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©Kimber - 2003

Mary looked at the tall, proud, powerful man standing before her. He looked resplendent in the tunnel finery she had lovingly sewn with her own hands but still plucking aimlessly at the fringe as he gazed in the mirror. She smiled and was struck suddenly with the image of this man as a small, helpless infant lying contentedly in her arms, curled hands tucked up under his small chin.

They had all been so concerned when he was first brought below but Mary more so because at that time, she was the only woman of an age and with the experience so she was chosen to be the child's primary caregiver alongside Jacob. Looking at him now she wondered where all the time had gone. In her mind she could still feel the soft, fine fur on his pudgy little cheeks and feel his breath on her neck as she rocked him to sleep at night.

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"Book please, Mary?" She turned to see him as a toddler standing in the doorway of her chamber holding "Goodnight Moon".

"Vincent, we have read that book so many times you could probably tell it to me." She chided the small child.

"Pleeeeeeeeeeeease?" His head tilted slightly to the side and his eyes gleamed. This is how it always started and she always read the book anyway.

"Alright you rascal, come here." He ran into her open arms and giggled as she lifted him in the air over her head and brought him down again to chomp playfully on his neck and ears. And they sat in her sewing chair together reading about the great green room and the red balloon.

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Then she was the one standing in a doorway. It was his first day of formal schooling and he would be in the classroom chamber for the entire morning. What would he be doing, would Constance know what to do if Vincent became upset? Would he be alright without her? For the first 5 years of his young life he had spent all of his time either in his chamber playing or in Father's library or in the small creche that was building slowly within the tunnel community which she herself ran.

She told herself 'He will be fine. He is a wonderful, friendly, well-liked, well behaved child...' 'But,' her little voice said 'He is so quiet and shy sometimes. So within himself and alone. Wanting so much to be accepted and be one of the gang but at the same time so scared of rejection.'

She had started to notice a pattern in Jacob's dealings with Vincent. His over-protectiveness and constant reminders of how different Vincent is from the others. 'One day I will have to speak to him about that.' She thought. Mary watched as her little boy walked slowly into the chamber, his eyes large and round over his high smooth cheekbones. Constance looked around and saw him approach one of the chairs in the circle. She turned and kneeled down.

"Good morning, Vincent! I'm so glad you can join us today. Father and Mary tell me you are very excited about starting lessons."

Vincent nodded "Yes ma'am."

"Great! Would you like to pick a seat? The others will be coming in soon and we will begin. Here is your nametag so everyone will know who you are." Constance smiled and drapped the yarn the tag hung from around his neck. Mary saw his face light up as he looked down at his tag. It was just like the rest of them on the table at the front. Exactly the same. He spun and began to run back to her. She kneeled down to greet him as well.

"Mary look! I have a nametag! Just like everyone else! So they will know who I am!"

She pulled him close and hugged him tight. "Yes, dear. It's a wonderful tag." Then she pushed him back a bit and straightened his tunic and tried to smooth down some of the hairs that had refused to be tamed by her brushing that morning. "Now you remember to listen to Constance and behave yourself in class."

Vincent reached up with his small hand and wiped a tear from her cheek. "Are you ok, Mary?"

"Yes sweetheart, I'm fine." She hugged him again and then turned him around. "Your friends are arriving now. You will know some of them from the creche but some will be new friends to meet. I will come back to get you after lunch." Somehow she couldn't make her hands release his shoulder.

She felt his raise again to cover hers. "I'll be ok. I love you, Mary".

Mary felt her throat begin to tighten as she said, "I love you too, Vincent." Then she gently nudged him forward and stood again to watch as he approached some of the children he knew and they compared name badges and chose where they would each sit.

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The scene faded and when it cleared she was looking into Father's Library. Jacob was sitting in his chair behind his desk. An open, unread book lay in his lap and his eyes stared blankly at the wall across the room. Up on the walkway sat Vincent, leaning against the bookcase, hugging his knees to his chest and hiding his face behind a soft wall of honey-blonde hair. It had been six months since Devin disappeared and everyone was sure that something had happen to him. No one spoke the words but they knew he was dead. Vincent looked up, hearing her approach. Mary smiled at him and held out her hand. He put his head down again for a moment, then looked down at his father sitting stonily in his chair where he had spent most of his time the last month. Vincent looked again into Mary's eyes and rose. Mary felt a hint of joy as she saw him make his way down the metal stairs. She left her hand out, giving him time to take it...or not. He put his hand in hers and she led him out into the hallway.

"Are you hungry, dear?" she asked quietly. Looking down she saw Vincent shake his head. She sighed. "Would you like to talk?" He shook his head again. They walked for a time in silence, hand in hand, neither of them going anywhere in particular.

Vincent suddently looked up and asked "Can I show you something?"

"Certainly, dear."

And Vincent began to lead them down. Mary recognized the Chamber of Winds as soon as they entered the passage leading to the stairway. Vincent stopped at the first stair and sat down. Mary sat down next to him and wrapped her shawl a little more tightly around her shoulders. Eventually Vincent began speaking of carrousels and clasp knives and what it meant to have a family. Mary listened and nodded and let him talk.

When he stopped she knew as she felt his shoulders begin to shake that he had finally come to the core of it. She reached out and wrapped her arms around him, pulling him gently to her. He lay his head down on her lap and cried six months worth of tears into her skirt. All the while Mary hummed softly and rubbed his back or smoothed his hair.

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Lifting her head she saw a shadow on the wall across from her chamber door. It moved slowly and she heard heavy raspy breathing. For a moment Mary was afraid. There had been strangers making attempts to enter the tunnels for several days now and she feared that this may be one of them. She moved quietly to the wall beside the door and listened carefully. Suddenly she knew it wasn't one of the strangers. Just as she moved into the doorway Vincent collapsed on the floor of the hallway at her feet. "Vincent!!!!" Dropping to her knees she saw blood covering him and, began to shake. "Oh dear Lord, please don't take my boy!" Rising quickly Mary grabbed the short metal rod hanging from the pipe overhead and tapped rapidly for help. Then she returned to Vincent and began to look for the wounds that were producing all this blood. But as she moved her fingers over his skin she began to realize that the blood wasn't his. Tentatively, she reached out to take his hand. There was massive amounts of blood and small pieces of tissue under his nails. "My poor baby..." Tears flowed freely from her eyes, dropping on his hands, making trails in the blood. Father was hurrying up the hallway now with two of the stronger men carrying a stretcher.

"What happened?!" He said between breaths as he struggled to kneel by his son's side.

Mary put a hand on Jacob's arm. "It's not his." She raised her eyes to meet his. Father struggled to grasp what she was saying when Troy, one of the runners, came to a stop in front of the group.

"Two strangers...with guns...back up the passageway...they're dead...tore up bad."

Everyone looked down at Vincent moaning and tossing his head on the floor and Mary tore a strip from her apron. Bringing it to her lips to wet it, she began to clean some of the blood, sweat and dirt from Vincent's face. Father looked up at the larger of the two men. "Winslow, could you please help me up?" He leaned heavily on Winslow's arm and his own cane for a moment, watching Mary continue to wipe Vincent's forehead. Then he motioned to them to put the stretcher down and move Vincent onto it. "Let's take him home now." Mary looked at the 19 year old boy who had been suddenly aged beyond all their comprehensions in a single brief moment. Taking his hand in hers she walked beside his stretcher back to the hospital chamber.

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When she opened her eyes she was standing in the doorway of the Chamber of the Falls. Scanning the ledge she saw him sitting by his favorite rock looking at something in his hand. She made an effort to make some noise as she approached, knowing his ears could easily pick up her footsteps without any extra efforts. He shifted aside a bit to allow her to sit on the rock next to him, his height bringing him on a level with her shoulders.

Mary reached out to smooth a stray hair on his head and asked quietly. "Can I see what has you so engrossed that you missed your Kipling class with the children today?"

His head snapped up breifly and then sunk again, his long hair dropping down to hide his face, now red with embarassment. "I will have to appologize to Kipper at dinner this evening. He was looking forward to reading today."

"Father covered for you. And Kipper read wonderfully. I can tell he's been practicing."

"But it was my responsibility..." Mary cut him off.

"Yes, it was. And you will appologize, but the world didn't come to a crashing halt. You are allowed a mistake once in a while, you know."

His head bounced as he laughed softly. He looked up and presented her with the object of his undivided attention. A lovely carved ivory rose.

Mary reached for it gently "May I?" Vincent nodded and placed it in her open hand.

She ran her fingers over the intricate work and smiled. "Should I ask who gave this to you?" She looked up and caught his eye just as Vincent bowed his head again.

"Yesterday was the anniversary of the day Catherine came into my life. She chose to celebrate this day with me and we exchanged gifts."

"It's is a true statement of her feelings for you that your relationship overshadows the horrors of that day for her." She put her hand down and lifted his chin. "Wouldn't you say?"

"She is a remarkable, strong, generous woman." he said tossing her statement aside with a gesture of his head.

Mary smiled and handed him back the rose. "Is that what this gift is then, a mere gesture of generocity? Perhaps with a dabbling of gratitude? A dime store novelty to be handed out to the bellhop who carries her luggage and the young man who delivers her dinner?"

Vincent put the rose delicatly back in the bag hung around his neck and rose from the spot where he sat. She could tell from the set of his shoulders that he was agitated, even annoyed with her or with himself, or both. She pushed herself up from the rock and walked over to him, wrapping her shawl more tightly around herself. "I'm going to go get ready for dinner." She reached up and rubbed his back softly. "You should come to. You have some things to tend to."

He nooded and looked out at the falls in front of him. Mary turned and strode out the door.

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And now here he stands before her. Regal and strong, confident in himself but still enough of the boy left to have the crevat half taken apart with all of his fussing. Mary went to him, took his hands down and dropped them at his side. "Stop that child or you're going to have all that lace it took me so long to made torn to shreds. And I will not answer to Catherine if you show up to her wedding in tatters."

He chuckled and bent to her ministrations. "And do I, the groom, have no credit in this affair?"

Mary snorted back "As long as you made that poor girl wait you should consider yourself lucky you're invited to the ceremony." She finished the crevat and swatted his broad shoulder. "There. Now DON'T TOUCH IT!" She brushed at his vest and smoothed down his hair. "It never would lay still." She mumbled half to herself.

Vincent reached out and took both her hands in his. "No, it never would, would it." He looked into her eyes and gently held her gaze. He led her to the large chair in his chamber and helped her sit. He walked over to the closet and pulled out a neatly wrapped gift. Walking over Vincent knelt at Mary's feet and presented her with the package. Mary sat up in surprise.

"Why...what ever is this for?"

Vincent laughed. "Just open it."

Mary carefully opened the package with shaking fingers wondering what in the world it could be. As soon as she saw the brightly colored cover of the cardboard book her face broke into a huge, warm smile. She lifted the new copy of "Goodnight Moon" and opened the front cover. There inside, in elegant, familiar handwritting were the words: "Thank you, Mother. I love you"

With tears rolling down her face Mary reached out and pulled Vincent into hug, trying so hard not to cry. "I love you too, my son." She rested her cheek on the top of his head just as she used to when he was small and held him tight. Rocking quietly and humming.

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