Vincent waited for a count of ten, stretching his hearing to the first floor and above in Catherine's home. No one had yet arrived so he motioned to Skeeter and Joey to go on up the outside entrance a block away and sit on the front steps. The scientist from UNCLE wanted to talk with them about their finding of the first two rats. They had another pair that had just been captured in sector twelve and he hoped that Dr. Kuryakin found nothing wrong with them.
However, he feared the worst.
Still not hearing anything, he mounted the basement steps and headed for the study and the two-way mirror that Catherine had installed. On the living room side, it hung above the fireplace but in the study, it was set into the wall between the floor to ceiling bookcases. A vent in the wall allowed him to hear and the mirror to see all that went on in the front room.
And he had a clear exit to the basement through the kitchen if danger threatened.
The opening of the front door caught him in mid-thought and he tensed only to relax at the sweet laughter from his Catherine as the boys told her an old joke they'd just heard. Someone else's laughter joined hers and he wondered if it was the April Dancer that she'd mentioned before. But a moment later, he saw all four of them enter the living room.
Feasting his eyes on Catherine, he contrasted the two women, one so blond and petite with the other tall and dark. They were both graceful but Miss Dancer moved like her name. Her face was bright and vivacious, her voice mellow. But his ear was drawn to Catherine's husky tones and his eyes to her beautiful gaze. She was looking straight into the mirror as if she could feel his presence the way he always did hers.
Perhaps the bond was beginning to work both ways?
Another knock at the door and Vincent tensed again. This would be the Doctor and his partner, the one Catherine said flirted with her. He watched through the glass as the two entered the same contrast between them as there was between Catherine and April. Light and dark, solemn and laughing, such interesting contradictions that had led to a team that Catherine called the best that UNCLE had.
Then the slight blond smiled shyly at April's teasing and Vincent saw what Catherine had seen. He was hesitant while his partner was bold. Quiet while Napoleon Solo was talkative. But there was intelligence in both the strong faces and he found himself watching them instead of the others. There was something between them like the bond that he and Catherine shared.
They finished each other's sentences and asked the same question differently to gage the succeeding answers. The scientist came to the fore when the boys brought out the box with the new dead rats the sentry had found near the entrance to sector twelve. The three of them bent over the box and the doctor put on a pair of black framed glasses while April and Mr. Solo exchanged a grin that told Vincent that they were used to Dr. Kuryakin's scientist persona.
"I'll need to take them back to the lab for tests but see the sores just under the chin, here and here." The scientist had drawn on a pair of latex gloves and stopped the boys from touching the rats again. "Did you pick them up with your bare hands?"
Joey shook his dark head vigorously and Skeeter answered. "Nope. Catherine said to be careful if we found more so we just found some newspaper and picked them up with that. Then after we put them in the box, we put the paper in the trash. Was that okay?"
The smile was back, the one that Vincent was drawn to. "That was very much all right. You have the scientific bent. Thank you for bringing them so promptly to Miss Chandler. If there are any others found, please send word to her right away. So far, my tests have found several very nasty diseases have been incubated within them. Do you know what incubated means?"
Joey nodded and ventured an answer. "They inject them with a germ or a bac-bact-rea and the hot insides cooked them into a disease."
Dr. Kuryakin smiled gently. "Bacteria, Joey. And that is an excellent description of what incubating a disease is. Your teachers should be very proud of you. The problem is that the disease can be transmitted through touch and in some cases by saliva or even the very air we breathe."
"Saliva is like spit, right?" Skeeter asked.
The scientist nodded. "Exactly, Skeeter. And sometimes, you don't know it's there after it's dried but it can still be dangerous. You might want to find another place to play for awhile until we can figure out why these rats are showing up near here."
The two little boys immediately looked at Catherine and she gathered them into her arms in a gentle hug. "Not to worry, guys. We're going to find out why real soon. Now, how about we go out to the kitchen and get some cookies for you to take home."
The dark haired agent didn't begin to pace until the three of them left the room. "Damn it, Illya. They're just the same as the others. What the hell is THRUSH thinking to keep releasing them in neighborhoods like this?"
April was perched on the arm of the winged chair where Dr. Kuryakin was sitting. "We don't know for sure where they are being found. Catherine's been pretty cagey about where the boys play."
"There is something they are all three hiding." The scientist
was leaning back against the chair, his eyes closed and his skin pale.
Vincent saw the glance shared between the two dark haired agents before April dropped a kiss on the fair hair and got up to leave for the kitchen. He tensed as he realized that his escape route was cut off momentarily then calmed. Catherine wouldn't allow that to last very long.
"Illyusha, is the headache back again?" Solo was seated on the coffee table his hands peeling the latex gloves off his partner's hands and throwing them into the box with the rats.
"A little, Pasha. Don't be such a worry-wart." His smile was affectionate.
"Nonsense, I'm just making sure that nothing interferes with our quiet evening at home." Solo was rubbing one of Illya's with both of his. "Your hands are like ice."
"At least it's not my feet this time."
The teasing note was one that Vincent heard quite often from Catherine and he wondered what feeling lay beneath the common place words. He watched curiously while the two men gazed at each other. He'd never seen such emotions between two men before. But when Solo kissed the hand he was holding before letting it go and warming the other one, Vincent realized that he was seeing something rare that he should have never witnessed.
Dropping his eyes, he listened to the two boys leaving with their cookies while Catherine said goodbye. The sound of clinking cups told him that tea preparations were underway and soon he'd need to be on his way. But he wanted to know what the other agents thought so he risked a glance back through the mirror in time to see the dark senior agent lightly kiss the scientist on the lips before taking April's place on the chair arm.
Vincent sighed soundlessly and wondered if they had as much trouble being together as he and Catherine had. He wished wistfully that he could be open with his Catherine, sit down to tea with these new friends of her and sit with his hand on her shoulder the way Solo had done with the doctor.
"Here we go, gentlemen. I made the cookies myself but don't let that put you off trying them. No matter what April says, I have gotten better over time." Catherine stuck out her tongue at the laughing agent.
"I would never dare denigrate someone who cooks. Illya cooks best in our kitchen." Solo wagged his finger at April before accepting a cup of tea.
"Ah, but that's not what you said last night." Dr. Kuryakin's side way's glance was one that Vincent recognized from Catherine's gentle teasing.
April broke into infectious peals of laughter while Solo paused with teacup in air, a surprised look on his face. Catherine was giggling now as well and when Illya smiled sweetly and took the cup out of his partner's hand, Vincent was hard pressed to keep his own mirth silent.
"Catherine, if I may be so bold," the doctor asked permission to use her name and took the wave of her hand as a yes, "don't you think it's time that our watcher joined us for this discussion?"
The silence was deafening and Vincent held his breath, watching the blue eyed gaze come to his through the opaque mirror. How could he have known?
"I felt something down below where we found other rats. The old records in the City of New York Historical Society's special collections show a series of underground tunnels but there are no schematics or even a drawing or two that might show where they are. There was a watcher maybe more when we invaded with our bright lights and collection boxes." He spoke gently but authoritatively and his gaze never left Vincent's even though he knew that he could not be seen.
Catherine was on her feet and at the doorway that led to the kitchen but her eyes remained on the agents. Raising her voice slightly, she spoke up. "Vincent, it's up to you. I think we can trust them and they need to know what faces them. And we need to know if we're being targeted."
Vincent was caught on the horns of a dilemma that immobilized him. Stay or flee. There was something in those steady blue eyes, compassion perhaps or maybe the knowledge of what it was like to be different that made him want to stay. Father's teachings told him to leave right now. But Catherine's steady belief in him softened that response with the desire to be a part of this team of individuals who was working to save his world even though they didn't know it.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped out of one door and into the hall that would bring him to the entrance Catherine guarded. Standing behind her, he gently laid his hands on her shoulders and watched the agent's reactions. April's eyes were wide and her lips shaped a perfect 'o'. Solo's gaze was sharp and cold, his eyes squinting slightly as if determined to examine him down to the molecular level.
But it was the delighted smile on the scientist's face that told him he'd done the right thing. Kuryakin put down his cup, rose from the chair and gracefully walked around the furniture to Catherine. "I am very glad to meet you, Vincent. How very sad that you must hide your existence but thank you for allowing us to help you and ... others?"
Vincent felt a rush of relief that almost overwhelmed him and he realized it was a combined feeling from both he and Catherine. He nodded shyly. "Yes, our community is one that shuns the world Above as they have shunned us."
The blond nodded solemnly. "It took great courage to reveal yourself but I'd already begun to suspect that this campaign of biological terror was designed for a very specific population."
"Too bad you didn't tell the rest of us." Solo's voice was neutral but Vincent heard the note of hurt and Illya must have as well because he went back to his side immediately.
"I'm sorry, Pasha, but it was just a feeling that kept growing and you know how I like to do my research." He laid a gentle hand on the rigid shoulder and Vincent felt the tension run out of the dark haired agent. "Besides, I was waiting for proof and now we have it. Although, I'm betting that we will have to keep this world a secret?"
Catherine leaned back against him with a sigh and grasped one of his hands in both of hers. "We would appreciate it, Illya. I expect you'll have to tell Mr. Waverly but he's someone that even Father could respect."
"But your father is dead, Catherine." April had gotten some of her aplomb back.
"True. The leader of the community is known as Father to everyone. His name is Jacob Wells and he rescued Vincent as a baby and raised him." Catherine collapsed almost thirty years of history to one sentence.
"Well, I wondered why you weren't dating and I can certainly see why." April winked at them and moved to the other chair so they'd have a place to sit.
Catherine tugged him further into the room and Vincent sat uncertainly down on the edge of the sofa. They all sat down and picked up their teacups while Catherine brought out his favorite mug, the one with the big handle. Vincent kept his eyes down since he was uncomfortable with being the target of so many gazes.
"Sorry, Vincent but you're too beautiful not to expect a glance or two." April's surprising statement brought his head back up while Catherine crowed with laughter.
"That's what I keep telling him, April but he doesn't believe
me." Her gaze was fondly affectionate and she leaned into his side,
warming him with her love.
"Exotic and very beautiful but we need to talk about the danger of the current predicament rather than why you've been keeping him under wraps." April still smiled but her eyes were serious.
"I can think of one very good reason THRUSH would want to get rid of your community, Vincent. Access." Illya sipped his tea.
"Underground access to UNCLE headquarters." Solo nodded. "Also, their 'disappearance' from known haunts might lead us to think that they were hurt much worse than they really are."
"They clean out the old tenants and move right in so we don't see them coming." April sighed. "Same old thing, retreat and ambush. They never learn."
"But now we can plan a counter offensive without them realizing their plan has been discovered." Illya pointed out. "Napoleon is very good at that."
His partner glared at him. "Not if we have to keep the field of operations secret from our own people."
"You will find a way, Pasha." He smiled up at him then back to Vincent. "There is an entrance to the tunnels here, yes?"
"Yes, it's one of the reasons that Catherine was able to buy this house. A former Helper sold it to her to keep it in the ... family." Vincent finally took a sip of his cooling tea.
"Good. Then it will not be odd if we are seen to come and go from here. How soon can you get approval from your father to let the three of us come visit?" Illya finished his tea and leaned back with a sigh.
Vincent and Catherine exchanged a long look. "Resistance will be high but once he knows that I have been ... accepted ... by you, he and the council should relent."
"The planned genocide of his people should be a rather effective bargaining chip." Solo said dryly. "Call us when you have permission and we'll return. It's time we were on our way."
Vincent nodded and within five minutes he was alone with Catherine, enjoying one of her hugs. It had been a surprising afternoon but he was looking forward to showing Illya his world. The delight he'd been greeted with was something to treasure. He was also looking forward to watching the duel between Father and Solo. Life had suddenly gotten very interesting ... and even more dangerous.
End of part four