Summary: Heliotrope, from the Greek for sun-following. Throughout the year, Vincent and Catherine follow the sun.
This story first appeared in the 2015 conzine Somewhere I Have Never Travelled.
Catherine came down the stairs, avoiding the creak in the ninth and fourth step that was louder in the winter. “Laurel's asleep?” Vincent asked without opening his eyes.
As always, her heart leapt at the sight of him stretched out on the thick carpet, enjoying the rays of winter sunlight. It was brisk outside; Catherine had felt the crunch of snow under her boots and been grateful that he’d salted the sidewalk and front step the night before. Coming into their home, reminded her---as Vincent himself did—that all winters ended. His hair fanned out, gold against the crimson rug, like a living flame. “Yes,” she replied. “And full too. She'll be down for a long while, I'd think. At least a few hours.”
“Good,” Vincent murmured. “I tried to get her to nap but...”
Catherine laughed. “Vincent, she was hungry. Not much you can do there, when she won’t take a bottle.”
“True,” he said. He rolled to one side. “Come here.”
The central heat was on (not high, a concession to Vincent, who found the constant heat oppressive,) and the sun-warmed carpet was soft under her feet. She curled up next to him and wondered again what it must have been like for him for so many years to have never felt the sun in his hair. “You do realize you're bare-chested and it's winter outside and the curtains are open,” she teased. “It's perfectly scandalous.”
“To Father, perhaps,” Vincent agreed. “But I am precisely where I wish to be.”
“Mmmmm,” she said, his breath warm at her neck. “You have work on the maintenance crew tomorrow?”
“Yes. And probably for the next few days. The snows are playing havoc with the water table and I expect far worse conditions than have been reported.” There was the gentle scrape of his teeth along her shoulder. “For now, though...”
Catherine spared a brief thought for her back, for his, for the window with its pulled-back curtains, even though their neighbors were dead and not likely to complain...but the ghosting touch of his hands stilled all thought. “Oh, yes,” she said, melting into his embrace. It had been so long...
“What does Peter say?” Vincent breathed into her ear.
She raked her nails along his thighs, felt him shiver. “He says...everything is fine.”
Catherine sat up and pulled off her sweater, then the turtleneck. But it was Vincent's hands that unhooked her bra. “Very fine,” she replied dryly, exhaling in relief as her breasts slipped free.
Her hands went to the fraying button fly of his jeans. The first button was altogether missing; the second too tight, strained by his urgency. “Let me,” he murmured against the curve of her neck, her shoulder.
It felt new to Catherine, this dance between them, though of course it wasn’t. And yet, were they not different people? She bore the marks of changes---stretch marks along her belly, the burning tiredness that was a constant companion now. Her body still felt alien to her, in ways she struggled to define. What must he think?
“You think too much,” Vincent said softly.
It was her usual complaint, and Catherine chuckled. “Maybe, but---” She glanced down at herself, saw her breasts, which had grown heavier and fuller (and hadn’t that been a total shock, after years of barely needing to wear a bra?) “Do you mind?”
Vincent didn’t misunderstand, but then, he rarely misunderstood anything. One clawed finger traced the edge of a stretch mark. “You are beautiful,” he told her. “You could not ever be less so to me.” His voice went raspier, as it did with strong emotion. “You have given life to our child. You are a miracle, as she is.” He kissed the jagged edge of a stretch mark on her left breast---one she’d seen and tried to ignore---and she felt the curve of his lips as he smiled. “Against that, what are a few marks?”
“How do you do that?” Catherine whispered against the broad strength of his shoulder. “How do you…make me whole, time and again?”
“You were never…broken, Catherine,” he told her. “Never.”
She could have argued with him, reminded him (as if he needed reminding) that there had been many, many times she would have shattered without him, that he had healed her and renewed her and loved her in ways which still seemed improbable compared to everything and everyone that had gone before. But the current opening between them was too strong for words and her world narrowed to just him, just them. In the moment before she willingly subsided into the current, she thought of the baby sleeping upstairs. If she should wake and need her---
“Laurel’s fine,” Vincent said, answering her unspoken thought. “Come to me, now. Let me love you in the sunshine.”
Renata looked up from the diagram, laid out flat on one of her nursery’s tables. “Do you think it can be done?” Catherine asked. “I know there’s not a lot of time to get things planted but---” she smiled “---you know why it’s necessary.”
“I do,” Renata replied with a smile of her own. “After all, you can’t really wait for a long growing season; you’ll need that extra measure of security sooner rather than later.” She glanced out at the sketch Catherine had drawn, a layout of their back garden. “Buying full-size trees though…Catherine, that’s not going to be cheap.”
Catherine bit her lip. “Vincent…wants Laurel to see sunshine. Whatever I can do to give that to them…” She didn’t mention---because there was no need---that their brownstone, though largely safe and secure, was still in the flight path of countless aircraft every day. She shuddered, remembering an old woman with a telescope, and what could happen now that there was so much more to lose.
Renata’s worn, gnarled hands (and did the woman have literal green thumbs? Catherine wondered) clasped her own. “I know. There’s not a person below who doesn’t want that for them. Let me see what I can come up with, okay? I have some contacts with landscapers…”
Long years of acquaintance with Devin had given Vincent a certain sixth sense when it came to sensing when people were plotting. Catherine certainly was; she had taken to spending at least part of every evening in the community’s library, raiding it for books she would not allow him to see. He also didn’t mention the scent of green-earth-tea-plants which clung to her now, no matter how carefully she thought she washed her hands. And then there was Father, who kept suggesting maintenance checks which would keep him away from the tunnels---and from his home Above---for the last days of May. Never mind that his absence would have forced the older man to step back into the leadership role he’d retired from only the year previously---Father was most insistent.
“I wonder what’s going on,” Vincent asked Cullen during routine patrols one night.
“Seriously?” Cullen asked. “Your wife is up to something. And she’s gotten Father’s help.”
“I’d figured that out myself,” Vincent replied dryly. “But I do wonder what she’s up to.”
Cullen clapped him on the shoulder. “Hell, man, if you don’t know, the rest of us sure wouldn’t. Take that trip Father wants you on, and I bet you’ll know soon enough.”
It was sound advice, and Vincent would have listened, but Laurel was just a baby and he was loathe to leave her. Still, if Catherine had a hand in this planning…they would be fine. And it could do no harm to let things play out for a few days. He had a sudden vivid memory of Devin, stomping around in their chamber, a broken pipe clamped between his lips and a ragged, too-large cap pulled over his hair, muttering, “The game is afoot, Watson!” And heard his own laughter, playing Watson to Devin’s Holmes as they hunted for the picture of Irene Adler…
“So what are you going to do?” Cullen asked, breaking into his thoughts.
The ghost of that long-ago child was still somewhere inside him, fairly bouncing with anticipation. “As you say,” Vincent replied with a smile, “I’m going to be taking a trip at the end of May.”
Catherine stood, automatically bracing a hand to Laurel’s back in her carrier, and brushed the dirt off her jeans. Her straw hat—something Vincent had found God knew where---flopped back onto her shoulders. “Well,” she asked Renata, “what do you think?”
Renata touched the leafy green sprawl of a tomato plant. “You’ve done wonders with the garden, Catherine.”
She laughed. “Not without a lot of your help. Until you showed me how to do this, I hadn’t ever grown anything larger than our rosebush.” A sudden jolt went through her at the thought of that rosebush, the night on her balcony when Vincent had finally---if entirely unintentionally---let his desire show. The thought led to others…the wooded grove in Connecticut…With a start, Catherine realized Renata was observing her, and felt the heat rise on her neck.
Renata chuckled, a slightly wicked sound. “I…see. Well, you know, some things…thrive very well in shade too. In fact, the more shade, the better.”
“No doubt,” Catherine replied, matching the older woman’s dry tone. “Have you heard from any of the landscapers yet?”
“Just the one so far---DCW Landscaping,” Renata told her. “Some of the others said it was ‘too small a job.’ They were probably thinking of the usual brownstone postage stamp garden, not what you have here.” She shrugged. “Their loss. There’s so much potential here, Catherine. Even though it’s mostly empty now, you can see where beauty will grow again, given some time and care.”
“Like the tunnels,” Catherine observed, thinking of ten days in April.
“Just so,” Renata agreed with a pleased smile. She pulled out a business card. “This is their business card. They’ll be calling to set up a meeting to go over their proposal. If you’d like me to be there, I can be, because---” and she made air quotes with her fingers “---your husband is ‘away on business’ so often.”
“Thank you, I would appreciate that,” Catherine replied. “I just hope they can get everything in and planted while Vincent is gone.”
Catherine eyed the clock uncertainly as she fed the baby. Vincent had left just after dawn, and Angus, working sentry duty, had promised to alert her the moment he and the others went beyond the perimeter. Cullen had promised to keep him busy with the small, but ultimately harmless, leaks Mouse had created. And Marisol would be at the brownstone in a few moments to keep an eye on Laurel as the first of the trees and flowers arrived.
There was a thump on the basement door, and she tensed. Marisol might come that way, but with young Benjamin in tow, she had announced she much preferred to walk in the sunshine of a New York spring, and would be arriving via the front door. Renata would come the same way, so who could it be? She settled Laurel on her hip and walked down the short staircase leading into their basement. She rapped out a short code on the wooden door—the standard tunnel greeting---and received a hesitant reply in response? Hesitant? Surely no one who would come to this door would sound so uncertain…Catherine swallowed hard. Her gun was upstairs in the nightstand, the ammunition stowed in a hidden compartment in the downstairs closet. Laurel clutched her shirt---picking up her fear, Catherine thought. She rubbed the baby’s back soothingly. “Who is it?” she called out and slowly unlatched the speakeasy window in the door.
“Well, hello, sis!” Devin announced, the scars on his cheek standing out in stark relief in the basement light. “Did you miss me?”
“Devin?” Catherine asked in shock, opening the door. “What…how…what are you doing here?”
He grinned, and she abruptly noticed the cap on his head. “DCW Landscaping. Devin…Charles…Wells?”
“One and the same, Chandler,” Devin replied. “Didn’t Renata tell you?”
She shook her head. “Will wonders never cease. I thought you were driving book bus at the library?”
“I was,” Devin told her, “but try doing that job when you’re supporting a family. So I got on with a landscaping place in town and when the owner wanted to retire, I took it over. I think I was the first one Renata called for an estimate.” He shrugged. “Can I come in at least?”
“Oh, yes, sorry!” Catherine said. “Come on in, please. Did you want anything to drink?”
“Coffee, if you have it,” Devin replied. “It was a long drive this morning.” He studied the baby in her arms. “So this is Vincent’s daughter?”
Charles had been sick at Laurel’s naming ceremony in January, Catherine remembered. She handed the baby to him and Laurel grinned a gap-toothed drooling smile. “Come on, Uncle Devin, meet your niece.”
“She’s lovely,” Devin said. “A bit cuter than Fuzz was at that same age and that’s saying something. You’ll be beating them off with sticks when she’s older.”
Catherine smiled, suddenly and absurdly grateful for Devin’s ease with her daughter. He regarded her just as he would any other child, as he had always seen Vincent as his brother. “I think anyone who’s brave enough to make it past Vincent will be good enough for her.”
Devin chuckled. “He is…imposing at the best of times, true.” He glanced outside the window leading into their back yard. “So, if I remember the manifest right, the trees should be here in an hour. You’ve got some Quaking Aspen, a few Red Maple Trees, and some Norway Maple. Good choices---fast growing trees for a lot of privacy.”
She handed him a cup of coffee, black like he liked it. “And we’ve got all the necessary permits.”
“And you’ve alerted the neighbors?” Devin asked. “It’s going to be noisy, getting the trees in.”
Catherine laughed. Of course, he wouldn’t have noticed… “Devin, on the other side of that wall is a cemetery. If they complain, we’ll stop.”
Vincent trudged up the last few steps to their basement entrance. He was tired, splattered with mud and just the tiniest bit uneasy. The leaks had sprung from nowhere, even in places where leaks shouldn’t have been (and why was I the only person surprised by that? he wondered. Cullen and Mouse hadn’t seemed at all concerned…) It was mid-afternoon and he had no further thoughts than a hot shower and lunch with his wife and baby.
He paused, drawing in a breath. Devin had been here. Here, on these steps. At one time his scent of books-mischief-coffee-brother had infused everything in Vincent’s chamber. Before he could open the door, Catherine opened it for him. “Come on in, love,” she said. He opened his mouth and then closed it. She was wearing the white gown she’d worn at Winterfest, a dress she saved only for the most special of occasions. What on earth was going on?
He entered his home to find Marisol, Father and Devin in his living room. Benjamin was rolling a ball back and forth to Laurel and cackling with glee when she rolled it back to him. “Hello, everyone,” Vincent said, mystified, “what seems to be the occasion?” The room was darker, he noticed; Catherine had drawn the curtains over the window leading to their back yard. Which was odd enough in itself; she almost never drew them closed, loving the natural light
Catherine took his hand. “Go upstairs and change, but don’t look outside. Promise?”
I would promise you the moon and the stars, he thought fondly, and saw her answering smile. “Very well. I’ll be down shortly, then.”
He returned downstairs to find all of them smiling at him, and the current of happiness and joy was almost strong enough to touch. Catherine held out her hand and let him to the entrance to their back yard. “Go outside,” she urged softly, placing their baby in his arms. “Go, and take Laurel with you.”
“It’s daylight,” he said, old fears rising anew. You must not be seen warring with the intense desire to do precisely as she said; Catherine was his wife, his life and she would not risk either of them.
Father’s mouth worked for a bit. “It’s…safe, Vincent. You can go outside.”
Devin’s voice was suspiciously raspy. “Yeah, you can. Go on, Fuzz.”
Laurel cooed happily as he turned the brass knob on the old door. It creaked obligingly, and he stepped out into sunshine. Sunshine…and shade. There were trees everywhere, all along the borders of their yard, overarching, casting enough shadow that he…and Laurel…would never be seen. The colors---brilliant yellow, crimson, and green against a cloudless blue sky---almost blinded him in their brightness. “Catherine,” he managed, once words came back to him, “what did you do?”
She was beside him, of course, his partner, his mate. “It wasn’t just me. I had… a lot of help.”
Her garden, the one she’d started with Renata, rested against the far wall. Laurel would help her there one day, Vincent knew, would dig in the mud and make a glorious mess, all because Catherine had arranged it so she might experience life as other children did. “What do you think?” his wife asked.
“There are no words,” he said, and drew her close, breathing in the sunshine.
Summer in NYC was a hot mess, as Edie had said on one of her rare visits back, and Catherine couldn’t disagree with her. It was humid and hot and everyone’s tempers were frayed and short, making an already-surly citizenry much more likely to solve its problems with fists or knives or guns, and her caseload had increased dramatically as a result. Four arraignments this afternoon, another three the next day…Capping it all off, the air conditioner for the Criminal Courts building had suddenly quit, leaving everyone in court—even the usually unflappable judges—damp and wilted.
The silk of her blouse stuck fast to her back; sweat slowly dampened the fine hairs at her hairline. Catherine dug in the folds of her purse, hunting for her keys; she knew Vincent would be Below where it was much cooler, and it would take very little time before she could join him. As her key turned in the lock, she heard a muted snick from the other side of the door, and felt again the warmth-safety-home feeling that was her sense of Vincent when he was in the brownstone. He was above then, at home—but why, in this heat?
Catherine opened the door and closed it quickly behind her. “I’m here,” Vincent murmured from out of the shadows, embracing her.
He wore no shirt, she noticed, the soft strands of his hair a roughened silk under her hands. “So I see, love,” Catherine replied, placing her briefcase and purse nearest the door. “But…why are you above? It must be 80 degrees in here.”
Vincent nodded. “83 by the thermostat. Matthew called, said he’d made contact with an HVAC repairman who will be here tomorrow. And Laurel is below with the other children.”
Sweat coated the back of Catherine’s neck. “Good news, then. She’d be miserable up here. But why are you here? Wouldn’t you be more…comfortable Below?”
He shrugged, and she could see the small beads of sweat as they traveled down the strong column of his neck. Catherine looked away briefly, overcome by a sudden urge to taste that moisture. Vincent’s eyes widened slightly, but his voice was even as ever as he continued, “The heat has made people…cranky below.”
“I didn’t think the temperature would ever change much,” she observed.
“No,” Vincent replied, “but there are times…”
The lines around his eyes were tight and strained, a sure sign of a headache and suddenly she understood—he had come above, despite the heat, because this place…their home…was far calmer. “Oh, all right,” she said. “Look, I’m going to open the back door to let some air in here. And I think we have a fan or two in the basement.” She tilted her head, wondering if she should retrieve Laurel after all. “Is it hot at all in the tunnels?”
“A few degrees warmer,” Vincent said, as he lifted the heavy mass of his hair off his neck, “but not as bad as this.” He smiled, easily reading her concern. “I talked to Mary before I came up here and she said Laurel’s fine---she’s with the other children down by the Mirror Pool.”
Catherine could picture them in her mind’s eye, splishing and splashing in the cool waters. “Smart of her. We’ll let Laurel stay there for a bit, at least until it cools off this evening.”
She glanced outside where the interlaced arching branches of the trees in their back yard formed a shady path. “Have you eaten yet?” she asked. She almost knew the answer before she asked; Vincent, when mentally stressed and headachy, tended not to eat.
He shook his head. “No, I---” He gazed at her, an assessing look. “Catherine, what are you thinking?”
Catherine began unbuttoning the buttons of her blouse. “Can you get some sandwiches made up while I change out of these clothes?”
Vincent blinked, looking like nothing so much as a bemused blue-eyed lion. “I suppose, but---”
She stood on tiptoe to kiss him and it didn’t escape her attention that his breath stuttered the moment her bra brushed his bare chest. “Good. I’ll be back in about ten minutes.”
Vincent dug through the refrigerator, an ear attuned to both the radiator’s rattling pipecode and the sounds of movement upstairs. He reached out mentally along the connection he had with Laurel and sensed nothing but the drowsy contentment of a full belly and a dry diaper. She, at least, was not being affected by this heat.
He sliced the bread, meat and the cheese for their sandwiches almost automatically, and found a pitcher of lemonade. He turned his head at the sound of Catherine’s even steps, the creak in the stairs, and his breath completely left him at what he saw. She held an old folded blanket in her arms and nothing else. “I was thinking we could have a picnic outside,” Catherine announced, as easily as if she walked naked in their living room every day of the week. “There’s a breeze now, but it’ll be a while before it cools off in here. What do you think?”
The low thunder of a headache that had plagued him all day (along with 1001 annoyances) began to dissipate. He was hungry, yes, but not only for food. “I think…that sounds just fine,” he managed.
“Good,” she said, smiling brightly. “Shall we go outside?”
When Vincent thought about that afternoon later on, he couldn’t remember the taste of the sandwiches or the chilling bite of the lemonade. What he did recall, though, was the sunlight shining through the leaves, casting dappled shadows on Catherine’s bare skin as she breathed. She kept up a light patter of conversation about her day, her cases, and what happened when the air conditioning shut off (“Joe threatened to come to work tomorrow in a hula skirt, can you imagine?”) and while one part of his brain tracked everything she was saying, another---and far more primitive part---wondered what sunlight would taste like on her skin.
“Vincent,” Catherine said gently, “you seem a bit…distracted, love. Are you all right?”
It was said in all innocence, but the undercurrent of mischief flowing through their bond told an entirely different story. “I’m feeling a bit warm,” he managed.
“You’re clearly overdressed for this heat,” Catherine replied. “Did you…want some help?”
In one of their early days as lovers, she had been thwarted by the knots and ties and fastenings of tunnel clothing and during a heated moment, she had growled slightly in frustration. The thought of her---his Catherine---doing something so primitive had proved unexpectedly arousing. “I’m already shirtless,” he said dryly. “What else do you think I need help with?”
It never failed to astonish him the ease with which she approached him, as if he was not eternally something…other. Her hands went to the worn fabric of his jeans and tugged at the button fly. “Well, this is…harder than I thought,” she fairly purred and he chuckled.
Vincent wound a clawed hand through the softness of her hair, drawing her closer. “What did you expect, my temptress?” Her breasts rose against his chest again and he saw the faint rose tinge begin to spread across her skin. With a last determined tug, the button fly opened and they separated so Vincent could kick his jeans off. He drew her down onto the blanket beside him, grateful again for the high walls that surrounded the back yard, the trees that guarded and protected them.
A thirsty, greedy moan emerged from Catherine as their lips touched; Vincent felt its echo in his answering rumble. Her skin…ah, her skin...so very soft under his calloused hand, so familiar and yet, so new. There was a patch of sunlight on the round satin globe of her breasts…and it tasted of her (wife-woman-mate-mother,) of salt and the tang of her arousal, made stronger by the heat of the day. Her hands wound in his hair, clasped his shoulders---a none-too-subtle signal. Now. I need. Now.
Something wild and ancient in his own soul rose to answer her call and their bond enveloped them as she rose against him, claiming him as he claimed her.
Vincent stared out the back window at the carpet of leaves covering their lawn---red, green, gold---and the fainter brown hues of the dying leaves. Winter would be here soon, he mused, but until then, the leaves really should be swept up for the compost heap….
He started when he heard the phone ring. Catherine didn’t receive many phone calls during her working hours and there were virtually none that he would answer anyway, in keeping with his cover of “being away on business.” But he turned from the window and walked into the kitchen regardless. If it was an emergency, he’d need to call her at work. To his surprise, it was Peter’s voice on the answering machine. “Vincent, if you’re there, please pick up the phone.”
There was no mistaking the alarm in the older man’s voice. “Peter,” Vincent said into the receiver. “What’s going on?”
Peter breathed out. “Catherine collapsed at work. I only just managed to convince her boss not to call the ambulance by agreeing to take her home and make sure she rested.”
“She’s going to be fine,” Peter assured him. “Stay there, I’ll be over in a few minutes.”
“Thank you,” Vincent replied, and hung up the phone. He felt suddenly adrift. His wife had been ill and he had sensed nothing at all. Why?
There was a cry from the upstairs bedroom---Laurel, waking from her nap. He walked upstairs and saw their daughter, hair mussed in a thousand directions, face crumpling into a full-blown wail. He picked her up and felt her relax against him, the gentle wave of her emotions flowing through their own unique bond. “I know, little one,” he murmured into her hair. “I’m worried too.”
Catherine was wan and tired as Peter guided her into the house. “I’ll be fine,” she said as she sat at the couch. “Really, it was nothing---”
Peter shook his head. “Don’t kid a kidder, Cathy.” He handed her a bottle of water and took the plate of sandwiches Vincent had placed on the coffee table. “Now eat all that. You’ve been working too hard and not taking care of yourself.”
Vincent couldn’t argue with the assessment. Catherine had just finished a major trial, only to be plunged into another one when one of her co-workers had gone out for emergency surgery and the judge and defense counsel refused to agree to a continuance. The result had been many, many late nights and times when she had arrived home in time to put Laurel to bed and eat dinner, then stay up another few hours (or all night; Vincent was a night owl himself and knew the signs) and return to work early to start it all over again. It was Catherine’s usual pattern during trials and he had long ago accepted that he couldn’t force her to rest or eat, but the duration of this was something foreign to his experience.
Laurel, sitting between them, crawled into her mother’s lap and patted her face. It was, somehow, an anxious gesture. “Mama.”
Catherine drew her close. “Hi, baby. I’m here.” Laurel kept patting her face, her hair, as if needing the reassurance and Catherine just held her tighter.
Peter stood. “I’m taking you off work until Monday.” Catherine opened her mouth to say something, but Peter held up a forestalling hand. “I’m your doctor, Cathy. Don’t argue, or it’ll be a three days in the hospital.”
She glared at him over Laurel’s bent head. “You wouldn’t.”
Peter returned her look with one of his own. “I’m your friend too. Don’t think I wouldn’t. It’s Friday now; I’ll come check on you on Sunday. If you’re not doing better…”
For a time, Vincent was silent, aside from the sounds of his puttering in the kitchen. Catherine leaned against the couch cushions and watched as Laurel babbled contentedly in the evening light. “I should get her ready for bed---” she began, but Vincent’s forceful voice stopped her.
“No. Sit there. Rest. I’ll take care of Laurel,” he insisted. There was a tremor in his voice; Catherine was sure no one else but her would have heard it. Their bond, normally a living, vibrant current between them, was thin and somehow…halted. He was worried, and afraid, and trying desperately to keep those untamed feelings from touching her.
“All right,” she replied, subsiding. “Vincent, I---”
His eyes were a darker blue in the low light. “I know,” he said softly. “We’ll talk when she’s in bed.”
Catherine nodded. She kissed Laurel goodnight and then leaned against the softness of the couch, finding herself drowsy for the first time in weeks. If she closed her eyes for just a moment….
“Catherine?” Vincent said softly.
She opened her eyes. “What? I…”
He brushed the hair out of her eyes. “I didn’t want to wake you, but…maybe you’d be more comfortable upstairs?”
Catherine stretched and yawned, feeling the start of a kink in her neck. “I can’t argue with you there.”
Once inside, Vincent guided her to the edge of their bed and sat down next to her. The bed creaked a bit with his added weight. He stared down at their joined hands and then gazed at her steadily. “Tell me.”
It was an old, old phrase from the very beginnings of their relationship and Catherine felt her eyes tear up at all the undercurrents---fear, worry, heartache---she heard in his voice. “I---”
“I know something is wrong,” Vincent went on and his voice, though soft, was insistent. He would not be delayed or denied. “Tell me, please.”
All the words she wanted to say were a jumbled mess, photos and crime scene reports and terrified phone calls tumbling over each other in her mind. “I…I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
Vincent tilted his head. “Your work?”
She was glad he hadn’t misinterpreted what she’d said. “I go to work and I see things, things I just can’t forget when I come home. And I’ve seen…too much lately.”
Vincent bent his head to hers and she knew he was thinking of her last few trials---domestic abuse, murder, sexual assault. “It takes a heavy toll,” he said, and who knew better? His voice was nearly as soft as her heartbeat. “You didn’t tell me. You shut our bond down---I didn’t even feel it when you collapsed, Catherine. Why?”
“You’ve seen enough,” Catherine said. “You didn’t need to see this.”
He shook his head and the heavy hair fell around his face, veiling his expression. “I’ve seen it, yes, but that doesn’t mean I want to be…shut out from your pain.”
She nodded. “It was stupid, I know, but…”
“No.” He laughed, a short dry chuff. “Isn’t this a different turn of events? You trying to protect me?”
From somewhere, Catherine found an answering spark of humor. “I just thought it was my turn.”
The next morning, Vincent roused at dawn. Catherine’s side of the bed was empty and just as panic began to rise, he saw her standing by the stained glass window, wearing nothing but a smile and sunshine. Her hair flowed, loose and gold, down her back and he tried---and failed---to still the instinctive urge to bury his face in the strands.
“And good morning to you too,” Catherine murmured, leaning against him.
She was all softness and steel, deceptively fragile---a strong woman who would bend, but never break. “Have you…thought about what you’re going to do?” he asked, breathing in her scent. It was…different, somehow. Changed.
“My last trial goes to the jury on Monday. After that…” she shrugged and drew his hand to the plane of her still-flat belly. “Life has a way of deciding for you.”
For a moment, he stopped breathing. “Are you…sure?” he asked, but of course she was. Her beaming smile, reflected in the glass, told him as much.
“That was the other thing,” Catherine replied, turning to face him. “How could I be…creating life when I was surrounded by so much death and heartache? I think…this is a sign, that it’s time for me to get out and do something else before I burn out completely. There are other units I can work in---Benitez is going to be heading up the fraud unit and he’s as much said he needs me.” She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. “Besides, my love, you and I are going to be…very busy in a few months.”
Vincent nodded. Laurel had been their miracle and this child---unplanned, unexpected---was a gift beyond words. “When I go back to work on Monday,” Catherine went on, “I’m going to put in for a transfer. Joe will grumble but…he’ll find someone else. There’s always someone who wants to take on these cases, but it can’t be me, anymore.”
He released the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. She wanted this, truly. “I love you,” he said against the sweetness of her mouth.
“I love you too,” she replied. An impish smile---one that had been too long absent---crossed her face. “Later on today, what do you say we go outside and enjoy the sunshine while there’s still leaves on the trees?”
The new sun rose, casting colored shadows on her fair skin. He gathered her close. “I’d like that. But for now, let’s watch the sunrise.”