Chapter 55: That Looks on Tempests and Is Never Shaken 
Catherine entered their bedroom and stared down at her sleeping husband. Vincent lay curled on his uninjured left side, the white bandages stark against the golden fur of his chest. The wild mass of his hair fell over his face and onto the pillow, fluttering with his breath. Catherine turned towards their armoire, but hesitated, afraid she might wake him with the creaking of the doors.
“The blankets will be needed,” Vincent murmured just as she was placing her hand on the armoire door.
She half-turned to see him open his eyes and push his disordered hair out of his face. “I’m sorry, love, I was trying not to wake you.”
He shook his head. “It’s all right. Father decided we’ll have to double up, I take it?”
Catherine nodded. “How did you---”
“It’s not the first time we’ve had to do this,” Vincent replied. “There was a bad ice storm when I was a boy, and the pipes froze; Devin, Winslow and I ended up sharing with Pascal and his parents. We thought it was great fun, a grand adventure.” He tilted his head. “Where are the children in the nursery going to stay?”
“Some of them are going to stay with us---I’m going to talk to Mary shortly and find out how many.” She sat on the bed in the space provided by his bent knees, cautious of jostling his bandaged ribs. “I…didn’t talk to you about it first. Do you mind?”
His hand gently stroked her arm, a whisper against her skin. “Of course not. I would have suggested the same thing; we do have the largest amount of free space.” He cocked a wry eyebrow. “For now, anyway.”
Catherine smiled, hearing all that he wasn’t saying. “For now. Should we use the blankets in the chest in the antechamber as well?”
“I don’t see why not,” Vincent answered. A strange look came over his face, one she couldn’t quite interpret---longing? Sadness? “There’s a…blanket in the bottom drawer of the dresser, a quilt. Leave that one, please.”
“All right,” Catherine replied, putting the thought away for later when it could be brought out and discussed under less trying circumstances. “Is there anything I can get you now? I’m about to stage a raid on the storage chambers with Olivia and Mary.”
The thought amused him, she could tell. “You make it sound like you’re doing some sort of…panty raid.”
Catherine couldn’t contain her astonishment. “A panty raid?!? Vincent, how…what…?”
“I have Devin for a brother, remember?” Vincent said dryly. “My…education might have been uneven in some areas, but Devin did his best to make sure it was as thorough as possible. Much to Father’s consternation, of course.”
“Of course,” Catherine replied, still laughing. “And I’m not sure I want to know. But you didn’t answer my question. Do you need anything?”
“Only you, next to me,” he said.
She turned her head to kiss his palm, felt the shiver that went through him. “Soon, love. Soon.”
Mary met her just outside the chamber with a large wheeled cart. “Every storage chamber has blankets; it made more sense to bring this along.”
Catherine nodded. “How many children will be staying with us?”
“Four, for now,” Mary replied, reaching up to repin a wayward lock of silver hair. “Daisy, Ezra, Heather and Riona. Daisy is the youngest at five; Riona is nearly ten and she’s the oldest. Ezra is six and Heather is eight. I wouldn’t have asked you to take four but Daisy and Riona refused to be parted.”
“Kanin and I are taking three, the very youngest ones,” Olivia said with a smile. “Heaven help us, since we’re only used to Luke.”
“Cullen and Valerie are taking three also, and Marisol and Miguel are taking two of the older ones. I’ll have some of the older children and the teenagers who are old enough to have their own chambers have volunteered to take whoever is left,” Mary said. She studied Catherine closely. “Are you sure you’ll be all right with those four? They’re good kids but they might be a bit of a handful with all the excitement.”
Catherine took a deep breath, wondering what precisely she’d gotten into. “I think we’ll be fine.”
“I know you will,” Olivia said. “You’re both good with kids. And if they get to be too much, you can always come visit us. Not like anyone will be doing much for the next few days except huddling under blankets or bundling up. It’ll be too darned cold to do much else, at least until they get the heat restored.”
It was a gesture of friendship and not one Catherine would have ever expected, considering her role in Kanin’s departure from his family. “Thank you, Olivia.”
Vincent looked up as his wife bundled herself up in jeans, an old sweatshirt and shawl over her flannel shirt; a bitter winter’s chill was beginning to truly set into the tunnels. “What did you find out from Mary?”
“We’re taking four of the children for now. She’ll be bringing them by in an hour or so. I don’t have a clue how we’re going to get ready for them.”
“I have some ideas,” Vincent replied, cautiously swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and sitting up with an indrawn breath as his ribs and aching muscles protested the movement.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Catherine said firmly. “Vincent, you’ve been hurt. What do you think you can possibly do with three cracked ribs?”
“I can at least tell you how we normally organized things,” he replied mildly.
She folded her arms. “Can you do that from this bed?”
He nodded. “All right,” she went on. “Where do I start?”
“We’re going to need some extra braziers, for one.”
“Cullen is bringing those by later; they’re from the chambers that have temporarily been abandoned,” Catherine answered. “What else?”
“The bed in the antechamber can be moved against the wall to make room for the children’s beds. Which children are we taking care of?”
“Daisy, Ezra, Heather and Riona.”
“Good,” Vincent replied. “They’re old enough to be safe around the heaters.”
Catherine frowned. “I didn’t even know enough to think of that.”
Vincent wanted nothing more than to stand and hold her as he had done many times before, through so many different storms. But the sharp jolt of pain warned him against trying, so he sighed and said, “Catherine. Come here, please.”
She sat down next to him. “What is it, love?”
“You’re worrying too much. The children will be fine.”
“And what about you?” she asked.
He kissed her. “I’ll be fine too.”
Catherine stared at the pile of blankets, and at the grey tail protruding out of them. She had placed the spare blankets onto Vincent’s old bed to do a brief inventory, and no sooner had she done so then Kali---one of the three tunnel mousers---had jumped square in the center of the blankets. “Come on, Kali,” she said to the cat. “Why don't you go and sleep with Vincent while I do this?”
The blankets moved, and Kali stuck her head out of them, green eyes unblinking. “I like you, really I do, but I'm not sure what all we have here, and you rolling around in these quilts isn't helping,” Catherine said.
Her tail went swish-swish but the cat remained utterly unmoved. Instead, she burrowed further into the nest of blankets and closed her eyes. “All right,” she said, chuckling. “You win.” She heard a knock at the door and went to open it. “Cullen? Angus? What are you two doing here?”
Cullen ran a hand through his thinning hair. “Valerie told me you’re taking care of four of the kids and we thought you might need some help moving the furniture to make room, since Vincent’s been injured.”
“Oh, thank you both. I’m not sure what Vincent’s old bed was made from, but it feels like cement.”
Cullen grinned. “I remember us struggling with that thing when we were clearing out the chamber for demolition. It made me wonder how anyone had gotten it in here in the first place.”
“They probably disassembled it and rebuilt it in this chamber,” Angus said. “It shouldn’t be a problem for us to move it once all the bedding is removed.”
“How is Vincent doing?” Cullen asked.
“Sleeping, I hope,” Catherine replied. Her internal sense of him, nearer than her own heartbeat, spoke eloquently of how exhausted he was. She began to remove the blankets so the bed could be more easily moved and Kali jumped down with a meow of protest, running into their bedroom.
“He got off pretty easily,” Cullen said, taking the bundle of quilts from her and placing them on a worn, overstuffed chair. “When I heard he got shot off that ladder, I’d have thought he’d have been hurt a lot worse.”
Catherine decided against revealing something Father had told her as Vincent had drifted off into a deep sleep---that Vincent’s reflexes were faster and combined with his instinctive knowledge of how to fall properly, meant he had narrowly avoided far worse injuries. Vincent was gradually becoming more accepting of himself, of his differences, but she wasn’t sure he would want this mentioned. “He was very lucky, you're right,” she said instead, tossing some of the bolster pillows onto another chair.
In short order, they had the bed stripped and with their combined efforts, it was slowly moved further towards the back of the antechamber. “I think this will make room for two of the beds, and the other two can go into our other bedroom,” Catherine said when they’d finished.
Angus nodded. “We passed Mary as she was getting the kids ready; they’ll be here soon.”
No sooner had he spoken then there was another knock at the door. “That’ll be Mary, I’m sure,” Cullen said.
Catherine opened the door to find Mary and the four children bundled in their heaviest robes and carrying blankets and bedding. “Hi, Catherine. Are you ready for all of us?” Mary asked with a smile as she ushered the children into the room.
“Sure,” Catherine replied with a fond smile.
“Where’s Vincent?” Daisy asked.
Catherine remembered her from Vincent’s reader’s group, the bright young face turned up to his. “He’s sleeping right now, Daisy. He was hurt when the pipes ruptured.”
“How is he?” Mary asked as she helped set up the children’s cots. “We were pretty busy in the hospital chamber; I wasn’t able to check on him.”
Catherine straightened the bent metal leg of one cot. “He cracked some ribs but…it could have been much worse.”
Mary nodded and touched her arm briefly. “He’ll heal quickly, you’ll see.” Raising her voice slightly, she said, “Children, let me introduce you to Catherine.”
“We know who she is,” said the only boy in the group. Ezra, Catherine recalled.
“Yes,” Mary replied, “but she may not know you all. This is Ezra,” she went on, gesturing to the dark-haired boy who bore a close resemblance to one of the other girls. “And this is his sister, Heather.”
“Hi,” Heather said shyly.
“Hello,” Catherine responded, smiling.
“You’ve already met Daisy, and this is Daisy’s sister Riona.”
Riona, at nearly ten, was easily several inches taller than the other children, and she stood slightly in front of Daisy. Protective, Catherine thought. “Nice to meet you,” she said to Riona.
“You too,” Riona said. “Can Daisy and I share a room?”
“I don’t see why not,” Catherine answered.
Cullen exited the hallway beyond the antechamber. “The two cots are set up in your study. Angus, you want to help me with the braziers?”
Angus nodded and they both left. “It’s cold in here,” Daisy complained.
“It is,” Catherine agreed. “Do you like tea?”
Daisy nodded. “Then I’ll put some on to brew and you'll feel much better,” Catherine continued.
Mary placed her hand on Daisy’s shoulder. “You’ll all be staying with Catherine. Tomorrow morning, we’ll have our lessons in the commons.”
“The commons?” Ezra asked.
“Why sure,” Mary replied, her voice soothing and calm---a mother's voice. “There will be lots of heat coming from the kitchens by then. Catherine, you’ll bring them by about nine?”
Catherine nodded. “Just bang on the pipes if you need anything,” Mary went on. “Children, I know you’ve had a lot of excitement tonight, but listen to Catherine and Vincent and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Catherine stretched, arching her back. Riona and Daisy were sleeping in the study and Ezra and Heather were settled in their cots. She made her way past the children and walked into her bedroom, dropping the heavy curtain behind her. “Everyone all right?” Vincent asked quietly.
“Yes. It took a few bedtime stories and some chamomile tea, but they’re all sleeping now.” She sat down on the bed and removed her bra, then hastily pulled her sweatshirt back down as the cold air hit her bare skin.
Vincent lifted the covers on her side of the bed. “Come. I promise you it’s warmer.”
She kicked off her shoes and hastily crawled under the covers. He was right; it was much more comfortable next to him. She chuckled. “What?” Vincent asked.
“I was remembering the hotel in Connecticut,” she replied, feeling the heat of a blush staining her cheeks.
He gathered her close against his uninjured left side and his voice was a low rumbling purr. “Our first time.”
The tone…that tone. The need. His. Hers. “We can’t, Vincent; you’ve been hurt---”
He kissed the top of her head. “On account, then?”
She laced her fingers in the loose collar of his heavy robe, felt the quickening change in his breathing as she touched him. “On account.”
The next morning was hectic: Vincent, who insisted on trying to hobble around their chamber, took charge of heating the wash water on a screen placed over one of the braziers as Catherine helped the kids get ready for their classes. “But the water will be cold!” Heather protested as Catherine took her into the bathroom.
“It won’t,” Catherine assured her. “I promise. Vincent heated the water for us. Now wash your face.”
By 8:30, everyone was dressed warmly and ready to head out for their lessons. They were about halfway to the commons when Ezra stopped. “I left my homework in your chamber,” he said to Catherine.
There was something oddly endearing about the small frowning boy with his hair sticking up all over. “We’ll just go back and get it then,” Catherine replied.
“I can take everyone else to the commons,” Riona said. “It’s not that far away.”
Catherine nodded, not missing how Riona held her sister’s hand and how Heather stayed close to Daisy. Tunnel children looked after each other. “All right. I imagine I’ll be seeing you all soon for breakfast. Be careful.”
She walked back with Ezra and at the junction leading to her chamber and Father’s, Catherine stopped so suddenly that Ezra ran into her. “What is it?” he asked.
Father had emerged from his chamber and over the patched and faded tunnel garb, he had thrown on a robe. But not just any robe.
Catherine opened her mouth, then closed it on the laughter threatening to burst from her. “Good morning, Father,” she managed. “Um, how are you today?”
Father darted a quick look over his glasses and stood on what remained of his dignity. “Trying to keep from freezing. I’m sure you…understand.”
“You look like a muppet,” Ezra said, giggling.
“A what?” Father asked.
Catherine choked back a laugh. “Never mind. Let’s get your homework, Ezra.”
It wasn’t until Catherine returned to their chamber that she was able to collapse on their bed in helpless laughter. Vincent closed his book and looked at her with a wry half-smile. “Do I even want to know…?”
When she was able to regain her breath, Catherine told him about Father’s bathrobe. “Is there a story behind that?” she asked. “There has to be; I can’t see him buying it on his own.”
Vincent shook his head. “No. There are matching slippers somewhere too.”
“So, what’s the story?”
“Father lost a bet,” Vincent said dryly. “You'll have to ask Peter for the details---he's never told us what happened---but he had to wear that robe for a week when I was a teenager. I'm surprised he still has it.”
“Well, it looked...comfortable, I must say,” Catherine said, still chuckling.
“I'm sure it is,” Vincent agreed equably, but his eyes were dancing. He lifted the quilts and afghans which covered their bed. “Come here.”
She curled next to him, the chill in her bones beginning to thaw, and saw the water scald on the side of his face had already begun to fade, leaving him with a mildly pink flush. In a few days, Catherine thought, it would be completely gone. “How are you feeling?”
“Better, for the most part. So long as I don’t move much.” He gazed down at her. “Catherine, I feel your worry.”
She nodded. “Your injuries reminded me of how fragile everything is---your life, mine, our life here…it could all be gone in an instant.”
His left arm held her close. “It could. But we've been given today.” He kissed the top of her head. “Rest now. I’m here.”
Click here for Chapter 56....
 “Sonnet 116,” William Shakespeare