Chapter 44: My Sea to Your Shore 
Vincent stirred, reluctantly drawn from the well of dreams by...what? His internal sense of time---and the muted, soft tones of the pipes---told him it was still in the very early hours of the morning. He dragged open his eyes and Catherine stirred beside him. Her words were muffled under a quilt, two sheets, and a knitted afghan, but Vincent heard them just the same. “What is it?”
“I'm not sure,” he replied. “It seems colder in here. The brazier must have gone out.”
Catherine favored him with a sleepy, slightly wicked, chuckle. “We were supposed to add more fuel last night, but...”
“We were…distracted,” Vincent said, nuzzling the sleep-warm column of her neck. She relaxed against him, her bare thighs smooth against his own, but the sight of their breath curling in the cool air reminded him of other fires that needed to be kindled first. “I'm going to go relight it.”
Catherine opened one sleepy eye. “And you’ll come back to bed?”
“There’s no place I’d rather be,” he said. “Rest now; it’s not even dawn. I’ll be back soon.”
Naked, Vincent padded to the armoire and shrugged into the thick robe Catherine had given him as a wedding gift. After some consideration, he pulled on a pair of warm sweatpants and walked into the antechamber.
Almost immediately, he felt the cold frisson which was his only sense of Kristopher in the seconds before he appeared. “Oh, hey Vincent, how are you doing?” Kristopher asked, leaning against the chamber entrance.
Vincent blinked. Kristopher's perkiness seemed...unnatural. He suddenly had some understanding of his wife’s good-natured grumpiness at his own morning cheer. “Kristopher,” he answered politely. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit?”
The ghost peered closely at him. “You know, that’s a serious case of bed-head you’ve got there. I didn’t…interrupt you, did I?”
Vincent didn’t even try to smooth his hair into some sort of order; between him and Catherine’s activities the night before and his hair’s perpetual unruliness, he knew it would be a losing battle. “No. Catherine is sleeping. Is there…something I can help you with?”
“You and Cullen were planning to do some more excavations mid-week in the wreck next door to your house, right?”
Vincent decided against asking how he’d known. “Yes. He thinks there might be some more salvageable materials we can resell or trade for what we need.”
Kristopher shook his head. “I know you've been there once, but please don’t go back.”
Kristopher fiddled with the brim of his faded ball-cap; a nervous gesture. “I…can’t tell you. But let the wreckers haul off what’s left. Don’t return.”
It was a cryptic warning, but Vincent accepted it. “Very well. Are there any...other messages I should pass on?”
“Nah. I’m going to go see Elizabeth anyway to see if she’ll leave me some of her spare paints.” He held out a metal bucket, full of Cullen's wood shavings and bits and pieces of wood too small to be reused in any other way. “Here's some fuel for your heater. I came by earlier but you two were asleep...I think I blew it out. Didn’t mean to, but…” He shrugged. “It’s kind of weird, being a ghost.”
“Yes, I can…see where it would be,” Vincent replied even as he wondered how he should respond.
“No, you don’t,” Kristopher said, grinning. “And I’m glad you don’t. See you later, Vincent.”
Vincent would have thought Catherine was deeply asleep, were it not for the slightly faster pace of her breathing as he settled next to her. “Everything all right?” she asked.
The mattress groaned its complaint under his weight. “Kristopher stopped by.”
That got her attention, the jolt of shock electric in their bond. “What? Why?”
“He…doesn’t want Cullen and me to go back to the house next door.”
Catherine turned to face him, her hair brushing his arm. “You won’t return, then?”
“No. His warning was…very clear.”
She bit her lip. “I can't quite wrap my head around Kristopher, but I am glad you're listening to him.”
The undercurrent was strong in her words: she had been concerned. “I’m sorry,” he replied. “I never wanted you to worry.”
“I know,” Catherine replied. “But it’s not as if my world is safer. And I figured if you could handle riding on subway cars, then digging around in a burned building wasn’t any more dangerous. Did you and Cullen find what you were looking for?”
“Oh, yes,” Vincent said. “Valerie’s Winterfest gift. And yours.”
She stretched, arching her back just enough that the layers of blankets slid lower. “About your gift...”
“Was it...enough for you?”
The only thing she wore was his crystal, sparkling in the valley between her breasts. A thousand gifts had she already given him in the few years of their life together, chief among them the ability to believe in his right to love her and to accept that love in return. “Did you have another…gift hiding somewhere?” Vincent asked in feigned innocence and had the pleasure of seeing her eyes darken in hunger…hunger for him.
“Why don’t you come here and find out?”
“Are you hungry?” Vincent asked when they awoke again.
Catherine's stomach rumbled, and she laughed. “Well, that's a yes if ever I heard one.”
Vincent rose from their bed, treating her to what was becoming one of her favorite views: the long lean lines of muscle and fur of his backside embraced by the soft glow of the candles. He turned to smile at her over his shoulder. “You do want to leave here sometime today, don't you?” The old carved doors of the armoire squealed a little as he opened them, pulling out some clean clothes for the day.
She sat up and wrapped her arms around her bent knees. “I suppose so.”
“William will have laid out quite a spread in the commons, though don't expect to see him today or tomorrow. He takes the two days after Winterfest off.”
“Smart man,” Catherine agreed. “He must have been cooking for a solid week before Winterfest.”
“Two,” Vincent replied. “He had help, of course, but if he's back in the kitchen much before Tuesday, I'll be surprised. In the meantime, we have leftovers.”
“Oh, and when I get out of the shower, I want to show you your Winterfest gift.”
She chuckled, gazing at him, naked and utterly unselfconscious. “Oh, love. You already did.”
Catherine was drying her hair off with a thick towel when she heard Vincent puttering around in the study. “It’s ready,” she heard him say.
She pulled on her jeans and a sweater against the chill in the air. With the large brazier now lit, it was a good bit warmer than it had been, but there was no doubting it was still winter above. She walked into the study and stopped, stunned. On the carved desk stood a lamp with an ornate stained glass shade, plugged in. Plugged in. “Oh, Vincent…”
“You told me it was too dim in here for you to read easily. After due consultation with Mouse, we figured out how to wire a bit of electricity into this room.” Vincent gestured towards the base of the lamp. “And for the days when the electricity isn’t available, it uses batteries.”
“And this…was in the building next door? That burned-out wreck?”
Vincent nodded. “In the basement, actually. Some of the glass was cracked and damaged and the base was burned beyond repair, but Cullen helped me make a new one for it.”
It was so like him, she thought, to take a practical need and transform it into something of beauty. “I love it,” she breathed. “I didn’t know you knew how to do stained glass.”
“Many years ago, one of our helpers was a docent in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She taught art classes below, and stained glass was her particular hobby.”
“You must have been her best student, then,” Catherine replied, touching the brilliant jeweled glass of the lampshade. “Did you make your window?”
“No,” Vincent said. “I never told you the story?”
Catherine shook her head. “I don’t think so, no.”
“Devin and Winslow brought it down one night for me. Father thought they’d stolen it; Devin assured him he hadn’t but…”
“But it was Devin telling the story and thus, automatically suspect. It wasn’t until Winslow backed up his story of where he’d found the window that Father let the matter drop.”
“Father and Devin’s relationship was strained even back then?” Catherine asked.
“Yes,” Vincent answered. “Though as a boy I never quite knew why. Little things that other children got by with---mischief, practical jokes---were always punished more strictly when Devin did them. And to be fair, Devin often went out of his way to antagonize Father.” He paused, one sharp fingernail tracing the outlines of the glass panels in the lampshade. “Looking back, I understand why he left. But then…”
She touched his arm. “It’s over now, though, isn’t it? They’re reconciling?”
“They are,” Vincent confirmed. “But it’s going to be a long process. Devin believed he was an orphan, when one word from Father, one truth, would have explained so much.”
And Devin has the answers you might never have, Catherine thought. “It’s so…difficult. They’re a lot alike.”
Vincent gave her an amused look. “What makes you say that?”
“They’re both stubborn. Both utterly convinced they’re right. The fruit didn’t fall far from the tree.”
There was a twinkle in his blue eyes; clearly he knew full well she had included him in her assessment. “No doubt. But Father was…incapable of seeing himself in Devin.”
“So where did the stained glass window really come from?” she asked, sensing Vincent’s need to lighten the conversation, his desire not to focus on the pain of the past right now.
He smiled his approval at the change of subject. “Winslow took Devin out foraging one night; they’d found an old building about to be torn down. The window was half-buried in the dirt and somehow, they managed to bring it below. It’s quite heavy; it took both Cullen and I to remove it from its casement when we were preparing this room for demolition.”
“They must have loved you very much, to give you the window after all that effort.”
Vincent chuckled, a rumble of amusement. “I’m not sure they’d have put it that way. I remember there was some discussion about whether the window would end up in my chamber---Devin and I shared it then---or Winslow’s. I don’t recall how they settled it, but Winslow showed up the next day with a hammer and chisel and helped us carve out the casement for the window.”
“He was a good man,” Catherine said.
“He was,” Vincent replied. “The very best. And he’d have been happy for us now.”
The commons was a bustle of calm activity, people gathering in content, relaxed clumps. One table held muffins, bagels, fruit, juice and the leftover pies and cakes from the night before. Catherine made a hasty path for the large pot of coffee as Vincent took their full plates to another table. Cullen sat at the end of the table, bleary-eyed, huddling in the corner shadows and holding his head as if he thought it might roll away. “Rough night?” Vincent asked as he sat down.
Cullen reared back, squinting. “Man, my aching head…don’t talk so loud.”
“I wasn’t,” replied Vincent mildly. “Too much of the red punch last night?”
Cullen nodded slowly. “And then William and I decided to compare our homebrews too.”
“Whose was the best?”
“I…don’t remember. I think we ended up singing somehow…”
“Oh, so that’s what the sound was,” Vincent said, scooting over as Catherine sat beside him.
“What sound?” Catherine asked, bemused.
Vincent winked at his wife and she muffled her laugh with her napkin. “The sound of rupturing pipes. Turns out, it was William and Cullen singing.”
Cullen opened his eyes just a little to glare balefully. “I’d throw something at you if I thought it would do any good. But it would just be a waste of a good muffin.” He glanced down at it as if he half expected it to bite him. “I better bring this back to Valerie. At least one of us should be able to handle eating breakfast.”
“Cullen,” Vincent said, remembering Kristopher's warning, “I don’t think we should go back to the ruin next week.”
“You don’t? Why?”
“I’ll…explain later,” Vincent replied. Kristopher’s existence----on whatever plane---was not something he disputed but could he ask Cullen, that most pragmatic of men, to accept it?
“Fair enough,” Cullen said unexpectedly. “I kept thinking on the way back how we were lucky one of those walls didn't fall on us. Valerie likes her mantle but...I'd just as soon not push my luck.” He rose unsteadily, just as Jamie and Marisol came to sit down, and flashed a wry grin. “I'm going to go lay down and repent my wicked ways. Have a good day, everyone.”
Jamie gazed at him as he left. “You'd think he'd know better,” she said, laughing. “William's punch is legendary.”
“For what?” Catherine asked.
“Hangovers,” Jamie replied. “It tastes good going down but too much of it...” She wrinkled her nose.
“And Cullen will get no sympathy from Father when he gets the aspirin for his hangover,” Marisol put in. “He will get a good dose of 'You should have known better,' and 'What were you thinking?' ”
“You sound like you speak from experience,” Catherine said dryly.
Marisol chuckled. “I do. But it was only the once and never again.” She glanced around. “Jamie, where's Mouse? I'm used to seeing him first thing the day after Winterfest.”
Jamie yawned. “He was up early, believe me. He said he wanted to do some exploring in the house next to the one Vincent and Catherine are renovating, though I don't know what he expects to find there.”
Vincent froze. The burned-out house. Kristopher. “How long has he been gone, Jamie?” he asked.
“About an hour, I think,” Jamie answered. “Maybe a little longer. What's wrong?”
Catherine's worry flared through their bond as he stood. The passage to the house next door to theirs wasn't linked to the main pipes; Mouse would have no way of calling for help. “I'm going to go check on Mouse.”
Jamie caught his hand. “You think something's happened, don't you.” It wasn't a question.
“Yes, I do,” Vincent replied.
Jamie stood. “Then I'm coming with you.”
Click here for Chapter 45...
 Sarah McLachlan, “I Love You”