“You’re sure you don’t mind helping me with this?” Catherine asked a few days later, tearing off a length of packing tape from a thick roll.
Vincent looked up from the box he was packing and tore off a similar length of tape with one sharp claw. “No, I don’t mind, not at all. Besides, it’s warmer up here than down below.”
That was certainly true; a fierce snowstorm beat against the closed patio doors but the warmth from the fireplace kept everything warm enough that Vincent was comfortable in just his patched denim shirt and corduroys. “Well, thank you anyway,” Catherine replied. “I meant to have more done but…”
“Catherine,” Vincent said, shaking his head in gentle reproof. “There are only so many hours in a day. And I enjoy spending time with you, no matter what we’re doing.”
Catherine nodded and pulled a frame off the top of her dresser. There was a small tug in their bond, not quite pain or sadness or joy, but some combination of the three. “What is it?” Vincent asked, leaving the empty box to stand next to Catherine.
“When I had to…close out my father’s house there were a few items I brought inside; the rest are in storage. This was always my favorite picture of them.” She handed the brass picture frame to Vincent.
It was a wedding photo, a smiling bride in a 1950s wedding dress and her equally happy groom. Even though the woman wore glasses and her hair was darker, there was no mistaking that smile; it was the same smile Vincent saw on his beloved’s face. “They were so happy,” he said.
“They were,” Catherine said. “Despite everything, all their difficulties, all their challenges, they truly loved each other. I just wish they could be there when you and I are married.”
“I don’t think those we love ever really leave us,” Vincent said. “And perhaps they will be there.”
“I hope,” she replied, smiling.
They ate Chinese food from Henry Pei’s restaurant and Catherine turned the classical station on the radio while the snow howled its fury. “I have to say I’m glad you’ll be here overnight,” Catherine said, deftly picking up broccoli with her chopsticks. “Besides, I think Father would have my hide if I let you out in this weather.”
“He would,” Vincent agreed. “Though I’ll have to leave before dawn.”
Catherine chuckled. “Vincent, don’t you know what day it is?”
He shook his head. Between finishing up the carving on their chambers and his own secret preparations for their wedding the following weekend, the days had started to blur together. “Thursday?” he guessed.
“Vincent,” Catherine said, “It’s Friday night. I don’t have to be at work until Monday. You really must be tired.”
“No,” he replied, struggling to hold back a fierce yawn as he finished up the last of his kung pao chicken.
She raised her eyebrows. “You look tired. Things have been busy, haven’t they?”
Vincent nodded. “And...I've been missing you.” It was hard to sleep in his bed now, alone; even knowing Catherine was safe Above didn't always make the nights easier.
“I know,” Catherine replied. “Believe me, I'd much rather have been below with you than working nights with Rita to try and locate our witnesses on the Avery case. But...”
Vincent took her hand, strangely relieved at the echo of his own feelings. When before he would have chastised himself for his selfishness, he understood now the full meaning of Catherine's words all those months before: Those things too are the other side of love. He would always have to share her with the world Above, but it was reassuring to know that she felt the separation as much as he did. “Catherine, we knew these times would come when you wouldn't be able to come below at night or you'd have to work late. You have a life Above too.”
“I know,” she agreed. “It's just...hard. There was a time when if I saw you for a few hours on my balcony, that was a long visit. And now....”
“Now, it's harder to be apart,” Vincent finished. “I know.”
“Well,” Catherine said, “we'll just have to make do with what we have.”
“And that,” Vincent said, “is a very great deal, my Catherine.”
“It is,” she replied. “And at least we won't be separated tonight.”
“So,” Vincent asked as they were washing dishes, “have you thought about where you’d like to go after the ceremony?”
Catherine’s gamin smile lit her face as she pulled out a couple of dishtowels. “I thought we already had the honeymoon back in Connecticut?” she asked, teasing.
“I’m sure some will see it that way,” Vincent said, drying off a bowl and smiling back at her. “But it is our tradition that couples go away for a time. Is there someplace you’d like to go?”
Her hand played with the crystal on its delicate chain. “I’d like to see where this came from. Is it very far?”
He considered. “It took me two days to journey there and another two back. How much time do you have off?”
“A week,” Catherine said. “And I’m lucky to have gotten that with Avery’s arraignment coming up.”
“How did you manage to get the time off?” Vincent asked, curious.
She flushed a pleasing shade of rose. “I…told Joe the truth. That I was getting married and that I needed the time off. I think he was too shocked to say no.”
“And he wasn’t…disturbed that he wasn’t invited?” he asked, concerned for yet another complication in her already complicated life. “He must have had questions.”
“Oh, he did,” Catherine replied dryly. “But Joe's known for a while that I have someone in my life. He's been a good friend and he knows there are...things I won't tell him. As for the wedding, I told him I was eloping because I didn’t want to give the tabloids anything interesting to report. He understood that completely. Once Joe got his breath back, that is,” Catherine replied, her wry smile surfacing. “He does want to meet you, though.”
“That might prove…interesting,” Vincent said, chuckling.
Catherine nodded. “Wouldn’t it just? I think he’s more curious than anything; I’ve been so closed-mouthed about my personal life that I think I’d have had to give Joe CPR if I’d given him any more details.” She touched his face, leaving a small trail of soapy bubbles. “You’re worried. Why?”
“Not worried, precisely,” Vincent said, rinsing off a plate. “But I wish things were not quite so…complicated. That you didn't have to come up with a story or an excuse to protect me, protect our world.”
“You know what? So do I, sometimes. I wish we could have Joe over for dinner and have him get to know you. I wish we could get married in the sunshine in front of all my friends and family. I wish I could put a picture of you on my desk.” Her soapy hands clasped his under the dishwater and her gaze was fierce. “But that’s not our life. And frankly, I’m not sure what I’d do if I could do all those things. They’re just somehow…not as important as I once thought they were.”
“I understand,” Vincent said, surprising himself even as he said it. There were wishes and hopes he’d long buried as unrealistic or foolish, but there were other hopes and dreams now too, slowly taking their place and transforming the both of them.
She turned the faucet on and rinsed the soap off her hands. “So,” Catherine said. “The crystal cavern?”
“It won't be an easy journey,” Vincent cautioned. “It's not an area that most people visit often, except for Narcissa, so the usual aid stations haven't been set up. We will be completely alone and below the level of the pipes for part of the trip.” Sensing her dismay through the bond, and realizing that she must think he was trying to discourage her, Vincent held up a hand. “But if you want to see it, I would love to show it to you.”
“I think it’ll be a lot of fun,” Catherine replied. “I used to go camping with Gertrude and her daughters before we all went off to college; those were some of the best times of my life. And besides, there’s just so much of your world I’ve never seen.”
Vincent nodded. “Yes. And I’ve been looking forward to showing it to you. I always thought…I would tell myself one day, never thinking that one day would ever come.”
“That’ll teach you to be a pessimist,” Catherine said lightly and ducked---but not quite fast enough---as a well-aimed splash of water hit her. “Ooh, this means war!”
She darted away, laughing, and Vincent leapt after her. Something white and fluffy—fluffy?---sailed through the air and bounced neatly off his head and Vincent realized he’d been hit by one of the couch’s loose pillows. “Gotcha!” Catherine crowed and ducked again as Vincent retrieved one of the small bolster pillows and threw it in a neat overhand pitch.
They chased each other around the couch several times. Finally---he was never sure quite how---Catherine had him backed up against the corner of her couch without a pillow in his hands. Vincent held up both hands, chuckling. “You win.”
She eyed him, not quite putting down her own pillow. “I do?”
Vincent nodded. Catherine came a step closer. “And what do I get for winning?”
The look in her eyes was suddenly something quite other than the playful feistiness of just a few minutes earlier. “Whatever you want.”
Catherine came near him, dropping the pillow on the ground. It seemed the most natural thing, an outgrowth of their hunger, to pull her close to him. Her hands undid the leather ties of his collar and her gentle touch of the soft fur there caused his pulse to begin to gallop. Gazing down, Vincent saw the large splash of dampness on her turtleneck. “I've...gotten you wet,” he managed, tugging at the hem of her shirt.
Her eyes were very dark. “Yes, you have.” She gathered the bottom of her shirt in her hands and pulled it off, revealing the carved ivory of her skin, warm in the flickering light of the fire. In those moments, as the scent of her (mate, one ancient corner of his mind whispered,) rose in the warm room, Vincent forgot his sense of awkwardness in her world, forgot even that he was anything other than a man in love. That he was not simply---or not only---a man was lost in the warm light of their bond, the reassurance that whatever he was, or wasn't, Catherine loved and accepted.
It was only after, waiting for their souls to separate again, that Vincent would stare into the night and wonder if Catherine might yet come to regret all the changes he had caused in her life, all the compromises and complications, the sum of things she could never say. But sometimes, in a moment of grace, Catherine would awaken and murmur meaningless sounds, reminding him more than any words could that she, too, had chosen.
And then, he would sleep.
The next morning, Catherine found him sitting cross-legged on her balcony enjoying the sunlight. “Aren’t you cold?” she asked, drawing her own robe closer against the bite in the air. The snow piled in light drifts against the high walls of the balcony but the space next to Vincent was free of snow.
“I’m insulated,” Vincent replied mildly, smiling up at her and drawing her down beside him. He gathered the extra folds of his cloak and wrapped it around them both. “And the sun is beautiful.”
“It is,” Catherine agreed, leaning against his warmth and thinking that she would never see anything quite as magical as Vincent in full sunlight. At first he had been reluctant to come out on the balcony in the daytime, but eventually, the sunrise had drawn him out. He was still cautious---sitting on the floor of the balcony instead of standing up---but when he stayed overnight with her, Catherine knew she’d find him on the balcony the next morning. “Will you miss the balcony?” she asked, curious, for although they had decided she would keep the apartment until their house was renovated, it would eventually be sold.
“I suppose, in some small way, yes I will,” Vincent said. “This was the first place that was truly ours, not of your world or mine. But we’ll make other memories at our new home.”
She nodded. “I feel the same. A pang, but…a necessary letting-go. Which reminds me—did I tell you I heard back from a couple of the contractors on your list?”
“No, you didn’t,” Vincent replied. “Which ones?”
“Glazer Construction,” Catherine said, smiling at the name a bit.
“Oh, yes, Matthew and his daughter run that company---they’ve been Helpers for years. Who else?”
"Simon Kowalski,” Catherine replied. “The other two either weren’t available for an estimate or didn’t want to take that size of a project on.”
“Well, it will be a large job---better that the smaller contractors realize that going in. Simon Kowalski is not a Helper but many of his crew and subcontractors are.”
“Is that a coincidence?” Catherine said. “Just how many helpers are there?”
“It’s not a coincidence, precisely,” Vincent said. “More like propinquity. We do have Helpers from all walks of life, as you’ve noticed, but it’s not common that entire families are involved in the secret. So at Winterfest or at other times, one Helper may discover another and they become friends, if only to have someone else to share the secret with. Many business relationships have started that way---plus, from a purely business standpoint, doing business with a Helper means the person has already proven themselves to be honest and reliable.” A wind blew across the balcony and Vincent drew her closer. “As far as how many there are---perhaps Father has the total count, but I’m not sure of the exact number. Some we see more often than others, but there are a fair number.”
“However many there are, I’m glad that we’ll likely have some working on our house,” Catherine replied.
“As am I,” Vincent replied. “And Father will worry less.”
“Father worries?” Catherine quipped. “Really?”
Vincent’s breath was warm on her neck as he chuckled. “Yes, he worries. Perhaps you’ve noticed?”
The site of their breath coalescing in the chill air reminded Catherine of how cold it was on the balcony and she stood, tugging on his hand. “Come on inside, love,” she urged. “I’ve got the coffee brewing and it’s warm inside.”
He stood—a graceful movement for so large a man---but instead of opening the door, Catherine was startled to find his hands at her waist, warm inside her robe, pulling her hard against him. “I can think of…other ways to warm up,” Vincent replied, nuzzling her neck.
A shiver that had nothing at all to do with the temperature shot up Catherine’s spine. “Mmmm, so can I,” she murmured against his hair. “But I’d rather get…warmed up…in there, wouldn’t you?”
They returned below later that night; a phone call from Renata had alerted them that Devin and Charles had left Boston earlier in the morning and would be arriving soon if the weather didn’t worsen. “The storm seems to have let up at least,” Vincent said, drawing his cloak closer as night fell around them. “If Devin is cautious driving, they should be fine.”
“Somehow, ‘cautious’ and your brother don’t quite fit in the same sentence,” Catherine said, smiling.
“No,” Vincent agreed. “But I believe having Charles’ care has mellowed him a bit. It’s one thing to take risks when it’s your life but quite another when someone else is affected.”
“True,” she replied, thinking how true that statement was for them as well. She watched as Vincent pulled the concealing hood over his head. “I’ll see you below soon?”
Vincent nodded. “Yes. And I’ll be careful.”
She smiled at him. “See you soon, then.”
Vincent met her at her basement entrance, looking a bit damp with the snow but otherwise all right. “Renata just sent a message down; Devin is parking the car in our co-op’s parking lot and they’ll be down soon.”
The sense of excitement in his voice was unmistakable and Catherine had the sense, as she so often did when he spoke of Devin, of what he must have been like as a boy. “It will be good to see him again,” she said, taking Vincent’s hand as they walked.
“It will,” he agreed. “He’ll probably have some greatly exaggerated stories of where he’s been and what he’s been doing since we saw him last, but…”
She chuckled. “True enough. But that’s just…Devin.”
He nodded. “And Father is looking forward to seeing him. It’s been so long since his last letter.”
“He and Father are writing to each other?” Catherine asked in some surprise, knowing how strained their relationship had been.
“Yes,” Vincent said. “They began exchanging letters while I was recovering from my illness last year.” He laughed, a chuff of amusement in the cool tunnel air. “I get them also, but not as often---mine are much longer than Father’s and they tend to have more…details.”
“He’s still trying to take you with him, isn’t he?” Catherine asked, touched.
“I believe so, yes,” Vincent replied, voice soft with memory. “Even when we were boys together, I think some part of him always knew that where he longed to go, I couldn’t follow. He tells wonderful stories in those letters---of Ayres Rock at sunrise, of rain in the Scottish heather, things he’s seen and people he’s known---“
“And been, I’m sure,” Catherine said dryly.
“Well, that too,” Vincent replied, chuckling. “But the tone of his letters has changed over the last few months---they’re about Charles, the things he’s learning how to do, about the people Devin has met at his job as a bartender. He sounds more…settled, though I don’t think he’ll ever completely settle down.”
“Probably not,” she agreed. “That would be entirely too consistent of him.”
“Telling stories about me,” a dry voice said from behind them. “I thought you'd at least have waited until I got here.”
They both knew that voice. “Devin?”
Click here for Chapter 11....
 “Being to Timelessness as It's to Time,” by ee cummings