Communities- The Sequel

by CL


Vincent pulled his cape closer around him as he studied the carnage around him: shredded fabric tangled with feathers and foam. Torn clothing was also scattered amongst the mess. The light filtering through the room trapped him in this crime scene as surely as any cage. Hazy memories of the night before taunted him.

His ears twitched at the slight growling sound he heard come from the midst of the mess and he had to swallow a smile. The evidence before his eyes prevented him from taking all the blame as he usually did. Catherine lay face down, sprawled across the worst of the mess, her hand still tangled in the remains of his shirt sleeve, her flawless skin glowing like a pearl in the slight morning light. Turning away from the room, Vincent made his way toward her kitchen., If the sounds from Catherine’s stomach were anything to judge by, she would be waking soon, and possibly be as hungry as he felt.

~

Catherine snuggled deeper into the softness surrounding her as she continued floating through her dreams that were so much better than reality. Here she and Vincent were one, as they should be. Soon enough there would be the reality of alarm clocks, rush hour traffic, and cheap stale coffee poured from old stained carafes. Her fingers twitched then tightened their grasp on the linen before bringing it closer to her face. Catherine rubbed the grain against her cheek as she deeply inhaled the warm spicy smell. Fighting her body’s call to awaken and begin the day, Catherine found more and more that she cursed the morning’s rising sun, for the sun signaled the end of her time with Vincent.

In her dream, it was safe to let her feelings go. When they both slept, she did not have to guard her desires as strongly as she did during the day. Yet even dreams must end; a piercing whistling sound cut through her dream world, giving her body the ammunition it needed to extract her from the grasp of her dreams.

Sighing, Catherine slid her hand down the sheet and tried to find the energy to move. Confusion forced her to open her eyes as her hand slipped into a hole instead of providing the support for her to roll over. Wiping the sleep from her eyes, Catherine winced as her body protested the upward movement. Muscles she had forgotten she possessed lodged their protest of her movements as she looked at the devastation of the room around her. The filtered light did not hide the extent of the damage. With a happy sigh she sank back into the bed; last night was not completely a dream.

There would be ramifications; her decaffeinated brain could barely begin to catalog the issues she would now face with Vincent, but one thing was proven. She could feel every ache in her body, but none of them was any more than she had inflicted on herself during her training with Isaac. Vincent’s greatest fear had been faced last night and she had come out the victor.

Catherine grabbed the tattered remains of her sheets and pulled them closer to her, loving the feel of them against her skin. Wishing it was Vincent she was rubbing against, she sighed happily. She would sacrifice a million mattresses, if that was what it would take to keep Vincent near her. Heck, maybe she should consider buying stock.

Turning to look out the window, she saw that the sun was up. Vincent would have left hours ago for the safety of the tunnels. Maybe she would even manage a few hours down below.

A rumbling noise pulled Catherine out of her contemplations. She would have to face the world, and then, if history proved true… chase down Vincent. But first, a hot shower, food and caffeine were in order.

Vincent snatched the kettle off the stove, halting its screeching, a futile effort to prevent Catherine from waking. Bunching the towel in his hand, he felt his body temperature rise and respond to Catherine’s waking dream. Some mornings were worse than others; most of the time he was able to ignore their initial mutual morning arousal. Not this morning, not with the memory and the scent of their recent activities still so fresh. Vincent locked every muscle in his body against the urge to join her in what was left of that bed and remind them both of what they had discovered the night before.

Ephram and Ashley had tried to warn him about the intensity, but nothing they said would have ever prepared him for the explosive conflagration that occurred when they were truly together. Vincent was very aware of the sensitivity of Catherine’s body and the reaction to their strenuous activities of the night before. He may not have physically hurt her, but she was not completely pain free.

It didn’t take him long to find her tea cups. As he was placing them on the tray, he turned at the sound of her gasp. Catherine stood in a robe he had not seen before, unlike her others; this one barely touched the top of her thighs. The plunging neckline and slit up the side left little doubt as to what she was not wearing under it. Vincent’s response was immediate and, much to his shame, Catherine was very aware of it.

Catherine had not expected the pleasant surprise of finding a nearly naked Vincent standing in her kitchen. The cloak he normally used to conceal himself served more as a frame for his magnificent body. Stepping forward, she paused Vincent’s hands, preventing him from shielding himself from her sight. Threading her fingers through the fur on his chest, she stroked upwards to tangle her fingers in his hair at the base of his neck. A simple tug of the robe tie allowed her robe to fall open as she pressed herself against Vincent. His arousal was pushing against her belly as she pulled his face down for their first morning kiss. Catherine smiled as she felt the rumble of his groan vibrate through them both. Catherine felt Vincent’s hands slip under the robe and caress her backside, pulling her closer to him as if he needed her to crawl inside his body. Shifting, Catherine moved her legs to allow him between them. Vincent gasped and pulled back as he felt the heat of her arousal rub against his thigh.

“Catherine, we can’t.” His protest was weak at best and she wasn’t deterred.

“I think we proved more than adequately last night that we could,” Catherine countered as she moved her mouth across his cheek before tonguing his earlobe and sucking it into her mouth.

Vincent feared he was going to lose this battle, especially since there was no hiding his physical reactions from her. “You’re sore,” Vincent countered. In hopes of giving them some distance, Vincent lifted her and set her on the counter. He realized his strategic mistake as soon as Catherine took advantage of the new position and hooked her legs around his waist before renewing her assault on his ear.

Catherine grinned as she rubbed her heat against Vincent’s arousal. “A bit,” she admitted. “Isaac taught me the best thing for muscle fatigue.”

Vincent shook his head as he groaned; things were quickly spinning out of control. He feared the impact on Catherine if they did not put a stop to this soon. His could swear they could both feel his heartbeat through his penis. He was becoming hard quickly with her slightest ministrations.

Catherine shifted as she felt him nudge her opening. Using the back of the counter for leverage, she shifted her hips so that he slipped in. Adjusting her position, Catherine used her arms across his shoulders as she allowed her weight to sink him further into her body.

This was different. Last night had been fire and explosive passion; this was a slow burning fire that drew him in with each breath.

“A hot bath, a massage and more exercise,” Catherine continued on a gasping sigh. She was amazed again at how full Vincent could make her feel as she slowly moved over him. She kept her movements slow, each undulation designed to bring both of them deeper together. Vincent’s arms tightened around her as she arched her back and allowed her head to fall back. Catherine pushed her hands against the counter to help reposition herself. Sliding to the edge of the counter, she fully impaled herself on Vincent’s erection as a cry erupted from her lips. This was what she needed, not just now, but every morning for the rest of her life.

Catherine’s hand hit the tea tray, spilling the small container of honey over her fingers. Reaching up, she traced the honey over his lips then bent her head to gather the honey and his taste on her tongue. Her finger and tongue were both tangling in his mouth. Ripping her mouth from his, she spread the last remnants of the honey over her nipple before arching herself into Vincent’s mouth.

Vincent was hard pressed not to bite down as he felt Catherine’s body tighten around his. Using his tongue, he pressed the tightened nub into the cleft and away from his teeth. Vincent tightened his body and braced against the exploding heat from Catherine’s orgasm. He was not ready to give himself over yet, still not convinced that further activity would not cause her more discomfort. If they had been below, he would have taken her to one of the hot springs to soak, but they were not. He had seen her shower and it did not appear to be conducive to providing the sort of heat she would need to relax her muscles and prevent further discomfort.

As Catherine’s body began to relax, Vincent tongued her nipple, giving it one last tug. Unable to resist, he lifted his head and gave its twin similar attention as Catherine screamed out her reoccurring orgasm. Something within him rose as he watched her body sink onto his. This time she had come to him. She had told him before how his hands were hers. He had heard the words about how his body was hers, but for the first time in his life, he began to understand that she might just be his as well.

~~

Catherine pulled her t-shirt on as the doorbell rang.

“Go take a shower; I'll get rid of them.” She paused long enough to give Vincent a quick peck on the cheek before shutting the bedroom doors behind her. Making sure that the living room looked ok, and that there was no incriminating evidence, Catherine checked the peephole before opening the door.

“Geoffrey, Eric, is everything ok?” It was rare that one of the tunnel children kids ever stopped long enough at the door for her to talk to one of them. Usually it was a note shoved under the door and scampering feet down the hallway.

“Father said you were expecting this, and had us run it up for you. He asked if you would come to dinner tomorrow night.”

Catherine looked at the bag the boys were holding and nodded. “Sunday Night dinner sounds perfect.” Taking the bag the boys were carrying and the crumpled letter Eric pulled out of his pocket, she smiled as she watched them dash off.

Catherine leaned against the door as she opened the envelope, only to find Vincent’s name written on the letter inside. With a secret smile, she grabbed the bag and locked the door behind her. She should have known that Father would have guessed about Vincent’s location when he didn’t come home this morning.

“Geoffrey and Eric?”

Catherine jumped as she turned to see Vincent opening the louvered bedroom doors.

“Yes. I think this is for you.” Catherine handed Vincent the bag and the letter.

He opened and read it and his hair slid to hide his face as he handed Catherine the letter: two simple words that conveyed a multitude of messages.

Be Safe

Father

Catherine smiled as she handed the note back to Vincent, her smile broadening as they both discovered the bag held enough clean clothes for Vincent for two days. “He loves you.” It was a statement. “This can’t be easy for him.”

Vincent nodded, not sure he could speak around the lump in his chest. “Neither of us ever expected this would be possible for me.”

“Now you both know differently.” Catherine’s grin turned wicked. “I promise not to jump you again if you go take your shower.” With a slight push, she directed Vincent to the bedroom.

“Your bed did not fare as well,” Vincent commented as he paused at the bedroom’s threshold.

“Vincent, beds can be replaced.” Catherine shrugged. She was tempted to send the scraps below and beg Mary for one of her quilts, although she was not sure how she would manage to do so without embarrassing everybody. A moment of shame washed over her as she rushed to suppress the feeling. Catherine knew she had failed as Vincent paused.

“It isn’t what you think,” she rushed to say.

“Catherine...” Vincent stood frozen.

“Vincent, please, I promise it isn’t what you think.” Hugging herself, she looked at the bed then at Vincent, pain in her gaze. “This is what I should have waited for.”

Vincent dropped the bag and moved forward to pull her into his embrace. “I wouldn’t change anything about you, Catherine, not a thing,” he whispered into her hair as they held each other tightly.

Catherine pulled away as she felt Vincent’s body stir, responding once again to their proximity. “You should go take that shower before I break my promise.” Wiping a tear from her face, she quickly kissed his lips and turned from the room.

 

Vincent found Catherine stretched out on the couch, her stockinged feet propped up on the table as she flipped through a couple of catalogs. She looked up, smiled, and scooted over to make room for him. Vincent raised an eyebrow as he looked at the various pages Catherine had earmarked.

“I have been looking to replace my mattress for a while now, but couldn’t seem to find the… umm…” Vincent watched as Catherine blushed before continuing. “... motivation.”

Vincent nodded as he checked out the pages she had marked. Each page had different items circled; his grin got bigger as a pattern began to emerge. “And you thought you might need twin mattresses for…?” He couldn’t help but ask. Catherine was adorable when she blushed, and getting caught always made her blush.

Taking the catalog from him, she handed him the one she was looking at. “Maybe you should look at this one instead.”

Vincent leaned over and placed a kiss on her hair before fully relinquishing the evidence into her grasp. “I look forward to hearing the story that Father gets for this load.”

Catherine merely chuckled as they discussed the pros and cons of firm verses soft mattresses. Catherine was not sure she really cared right now, because the only mattress she really wanted was warm and fuzzy and could make her shiver all over. However, practicality won out; they still had separate lives to live, for now. Catherine had a glimpse of what their future could be and she wanted it… all of it.

The two lovers spent the day cuddled up on the couch together, talking, and whispering. Vincent learned that Catherine would get goose bumps if he exhaled on a certain spot on her neck. Catherine learned that Vincent would shiver if she ran her finger along the back of his ear.

Vincent felt Catherine’s thoughts turn melancholy as day turned to evening.

“What is it?” He was half afraid to ask, but something inside him drove the question out.

Catherine linked her fingers with his before taking a deep breath. “I know you are not ready, and honestly, I am not sure I am ready, but I want what Ephram and Ashley have.” Catherine looked up into Vincent’s eyes. “I don’t want to settle for impossibilities anymore.”

Vincent sighed and pulled Catherine closer to him. “I know, I want the same thing.”

“How, Vincent? I am not even sure I know where we should begin.”

“I have lived with the impossibilities for so long Catherine, we both have.” Vincent paused as the wonder of his next words began to sink their way into his heart. “But now we are not alone anymore. Maybe it is time we had someone else show us exactly what the possibilities are.”

Catherine nodded, then stood up and crossed over to her desk. Vincent watched as she pulled out a piece of paper and brought it back to him. “Ashley gave me some phone numbers. She told me that these were for the Wives Council.”

Vincent looked at the piece of paper,Ephram didn’t say anything about a wives council. He only spoke of the Council of Elders.”

Catherine nodded. “I got the impression this was sort of a secret society that the men knew nothing about.”

Vincent stared at the piece of paper in his hands as thoughts spun through his head. The magnitude of what he was about to do made his heart stop and race at the same time. Handing the paper back to Catherine, he looked her in the eye and simply said, “Call them.”

“Vincent, if I call them…” She couldn’t say any more.

“I know, we would be making a statement.” Vincent continued, “Catherine, we both know that right now we are not ready. But we must be prepared to move forward; there is no other path left for us.”

Catherine took a deep shuddering breath before she launched herself into Vincent’s arms. Tangling her fingers through his hair, she brought his mouth to hers, fusing them together in a deep soul-searing kiss.

Vincent pulled back as both their passions began to rise. “We mustn’t,” he protested. Placing Catherine away from him, he rose from the couch to create a bit of space.

Catherine sat shocked and confused, her brain unable to form the question.

“I can feel your discomfort, Catherine.” Vincent was unable to make eye contact with her. “I have not been gentle with you.”

Catherine grinned; her poet was chivalrous to the very end. “Nor I with you.” Pushing away from the couch, she moved toward Vincent, only to frown as he moved away.

“Please, Catherine, not until I can get you to the hot springs,” Vincent stated. His request was softly spoken, but firm. “I can’t be the cause of you feeling pain.”

Catherine stepped back. The request seemed simple enough, yet she knew the impact of what was truly being said. “You’re right, I should probably talk to Peter about birth control before we do anything else.”

Vincent froze as that comment took root in his mind. He hadn’t even thought about precautions.

“Vincent, it is going to be ok.” Catherine rubbed his arm. “The timing isn’t right.” The magnitude of his reaction did not escape her, but Catherine shrugged it off - one obstacle at a time.

After much discussion, Catherine convinced Vincent of the wisdom of keeping a change of clothing in her apartment. Once the sun was completely down, Vincent left, with Catherine’s promise that she would bring his bag with her after she completed a couple of errands.

Catherine placed a few calls, one to a helper to discuss the scheduled delivery of the mattresses. Upon learning that hers was ruined, he promised to have hers sent to her apartment as soon as the delivery truck returned.

Catherine grinned, realizing that she barely had an hour; she changed into her running clothes and dashed out the door. After ensuring that her running jacket had deep pockets, she made a point of taking a quick breather at the local corner store. She may not be able to get in to see Peter for a week or more, and there was no way she was going to be able to stay away from Vincent that long. That thought, along with a wicked grin, gave Catherine a bit more speed to make it back home in record time.

“Have a good run, Ms. Chandler?” the doorman asked as he held the door for her.

“Hi, Roger. The best!” She nodded as she wiped the sweat from her face. Thirty minutes for two milesthat included a brief shopping trip was not bad.

Catherine bounded off the elevator and rushed through her shower. Checking the contents of the bag, she made sure that she had forgotten nothing.

“Just in time.” Catherine checked her watch as the doorbell rang, grinning she set the bag aside, and opened the door to the deliverymen, who carefully balanced her new mattress and box springs between them. Catherine didn’t as much as blink when the crew paused at her bedroom door and saw the extent of the damage.

“I just couldn’t stand the thought of that thing staying here any longer.” Catherine put on her best debutante face and waived her hand airily around, as if it had no significance. She knew how to play the part of the Upper East Side heiress, even if the role no longer fit her the way it once did.

Catherine sat at her dining room table flipping through paperwork as the crew cleaned up the remnants of her old bed and replaced it with the new.

Thanking the men with a generous tip, she paused as the last of the crew members came from her room, presenting her with the clipboard.

“Da said they look forward to hearing more information about his twin.”

Catherine’s head popped up as she looked the younger man over. “I am sorry?” Catherine’s heart stopped for a moment as she took in the big grin of the boy standing in front of her.

“I’m Earl. Ma and Da have been in since the beginning, UpTop’s abuzz about the family he found.” Taking his cap from his back pocket, Earl plopped it crookedly on his head. “Da said that if there are others who can have families then there is no reason why...” Looking around he leaned in and whispered, “…you know who couldn’t as well.”

Taking the clipboard from Catherine’s numb fingers, he removed the receipt, placed it in her hand, tipped his cap, and with a cocky, “Have a nice day, Ms. Catherine,” he skipped out the door, whistling a jaunty little tune.

Catherine was not sure how long she stood in absolute shock, staring at the empty hallway long after the elevator doors had shut. Given how big the tunnel community actually was when you included all the helpers, it never ceased to amaze her at how quickly news could travel through that community. It was almost like living in a double fish bowl. There was the one she grew up in, where she dealt with gossip rags and had to fight to protect her privacy from those who took great pleasure in making a buck off of someone else’s pain. Then there was the tunnel community, where it seemed like everyone really did know everyone else’s business, and supported each other in it. Catherine smiled and shook her head, chuckling to herself. Well, if she had any questions as to how the tunnel community would respond to the changes in her and Vincent’s relationship, they were answered now.

Grabbing Vincent’s bag, she double-checked to make sure everything was there before locking her door behind her. Catherine suppressed the urge to skip to the stairs.

~~

Vincent waited at the threshold for Catherine. He felt her moment of shock and then her emotions soared, taking his with them.

The grin she gave him as she stepped through the tunnel opening brought the lights through with her. Vincent felt the urge to rub his chest in hopes of ensuring that his heart did not jump out. Catherine simply stepped forward, and as she had done before, leaned forward and placed her lips against his.

He remembered the first time she had done that, after her father’s death, but this was so different from before. This time he was ready for the feelings behind it. Slipping his arm around her, he pulled her closer as he leaned back against the rough stone wall. Slowly their tongues tangled together as if it had been days since they last parted, instead of a mere couple of hours.

Catherine pulled back with a sigh and placed her hand on his chest. Her heart was pounding as hard as his. Vincent bent and picked up the bag she had dropped and frowned at the weight.

Catherine only shrugged. “The arguments I gave to you equally apply to me.” She leaned forward and kissed him again, staying any arguments Vincent might have tried to raise. “Besides, there is something in there to address a topic we discussed earlier.” Tangling her fingers in with his, Catherine stepped back and let Vincent take the lead. Resting her head on his arm she stroked the taut muscles and toyed with the idea of letting Vincent fully experience her enjoyment of following him down the stairs through the Tunnel of the Winds. It would be nice not to have to hide those feelings anymore.

“You’re up to something.” Vincent’s comment was laced with amusement. Leaning down, he kissed the top of her head as they walked side by side through a wider section. “As much as I hate to say this, perhaps you should re-think coming down here this evening.”

Catherine looked up at Vincent. There was laughter in his eyes. “Why would I do that?” Catherine countered.

“It seems that Mr. Sam’s delivered a truck full of mattresses,” Vincent stated blandly

“Really?” Catherine asked innocently. “And where did he say they came from?”

“Something about a warehouse going into bankruptcy; they were in one of the storage spaces he purchased at an auction.”

“Well, isn’t that fortunate.” Catherine grinned, “I understand you never know what you might get when you bid on those. I heard of one guy who found a suitcase full of dollar bills that all had the faces cut out of them.”

Vincent laughed. “You're right, it was very lucky for him, and us.” Vincent couldn’t help himself; Catherine’s face was turned toward his, her smile brightening his entire world. Untangling his hand from hers, he threaded it through her hair and, as if something else controlled him, he couldn’t help but kiss her. “Just a brief kiss,” he kept telling himself, but as with most good intentions, his control quickly fled as he felt Catherine’s response to his touch. Neither heard the bag drop to the floor as they reached for each other. Backing toward the wall of the tunnel, Catherine encouraged the press of Vincent’s body against hers.

Vincent’s mind and body were at war. He could feel Catherine’s need mesh with his own. He could also feel the slight discomfort she still felt from their previous activities. Sensations crashed through him as he felt her legs rub against his, parting to invite him closer.

“No!” Vincent’s voice was rough as he ripped his mouth from hers, both of them panting and shaking as they clung to each other. Catherine’s confusion rose through the bond. Before she could say anything, he touched her lips with the pad of his finger. “I won’t hurt you.”

“You can’t,” Catherine whispered around the finger pressed against her lips.

“You are still tender from earlier,” Vincent countered.

He felt the heat rise in her face and knew, even in the dim light of the tunnels, that she was blushing. “Why?” Vincent caressed her cheek. “After everything we have shared?”

“There are times I forget how intimately you know me.” Catherine lowered her gaze. “These new developments will take some adjusting to.”

Vincent nodded, not sure what he could say. At one time those words would have had a different impact on him, one that would have caused him to pull away to create distance between them. He was beginning to understand the impact of those reactions on Catherine, especially now, as her fingers tangled into his clothing with her confession, almost as if she was afraid those words would send him dashing down to the deeper tunnels and far from her.

Taking her fingers in his, he bent to grasp the handles of the bag. “I believe I said something about hot springs.”

Catherine’s smile and relief flooded the Bond as she realized that he was not leaving her. Tightening her grip on his hand, she let him lead them through the tunnels.

“Avoiding someone?” Catherine commented as they turned down a remote tunnel.

“Tonight’s plans do not include a lecture from Father.” Vincent smiled.

Catherine nodded as she followed Vincent through the maze of tunnels. She was getting better at finding her way around Below, but even so, she had to admit that she was a bit lost now.

Vincent pulled the curtain back to an entrance and waited for Catherine’s reaction.

Her reaction was everything he had hoped for: the slight gasp as her breath froze, the stunned awe as she took in the chamber. Flickering lights were made hazy by the steam arising from the small pool in the center of the chamber. Heavy curtains overlapped entrances, keeping drafts out, and allowing the heat to permeate the small room.

Setting the bag on a bench, Vincent turned to leave Catherine to her bath. He didn’t know how  he would live through the delicious torture of knowing she was here.

“Wait” Catherine grabbed his arm as he stepped away. Her whispered, “Stay” barely reached his ears.

“Catherine...” Vincent began to protest. His control did not extend to watching her bathe, and they had already taken too many chances.

“I got something.” Catherine blushed as she moved toward the bag. After reaching in, she turned and handed him a small box. “I know it is not the ideal answer, but it will do until we can come up with something else.”

Vincent just stared, dumb-struck. Of course he knew what they were; after all, what boy over the age of 10 hadn’t gotten curious?

“Please, Vincent.” Catherine stepped forward. “There are so many times when life keeps us apart. I don’t want us to impose extra barriers when we have so many other things to work through.”

Vincent took the box and set it aside. Pulling Catherine into his arms, he held her tightly. “Agreed.” Catherine’s sigh of relief ruffled the hair at his neck as she returned his embrace.

Slowly they undressed each other. Their urgency having been sated earlier, this was a slow seduction of the senses. Slowly moving through the water, they danced together, each stroke, each move designed to heighten the other’s awareness. Vincent learned what touches made Catherine gasp as Catherine carefully stroked the latex sheath over him.

 

Vincent floated, his head resting on the side of the pool, with Catherine half-submerged, resting across his chest. Mindlessly he stroked her back as she drifted to sleep.

“I’m not asleep.” Catherine’s voice slurred slightly as she snuggled deeper into his chest.

“Humph.” Vincent worked up the energy to speak. “I am not completely convinced that I’m not dreaming.”

Catherine sighed. “If we are, I don’t ever want to wake up.” Pushing herself up, she slipped off Vincent. “But if we don’t get out of here, we are going to look more like prunes than people.”

Vincent supported Catherine as she stepped out of the pool, watching as the candlelight reflected off her skin. Despite the warmth of the chamber, the difference in temperature from the water caused her to shiver. Jumping up on the side, Vincent gathered the bath towels and began to bundle Catherine against the chill. Automatically, he started rubbing the towels against her. Reaching out, Catherine grabbed another towel and started to return the favor. It didn’t take long for either of them to discover the effect their attentions were having on the other.

“Maybe we should just dry ourselves,” Catherine suggested as she pressed Vincent’s hardness against her stomach.

“That may be a wise decision if we plan to make an appearance at all tonight.” Vincent stepped back and turned away from the temptation Catherine presented.

Together they dressed and tidied the bathing chamber for the next occupants. Vincent watched Catherine take the used condom and place it in a plastic bag before tucking both into a side pocket of the bag of clothes.

“I figured there would be fewer questions.” This aspect of their relationship was too new; she wasn’t ready to share it with anyone, much less the other Tunnel residents.

“Wise choice.” Vincent picked up the bag and led Catherine to the central hub.

~~

Monday morning came, as Mondays are prone to do. Catherine could have cursed the return of her routine. The past weekend had been an amazing dream; so many obstacles had been eliminated. Catherine was tempted to send Ashley and Ephram a thank-you gift for their part in opening the door to Vincent’s and her future.

“Must be nice to get paid to daydream.”

Cathy jumped as Joe dropped a huge pile of files on her desk.

“I know those can’t all be for me.” Catherine glared at the stack of files then over them at her errant boss.

“Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger.” Joe grinned. “Hey,  how did your witness pan out?”

“Which witness is that Joe?” Cathy looked up and asked innocently.

“That’s what I thought.” Joe shook his finger at her before walking back to his office.

~~

Catherine dropped her briefcase onto the table and fell back on the couch. She was too tired and sore to rub her own feet. On top of five hours in a stuffy courtoom, she had spent her lunch and most of her afternoon chasing down leads on cold files. The only thing missing evidence did was cause more paperwork for the poor sap who discovered the disappearance. Laying her head back on the couch, Catherine prayed that for just a few hours she could melt into the fabric and pretend the world didn’t exist. After the joys of the past weekend, today just seemed so much harder to deal with.

The piercing sound of a bell ringing snagged Catherine’s consciousness and prevented her from crashing there on the couch. Glaring daggers at the offending appliance, Catherine debated the pros and cons of throwing it out the window. Closing her eyes, she opted to ignore the phone and continue to pretend that she was back in the lower chambers.

“Cathy, it’s Ashley…” Catherine jumped up and snagged the phone, punching the stop button on the recording.

“Ashley, I’m here!” Cathy stretched the cord across the back of her couch so she could sink back into its softness.

“I wanted to let you know that we got back home safely.” Ashley paused, and Catherine heard the muted sounds of Ashley’s son fussing in the background. “I also wanted to let you know I talked to the other wives. They would like a chance to meet you.”

“I would like that.” Catherine smiled. “Vincent and I discussed it this past weekend; he thought it would be a good idea for me to call you.”

“Really?” Ashley sounded excited. “Vincent suggested it?”

“Yes, we had quite a bit to discuss after you left.” Catherine kept her voice even.

“Hmm…I can imagine.” Ashley’s smile could be heard across the wires. “So tell me, did you get a chance to look for that mini-skirt we discussed?”

Catherine snorted and started laughing. “I don’t think I should kiss and tell,” Catherine replied slyly.

Ahhh... but there’s the rub. That usually means there is something more than kissing to tell about.” Both women laughed at their private joke. “Hey, Cathy, congrats, I am happy for the two of you.”

“Thanks, Ashley. It is good to have someone I can talk to about this.”

“Call me anytime you need something.” This time Ashley’s pause took a more ominous tone. “Cathy, I wish this call was just pleasure, but I felt it was only fair to warn you. Ephram had to tell the Council.”

“I see.” Catherine’s voice went cold. “How much did he share?”

“A Taj’s safe place is never revealed,” Ashley rushed to assure Catherine. “But they do now know that Vincent is somewhere on the East Coast.”

“What does that mean to us?” Catherine needed to gather what information she could. If they could keep the Council out of Manhattan, then Vincent and the tunnels could remain safe. There was something about the Council that set Catherine’s warning bells ringing.

“They will demand a meeting,” Ashley continued. “We are going to want to arrange something remote, close enough for Vincent to feel safe to travel to, but far enough that the Council does not suspect where to find him.”

“I will let Father and Vincent know.” Catherine had no idea how she was going to get Vincent out of New York, especially since their one attempt had ended in such a huge disaster.

“Cathy, remember, you have the support of the Wives Council. We will keep in touch, but if you need anything, just call that number I gave you. We have resources that the Council won’t even begin to suspect.”

“Thanks, Ashley. I will.”

~~

Vincent flipped his hair out of the wind as he settled himself on the roof, taking the opportunity to let the familiar noises of the city wash over him. So much had changed, it seemed impossible that this time last week he had been in the same place contemplating his aloneness. Now he was contemplating the possibilities of a family of his own.

He hadn’t missed Catherine’s reaction when he realized how careless they had truly been. He knew she wanted children; that fact was impossible to hide, even for her. However, to face that she wanted his children, would even welcome a child like him…. He had a lifetime of teaching and thinking to change. He had to face his own monsters before he could expect to bring that conversation to Catherine. He had parents that would have wanted him, had they lived, and Paracelsus’ culpability in the path his life had taken only brought to light how far the man had slipped into insanity before his friends and family had noticed.

One thing had not changed. Tunnel life was not for Catherine and he still could not live above. While it appeared there were safe places in this world where they could safely be together, that would require him and Catherine to leave New York and the tunnels. Vincent knew he couldn’t abandon the family that raised him, much less ask Catherine to leave her life here. He had told Catherine to contact the Wives Council; he knew beyond everything that she was what Ashley had referred to as his lifemate.

Lifemate - the word fit; he couldn’t imagine his life without her. His hesitation had nothing to do with his commitment to Catherine. He now knew that they belonged together, but he also knew it wasn’t going to be that simple.

Thinking about what Ephram had said about the Council, Vincent weighed that with Ashley’s comments and reactions when she spoke of the Council outside of Ephram’s presence. That the women felt the need to form their own council and hide it from the men had been telling. Would the Council require him to choose between his family and their rules? He could not turn his back on a lifetime of  Father’s guidance. The Tunnels must be protected at all costs; too many good people’s lives depended on it.

~~

Two weeks later

Catherine tossed her bag down the steps. The first weeks of September had not proven any cooler than August had. She knew it was late, but it had been unavoidable. Catherine and Vincent had found that the fates had been cruel in throwing events at them that kept them running in different directions. Catherine was determined to escape, and would be completely unreachable for at least the next forty-eight hours.

Vincent had felt Catherine’s growing agitation for the past few days - that, laced with a level of sexual frustration he had never dealt with before. He should not have been surprised when Father strongly suggested that they forgo their chess game and he go see Catherine. Much to Vincent’s embarrassment, the unspoken suggestion was left hanging for him to see that Catherine dealt with his worsening attitude in a manner that only she could.

Taking the rare initiative, Vincent stepped forward past the light and gathered Catherine’s bag as he watched her descend the ladder. Stepping back to allow her space, he was caught off guard when she turned and launched herself into his arms.

“God, it feels like it has been forever,” Catherine exclaimed as they stepped away from the light.

“Instead of two weeks,” Vincent finished the thought, both of them clinging tightly to each other.

“I expected you to be with Father.” Catherine looked confused. Father was very protective of his scheduled moments with Vincent.

“He thought my attitude could use some improving. It was suggested that I come find you.” Vincent ducked his head to press his lips to hers.

Catherine smiled against his lips as she pulled back from the kiss. “So your attitude was less than desirable?”

Vincent nodded. “I believe the word surly was used.”

Catherine stretched up and met Vincent’s lips in another brief kiss. “Hmm, I think I may have a cure for that,” she whispered against his lips.

“I got the impression that Father was hoping you might,” Vincent confessed shyly. Having his Father’s blessing was still taking some getting used to.

“What about your day?” Vincent decided a change of topic was due, since they were not in a location that would guarantee privacy. “You seemed stressed earlier.”

Catherine laughed and took Vincent’s hand as they headed down the tunnel to the main hub. “Yeah, Joe all but kicked me out of the office tonight. Seems my attitude left a bit to be desired, as well.”

“A problem on one of your cases?” Vincent probed.

Catherine shook her head. “No, the cases are going as good and bad as they normally do.” Catherine paused as he helped her across a series of pipes.

Vincent looked down at her as she stepped closer. Confusion was stamped across his face.

“I will explain more. It is best that I say this to both you and Father.” Catherine sighed. She was not looking forward to this discussion. Given Father’s reaction to the mere suggestion of Vincent going to Connecticut last fall, his reaction to this news would probably be just as dramatic.

Vincent and Catherine travelled the rest of the way to Father’s chambers in silence, pausing only long enough to drop her bag off in Vincent’s chambers.

 

“Absolutely not!” Father exclaimed as he threw the book in his hand onto the desk. “How can they even make such a request? Surely they know the risks.”

Vincent had sat stunned as Catherine relayed the Taji Council’s request, along with Emily and Ashley’s suggestion that a ‘safe’ location away from Manhattan be chosen to protect the Tunnels.

“They live with those risks as I do, Father.” Vincent was not sure how he felt about the summons, but the look on Catherine’s face did not look like the worst of the news was over. “Yet Ephram still managed to travel here to get to Ashley safely.”

“Father, I understand your concern.” Catherine looked at the book Father had just thrown on the table. For him to treat one of his beloved treasures in such a manner revealed the extent of his anger. One of the things Catherine respected about Father was that you always knew where you stood with him.

“Do you, Catherine?” Father turned to her. “Do you really?”

“Father, you’re not being fair.” Vincent’s voice was soft but firm. The rebuke was strong, if not subtle. “Catherine has always demonstrated her dedication to protecting our secret.”

Father nodded. “Of course. I apologize, Catherine.” Father sank into a chair next to the table as he removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

“I can’t say I am overly happy with this either, Father, but Ephram, Ashley and Emily have all advised against letting the Council know Vincent’s location, or the location of the Tunnels.” Taking a seat at the table across from Father, she continued, “This is being put across more as a demand than a request. I am not sure how long we can stall.”

“Catherine, what do you suggest?” Vincent joined them at the table. Reaching out, he placed his hand over hers. Feeling how cold they were, he picked them up and cradled them in the warmth of his.

“Emily and Ashley have offered to help. Arrangements are being made for their son’s official presentation.” Catherine smiled. “It seems they have something similar to your naming ceremony. Arrangements are being made for all the Taji to gather. This would be a neutral location, and given the situation, it will be forced to be short. We will have some control over when we come and go.”

Father thought a bit about it. “Emily and Ashley are helping to make the arrangements?”

Catherine nodded. “They thought it would be best if I made the arrangements to get us out of New York, but beyond that, I am leaning heavily on their experience.”

The silence screamed between them as the memory of the last time Catherine had arranged to get Vincent safely out of New York flashed through each of their minds.

Father took a deep breath. “And how long do you think you will both be gone for this?” The words were easier to say than he thought.

“It is the two of you they want.” Catherine’s response was almost whispered. “For about a week.”

Vincent stiffened. “I will not go without you.” The statement was firm, his grasp tightening on her hands.

“Both of us?” Father looked up. “And what is our community supposed to do without us for that amount of time?” Slapping the table he continued, “That is impossible, not for a week.”

“Actually, with travel time, it looks like it will be closer to two weeks.” Catherine figured it was best to get everything out in the open up front.

Vincent stood up and started pacing around Father’s chamber. “Two weeks?” he repeated as he looked at Catherine incredulously. The idea of leaving the tunnels at all seemed overwhelming, but for two weeks? To travel? That had never been a possibility for him.

Catherine laughed under her breath as she watched her lover react to the news. “Ashley and Emily said we needed a reasonable entourage to travel with us.” Catherine pulled a paper out of her pocket and showed Father the basic initial list they had worked out. “You will want to decide who from the tunnels should join us, but we should also include some helpers, if I am going to have some help with the driving.”

“Driving? And what did they suggest that Vincent travel in? A car?” Father looked up from the list.

“No, they suggested an RV,” Catherine responded bluntly. She was amazed at how well this was going; she had expected more opposition from Father. Vincent, on the other hand, looked like he was either going to jump out of his skin any moment, or take off and disappear into the lower tunnels.

“Why an RV?” Vincent’s curiosity perked up.

“If we have a small crew, we can fit in the RV and cycle through drivers. We will have our own bathroom, and when we need to get a hotel room, you would still be safe, only needing to travel between the room and the RV late at night. Mid fall, they assure me, would make the RV parks they will direct us to not as crowded, and they will all have Taj connections.”

Turning to Father, Catherine continued, “Emily and Ashley are drawing out the detailed plans of how they normally travel, a list of what they consider to be safer stops, and even suggestions on the best ways to get glimpses of some of the major sights on the way.”

Grabbing Vincent’s hand, she pulled him down next to her. “Did you know that Ephram has personally seen the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful in Yosemite, and even Mt. Rushmore?” Catherine knew her excitement was getting ahead of her, but the possibilities for Vincent were outstanding.

Father and Vincent seemed lost in their shock and mental meanderings as old dreams resurfaced with renewed energies. Feeling as if she had pressed the subject far enough with Father and Vincent, she folded the paper and placed it back in her pocket.

 

“In reality, the only thing I am worried about is what Ephram seems to have planned for you,” Catherine confessed quietly as they left Father’s chamber.

“Why is that?” Vincent pulled her closer as they made their way to his chamber.

“Ashley said that he has been holing up with her brother in the garage.”

“And why would that be concerning?” Vincent asked

“It seems that the last time they did that, Ephram came out of the garage with a completely refurbished Harley Davidson,” Catherine finished.

“The Hog that Ashley and Emily talked about?” Vincent sank into his chair as he watched Catherine grab her bag and move to settle it across the room.

“Yes, the Hog.”  Turning to Vincent, she crossed over and let him pull her into his lap. “I want you to have the chance to experience everything you should have.” Catherine paused as she toyed with his hair.

“But…” Vincent prompted.

“I am not sure I can handle you on a motorcycle.” Catherine sighed. She felt guilty, as if she was denying Vincent a key experience, but her fear was real.

“I am not sure that is a worry you will ever have to face.” Vincent pulled her closer to him, settling her across his lap and cradling her to his chest. “I don’t even know how to ride a bike; I can’t imagine starting to learn on something like a motorcycle.”

Catherine and Vincent cuddled and rested for a bit, both desiring the other, but neither having the energy to act on those feelings. “Something else is bothering you,” Vincent whispered into her hair. “What is it?”

“I am not sure.” Catherine sounded confused. “Something seems off, but I can’t seem to wrap my mind around why.”

Vincent shifted, then stood with Catherine cradled in his arms. “We are both tired. Let’s sleep on it, and then we can look at it together once we are more rested.”

Wrapping her arms around his neck, Catherine’s grin became mischievous as she pulled his face closer to hers.

“I thought you would never ask.” Fusing their lips together, Catherine felt Vincent lower her to the mattress before joining his weight to hers. As his hand slipped under her shirt, Catherine smiled. This day was definitely going to end on a better note than it had begun.

Vincent reached toward the bookshelf above Catherine’s head. Craning her neck, she realized what he was looking for and entangled her fingers with his. “It’s ok.” Leaning up, she kissed him. “I took care of it.”

Vincent looked down at Catherine, the whole meaning of her words not completely registering in his brain. Catherine threaded both their hands together before raising them above her head and pressing them into the mattress. “I saw Peter. We are safe now.”

Catherine knew the moment Vincent caught the meaning behind her words. Shifting, he gave her his full weight. In this moment, nothing would come between them, not the expectations of Above, Below, or anywhere in between. For this moment, they were as they should always be:  one.

~~

Middle of October

Catherine and Vincent sat on her couch as they went over the details of their trip. Together they pored over the maps. Vincent’s finger traced the route west across the tips of two of the Great Lakes, the return trip taking them south and across Texas. Catherine’s path was far from the most direct, and was obviously designed to give him the most from this experience. He felt the excitement rise in him as he flipped through the different flyers she had found, information about what they would be passing. He would be able to see corn and wheat fields. He realized that by carrying their own food and cycling drivers, they were going to be able to keep moving, with few stops. Still, the concept of him travelling across the country was mind-blowing.

“Catherine, why do you have the RV going to Connecticut?” Vincent looked over the lists and itineraries.

“It was safer,” Catherine answered absentmindedly, as she looked over yet another set of lists.  

“I think we are better off sticking with our earlier plan and meeting you with the van at the 14th Street entrance.”

The mention of their failed attempt at going to Connecticut no longer had the power to inflict the pain that it once did. Still, Catherine’s side of the bond was strangely quiet. “What is it, Catherine?” Taking the pad from her hand, he placed it on the table and turned toward her. He couldn’t believe that she did not share some of his excitement about this trip. That would not be like her. Everyone in his life appeared divided about this trip, a division he did not expect to find in her.

“There is so much we can learn about your history from this trip, and from the other Taji,” Catherine started, not sure how to say this to Vincent. “The opportunities here for you are limitless.”

Catherine stood and walked through the French doors to the balcony. Vincent waited a moment before following her.

“You once told me that there was no life without limits.” Placing his hands on her shoulders, he eased her closer to him. Cradling her back to him, he leaned toward her and echoed his earlier question. “What is it?”

“This summons, Vincent.” Catherine turned in his arms to face him. “The way it was worded was closer to a vague threat.” Reaching up, she caught a lock of his hair as the wind blew it across his face. “We either produce you or place the secret of the Tunnels at risk.” Twisting the lock of hair in her fingers, she continued, “If you had not agreed to travel, they would have come looking for you. I am not entirely sure that they still won’t.”

Vincent thought quietly. “There’s more, isn’t there.” It was a statement, not a question.

Catherine took a deep breath before dropping the final bomb. “They want you and Father, Vincent. I am not included in this meeting.”

Vincent stiffened with the implications of that comment. “I won’t do this without you, Catherine.”

“Vincent, we may not have a choice,” Catherine countered. “No, let’s not argue about this. We have time to plan.”

“Catherine, there is no argument. You are part of this; I can’t imagine doing any of this without you.” Vincent pulled her tighter against him.

“Vincent, I am not new to dealing with private agendas.” Catherine snuggled into his embrace. “But until we find out what the agenda is here, we need to tread carefully.”

“Why do I have a feeling that you already have a plan?” Vincent pulled back just a bit to look her in the eyes. They had never lied to each other, but they had occasionally withheld information.

“Of course.” Catherine’s smile took on an almost wicked gleam.

“Dare I ask?”

“Let’s just say that we have a cover story for your entourage. I figured if we had to limit the number of people we travelled with, then we should make sure we had people who could think fast on their toes.”

Vincent froze. “You called Devin.”

Catherine nodded. “I called Devin. He and Charles are going to meet us in Connecticut.”

“Charles?” Vincent asked. “Are you sure that is wise?” After everything Charles had been through, Vincent was concerned about how a trip like this might affect the amazingly fragile man.

“We have discussed this in detail; Charles has been in on the conversations.” Catherine shivered as a cold breeze cut through her thin blouse. “Despite everything that Charles has been through, he is very familiar with extensive travelling, and his experience can help us protect you.”

Vincent led Catherine back into the living room and out of the cold wind as he listened to her plan. “Devin has talked to Charles’ therapist; they both agree that Charles helping us will help him.”

Vincent stopped and looked at Catherine. “Wait, Devin discussed me with Charles’ therapist?”

 “To a point. It was presented that Devin knew someone with similar challenges to what Charles was facing.” Catherine shrugged.

“And Devin never bothered to disabuse the therapist of that notion,” Vincent continued.

“Charles thinks he is helping you, and that is helping him.” Catherine smiled. “And this helps everybody.”

“Does Father know this yet?” Vincent suspected he knew the answer to that question, but felt the need to ask.

“Not yet.” Catherine paused. “It was suggested that we give Father the details of how we are getting you out of the city, and that we are planning to meet with someone more experienced with the challenges ahead while at the lake house.”

“The lake house?” Vincent looked up. “As in your lake house in Connecticut?”

Catherine looked apologetic. “I am sorry, Vincent, but I couldn’t resist.” Stepping up to him, she rested her hand on his sleeve. “It was suggested that we needed a safe place to meet, away from the city, and that seemed like the most logical solution.”

“It is not how we planned it.” Vincent felt the old wave of guilt rise again as he remembered how he had failed her time and time again.

“No, but now we know that there will be other chances.” Placing her fingers underneath Vincent’s chin, she raised his eyes to hers. “Besides, if Father can see how remote this place is, and how safe you would be there, then maybe he won’t protest as much next time.”

“Perhaps not.” Vincent leaned forward and gave Catherine a brief kiss. It still amazed him that he could do that any time he wished. Sometimes he kissed her just to remind himself that it was now one of his possibilities.

Catherine sighed. She wished their kiss could lead to something more, but once again time seemed to be against them. Gathering her notes and the flyers, she organized everything and placed the folder onto the top of her bag. “Speaking of meeting with Father….”

Vincent looked around Catherine’s apartment to ensure everything was in order. The difference these past couple of months had made in his life was becoming more and more evident, Vincent reflected as he checked that the bed was straightened and that Catherine’s place held little evidence of his stay. Before finding Ashley, Vincent had refused to allow himself to cross into Catherine’s apartment except for an emergency, and now he had his own space in her drawers. The bawdy bard in him smiled at the inappropriateness of that play on words, yet its amazing accuracy was still an astonishing miracle to him.

“I will meet you below.”

Vincent heard the click of the French doors as he locked them behind him. Catherine left through the front door with her gym bag.

~~

Halloween

Catherine locked the doors behind her before placing her briefcase on the chair beside her desk. Flipping through the mail, she pulled a familiar square envelope out of the pile. The invitation came every year, even though she hadn’t attended since shortly after passing the bar. Due to her Grandfather’s advancing age and difficulty with the cold weather, he now wintered in Arizona. According to Ashley’s instructions, their son’s ceremony would place her near the same area this year. Catherine set the invitation aside with a shrug.

Crossing to her bedroom, she looked at the fur cape hanging from the door. Running her fingers through the hair, she was amazed at how real the gray and white faux fur felt.

After rushing through her shower, Catherine stepped into the white leather pants. They looked a little tighter than she felt comfortable wearing, but when combined with the silver and white bustier, the effect was stunning. She tucked the last of the silver ribbon through her hairpiece and stood back to study the full effect. Turning to look at herself in the mirror, she smiled; she couldn’t wait for Vincent’s reaction. Grabbing her cape, she tossed a few essentials into the interior pocket hidden in the lining.

Catherine waited impatiently as the elevator seemed to stop at every floor. Smiling at the parade of costumes, she thought of the children below and how creative they had been this year. The shipment of extra fabrics had come in handy for the seamstresses. Catherine knew that Father suspected her involvement and, while he wasn’t too far from the truth, she could honestly say she had nothing to do with the delivery of the extra supplies. All she had done was provide the women’s council with a list of shop owners and other helpers.

Waving at a few familiar faces in the lobby, Catherine pulled her cape around her and pulled up the hood before stepping out into the chilly evening. Dodging cars, she ran across the street into the park and made her way to the band shell. Tonight was a special outdoor concert, and from there she and Vincent would have the whole evening to themselves.

~~

Arm in arm, Vincent and Catherine strolled through the crowds, lost in each other and their beautiful city. Vincent would point out different landmarks and tell her the history. It never ceased to amaze her about how much she didn’t know about a city that she had lived in her whole life. Catherine had booked them on a special midnight ferry ride and tour to Liberty and Ellis Islands.

Walking from the wharf, Catherine felt Vincent stiffen. Before she could react, Vincent’s arms swept around her and he spun. Quickly he pinned her to the brick building as she heard the screeching of tires. Looking over his shoulder, she watched a car swerve onto the sidewalk as people dove out of the way. Then it swerved into oncoming traffic. The errant vehicle barely managed to dodge several cars as they swerved out of its path. Catherine and Vincent watched helplessly as the driver crossed into the path of oncoming traffic at the intersection. Horns and squealing tires screamed through the air as two cars collided; a third, trying to avoid the first two, flipped. Traffic came to a halt as people ran for safety.

Assessing the situation, Vincent watched as bystanders came to the assistance of the other drivers. Through the screams, he could hear the cries of children coming from the overturned car. Running to the car, he got on his knees and looked through the window. Two women in the front were conscious and amazingly uninjured. Standing up, he reached for the door, prepared to pull it off. He remembered he wasn’t alone when other sets of hands joined his on the door.

“We need to get these people out, in case there is a gas leak,” one of the bystanders stated. Two other large men joined Vincent around the car and together they ripped the door off the hinges. Getting on his knees, he looked in the car.

“Don’t struggle.” He placed his hand on the driver’s shoulder. “Don’t be afraid, we are here to help you.”

“My kids...” the driver stated as the passenger next to her stirred. “Save the kids first,” both driver and passenger insisted.

“Are you injured? Can you move?” Vincent asked, not daring to invade their personal space any more than he already had.

“Not sure, just get my kids out.”

Vincent looked to the backseat at the two small children. The oldest couldn’t have been older than six or seven, his little sister maybe a year younger than that.

Hands helped him as he backed away from the front seat.

“Get the children first then we can cut the seatbelts and get the driver and front passenger out.”

Catherine stepped forward as the men positioned themselves to help Vincent crawl in. They worked as a team to rescue the passengers of the overturned vehicle. Looking at the other cars, she realized that a small crowd had assembled to assist the other wreck and keep an obviously intoxicated man sitting in his car. Vincent handed out the first child and she quickly wrapped the boy in her cloak as she watched the men pull the second child from the back. Reaching out, she took the little girl and gasped as she saw her small ward’s face. “Jill?”

Vincent turned to Catherine as he felt her shock bleed over the bond.

Catherine looked from the little girl she held to the unfamiliar car before her. Bending down, she tucked Jill into the folds of her cape and stroked the hair of the shivering little boy. “Everything is going to be ok.” Catherine couldn’t see any marks on the children. Other than early onset of shock, they seemed unharmed.

Vincent felt hands assist him out from the back of the car.

Going to the passenger side, someone presented a knife. Taking his cloak, he spread it across the interior roof of the car. Carefully he lay down on his back as he crept forward into the car.

“Please don’t be afraid, I am here to help.” Vincent lay under the passenger as he helped support the chest strap of the seatbelt. “Can you move?”

The woman watched him closely before nodding.

“Good. Can you remember your name?” Vincent spoke softly.

“I am Jenny.” Reaching out, she grasped the chair as the car rocked a bit.

“Hold on.”

Jenny held her breath as a voice came from behind her. “We are going to get you out first.”

He turned to the driver. “Then we will have more room to move you.”

Both women nodded.

“My children? Are they ok?” the driver asked.

Vincent nodded. “Yes, they are safe. A friend of mine is watching over them.”

“Thank you. I’m Nancy. What’s your name?”

Vincent was concerned because her words were starting to slur. He kept moving carefully.

“Vincent,” he answered before turning to Jenny. “We are going to cut you free. Try to relax and let us move you.”

Every bit of training Father had drilled into him told him not to move these women; it could be dangerous and cause further injury, but the smell of gas was growing stronger. He was not sure they had time to wait.

Carefully, he broke the guide that held the shoulder strap to the seat, and signaled for them to move the back of the seat. Jenny placed her hands on Vincent’s shoulders as someone reached in through the window and cut the shoulder strap first. Placing his hands around her waist, he pushed her into the seat as they cut the belt. Carefully, Vincent helped guide Jenny to the back window, where hands helped pull her from the car.

“I guess it is just you and me.” Nancy’s smile was shaky at best.

“We will have you out soon,” Vincent assured her. Studying Nancy’s situation, he saw that it was a bit trickier. Not only was she held to her seat with the seat belt, but also the steering wheel pressed against her chest.

Carefully reaching across, he broke the guide holding the chest strap to the seat. Nancy duplicated Jenny’s gesture of placing her hands on the roof near Vincent’s head. Vincent placed his hands on her hips and pressed her further into the seat.

Gentle hands pulled the seat back, giving Nancy more room to breathe, before a second hand reached in with the knife and cut through the shoulder strap. More hands reached in through the window and guided Nancy’s torso through before someone slit the belt. Vincent helped guide her body out through the opening before following. Barely a step behind her, he rescued his cape from the interior of what was left of the car before wrapping it around the shivering women before him.

“Cathy?” Nancy exclaimed, shocked as she realized who was holding tightly to her children.

Standing up, Catherine hugged Nancy and Jenny.

“Are you ok? Where does it hurt?” The questions poured out as Vincent helped her lead them to the safety of the sidewalk. Looking around her, she was amazed to see a small group of large men standing with Vincent. The guys were busy patting each other on the back and congratulating Vincent on his quick thinking. Cathy watched as one man handed Vincent a card before they left as a group, heading on their way.

Catherine smiled as he turned to her. Vincent handed her the card, her eyes widening at the “WWF” logo in the upper corner. Nodding, she pocketed the card. The sound of sirens reached her ears.

“Catherine?” Vincent looked at her. 

“Later. You have to go.” Catherine felt a bit of panic arise as she realized how crowded this area was.

Vincent paused as he looked at Catherine, reluctant to leave her.

“I’ll be ok. You have to go now,” Catherine insisted. Her panic was reaching him. “I will find you.”

Vincent nodded then stepped back and blended with the crowds before completely disappearing.

“So that is the mysterious Vincent.” Nancy sat on the curb with Jenny. Jenny was in Vincent’s cloak holding Jeremy, while Nancy sat in Catherine’s fur cloak holding Jill.

 Jenny sat up then winced. “Really?” Looking back, she stared at Cathy, studying her reaction.

Catherine sighed; there was no use in denying it. Fortunately, she could always explain away his appearance as a costume.

Flashing lights surrounded them. Three police vehicles blocked the area as they moved people off the scene of the accident. Two officers began questioning witnesses as two others gave the other driver a sobriety test. Catherine realized that the final two officers were approaching her and stood.

“Ms. Chandler.” The older of the two stepped forward.

“Sergeant.” Catherine shook his hand, trying not to shiver in the chill of the cool fall air. Emergency crews were taking control of the accident, and Catherine was starting to feel the adrenalin of the situation wear off. Seeing her reaction, he shrugged his jacket off and offered it to her. “Can you tell us what happened?”

“Thank you.” Catherine shrugged into the jacket as she went into ADA mode and began to describe the accident as she had seen it happen.

“We were assisted by professional wrestlers,” she stated as she handed over the card Vincent had given her. Catherine stepped back and Nancy and Jenny explained about how some good Samaritans got them out of the car safely.

Nancy pulled Jill closer to her as she watched the other driver try to fight off the police officers. He slipped from their hold, and Nancy stood up and placed Jill behind her as the drunk driver ran toward them.

“Tell them about the monster!” he demanded. "This ain’t my fault, there was a big hairy monster.” He pointed past Nancy; everyone turned to see Jill huddled there.

Pulling the cloak closer to her, careful to keep it from dragging on the ground, Jill hugged her Mom’s leg, watching the man scream.

“There wasn’t a monster.” Finding her courage, she stepped forward and placed her hands on her hips, looking at the police officer as he bent down to listen to her. “Aunt Cathy’s coat is warm, and soft and fuzzy. It isn’t a monster!” Turning to the drunk, Jill yelled out, “You broke Mommy’s new car!”

Catherine had to swallow her laughter as she watched Jill become a miniature version of her mother, shaking her finger at the drunk. “You gave us all booboos. Your mommy should spank you so hard you won’t sit for a week!”

Jill stared down the drunken man as he swayed before her; the officers swarming him and placing him in handcuffs.

“You can’t arrest me! You have to save us from the monster!”

Cathy made eye contact with the sergeant, and then looked away. It seemed as if everyone was trying hard not to laugh at Jill’s proclamation of the man’s fate.

Nancy, recognizing the look in her daughter’s eye, winced as she bent down and pulled Jill back.

As the medics arrived, Cathy gave the sergeant’s coat back before climbing into the back of the ambulance.

~~

Cathy walked into her apartment and draped her cloak over the back of the couch. Nancy, Jenny, and the children were being kept for observation overnight, but Cathy knew that the reprieve was only temporary.

With a sigh, she sank down into the cushions, rubbing her temples. This was not how she was hoping to end this Halloween. Slipping off her boots, she rubbed the balls of her feet, looking at the clock on the wall and calculating how much time she had before Nancy and Jenny would corner her. There was no denying that both of them had recognized Vincent’s name and the significance of her sending him away before the authorities had arrived.

Fortunately, the drunk and Jill’s reaction to him had circumvented any further questions from the police, or Nancy and Jenny. Catherine knew her friends too well to hope that the subject was closed; no, more than likely it was merely postponed for a more convenient time.

~~

“What were you thinking?” Father demanded as he paced the length of his study. Vincent’s explanation for his appearance, minus his cloak, was the type of story that would give even the stoutest of parents a stroke.

“Father, I couldn’t leave them there, not like that,” Vincent countered.

“And what if any of them thinks about what they saw? Vincent, you foolishly placed yourself in danger so you could play the hero.”

Vincent knew Father was not in a mood to be reasoned with. “I did not place myself anywhere, Father.” Vincent sat in the chair as he watched the older man continue to pace through the room “I was already there, and to turn my back on someone whose need was so great would have been to turn my back on everything you have taught me.” Vincent would not justify himself. He and Catherine had made the right decision, although he was sure that Father would not appreciate the humor in him having been offered a job as a professional wrestler, costume and all.

“These women you saved, you say they know Catherine?” Father sat at the table.

“Yes, Jenny and Nancy, they were college friends.”

“And they knew about you?”

“My name appeared to have significance to them after they saw Catherine,” Vincent admitted, looking at the expression on Father’s face. “She has not betrayed us.”

“I hope you’re right, Vincent, for your sake.” After all Catherine had done for them, every way she had protected them, Father didn’t want to believe that of Catherine, but the evidence seemed damning.

Rising from the table, Vincent placed his hand on Father’s shoulder. “I will see Catherine tomorrow night; I'll ask her about it then.”

Father nodded, taking his glasses off and rubbing his eyes. As the past couple of years had proven, he had found it impossible to go to bed until Vincent had returned. So far, two out of three Halloweens, something had happened up top that had sent Vincent into the middle of someone else’s dangerous drama.

~~

Jenny sat on the seat at the train station, giving Nancy and her husband a moment alone. By mutual decision, Paul decided to take Jill and Jeremy home on the train while Nancy dealt with the issues of the accident.

The meeting with the police had not taken long, and neither had their statements. Police officials had understood when both women explained that the children were asleep in the back seat at the time of the accident and could only really recount any information about their rescue. In conjunction with their age, they would be no further use as witnesses. The police had statements from other witnesses who had not only recounted the events leading up to the crash, but also identified two famous wrestlers amongst the names of the rescuers, as well as a well-respected member of the DA’s office. The common assumption was that the man in costume was with the group from the WWF. Nancy and Jenny just smiled and shrugged. The agreement to stick to the facts of what they knew had served them well.

Lifting her head from her book, Jenny watched as Nancy walked across the station toward her. Her movements were not as graceful as normal, but all things considered, she counted them very lucky.

“Cathy has taken a leave of absence from her office.” Jenny leaned back as much as she could on the bench. “Joe seemed surprised when I showed up looking for her.”

“What did you tell him?” Nancy looked at the hard benches and winced. The idea of sitting on one did not appeal to her.

“Played dumb, acted like I thought it started next week.” Jenny’s smile had a wicked slant to it.

“Smart move. So, we pin her down at home?” Nancy commented as she helped Jenny up from the bench.

“You read my mind.” Walking slowly from the building, they made their way to the taxis.

“So, what did you think of her date’s costume?” Parts of Jenny thought she was moving through the Twilight Zone, but the suspicion flowing through the back of her mind wouldn’t go away.

“That it wasn’t a costume?” Nancy looked at Jenny. As impossible as it seemed, those hands and hair had felt too real. Both women had the sneaky suspicion that he would not have needed the help of the other men in rescuing them from the car.

“That would explain Cathy’s secrecy about him.”

By mutual agreement they changed the subject as they crawled into the taxi. “Central Park West,” they said in unison, before looking at each other and laughing.

~~

Peter tucked the paper under his arm as he made his way through the tunnels. Father’s first shipments of meds from the Council of the Taja had been delivered to his office the day before. After weeks of paperwork, they had finally narrowed down the needs and current capabilities of the Tunnel dwellers and submitted the information through Dr. Emily Carlington’s contact. Trusting Catherine’s gut, and Father’s overly cautious nature, they decided to limit the exposure of the tunnels to those indivduals who Emily’s group already knew about. Emily had travelled to New York under the guise of meeting with a colleague, aka him. All meds were delivered to Dr. Jacob Wells, C/O Dr. Peter Alcott at his office.

Turning the last corner into the hospital chamber, he watched as his helpers carefully placed boxes in various locations before dashing out. Shaking his head at the younger generation’s energy, he leaned against the wall and watched his old friend rummage through cabinets while mumbling to himself.

Concerned, he watched as Father turned toward him. Years of living below meant his skin was lighter than most, but today it looked absolutely pale, the shadows under his eyes attesting to nights with little or no sleep. If anything, Peter was convinced that this upcoming trip was badly needed not just for Vincent, but to give Father a break, as well.

“I bring gifts.” Peter pushed away from the wall and walked into the infirmary. Pulling the paper from his arm, he handed it to Jacob, then stood back to watch his friend’s expression as he opened the front page.

“WWF Wrestlers assist ADA Catherine Chandler in rescuing family from Drunk Driving Accident” The picture beside it showed Vincent on his knees beside an overturned car, a small child in his arms and surrounded by four other very large men. Catherine was posed reaching for the little girl. In the caption below the photo, the reporter provided official quotes from the publicist neither confirming nor denying that the costumed man was a mysterious up and coming wrestler. Catherine Chandler had not been available for comment, but her office said that Catherine was on leave of absence for personal matters, and that while she had indeed been at the site of the accident, she had submitted her reports and they would be available for public review once official charges were filed. The family was admitted into the hospital for observation with only minor injuries. All were expected to be released later today.

Father sank back in the chair. Peter raised his eyebrow at the choice of words that came from his old friend’s mouth. Neither of them was overly thrilled with Vincent’s photo on the cover of the Times, but nobody was going to look too closely at an accident on Halloween night.

Peter sat in the chair across the desk from Father. “I made rounds at the hospital this morning. Cathy knows the victims.”

Father nodded.

“And they saw Vincent?”

Father nodded again. “Do you know them?”

“Somewhat. Susan was with the group of them at Radcliffe.” Peter paused. “I'll go see Cathy this afternoon and check with her.”

“Vincent seems to think that they recognized his name.” Father’s statement was equal parts unasked question.

“That wouldn’t surprise me,” Peter responded. Rising from his chair, he pulled a box closer and began to help Jacob inventory the new supplies and put them away. “Jenny is as persistent as Cathy is stubborn. Cathy would have to have provided at least a name.”

“And at most?” Father countered.

“Cathy knows what is at stake here. She is also a pro at deflecting questions. I can guarantee that she gave them just enough to satisfy curiosity without endangering Vincent or the Tunnels.”

Vincent paused at the entrance of the hospital chamber, hearing Father and Peter’s discussion. While having her closest friends recognize his name had been disconcerting, he knew with everything he was that Catherine would never endanger him.

Ahhh, Vincent, there you are.” Father looked up from his work then winced at the apparent disorganization around them. Empty boxes were stacked haphazardly throughout the chamber, some in danger of collapsing.

Assessing the situation, Vincent stepped in and snagged the first box. Using his thumbnail he sliced through the tape then unfolded the box and carefully flattened it out. Moving to the next box, he made quick work of the mess, creating a neat pile of flattened boxes on the bed closest to the chamber entrance.

“Did you mention you were going to see Catherine?” Vincent’s question wasn’t as innocent as it seemed.

Peter nodded as he counted through a pile of bandages.

“I will have Geoffrey guide you up. I need to send her a note.”

“Vincent, wait,” Peter called out as Vincent turned to leave the chamber.

Vincent paused before stepping back into the chamber.

“I have known Nancy and Jenny for a few years now. They are good friends of Susan’s.”

Vincent sat on the bed as he listened to Peter.

“Susan and I discussed it before she left for Santa Fe; if Nancy had stayed in the city, we would have suggested her as a helper.”

Vincent nodded his thanks then rose and walked out of the room.

“And Jenny?” Father whispered after he was sure that Vincent had gone far enough down the tunnel.

“Jenny is a good person; she cares about Cathy.” Peter defended the younger woman, knowing it would probably fall on deaf ears. “After Cathy’s attack, Jenny was one of the few people who came to the hospital on a regular basis. Jenny cares for Cathy, not for Cathy’s connections.”

“Then we can only hope that Jenny believes that keeping Vincent a secret is in Cathy’s best interest.” Father’s reply was sharper than he intended. These women came from a world that had chewed him up and spat him out; he couldn’t help but measure them from the same cloth he had measured those who had destroyed him nearly a lifetime ago.

~~

Jenny and Nancy chose a booth in the back corner of the café. Making room for their bags, they waited for the waitress to leave before getting down to business.

“Let's go over what she told you again.” Jenny found herself drilling Nancy on Catherine’s description of Vincent from a year earlier. He sounded more like a fairy tale Prince Charming than a real man.

Both compared the lack of direction in Cathy’s life just a few years earlier to the major changes she had made since her attack.

“Julie has commented that Cathy rarely attends social functions anymore, unless they are associated with a charity.” Nancy looked to Jenny for confirmation.

“Well, there was that art show last year...” Jenny stopped to think. “But she was connected to the artist. Other than that, I really haven’t seen her do much since she and Elliott broke it off.”

Nancy growled at that comment. “And yet Elliott seems to be enjoying the doors that opened for him since he was seen escorting her around.”

“Yeah, don’t get me started on that.” Jenny looked up as the waitress brought them their salads.

“Do you have any idea on what ended that?” Nancy asked.

“No, she wouldn’t talk about it much.” Jenny forked a bite of her salad into her mouth as she thought about it. “I have my suspicions, but if she met Vincent about the time of the attack, something might have already been blossoming there.”

Nancy thought about that for a bit. “And from what we know about what she said about him in the past, Elliot would have fallen far short of the Vincent measuring stick.”

Jenny choked on her drink before adding, “In more ways than one.”

Nancy laughed. “I know… if those hands are anything to go by….”

“And that voice!” Jenny added.

“I know! You should get him to record an audio tape reading one of those romance novels you sell.” Nancy pointed her fork across the table. “It would become an instant best seller.”

“Yeah, and the first audio book to make the New York Times best seller list; it’d make me editor of the year for a whole five minutes,” Jenny added.

“Why only five minutes?” Nancy couldn’t help but ask.

“Because that is how long it would take Cathy to kill me!” Jenny finished.

Nancy thought for a moment then nodded. “You may be right on that.”

“Joking aside, how are we handling this?” Jenny asked.

Nancy sat and thought for a bit. “Do we seriously think that he wasn’t wearing a costume?”

Looking over all the information she had, the puzzle pieces just fell into place. The changes in Cathy, her secrecy about the strange man in her life, her reaction when she heard the sirens. They had never known Cathy to bend the rules to that extent.

“Part of me says it’s not possible...” Jenny stopped and pushed her plate away. “Yet another part of me says that it is the only answer.”

“I agree, and I think we are not really going to get any answers until we talk to Cathy.” Nancy also pushed her salad away and leaned back in the seat. “I can’t believe I am saying this, but what if we are right and it isn’t a costume?”

“Then we handle it the way we have everything else,” Jenny stated matter-of-factly as she signaled for the check. “We meet Vincent and withhold judgment until we know his answer to the question.”

Nancy nodded. After putting their money on the table, both women gathered their bags and headed for a taxi. Settling into the back seat, Nancy smirked as she watched Jenny arrange their bags around her. “So, do you think we will actually make it to Cathy’s place this time?”

“Hey, I am not the one that redirected the driver last time,” Jenny defended herself. “You just had to stop at Macy’s.”

“Well, you can’t expect me to spend two days in the city with no clothes,” Nancy snapped back, before they both burst out laughing.


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