Chapter 48: And Wilderness is Paradise Enow 
Catherine smiled at her husband. As they walked closer to the access tunnel which would take them to their basement entrance, his strides were long and loose-limbed. He was…relaxed. And very happy, the excitement fairly bursting from him like a child at Christmas. “Have you seen the interior since you all finished cleaning out the tunnel entrance?”
“No,” Vincent said. “Matthew said there were some…security features he wanted to show us first.”
“Perhaps,” Vincent replied, “but I don’t believe that’s what he meant.”
“Well, I suppose we’ll find out soon enough,” Catherine said, lacing her arm through his.
“Yes. And here we are.”
Her mouth fell open at the sight of the widened corridor. She’d seen it many times during its excavation but nothing had quite prepared her for what it looked like when it was finally cleared of all the rubble and detritus. The rocks of the corridor were cleaned of the dust and cobwebs, the floor smooth and sandy, and there was a shine along the upper wall: new pipes. “Vincent?” she asked. “Why the new pipes?”
“The old ones were rusted through in places; they would never have carried a message clearly,” he replied. “Matthew…donated them.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
Vincent smiled. “No. Matthew…well, he and Mouse are two of a kind. In Matthew’s case, he haunts a good many architectural salvage stores, looking for materials to rehab the homes he works on. There are a few of his finds which have made it below because he ‘had no place’ to use them.”
“That’s kind of him.”
“It is,” Vincent agreed. “But he’d be mortified if we let on that we knew of his secret. I’m not even entirely sure Father knows.”
At the end of the corridor, there was a large rock panel---a false wall, Catherine realized after studying it closely. The wall must have been largely the result of Kanin’s talented touch; a cursory glance---even a second or third look---would never reveal to the casual visitor that this was anything other than a dead end. “How does this work?”
“It pivots,” Vincent replied. “But only if you push on it in exactly the right place. Otherwise, it won’t budge.” He took her hand, guided it towards what seemed to be a depression in between the stone, much like all the others. “Feel that?”
His hand was very warm as it covered hers. “What’s this bump here?”
“Sea glass,” Vincent replied. “Kanin fitted it into the wall. It’s small enough to escape any real attention but large enough to be felt with your hand if you know where to look for it. Now push.”
Catherine was startled to feel the wall give way and turn on its pivot---how carefully must the wall have been calibrated to open with just the right amount of force. “And you say you’re all just talented amateurs,” she said, marveling. “I can’t imagine a professional would have done better.”
“It was mostly Kanin's work,” he replied. “There are many such false walls scattered throughout our world---some of them predate even our settlement of these tunnels.” He pushed the opening still wider so they could both walk through. “Shall we?”
The heavy wooden door leading from the basement into their home---their home!---creaked loudly in the stillness. Vincent was not surprised to feel an answering pull on the other side of the door; Matthew had obviously been waiting. “Vincent, Catherine! Come on in!”
He stepped through the doorway and stopped. The scents of rotting wood, of mildew and mold and asbestos were gone. It was not yet livable, not yet theirs…but it would be. It would be. “Ah, here’s the light,” Matthew said, pulling on the chain on the ceiling bulb. “We don't have the electricity turned on in the rest of the place, not yet---this is all done with a generator since the electrical guys haven’t been in yet. But it should be enough to see and if it's not, I brought flashlights.”
Catherine glanced towards the wall opposite the brownstone’s door and gasped. “Matthew....what…how…?”
Matthew folded his arms. “Yeah, I saw the windows were all boarded up. I thought if you all were going to live here---really live---you might need some…additional security.”
Vincent followed her gaze. When they’d last seen the interior of the brownstone, the glass windows on either side of the door had been destroyed, covered by plywood, blocking all light from the street. The intricate stained glass panels leaning against the wall were clearly intended as their replacements. He opened his mouth, and closed it, the engulfing rush of possibility, of hope so long denied, too strong for words. I could stand here in the sunlight and not be seen. I could be safe.
Catherine’s hand sought his, clenched hard in her storm of emotion. “I don’t...know quite what to say.”
“A real first, I’m sure,” the older man said, teasing. “And before you ask, I asked an old friend of mine to make the windows for you. He makes them from recycled glass and you'll see that while he used clear glass for some of the panels, they're patterned in such a way that no one looking in will be able to see inside clearly. Consider it a wedding gift from Annie and me.”
“Thank you,” Vincent managed through the knot in his throat, though the words hardly seemed enough. “For the windows, for....” The eventuality of Catherine and me in the sunlight...no longer just in Connecticut.
“You’re welcome,” Matthew replied, walking with his limping steps towards the center of what would be their living room. He gestured towards a blueprint pinned to a chunk of drywall resting against a sawhorse. “Annie made a copy of her designs; if you want to go ahead and refresh your memory before you go exploring, the prints are over there.”
“What about the upstairs?” Catherine asked.
“The staircase is sturdy---not much to look at right now, but I had a couple of my guys come in here and make it safe. If you want to go upstairs, at least you won’t fall through,” Matthew answered. “Annie wanted to come and give you guys the grand tour but my grandson's sick with the flu.”
“I’m sorry Jason’s sick. Does she want Father to take a look?” Vincent asked.
Matthew shook his head. “Nah, probably just a stomach thing but I'll pass it on, thanks. Likely she’s already sent Mary a message but if you wouldn’t mind letting Mary know Jason won’t be below tomorrow, that’d be great.”
Vincent nodded. “Of course. I hope he feels better soon.” He studied the plans carefully, noting again the window that would one day look out onto the vacant land where the house next door had stood. “Matthew, what’s the timeframe on the house next door being razed?”
“We’ve got the permits for it,” Matthew answered. “Probably in a week or so. Why?”
“There’s something you should know,” Vincent replied. “When Mouse had his…accident…he says someone pushed him out of the way.”
“A homeless guy? Someone living there in the wreckage?”
“No,” Vincent replied, deciding to brazen it out. “A ghost.”
Matthew sat down hard on the steps at the bottom of the staircase. “You don’t mean….really?”
Catherine nodded. “And this isn’t one of Mouse’s stories. He’s telling the truth. He says he saw a ‘big guy’ there who pushed him out of the way, then disappeared.”
Matthew whistled. “Well, I’ll be. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of ghosts being attached to old homes and there have been some things I've seen...” His voice trailed off. “I’ll put the word out---the guys will think I’m crazy, but they already think that, what’s a few more rumors?” He folded his hands. “Anyway, once the building is razed and the rubble hauled off---which shouldn’t take long, since it’s halfway to the dump already---then I’ll have the masons in to build a wall around the property. Have you given any thought to what kind of wall you’d want?”
Memories assailed him: he and Devin as boys, pouring over old maps and historical accounts of castles, of moats and curtain walls and baileys and enceinte…fortifications which were totally impractical now but some part of him, the boy he'd one been, thrilled at the question. Vincent glanced at Catherine, felt rather than saw her small nod. “Something which matches the cemetery walls, to the extent it's possible. I...we...would like it to look as if it was always there.”
“I'll let Annie’s know; she's the architect and if I know her, she's already made sketches of the other walls.” He chuckled. “I don’t mind telling you both I’m looking forward to this project.” He made a shooing motion with his hands. “Now off with you two---go look around.”
“So the plumbers will be working starting in January, and then the electricians and once they're done, then the drywall will come up?” Catherine asked sometime later.
Matthew nodded. “That's about right, yeah. The only workers who aren't helpers are the plumbers; the electricians are part of Simon Kowalski’s crew and they’ll be safe for you all to work around.”
“How long do you think the process will take?”
Matthew rubbed his chin, considering. “The kind of electrical and plumbing work this house needs---new everything---a few months at the outside. You're lucky it's winter and there's not a huge demand for remodeling in late December. And you're also fortunate your roof is in good condition.” He gazed at them both, dark eyes serious. “Now, I'm going to give you my standard speech: I know we discussed having this project done by the end of the summer, and I think---right now---we're on schedule. But things happen, things no one can predict, and you need to be prepared for that. It could very well be habitable by summer's end, but you might still have a lot of small projects left to finish before it’s finally done. Is that all right?”
Catherine nodded. “We knew when bought this house it was going to take a while.”
“Well, it’s still going to take less time than it would have if you’d been insistent on living here during renovation, say, or if you’d wanted to turn this home back into apartments,” Matthew said. “But the winter always means a construction slump. So things will happen a bit faster because there’s a shortage of other jobs.” He turned to Vincent. “How many do you think will be helping?”
“I have to talk with Father, but I know Kanin, Cullen, Mouse and Warren have already volunteered.”
“They have?” Catherine asked.
Vincent chuckled. “Yes. Well, Mouse will likely be more interested in the gizmos than anything else, but he did volunteer.”
“Of course,” Matthew agreed with a smile. “But you’ll have a good crew, and a dependable one. In this business, that’s nothing to sneeze at.”
“Have I met Jason?” Catherine asked as they walked back to their chamber.
“Probably,” Vincent replied, his mouth quirking in a fond smile as it always did when he spoke of the children. “Small boy, curly hair, green eyes? Never stops talking?”
“Oh, yes!” Catherine said. “I remember him now from the reading group. I just didn't realize he was Annie's son.”
“Yes. Jason attends preschool with the other children. Annie...wanted him to know this world, to know us.”
There was a subtle undercurrent to his voice, something distant and pained, like a warning of a far-off storm. “What is it?” she asked, tugging on his hand to get him to stop walking.
She was never able to say after how he did it, but it was almost as if he’d withdrawn his physical presence, shying away from the discussion he knew was coming. “Don’t shut me out, Vincent,” she said fiercely. “Not now.”
“No,” Vincent said. He looked down at the ground, then back at her. “When the…outsiders came below,” he began.
“Yes?” Catherine asked, keeping a firm hold on his hand to still his instinctive retreat.
“Annie was married at the time to a man named Spencer; he was an investment banker. When our security was…breached, Father asked Annie to come below and help us design some better defenses for the perimeter as I was in no state to help.”
“No, you weren’t,” Catherine answered, remembering as if it had been only yesterday the dangerous bullet wound high on his left shoulder and the emotional turmoil and depression which had followed. “What has this to do with Annie and Spencer?”
“Jason was only a few months old at the time; she brought him with her to stay below during the day while she worked. It took weeks of work and they went home each night, but Spencer…became mistrustful and accused Annie of having an affair. She couldn’t tell him where she and Jason had been, of course.”
“Oh, no,” Catherine said. “How awful.”
“Yes,” Vincent agreed. “Annie, Sean and Matthew have been helpers for years; to see her marriage failing because of the promises she’d made to keep our world safe was very hard. The council ultimately decided to allow Spencer some knowledge of us, but Annie said no.” His voice became very soft. “She said…if he wouldn’t trust her word, if he didn’t trust her, how could she believe he would keep our secret? They decided to separate and eventually divorced.”
Catherine thought she knew what she would feel from him: an overriding guilt that his injuries and the tunnels’ needs had inadvertently caused the demise of Annie’s marriage. And while there was the slightest tinge of guilt and regret, the larger emotions were a sense of acknowledgement and respect for Annie’s choice, sad though it had been. “I never fully realized until then,” he went on, touching her face gently, “how difficult being a helper can be, how great the demands our secret makes on our helpers. Can we all be…worth so much?”
“Annie thought so,” Catherine replied. “For myself…yes. Always, yes. Without this place, I’d have died in the park. Or if by some fortune I’d survived, I wouldn’t be…who I am. Or met you. I owe this place…you…so much more than I could ever repay. A few awkward social interactions aren’t anything compared to that.”
“You’re a master of understatement, my wife,” Vincent murmured lightly. “ ‘Awkward social interactions’? When half your office believes you’ve married a secret agent and the other half thinks…I don’t know what they think. It seems…so great a sacrifice.”
For me, Catherine heard implied in his words. She knew his insecurities, accrued over a lifetime, were a deep and healing wound, so she made her words gentle even as she felt the frustration at contending yet again with the most stubborn of his ghosts. “Oh, love. Don’t you understand? Calling it a sacrifice makes it sound like we’ve received nothing in return. Annie grew up here, didn’t she?”
“Yes,” Vincent said. “Her mother, Elise, and Mary were close friends; I remember playing with both Annie and Sean when we were children.”
“Then why are you surprised Annie chose to keep you all safe in the only way she could?” She reached up to cup his chin. “It’s not a sacrifice, love, not for those of us who have been blessed to know you and your world. Yes, it makes life…complicated at times---”
“Another understatement,” Vincent put in wryly, turning his head to kiss her palm.
“Hush, you,” Catherine replied, smiling. “Stop questioning. Accept.”
The return to their chamber brought their usual bedtime ritual: Catherine laid out her work clothes for the next day (she’d discovered that doing so brought her an extra few minutes of sleep the next morning) and undressed as Vincent refueled the brazier and blew out all the candles but one. She climbed under the covers, into the encircling comfort of Vincent’s arm and was surprised when she heard his voice out of the utter stillness. “I was thinking…”
“Were you?” she murmured and was rewarded with Vincent’s soft chuckle.
“Yes, I was. I was remembering you…upstairs.”
“Oh,” Catherine said. She had stood in one of the three bedrooms, hand on the windowsill, and had nearly been overcome by a deep and savage wave of longing. The emotion had brought Vincent in from his inspection of the master bedroom, concerned, and he had gathered her into his arms until the storm of emotion had passed. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Vincent brushed back the hair from her face. “Do you?”
“It…surprised me,” Catherine replied. “I love children---always have. But the yearning to have one of my own…I didn’t expect to feel it as strongly as I did tonight.”
“Yet you are still conflicted,” he said quietly.
She turned to face him, not wanting him to misunderstand. His eyes glittered faintly in the dimness, reflecting the light from the lone candle. “About having a child right now? Yes. But not about having a child. Never that. However one comes to us---through birth, through adoption---we are going to have a family. I think we both know, though, that now would not be a good time.”
He nodded. “You must see this trial through…and I’d very much like to have the renovations on the brownstone done.”
Left unspoken, she knew, were all the unknown risks, the fears lying in wait, ready to reappear. He hadn’t mentioned Paracelsus’ lies, but they’d left such deep scars---how could he not still be affected? “Then we’ll wait,” Catherine said.
“Yes. But not forever.”
“No,” she agreed. “One day.”
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 “Quatrain XI,” from The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald