Vincent hesitated the way he always did when he approached the underground entrance to Catherine's new home. Part of him could not believe that he would be welcome while the rest of him embraced the idea, with a passion he only now felt he could show. A happy glow filled their bond and he was warmed by her happiness, hurrying his steps to the old wooden door that opened into the unused basement.
"Vincent!" Her voice welcomed him and he held out his arms for the hug he knew was coming.
For long moments, he hugged her close, enjoying her clean, fresh scent. She was a delight for all his senses and he felt her lips against the pulse in his throat. Shivering at the unexpected touch, he rested his cheek on her silky hair. "How was your day, Catherine?"
"Long and partly boring." The soft murmur sighed. "But I gave the rats to the scientist I told you about."
"Un-uh, Illya Kuryakin. He's only been back a week or so after recovering from a gunshot wound. His nickname is the Ice Prince among some of the others but I think he's just very shy." She pulled away just a little and looked up with a smile. "April told me that he was orphaned at a very young age and raised in one of the gulags in Siberia. That might make anyone a little unsure of others."
"But you trust him?" Vincent was still uncomfortable with some of the people with whom she now worked.
She thought for a moment before nodding decisively. "Yes, I think I do. He doesn't flirt with me like his charming partner does. And he always looks so surprised when someone compliments him as if he weren't used to being praised. Illya reminds me of you, really."
"In a good way, I hope." Vincent returned her smile.
"Always, love." Coming up onto her tiptoes, she brushed a kiss over his cheek. "Now, come upstairs and help me cook dinner. You can stay, can't you?"
"Yes, although I don't know how much help I will be." Vincent let himself be tugged towards the stairs.
"You get the pleasure of mincing the vegetables while I brown the meat and onions. It's stew tonight since that's one of the only things I really know how to cook." She laughed down into his face from two steps up. "But then you knew that."
He shook his head ruefully, remembering her last attempt at making omelets. He hadn't known that eggs could get that black and burned. "This sounds like something that we can both enjoy. Lead me to your vegetables."
At the top of the stairs, she took his cloak from him and frowned at him until he removed his heavy vest as well. The room was warm enough he didn't need them but each layer shed left him feeling more and more vulnerable. But she pretended not to notice his disquiet, tying a simple white apron around his waist and handing him a knife.
They worked in contented silence until Vincent had chopped up all the carrots, potatoes and cabbage. The smell of lightly sizzling hamburger and crisp onion filled the room. A can of pinto beans went into the large pot then all the vegetables and enough water to fill the pot. He watched Catherine ponder the spice rack with a little frown on her forehead.
Her hair was slightly disarrayed where one hand had pushed her bangs back. Her hand hovered between two jars in the old wooden rack on the wall by the refrigerator then with a quick sigh, she pulled them both off along with a third. He watched her throw in a pinch of basil, another of thyme and finished up by crumpling in a bay leaf.
"There!" She put the lid on and turned the rapidly boiling stew down to a simmer. "We've got about an hour and a half until we can eat. I've got a movie that I think you'll like. Come on into the den."
Taking her hand, Vincent followed her into the rather dark room in the middle of the first floor of the brownstone. It was the farthest from the tunnel entrance that he had been in her new home and it still made him feel a little uncertain. But the joy on her face was worth any small danger to him.
"This is a classic, Vincent. I must have watched it a hundred times and it still makes me cry at the end." She slipped the medium sized black cassette into a machine beneath the TV before turning them on and coming back to sit. Curling up beside him on the sofa, she snuggled into his side and pointed the remote control at the machine.
"Is it very sad, Catherine?" He could not understand watching something that made you cry.
"Yes and no. The ending just appeals to the romantic in me. After I met you, I thought maybe we'd be like them but we chose differently. Thank God." She tightened her hold on his shirt and tried to get closer. "I am eternally grateful that you let me in."
"It was the only option that would leave me my sanity." Vincent dared to nuzzle a kiss into the shiny hair at his shoulder. "Anything else was unthinkable. Even Father finally had to agree."
"There's still a battle isn't there, Vincent?" Her sigh was almost too faint to hear.
"Small skirmishes, perhaps. At the moment, Mary's behavior has him so confused that all his energy is focused elsewhere." Vincent couldn't help a little chuckle at the disconcerting overturning of several customs below.
"Sh-h-h, tell me over dinner. The movie is starting."
And he watched the black and white movie called 'Casablanca' begin.
He was washing up after a long day of moving rock from the six new chambers when the first trickle of unease filtered through their bond. Tilting his head, he tried to catch what shape the fear might be taking but it stayed silent. Then a clear picture of a telephone was sent to his mind.
The telepathy between them was increasing as their physical relationship progressed. He finished washing and pulled a clean shirt from his wardrobe. Tucking the tails into his work pants, he decided to make the trip Above without his customary layers. Leaving his room, he almost ran into Mary.
"Going Above, Vincent?" She asked him sweetly.
"Yes, Catherine needs me. Is there something I can do for you Above?" He hesitated at the slow smile that blossomed across her face.
"Thank you, Vincent. If you could give her this note for me, I'd very much appreciate it. She and I have a little project that's progressing quite nicely." Handing him a small envelope, she patted his cheek and went off down the tunnel humming a tune that Vincent didn't know.
Smiling a little, he hurried on to the short tunnel that led up to Catherine's brownstone. Using his advanced hearing, he made sure that the brownstone was empty before entering and mounting the stairs. In the kitchen, he took a deep breath and picked up the phone, carefully dialing the number at UNCLE that Catherine had given him. The sexless operator asked for an extension and he gave her the four digits. In another moment, he heard Catherine's voice.
"Catherine. I need you to bring home some milk." He used their code phrase.
"Hi, Vincent. I'm going to be a little late this evening. I have to show Dr. Kuryakin where the kids were playing."
She sounded a little tense to him and he thought about the culvert where they'd found the rats. "That's all right, Catherine. The stew will keep until you get home. Is everything all right?"
"I'm not very happy about what the good doctor found inside the rats but I'll tell you about it after dinner. Do we have bread or should I stop at the bakery?"
"I'm baking rolls. All we need is milk." He decided to check the fridge for the crescent rolls that she enjoyed and usually kept on hand.
"You're an angel, Vincent. I love you."
He hesitated, wondering if someone might be listening in then threw caution to the wind. "I love you too, Catherine. Hurry home."
"Bye, love. See you soon."
"Goodbye, Catherine." He heard the click on the other end and hung up the receiver. Looking around the brightly painted kitchen, he decided to set the table and get the rolls ready for the oven.
An hour later, she rushed through the front door and threw herself into his arms. "Hold me, Vincent."
He hugged her tight, his hand stroking the golden hair. "I'm here, Catherine. It will be all right."
"It's horrible." Her voice was muffled in his shirt. "The rats were infected with some kind of bacteria. Illya called it ... enteritis or something like that. It's some kind of bacterium that's highly contagious and often fatal to humans. And they were sent down to the tunnels on purpose."
Vincent shivered and held her tighter. "You took Dr. Kuryakin to the culvert?"
She nodded and pulled back enough to look up at him. "UNCLE will be out in force tomorrow so we'll need to call a Silence for the time that outsiders are in the outer tunnels. Father will probably blame me."
"Hush, Catherine. You saved us from another epidemic. He will be grateful."
"Maybe." She noticed the table settings and smiled up at him. "Let's eat dinner before we go Below. I need some fortification before talking to the Council."
"Agreed. The rolls will take ten minutes to bake so you have time to change clothes and shed the office."
"I do love you, Vincent." And standing on tiptoe, she kissed him gently before leaving the room.
He cataloged all the sensations of her lips on his before shaking himself out of the reverie that kissing her always produced. Each one was different and special, not something he ever thought to experience. Putting in the rolls, he turned up the heat on the stew and brought the bowls over to the counter for filling.
"Okay, I feel better. You were right. Did Mary by any chance send up something for me?" She pulled the iced tea from the fridge and poured them both a glass.
"Yes, indeed." He patted his pockets and handed her the envelope. Watching her from the corner of his eye, he pondered her almost feline smile.
"I'm looking forward to this visit." She tucked the note into her jeans pocket. "You're an angel to have dinner ready. Let's eat so we can get Below."
They ate while planning the strategy of keeping the underground community safe from the searchers. She broached the possibility of letting the Russian doctor in on their secret but he shook his head, knowing what Father would say. She accepted his belief but he could see that she had reservations.
Finishing the kitchen clean up, Catherine got a jacket and they headed for the confrontation Below.
End of part two