Chapter 37: In the Night, A Shaft of Fire 
The train ride to Albany was—so far---mercifully uneventful, Catherine observed. All around her were DA personnel---attorneys newly transferred from Investigations and attending this conference for the first time, as well as ADAs from the Financial Crimes Unit. And then there were the two men sitting in the row across from herself and Rita; Catherine recognized them as forming part of the protective detail normally assigned to Joe when he traveled. As she'd told Vincent, Max Avery would be crazy to try anything. I'll be safe, Vincent. Don't worry.
Rita was frankly dozing in the seat next to her and the gentle rolling motion of the train was soothing. Catherine closed her eyes…Vincent’s presence was there…surrounding her…
“You'll be careful?” Vincent asked. He was sitting on their carved bed, pulling on an old pair of boots as she finished the last of her packing.
She folded a sweater, the soft, woven texture of the wool reminding her, suddenly, of the wild thickness of his hair. “I will. I’ll be around other attorneys the whole time. Not precisely a hot-bed of intrigue.”
“Very well.” Vincent tilted his head in that endearing gesture she loved. “What is it?”
Catherine closed the latch on her suitcase. “I’m thinking it’s strange that we spent three years with only—what? two kisses?---and now I’m wondering how I’m going to survive the two weeks without seeing you.”
“Don’t forget the hugs. We hugged a lot,” he said, his tone a light teasing banter. “But yes, I feel the same.”
She sat next to him on the bed, hearing the now-familiar groan of the box-springs. “Did you ever want more?”
He nodded. “I never thought I had the right to ask, though.”
“Thank goodness that’s changed,” Catherine told him. She glanced at her watch. Almost time to leave.
“Indeed,” Vincent replied, following her glance. “Stay well. You carry my heart.”
After breakfast, Father intercepted him in the corridor outside the commons. “Would you care for a chess game?”
Vincent considered the tasks planned for later in the day---a meeting with the bridge repair crew, another meeting with the sentries to outline which of the ways down would be changed, and then a final survey of the pathway leading to their house before excavation started tomorrow---and decided he might as well take the time, because there would be precious little leisure in the next few days. Good. I’ll stay busy. “Yes,” he said.
“So Catherine’s left to catch her train?” Father asked as they walked.
“Yes,” Vincent replied. “She should be there shortly, I’d think.”
As they entered Father's chamber, Vincent noticed that it was much cleaner than normal. A smile tugged at his mouth; another book must have disappeared. “...and I'm still missing my Physician's Desk Reference,” he was saying now. He looked across at Vincent. “I don't suppose you have any idea where it's gone this time?”
“No, I haven't seen it,” Vincent said, sitting opposite Father at the octagonal table. “Perhaps it's being used as a doorstop again?”
“That was last month,” Father said severely. “The month before that, it was in Mouse's chamber. I shudder to think where it might have ended up now.”
“Perhaps the same place as your copy of Chess for Beginners: A Picture Guide?”
Father shook his head. “I've said it before---it really is a shame you're too big for me to turn over my knee.” His gaze fell on the black lacquer box gleaming in the candlelight. “White or black?”
“White,” Vincent replied, setting up the pieces on the board. Father leaned back in his chair and Vincent recognized the assessing, concerned expression on his face. “And...how do you feel about Catherine being gone so soon after her accident?”
Vincent picked up the white queen and studied it. The lone female figure on the chessboard, she was nonetheless the most powerful. “If I could keep her from harm always…” he trailed off. “But it’s impossible.”
“It is,” Father said simply. “I’m glad you recognize that. I was at great pains to point it out to Cullen the other day---even here, there is no true safety.”
“He wants Valerie taken off the maintenance details because of her pregnancy,” Father explained. “Of course, he's thinking of her health, but she won’t thank him for trying to wrap her in wool for the next nine months.”
“No,” Vincent agreed. Nor would Catherine. How strong they are.
“Seems as though we’re in the midst of a baby boom,” Father said. He moved his pawn forward. “Marisol is due in April; Valerie, in June. And I received word yesterday that Angela---you remember her and Lucas, from the outer community?---she’s expecting again. It reminds me of when I first came Below.”
“How so?” Vincent asked. It wasn’t often Father was given to reminiscing of the early days of the tunnels.
“We almost always had children here,” Father began. “When…Grace first brought me Below; I was appalled. Things were…dire, quite often. If we weren’t worried about running out of fuel or food, we were worried about being arrested for trespassing. To see children in such straits…”
Vincent moved his knight forward. “How many families were there?”
“Too many, I thought at the time. Most of the first children were orphans….others were street kids who’d called these tunnels home before we made a community here.” Father smiled, a wry look. “They were our own ‘Baker Street Irregulars;’ they kept watch for police in exchange for food and a warm place to sleep. Grace and Anna had a knack for finding the trustworthy ones, and some of them later joined our community---Rebecca’s mother Claire was one, Gennaro was another, and Solomon and Eileen as well. When I used to argue with Anna and Grace that this wasn’t a place for kids, Anna would shake her finger at me and said, 'Jacob, children mean we're succeeding in building a home.' And she was right.”
“So this is scenic Albany,” Rita said, closing the hotel room door behind her.
Catherine turned from the window. Outside, the snow was falling heavily, the grey gloom a perfect match for her mood. “Yup. Home sweet...hovel.” In truth, Catherine thought, the hotel wasn't as bad as the two she and Vincent had stayed in during their trip to Connecticut---at least the water heater did seem to work. But it wasn't home either. It wasn't the constant murmur of pipes, or the chatter in the commons, or the warm glow of candlelight or....Damn. Stop it, Chandler. You’re here to do a job. Do it.
Rita began to unpack her suitcase into one of the dressers. “It could be worse,” she said. “Allen's family lives in this area and if they knew I was here....we'd find ourselves invited to dinner.”
“I thought you said they didn't like you?”
Rita closed a drawer. “They don't. But they do love the chance to show everyone how kind and fair and completely non-racist they are. The last time I ate dinner with them was a week or so before Allen and I decided to elope. They kept calling me by the maid's name. Her name was Consuela. Notice our names don't precisely sound alike.”
“Ouch,” Catherine said. “I'm sorry you went through that.”
“Don't be,” Rita replied, smiling. “I got Allen out of the deal.” She shrugged. “In a way, I suppose I should be grateful to them; Allen had been...very much the favored eldest son, content to go along with all their plans for him because it was easier than looking at his family and really seeing them. Once he saw what they really were, though...he made his choice. We were married the next week.”
Catherine thought of that other Catherine, who also had been content to do what was expected until in one wonderful and terrible night, her world had been remade. “I...believe I understand.”
Rita nodded. “I know you do. I heard about you, back when I was first hired. Did you realize there was an office pool about how long you'd last?”
“Edie let it slip one afternoon,” Catherine said, chuckling, “but Joe would never confirm it. Who won?”
“No one,” Rita said, returning her smile. “You're still employed, after all.” She sat down on the bed. “What’s on the agenda for today?”
Catherine pulled out the list from her briefcase. “Continental breakfast before the first seminar, which is about changes in sentencing guidelines for white collar crimes. I don’t know if I'm going to be able to stay awake that long.”
“Right,” Rita agreed, yawning. “Coffee first.”
The rest of the day filled up rapidly, as Vincent had known---and hoped---it would. The meeting with the sentries, reporting on the incursions they’d seen, ran over schedule when two of them---Jeremy and Rhys---disagreed over how far the strangers had actually gone. They could have continued cheerfully arguing for hours, but Vincent, in his capacity as the nominal head of security, had settled the dispute by agreeing with Kanin that the solutions they’d used in the past---bricked-up walls, passages rerouted and new ones made---would suffice for now.
After the meeting, Kanin had surprised him. “We could sure use Angus with the rerouting.”
“Even though....?” Vincent began.
Kanin chuckled ruefully. “Yeah. It sounds crazy,” he acknowledged. “But Angus is a hard worker. Jeremy and Rhys...they try but this kind of work isn't their thing. Rhys is doing good to know the difference between a Phillips and a flat-head screwdriver. Jeremy is careless with the tools, doesn't care if they're cleaned or if they need to be sharpened. Angus is skilled and he doesn't...chatter like those two do.”
Vincent recalled Olivia had mentioned Jeremy and Rhys as two people who had protested Kanin's return. Was Kanin---even almost a year later---still feeling an outcast? “They do tend to...talk a lot,” he said as they began to walk towards the commons for a late lunch.
“Ah, you heard?” Kanin asked. “I didn't want Olivia to tell you.”
“We're your family,” Vincent said simply. He'd used the same words when speaking to Angus---would either of them hear? “You could have told someone.”
Kanin stopped and looked at him squarely and Vincent noticed the wide grey streak in Kanin's hair that hadn't been there before he'd left. “Vincent, it's no more than I deserve. I killed a child.”
Vincent thought of the men dead by his hand---dead for good and just reasons, but still dead. None save himself had chastised him for his crimes, but the guilt had nearly destroyed him. “You've served your time. Perhaps you could begin to forgive yourself?”
“You have been talking to Olivia,” Kanin said dryly. “She says the same.”
“Then listen to her,” Vincent replied.
“I wish it was that easy,” Kanin said, taking his glasses off and using a corner of his shirt to remove the fingerprints from the lenses.
“I know it's not. But...perhaps you could try, if not for yourself, for them?”
The first day of the conference ended with dinner. Much of the afternoon had been spent in break-out sessions with attorneys from all over the state and by the time Catherine returned to her hotel room, she was thoroughly talked-out. Another two weeks of this? My brain is going to explode. She nodded a greeting at their bodyguard---Samuel, his name was---and opened the door.
The shower was running, so Catherine changed into her nightgown and collapsed on the bed. The rushing of the water was soothing...how strange to find a waterfall here in Albany....
“Vincent, where are we going?”
“Sssh,” he'd said. His slanted eyes were very blue in the dimness. “It's a surprise.”
He had guided her through the maze of tunnels and pathways, dodging, she noticed, the main sentry posts. “Are we trying not to be seen?” Catherine asked.
Vincent's mouth quirked. “No. Just trying not to be interrupted.”
She laughed at the dry tone of his words. They had only been back from Connecticut a few days and it seemed that everyone had stopped by his chamber. There had been Mouse early this morning, wanting to start work on a new “gizmo” (which, she later learned, was a security feature for one of the entrance gates) with his usual genial disregard for time or circumstances and Cullen in the afternoon, seeking help reading some old blueprints. Only Cullen had belatedly realized---at the growl under Vincent's words---that he'd disrupted something and had beat a very hasty retreat. Catherine could hardly blame him; Vincent, frustrated, was one thing. Vincent, frustrated, interrupted and aroused, was another matter entirely. “They are my family and my friends,” he continued now, “but sometimes...”
“You don't want to be available?”
Vincent nodded. “I shall have to retrain them, I suppose.” Abruptly, she noticed he'd led them to a narrow entrance lit only by a single torch. “Come,” he told her. “It's this way.”
The stairs were rocky and the smell of moisture and salt---salt?---was thick in the air. Distantly, she heard the roar of water. “Vincent, what....?”
“Come,” he said again, and held out his hand. He guided her up a curving path barely wide enough for the two of them to walk side by side, then stopped. “It's here.”
“What's here?” Catherine asked, hoping to be heard over the tumult of the waters.
There was a white gleam---Vincent, smiling. “This.”
It was a small chamber---almost too small to stand upright. But as Vincent drew her inside the cavern, she realized where the sound of water originated.
They were behind a waterfall.
“How...where...” Catherine managed before words failed her entirely.
“I don't know,” Vincent replied, and although she couldn't see him clearly, she could tell he was pleased by her reaction. “It may branch off from the waterfall at the Chamber of the Falls but I've never been certain. What do you think?”
“It's magic,” she breathed. The light from the torch refracted from the water in a curtain of tiny shadowed diamonds. Catherine could see the outlines of a spread bedroll, a low shelf, a book and a candle; Vincent had clearly spent some time in this small cavern. “Thank you for showing me this.”
Vincent looked at her sideways. “I didn't bring you here only to show you its beauty, Catherine. No one ever comes to this place. We can be...alone.”
She felt her face heat at the tone in his voice, the deepened raspy tone that was only for her, only for them. Her hands went to the hem of her sweater but he stopped her. “Please,” he said, “I want...”
Catherine raised her arms and let him tug the sweater off. The air was chill but she didn't notice, so warm were his hands.“You want,” she said, and unlaced the ties of his vest. “I could get used to hearing you say those words.”
“Oh, really?” He unzipped her jeans and she felt her own breath catch … or was it his. Her pulse hammered. “I could,” he murmured, “get used to saying them.”
Vincent thought he might never find the end of the wonder...the joy of having her near....of feeling her desire, of no longer being afraid. The freedom to love and be loved was addictive, a craving he thought might never satisfy. Her skin was so soft against his mouth and her scent...for a time, he was lost in the currents of sensation flooding their bond, embracing them both.
He looked up at her, slightly dazed. “Yes?”
“'Wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?'”  Her voice was dry with a fond amusement, and he realized she'd sensed his abstraction.
Vincent pressed a quick kiss to the flat firmness of her belly, and felt the tremor under her skin. “Isn't that my line?”
Catherine shrugged. “It seemed to fit. And we're not on a balcony, if you're going to get technical.” Her hands rested lightly on his shoulders. “Come here, love. I need you.”
Her desire was a spreading fire along her nerves, a fire that would embrace them both. “Yes,” Vincent replied, stretching beside her on the bedroll. Her thighs brushed against him, silken cool. “You're cold,” he told her.
Catherine nuzzled his ear, then the column of his neck, and shivers of another kind ran down his spine. “I am? I hadn't noticed,” she purred.
Their bond was beginning to fragment, to double and redouble as their souls merged. Vincent was less aware of thought than of feeling—Catherine's legs intertwined with his own...the graceful jutting curve of her hips under his hands...the faint rose flush visible even in the grey-shaded light of the cavern...the welcoming heat of her body as he....
Vincent sat bolt upright in bed, his breath coming harsh and fast in the empty chamber, the sweet yearning burn for her a fire in his blood. His hands felt her ghosting touch...she had been there... The sheets entangled his legs and he kicked them aside impatiently.
It was not yet dawn; the pipes were largely silent and Vincent lay back down in the bed grown cold with his wife's absence and tried to rest. But after a few minutes of tossing and turning, he gave up the attempt entirely; he was too aware, too aroused to settle. They hadn't been able to begin work on the tunnel excavation because of the presence of the abatement crew; perhaps he could get an early start....
Catherine awoke with a gasp, the heat of him spreading throughout her body, convinced she had felt the strong bracing of Vincent's hands on her hips only seconds before. “Damn,” she muttered into the dark hotel room.
She rose and walked into the bathroom to splash some cool water on her face, thankful that Rita was a sound sleeper. She caught a glance of her reflection in the mirror---flushed with the memory of their loving---and sighed. Their bond had alerted her to danger once, across a continent. Perhaps they both should have expected this to happen.
Two weeks. They could do this. They had to.
Click here for Chapter 38....
 “After Parting,” by Sara Teasdale
 Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2, by William Shakespeare