Chapter 40: Found at Last in Meeting Eyes 
“Come with me,” Catherine urged, tugging at his hand. The rain beat a steady tattoo against the warbled glass of the cottage, as it had for the last three or four days. The weather made Vincent feel vaguely uneasy; the life-long instinct of a tunnel-dweller which insisted rain meant leaking pipes was too deeply ingrained for him to easily ignore it now.
“Where are we going?” Vincent asked.
“To the attic,” Catherine replied. “There should be some photo albums upstairs. Old ones.”
That caught his interest, as she must have known it would. There were few enough pictures of him, save for Elizabeth's paintings, but glimpses of Catherine's past, of the family he'd never met, were equally rare, save for some albums she'd brought down from the apartment after they'd married. “Lead on,” he said, her rich laughter echoing in the hallway.
Catherine pulled down the ladder leading to the attic. “You'll have to watch your head,” she warned. “The ceiling is pretty low in places.”
He followed her up the narrow stairs and was immediately grateful for her warning. The roof came to a peak in the center but was low enough at the entrance that he had to stoop. His eyes adjusted to the dim light enough to see boxes and trunks piled without any sort of order and the outlines of a bicycle or two, and he smiled, wondering what memories were contained in this attic.
Vincent heard Catherine's lighter steps, though in the dimness, she was just a shadowed outline. “Where is that light again...oh, wait, here it is.” There was a muted click and the light came on. “I think the albums should be over here,” she said, moving boxes aside with the ease of long familiarity.
“Why aren't these albums downstairs with the others?” Vincent asked.
Catherine sat down heavily on the tattered remnants of an old tufted ottoman. “My father...” she began but did not continue.
Vincent took her hand, sensing that his innocent question had struck a nerve. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean---”
“No.” She shook her head. “It's nothing you did, love. These are albums of my mother as a child, as a young woman. After she...died, Daddy couldn't bear to look at them.” She released his hand and reached down to open one album. “He always said I looked like her.”
Vincent heard the faint creak of the leather cover as she opened the book. As he knelt next to her to sit down, his knee brushed something. A spindled wooden cradle, partially hidden behind the boxes, covered in dust and cobwebs, but still sturdy for all its age. Catherine turned, startled. “What...Vincent, I've never seen this before.”
There was a curious expression on her face, a chaos of emotions in their bond. “No.” She reached out a hand and set the cradle to rocking. “I...don't know who used it.” The longing flooded their connection, a need he'd sensed in her for some months whenever she was around the tunnel children. “Vincent, I....”
His hand rested on top of a wooden spindle, cracked with age and use. I could fix this, Vincent found himself thinking. I could make it new for our child. He looked at his wife, saw all the promises of a future he'd never have dared dream for himself, vibrant in the verdant green of her eyes. “What do you want, Catherine? Truly?”
Her mouth quirked. “I was about to ask you the same question.” She lifted her hand and the cradle continued to rock for some minutes before coming to a slow halt. “Vincent, we've always known this...possibility was out there, waiting for us to be ready. To choose.”
“Yes,” he agreed, touching the golden softness of her hair.
“I want our child. Do you?”
A thousand thoughts---fears, worries, ghosts of older and recent pain---rose to the front of his mind and were dispersed like leaves in an autumn wind in the face of her love, the inner certainty that whatever the unknown risks, this was a life meant to be. “Yes, Catherine. Our child, in that cradle. Yes.”
Vincent opened his eyes, the pattering of the rain in his dream melding seamlessly with the morning tapping of the pipes. He pushed back the quilts and only then realized not only had he slept for more than a few restless hours, but his dream had not actually been a dream, but a vision. He smiled and ran a hand through his hair, wondering if Catherine had sensed it too. We'll find a way to that future, Catherine. I promise you.
The morning chatter on the pipes was the usual assortment of messages, which Vincent translated almost without conscious thought: Cullen, looking for a wrench; Mouse, looking for Cullen's wrench and insisting he no longer had it; Marisol, coordinating with Rebecca for another delivery of goods to their co-op; Mary, calling the youngest children together for breakfast, and then, unexpectedly, four loud bursts on the pipes, Pascal's signal for an all-quiet. Repeat the message, Pascal said.
By the faint melodic scrape of metal as she tapped, Vincent knew it was Jamie. Kid thinks she's a drummer, he recalled Winslow saying when Jamie was just a small child, new both to their community and to pipe-code. I said, Jamie tapped out, I'm seeing water at the junction to Sector E. There's puddles here and the walls are damp.
Vincent closed his eyes, biting back snarl of frustration. Sector E was one of the main corridors leading to the most inhabited sections of the tunnels, containing some of the largest pipes in their world. If the pipes there should rupture, they'd be at serious risk of flooding. He walked into the antechamber and banged out a message of his own. Jamie, are the overhead pipes leaking?
There was a pause, then, No. But I don't know where the water is coming from. And it's pouring rain up top.
She didn't need to finish the sentence; heavy rain leading to drastic changes in the water table was a threat to them all. They might well be spending the next few days making sure no pipes were leaking enough for City Water to notice. Understood, Vincent tapped back; if Jamie didn't see leaking pipes, it wasn't an emergency. Yet. Can you check Sectors F and G before you're off shift?
Yes, Jamie replied.
All right, he answered, we'll get a crew out to Sector E shortly. Let us know if you find anything else.
There was no mistaking the relief in Jamie's message. Understood. And thanks.
Vincent leaned against the wall, calculating. There were a number of work crews scheduled to operate today as there always were, most of them engaged in routine work---perhaps Angus and Kanin might be spared for an hour or two. He sighed. Angus and Kanin. So far, Angus' return to the maintenance crews had been marked with a decided lack of drama but then again, he and Kanin hadn't yet been assigned to one together.
Suddenly weary to his bones, Vincent returned to the bedroom and changed into his oldest clothes. If he hurried, he might have time to eat first before starting the inspection.
Catherine awoke to the sound of rain outside the hotel room and the sense that some important matter had been decided. Visions of the attic in the house in Connecticut rose before her, but the shreds of the dream disappeared into the light of morning. Only...she had talked with Vincent the night before. Of that, she was certain. She pulled on her robe, hugging herself in its folds. It was a poor facsimile for the strong arms she'd felt around her, for the solidity of his presence, but it would have to do. For now.
Rita emerged from the bathroom, towel-drying her hair. “I was wondering when you'd wake up,” she teased. “Did you sleep better last night?”
“Yeah, I did,” Catherine replied, surprising herself even as she said the words. Though she was still very tired---as was Vincent, she sensed in some unnamed fashion---she felt much more alive for the addition of a few hours' unbroken sleep. “What's on the agenda for today?”
Rita grinned. “Nothing scheduled until this evening.” She sat down heavily on the bed. “I can't believe how happy I am the conference is beginning to wind down. Will we have to go next year, do you think?”
Catherine nodded. “But only for a week. We'll be veterans; we won't have to go for the whole thing.”
“Joy,” Rita said, groaning theatrically. She sobered. “Do you think Joe will be able to get an order allowing Mr. Mueller's testimony?”
“I hope so, but...we won't know until he gets a court date and Avery's attorney has a chance to argue against it. The earliest that'll happen won't be until after we get home. I just hope Mr. Mueller can hold out that long.”
“I do too,” Rita replied. “I halfway expected he'd refuse to testify, even after we met with him. To find that he wants to help us now...it's unbelievable.” She ran a comb through her hair. “What did you want to do today?”
In three days now, she would be home. The barest outline of a plan began to form. “I was thinking about doing a little shopping. What about you?”
“I'll come with you,” Rita said mischievously, “if only so I can see what's put that wicked smile on your face.”
Breakfast had been hurried, by necessity; something he could eat as he walked towards Section E to meet Kanin and Angus and whomever else was available. He finished his scone just as he rounded the corner near the junction, the sound of raised, angered voices clear. Kanin and Angus. Arguing. I am not in the mood for this, Vincent thought, trying to knit together the shredded ends of his patience.
Cullen leaned against the wall with his arms folded, watching the discussion with an amused air. Vincent relaxed; perhaps the situation wasn't as tense it originally appeared. Cullen raised his head in greeting as Vincent approached. “It's like watching a tennis game,” he drawled. “On one hand, you've got Kanin, insisting the water came from a leak inside the wall. On the other hand, Angus, who thinks we should replace the pipes before they eventually do leak, seeing as how they're cast iron and prone to rusting anyway.”
Kanin stared at him with narrowed eyes. “This isn't funny, Cullen.”
“Sure it is,” Cullen said. “And since---for a welcome change---Angus isn't trying to take a piece out of you, I'll take my amusement where I can find it.”
Vincent shook his head, bemused. Cullen had an odd sense of humor at times but the message was clear: this was a normal dispute, not at all like what had gone before. Angus was annoyed but there was no hint of the violent fury that had once possessed him. “I was a plumber,” Angus insisted as if Cullen hadn't spoken. “I know my pipes. Even if they're not leaking now---”
“Angus,” Vincent said, “no one's doubting your skills. It's simply an issue of resources.”
“Yeah, man,” Cullen put in, chiding. “How long have you lived here, anyway?”
“Long enough to know that patchwork maintenance is only going to hold so long,” Angus retorted, glaring at Cullen.
Vincent turned to Kanin. “You think there's a leak inside the wall?”
Kanin nodded. “Yeah. With all the rains we've had lately, water is probably seeping from the inside, which is why the walls are damp.”
“And we know what happens when enough water undermines the structure,” Cullen said, absently rubbing his shoulder---the same one, Vincent knew, he'd seriously sprained in the rockfall while he'd been carving out Valerie's chamber.
“Yes,” Vincent agreed. “Jamie reported no further leaks in Sectors F and G, which tends to support the idea that the leakage is inside the wall rather than coming from the pipes. But”---he spoke slightly louder to still Angus' anticipated objection, and was surprised when Angus subsided--- “we will have to conduct a further inspection on all the larger pipes so long as this rain continues.”
Kanin nodded. “Makes sense to me. Should take us about three days if we pull everyone off the non-essential crews, don't you think?”
In his weariness, Vincent couldn't immediately recall the specifics of the maintenance schedule but Kanin's estimate seemed accurate. “I believe so, yes.”
And in three days, Catherine will be home, Vincent realized. The thought brought renewed energy; soon he would see his wife, and their life together would resume.
The basics of pipe maintenance were taught to everyone, from the smallest child to the newest member of their community. Every few months---more often, if there had been a wet season---small groups went out on a schedule, searching for signs of leakage or rupture. The large group that assembled that evening in Father’s chamber, then, required little instruction, much to Vincent’s relief. “…and Angus and I will take the outer perimeter pipes,” he finished.
Cullen flicked him a glance, no more, as if to say Are you sure? Aloud, he said only, “That sounds like good idea. Marisol, Valerie, Warren and Rhys---are you all right with checking the pipes in Sector A?”
“Sure,” Marisol said. “Those are the pipes nearest our workshops; it’s not likely we’ll get lost.”
Since Rhys was likely to get lost---even a small distance from his own chamber, despite having lived nearly seven years below---Marisol’s comment was met with a murmur of amusement from the assembled crowd and expression of mock dismay from Rhys. “Yes, well, that’s good to know,” Vincent agreed, smiling slightly. Addressing the group, he said, “If you see something, send a message with your location. We’ll work on sections A-H today and pick up with the next sections tomorrow. If you’re unavailable, please let either Cullen or me know.”
Everyone began to disperse; out of the corner of his eye, Vincent saw Valerie pull Cullen aside. She was obviously not happy with being assigned to patrol the safer, inhabited regions of the tunnels. “Valerie, please, listen to me,” Cullen said; Vincent thought only ears like his would have heard it over the din and bustle of chatter. “I may have to let you go down in a safety harness to fix the bridge, but this…Val, there are others who can go where it’s more dangerous. Please, let me keep you safe.”
Valerie looked down at the ground then back up at Cullen. “It was safe in my chamber too. Then the wall fell in on you.”
“I know,” Cullen said. “And if it had been you underneath the rock…I’d never forgive myself.”
They were nearly the same height; Valerie bent her head to Cullen’s and their foreheads touched. “All right,” she told him, “but…” She smiled. “I guess I’m not used to having someone take care of me.”
“Better get used to it,” Cullen said, grinning a crooked, wry grin. “I’m in for the duration.”
Vincent turned away, smiling. The duration. Forever. Always. Words which had had little significance in his own life, until Catherine. He followed Angus out of the chamber, feeling more cheerful than he had in days.
For a time, Angus and Vincent walked in complete silence as they inspected the network of pipes that twisted and crossed each other in what even Pascal admitted was a Gordian knot. He was immersed in tracing one pipe, a copper one, to its origin when Angus spoke out of the dimness. “You never asked me where I went when I was gone.”
Vincent looked up even as his hand traced the weakened solder on a joint—not the first they’d found, and probably not the last. “No,” he said. “I know of the need to go…somewhere, anywhere, and not be found.”
Angus grunted, making a notation on a scrap sheet of paper. “I bet you do. I went…Above. To Amy’s grave, for the first time since she died.”
Vincent didn’t respond, letting the other man speak at his own pace. At length, Angus continued, “I said some things to her I never got a chance to say when she was alive. That I was sorry. I’d give anything if I could take that night back. Felt like a damn fool saying it, though.”
“And when you were done?” Vincent asked quietly.
Angus’ hand halted at the juncture of another pipe. “I felt like…maybe she’d heard me. Silly, ain’t it?”
“No,” Vincent said. “It’s not. Not at all. And now you’ve returned to us. Where do you want to go from here?”
Angus didn't answer for a time, intent on his work. Finally, he spoke. “Amy wouldn’t have wanted me to be as…angry….as I’ve been. I got to thinking she wouldn’t recognize me now, and I’m…not who I was. I can’t be, not after losing her like I did. But I don’t want to be who I’ve been since...”
Since Kanin returned, Vincent thought. “You can choose not....to be that man.”
Angus eyed him with his usual dourness. “That work for you? Choosing?”
Vincent thought of his lifelong battle against his Other, a part of himself only Catherine’s love and acceptance and his near-fatal illness had caused him to finally accept. “Every day,” Vincent replied. “Every day, I have to choose.” He shrugged. “Some days, it’s easier than others.”
“Yeah, I bet,” Angus replied. He gestured to the pipe just over their heads. “Man, this solder is messy. Who did this, Mickey Mouse?”
Vincent chuckled. “You’re half right.”
For Catherine, the next two days sped by in a flurry of work and meetings. Joe had called to update her and Rita on the status of their other cases (“Great,” Rita had commented, shaking her head ruefully. “Five dollars says we won’t be able to find our desks when we get back”) and shared what progress Investigations had made tracking down the remaining witnesses on the Avery case. He also passed along a message from the forensic accountant ---Vincent’s friend David, Catherine reminded herself, stunned all over again at the ways his world and hers intertwined---that he’d completed a preliminary analysis of Avery’s bank records and would be available the middle of the following week to go over his report.
And there was also a call from Matthew Glazer, letting her know that the asbestos abatement was about halfway done and beginning in three weeks---just after Winterfest, Catherine calculated---he’d be able to start renovation on their house. “Oh, and I’ve seen our friends,” Matthew told her the night before she left Albany.
“Oh?” Catherine asked, careful to keep the alarm out of her tone as she wondered what the contractor would have been doing Below. Rita slept—apparently soundly---in the other bed, but still… “Everything all right?”
“Oh, yeah,” Matthew answered. “Some leaking pipes they needed an opinion on. Nothing serious so far, but you know how it is down there.”
“I do,” she replied. “And everyone’s…fine?”’
Catherine thought she could hear the man smiling on the phone. “Your husband says he loves you. I get the feeling there were some other…messages he wanted to pass on personally.”
She felt her face warm. “I’m sure,” she said dryly.
Matthew chuckled. “I was like that with my Elise. Made the separations worth it for the reunions.” He sobered. “You and Vincent are two of the lucky ones. I’ve known him since he was knee-high to a grasshopper and I’ve never seen him so happy. Take care of yourselves, and I’ll see you both at Winterfest if not before.”
Rita awoke slightly when Catherine replaced the receiver on its hook. “Everything all right?” she asked sleepily.
“Oh, yes,” Catherine said. “More than fine.”
Vincent awoke with the dawn as—he knew---Catherine had as well. He dressed quickly, drawn to the sunrise in the Mirror Pool. Once before he had seen the sunrise in reality, not reflected glory, but it didn’t matter; somewhere in Albany, Catherine was watching this same sun rise. He sank down onto the sand in front of the pool and watched as the sky gradually lightened from the dark of night to lilac then pink.
He closed his eyes, the weight of her presence so strong he would have thought she was beside him. Beloved…to see you so soon…
And he felt her heart answer. I love you.*
Click here for Chapter 41....
 “I Have Loved Hours at Sea,” by Sarah Teasdale
* For the story of what happened when Catherine returned, please read “Cliffs of Fall.”