Winter this year had come with a vengeance even for a New York winter. It seemed as if the snow would never stop falling, the winds would never cease blowing and the sun would never shine again. The whole northeast of the USA had been buried in a record amount of snow. New York was unlucky enough to be gifted with 51 inches of the cold fluffy white stuff. The city was at a stand still, transportation was almost non-existent unless you had of course snowshoes and lots of energy. Above and Below couldn’t remember when Old Man Winter had been so mean and so persistent. But it was beautiful; everything was coated in a shimmering white coat, almost magical.
The snow and ice had made it impossible for Vincent to visit her on her balcony; she couldn’t even open the French doors, as the snow piled in high drifts against them. She was happy though for the threshold that gave her access to Below for visits with her tunnel family and always of course, Vincent. The tunnels were even a bit chillier than usual, extra layers were worn by all.
"Great," she mumbled," Like he needs more layers; if this keeps up I won’t be able to get my arms around him!"
Cabin fever was making him literally feel like a caged lion, not being able to go Above and walk the city at night or visit her balcony. Many of the storm drains were clogged with snow and ice. This left them all with the thoughts of flooding unless they were blessed with a slow thaw when spring finally came. The Helpers’ thresholds were the only way to go Above and get supplies. Catherine had worked out deals with most of the Helpers to furnish extra food and other supplies with out Father knowing. He and Vincent didn’t like to take advantage of her money, which, as she put it, "is more than I’ll ever need." At times though she thought they might be wise to her quiet ways. She could never do enough in her estimation for all they had done for her. They were her family now, so why not share?
The added chill gave them an excuse, as if they needed one, to cuddle more closely, since they had become lovers a while back on their trip to the Crystal Cavern. Finding private time without someone always popping in or looking to him for advice or help was becoming a bit frustrating.
"Vincent, your chamber has almost more traffic than Grand Central at rush hour. I know everyone wants and needs you for something or other…but I definitely want and need you for something and the other!"
He tipped his head low and chuckled knowing she was correct in her assessment. And he knew what she wanted and needed, because he wanted and needed the same thing.
Innocently he asked "Catherine, may I assume you have time off?"
Just as innocently she answered "funny you should ask, Joe phoned me before I came down this morning and told me to take a week off, with this weather even the crooks are staying in. Soooo… what do you have in mind? Please tell me we can spend some "quality" time by ourselves. It’s not that I don’t love everyone here; it’s just that I love you more than anything in our worlds, yours and mine!"
"Perhaps we might try a little exploring. Remember, you had asked Narcissa about the Tong having tunnels here after we had visited the Crystal Cavern? I know she said they did and tried in her own way to tell us they were not friendly exactly. Perhaps we could do a little exploring as long as I feel they are safe."
He placed his hands on her shoulders, looked deep into her liquid green eyes with such tenderness and concern that she felt a shiver throughout her whole body. "Vincent I trust you completely, and whatever you decide we will do. Exploring would certainly break the winter blahs, and I for one am all for that! Being with you will be the best part of the trip. When do we start and what are you going to tell Father?"
"Hmmm… yes, Father will have to think we just want to spend time alone a little further out in the tunnels. This way I won’t be telling him a lie, now will I?"
"Vincent, that sly grin on your face…what are you thinking my I ask? No don’t tell me I just loved being surprised, with being loved the key words!"
Ever since their trip to the Crystal Cavern, Vincent had relaxed enough to show his natural ability to tease her every now and then. She loved it; he was so sweet and innocent like a little boy, boy nothing …he was all man and what a man!
They gathered everything they thought they would need and William supplied the foods they would need. These supplies were in conjunction with the small way stations that were always stocked, through out the tunnels. Catherine insisted on carrying a backpack and Vincent made sure it wasn’t too heavy for her, explaining it would cause her to tire too quickly. Most of this was accomplished without Father seeing their supplies when they left.
They started off walking hand in hand, not speaking often; their bond was full of contentment and love for each other. They had walked for about 4 hours when Vincent sensed, Catherine is beginning to tire, even though she won’t tell me. He suggested they stop and have lunch to refresh them for the rest of the trip to the Crystal Cavern, which was on their way to the tunnels they wished explore. He made tea as she set out the meat, cheese, fruits and crusty bread. Walking creates a good appetite and they both ate hungrily.
After they had cleaned up and repacked the leftover food, he wrapped his arms around her and touched his lips to hers ever so lightly. He backed away with a teasing smile and told her, "There is more to come, just not now or we will never leave this spot."
Catherine caught her breath and chuckled, "that little tease gave me extra incentive and energy to continue on. Vincent, my love you are more amazing every moment of every day I know you! That is why I love you more than you’ll ever know." He smiled at her words and felt the deep resolve in her heart.
They walked side by side or sometimes single file depending on the twists and turns.
Vincent was always assessing the terrain for small rock falls or areas of erosion from natural leaks from ever present under ground water. They finally reach the area outside of the Crystal Cavern, and decided to set up camp there for the night.
Setting up camp was easy. Catherine had become almost as efficient as any tunnel dweller as she was helped him with the food. He started a fire and set out their sleeping bags, which she noticed he made into one large one. He took some well worn towels and soap down to the small warm spring behind the outcropping of rocks that they had used before. Her memories of their first trip here made her smile with such joy that it caused Vincent to shudder as it floated through the bond. He still had trouble at times believing all this was real and not just a dream that he would wake from. She was here, she was his, and they were finally truly together.
Dinner was relaxing; the food from William of course was good, nourishing and filling.
They sat simply enjoying each other’s company with no interruptions for a change. The gift of peace and quiet was wonderful. After they cleaned up the dishes and put things away they headed for the warm spring to bathe and enjoy each other.
They slowly undressed each other, tender kisses tasting, seductive caresses and scents exciting, their love surrounding them. They entered the warm swirling waters, soaping, washing and rinsing each other lovingly. There was no hurry, no measured minutes, only pleasure in each other. They emerged to lie on the towel Vincent had placed on the ledge behind the misty waterfall at the other end of the spring. He had placed a few candles to give the waterfall a warm inviting glow. Vincent was a slow and patient lover, through the bond he could feel her desires, wants and needs; happily he continued to answer her body as they loved. They lay entwined and sated in each others arms, unable to speak or think anything coherent for what seemed like forever.
After a while, they swam back across the spring to dry each other and Vincent wrapped them both in a large bath sheet. He carried her slowly back to the campsite, where they sipped some tea and read to one and other. Contentment from their loving overtook them and they slept spooned together, safe and warm. In the morning slow love making, their favorite new wake call caused them to eat a hearty breakfast and then start out again to explore. They decided would leave the Crystal Cavern for the return trip.
They traveled for a few hours through unknown passages, Vincent always alert for anything he deemed unsafe. They marked twists and turns with chalk on the walls since this was new territory, for future reference. They snacked on energy bars Catherine had brought, some with chocolate, one of Vincent’s small vices. She had learned that from William.
"Sure wouldn’t want you to run out of energy" she murmured.
Vincent heard her, it put a small grin on his lips; she hadn’t forgotten that his hearing was exceptional…..she counted on it!
Their lanterns cast shadows all around them, giving an eerie feeling to the narrow passage they found themselves in. It opened into a wider, rockier opening with several new tunnel directions to the left and right of where they stood. They proceeded with caution, the floor of this opening was sandy, not usual this far down. Vincent put his arm around her shoulder while he searched their surroundings for unusual scents or sounds. Catherine felt he was uncomfortable through their bond and froze as he scanned the area. Her trust in him was absolute and unshakable.
Vincent motioned for her to backup slowly; as she took a step back, he heard a slight metallic click, in an instant he turned and shielded her with his powerful body against the wall.
Catherine was terrified, she whispered softly in to Vincent’s ear. "What is it?"
She felt him tighten his grip on her back and heard a quick gasp from his lips.
For a moment all was still, then she heard him start to breathe again; a low groan escaped his chest. He slumped against her, sliding down the wall, pulling her down with him.
His arms were still protectively wrapped around her body. She struggled to disengage herself; she knew something was terribly wrong. His hold on her was tight; she needed to free herself from his protective hold to see what was wrong.
"Vincent, I’m all right, please let me go, I need to see what’s wrong with you. Vincent!"
He heard her through a haze of pain and shock. He relaxed his grip and she disentangled herself from him. It was then she saw two small arrows sticking out of his back at his right shoulder.
"Oh God, Vincent, your shoulder, how…?"
She knelt beside him, holding and searching his face with tears running down her cheeks, trying to see if he was alert. He opened his eyes and she could see the pain he was in. She could feel a dull pain in her shoulder also, through the bond, this she would ignore.
"Vincent, tell me what to do,"
While he struggled to think and answer her question, she grabbed the pack and found the first aid kit that Father always insisted he carry. She put gauze pads around the shafts of the arrows to hopefully stop the flow of blood.
"Don’t try to remove them, they’re helping to stem the flow of blood," he managed to say calmly. "We are about a mile and a half from the nearest pipe. If you can help me up, I can walk with your help… slowly."
Using all her strength, she was able to help him to a standing position against the cave wall. He rested a minute to gain his balance and clear his mind. Then he said, with his usual uncanny calm in the face of emergency, "This was a security measure the Tong used to insure their tunnels were safe from intruders. Eventually they will have to found and be put out of use."
Catherine pulled his left arm across her shoulder; she reached up and kissed his cheek," I love you Vincent."
His size and weight made the trip difficult, but she would not let that stop her. The walking she knew jarred his shoulder and caused him more pain. She could feel the wetness from the blood under his cloak seeping through the gauze pads as she held him close to her, trying to keep pressure on them. She sent strength and love through the bond and wished she could take away his pain. She still felt the dull ache in her shoulder and knew he was blocking the pain as much as he could from her. They rested twice before they reached the pipes; Vincent was able to signal for help.
She helped him lower himself to lie on his left shoulder with his head in her lap, to protect the arrows from being driven in any further. Catherine worried about the hours they would have to wait for help, his breathing was ragged.
At least now he could rest, not moving would help decrease the pain and bleeding to some extent. She changed the gauze pads twice and kept pressure on the wounds as best she could. With his head resting in her lap he seemed more comfortable. Sending love and strength in a constant flow to him seemed to ease his breathing and he rested more quietly in her arms.
After what seemed like forever, she heard voices and saw the glow of lanterns up the tunnel. Cullen, Mouse, Jamie and Kanin came running down the tunnel toward them.
Jamie looked at the arrows, "they came from a crossbow" she stated with authority.
Smartly they had brought a stretcher and eased him on to it with Catherine’s backpack to prop up his shoulder for the trip back. She changed the pads again, her hands and arms ached from keeping the pressure on during the long walk back. She wouldn’t let anyone else do it.
Catherine wasn’t sure if he passed out or just was sleeping, at least it let him rest from the painful jarring even though they moved a gently as possible. They stopped several times to rest and switch positions for carrying the stretcher. Finally they neared the hub and new hands took the stretcher to the hospital chamber. Father and Mary were already set up for surgery. Father looked and shook his head in disbelief at the arrows protruding from Vincent’s shoulder. They placed him on the surgical table face down after removing his cloak, vest and shirt. Father looked at Catherine; he saw how exhausted and frightened she was. Knowing she wouldn’t leave him, he told her to sit on the stool at Vincent’s head to help keep him calm.
Gratefully she did just that, continuing to send him love and strength through their bond.
Following the removal of the arrows, checking that no major damage was done and stitching his son up…again! Father had him moved to his chamber where he knew Vincent would be more comfortable and could rest quietly.
"He needs sleep and lots of TLC, of which I’m sure we can give him…am I correct in that Catherine?"
As exhausted as she was, and as worried as Father had been, she still saw the glint in his fatherly eyes.
"Also, young lady you need rest too, if you’re going to be able to help take care of my son and not cause him worry. I’ll have a cot brought in for you to sleep, as I know he will want you and you’ll want to be there when he wakes up."
Father gave her a warm embrace and kissed her cheek before leaving. She knew there would be many questions and concerns, but at least for now everything was calm.
She awoke to Vincent’s foot gently rubbing her leg. His right arm was wrapped to his chest and made it impossible to reach her hand.
She looked up into his clear azure blue eyes and saw his love for her and a small tear sliding down his furry cheek.
"Vincent, what can I do for you?"
"Nothing right now…I was know how much I love you and what if I had lost you? Catherine, you are my whole world, there would be nothing for me without you."
"Oh Vincent we would be nothing without each other, we are two halves that make a whole. We could never loose each other."
She rose from her cot and gingerly climbed over him to snuggle into his chest, he put his left arm around her and soon sleep overtook them.
Father was a bit surprised when he entered the chamber and saw them peacefully sleeping together…he just smiled and backed out gracefully. He never thought his son would ever have so much love for and from "that topsider."
Catherine and Vincent had their dreams, which he now was sure would come true.
"Impossible was is not a word Catherine dealts with well with," he thought to himself, plus she had taught this old man that dreams can come true.
Some days later, Vincent had healed well, with a little more care than he truly wanted, but he had acquiesced for the sake of all concerned. The snow was beginning to melt, Catherine was back at work and leaks were beginning to drip. Fortunately for Above and Below the spring was slow in coming and they could deal with minor problems.
Vincent, Jamie and Mouse went back to the Tong tunnel, found and dismantled a few more booby-traps. Mapping the tunnels and marking the areas that where as yet unexplored. Those would be for another time.
Vincent and Catherine sat in his chamber discussing the events of their week on Friday evening, sipping chamomile tea and snacking on William’s oatmeal cookies. Since their return from their "little adventure," to avoid people always popping in and disrupting their quality time, Vincent had installed a privacy door of sorts. It was a well worn Persian carpet from storage, hung on an antique rod with leather straps to slide easy enough and one strap to tie it back when not in use. It seemed to some of the community that the privacy curtain was down more than up these days. A small price they thought for the happiness of their favorite couple.