To Walk As Other Men
It was cold Above. The kind of damp cold that left even the hardiest souls of New York bundled in multiple layers. Catherine Chandler was no exception. Shivering as she exited the DA's office to hail a cab, she noticed that everyone around her was covered from head to toe with barely their eyes exposed to the unkind elements. Living as they did in the artificial valleys created by skyscrapers, the wind could be both fierce and frigid and was not willingly suffered for long. This seemed to focus individual attention on how to best escape it, without seeming to be very aware of those people around them that suffered the same fate. Catherine wryly mused that they did not look much like the confident professionals she usually saw. Much more like Eskimos, or perhaps visitors from some strange and exotic land whose identities must be kept secret due to customs that she could not begin to know. Smiling to herself at her whimsy she got into her cab and was finally whisked homeward.
Later, in her apartment, Catherine sorted through her mail and idly flipped through the latest National Geographic magazine. This was a far cry from the society pages and fashion magazines that would have been the only things to hold her interest a few short years ago. Before Vincent. How her priorities in reading material had changed! Now she was much more interested in Shakespeare and National Geographic.
Vincent's world was limited in the places he could physically visit, but he was possessed of a vivid imagination and incredible curiosity. Catherine broadened his world in any way she could devise. They had spent many happy hours poring through the Geographics and she would listen to him expand on the various articles with information he had gleaned from other sources. These were treasured moments for both of them. Each volume would then be passed along to Father's library and thus to many other eager hands. It gave Catherine a sense of satisfaction to be of help to her tunnel family, even in such a small way as this.
Pulling herself from her reverie, Catherine once more drew her attention to the article before her. This one contained some beautiful photographs of desert peoples and touched on the tradition of male veiling. In some of the tribes no one outside of immediate family members would ever see a man without these protective coverings. This did not prevent them from being a very formidable presence in any community they chose to enter even if it was only briefly. It brought to Catherine's mind the beloved image of a very special man. She wished that he too could enjoy that same freedom. With that thought the kernel of an idea began to form.............
Shortly thereafter she heard the familiar tapping and flew to the balcony doors to launch herself into Vincent's arms. He pretended to be staggered by the force of the impact. For long moments both were held in that initial embrace that was so needful after any time spent apart.
Vincent eventually tilted his head to the side in that endearing way that only he was capable of. His tone held amusement when he spoke. "Catherine, if I did not know better I would believe that you were considering a job change to that of football linebacker. What prompted such...... exhuberance? "
With a small sigh and large smile Catherine looked up and answered simply "I missed you and just could not help myself. And I would have you know that I think I would be an excellent linebacker!"
Vincent answered with a small smile of his own and a quote went through his mind from a Shakespeare's Midsummer Nights Dream, 'Though she be but little, she is fierce'
They soon made themselves comfortable on the balcony discussing small things about her world and his and thus passed their time this night.
A couple of mornings later, with the magazine clutched in her small fist, Catherine found herself making her way toward Mary's chamber. She would need a tunnel ally if her plan had any chance of meeting with success. Just as Father was acknowledged patriarch to the community Mary was the acknowledged matriarch. Woe betide anyone who caused one of her children harm! Mary in a temper was a rare sight indeed and even Father would not cross her on issues concerning the well being of the tunnel children. Mary was the only mother that Vincent had ever known and Catherine was well aware of the love and respect he bore her, and of the importance he attached to her opinions. It took all of the persuasiveness that she was so well known for in the courtroom for Catherine to convince Mary of the possibility that she envisioned for Vincent. In the end it had been a simple statement spoken with absolute conviction that had finally won her over. "Mary, I love Vincent and would die before I would knowingly lead him into harm. Please help me give him this experience that everyone else takes for granted!"
Approaching Mary's chamber on his way to collect his beloved Catherine, Vincent was surprised to find that she and Mary were deep in conversation and seemed to be oblivious to his arrival. He was even more surprised when he made his presence known and instead of Catherine walking back with him to his chamber, she instead took Mary's arm and started off down the passage. His shock was complete when he was informed that they were both going Above to do some shopping. Mary almost never went Above and certainly not in bitter weather with only Catherine as a companion. Vincent was certain that it had something to do with him, but neither woman was forthcoming with an explanation. He was left standing alone in the tunnel staring after them as they made their way to the surface.
Having no recourse but to return to his chamber alone, Vincent did so and occupied himself with stretching out on his bed with a book. He opened the Bond to try to glean some clue as to the reason for the unusual behaviour that he had just witnessed. He sensed excitement, happiness and a little fear from Catherine but nothing to unduly alarm him. With a mental shrug Vincent resigned himself to reality. He would only know what this was all about if and when those two formidable women chose to enlighten him.
Catherine was returning! Vincent quickly got up from his bed and hurried to meet them. He knew that Mary would very likely be tired from her efforts and wanted to be there to offer support should it be needed. And of course, curiosity was eating him alive! What could possibly have prompted this rare trip and what did it have to do with him??
It was now a quiet time in the park. It was late enough that families visiting to enjoy the fresh air would have come and gone, yet too early for the more unsavory denizens to have arrived. Vincent met the two women near the tunnel entrance with an offer of assistance in carrying back the various packages that they held. Catherine merely smiled and laid them down before turning to Mary with a silent entreaty. Vincent could feel Catherine's uneasiness through the Bond. He started to approach her with a question in his eyes only to have his arm taken by Mary.
"Vincent, will you walk with me?" Mary asked.
"Of course Mary, you know that I would do anything for you." Vincent answered while placing his large hand over the small arm that rested within his own. Before they had gone very far Mary drew him to a stop.
"I am so glad to hear those words from you Vincent, and I will ask that you do something for me. Listen to what Catherine has to say and have faith in both of you. Trust her as I trust her." With a kiss to his cheek and a brief squeeze Mary released him to walk back on her own.
He returned to the tunnel entrance to find Catherine pacing. This was a habit that he knew that she had picked up from him, and could not help but feel a small internal smile at the thought. It helped lessen the agitation he was experiencing, both from what he could read from the Bond and from the conversation he had just had with Mary.
Upon seeing that beloved face, Catherine ceased her nervous pacing and drew him to her in a fierce embrace. After a short time Vincent broke the contact and walked to lean on the tunnel wall.
Locking her eyes with his, Catherine asked "Vincent do you trust me? Truly trust me?"
"I trust you with my life Catherine, you know that."
"Do you remember the article about the tradition of male veiling that we discussed? These men go anywhere they choose and do what they choose, despite the tradition of concealing their bodies and faces. I believe that you can do the same. Will you trust me enough to try? Right now?"
Vincent drew back to place his full weight on the tunnel wall and closed his eyes, feeling completely stunned. How could she ask such a thing?? It was daylight and well she knew the danger of this to him. He also knew that she was aware that one of his greatest wishes was to walk at her side in the sun just as any other man would do. To walk as other men..... And above all she loved him with all that she had. Would never willingly see him hurt. Mary's words came back to him, "Have Faith"
Straightening to his full height and locking his eyes with hers Vincent said softly "What would you have me do? To walk with you in the sunlight is one of my greatest hopes and also one of my deepest fears. You have seen what will happen to me if I am caught Above. I know that you cannot have forgotten Professor Hughes and The Silks. You also know the depth of my love and trust for you. Because of that I will try"
Her eyes shining with love and tears, Catherine turned to the packages she had set down in the tunnel earlier. She drew out a full length winter coat. A stocking cap, gloves and long soft scarf in a deep blue were added. For the first time she looked at him shyly and blushing softly said "I know that you may feel uncomfortable without your cape but the coat is much more suited to this weather. Mary and I chose this color for the cap and scarf because it looks so good on you and because it matches the beautiful color of you eyes. I love to look at your eyes Vincent, I often get lost in them to the exclusion of all else. "
Even as tense as he was Vincent had to suppress a slight smile at that, Catherine always knew what to do to help alleviate his fears and lighten his mood.
It wasn't long before they were both ready. With the stocking cap pulled low on his head and the scarf drawn high on his face, the only thing that could be seen was Vincent's eyes and the bridge of his nose.
Once more Vincent's fears came to the fore "Catherine, you seem to have forgotten that my unusual appearance is evident across my nose as well, that it is exposed for anyone to see. I do not think this is wise."
"Vincent, you overestimate a stranger's interest in your appearance. I don't believe it will present a problem. But if we meet anyone and you feel uncomfortable we will come back. Allow us this experience, Please?" Catherine was sending him all of the love and assurance she could through the Bond and had to hope that it would be enough.
With a great sigh and the determination of a man going to his execution Vincent took that first step........
He was met with the wondrous sound of birdsong in the trees and the indescribable sight of Catherine standing in the sun. She had chosen to wear her cap so that it barely covered the crown of her head. The scarf loosely draped around her neck.
That first sight of her took his breath away. "Your hair, there are so many colors and shades......... and the sunlight on your skin is so beautiful." he sighed with wonder in his voice. He pulled her into a tight embrace and whispered "Thank you for this gift Catherine. If we were to go no further than this, you have given me something to treasure always"
Noticing an involuntary shiver from her, Vincent drew back from the embrace and used the same voice he would use on a recalcitrant child Below. "Catherine, you are cold, you should pull your cap and scarf more firmly around you." She gave him the same long sufffering look he would have received from said child, but complied with an impatient noise. This resulted in a quick grin from Vincent which, fortunately for him, was concealed by the warm softness covering those unique and beloved lips.
Soon they were walking arm in arm away from the drainage tunnel and into the park. Catherine had to suppress a fit of giggles as her love craned his head this way and that, making him look very much like an owl swiveling in search of prey. Everything was interesting to him. Several times he pointed out various spots that he favored during his evening walks in the park, exclaiming about how different they looked in the light of day. Several people passed by but did not even glance in their direction. They had been walking a while when a frisbee glanced off the edge of one of Vincent's boots. He froze in sudden trepidation as a young man came running up to them. Catherine could feel the bunching of his muscles as he felt the sudden urge to flee. She also felt the effort it took him to will those same muscles to relax to stop that urge as she sent soothing waves of calm through their Bond. The total stillness of his body remained. The young man stopped about fifteen feet from them with his hand out. "Hey man, can ya throw that back? My buddy and I were just getting ready to go play some disc golf"
Bending over, Vincent picked up the plastic disc with a look of question in his eyes to Catherine. She merely smiled and whispered "Just hold it horizontally and give a small flick of the wrist" He did so and was rewarded with a wonderful throw straight into the hands of the waiting teenager. Although she could not see his expression, Catherine was sure that he had enjoyed the encounter once the initial startlement had left him.
Acting on an impulse she called after the young man. "Would you like to play us a round?" Vincent turned wide blue eyes on her and started to back away but she held him firmly.
"Sure lady, come on. The course is just over the hill"
They trudged up the hill and converged with two young men who looked to be about 17 years old and introduced themselves as Eric and Keith. Vincent introduced himself and Catherine. Catherine took it upon herself to ask for instructions on how to play the game. The boys made no comment on Vincent's appearance and he was able to relax and simply allow himself to enjoy this rare feeling of freedom. It was not too long before the boys were banking shots off of nearby trees and otherwise showing off.
"I think they are trying to impress you Catherine" Vincent said in a low voice as once again one of the boys went into the bushes to retrieve a wild throw. The amusement contained there was evident and Catherine was thrilled that this walk in the park was going so well. She had rarely seen him so light of spirit and he was playing like a child. "Well why don't you impress me with a shot of your own then?" she answered back.
Never one to turn down such a challenge, on his next turn Vincent banked the shot off the trunk of a small tree and directly into the net. This was met with groans from the boys and both of them gave him a friendly punch in the arm much to his amazement.
Vincent noticed that the shadows of late afternoon were upon them and suggested to Catherine that it was time to depart.
Not until much later, after Catherine had returned to her apartment Above, and Vincent had settled with his journal and a hot cup of tea, did the reality of the day truly sink in. He found himself unable to pinpoint just exactly how he felt. There were many conflicting emotions vying for precedence. What had occurred in the park was something he had been convinced would never be his to experience. It filled him with the hope that other dreams just might be within the realm of possibility as well.
He started to write......
"Today Catherine brought yet another miracle into my life. I walked Above in the sun, unafraid for the first time. How many more miracles can be ours if only I can release my fear and allow it? I remember that I once said to her that one either moves towards love or away from it. I think we have made a major step towards love and I find that I am very much looking forward to that journey and all that it may bring..............."