Chapter 61: In Like a Lion
Vincent closed the door to their chamber behind him and leaned against it. A stray thought crossed his mind---he should be careful of the dampness of his clothes against the old wooden doors---but with the mud squelching in his boots and his hair dripping in his eyes, he decided the doors could bear his weight a little longer.
“Vincent?” Catherine called from the hallway. “How was the children's stargazing in the park?” She walked into the antechamber and stopped. “Oh,” she went on, obviously taken aback by his appearance, “that good, was it?”
“It rained,” Vincent explained unnecessarily. “A sudden downpour. The sky was clear and then...We were very far out in the park.”
“It's March,” she replied. “ 'In like a lion, out like a lamb.' Looks like you caught the lion's end tonight, love.”
“No doubt,” he agreed, raking his hair out of his eyes. “The children are in the commons drinking hot cocoa and telling stories even now.”
He glanced down at his muddy, sodden trousers. “I...slid in the mud. Eric said it looked like I was 'sliding into home.' ”
Catherine's hand went to her mouth in a gesture he recognized. Trying to hide her amusement, he thought, realizing how ridiculous he must look: drenched and covered in mud to boot. She coughed delicately. “Well, then, you...need to get out of those clothes.” She extended her hand. “Come on. It's warmer in our bedroom.”
The boots came off easiest with a soaked, weighty thump against the rock floor. Next was his wool cloak, heavy with moisture. Catherine hung it to dry on a hook nearest the brazier. She watched as Vincent tried and failed to unlace the soaked leather ties of his vest and the low rumble of frustration building under his breathing told her his patience was nearing its limit. “Wait, love,” she said. “Let me see if I can get that for you.” Her hands were smaller and though the laces had shrunk and tightened, one stubborn knot finally gave way. She untied the rest and felt the dampness of his shirt and realized he was soaked through to his skin. Must have been a fierce storm, she thought.
Vincent was shivering and Catherine handed him his heavy robe. “Better?” she asked as he shrugged into it.
“Yes,” Vincent breathed out. “Much.”
“That's good.” His hair, which rarely obeyed his will at the best of times, was tangling and beginning to defy gravity as it dried and Catherine bit her lip to hide her smile. “Let's head for the mineral pools.”
“Why don't you spend the day with me above tomorrow?” Catherine said sometime later. Her head rested against Vincent’s shoulder, the warm steam comforting.
“Why?” he asked.
She pulled back a little to look at him. “Because you’ve been working too hard.”
“I shouldn’t,” he would have said, the continual tug of duty and want a long-familiar battle, but Catherine---in full attorney mode, he noticed wryly---continued speaking. “Vincent, I can feel how tired you are. You had to repair some pipes a few days ago, didn't you?”
“Yes,” he acknowledged.
“And you helped Cullen install the door to their chamber? And built some of the furniture for Valerie's nursery?”
Catherine turned to face him and the water stirred with her movement, buffeting him in gentle eddies. In that moment, with the steam wreathing her face and the rose flush caused by the heated water, she seemed something wholly…other, a creature of mystery and magic. “And there was that quarrel Kipper and Geoffrey had, which you mediated. And you took some of Kanin’s duties when Luke was sick.”
Vincent forced his attention back to her words. His week did seem...involved when she put it like that. “Yes, but---”
“Then come above and rest,” she continued. “At least for a day. Take a break. You need it. We'll be starting our end of the renovations soon---”
He tilted his head slightly, noticing how the soap bubbles clung to her skin right...there. “What about your schedule?”
She frowned slightly. “Tomorrow is Saturday, remember. I don’t have anywhere to be except with you.”
The thought of spending time above with his wife, a day without the pull of their various worlds was attractive. “Very well.” He was startled to feel her hand brush his forehead. “What…?”
“Checking for fever,” Catherine replied dryly. “You don’t normally agree so easily to anything.”
“The rain has stopped,” Vincent said, folding a change of clothes into his old scarred leather valise. “It won’t be dangerous for me to climb to your balcony.”
Catherine looked askance at him. “I won’t ask how you know about the rain, but…” she bit her lip, “I’ll still worry. We could take the freight elevator; there shouldn’t be anyone around this time of night.” She smiled suddenly. “And it would be great for transporting overworked husbands.”
He chuckled as a message rang out on the pipes---Mouse, serving sentry duty, acknowledging Vincent’s message that he would be back late the following night. “And if there is…someone around?” Vincent asked carefully, remembering the marbled brightness of her building’s lobby as he’d seen it during Samhain. Only then could he walk as every other man could…only then.
She sighed. “You’re right. It’s just…”
A lock of gold hair fell over her face; Vincent reached out to hook it behind her ear. “I know. But,” and he grinned, “my way is faster.”
“All right,” Catherine replied. “What do you want for dinner? Chinese?”
“I’d like that,” he answered.
“Sounds good. I’ll have Henry throw in some extra hot sauce for you.” She kissed him. “Better give me about an hour before you head up. I need to pick up some groceries since we’ll be staying in tomorrow.”
Vincent waggled his eyebrows in a gesture he knew would make her laugh. “So we’ll be eating, then?”
“Of course. We’ll have to eat…sometime…”
Vincent stretched his legs out in front of the fire as Catherine unpacked the food from Henry Pei's restaurant. “I got your favorite, kung pao chicken, and Henry swears he gave you all of those little red peppers.”
“Thank you,” he replied, taking the food from her.
Catherine sat down next to him on the floor and wriggled her bare toes into the deep carpet. “I have to say, there's nothing too much better than Chinese food in front of the fire.”
He unwrapped his chopsticks and became conscious of Catherine’s curiosity. “What?” he asked.
“Who taught you to use those?”
“Dr. Wong,” Vincent replied with a smile. “He said…only barbarians ate with a fork, so I needed to learn to eat with chopsticks.”
“Did you stay with him for a time?” Catherine asked.
“When I was a boy, yes. I did a great deal of…moping after Devin left and Father eventually talked to Dr. Wong. In return for my help in his shop—looking after Lin and working in his stockroom---I would be allowed to stay with Dr. Wong for a time.”
Catherine reached for the small container of orange chicken. “How long did you stay with him?”
“A couple of months during that summer, and later on, I came to see them on the weekends if my chores and homework were done.”
She handed him a cup of tea. “Father must have been very worried, to let you stay away from home when you were so young.”
Vincent nodded. “He was. But I think, deep down, he was more afraid I would endanger myself try to find Devin---until his reappearance, Father believed he had died somewhere in the tunnels. Sending me to Dr. Wong’s kept me busy and slowly, I began to heal.”
“Do you speak any Chinese?”
“A little,” Vincent said. “Enough to be polite and carry on a basic conversation, but I won’t be translating Confucius anytime soon. It’s a very difficult language, but Dr. Wong did his best to teach me.”
Catherine smiled. It was a mysterious smile, and Vincent tilted his head. “What makes you smile?” he asked.
“You,” she replied. “I’m thinking of how different our lives were. When you were living with Dr. Wong, my largest concern was where my doll’s shoes were and if I could convince our housekeeper to let me have a cookie before dinner.”
It was not the entire truth, Vincent knew; the year of Devin’s disappearance was also the same year Catherine’s mother had fallen ill with the cancer which would eventually kill her. But there was a need in her not to dwell on her losses, and he respected it. He reached out to touch the softness of her hair. “But we found each other eventually,” Vincent replied. “There’s a lot to be said for…serendipity.”
Catherine rose from their bed and gazed at her husband. Sprawled across their bed, sated and relaxed, he was half-asleep in the morning sunlight, muscle and bone and fur glowing a rich copper. “Where are you going?” he asked drowsily, voice still raspy.
“Coffee,” she replied, kissing him, “as if you have to ask.”
His hands, those strong, calloused workman’s hands, were at her waist, pulling her back into the warm nest of blankets. She decided she didn’t need coffee right then and sank back into his embrace, her preoccupation with what exactly his mouth was doing blurring all other thought…
A sharp knock at the door shattered the stillness. “You should get that,” Vincent murmured between kisses.
“Get what?” she asked.
The doorbell rang, an insistent clank. “Dammit,” Catherine muttered under her breath. “So help me, if this is Elliot Burch again, I’m gonna find my grandmother’s cast iron skillet and brain him with it.”
Vincent propped his head up on one bent arm. Naked and utterly unselfconscious, there was something a little wild and untamed about him. “If it’s Elliot Burch, you’ll have to stand in line.”
“Hiya, Radcliffe, I should have called first but---”
Catherine breathed out and bit back a retort. She pulled the folds of her thick robe closer, glad she’d at least pulled on a nightshirt before answering the door. “It’s all right, Joe. Won’t you come in?”
“Got company?” he asked, taking in two cups in front of the coffee pot.
“It’s Saturday, Joe. What do you think?”
He held up his hands. “Hey, I’m sorry if I’m interrupting.”
“You’re not interrupting me, but my husband is still sleeping,” Catherine replied, though she knew Vincent was wide awake and listening on the other side of the closed bedroom door. “What brings you by?”
“I got a call from the Elizabeth PD last night. They’ve got a tentative ID on the guy they think was driving the car when you and Rita had your ‘accident.’ "
She frowned. “I told Internal Affairs I didn’t get a good look at him. I’ll be happy to give them a statement, but there’s not much I can say.”
“I told them the same but they were pretty insistent that they wanted to speak with you and Rita. Apparently this guy’s a bad character, linked to a whole string of unsolved homicides in New Jersey.”
The coffee pot stopped brewing; Catherine poured him a cup and handed it to him. “You could have called me,” she said gently.
Joe ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I could have,” he acknowledged. “Sue me, Radcliffe. I…” He leaned up against the back of the couch and dislodged the dark folded mass of Vincent’s cloak. Catherine held her breath. The cloak he’d used tonight was the very one he’d given her after pulling her out of the trunk of the sinking car. Would Joe recognize it? The folds of the cloak fell against his legs—as if demanding his attention, Catherine thought crazily---and Joe stared at it. “I’ve seen this before, Cathy. You want to explain?”
She took a sip of her coffee, the prosaic action somehow reassuring. “Not particularly.”
“Someone rescued you from that car,” Joe went on softly. “I’ve known for forever. And you’ve protected him, for whatever reasons.” He put the coffee cup on the side table and lifted the cloak. The long folds brushed the floor. “Big son of a bitch too, unless I miss my guess.” He refolded the cloak and placed it back on the couch. His eyes met hers squarely. “I don’t need to know who, or why, Cathy. I don’t. Just…tell me I’m right.”
Catherine’s hands clenched around her coffee mug. She couldn’t put Joe---an officer of the court---in the position of knowing, beyond a doubt, who was responsible for the “slasher murders” Bernie Spirko had so painfully uncovered. “You’re right, Joe. That’s all I can say…all I will say, but…you’re right.”
Joe nodded. Then, as if the conversation had never taken such an unexpected detour, he continued, “I really should have called. I’m sorry. I won’t take up anymore of your time but when you get in on Monday, be sure and call the detective over at the Elizabeth PD. That way, maybe he’ll stop calling me.”
He flashed a grin and it was as if nothing had happened, nothing had been said. Can it really be that simple? We just…go on? Catherine wondered. Aloud, she said, “I’ll do that, Joe.” He rose then and she walked him to the door. As she opened the door, he turned to face her. “I, um…I’ll call first, next time. Have a good weekend, Radcliffe.”
After Joe left, after all the locks were bolted, Catherine sank down onto the couch, reaction beginning to set in. Vincent emerged from the bedroom, bare-chested and golden. “Are you all right?” he asked, taking her into his arms.
“Oh, yeah,” Catherine murmured shakily. So close...it had been so close...
There was a gentle caress: Vincent, combing her hair with his fingers. “No, you’re not,” he answered quietly.
She leaned against him, grateful---not for the first time---for his steady strength. “I never expected this morning, that’s for sure.”
“Joe seems like a good man,” Vincent observed. “Catherine, if you had decided to tell him…”
There was something in his eyes, an expression she couldn’t quite identify. “What? Do you think I’d risk---”
“No. But if there should come a time when you must make the choice…know that I stand with you. Whatever you decide.”
Catherine glanced at him, startled. It was no small mark of his courage, she thought, considering what risks the world Above had always held for him, to say nothing of Father's likely reaction if she just brought someone below. He had agreed readily enough with Lena, but she had been a special case, an emergency. Someone like Joe? “Father would have a conniption fit, and you know it.”
“I do,” he agreed. “But...he trusts you. And you would not be the first to bring someone below without the council's approval.”
“You?” she asked.
There was a small boyish grin on his face. “Yes. You were not the first person I found, Catherine.”
“Who was?” she couldn't help but ask.
“Laura. Then Mouse.”
“That's different, Vincent, they were children.”
“Laura was. Mouse...he was a child too, but he was wild, almost feral then. And a thief. Certainly not anyone's first choice as a community member.” He gently turned her to face him. “One day, it might be Joe. Or Rita. Don't...close the door merely because you fear Father's reaction, or the council's.”
She nodded, and was startled to feel his hands resting again at her hips, heated through the thin fabric of her nightshirt. “Now,” Vincent murmured against her throat, “where were we...?”
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