Chapter 42: Most Quiet Need, by Sun and Candlelight 
Vincent had walked the short passage leading into Father's chamber many times in his life: in moments of joy and sorrow, and in the beginning of what had seemed a mostly unremarkable occurrence---the rescue of a battered stranger in the park---known the settled confines of his life begin to shift. Now Catherine---his wife, he thought with a renewed wonder---walked beside him. He paused before they entered Father's chamber, and Catherine tapped a message quickly against his hand. It'll be all right. And if it's not...I'm here. You're not alone.
He inclined his head, a wordless, grateful thank you, and they stepped into the room. As he expected, the Council clustered around Father's ornate desk, faces uncommonly still. Mary's hands moved---knitting, as was her wont during most meetings. Marisol and Miguel sat to the right of Father, with another man---older, silver-haired---who sat next to them. The stranger. The new helper, Vincent reminded himself. These first moments were always difficult, a lifetime's worth of caution insisting You must not be seen warring with the present reality of meeting a new, trusted helper. He breathed out once, forcing calm. “Ah, Vincent, Catherine, there you are,” Father said. “We were just discussing you.”
From somewhere, he found a reluctant bit of humor bubbling through his nervousness. “You were? Imagine that.”
The gentle current of his wife's amusement reached him through their bond. “Yes,” Father continued, worrying the stem of his eyeglasses. “Mr. Riveira---Santos---this is my son, Vincent.”
Over the years, Vincent had become accustomed to every sort of reaction—the inward gasp, the awkward stare that settled everywhere but his face, the widened eyes in fear or shock---as he lowered his hood. Santos' reaction, though, was a first: the man raised his right hand to his forehead, all-but beginning to cross himself. “Nossa Senhora...you're him. It's you!”
Vincent blinked. “I'm...I'm sorry, Mr. Riveira. Do we...know each other?”
The man seemed to settle even as Catherine's hand tightened on his own, a bulwark against his internal storm. “I've heard about you. You're the one the public works guys talk about.” He laughed shakily. “I'm sorry, but...I never expected you to be real.”
Vincent raised one eyebrow, feeling a rather odd, comic sense of relief. “I'm sure. What have you heard?”
“The subway workers, they talk about something....someone...who saved them when part of the old tunnels collapsed on them.” Santos said. “Some buddies of mine got lost a few years back, trying to track down the source of a gas leak, and they say they saw your blue eyes...meu Deus...a lion's face in the shadows when you guided them out. I thought they were joking.”
“Obviously not,” Father retorted, darting a quick later-for-you look at Vincent.
You're in trouble with him, Catherine tapped against his hand.
Yes, Vincent agreed. It probably won't be the last time either.
Santos opened his mouth as if to say something else, but Vincent held out his hand, mindful of his claws. “It's...nice to meet you. This is my wife, Catherine.”
Santos glanced at Vincent, then at Catherine, then back again. Hesitantly, he shook Vincent's hand, his palm damp and sweaty. “When Miguel told me about this place, I half thought he was making it up too. Wow. If this much is real...then what else....”
“You see,” Miguel put in with a droll smile, “why I had to agree your friends were telling tall tales. I couldn't risk...”
“Yeah,” Santos replied, his eyes never leaving Vincent's face. “I can see where that might be tough.” He looked down at the ground. “I'm sorry. I'm staring. I was raised better than that, I promise.”
The comment broke the last of the tension in the room and a soft murmur of laughter rose from the group. A smile tugged at the corners of Father's mouth. “Mr. Riveira, if I may...you have been entrusted with a very great secret, not only the secret of our community but also Vincent's life. Is this a burden you still wish to bear?”
Vincent knew the question was a formality; if there had been any doubts at all, Santos Riveira wouldn't have gotten this far. But it was always intriguing to see how a new helper would answer. Some answered quickly, desperate to reassure; others took a good few minutes to consider what being a helper meant to them. Santos folded his hands and smiled. “I've been shown the door to magic. How could I say no?”
After the welcome dinner for their newest helper, Vincent turned to Catherine. “There's something I have to do before the start of Winterfest. Would you...like to come with me?”
Cullen looked up from spooning mashed potatoes into his bowl. “Oh, right. Do you need some help with that? It'll be a job.”
Vincent shook his head. “No. I believe I have it under control, thank you.”
Valerie grinned. “Besides, Cullen and I have plans.”
“We do?” Cullen asked.
There was a muffled groan which might have been caused by Valerie kicking Cullen in the shins. “We do,” Valerie answered. “I'm not sure what, but we do.”
Cullen arched his eyebrows. “Oh. Those kind of plans?”
Catherine muffled her laughter behind her napkin at Valerie's wry look. “Yes,” Valerie went on. “It's been a long week for us all, Cullen, what with Winterfest starting so soon. Seems like you were barely in bed before I had to get out of it to start the day.”
Vincent nodded. “It's been very busy, and your help with the repair of the chairs and the chandeliers was invaluable, Cullen. But I believe...Catherine and I have it covered.”
Cullen grinned and spread his hands. “Well, then. You two have fun.”
“I think the dinner went well, don't you?” Catherine asked as they walked the winding path leading to the Chamber of the Winds. The breeze was not as intense as she remembered it from her last two Winterfests; it ruffled the ends of her hair and the bottom of Vincent's cloak but was not yet the swirling current of years past.
“Yes,” Vincent agreed. “Miguel's instincts were sound. Santos will be a real asset to our community.”
“Yet you're still worried?”
Vincent glanced at her sideways, eyes wide and blue. “How did---?”
“Because I know you,” she said lightly, determined not to give him any reason to feel embarrassed over his very real concerns and fears. “You're brooding. Worrying too much, wondering if it would have been as awkward if you'd been just like everyone else.” She tilted her head and looked up at him. “Did I ever tell you about when I first set foot in a courtroom?”
“No,” he replied, “but you're an attorney. I would have thought you'd have been in many courtrooms.”
She shook her head. “No. Corporate law is practiced mainly in boardrooms and conference rooms. Until I was hired at the DA's office, I hadn't set foot in a courtroom since law school. At my first arraignment, I saw the same reporters who'd covered my assault, waiting, with cameras. And all I could think of was that if I'd been just plain Jane Smith, new ADA, no one would have cared. But because I was Catherine Chandler, recovering socialite, all they saw was the crime victim, Gunther's Girlfriend.”
“I didn't know,” Vincent said. “You've spoken so little of the months we were apart.”
“A lot of it really wasn't very interesting, as hard as it might be to believe,” Catherine replied dryly. “But that experience...it stayed with me. I'd never felt so...alien before.”
“The sense of being...other,” Vincent murmured. “Yes. It's an old friend.”
Catherine nodded. “It was a new experience for me; I'd had moments of awkwardness before, growing up, but nothing quite like...that. I can't imagine what it must be like for you.”
For a time, he didn't respond, picking his words, Catherine thought, as another man might pick pebbles out of a stream. As they were about to descend the first of the staircases which would take them to the Great Hall, he spoke. “It's always been....who I am. What I am, whatever that is. I've known no other life. Sometimes, I've forgotten it from time to time but...”
“But,” she finished for him, “there are no mirrors in your chamber.”
The wind blew her hair across her face. Vincent moved an errant lock back from her forehead, the work-roughened calluses on his hand somehow soothing. “I don't need one, Catherine. I have you.”
As they reached the base of the steps leading to the Great Hall, the wind began to pick up, forceful, demanding. The entrance to the chamber was still unbarred, the heavy wooden plank that normally kept it closed rested against a side wall. “So what are we here to do?” she asked.
Vincent smiled as he placed the torch in the bracket outside the door and guided her inside. “Officially, just bar the door before tomorrow's festivities. Unofficially....” He gestured above them. “Look.”
The high arched ceiling of the Great Hall was suffused with a grey lambent glow. Moonlight, Catherine realized with a shock. “How?” she managed.
The diffuse light scattered and reflected from the quartz fragments embedded in the walls, washing Vincent's mane silver and darkening the blue of his eyes. “I've never been certain,” Vincent murmured. “It happens the night before Winterfest, and not again until the following year.”
“And you've been the only one to see it?” Catherine guessed.
“Yes,” he said, drawing her close. “It never...felt right to share it with anyone else, before. And I'm usually the only one down here so late at night.”
She breathed in the scent of him---warm and comforting after the sterile, mechanical smells of her world. His scent was somewhat stronger from his exertions earlier in the day, but it was not at all unpleasant. He had provided much of the physical labor for the Winterfest preparations, Catherine knew, and like Valerie, she too had only seen Vincent for a few hours each night for weeks. Now, though...he was here, with no other demands on his time. “It's lovely,” she breathed.
“I wanted you to see it,” Vincent replied simply.
She tilted her head up to study him in the grey-washed light. He was tired, she knew; the threads of his weariness had wound through their bond as she went through her own duties above. Yet when all he had to do was bar the door to the Great Hall, he had chosen instead to take her to this place, to show her yet another marvel of this world. Their world. “Thank you, love. I would never have expected...”
Vincent's mouth quirked. “Who would?” He glanced around them, at the empty cavern, the tables cloaked in their finery, the iron chandeliers stocked with unlit candles, ready to be raised the following night. “I don't expect this will be the only time I'll ask you this, but...may I have this dance?”
She pulled back and batted her eyelashes, grinning. “You know, the waltz was considered quite risqué in its day.”
His laughter echoed in the cavern. “Imagine that.”
The day of Winterfest dawned cold and clear. It had been a real struggle to leave the warmth of their bed for the snows of Above, but as Vincent had said, somewhat groggily over his own cup of coffee, they both had work to do before the celebration began. At least I only have a couple of court appearances, she thought. She glanced at the clock and stretched to ease a kink in her neck. 9am and if she was quite lucky, she might be able to leave at noon, which would give her time to pick up Vincent’s Winterfest gift, then return to the apartment to shower and change. Maybe. She returned to her motion with a will, wondering if she'd have to make a trip to the law library after all, when she heard the rustle of a bag and Joe's footsteps.
“Daydreaming on the taxpayer dime, Radcliffe?” he asked.
Catherine glanced at the bag of Doritos in his hands and groaned. “Didn’t your doctor ban those before lunch?”
“It’s lunch somewhere,” he said, unrepentant. “Still planning to leave at noon?”
The sinking feeling in her stomach could not entirely be ascribed to her rushed breakfast. “Why?” Catherine asked guardedly.
“Internal Affairs wants to meet with you,” he said, his voice lowered and serious. “Today, if you can. Monday, if you can't.”
She had told him she was “going out of town” for the weekend, but duty pulled. This night, of all nights. Damn. “Rita and I gave our reports when we came back to work after the car accident,” she replied. “What can they possibly want?”
“I don't know, Cathy, but they were pretty insistent.” He glanced down at her desk calendar. “This gonna mess up your travel plans?”
“It's not the most convenient, but---”
“What?” Catherine asked. “Joe, if they need me to talk to them, of course I will.”
“I know you will. On Monday.” He tapped the calendar, scattering orange dust onto the white paper. “Some things are more important. You've been working too hard---I've seen you here on the weekends, late at night, you and Rita both. This thing with Internal Affairs, it'll wait.”
She leaned back in her chair and gazed at him---her boss, her friend. “You're a good man, Joe.”
Joe glanced around him in mock chagrin. “Sssh, don't say that too loud. Word gets out and I'm done for.”
Vincent grunted as the large mantel slid into place. Cullen stood up from his crouch at the other end and stepped back. “Yeah, I think that'll be a good place for it.”
Vincent tossed his ponytail back over his shoulder and stood up as well. “You know, as soon as Valerie sees this, she's going to know what her Winterfest gift is.”
Cullen laughed. “Yeah, man, I suppose so. But I'm awful at keeping secrets from her anyway. You think she'll like it?”
“I'm sure she will,” Vincent replied, resting one hand on the mottled green and white marble of the old mantel. It might have looked out of place against the rough hewn rock of the chamber but with Valerie's patched and worn armchairs on either side, it lent the entire room a bit of elegance. “It's amazing it survived the fire intact.”
“Yeah, no lie,” Cullen agreed. “Thanks for your help in getting it down here. Couldn't have done it myself.” He folded his arms. “Does Catherine know what you've made for her?”
“Mmmm, no,” Vincent replied. “It's hiding in your old chamber. I believe she's not made it so far in her explorations.”
“You hope,” Cullen said, grinning. “I'd not underestimate her.”
“No,” Vincent answered, equally amused; certainly he'd learned that lesson well enough. He stiffened as a wave of her tension hit him---Catherine?!?
The jolt of her worry abruptly subsided, followed by an intense relief tinged with a very small amount of regret. “Everything okay, man?” Cullen asked, touching him lightly on the arm.
“Yes,” Vincent replied. “She was...deeply concerned about something. Then she wasn't.” He shrugged. “I suppose I'll find out tonight.”
Cullen shook his head. “Nah, man, you won't. You'll see her, dressed for Winterfest, and you'll forget everything else.”
A series of visions assailed him: Catherine in the white dress she'd worn to their first Winterfest, which had disturbed him nearly as much as he'd loved seeing her in it, because it had so reminded him of a wedding dress; Catherine, her hair golden and glowing at their second Winterfest...He glanced up to see Cullen's knowing eyes. “Yeah, man, you've got it bad.” Cullen clapped him on the shoulder. “And it's good to see. Come on, let's get some lunch before the food's all gone.”
Vincent met her at the basement threshold and his breath nearly halted in his throat at the sight of her. “Catherine,” he breathed and she turned just as her feet touched the sandy earth of the tunnel.
“I'm here,” she said, and rushed into his arms. “Am I late?”
“No, not at all. It's not yet sunset. Everyone's begun trickling in, though.” He noticed the small wrapped package peeking out from her tote-bag. “What's this?”
“Uh-uh,” Catherine replied, shaking her head. “That's for later. After the party.” She glanced down at the ground then back up at him, a pretty blush staining her cheeks. “Don't...um...open it in mixed company.”
“Ohhh,” he said, laughing. “I do understand. At least, I hope I do.”
She stood on tiptoe to nuzzle his neck. “You do,” she murmured against his throat.
His pulse began to hammer. Oh, Catherine...He found his voice with some difficulty. “Winterfest, Catherine.”
She chuckled, her joy a warm glow in their bond. “Indeed. But after....?”
“After,” he said, and kissed her.
Click here for Chapter 43...
 “How Do I Love Thee?” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning