, thinking that the Wells men clearly shared more than a liking for Shakespeare and games of chess. Vincent’s fears this morning were echoed in Father’s words now. “I was scared. Who wouldn’t be?”
“It’s quite natural,” Father agreed. “But that fear is something you’re going to have to come to terms with, you and Vincent both, if you’re to make any sort of life together here. We’ve all had to face it at one time or another; life here is safer now than it was before, but as you saw this morning, it’s not quite a paradise. Not yet,” he finished, his mouth quirking in a dry smile. “After I recovered from my accident, I didn’t want to go further than this chamber. But I had two very active sons, and a community depending on me to set the general example, so I muddled through.”
Catherine could picture that; all British reserve and stubbornness, carrying forward because there was nothing else he could do and no one who could do it for him. “Father, Vincent and I have discussed this.”
“I thought you might. He fears for you so,” Father said. “And yet, I’ve never seen him happier. And I bless you for that.”
“Thank you,” Catherine replied, smiling. She felt the warm tug near her heart that was her sense of the bond and knew Vincent would be back soon.
Just as she was about to turn her head to see if she could see him, Vincent stepped through the chamber entrance. His hair was still damp, tamed---for the time being---into amber waves surrounding his face. As he passed her to sit in the only remaining chair, Catherine thought she smelled the faint odor of the cardamom soap he favored. “Hello, Father,” Vincent said. “You said you wanted to see us about the wedding?”
Father nodded. “Yes, I did. Have you two given any thought to the ceremony?”
Vincent looked at her and the tenderness in his gaze nearly took her breath away. “Only the ‘I do’ part,” he said, smiling. “Did you have some suggestions, Father?”
“Hmph,” Father said to Catherine, sotto voce, “he’s read nearly every book I have in my library twice and he asks me if I have suggestions. Of course I do…the books in the upstairs alcove have provided vows for many of our weddings. Go up there sometime and check them out and let me know what you decide.” He folded his arms, a certain wry mischief dancing in his eyes. “What about rings? Will you wear them?”
Catherine looked at Vincent, askance. She did have a ring that she thought might be a good fit---her grandfather’s wedding band---but if Vincent was still hesitant about drawing attention to his hands.... “Vincent, would you wear one?”
He glanced down at his hands, clawed and furred, and back across the chamber at Catherine. “Yes,” he said, smiling. “Yes, I would.”
“Then I do have one,” Catherine replied.
Chagrin flitted through their bond. Vincent ducked his head, then looked back at her again. “I don’t have a ring for you, Catherine. Nor the means to buy or make one.”
Father stood and pulled a small red leather box out of the folds of his outer robe. “Margaret…wanted you to have this, Vincent. It was hers. She’d kept it all this time.” He smiled, perhaps a touch ruefully. “Margaret saw this day coming, long before I did.”
Transfixed, Vincent slowly reached out to take the box. Walking over to where Catherine sat, he stood and handed it to her. Inside was a simple narrow platinum band with a delicate line of engraving that looked almost new. Of course, Catherine thought, Margaret hadn’t worn this ring long before the annulment. Her eyes welled, thinking of all the history this ring represented, then and now, and all the hope.
“If it’s not to your taste,” Father said gruffly, as she knew he did when he was hiding some deeper emotion, “then---“
“It’s perfect,” Catherine said, touched. “Thank you.”
“Thank you, dear Catherine,” Father said, and embraced her.
Later that night, after they'd helped to scrub and clean and put away the rest of the dinner dishes, Catherine arched her back to lift one of the heavy copper-bottomed pots out of the sink and Vincent felt a painful tug echo through their bond. In an instant, Vincent was at her side, leaving the dishes he'd been storing in the large cupboards. “It's just a muscle pull,” Catherine said.
Remembering the bruise high on her shoulder, he brushed aside her hair and felt the bunched, twisting muscles. “Let me help you,” Vincent said. “It's where you were bruised when we were helping Cullen, isn't it?” She nodded stiffly.
Marisol waved a soapy hand. “Go on, you two—Miguel and I have it from here.”
“Are you sure?” Catherine asked.
Marisol smiled. “All that's left is wiping down the tables. No need for four of us to do that. Go on and let Vincent...take care of you.” Her dark eyes sparkled, the implication unmistakable, and Vincent was startled to feel a certain dawning pride at her innuendo.
“Well,” Catherine said, grinning, “there's care and there's care. If you're sure, Marisol?”
Miguel shut the cupboard doors. “That's the last of the dishes done...don't make me get William's broom and shoo you out of here.”
Vincent chuckled. William's broom had been specially made some years before; it was nearly as tall as their cook and there was a running joke---though not within William's hearing---that he rode on it when he was at his grumpiest. “Save me from a fate worse than death,” he replied, taking Catherine's hand as they left the chamber.
“Vincent, honestly, it’s just a pulled muscle,” Catherine said. “It’s not that serious.”
“I know it’s not,” he replied. “But…I want to take care of you.”
Her hand tightened on his own. “How can I say no to that?”
Vincent dropped the curtain to their chamber as soon as they entered. “Lin’s grandfather sent some salve that we use for aches and bruises. Sit down on the bed and let me see if I can find it.”
“I shouldn’t have tried to lift that pot,” Catherine said, unbuttoning her shirt and sitting very carefully on the bed.
“Then why did you?” Vincent asked, tugging at a reluctant dresser drawer and unearthing a small blue jar.
“Because I thought I could handle it,” she replied and the hot flush of chagrin crossed their bond almost as soon as she said the words. “I should have asked for help.”
Vincent sat on the bed behind her and uncapped the jar. “Catherine,” he began, removing some of the salve and warming it in his hands, “I understand. I do. But I would have helped you lift it. Or you and Marisol could have lifted it together.”
“I know,” Catherine replied. “It’s just---“
She turned her head slightly and Vincent felt the wince through their bond. “What?”
“You have nothing to prove. Not to me, not to anyone.” He brushed aside her hair so that it flowed in a golden river over her shoulder. Gently, he touched the site of her muscle strain and rubbed the salve into the area. A faint earthy smell rose from the salve as it warmed further to the heat of her skin.
“Oh, that feels…really good,” she said, breathing out. “What’s in it?”
“Yarrow and arnica for the bruising and some ingredients that Dr. Wong refuses to identify,” Vincent said, smiling as he continued to rub the salve into the area. “Does it feel warm?” She nodded.
“That’s what tells you it’s working,” Vincent continued as he rubbed the salve gently into painful area.
“You really have a talent for this,” Catherine said.
He glanced down at his clawed, furred hands, stunned all over again that they could bring her comfort and healing. “I do?” Vincent asked.
“You do,” she replied. “I’m surprised there isn’t a line around the tunnels for your massages.”
Vincent chuckled at that image as he capped the jar of salve. “Sorry, but I only have time for one customer.” Placing the jar on the bedside table in case she'd need it later again that night, he pulled her carefully against him. “How do you feel now?”
“My neck and shoulder don't hurt,” Catherine said. “And I'm feeling all warm.”
“That's from the salve,” Vincent replied, breathing in the scent of her hair.
“Not that kind of warmth, it isn't,” Catherine said, and laughed a throaty mischievous laugh that made his heart skip a beat at the desire, the love in her voice.
“Catherine,” he began, though he was finding it nearly impossible to be stern with her and wondered how anyone else ever had, “we should rest tonight.”
“Vincent,” she replied, nuzzling his neck. “It is just a simple muscle strain.”
Certain other parts of his body were beginning to agree with her and Vincent felt whatever resistance he might have had dissolving. “Well, exercise is supposed to be good for tight muscles,” he managed.
“And you could...help me with that?” she asked, massaging a certain muscle of his that was becoming very tight indeed.
“My pleasure,” he said.
Click here for Chapter 8....
 “Let These Be Your Desires,” by Khalil Gibran