Chapter 19: So That Our Dream Might Reply 
They arrived at the outer boundaries of the hub a day and a half later, past lunch. Though they had surely been seen by the sentries as they approached, Vincent halted before the large master pipe, hesitant to announce their arrival. “What is it?” Catherine asked.
His smile was rueful as he glanced at her. “I'm...not sure how to do this.”
“Do what?” she asked.
“I never thought this would ever be possible for me. I know nothing of being a husband. What if I do it...wrong?”
Careful of his injury, she took both his hands in her own. “Here begins a new life, love.” She released him to touch the plane of a soft-bristled cheek. “I know you. You can't do this wrong. You won't. Besides, it's not like I've ever been a wife before. We'll learn together.”
The chuff of his amusement was warm against her hand. “Yes, we will learn together.”
Stepping back, Vincent rapped out a brief message on the pipes: Vincent and Catherine—Home Tunnel boundary---we're home.
Father was their first visitor, arriving just as Catherine and Vincent were putting away their camping gear and sorting their dirty clothes into piles for washing later. Catherine wanted nothing more than to race her husband to the shower---it hadn't escaped her notice that the shower in their bathroom was easily large enough for the both of them---but she wanted to hear what Father had to say about Vincent's injured hand.
“Ah, Vincent, Catherine, welcome back,” the older man said, hugging them both. He released them but then glanced at his son, the white of the gauze bandage clearly visible against the gold of Vincent's fur. “What happened to you?”
“I cut my hand on a rock,” Vincent replied. “Catherine rinsed it out and bandaged it.”
“You must be more careful down there,” Father said, drawing Vincent to a chair. “Honestly, Vincent, you're not usually so clumsy.”
“He wasn't,” Catherine put in. They had discussed on the way back how much---and what---to reveal about their experience in the cave but had come to no real conclusions. “It was an accident.”
“Well, let me take a look at it regardless,” Father said, washing his hands and unwinding the bandage that she'd changed just that morning. “Hmm,” he continued. “The cuts were pretty deep, but it seems to be healing well. Are you in any pain?”
Vincent shook his head. “It itches quite a lot, though.”
Father grunted. “I'm sure; you were lucky to escape major damage. I think it's healed enough that you can leave off the bandage; just keep it clean and dry. That also means a couple of days off the work crews for you.”
Vincent nodded as Father stood. “Well, I'll leave you to your unpacking. It's nice to have you both home.”
After he left, Vincent dropped their tapestry curtain---as clear a signal as a closed door would be Above. “You wanted to take a shower, did you not?” he said, eyes dancing.
After they showered, they made for the commons and the lunch leftovers William kept on the sideboard for stragglers. They were greeted by the last of the lunchtime crowd – Miguel and Marisol, Cullen and Valerie. “Hey,” Cullen called from the long wooden bench. “Come join us.”
“So, how was your honeymoon?” Marisol asked as they sat down.
“Wonderful,” Catherine answered. “It's lovely down there.”
“I've heard that,” Marisol said, “but I've never been. Too far down for my taste.”
“And mine,” Miguel chimed in, grinning. “But I bet you didn't look at the scenery much anyways.”
Cullen's chuckle ended with a swallowed gasp, clearly caused by Valerie's foot impacting with his shin. “Be nice,” she said in a stage whisper, laughing herself.
“What?” Cullen said, all innocence. “Miguel said it. I didn't say a thing.”
Vincent shook his head, smiling. “You didn't have to. Did we miss anything while we were gone?”
“Father's set the Jobs Meeting for tomorrow afternoon. Other than that, though, it's been really quiet,” Cullen said, buttering his bread and passing the tureen of stew down to Miguel.
“What’s that?” Catherine asked.
“It's where new maintenance work is divided up and assigned a priority,” Vincent explained, taking the tureen from Miguel and passing it to Catherine. “If there's something likely to involve several people on a crew, something that may require a short-term reassignment of other duties, it'll be settled there. We usually have it once a month, more often during the rainy season.”
“Because of the pipes?” Catherine guessed.
“Yes,” Vincent replied. “When the water table is at its highest, we can spend several days and nights manning work crews, patching the pipes.”
“And it's a cold, nasty job too,” Marisol put in. “My first winter here, must have been seven or eight years ago, we had record snows and then a rainy spring. How long were we all up either trying to stop the pipes from leaking or cleaning up the mess? Four, five days?”
“I remember that,” Cullen said. “I think it was six days. Father was afraid that City Water would notice the leaks but they didn't. I'm still not sure how they missed it.”
“Such flooding is unusual,” Vincent said, sensing Catherine's concern. “And routine maintenance prevents a lot of the worst issues, but with all of us involved with different responsibilities, it takes some doing to get everything scheduled.”
“That makes sense,” Catherine said, ladling out some stew and handing the tureen back to Vincent. “And your meetings sound much more productive than our staff meetings.”
“Don't count on it,” Cullen said dryly. “We have Mouse at ours, remember?”
After lunch, they ambled back towards their chamber, when Marisol caught up to them. “Hey, Catherine, I meant to ask you---do you have any plans after the Jobs Meeting tomorrow?”
“No, I don't think so,” Catherine replied, glancing at Vincent. “Why?”
“Well, it's the tradition for someone to show newcomers the ropes. I realize you know more than a lot of people about our world, but I thought, if you want to...”
“Oh, thank you, Marisol, I'd like that,” Catherine said, smiling. “Anything I should bring with me?”
“No, just wear some clothes you don't mind getting dirty,” Marisol replied. “I’ll see you then after the meeting?”
“Count on it,” Catherine said. After Marisol left, Catherine looked up at her husband. “'Clothes I don't mind getting dirty?' What’s going on?”
“Well, I'm not supposed to tell you this,” Vincent said as they walked, “but there's some secret ritual involving mud baths and chocolate pie.”
His tone was serious, but the twinkle in his blue eyes was unmistakable. “Oh, you,” she said, laughing.
The rest of the day was spent doing precisely nothing, or as close to it as possible. Catherine selected a few books from the small library and stretched out on the big carved bed in their bedroom, intending to do some reading while Vincent began going through his lesson plans for the composition class he would resume teaching on Monday. Just as Catherine was fading off into sleep, lulled by the quiet of the room and her husband’s soft breathing, Vincent spoke. “Have you thought what it will be like when you return?”
She sat up, dislodging a couple of books in the process. “When I return to work, you mean?”
He nodded. “Won’t there be questions? Gossip?”
“Oh, sure,” she replied. “There always is. And likely there will be more once I return with a wedding band. But…I’ve gotten used to it by now. And I think you worry too much.”
“Perhaps,” he said, brushing the hair back from her face. “I don’t want to make your life more difficult. And I wouldn’t have you face more questions because of me.”
“Not because of you, love---because of us,” she insisted firmly. “I’ve been fielding questions about our relationship for years; the addition of a little piece of jewelry isn’t going to change that.”
There was an undercurrent of amusement in their bond. “What?” Catherine asked.
Vincent’s mouth quirked, mischief sparking in his eyes. “Forgive me, but I was picturing the look on Elliot Burch’s face once he sees your wedding band.”
It was true she had no real wish to hurt Elliot and yet, given his shenanigans since he’d become involved in the Avery case again, she was unable to suppress just a little bit of mirth. “One thing guys like Elliot never see coming is that they’ve lost.”
“Lost?” Vincent asked.
“To the better man,” she said, and kissed him.
Vincent awoke the next morning with the sweet curl of his wife nestled against him. He remembered the first time she’d slept in his arms, grief-stricken after her father’s death. Then, he had not been able to stay, fearful of her nearness and what it might mean for the restraint he struggled to maintain. Now, though, he was another man and her presence meant nothing but rest…lost in balms …
She stirred and uttered a sleepy giggle and he smiled down at her. She might wake soon, or she might not, but he was content to watch her as she slept. The muted clanking of the pipes—so much a part of the normal background noise Below that he had almost ceased to hear it---rang out the hour’s announcement along with the beginnings of the usual morning chatter. Catherine stirred again and rolled to her side. “What time is it?” she murmured, not opening her eyes.
“If I heard right, it’s about seven am,” Vincent said. “William will have breakfast ready soon. Are you hungry?”
Even muffled against his chest, the word “coffee” was distinct. He chuckled. “Yes, that too.”
Catherine sat up then, the ties of her flannel nightgown loose and Vincent was reminded of other appetites. And it struck him again—as it had so often—how normal it was becoming to wake in this bed and find her there. She yawned then and her sleepy green eyes gazed at him. “I can’t quite get used to finding you here either,” she said. Running a hand through her hair, she asked, “What do we have planned for today?”
“Sunday tends to be the one day when most of us rest,” Vincent replied. “I think Cullen and Valerie are taking some of the older children into the park if the weather holds and Father has a story hour planned for this evening. Aside from that and the Jobs Meeting, there isn’t anything scheduled.”
“Good,” Catherine said. “I feel a little…”
“Discombobulated?” Vincent asked, smiling. “So do I.”
“You do?” she said. “You seem so calm.”
He grinned wider, knowing he was probably showing his teeth and not caring. It was strange and wonderful and terrifying all at once, this new freedom he found with her to just simply be, regardless of whatever he was, or wasn’t…the feeling growing in him since the autumn Connecticut sunshine that it was enough---finally, enough---that they were together and all of his more eternal questions no longer as important as once they’d been. “I am calm,” he said, “but we've gone through quite a lot of change in the last week and will go through more---changes I never expected to see in my own life. A woman who loves me as I am, preparations for our life together between the worlds? These things were never dreamt of in my philosophy.”
Her eyes were a darker green when they were filled with tears and glistened like the last verdant Connecticut leaves after an autumn’s rain. “Oh, love,” she began but he gathered her close.
“I didn't want you to cry,” he said.
“I know,” Catherine replied, “but this is really us…now…isn’t it?”
“It is,” he said.
After breakfast, they returned to their chamber and finished unpacking. Catherine heard the time announcement on the pipes and realized that tomorrow morning, she'd be back at work, contending with burned coffee, misplaced files, pantyhose, and Joe's chocolate cheese nuggets. A vague wave of unreality hit her---what was real? This place, or the hustle and bustle of the world Above?
Something of her feelings must have crossed their bond; Vincent looked up from where he was placing Mary's wedding gift---a brightly colored quilt---in their armoire and smiled at her. “I've often felt the same,” he said.
He nodded. “Oh, yes, particularly once I started meeting you on your balcony. I'd climb up there and wonder which was more real, my life before you or those few moments we spent together.”
She hooked her hair behind her ear. “You know, I've always wondered....”
“Why did you never come into my apartment before the Watcher? So many nights, we met on my balcony and it was freezing and...”
“And I could have come inside, but I didn't,” Vincent finished. “Well, that's not entirely true; I came into your apartment when you were attacked and when that voodoo cult...”
Catherine held up her hands, laughing. “Okay, let me rephrase the question, Counselor. Why didn't you come into my apartment when I wasn't injured or out of my mind?”
Vincent closed the heavy carved doors of the armoire and came to sit next to her on the bed. “Your apartment...it's light and airy and everything modern Above. There are no shadows there.” He took her hand. “Without shadows, there was no place for me to hide. I was afraid that if you saw me clearly in the lights of your world, you'd turn from me once you truly saw what I was.”
“Oh, Vincent,” she said, remembering with a hot scald of shame what she'd done the first time she'd seen him and knew his fears weren't entirely unjustified. “You felt that even after we knew each other for a while?”
“Well, not all that time,” he confessed, a wry light dancing in his eyes. “After we knew each other longer, I didn't want to come in because of...your nightgowns.”
“My nightgowns?” she asked, not understanding. They were neither see-through nor particularly revealing, though he certainly had seen her in any number of them.
“I was...afraid...you were...you are so beautiful. I would see you in the silk of your lingerie and be terrified of my desire for you, what it could mean to us if I let those feelings emerge.” He smiled then. “I have never been so happy to be proved wrong.”
She leaned against him, his warmth enfolding her. “We don’t have any … social obligations … for the next few hours, do we?”
He shook his head, the long gold hair brushing her neck. “Why?”
Catherine turned to nuzzle his throat. Against the sudden gallop of his pulse, she murmured, “I bought a nightgown for our honeymoon but I forgot to bring it with me. Would you like to see it?”
He didn't answer with words.
They were late for lunch, quite late, causing more than a few chuckles and hastily covered smiles as they entered the commons. “That…unpacking…takes forever, eh, Vincent?” Cullen asked as they sat down. “You must be exhausted.”
Vincent was unused to such casual raillery directed at him but decided to confront it head on. Meeting Cullen’s teasing glance directly, he said, “It’s best not to rush that sort of thing. I’m sure you understand.”
Catherine choked, spluttering, into her coffee. “I’m sorry,” she said, once she recovered enough breath to speak.
Valerie, nearly finished with her food, shot her a wry, understanding look. “It’s a good thing when…unpacking…isn’t rushed, don’t you agree?”
She nodded. “Oh, yes,” she replied, grinning. “It takes time to do…it properly.”
Valerie smiled. “And when someone knows how to….pack…correctly, you don’t mind how long it takes.”
Cullen flushed red to the roots of his hair and Vincent suppressed a grin at the sight of Cullen hoist on his own petard. Taking pity on the other man, he said, “Marisol is taking Catherine…around…after the meeting.”
“Oh?” Valerie asked. Turning to Catherine, she continued, “Did she tell you not to wear clothes you’ll mind getting dirty?”
Catherine nodded. “Though I do wonder what I’m walking into.”
“Oh, I can’t tell you,” Valerie replied, grinning. “But don’t worry. We haven’t lost anyone in oh…months at least.”
“Yeah, and that was because she asked too many questions,” Cullen said, eyebrows waggling, dark eyes mischievous.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” Catherine replied, raising her hands and laughing. “I’ll stop asking.”
The rest of the day sped by in a haze of visitors and congratulations and well-wishes. After the last visitors---Lena and Warren, with Katie in tow---had left, Catherine sank down onto what had been Vincent’s bed in the antechamber. “Tired?” he asked.
“No, not precisely,” she replied. “Just…a little overwhelmed. Somehow, I never realized how many people there are down here.”
“It surprises me too sometimes,” Vincent replied. The old box springs groaned under his weight. The bed made a serviceable couch, he decided, even if it did squeak too much.
“Really?” she asked. “You’ve lived here all your life.”
“Really,” he returned, smiling. “Most of us are clustered here in the hub, but there are others---like Narcissa and Elizabeth---who live more distantly, and still others who live much further out. We usually come together for special occasions but we may not see our more distant neighbors for half a year or more otherwise.”
“Do you know them well?” she asked, resting against him.
“Most, yes,” he replied, “though I met many of them after Mouse came to us. We thought they might know who his parents were, or if he had any family, and by the time we realized differently, I’d gotten to know at least a few of the families out that far.”
“There are so many things I never knew,” Catherine said, marveling.
“And you’ll have the rest of our life together to learn the rest of it,” Vincent said, kissing the top of her head. “Are you ready to learn one more thing?”
“The Jobs Meeting,” he replied. “It should be starting soon.”
“Wow,” Catherine said sometime later, after the meeting had dispersed. “Leaking pipes, repairs to the bridge over the Abyss, the need for more chambers, an updated canning schedule, and security alerts. When do you all sleep?”
“When it’s nighttime,” Vincent said, chuckling as they walked back to their chamber. “I know it sounded like a lot, but truly, with everyone pitching in, it’ll work out.”
“And everyone will help?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” he replied. “Not that there aren’t disagreements---occasionally, loud ones---about who should do what, or how something could be done easier or better or who does some task better, but by and large, we have to work together to survive, and most people realize it.”
“And if they don’t?”
“Then Father counsels the offender. I was a teenager the last time he had to have that discussion with someone, a man named Mickey. I can still hear him talking: ‘There are no lay-abouts in the tunnels. You either work or you won’t eat.’”
“And what happened?” Catherine asked, though she suspected she already knew.
“He left,” Vincent said. “The older men escorted him to the perimeter and changed the ways down. Looking back, I think Mickey thought we were some sort of commune where he wouldn’t have to work hard. But he was the brother of a Helper and Father didn’t feel he could turn him away.” He shrugged. “Father became much more…selective of our residents after Mickey.”
“But wasn’t there a risk in kicking him out? What if he’d gone to the police?”
Vincent grinned, a wry look. “And told them what? He’d spent the past four months living below the streets of New York City, and oh, by the way, there’s a teenage boy there who looks like a lion? There are some benefits to being…unbelievable.”
“True,” she said, laughing at the dry tone of his words, so different from the pain she once would have heard, “but the thought that I might once not have believed in you, in your world…is what really seems unreal to me now.”
The time announcement rang out just as they returned to their chamber. “Marisol will be here soon,” Vincent said, dropping the privacy curtain.
“Oh, right,” Catherine said, “I guess I better change.”
“You should,” Vincent replied. “She wasn’t kidding about the dirt.”
Catherine tilted her head. “Vincent, what do you know?”
“Nothing I’m going to tell you,” he replied, kissing her. “Now hurry.”
Click here for Chapter 20....
 “Tie Your Heart at Night to Mine, Love,” by Pablo Neruda
 “Come Slowly, Eden,” by Emily Dickenson