The tuneless sound cut into Vincent’s thoughts like a knife through butter: Cullen, whistling off-key as he bolted together a support beam. Combined with the whine from the old drill, it was an assaulting shriek, harsh against his nerves. Finally, the shrill, atonal sound ceased as Cullen placed the drill into the community toolbox. “I think this should work,” Cullen said.
Vincent nodded. “I do believe it will,” he agreed, examining the beam---as Cullen expected him to---for any signs that it might not hold the weight it would be asked to bear. Finding no evidence of weakness, he handed it back to Cullen and resumed shoveling debris into the wheelbarrow, as he and the others had been doing for the last week, working around the abatement crew’s hours. It was monotonous, the endless removal of century-old rubbish from what would become the entrance to their basement, but it was wearying too, guaranteeing (he hoped) a night without dreams.
Mouse met him where the access tunnel joined the main tunnel system and helped empty the dirt from the cart, sifting it through a wire mesh screen to look for items buried in the soil that could be repurposed Below or sold Above. The rest of the soil lay in neat hills against the wall of the opposite corridor, awaiting disposal in the Abyss. Vincent sighed; he had long since lost count of the number of times he’d made the trip back and forth.
He bit back the growl that wanted to emerge and settled instead for a short answer. “Enough.”
“If you say so,” Cullen replied dubiously. “When did you get here this morning, anyway?”
“Too early,” Mouse put in. “Kitchen wasn’t ready, neither was the coffee, William said.”
Cullen shook his head. “You were in the kitchen before William? Before coffee? That’s too early for even the birds, man.”
From somewhere, Vincent found a smile. “True.”
He bent again to pick up the shovel and was stopped by Cullen’s hand on his arm. “Vincent, look. You’ve been at this pace for a week now; don’t you think you might ease off some?” Before Vincent could draw breath to protest, Cullen continued, “We’re going to start working on rerouting the ways down again tonight, and you’ll need to be rested. Mouse and I, we’ve got this for a while. Take off, get some sleep and come back when you can see straight.”
In truth, Vincent’s eyes felt gritty and sore and he would long ago have sent another man in his condition off the site, yet the stubborn impulse to finish what he had started remained. It was Cullen’s next words that halted any objections. “Vincent, you’re also the leader on the bridge project. If you’re too tired to think clearly, you’re putting all of us at risk. And you heard Jeremy’s message yesterday.”
Vincent’s exhausted mind awoke to a brief clarity. “Angus has returned to the work crews.”
Cullen nodded. “Like nothing ever happened.” He shrugged. “I wish Angus good luck ---there will be talk, if there hasn’t been already. And as much as we need his labor and his skills, he also tends to bring a whole bunch of trouble along with him.”
Cullen’s point was made simply, a truth undeniable. If Angus should return with the same combative attitude as he’d left… “Very well,” Vincent said. He lowered the shovel to the ground. “If there is some emergency---”
“We’ll find someone else,” Cullen finished and gave him a polite shove towards the tunnel entrance.
Vincent staggered into their chamber, only barely remembering to place an unlit lantern outside the curtain and remove his boots. The bed---their bed---was too empty without Catherine, but the chamber still bore traces of her scent. Tugging off his shirt and pants, he climbed under the covers and breathed deeply…hearing only the faint sounds of birdcalls…
The sunlight had burned his eyes at first, so much brighter than the candlelight he was used to. Vincent was reminded uncomfortably of another morning when he’d awakened in the stunning glow of a Central Park dawn, disoriented and ill. Then his reaction had been one of utter terror; now, with Catherine at his side and the water glinting softly in the reflected autumn light, the sunlight represented something else. Hope and a common future.
But instinct could not so easily be overridden and as Catherine drew him down to the water’s edge he felt his muscles bunch and his breathing begin to grow harsh and panting. Fear rode his veins—he must flee, he would be seen!
Catherine turned to him then and worries of another sort---that she would be hurt by his reaction---overwhelmed his other terrors. “Relax, love,” she said, her smile wise and understanding and not at all upset, “it's only us here.” .
“Of course,” he said, feeling the panic beginning to ease. “I'm sorry.”
The autumn wind blew chill and cold, ruffling the ends of his hair. “Don't be,” Catherine told him. “This is all unknown to you. Take some time to get used to it.”
She showed him the garden, the sun-warmed stone benches she and her mother had once decorated for tea parties, and a flowing joy began to arise from a forgotten corner of his soul. This was freedom, the ability to see his Catherine in sunlight and to walk with her as he had never dared believe they could.
And she was glorious in the full morning light. Was he going to let his fears---any of them---interrupt the magic of these days in Connecticut---the time they had been granted, against all odds?
“What are you feeling?” she asked.
“I never thought I would ever see you in the sunlight. Or any of this…it’s beautiful.”
“You should see yourself,” Catherine replied, stroking his hair.
He didn’t need to tell her how rarely he sought his own reflection; there were no mirrors in his chamber. But in her eyes, he was beautiful and slowly, Vincent began to accept that he might be, if only to her.
The leaves crunched dry under his boots as he gathered her near. And it seemed to him that for that lone moment, it was just the two of them under the autumn Connecticut sky.
When they broke for a late lunch, (too late, Catherine thought; more than half her fellow attendees had the fixed glazed look of utter boredom she remembered from Civil Litigation,) Rita waited until the bulk of the crowd had passed and then tugged open her purse. “What are your totals?”
Catherine glanced at the piece of paper in her hand, discreetly folded in half. “I’ve got six mentions of Yale, and five mentions of his previous law firm, along with three references to his current cases. Oh, and he mentioned winning the Prosecutor of the Year award…I’ve lost count, actually.”
Rita chuckled. “That was also six times, I believe. How do you win Conference Bingo?”
“You don’t,” Catherine replied, fighting a yawn. “You just hope to stay awake long to survive the meeting.”
Rita rolled her eyes. “And to think we have the rest of the day with this guy.” She paused. “Cathy, you look beat. Not sleeping well?”
Catherine shook her head. “No, not really. It’s not home, you know?”
“I do,” Rita agreed. “Allen inherited a brownstone from his great aunt right after he and I were married. There’s a radiator in our bedroom downstairs that clanks all day and night; we’ve had plumbers go over the place but they can’t figure out where the sound is coming from. I’d love to remove it since we have central heating and we don’t really need it but---” she shrugged. “Allen says the noise is soothing. Now I miss it.”
Catherine kept her face very still. Was it possible…? “I can see how you would,” she said carefully. Despite her best efforts---and why do I hear my grandmother’s voice so clearly, saying a lady never yawns in public? she wondered---a yawn escaped.
“Go on, take a nap,” Rita said. “Unless you want to listen to Attorney Drones-A-Lot for the next couple of hours.”
Duty warred with exhaustion. “All right,” Catherine replied, holding up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “You win.” One of their bodyguards---Daniel---detached himself from the wall with a studied pose of relaxation and followed her back to their hotel room. “Have a good rest, ma’am,” he said, and resumed his place outside the door.
Once inside, Catherine pulled off her sweater and pants, and pulled on an old Radcliffe sweatshirt and sweatpants. A gentle odor---cedar, and the lemon scent of Rebecca's homemade laundry soap---wafted from the garments and she smiled. Even here, the tunnels were with her. A harsh winter rain beat against the glass as she lay down on the bed...
“Shall we take a walk?” Vincent asked over coffee one morning.
“I don't see why not,” Catherine agreed. “But your cloak isn't dry yet.”
“It won't rain for a few hours. I should be fine without it.”
“And...you don't mind walking?” she inquired delicately, thinking of the splinters she'd removed only a couple of days before. 
He waggled his eyebrows---a wry, mischievous look. “So long as you don't want me to sit down.”
She laughed then. “All right. Let's go.”
Walking around the lake with Vincent was its own special magic, Catherine decided. She had seen the lake and the forest around it in many different seasons over the years, but never through Vincent's eyes. Sights which were ordinary to her---birds flying, the tapestry of fall's leaves, even the cool autumn breeze---were made new because he was there to see them.
They walked for a time in a companionable silence; Vincent would stop from time to time to pull a tree branch lower to examine the leaves, or to look at the sky, and the dawning wonder on his face was worth any amount of conversation.
She recognized a narrow copse clustered not far from the lake. How many times had she played hide-and-seek there? Too many to count. “Come,” she said, drawing him, unresisting, to the intertwined tangle of trees.
Vincent looked up as they entered, at the colored canopy of leaves flaring brightly in cheerful defiance of the oncoming winter. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, voice hushed as if they stood in a cathedral. “Father tried to tell me but…words couldn’t describe what I’m seeing.”
“No,” Catherine agreed. She bit her lip. “When I thought of Connecticut…before…this was what I most wanted you to see.”
He opened his mouth to speak, but the gathering rumble of thunder, far off in the distance, halted what he would have said. He tilted his head, listening, gauging with his unique senses something she couldn’t see or hear. “The storm will soon be upon us. We should leave, Catherine.”
“Right,” she replied. “Standing under trees in a thunderstorm isn’t the smartest thing to do anyway.”
Ducking out of the trees, they ran for the cottage as the storm exploded around them in a torrent. Cold water splashed over their shoes and onto their pants as they reached the front porch. “Whew,” she said, closing the door behind them. “At least it’s dry inside.”
Vincent nodded, a small puddle forming under him. “We're going to need some towels, though.”
Catherine laughed. “You're not kidding. Wait here and I'll get them.” She tugged off her wet shoes and ran to the upstairs linen closet, picking up the largest, fluffiest ones she could find.
Vincent had removed his sodden sweater, leaving only the drier thermal shirt, which he used to try and dry off his hair. It was of little use; water beaded and flowed, escaping over his broad shoulders. She became aware that he was shaking slightly as he moved---shivering. “Vincent, you need to get out of those wet clothes.”
He half-turned to face her. “I'll drip,” he protested.
“More than you are now?” she asked, teasing. “Don't worry about the floors; they were sealed years ago.”
He removed his jeans, his shoes and socks. “You're soaked to the bone,” Catherine murmured, concerned.
“It's the fur,” Vincent told her, an amused glint in his eyes. “I'm often a walking sponge, Catherine.”
That was a new revelation, though she recalled his showers on their trip had been very brief....“Why don't you go upstairs and get warm? There's plenty of hot water.”
“What about you? You're soaked as well.”
Catherine entertained a moment's brief regret that the bathroom was so small. But then, a memory of one of her more persistent fantasies rose to the surface. “I'll get the fire started while you’re upstairs. Don't worry, love.”
Sometime later, she heard the shower shut off—and a good thing too, Catherine thought dryly, because the hot water surely wouldn't hold out much longer. She removed some warm towels from the dryer and ventured upstairs. “Vincent?” she called, knocking on the bathroom door.
“Yes,” he said. Steam billowed out, thick and obscuring.
Vincent stood just outside the tiled enclosure, one long leg bent and his foot resting on the toilet seat as he dried himself off. “I...brought some more. They're right out of the dryer,” Catherine managed. His actions weren't particularly seductive in and of themselves but there was something about his movements, the graceful bend and twist of muscle and bone that was mesmerizing all the same. “I'll leave them on the sink.”
His voice stopped her just as her hand rested on the doorknob. “You don't have to go.”
“No.” He looked down at himself, then at her, and Catherine smiled, enjoying his new ease. “Thank you for the towels. I'll...likely use them.”
She saw the damp towels on the rack. “Are you always damp at home?”
He shook his head. “Many of the bathing chambers have some form of natural ventilation which helps me to dry faster.” He gestured towards the ceiling vent, which struggled fitfully against the steam in the small room. “Unlike that, for example.”
Catherine laughed. “No, it's useless.” Little rivulets of water flowed through the downy fur of his backside. She swallowed. “You're...still wet.”
There was a faint roughness to his tone and the slow burning need uncoiled in her belly as he spoke. “Yes. Aren't you?”
Even as Vincent said the words, some part of him wondered at his daring, the light bantering of lovers new and heady as the desire in Catherine's eyes as she gazed at him. She wanted. She wanted him.
He could smell her now, the sharp scent of longing intensified by the heat of the room. She took one of the warm towels and dried off the center of his back and he felt a slight frisson---had her hands cupped him, touched him there? “Oh, yes, you are wet,” she confirmed, stroking. “Very...wet.”
The air suddenly seemed very, very thin. “As are you,” he stated through a throat gone suddenly dry. It seemed as though she had a thousand hands, brushing against his thighs, his lower back, even teasing his backside...
Vincent released the towel he'd been holding and only then became fully aware of what she was wearing---what she was almost not wearing---a brief robe whose hem barely skirted her upper thighs. A growl escaped him and far from being shocked, Catherine merely smiled. “I was wondering when you'd notice,” she said, and the robe fell in a soft rush to the floor....
Catherine awoke, hearing as if in a distant echo the pained roar of Vincent's own thwarted desire. “Damn,” she muttered, pushing her hair out of her face. Vincent, I'm so sorry...
There was a brief surge of emotion---rueful amusement, love tinged with frustration---through their bond. And she understood as clearly as if he'd spoken in her ear: There is nothing to forgive. We'll get through this.
The door opened and Rita rushed in. “Cathy, Joe called. Herman Mueller's in the hospital.”
Click here for Chapter 39....
 “Sleepless,” by Sara Teasdale
 When Fall Comes to New England, Chapter 7.
 When Fall Comes to New England, Chapter 9.