Chapter 30: A Day Full of Clay and Work and Fire 
The light in his eyes. “Will you dance with me?” he'd asked, all wonder and love and a thousand emotions playing across his face.
The light of candles...the grey soft shimmering blanket of peace, sleeping next to him...hearing the sound of his heart.
Light...the fire that warmed and burned...the light that burned her eyes.
“Whoa, lady,” she heard a voice say. “Stay still. You're safe now.”
The agonized roar echoed against the rock walls, crashing like waves on the shore, an awful sound of rage and pain and loss. Father had only heard it twice before: once, when Catherine had left, determined to marry a man she did not love, and then again, a year later, in the caverns far below them, where Vincent had gone to die. He rushed to their chamber and pushed through the heavy velvet curtain to find his son sitting in his carved chair, staring at nothing. “Vincent?” Father asked, but the blue eyes were glazed and Vincent did not turn to look at him.
Father didn't bother checking for fever or injury; Vincent was rarely ill and besides, he had seen that inward-turned stare before, in his horrified catatonia the night Paracelsus died. Then, nothing and no one but Catherine had been able to rouse him, but she was not here and Father very much feared the worst. He pulled a spare chair over from the table and sat next to his son. “Vincent, please. You must tell me. Is it Catherine?”
There was no response for a time, then Vincent spoke. His voice was harsh, pain dragged over glass. “She was in a...car accident. She's alive but I cannot sense anything else.”
Father cast about for something to say or do. “She's alive, then you must have hope. Someone will find her. Where was she? Can your connection tell you?”
“She had left Elizabeth; she was looking forward to coming home,” Vincent replied, voice distant as if he were focusing on something else entirely. “Then she was...afraid. That was the last I sensed before...”
Father nodded. Before the accident. All right. “Well, that's a starting point, at least. We have helpers in the area, and an accident will not go unreported. She will be found, Vincent.”
“But not by me,” Vincent said.
Father flinched to hear his son's suffering in those simple words. He had chafed against his limitations often enough, but to be unable to help the woman he loved... “I'm sorry.” He rose and banged out a quick message on the pipes, asking Pascal for an emergency all-clear and summoning two of their fastest messengers---Kipper and Geoffrey---to his chamber. “We'll bring her home, back to you, Vincent. We will.”
“Ma'am, don't move. Paramedics are on their way,” a voice said, and Catherine opened her eyes, squinting against the brightness. Her head throbbed, off beat with the rhythms of her pulse.
“What happened?” she asked.
The man dabbed at a cut on her forehead. “You don't remember? Not that I'm surprised, you hit your head pretty hard on the steering wheel. Good thing you were wearing your seatbelt...anyway, your car was rear-ended and you ended up nose first in the embankment. Your car's toast, by the way, but it looks like it was half at the scrapyard already, so no loss there. You both were lucky. That kind of accident could have sent you into the other lanes of traffic.”
“Rita?” she asked, memory coming back to her. Some accident, she thought.
“I'm here,” Rita replied from beside her. “I'm fine, for the most part.”
Catherine gazed up at the man. He looked familiar but she couldn't immediately place him. “Who are you?”
The man grinned. “Tow-truck driver. Days like this, we get a lot of business...anyway, I'm Corey.” In a low whisper, so low she had to strain to hear him, he said, “I think you know my granddad, Gideon. I saw you at last Winterfest. It's just lucky it was me who found you but don't worry, I'll send a message.”
Vincent. The thought of what he must be going through, so close and yet, too far, made her heart hurt for him. “I called an ambulance,” Corey continued. “There's a lot of accidents on the road today, what with this storm and all, so they may be a bit, but I'll stay here with you until they show.”
“Thank you,” Catherine replied. “Rita, did you get the other driver's license plates?”
“No,” Rita said. “I wanted to, but he was driving too close.”
Of course he was. Aloud, Catherine said, “Joe is going to have a field day with this. We'll be lucky if he ever lets us out of the office again.”
Rita's tired chuckle echoed her own. She closed her eyes and was surprised to feel Corey poke her in the shoulder. “Hey, don't sleep now. They're gonna want to check you both for concussion.”
Catherine roused herself. “Right.”
Corey disappeared for a bit and returned to the cab of his tow-truck. “Cathy, how did he know you?” Rita asked.
The things she couldn't say...again...the words were clamped off before they could reveal too much. Memory rose: Gideon, proud and beaming, on the staircase during Winterfest, announcing that Corey had been accepted to an EMT program and would start in the spring. Catherine couldn't be sure that Corey's presence on this highway at this time was anything other than serendipity, but Rita's curiosity was as keen as her intelligence. “I don't know. Maybe I remind him of someone.”
Vincent was aware of the commotion surrounding him, of Father's dispatched orders to Kipper and Geoffrey, of the concerned looks directed his way, but he had no energy to spare for any of it. His entire attention was focused on the slender threads of his connection to Catherine, hoping for some sense that she was more than just alive. He was only vaguely aware---at some distant level---that Father had pulled up a chair next to his own. “Maxine's husband has a police scanner,” Father was saying, “and she'll send a message with Kipper if there's any news. And Geoffrey's gone to Gideon's apartment to see if Corey's working tonight. Then he'll contact Peter.”
The plans sounded elaborate but he could only manage a nod to acknowledge them, his head aching dully with the movement. “We're doing everything we can,” Father finished. The sharp grey eyes studied him. “Headache?” Vincent nodded.
“There's not a lot I can give you for it,” Father said. “I wish there was.” He tilted his head. “You said Catherine was in a car accident. Do you believe she was injured?”
“I...perhaps,” Vincent replied. A dawning hope began to displace the icy fears of the last few hours. He had felt Catherine's pain before, as she had felt his.
“Then I would hold to that knowledge,” Father answered, touching his hand, comfort and love in the contact. “And in the meantime, you should eat something.”
“I can't---” Vincent began, but Father cut him short.
“You must, Vincent. This may go on for hours yet and you'll do no one any good if you don't take care of yourself.”
The paramedics came; their tentative diagnosis, a mild concussion for Catherine, whiplash but no serious injuries for Rita. “We'll transport you both to the hospital for observation overnight,” one said. Catherine sighed inwardly, but agreed. One more day and night before she could return home, before she could be with Vincent and reassure him she was fine. She was not even sure he could sense her, but she tried anyway. I'm all right, love. I'll be home soon.
She and Rita were placed in the same room, hooked up to a variety of monitors and then left largely alone while they waited for a doctor to examine them. “They'll probably release us tomorrow, don't you think?” Rita asked.
“I hope so,” Catherine replied, thinking again...still...of Vincent and how this must be affecting him, his worst nightmare---that she would need him and he would be unable to help---writ large. She'd called Peter at his office so at least Vincent would know where she was. “Did you speak with Joe?”
Rita nodded. “He doesn't think this is an accident.”
Catherine leaned her head against the pillows, waiting for the pain medication to start working. “I don't think it was an accident either.”
The messages arrived at nearly the same time: one from Corey, verifying Catherine had been in an accident but was taken to St. Michael's Hospital and another note from Peter, saying he was on his way to the hospital and would send a message when he was able. “So you see,” Father said as he handed Vincent the two bits of paper covered in Geoffrey's scrawling handwriting, “she's fine. She'll be home soon.”
Vincent nodded, conscious only of a frustrated, inchoate anger mingled with his relief that Catherine was safe and whole. Others had done what should have been his role and his role alone...and what will she think of me now? I couldn't be there for her. “Thank you,” he managed, but the sharp look from the grey eyes told him Father was not fooled by his careful, even tone.
“Would it help to talk about it?” Father asked, rising to pour two cups of tea from the pot Vincent had set to steep.
The part of him that nursed and remembered the resentments and angers of a lifetime wanted only to find some dark distant cave and howl his fears and grief where there was no one to see, no one to hear. Vincent acknowledged that instinct even as he refused to let it surface. “There was a time when I accepted my limitations as being...the way my life would always be.”
“Before Catherine?” Father surmised.
“Yes,” Vincent said. “She opened so many doors for me I thought would remain closed and barred. And I began to believe that what I was...and wasn't...was ultimately less important because of our love.”
Father absorbed this in silence. “And today, you were reminded of your limitations?”
“A normal man could visit her in the hospital. Yet...I cannot. All I can do is wait for others to tell me how she is. I cannot go and see for myself.” His fists clenched, almost of their own accord.
Father placed an aged hand on his arm and Vincent forced his hands to relax. “I'm sorry.”
“For what?” Vincent asked, perplexed.
“For an unjust world, I suppose,” Father replied. “I know what it's like to wait and worry and wonder. When you were...lost Above, when those two scientists kidnapped you, I had no idea where you might be. We had helpers combing the city and searching Below, but it was Catherine who found you, Catherine who brought you home.” He smiled, a tired, drawn expression. “So you see, Vincent, I'm not unfamiliar with the frustration you're feeling. I, too, could do nothing but wait.”
“I didn't know,” Vincent responded. They had never discussed his abduction except in the vaguest of terms, and Father had discouraged anyone else from asking what he might have endured.
“No reason why you should,” Father said. “I never told you, but I felt quite...useless during the entire incident. But Catherine brought you home and now Catherine has us to bring her home. It doesn't truly matter how she comes back to us, does it?”
“No,” Vincent agreed. “I'm being foolish.”
Father shook his head. “No. Just...very human, my son.”
It was a little past dawn when she arrived at her apartment, released with stern instructions to follow-up with her primary care doctor and to report promptly any incidents of double-vision or continued headache. Allen had come for Rita already, and Peter had dropped her off. “It's early yet, but go down there as soon as you can,” he advised with a fond smile. “Vincent's been wearing a hole in the floors, I'm sure.”
He didn't have to tell her that; the frantic avalanche of fear had flooded their bond as soon as her headache had eased enough for her to sense it. Vincent knew she was safe, but he would not rest until she was home. Neither would she. “I bet he has.”
Once inside, Catherine showered and changed into clean clothes for the trip below. By that time, most of the early morning commuters had left her building, so she was able to slip into the basement without anyone noticing. She was only halfway down the ladder when she felt the warm, strong hands at her waist. “You're here,” Vincent murmured, breathing ragged. “You're here.”
She turned in his embrace to face him and jumped lightly down the remaining rungs. “I'm here, love, I'm here.” The rhythm of his heart leapt against her hand, mute testimony to all his anguish.
He gathered her close. “I'm sorry,” he said.
Catherine drew back a little to gaze up at him, hearing the undertone of his words. Her hands played with the long strings of his cloak. “There's nothing to be sorry for or forgive, love. You couldn't have prevented this and you would have been there at the hospital if you could. I know that.”
“So Father reminds me,” he replied after a time. “But---”
“'But' nothing, love,” she told him firmly. “It's been a long day and my last meal was mystery meat and limp jello. Is breakfast available?”
“Not quite yet. But I can bring something back when it is, if you like. Oh, and Father wants to examine you himself.”
“Of course he does,” Catherine said, smiling.
After Father left, after the breakfast was eaten and the dishes cleared away, Catherine drew Vincent down beside her on the big carved bed. “It feels so good to be home,” she murmured.
There was the touch of a warm, calloused hand against her face---Vincent, gentle as always. “I was so afraid,” he said, voice barely above a whisper.
The rough silk of his hair brushed her wrist as she cupped his chin. “I know. We need to talk about this, love.”
“Hold me?” she asked.
A smile tugged at his mouth. “You have to ask?”
His arms enfolded her and she lay there for a time, listening to the familiar rhythms of his heart. “I know it was hard on you today.”
“It was,” he acknowledged. “I’m not used to feeling so helpless. And to sense your fear…”
Catherine turned a little to look up at him. “I want to ask you something and I want your first answer. Not what you think I should do, but what you want.”
His eyebrows rose but he nodded. “All right.”
“Do you want me to continue working at the DA’s office?”
She placed a finger on his lips. “You promised an honest answer, remember. What do you want?”
“I want you to be happy,” Vincent said finally. “And you enjoy your work.”
“I do. But I can work as a lawyer anywhere. Are you sure?”
He nodded. “Then you need to find…we need to find…some way of accepting the risks,” Catherine continued. “I’m not skulking about on dark city streets much anymore, and the Trial Division is much safer than Investigations was, but there are things I will still have to do because of my job. And I can’t bear the thought of you being perpetually afraid because I’m prosecuting crooks like Max Avery.”
Vincent looked away for a moment. When he finally spoke, his eyes were as clear and blue as the ocean he’d never seen. “I fear more for you now because we have so much more to lose. And if I thought you’d be happy moving Below permanently, I’d suggest it. But you are still a woman of both worlds. And I find myself grateful for it. I’ve seen so much through your eyes, so much I would never have known otherwise.”
Catherine smiled. “I understand. This place is home; it’s where my friends and family and you are. And it’s the largest part of my heart because the people I love live here. But if the choice is between my continuing to work at the DA's office and your peace of mind, you know which one I’ll choose.”
“I do,” Vincent said. “But there's no need to make such a decision now.”
“All right,” she replied. “But if there ever is…promise me you’ll tell me.”
“I will.” His eyes softened. “That you would be willing to make a sacrifice like that for me...”
She sat up a little then. “Isn’t that what you’ve done too, love? You could have had a nice safe relationship with a tunnel woman---no,” she said dryly as he began to shake his head, “don’t tell me they weren’t looking at you that way. I’m sure they were. You could have had a family down here, and never been hit by a car or burned or climbed tall buildings in all sorts of weather to see me….or,” her voice fell “…killed to protect me.”
“And what of your sacrifices?” Vincent asked. “You could have lived Above...openly...with a husband you could fully acknowledge, children...”
She looked at him and smiled. “I wouldn't start assuming we won't have children. Especially since we haven't started trying to have a family.”
“True,” he acknowledged, returning her smile. He sobered then. “But you have sacrificed much, given up so much as well.”
“Perhaps,” Catherine said. “That’s what love is. Sometimes the sacrifices are painful but they’re worth it.” She reached out to touch his face, loving the texture of the soft bristles against her hand. “You've always been worth it.”
Click here for Chapter 31...
 “If your eyes were not the color of the moon,” by Pablo Neruda