Chapter 33: The Earth of Your Soul 
When they entered the commons for dinner and sat down at their usual table, Catherine became aware of a strange undercurrent in the room. There were no hostile glances, no frowns or finger-pointing, but she’d long been trained in reading body language and something was off. Cullen and his clasp of Vincent’s broad shoulder as he stood to reach a platter on the sideboard spoke volumes---reassurance? Catherine wondered. Kanin’s unusual stillness and Valerie’s strange quiet were telling in their own ways---unease? Nervousness? Mouse’s fast, flickering glances towards the entrance and Father’s sharp gaze only added to her concern. Vincent, she tapped against his hand, what’s going on?
An...altercation broke out while we were patching the pipes. I...stopped it.
You stopped it? How?
A feeling of calm resignation through their bond, then, I growled at the other man. After I asked him to back off. He…wasn’t going to listen. I think the tale has lost nothing in the telling.
Oh. No wonder.
What do you mean?
Everyone seems so tense. Vincent, they’re not afraid of you, are they?
No. But…It’ll blow over soon, I’m sure.
“I say, Vincent, did you hear Valerie’s been kidnapped by aliens?” Cullen’s wry voice cut in.
Vincent smiled. “Really? Isn’t she sitting next to you?”
Cullen shook his head. “Six years I’ve been trying to catch him not paying attention.”
Father chuckled. “Good luck in your attempts. Many is the time I was sure he wasn't listening but I never caught him.”
“Vincent, you always paid attention?” Catherine teased. “Always?”
“Oh, you should have seen him as a child,” Father said. “I'd set he and Devin homework and I'd be sure they were reading comic books or doodling, anything but listening. So I'd try to trip them up. I could catch Devin sometimes, but Vincent...never. You, my boy, were a challenge.”
“Who, me?” Vincent asked with an expression of feigned innocence and laughter broke out around the table, easing the tension.
“So now that you have your house, what are you going to do first?” Cullen inquired.
“We should probably work on excavating the tunnel entrance,” Vincent said. “From Matthew’s estimate, it’ll be some weeks before any construction is done due to the asbestos abatement. That will give us the necessary time.”
“Good plan,” Cullen agreed. “There’s a lot of earth and rubble to remove.”
“Yes,” Vincent said. “And once the corridor is stabilized, we can check out the ruin next door safely.”
Valerie shot him a curious look. “Why would you want to go there? It’s just a burned-out hulk, from what I’ve heard.”
“Ah, well, because you never know what you’ll find in those places,” Cullen hastily said.
Cullen’s plotting, Catherine tapped against Vincent’s hand.
Very much so, Vincent acknowledged. He’s hoping to salvage something for their chamber as a surprise.
“Just make sure you’re both careful,” Catherine said.
“Yeah,” Valerie said, “no more cave-ins, please.”
After dinner, they had clean-up detail. Vincent turned the faucet on and filled the large sink with soapy water as Catherine and Valerie left to bring in the dishes in from the commons. Olivia soon joined them and out of the corner of her eye, Catherine saw her deep in conversation with Vincent.
Following her gaze, Valerie smiled, a look which did not quite reach her eyes. “She's concerned about Angus.”
“Angus?” Catherine asked as they stacked the dirty dishes into a neat row.
“The man who tried to slug Kanin today. He's...a hot-head. Stays to himself mostly but he's bound and determined to be trouble for Kanin.”
Valerie shrugged, though her gaze was troubled. “I don't know. Hot tempers aren't unusual down here, and neither are minor scuffles, but actual fights? No.”
“Do you think it’s serious?”
“I do. This grudge Angus has, it's personal,” Valerie replied, her hands knotting the fringed edges of a woven tablecloth. “I've dealt with him a couple of times, usually when there's heavy labor needed on work crews. He's not the most friendly sort, but...Living like we do, so close together, we can't indulge grudges. Angus has been here long enough to know how the Council frowns on this sort of behavior.”
Catherine glanced back at Olivia, saw her dark head bent to Vincent's brighter one. “Olivia's worried.”
“She should be,” Valerie answered. “Cullen told me Angus was willing to go through Vincent to get to Kanin. That's not...a normal anger.”
“I want to thank you for what you did for Kanin,” Olivia said.
“Anyone would have done the same,” Vincent replied, drying off a stoneware platter.
“No,” Olivia said slowly. “I don't think they would.”
Vincent glanced at her, seeing the unusual tenseness around her eyes, the lip bitten nearly raw. They had grown up together and to see his old childhood playmate so discomfited was concerning. Olivia, as a child and an adult, was rarely disturbed by anything and at times, Vincent had envied her serenity. “Have there been...difficulties?”
“With Kanin? No. He's had to readjust but...he's glad to be home.”
Her feelings were a flood, beating on the door he kept closed against the onslaught of others' emotions. “What is it, Olivia?”
She looked away, then, “When Kanin returned---you might not remember, you were recovering from being so sick---it was difficult. Pascal and Cullen and Father and William, they welcomed him, but...”
Vincent raised his eyebrows in consternation. Kanin's return had clearly been more challenging than he'd realized. “Yes?” he prompted gently.
“Angus isn't the only one, Vincent. There have been mutterings, from Rhys, from Alex, from Beth and Jeremy and others...that Kanin is a convict and he shouldn't be living down here, or he didn't pay enough for his crimes, or he lied to us all, and shouldn't have been allowed to return. There have been plenty of days he's gotten a cold shoulder. And now Angus...”
“I didn't know, Olivia,” Vincent replied. “Why haven't you said anything?”
“What should I say?” Olivia asked. “Should I go crying to Father because some people won't talk to my husband? No.”
Vincent sighed. “That's not at all what I meant. Father couldn't have stopped the whispering---only time will do that---but we're always here if you need to talk. You know we are.”
“I do,” Olivia replied. “But when I heard about Angus...Kanin's worked so hard to overcome what he did, to make it right as far as it can be made right. I just wonder if it'll ever be over.”
“You’re worried,” Catherine said some hours later. Neither of them had been able to sleep, so they'd retreated to the Chamber of the Falls. Late at night, it was completely different than it was during the day, the surging waters a dark river of reflected stars.
The stone ledge was too narrow for him to even attempt to pace properly, but tension was written in every stiffened line of his shoulders and the distant preoccupation of his gaze as he sat and gazed at the waters. “Yes,” he said.
There was a small collection of pebbles by his bent leg; Catherine watched as he threw one into the waters far beneath them. “Valerie told me about Angus. Is that what’s bothering you?”
“Partially. Tempers flare on job sites all the time, but this…We’re not a community of angels, Catherine. If I had a nickel for how often Cullen and Winslow tangled or Mouse and…”
“Everyone?” Catherine put in, smiling.
Vincent chuckled. “Yes. At times.” He grew serious. “But this matter with Angus is troubling.”
“Has anyone asked him why he’s so angry with Kanin?”
He breathed out. “Angus has…disappeared. No one’s seen him since shortly after the altercation; sentries reported seeing him at the Mirror Pool. There are many places he could have gone, though, and be hidden. When he returns…”
“What will happen?”
“Father intends to speak to him privately. If that fails, the Council may vote for the Silence.” His fists were clenched, Catherine noticed; never a good sign. “You remember what it was like when Mouse found the buried treasure. This has the potential to be far worse.”
“How?” Catherine asked.
“Angus isn’t the only person to have difficulties with Kanin.”
“Well,” she said, picking her words carefully, “it’s not entirely surprising, is it? Everyone carries baggage, Vincent, and I’d imagine you have your share of crime victims down here.”
“Yes,” Vincent agreed. “But Kanin has paid, over and over, for his crimes. How is he to regain his footing if he’s rejected---or worse—by a segment of this community?”
Catherine scooted behind him and rose to her knees. The cording of his neck and the strong lines of his shoulders were tense and knotted. “Can you do anything about it tonight?”
He smiled, hearing---as she'd intended---echoes of an earlier conversation when she too had been anxious and concerned. “No.”
“Then relax. I’m here.”
Angus returned early in the morning, after breakfast. Vincent had left at dawn, summoned to yet another security breach and Catherine, visiting Marisol, heard the message arrive the pipes with all the force of an imperial summons: Father’s chamber-Angus-please come as soon as possible.
“Well, that will settle matters,” Marisol said over the swish and CLACK of her loom.
“Are you sure?” Catherine asked.
Marisol nodded. “Perhaps you’ve not noticed, but Father can be quite formidable when he wants to make a point.”
Catherine chuckled. “Is he?”
Marisol raised one eyebrow, amused. “I see you’ve been on the receiving end of one of Father’s…talks. Still, it’s no more than Angus deserves for dragging things out this long anyways.”
“Everyone loses their temper. And on a work crew especially, there’s always disagreements---heated ones, sometimes. If Angus had simply apologized when it happened, Father would never have gotten involved. Now that the Council knows, Angus will be lucky if he doesn’t get a week of the Silence.”
“Do you know what he’s got against Kanin?”
“Beats me,” Marisol said. “Angus keeps to himself pretty much, like Cullen used to…or Vincent.”
Catherine heard all Marisol didn't say; Vincent wasn’t as isolated any longer. “For just one man, Angus is certainly causing a ruckus.”
“Ah, but it’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for,” Marisol said dryly. “But I don’t have to tell you that.”
She thought of the many and varied kinds of Vincent’s silences: the way he would nestle against her in the night, seeking a comfort he’d so long been denied, the light in his eyes as she descended the stairs into their world; the utter stillness of wonder when he'd seen a flock of birds in the autumn skies of Connecticut. “No,” Catherine said, “you don’t.”
Father looked up as Angus entered, still wearing the clothes he'd worn the day before. He gestured to a seat and his hip stabbed fitfully, as it always did in the winter.
“Father, I...” Angus began, then stopped.
Angus, broad-shouldered, muscular, and nearly taller than Vincent, looked as if he hadn't eaten or slept well. “I've heard a few versions of what happened. In the meantime, though, would you care to eat?”
Angus' face, florid under the stunning whiteness of his hair, grew stony. “I'm not going to the commons.”
“No one's asking you to. I have an extra scone. Sit down. Eat. Then we'll talk.”
As Angus ate, Father poured them both a cup of tea and waited for Angus to speak. When he finally did, the words were not what Father expected. “I wanted to beat Kanin up. I suppose that means the Silence.”
Interesting, Father thought. “It might. Was there a reason?”
A distant angry fire flashed in Angus' eyes. “We were repairing the pipes and Kanin was griping about the condition of them and saying how City Water would never notice anyway.” His fists clenched. “If he'd been here helping with the maintenance, we wouldn't have been at risk of flooding.”
“And that's enough to hit a man for?” Father asked.
“Kanin doesn't take the work seriously. Never has, if you ask me.”
Father stared at him. “And you expect me to believe that's why you tried to attack him? I know the anniversary of Amy's death is this month---”
Angus stood, and Father was uncomfortably reminded of Vincent in one of his more towering rages. “You don't know...don't mention her name!” He turned on his heel and stormed out.
The message from Father arrived just as Vincent was settling down to eat a late breakfast. He sighed in amused exasperation---why did these things always happen during a meal? Catherine looked up at him and smiled. “Go,” she said, “and take your food. I'll catch up with you.”
He sighed and kissed her. “I'll be home soon.”
“I know,” she murmured.
As he approached Father's chamber, he noticed the unlit lantern in the corridor and the faint traces of Angus' furious, brooding scent. “Ah, Vincent,” Father said as he entered. “I'm sorry to call you away from your meal. Do you have news on the intruders?”
“Yes,” he replied, sitting down at the oval table with his scone and coffee. “They're not armed, but they've gone farther into our world than we anticipated. We'll have to move up the changing of the ways.” He glanced at Father, seeing the way the other man worried the stem of his eyeglasses. “That's not why you summoned me, though. Angus was here?”
“I'll never get used to how you sense these things,” Father said, chuckling.
Vincent shrugged, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “It's not magic. I heard your message when Jeremy and I were checking on the intruders.”
“Angus and I spoke,” Father confirmed. “But I fear I was unable to reach him. Do you know anything of his history?”
Vincent shook his head. “Jonah was his sponsor, and that was...ten or eleven years ago. I wasn't a member of the council then.”
Father nodded. “As Angus' sponsor, Jonah learned his full story, but when he died, I'm afraid he took whatever he knew to his grave. Angus was married to a woman named Amy but beyond that...” He frowned. “Angus is such a...walled-in personality. We may never learn all of his secrets.”
“The Council wasn't told everything when he joined us?” Vincent asked, breaking off a piece of the scone. “That's...highly irregular.”
“That was Jonah,” Father said. “In retrospect, we should have insisted more...but Jonah made the case that Angus had been through enough trauma, and forcing him to explain himself further would damage him irreparably. We trusted Jonah's word and Angus seemed to be a good fit for us until...”
Vincent sat back in his chair, thinking. Angus' pain seeped from him, a poison that had never been lanced; it was not the long-healed pain that Cullen felt when he spoke of his wife. “Do you want me to try and speak with him?”
“You're probably the only one who could,” Father replied. “I wouldn't ask, otherwise, but if we can't discover some reason for his behavior, the Council will impose the Silence. And I would prefer not to do that unless there was no other option. It's a harsh punishment and it might drive Angus further away from us.”
Vincent finished the last of his scone. “Very well. I'll speak with Angus today.”
He found Catherine stretched out on their bed, reading a book. “Everything okay?” she asked.
“For now,” he said softly. “We’re going to have to change the ways down sooner than we thought.”
“Yes. They’ve come further into the tunnels than we originally realized.”
She sat up then, all gold and ivory in the candlelight. “Will it be dangerous?”
“No,” he replied, knowing which intruders were on her mind right then. “Not like…before. They’re unarmed.”
Catherine studied him closely, and he wondered what she saw. “There's something else though, love, isn't there?”
“Yes. Father has asked me to speak with Angus.”
“If anyone could get him to talk, you could. But...” Catherine bit her lip. “Are you sure he won't try to take a swing at you instead?”
“He might,” Vincent acknowledged. “But somehow, I think not.”
“It's always you, isn't it?” she asked. “Counselor, protector, teacher, repairer of pipes and solver of problems. Do you ever get a chance to rest?”
He sat down on the bed next to her, and gathered her into his arms. “With you. Only with you.”
Click here for Chapter 34...
 “A Song of Despair,” by Pablo Neruda