Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Ten: "I Don't Want To Lose You."


Dorcan woke up slowly, his ears ringing. He was seeing six of everything, which didn't bother him too much since there wasn't a whole lot to see at the time. After a while, his eyes focused on the chain. There was a heavy linked chain bolted to the floor, and it was shackled to his ankle. Realization struck him and he looked up quickly, at the high smooth walls of the cell he found himself in. It was almost pitch black, but every Shinobi knew how to see in the dark, and he could make out the heavy oak door above. He was locked in the Oubliette. "HEY! Lemme out of here!"
The hatch opened, and Yasi stared down at him. "What took you so long, Dorcan?" She demanded. "I told you to watch our two guests. I told you to protect them. I told you that they were a target, and we couldn't be sure of all our own. I trusted you with this. We were worried somebody might come up behind them and put a knife in their backs… instead, they're in the middle of an open attack on the entire Underside. Why'd it take you so long to get there?"
Dorcan looked up blearily. "You're not seriously telling me…" He gaped. "You don't honestly think that I'm the one who…"
Yasi started counting on her fingers. "You were the one that told me the nets had been winched out of the way, you were the one that-"
"The one that saved Vincent and Connie when they were too frozen to save themselves!" Dorcan shot back.
"Yes, but we know that Vincent wasn't the target of the attack. It was a diversion. So I want to know where you were, for those three minutes while the Riverfolk were scaring the hell out of everyone when you should have been hiding in Vincent's shadow."
"They were taking the elevators up to their chamber when you left, then Connie changed her mind and jumped to one going the other way." Dorcan called up. "I was supposed to watch them both, and they split up! What was I supposed to do?"
"Exactly what you did, but I'm wondering if you weren't doing something else at the time too." Yasi was merciless.
"Yasi, I've been your second for years! You've known me my whole life." Dorcan snapped.
"I remember." Yasi nodded. "And I also remember that you didn't put your name forward to be my second until three years ago. Within a few months of this whole thing starting, in fact." She glared at him. "What was your real reason for suddenly being at my back the whole time?"
Dorcan's mouth shut with an audible sound as his teeth slammed together sharply.
Yasi nodded. "Okay. Talk to you again soon, Dorcan."
And the hatch swung shut with a resonant bang.
~oo00oo~
"He might have a far more innocent ulterior motive for wanting to get close to you, y'know." Keeper challenged.
"I know." Yasi admitted. "It's threatened to be a problem for a while, but I can't trust anything else he says right now."
"He likes you, that's hardly a threatening problem." Keeper caught her arm. "Yasi, my dear... do we need to have a conversation?"
Yasi tensed. "About?"
"It's no secret that Dorcan was a little sweet on you. Good looking man, someone you trust, you're in a high-placed job, don't have a lot of confidants... you have a tough day, you decide to talk to someone, you realize he's the only one around..."
"I haven't told Dorcan anything he couldn't have got from his post."
"Nothing?"
"No."
Keeper just looked at her, until even Yasi wilted a little under the fierce glare. "What?"
"We talked about this, about you keeping everything close to your chest. We talked about you trusting your people, and showing them that you trust them... This was a big night, for good and bad reasons..."
Yasi wondered sometimes how much Keeper knew. For sure she knew the answer to every question she asked. "Spit it out, Keep."
"I know you've already confided in someone, and it wasn't me or Archivist..."
Yasi wanted to look at her feet for some reason, but she spoke the truth. "It was Vincent."
"You want to know how many ways that's a bad idea? Getting chummy with him?"
"He's not the bad guy, Keeper."
"He's not exactly one of the good guys either. At least, not one of our good guys." Keeper shot back.
"He's proven himself to be a friend to us, and trustworthy with our secrets. As of now, we can't say that about our good guys, let alone anyone from the surface, or any other Underside out there."
"He froze during the fight, he froze at the jump during your little initiation test two years ago."
"How the hell do you know about that?"
"I know everything." Keeper softened, at least for her. "Yasi, this is me you're talking to. Why Vincent?"
Yasi sighed hard. "There's nothing going on between me and him."
"No, there isn't. If there were, I would have put a swift, brutal stop to it long before now, but you've never been this open with anyone before. Why him?"
Yasi struggled with the question for a second. "I... I never really thought about it before, but maybe... maybe, because he isn't one of us. Maybe because with everyone here, all the Lostkind... I can't be relaxed when I'm the Captain of the Shinobi. Vincent didn't have a clue what a Shinobi was when we became friends."
"And the fact that he can't be relied on?"
"If I need a warrior, I look in a mirror." Yasi scorned. "Have I ever needed someone to look after me?"
"Constantly, but not like that." Keeper shot back and rose to her feet. "So. Where the hell did that attack come from? You and Watcher were so convinced that someone had cleaned out the River and lower levels. You said that the Riverfolk weren't there any more."
"We thought that because we found a bunch of Riverfolk bodies." Yasi nodded. "And at the same time, there was dead silence from the River. So I figured something had happened to them. They can't go the surface and survive the pressure change, so if someone was kicking them out, the only place they could go is here."
"So. We know they're still down there. We know they had casualties long before they came up. What's option three?"
"That someone has taken over, down below our feet." Yasi nodded tightly. "But we can handle the River with a few more Razor Nets. It's a blow, but one we can handle."
~oo00oo~
With some of the ropelines severed, and neither Connie or Vincent able to scale the walls as easily as the Lostkind, the most convenient private place to talk was at the stall the two of them had taken refuge in.
"You really think Dorcan is working for Vandark?" Vincent asked. "I mean, he did sort of save my life today."
"Yeah, but we know they weren't after you." Yasi responded. "I've known him for years, trained him myself. I can't believe he's a traitor either, I just can't see any more likely suspects out there."
"We'll find out eventually." Keeper said coldly. "I told him to keep an eye on you and Connie. But it took him a few minutes to get to the Seven Steps when the Riverfolk attacked. Where was he for those few minutes?"
"Owen's escape could have been anyone. The fight was far from there. Anyone could have got the door open."
"Doesn't matter." Yasi said. "We won."
"Won?" Vincent repeated. "We lost Owen, we lost two Shinobi… where did we go right?"
Connie looked cannily at Yasi. "You found something, didn't you? In Owen's locker. Something that changes the whole game."
"No." Yasi said. "Something that wins it."
~oo00oo~
"We've got the information." Yasi waved the package victoriously. "All the secret ways in and out that he spent two years finding, we got all of it. I don't know how much Owen had committed to memory, but I highly doubt he would have written so much of it down if it was enough to be worried about."
"Owen must be freaking out, trying to decide what to tell Vandark." Keeper cackled. "I'm told he doesn't have a 'shoot the messenger' policy, but do you really wanna find out?"
"Does this mean we did it?" Vincent asked, delighted. "I mean… Owen will never get away with that trick twice, surely…"
"He tries, you know where to find me." Yasi chuckled. "We did it. The real question is what to do next."
Everyone turned that over in their heads for a moment.
"Yasi." Archivist interrupted powerfully. "Take the civilians home."
Vincent and Connie reacted with surprise. "Now?"
"The danger is over." Archivist reasoned. "You two have lives of your own that you're on the verge of screwing up, and Owen is still at large. If he tries to get back into the City Planners Office to recreate the information we lost, Vincent can find out. If not, Vandark will almost certainly kill him for blowing the whole plan. The crisis is over. Go home, declare victory, get some sleep."
"You've done us a fantastic turn today, and like as not saved this place." Keeper put in. "We got long memories down here, and it's probably a good idea that you take some time to sort yourselves out before you come back."
"Come back?" Vincent and Connie both repeated in unison, though Vincent sounded a good deal more hopeful.
"Hate to say it, but this whole thing could have been over a year ago if we'd sought Vincent's help when we had the chance. I was the vote against bringing him back in on it while Owen was there watching." Keeper conceded, looking to Vincent. "I wish I liked you more, but it's probably a good idea to have someone in the City Planner's Office."
Yasi met Keeper's gaze. Was that true, or was the old woman giving Yasi a legitimate reason to keep Vincent around? Either way, Yasi gave away nothing.
"And as for you, Connie; well... we've wanted to recruit you for three years." Keeper continued.
"You have?" Connie and Vincent said in shared disbelief.
Archivist nodded. "I suggested it. Tecca and Wotcha thought highly of you."
"They were watching me at the Clinic?" Connie stared at him. "What did they say?"
"They said that you had the gift of empathy, and that you had love for strangers. That's a rare prize. Tecca said that you always remember the kid's names, and that you sat and read with them while their parents were with the doctor."
Connie looked down. "Family member with a fatal disease needs to go to the free clinic... Doesn't seem right to leave their kids alone."
Vincent watched the Triumvirate subtly. They liked that answer. "So, now that we know; now that we've been here, is the offer still open?"
Yasi looked at Archivist. Archivist looked at Keeper. Keeper glared at Yasi. "Take them home."
Yasi was on her feet instantly. "Yes'm." She led the way out, Connie and Vincent following.
"I thought you didn't like him." Archivist said to Keeper as soon as the door closed.
"I don't." Keeper said immediately. "But... Yasi likes him."
Archivist smiled broadly. "You old softie."
"Don't spread that around." Keeper sighed. "My little attempts to push her and Dorcan closer together seem to have backfired spectacularly, and against all natural laws she seems to trust the yutz from Upside... and he did help us out. Twice now."
Archivist was still smiling broadly at her.
"Stop that." She growled. "I'm not being nice to him, I'm just looking out for Yasi. I don't want her moping."
"Was she moping two years ago?"
"Not as such, no." Keeper admitted. "Things might be different now, and I figured – Stop smiling at me! – I figured handling the people who work here is my job."
"Yes, of course it is." He made no effort to hide his amusement. "But of course, you have to tell Yasi that you're against it."
"If I told her anything else she'd push back. This way it's her idea."
"Has it occurred to you that we could all save ourselves a lot of time and effort if we just said what we thought?"
"Ahh, but then we wouldn't really be Lostkind, would we?"
"You're a good girl." He told her primly.
"Well, you didn't marry me for my money." Keeper demurred. "And stop smiling at me!"
~oo00oo~
"Put your paws down, Vincent." Connie said lightly as they walked. "You've been drooling like you smell a roast dinner ever since Keeper said you might get to come back."
"Oh, come on. You don't want to see more?" Vincent waved a hand around at the Market and its stalls. Life was returning to normal in the Underside after the attack.
"I've seen plenty." Connie retorted. "I saw kids in Halloween costumes killing people. I saw ninja jumping across rooftops and coming into our home with swords..."
"You've seen the worst day we've had in decades." Yasi retorted. "This isn't our life. What you saw before the attack, down on the Seven Steps? Lots of trading, music, traffic... That was our real life. We laugh, we cry, we hurt, we love... Just like anyone else does. We're not so different, we just live a few feet out of sight."
"I know, I know..." Connie admitted. "But I got a job, and I got a life, and I like where I am with both of them. I don't want to get a second job that involves sneaking through sewer grates when nobody's looking."
Yasi nodded. "Sure. Most people wouldn't, which is why we almost never ask. Think about that for a second. You got an offered something that several million people would never know was possible."
"Yeah, but... I didn't get an offer. I got drafted the second the Riverfolk broke into our apartment." Connie retorted. "And maybe what happened today means they can't hurt us any more, but you know that's not really the end of it. They spent three years on this plan. Vandark; whoever he is, is patient as hell."
The three of them paused to let a team of Borrowers through to the stairs with their heavy loads, waiting beside a stall full of 'borrowed' clothing. Yasi sent a nod to the stall-merchant; when something occurred to Vincent suddenly. "Yasi, what time is it up above?"
Yasi drew her fob watch, and checked the extra two hands. "Early morning. Sunday. It'll be just after dawn when we get there…"
"Our anniversary was Friday night…" Connie looked to Vincent. "My God. We might just get away with this."
Vincent looked down at himself. They both had filthy torn clothing, and Vincent's bruises were becoming more visible as they healed. "Assuming we don't get caught climbing out of the subway looking like we've been mugged six times."
"Mm. There's a thought." Yasi grabbed clothing off the stall's pile and pushed them at Connie and Vincent. Cloaks, sweaters, casual clothes that covered up the damage. "Here. Take these and cover up."
"Wear them well, go in beauty." The stall-keeper bowed slightly to Yasi. "Shinobi, may I ask... is it over?"
Yasi smiled at him. "Coates, the matter is dealt with. We'll have more to tell you soon, but for now, the danger is over." She sent a smile to Vincent.
Connie shook out the bundle Yasi had pushed at her. It was a long leather coat, that went down as far as her knees. It covered up her clothes neatly, and she tied it at the waist. Vincent had something similar. It looked a lot like the one Yasi had worn. "Where'd you boost so many of these from?"
"Borrowed." Yasi corrected pointedly. "And... from a place that won't miss them. Don't ask."
Connie adjusted the coat. It was hardly the strangest thing to adjust to this week.
Yasi glanced around. "I'll be right back."
Vincent turned to ask her why, but she had already vanished. "Where's she going, you think?"
"Probably the Chapel." Connie guessed. "Check on her wounded before she leaves the place."
Vincent nodded. "Like you do, checking on the out-patients before you end your shift at the Clinic. You two actually have a lot in common."
"We do not." Connie retorted.
~oo00oo~
"How's Pockets?" Archivist asked warmly as Yasi stalked out of the Chapel.
Yasi met his eyes with a hollow gaze, and shook her head slowly.
Archivist sighed. "We were preparing a memorial for Wotcha. Did you want to make it a ceremony for all of them, or..."
The Captain shook her head. "The Shinobi will hold our own Memorial for all our guys."
Archivist nodded. "Listen, this may not be the time, but... Don't be too hard on Connie."
"Why the hell shouldn't I be? She's so selfish." Yasi shot back. "She's looking at us like she's expecting us to kill her and eat her, and never mind that our whole world is at stake here."
"She's not selfish, she's scared." Archivist returned. "You know Rule Number One."
"Be Invisible." Yasi recited promptly.
"Why do you think that is?" Archivist asked her, suddenly a teacher with his favorite student. "The Upsiders don't have a clue we're down here. Why do you think we want it to stay that way?"
"Well." Yasi blinked. "I guess because we're scared of them coming down here."
"No sweetie, it's because they'd be scared of us. The one thing that terrifies all manner of man, is that which they do not understand. So we stay hidden. They don't notice, they don't know, and we don't care. If they suddenly knew we were under their feet, they would act out of fear, and drive us out of the hidden places into the light. The unknown becomes a target. So we stay hidden."
"Vincent never had that problem." Yasi protested.
"Well, let's compare shall we?" Archivist challenged. "Vincent was introduced. A pretty girl invited him in and showed him her world; and then we sat him down, served him tea, and asked him for help. Now Connie. Her boyfriend vanished, she found evidence that he'd been in a violent altercation, then someone she thought was a friend attacked her, and her house was invaded by two small armies that proceeded to go to war in her living room. The good guys chloroformed her and dragged her to a secret underground city, and she wakes up to find she's caught up in a grand conspiracy to-"
"I get the point." Yasi interrupted.
"She's trying desperately to protect the things she loves, from a position of no power or control at all, from things she can't begin to guess at." Archivist finished. "And the one she wants to protect the most, is failing to perceive a problem at all." He pointed a warning finger at her casually. "And by the way, that protective streak extends to the kids at her clinic, the homeless at the Kitchen... That's the whole reason why we thought about recruiting her, and the whole reason Wotcha pointed her in Vincent's direction."
"Wotcha did that after we decided we weren't going to see either of them ever again. The situation has changed."
"Only if they say yes." Archivist told her firmly.
~oo00oo~
Yasi led Vincent and Connie through the Underside. They were content to follow until they reached the boat. The three of them sent a suspicious look to the water, but Yasi assured them that the nets were back in place, dragging The River with razor wire, keeping the monsters at bay.
The boat took them back to the ladders and stairwells. They took them as far as Archivist's Whisper Gallery, and then from there an elevator. Vincent tried to remember if this was the same route they had taken the last time he left the Underside, and decided not. Going up was so much more exertion than going down, but eventually the 'street lamps' that lined every corridor thinned out, before fading to nothing, leaving them in darkness.
"How do you find your way?" Connie asked, being led by the fingertips as Vincent had.
"We don't find the way, we know the way." Yasi answered. "There's a difference."
Vincent shut his eyes. His vision was useless in the dark, and it made it easier to use his other senses. As he gave up trying to peer into the darkness, he became more aware of himself, of the crossbow slung under his arm like a gym bag, the long coat over it... and the goggles he took off the Riverfolk.
Curious, he pulled the goggles out and held them up over his eyes. Somehow, the pitch black opened to him, and he could see. The corridor was visible, if only just, and tinted in a bright ruby sheen, the same color as the red Riverfolk goggles.
Grinning like an idiot, he pulled away from Yasi, and put the goggles on properly. Suddenly able to see, he tried to creep past Yasi, but even if she couldn't see him, his footsteps were easily apparent to her sharp senses. "Vincent?"
"I'm okay." He called to her. "Do I want to take the left path or the right?"
"Okay, now you're just freaking me out." She commented, but he could see the smile on her face. She reached into her coat and pulled out the hand lantern. She and Connie paused a moment while she wound it.
Connie reared back from the sudden glow. Vincent half expected his vision to white out, like they would with night vision lenses, but he seemed to be able to look at the lantern normally.
Yasi's jaw dropped in disbelief when she saw him wearing the goggles. "Where the hell did you get those?"
Vincent shrugged. "Spoils of war."
"If you've got a light, why the hell are we creeping around in the dark?" Connie demanded, shielding her eyes from the light.
"Connie, the Labyrinth is our first line of defense. You find your way in, you try and find your way back. The darkness makes it harder to find your way without a guide." Yasi explained patiently, before sending a cheeky smirk at Vincent. "Well, unless you've stolen some Riverfolk goggles, that is."
"You want them back?"
"Why? I don't need them." Yasi snorted, and led the way. "We try not to weigh ourselves down with a load of junk we don't need. That's why we decided against offering Connie a job at first."
Connie didn't even blink. "Is that why all two of your outfits are at least a century old?"
Vincent responded by being very very quiet.
~oo00oo~
Connie nearly gasped when they came out into the light. It felt like a million years since they had last seen the sky. Vincent came out right behind her, and a moment later the sound of a car filled their ears. It was the first engine either of them had heard in over a day, which was near impossible in New York City.
Then the screech of wheels, and they both spun to find they had climbed out of a manhole in the street. They both jumped at the sudden attack, and the car screeched to a halt at the sight of them.
The driver leaned out his window and screamed a torrent of abuse that neither of them could comprehend. The guy seemed more interested in the fact that they were in his way, than the fact that they'd just risen out of the ground.
Clank.
They both noticed the manhole cover close tightly. Yasi had left them once they reached the surface. Connie put her arm in Vincent's and they both left the street.
The car moved on, the driver flipping them off as he went past.
"It's good to be back in New York." Connie sighed, her equilibrium restored instantly by the experience. "Come on, let's go see if anyone noticed what the hell they did to our apartment."
~oo00oo~
But when they got there, the door was fixed. Their key was under the doormat. When they got inside, the place was tidied up. Several of Connie's knickknacks were missing from their carefully chosen places on the shelves, but there were no shards on the floor.
Vincent looked the question to Connie, who held her hands up defensively. "Vincent, I swear, the place was trashed! A war went on in here."
Vincent looked around, and then bent down to get a closer look at the furniture. "You're right. This has been repaired. You look close, you can see where the wood was splintered... and where it was replaced."
"What'd you expect?"
They both spun and found Yasi sitting on the windowsill. The window had opened and neither of them had heard.
She came in properly, and shifted over to stand against the wall, out of sight from the street. "We've been invisible a long time. We know the trick of it. We don't leave fingerprints." She sent a glance at Connie. "Afraid the Fixmen couldn't find replacements for everything."
"If I hadn't known what happened here..." Connie nodded. "Owen was right about that much. The things you guys can do..."
"We don't want to rule the world, we just want to make our way and not be seen doing it." Yasi promised her. "And that, in its way, brings us back to you." She nodded respectfully to Connie. "A friend in the Medical Profession, especially in the Free Clinics, would do a lot to help the kids. If they knew you already it would be an advantage. Our kids don't trust easily, and Tecca thinks highly of you. There's always room for another teacher to tell our kids about the City..." Yasi inclined her head toward Vincent with a smile. "Recent events have shown how fragile our world can be. Especially to someone in the City Planner's Office..."
Vincent was smiling. "How would it work?"
"You guys would be part of our world. Not Lostkind, just friends. Very few people come and go like you would. There have been very few people who could walk in both worlds. And for now, you'd be the only ones that do. Even The Watchers walked through your world without actually being part of your society. You keep your day jobs, you keep your apartment, you keep in contact, and every now and then you come down for a day or two. Think of it like taking an extra part time job on the side."
Vincent looked to Connie, who yawned hugely. A moment later he matched it, suddenly aware of how tired he was.
Yasi nodded swiftly. "Sorry. You guys should get some rest." She went to the window. "Think it over. An offer like this doesn't happen often."
~oo00oo~
"I don't think I ever fully appreciated the modern wonder that was a hot shower before this moment." Connie said happily, as she came out of the bathroom an hour later. She looked considerably more relaxed in her terry-cloth robe, and she joined him on the couch, cuddling up under his arm.
Vincent stretched his legs out and as far as they would go and settled with her. "So. We haven't really had a chance to talk about... any of it."
"I keep looking over my shoulder." Connie admitted. "Part of me expects to find Lostkind kids hiding behind the towel rack."
"I went through the same thing." Vincent admitted with a chuckle. "I honestly thought I'd never go back there..."
"I know." Connie admitted sadly.
Vincent reacted to her tone. "What?"
Connie took his hand in hers, and kissed his fingertips. "If you'd gotten the job offer two years ago... you never would have given me a second look."
Vincent tensed. She could feel his posture changing where she leaned against him. "Connie... I love you."
"And I love you." She returned honestly. "But it's the truth."
Silence.
"This is New York City, Vincent." She said quietly after a while. "If that's not interesting enough for you, I don't know what you could possibly find a hundred feet below ground level."
"It's not about boredom." Vincent told her. "But... I remember my dad, he told me that where he grew up was entirely different to New York. He said the feel of the place was different. The speed the pedestrians walked at, the way everyone looks at each other or looks away, the energy they put into their jobs, or their recreation... Y-" He corrected himself. "The Lostkind call it the Rhythm. When I got down there... I felt like I was walking at the same speed as everyone else. I felt like the feel of the place was mine."
Silence.
"Vincent, they say it's over now. They got Owen's dropbox, and they've declared victory; but you know it's not over. I mean, Yasi and Keeper and Archivist were making happy noises, but you know there's worse to come. I don't want to be there when it all hits the fan... And there's nothing down there that really interests me anyway."
"There's me." Vincent offered softly.
Now Connie hardened. She almost turned to stone under his arm. After a moment, she pulled away, sitting upright on the couch. "So. That's that, then."
Vincent shook his head. "No, I'm sorry, that was... I didn't mean that."
"Yes, you did." She retorted. "You just didn't mean to say it. Yet." She scrubbed her face with her hands. Vincent could see her eyes turning red with unshed tears. "I don't want to be Lostkind. You do. Is it really that simple?"
Vincent said nothing.
"You're supposed to be on my team." Connie pressed. "That's what you do when you love someone. You make them your top priority. Especially if you wanted to marry me."
Vincent looked at her tightly. "You said 'no' as I recall."
Connie's face hardened. "Is that it? You making me choose?"
Vincent glared. "You're making me choose." He shot back. "I'd be perfectly happy to marry you and work with the Underside. Are you making me choose?"
Connie stood up. "If I knew we were having this conversation, I would have worn something other than a bathrobe."
"Connie, I don't want to lose you." Vincent said honestly.
"Vincent, you didn't lose me. I lost you. I lost you the second Yasi took you Underground."
"There's nothing between me and Yasi!" Vincent protested, yet again.
"Not you and her. You and there. Who knows how many laws you might bend or break if you become one of them? Plus whatever risks there could be to your health living Underground, plus the Riverfolk..."
"If you're trying to scare me out of it, you can't." Vincent returned. "I've been living with the danger of this longer than you have, Connie. Gill tried to kill himself because of Owen's manipulations."
"And that's not going to stop you?"
"Why? Owen's been exposed, he can't hurt us any more."
"See? This is my point. You're not a thrill-seeker, but this doesn't bother you? The Underside is worth more to you than your job, your safety... more than me."
Vincent didn't have an answer to that.
"Hope she's worth it." Connie said, with just the tiniest hint of bitterness.
"Connie... I am going to say this again." Vincent repeated, getting tired of saying it. "There's nothing going on with Yasi. I am not a teenager. I've been with you two years, the total combined time I spent with her was... what? Two days?"
"That's only half of it though." Connie shot back. "You want to be part of the Underside. I can walk away from it, and go about my life. I don't think you can. I think you only did two years ago because they told you not to come looking. The first thing you knew of that world, the first person you met of the Lostkind, was Yasi. When you think of the place, do you think of her? Because I'm betting you do."
Vincent felt his jaw drop open. "I... I honestly hadn't thought of it that way."
"Of course not, you're a guy." Connie shrugged. "I know how you feel about me. I know you'd never cheat on me. But I can't compete with another woman, and a whole world at the same time. You love the Underside. And Yasi is the Underside to you."
Vincent said nothing.
Connie nodded. "I hope you and the Secret City are very happy together." She said calmly. The sort of calm that came from having made a tough decision and accepted it. She leaned over and kissed him softly, before heading into the bedroom without looking back.
He didn't go after her.
She was kissing him goodbye.
~oo00oo~
He had slept on the couch. He didn't want to sleep in the bed when he knew he would be there alone. Even so, he hadn't slept well. It was a warm night, but the weather wasn't the reason he'd left the window open.
Connie had packed a bag and gone to a friends' house. Vincent had implored her to stay until morning at least. Their relationship had been torn down the middle, but not in any way that made them hate each other. They could at least be allies about it. But Connie had insisted, because she knew Yasi would be back during the night, and didn't want to be, 'in the way', as she put it.
Vincent lay awake wondering about their conversation, wondering what Yasi would have thought if she'd heard it...
Did he love Yasi? The thought came back to him now and then. Connie was right, he loved the Underside. When he thought of their wild tribal power, the energy, their beauty... Yasi was the first promise, the first mystery of the place...
But he'd just broken up with Connie after two very happy years, and Yasi was not the reason why. For all the things that had happened, he was still the Outsider to the Lostkind. He was a helpful neighbor that ran errands for them from time to time. He still wasn't one of them. If he tried to approach Yasi so soon after losing Connie, it would not only make him a sleaze, it would…
Such thoughts chased him into sleep. The window stayed open all night, and after a long time, he looked up and saw a familiar shadow on the wall. Yasi had come in his window again. "Hey."
"Hey." She said, and sat on the end of the couch by his feet. "Connie?"
"Not here." He said shortly.
Yasi nodded slowly, having expected that. "So. How badly have I screwed up your life?"
Vincent stayed where he was and started counting on his fingers. "Well, there's the Riverfolk playing bongos on my ribs... There was Gill almost killing himself so Owen could get into his job... My ex-landlord wouldn't give me my security deposit back because I kept letting vagrants sleep in the building without telling him." He pretended to think for a moment. "And... oh yes, Connie walked out. You seem to be the common thread in all these things."
"Vincent, lots of couples break up because of work." Yasi offered. "You were her boyfriend, and you got an opportunity that meant you had to be absent for a while, work outside the city, keep a few things in confidence… and she couldn't handle it. It's not a new story, just a new setting."
Vincent blinked. "Put that way, I don't sound nearly as selfish."
"Selfish? You sacrificed your normal life and broke up with your girlfriend to save a bunch of people that you can't even talk about. Exactly where does the selfish part come in? Jeez, Vincent... You should hate my breathing guts right now."
Silence.
"By the way, just to end the suspense, I'll take the job." Vincent commented without opening his eyes.
Yasi nodded. "There's a shock." She drawled. "Grab your coat."
~oo00oo~
"Why are we here?" Vincent asked with interest as they entered the City Planner's Office.
"Well, I told you you'd be keeping your day job." Yasi said, leading the way toward his cubicle. "And since radios and cell phones aren't worth a damn to us, we'll have to show you a few ways to get in touch."
Vincent was quietly thrilled. "You could just get a cell phone. Come up to the surface now and then, check your voicemail."
"Ugh, how boring." Yasi scorned, and pointed to the elevators. "Meet me in the Archives Room."
Vincent sent a glance toward the elevator, and then looked back at Yasi.
She was gone.
"One day I'm gonna stop falling for that." Vincent sighed, and headed downstairs toward the Archives Room.
~oo00oo~
She was waiting for him the second he stepped off the elevator. "This building used to have a pneumatic correspondence system. You sent a memo through a vacuum tube. Once email was invented, it became less than worthless, but it's still here."
Vincent nodded. "Too expensive to tear it all out, since it's not bothering anyone."
Yasi led him over to the far side of the archives, in the dustiest corner of the room. There was a tube in the wall, covered in cobwebs. "Send me a message this way." She told him. "That tube will take it down to the Underside, through the Whisper Gallery. From there it will come straight to me." She turned to look at him face to face. "I will send you messages the same way, so you'd better check this spot. Make sure nobody else finds them."
Vincent nodded, suddenly aware of how close they were, the narrow aisle between the stacks forcing them into tight proximity. She licked her lips and he knew she was aware of it too.
"She understood, right?" Yasi said suddenly. "Connie? She understood. I mean, it's not like we were asking you both to move Underground forever."
"She knew." Vincent acknowledged. "She just didn't want to come. She thought it would be dangerous."
"Not as dangerous as living in New York." Yasi shot back.
"Connie wanted kids." Vincent said suddenly.
Silence.
"Okay?" Yasi said, not quite getting it.
"I think she was picturing our lives suddenly being underground half the time… She was seeing kidnappers and ghosts and trying to fit the life and family she wanted into that…" Vincent shook his head. "Even if we agreed to keep our personal lives, let alone kids, up on the surface, it's still another big slice out of our lives that we wouldn't be together."
"But she's not especially wrong. The less traffic back and forth the better. We've still got the information Owen collected, so Vandark can't get in. At least not in anything like the numbers he'd need to do some damage. But we were able to clear Dorcan, so..."
"Dorcan's innocent?" Vincent interrupted. "That's good. He's saved our lives."
"Yeah, I'm relieved too." Yasi admitted, though he noticed a blush on her face. "He's barely speaking to me, but there was a perfectly good reason for all the things he was doing, so..."
"What was his perfectly good reason?" Vincent asked with interest.
Yasi's gaze flicked to Vincent as her blush spread down her neck. "That's not important."
Vincent's interest was piqued, but he knew better than to press it. "Okay."
"By the way…" She said lightly. "Welcome to the team."
"Vincent?" A voice commented.
Vincent spun in surprise, to see Davidson in the doorway. He sent a look over his shoulder, but Yasi had vanished. "Hey, Boss." He said, fighting for calm. "What brings you down here this time of the weekend?"
"I was about to ask you that..." Davidson came closer. "Were you just talking to someon-My God, what the hell happened to you?"
Vincent winced. His bruises were still relatively fresh and swelling up nicely. "It's nothing. I fell down the stairs."
"How many times?" Davidson demanded. "You should be at the emergency room."
"I'm fine." Vincent waved it off. "I was just..." His mouth shut suddenly. It just hit him that he didn't have an alibi ready.
Fortunately, Davidson was thinking about something else at the time. "By the way, did you hear about Owen?"
Vincent nearly swallowed his tongue. He had absolutely no idea how to answer that one. His heart stopped for a moment, and then started again at triple speed. "What about him?" He asked carefully.
"He quit." Davidson said, and Vincent relaxed. "Got a job somewhere on the West Coast."
Vincent could feel his heart thundering as the sudden spike of adrenaline started to fade. "Well... W-we knew he wasn't staying on permanently. Remember?"
"Sure, but that was two years ago. I guess I figured he had settled here." Davidson sighed. "Well, people move on. I just wish I had a little more warning. The man resigned by letter. He tell you?"
Vincent bit back the first response that came to mind. "No." He said finally. "I had no warning at all."
Davidson took that at face value. "Okay. Glad you're okay."


~oo00oo~~oo00oo~~oo00oo~

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