Chapter 64: As Time Remains Free of All That It Frames 
Catherine knelt at the entrance to the Cathedral and reached into the wicker basket of white candles. “Vincent, they're all different sizes and shapes. How do I choose one? Is there some sort of rule?”
He shook his head. “Narcissa made these, Catherine. Years ago, when this chamber was discovered, she brought the first candles to us. Her instructions to us then were to simply choose one which seemed...right.” He shrugged. “How we were to do that, though...she can be...cryptic, at times.”
Catherine smiled. “You don't say.” She reached into the basket and felt for the outlines of one candle. Her hand stilled on one and she picked it up. “This one.” Instead of the smooth tapers she was used to seeing in the home chambers, this one was tall and lumpy---damaged, she might have said, except for the certain knowledge that Narcissa never made anything without a purpose.
She followed Vincent into the large cavern and saw, as she had before, the flickering light reflected in the quartz fragments embedded in the walls. There was an empty space besides the candles lit for Winslow and Simon, and Catherine stood her candle on its end next to theirs. “I didn't bring a lighter,” she realized. “Vincent, do you---?”
Vincent dug into the pockets of his cloak and handed the little red lighter to her. “Here you are.”
“Is there anything you don't carry in there?” Catherine asked with a grin.
He rubbed his chin in a very Father-like gesture. “Perhaps the kitchen sink; it's simply too heavy.”
She laughed, then glanced at the unlit candle. A heavy weight settled over her---Herman Mueller had risked so much for the testimony he'd given and if Max Avery walked....Vincent rested his hand on her shoulder. “Enough, beloved. You have done all you could...as Mr. Mueller did. Let it go.”
Catherine nodded, and with unsteady hands lit the candle, placing it next to its fellow. “Be well, wherever you are,” she murmured. “And thank you.”
On the way to the commons, they nearly ran into a sprinting Geoffrey, who bore a message from Matthew. “Was it urgent?” Vincent asked the young man; running in the tunnels, near so many torches, was a fire hazard if nothing else.
Geoffrey grinned and Vincent was reminded strongly of Devin's rakish grin just after committing some fresh mischief. “Nah,” he said. “Don't you ever just want to run?”
“Yes,” Vincent said gently, “but...there are lit torches everywhere. You know the rules. If it's not an emergency---”
“Jeez, you sound like Father,” Geoffrey retorted with a teenager's scowl. “Come on, Vincent. I grew up here. I'll be careful.”
“All right,” Vincent conceded, taking the message from him. “Enjoy your...run.” As Geoffrey ran off, Vincent looked at his wife, who was leaning against the corridor wall with her arms folded. “I don't sound like Father, do I?”
“No,” Catherine replied with a fond smile. “But he's a teenager. You're old enough to be his father---you've been his father in a good many ways. If you told him the sky was blue right now, he'd argue it was orange.” She tilted her head. “Don't tell me you and Father didn't have those kinds of conversations when you were his age.”
Vincent remembered his adolescence---and for the first time, he noticed with some surprise, without the horror and guilt which had overshadowed his life for so long. “We...it was a challenge, yes.”
She raised her eyebrows in a wry, teasing look. “I'll just bet it was.” She gestured towards Matthew's note. “What does he have to say?”
Vincent unfolded the note. “He wants to meet tomorrow night to go over the progress on the house. And Annie says she has some background on our house too. Are you available?”
“I'll make time,” she assured him. “My dance card is pretty light this week, actually. How was your day?”
Troubling, he might have said, remembering Father’s unreasonable anger at Santos during their meeting. But he put the thought aside for now and said instead, “Busy. I met with Santos and Angus and Father to discuss the possible tunnel expansion.”
“Were you able to decide on a location?” Catherine asked.
“Yes, after some deliberation. Angus thinks we might be able to channel clean water there now that Matthew has repaired some of the pipes.”
Catherine shook her head. “I’m amazed. I never knew, never suspected, how much work it is to keep this place going.”
“Why should you have?” Vincent asked, amused. “Should I have spent the few minutes we had together on your balcony discussing the minutiae of council meetings? Or leaking pipes? Or William’s compost heap? That would hardly have been…romantic.”
“Mmm…compost heaps…talk dirty to me, baby,” Catherine said dryly, fluttering her eyelashes, and Vincent laughed, a deep laugh which kindled hers.
Once they regained their breath, he crooked his arm. “If I haven’t ruined your appetite, dinner should be ready soon.”
Catherine watched as a tall, broad-shouldered man entered the commons. “Vincent, isn’t that…Angus?”
He looked up from his lasagna. “It is.” He gestured to an empty seat---one of the few left---and Angus walked towards them.
“He normally takes his meals in his chamber, doesn’t he?” Valerie asked. “Wonder what’s brought him to the commons?”
“As if William’s lasagna wouldn’t be enough,” Cullen replied. “You can smell it as far out as my workshop.”
Angus sat down at the table and inclined his head by way of greeting. “Hello, everyone.”
“Hello,” Vincent said. “It’s good to see you here.”
“Yeah, man,” Cullen put in. “Don’t be a stranger.”
Angus shrugged. “It's...quiet in my chamber sometimes. And the food smelled good.” He turned to look at Vincent. “You ready for sentry duty tomorrow morning?”
“You've got duty then, Vincent?” Cullen asked. “I thought Kanin did.”
There were several reasons Kanin might not have wanted to pull sentry duty with Angus, Catherine mused, but Angus spoke. “Kanin wanted to get an early start and take Olivia and Luke to the zoo. He posted a notice asking if anyone would be willing to switch with him. I....volunteered.”
Angus flushed under the pleased regard of several pairs of eyes. “What?”
“Nothing,” Vincent said, the small smile hidden behind his mug. “Nothing at all.”
“Angus is taking Kanin's shift? Was that as surprising to you as it was to me?” Catherine asked sometime later in their chamber.
“Yes,” Vincent agreed, unlacing the ties of his patched leather vest. “He's still our resident curmudgeon, but...I never expected he would volunteer to help Kanin of all people.”
“It's a good sign, isn't it?”
“It is. Perhaps he and Kanin have made their peace. I hope so.”
She peered up him from the edge of their bed. “I hope so too.”
There was a thrumming sort of buzzing tension in their bond, drifting with the wandering of Catherine's thoughts; Vincent tilted his head to study her. “Your day...was not uncomplicated, was it?”
“No,” she replied, resting her hands on the edge of the mattress. Her wedding band glinted in the diffused light from the candles. “You and Joe have a lot in common.”
It should have sounded ludicrous---what could he have in common with Catherine's boss?---but she was serious. “What do you mean?” he asked quietly.
“Joe has a decision to make. He's been offered Moreno's job until the next election. And...he's not sure he wants it, but he doesn't have many options which aren't career-ending.”
Vincent sat down on the bed next to her, feeling again the sour tug of duty and obligation, the chains made not of metal but of desperation. No choice...no choice. No! I choose...I will choose...“I...see.”
Catherine's small hand cupped his chin. “I want you to be able to decide what's right for you in spite of this community's expectations, or Father's.”
Once he'd told Father, “Mine was another life before Catherine”  but even then, he hadn't known, hadn't yet begun to fully understand how deeply she would affect his life. No one else had ever spoken as though he might have had another option, a choice, something aside from the eternal expectations of family that of course he would lead the tunnels one day. Of course. And his decision—whatever it might be, whenever he had to decide---was no longer one he must make alone. Catherine stood with him.
“I know,” he said simply. “I know.”
Morning sentry duty began at dawn. Catherine rose sleepily to kiss him goodbye and murmur, “Be careful. I love you” before he tucked the covers around her and shouldered into his cloak. He closed the door of their chamber behind him and walked the nearly-silent corridors towards the intersection where Angus waited. “I checked the torches in Sector D and E on my way here,” Angus said. “They're all lit and I didn't see any signs of leakage.”
“That's a relief,” Vincent murmured, keeping his voice low in deference to the early hour.
“Yeah, no lie,” Angus replied. “Especially after that pipe rupture in Sector F. Never seen one that bad down here and I hope I never do again.”
Vincent nodded in agreement, mentally running through the checklist of duties this morning. When they reached the first branching of the corridors, he asked, “Which direction?”
“Let's try Sector C,” Angus decided. “Then we can hit B and A and start at the perimeter.”
For a long while, the silence was broken only by the normal tunnel sounds as they walked: dirt and grit swishing over their boots, the very faint sounds of the occasional message skittering its way through the pipes while Pascal slept (uneven, clipped rhythm after the location code, must be Geoffrey sending a message—why is he up so early? one part of Vincent's mind wondered, and he smiled when he heard Samantha's sleepy response.) It wasn't until they reached a narrow---and so far vacant---tunnel just before Sector C that Angus stopped. “Did you find something?” Vincent asked.
“No,” Angus replied. “How does Father feel about the expansion project?”
Vincent raised one eyebrow. “You were there. You heard what he said. Why?”
Angus turned from his inspection of what appeared to be a narrow seam in the ceiling. “I stayed after you and Santos left so we could go over the calculations for the amount of pipe it would take. Father was...testy. Couldn't get him to tell me what the issue was, but he barked at me when I suggested seeing what Matthew or his contacts could finagle. Told me if I couldn't figure out a way to do it without help, we'd cancel the project.”
Vincent studied the other man, sensing the eddys of thought and emotion as he did from everyone. That there might be something more ominous behind Father's irritation he would not, could not discuss, but Angus... “It wasn't...you. Father had much the same response to Santos when he suggested it.”
“Makes no sense, if you ask me,” Angus retorted with his usual brusqueness. “Not like I can just whistle those extra pipes into being. We're gonna need help if he ever wants to see the tunnels expand.”
“Father doesn't like to ask for help,” Vincent said quietly.
“You don't say,” Angus replied. “Next thing you know, you'll be telling me the sun will come up tomorrow.” He ran a hand through his disordered silver hair. “Him and Matthew on the outs?”
“I don't think so,” Vincent answered. “More likely, this is merely...”
“Father being Father? Yeah, I thought so.”
The conversation---and its possible import---weighed on him heavily the rest of the morning, as he finished his sentry rounds and returned to his chamber to find Catherine dressed and ready to head above to begin her own workday. The weighing, assessing glance she turned on him told him clearer than any words that she'd sensed something of his trouble. “What is it?” she murmured.
“I shouldn't delay you----”
“A few minutes more won't matter; my first court appearance isn't until almost noon,” she answered. “Tell me.”
It was his own phrase and from somewhere, Vincent found a smile. He recounted the substance of the meeting with Santos the day before, and the conversation with Angus. When he finished, Catherine smoothed the folds of her skirt and folded her hands. “I've seen Father cranky,” she said slowly, “and Angus is right; that's not an uncommon mood for him. What makes you so concerned?”
“Santos is...a new helper,” he explained. “Eager, skilled, but still, very new. It's always been Father's wont to be gentler with those who are still learning our ways.” He rested his hand against the soft curves of her face. “It wasn't that way with you, I know.”
“I was a special case,” Catherine said dryly. She pressed a kiss to the inside of his palm. “So he's impatient with Santos?”
“Furious, though I doubt Santos noticed; the emotion came and went so fast. And Angus' suggestion wasn't out of line, certainly nothing worth cancelling the project over. Whether Father wants to admit it or not, we will need Matthew's help.”
“Then you'll have to talk to him and convince him otherwise,” she said. “Vincent, I know you're worried about him. But based on what you've said so far, this sounds like Father feels he's being pushed into accepting help he doesn't think is necessary.” Her gaze, clear and steady, anchored him, reassured him. “Unless there's something else you sensed?”
“I understand why Father might be annoyed,” Vincent said slowly. “But...his mood swings…Catherine, I've seen him in council meetings where even Pascal was about to lose his temper, and Father's always ridden out the storm. Why not now? What's changed?”
“I don’t know,” Catherine said. “I can see why you’re concerned.”
“I’ll talk to him this morning,” Vincent said. “It’s…troubling.”
Vincent descended the short staircase into Father’s chamber. Someone---Peter---had been here very recently; the air was heavy with the scent of Old Spice and the chemical smells of antiseptic. Father sat at his desk staring at a lone bottle just barely visible among the stacked papers and books. “Father,” Vincent said.
He looked up. “Oh, there you are, Vincent. How you can walk so silently I’ll never know.”
It was an old observation, but a fond one; Vincent smiled. “How are you doing? How was your visit with Peter?”
“I’ll never understand that either,” Father said dryly. “Peter is fine.” He took a deep breath. “I asked him to come and examine me.”
Vincent sat down in the carved chair opposite him. “Is something wrong?”
Father handed the bottle to Vincent. “Peter’s put me on medication to control my blood pressure.”
The older man shook his head. “No, let me finish. I’ve been having headaches lately and my temper…” He folded his hands. “I’ve been too easily irritated.”
Since there was nothing Vincent could say but agree, he didn’t say anything. Instead he handed the bottle back to Father. “There was nothing more serious, then?”
Father didn’t answer for a time, staring off into the middle distance. “Did I ever tell you about my father?”
Vincent shook his head. “No. You’ve never spoken of him.”
“He died of a stroke when I was still a boy. He was a young man; I came home from school and he was… gone.” He picked up the bottle again, and placed it more carefully on top of the smallest stack of books. “I should…Peter says I must pay better attention to my health.”
Vincent clasped his hand. “You must, Father.”
He nodded. “And I need to find a way to contact Santos and Angus and William. I have been…unfair to them.” The grey eyes were shrewd. “And I’ve worried you. I’m sorry.”
“You have,” Vincent acknowledged. “But…it’s over. I’m glad you called Peter.” His relief was mostly for Father, but also for himself. I’m not ready to lose you. And I cannot fill your shoes.
Click here for Chapter 65...
 “Equilibrium,” by John O'Donohue from To Bless the Space Between Us
 “Nor Iron Bars a Cage,” first season episode
2 months ago