Chapter 35: The Heart Finds Its Morning 
Vincent watched as Catherine dropped the velvet curtain behind her with a decisive snap. “Vincent,” she said, removing the unlit lantern from the top of one shelf and placing it outside the curtain, “you don't have anything planned for tomorrow, do you?”
“Because you're taking the day off.”
“It's Sunday,” he observed. “I'd be off anyway.”
“Vincent,” Catherine said slowly, “I've seen your version of 'off.' I mean, I don't want you patching pipes, refereeing disputes, teaching classes or doing anything but resting.”
She sat next to him on the old bed in the antechamber, and the mattress let out a rusty squeal under her slight weight. “I love your sense of responsibility. But...you need time to relax.”
“And what about you?”
“Mary and Rebecca and I were thinking of forming a conga line.” Catherine grinned. “Of course I'm going to rest too.” Her mirth faded. “It may be...the last time for a while.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have to leave for a conference in Albany on Wednesday,” she told him. “I'll be gone two weeks. And I don't want to go but...”
Two weeks. Vincent pushed aside a sudden rush of mingled rebellion and fear. So far away. Again. “Your car accident...”
“Yeah,” Catherine replied. “Joe thinks we may have someone in the office who told Avery's goons where Rita and I would be. The conference will get us both out of the way while he does some digging.” She took his hands in her own. “I'll be safe, Vincent. There will be prosecutors there from all over the state. Avery—or whoever he works for---would be insane to try anything.”
It was the truth and he knew it but... “I'll miss you.”
“I'll miss you too. So...let's enjoy ourselves while we can, all right?”
He leaned back against the ragged bolster pillows, and felt her nestle next to him. Ah, Catherine... “What did you have in mind?”
“You...started something the other day.”
“I did?” Vincent asked, all innocence.
“You did,” she confirmed as she unlaced the ties at his collar. “'On account,' you said. Now, I'm a lawyer and I do believe that's a contract.”
Vincent wound his hands through the golden silk of her hair. “Well, since you put it that way...it's a contract, you say?”
She nodded, expression serious except for the wry light in her eyes. “We had an agreement. Don't make me sue you.”
The words were said in her very best lawyer voice, and he laughed then, feeling the joy of her here, in his arms, a rising tide from his soul, chasing away the shadows of the last few days. He pulled her closer, felt the softness of her lips against his own. “And what would you charge me with?”
“Mmmmm,” Catherine breathed. “Felony Hotness in the First Degree?”
The old habits of protest and denial rose but something inside him, inside their bond, stilled the words. Was he forever going to insist—again---that her feelings must be wrong? “Catherine?”
He ran his hands up the back of her sweater, hearing the quickening of her breath. “Kiss me.”
There was something about him...after. His hand traced lazy patterns on her side as they lay together, the light touch of the claws soothing. “What are you thinking?” Catherine asked.
Her answer was a low rumbling chuff of amusement as Vincent stretched, the long lines of muscle and bone and fur glowing in the candlelight. “You'll say I'm a hedonist.”
The pulse beat in his throat, a steady reassurance of life, his life. “Why?”
“Because there's nothing else I'd rather do than stay in this bed with you.”
“And that makes you a hedonist?” she said, chuckling as she brushed the amber hair away from his face. “I'd say it makes you normal. You think I want to get up?”
“Well, then,” he breathed against her neck, “shall we stay here? Forever?”
“Mmmm, that would be interesting. What would Father say?”
“He'd probably diagnose us as suffering from exhaustion and tell everyone to leave us alone,” Vincent said.
The blue eyes sparkled with mischief. “Well, what other explanation do you think he'd use?”
A sudden vision of Father trying to explain to the tunnel-dwellers exactly why they were missing rose in her mind's eye. “Oh, my,” she said, unable to keep the laughter inside any longer. “I'd pay good money to see that.”
“But then we'd have to leave here,” Vincent observed dryly.
“True. So, we’re staying here forever. How will we eat?” Catherine inquired, willingly adrift on his flight of fancy.
“We’re eating Mouse?” she asked in mock horror.
Vincent laughed. “No. He delivers.”
“There’s a story behind that, I’m sure.”
“Yes,” Vincent answered. “When Mouse came to us, he was a child, too wild and disruptive to sit for long in any classroom. So I took him with me as I worked and kept him busy running errands. His first job was bringing the lunches from William.”
“And you taught him as you worked?”
“It was the only way,” Vincent replied. “He was…untamed. And terrified of anyone else. William said he’d always know when Mouse had been by because he’d look up and the sack lunches would be gone.”
Catherine had a vision of the way they must have been; Vincent and the younger, wilder Mouse. “I'm sure you two were a sight.”
“Probably,” Vincent agreed. “William was just glad Mouse wasn’t stealing food anymore, but it was months before he would go into the commons. Too many people in one small area frightened him.”
“How did Mouse get his name? I’ve always wondered.”
“It…began as a joke.”
At first, the only sign of his presence was food, food that kept coming up missing from the community stores. “Can’t be more than one person,” William said in Council one night.
Vincent was not a member of the Council, but he’d been asked to attend the meeting because of his tracking skills. William, it emerged, was convinced they had a thief among them. “It’s the items that are missing,” he explained to the assembled council. “Bread. The smaller jars of canned stew I made.”
“Things that are easily carried,” Vincent surmised.
“Could it be a miscount of some sort?” Father asked.
William drew himself up, affronted. “No. I checked the inventory lists from last month. Nine small jars of canned stew went into the large pantry; when I looked yesterday morning, there were seven. And we haven't made a meal with stew since.”
“We sure it ain’t one of us?” Winslow asked, glowering from where he leaned up against the baluster. Vincent knew the meeting had interrupted a crucial project in the forge and Winslow’s temper, never even at the best of times, was growing shorter at the delay.
“Who would steal food here? None of us are starving,” William argued. “It has to be a thief.”
Father nodded. “Well, if you’re certain it’s not one of us---“
“I am,” William confirmed.
“Then Vincent, would you mind trying to find our thief? With winter coming on, this can’t be allowed to continue.”
After the gathering had ended, Winslow had clapped him on the shoulder. “Leave it to you, boy, to be stuck on some cat-and-mouse hunt.”
“And when did you find him?” Catherine asked now.
“After a month of careful tracking,” Vincent answered. “He had lived alone so long it was as if I was tracking a shadow. And almost a year passed before I could convince him to follow me home. I brought him food so he didn't have to steal ours, and blankets...and slowly, he began to trust. But I doubt we'll ever learn where he came from, or if he had family. I'm not sure Mouse even knows.”
“Well, there's no question of his devotion to you. He told me you 'hang out.'”
Vincent's soft, raspy chuckle was her reward. “I suppose you could say that, yes. He'd be the perfect one to bring us our meals.”
“Good to have that covered,” Catherine said lightly. “So, we're going to stay here and spend our days making love?”
Vincent laced his hands behind his head and studied her, a burning, intense look, token of the desires he no longer tried to hide. Before he could speak, she leaned forward and nuzzled the pulse leaping at his neck. “My idea of paradise.”
Eventually, of course, they did have to get up. William's insistent message on the pipes reminded them dinner would be served soon and as Vincent had remarked dryly, if they wished to avoid yet more ribbing about their near-chronic lateness for meals, it might do them well to appear on time. “But does the teasing bother you?” Catherine asked. She pulled out a loose blouse from the armoire and began to button the shirt.
“No,” he replied after a moment's consideration. “I never thought I'd be teased for those reasons like... other men.” He smiled. “When Kanin and Olivia wed, they didn’t arrive on time for breakfast for nearly a year. Valerie and Drew kept missing lunch.”
“And you never thought...?” Catherine asked, eyes suspiciously bright.
He spread his hands, claws glinting in the candlelight. “No. How could I? It was never supposed to be my...role here.” He gazed at Catherine, at his wife, sensing her sadness. “What is it, my Catherine?”
Her hands paused at the last carved buttons of her blouse. “I don't like to think of you being so alone all those years. That you didn't know there's no one who deserves love more.”
“But still---” she began, until his finger on her lips stopped her words. “Did I tell you Devin wrote me about visiting the Grand Canyon several years ago?”
Catherine shook her head, bemused. “No. But what does that---”
“He described the desert, Catherine, how it can look so desolate until the rains come and the flowers bloom again.” He drew her close. “You…you are my rain.”
Catherine looked over at the bed where her husband lay sleeping. Much to her surprise, he hadn’t awoken when she’d left his side to retrieve coffee, or when she’d taken a quick shower. Maybe she’d found the limits to his stamina after all, she mused wryly.
Vincent stretched and yawned. “Hello there,” he said, voice still raspy from sleep. “You’re dressed already? What time is it?”
She handed him a cup of coffee. “Morning still. I don't know the exact time.”
“It’s past nine,” he answered, taking the cup from her hand.
“Early for me,” she said, smiling. Vincent pulled back the quilt and she settled next to him, feeling the warmth of his body dispel the chill of the morning. “So what would you like to do today?”
Catherine could feel the vibration of his voice as he spoke. “Our library still needs to be unpacked. Perhaps we could finish?”
She nodded. “Will you read to me then?”
“Yes,” he agreed.
A brief flurry of messages passed on the pipes and Catherine looked at Vincent, alarmed. “Was that---?”
“Yes. The sentries are reporting Angus has returned.”
“Will you have to…?”
“No,” Vincent replied. “Though it depends on what Angus does. The Council may decide otherwise, but my own advice would be to avoid confrontation for now. I’ve…given Angus much to think about.”
“I’m sure,” she said, and took a sip of the coffee. Something else occurred to her then. “Vincent, the sentries seem awfully aware of where he is. Do they keep track of everyone?”
He shook his head. “In the main, the sentries watch the perimeter and on our various entrances. They’re not spies; Angus is being watched purely because of his behavior towards Kanin. They’re under instructions to report if Angus comes near Kanin and to keep watch on his movements, but otherwise, to leave him alone.”
“I see,” Catherine replied. She glanced at him over the rim of her coffee cup, saw the minute changes in his expression---a tightening of the eyes, a tense pattern to his breathing—which told her he was deep in thought. “What is it, love?”
“I hope Angus…finds his way back to us.”
“He will,” she assured him. “You’ve given him the means to come home. Now the choice is up to him.”
“And what of Kanin?” he wondered. “His path back to his friends, his family, has been far harder than I realized.”
She placed her empty coffee cup on the nightstand and tugged at his clenched hands. “You’re doing it again, love.”
“Being too responsible. Kanin’s finding his road difficult, but he has Olivia and Luke. So long as he has them…he will find his way back. And as for Angus…Vincent, you can't control what he does or doesn’t do. You've done all you can…you planted your garden, now let it grow.”
He breathed out in a release of tension and his hands relaxed. “Thank you. I needed the reminder.”
“We all do sometimes,” Catherine said. “I think you’ve been…made to feel liable for too many things which were never your fault or in your ability to control.”
“Perhaps,” Vincent said, and a small wry smile quirked his mouth. “So you’re saying I should relax?”
Catherine nodded. The scent of him…the longing hit her, fierce and almost overwhelming. “I can’t…relax,” Vincent said. “Will you help me?”
Her hands at the open laced collar of his sleep-shirt, she tugged him down for a kiss. “Always.”
Click here for Chapter 36....
 “On Friendship,” by Khalil Gibran, from The Prophet