(Originally published in Cyberdreams II)
And when the day dawns, or sunset reddens, how joyous we shall be.
Facts will be regarded as discreditable.
Truth will be found mourning over her fetters,
And Romance with her temper of wonder, will return to the land.
The very aspect of the world will change to our startled eyes.
Dragons will wander about the waste places,
and the Phoenix will soar from her nest of fire into the air.
We shall lay our hands upon the basilisk
And see the jewel in the toad’s head.
Champing his gilded oats,
The hippogryph will stand in our stalls,
And over our heads will float the blue bird
Singing of beautiful and impossible things,
Of things that are lovely and never happen,
Of things that are not and that should be.-Oscar Wilde
Vincent lay on his bed, suffocating under the enormity of his grief. The past days were all blurred together in his mind. Endless searching and wandering had been interrupted with occasional bites of food and naps. Exhausted, he had finally retired to his chamber, hoping to rest for a little while before resuming the search. Echoing in his mind, for many days now, had been the lines from a sonnet. Knowing sleep only brought its own form of cruelty, he had decided to read the sonnet aloud, and perhaps purge it from his system. When that had failed, he had cast the book aside and turned his attention instead to the flickering shadows the candles cast on the ceiling of his chamber.
Each breath took him further away from the last time he had held Catherine in his arms. Each beat of his heart marked more distance between their Dream and the present. Only the need to find their son kept him functioning at all. Without the baby, he knew he would have found no reason to live... at least, no reason compelling enough to endure another heartbeat, another breath, another moment away from his beloved.
Father quietly made his way into Vincent’s chamber. When Mary had stopped by his study after leaving food with his distraught son, she had shaken her head silently, indicating that his son was as agitated and exhausted as ever. "Vincent?"
A quiet sigh preceded the reply. "Yes, Father?"
Father hesitated, knowing from the sigh that Vincent wished to be left alone. But the way he brooded worried the older man. He knew that they must never stop reaching out to him, trying to break through his defenses, if Vincent were to heal. He must never be allowed to believe that his family had abandoned him to his grief. Still, it didn’t make him feel more welcome. "May I sit down?"
Vincent gestured with his hand, and let it drop back to the bed, clearly indicating it didn’t matter to him if Father sat, stood, left, or stayed.
"I had hoped you were asleep. You have pushed yourself beyond exhaustion."
"Sleep only taunts me with things that will never be," a monotone voice replied.
Father looked around, wondering how to best reach out to someone in so much anguish. His eyes fell on the discarded book. "Edna St. Vincent Millay?" He picked it up. "Was this a book you and Catherine read together?"
"No." Vincent sighed again. Clearly, Father wanted to draw him out. A part of him, deep inside, appreciated the gesture. It was a small comfort to know that his father cared and wanted to ease his pain. But the grief was crushing him. Truly, he simply wanted to be left alone, to struggle through another breath, another heartbeat, waiting for enough strength to return to his weary body to resume the Search.
That was the focus of his life now. The Search. Each day was measured in how the Search had progressed. Each thought focused on the Search. It was a goal he had for so long it was hard to remember life before the Search. First, he had been looking for Catherine. Now, he was looking for the only part of Catherine that remained on this earth.
"What made you choose that book, then?"
Father’s gentle question drew Vincent away from the Search for the moment. "One of the sonnets haunts me. It echoes in my mind, endlessly, tormenting me. I walk the tunnels we walked together, or in the park above, and the memories haunt me, Father. I try to escape, go where she has never been, and the pain is no better."
"Which sonnet? Will you read it to me?" Father sat down in a chair and gave Vincent his full attention.
Vincent slowly rolled over and sat up. Gently, he picked up the book and found his place. "It was written by a woman, mourning the loss of her beloved, so I will switch the pronouns."
Father nodded. Vincent was always careful to quote faithfully, or indicate what he had changed to let the quote share his voice.
"Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss her in the weeping of the rain;
I want her at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go, &emdash;so with her memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell her foot or shone her face
I say, "There is no memory of her here!"
And so stand stricken, so remembering her.
Vincent closed the book, and bowed his head.
Father nodded, "When I first came Below... I remember too well the pain of being someplace Margaret had never been. But it was a welcome escape from the places we had shared, and memories too painful to endure." Father reached out and covered Vincent’s hand with his own. "As painful as your memories seem now, Vincent, embrace them. Someday, they will bring back the joy you felt in those happier times."
Vincent stood up and paced. "Brigitte spoke of her ‘sweet pain’ in 300 Days. I thought I understood. Now I know truly what she meant, and it is an understanding I wish had never come. ‘Death shall have no dominion?’ Death is the final dominion!"
Father searched his memory, trying to place the reference. When it came to him, he paused, wondering what response it would evoke. Deciding any response was a sign of life, he quoted, "‘Though lovers be lost, Love shall not.’"
Vincent flinched visibly. Truly, those words meant something to him.
"Love is not lost, Vincent. Her love is not lost; it is with you still."
"But not the memory!" Vincent bellowed, giving voice to his frustration. As he paced, he glanced at Father, who was obviously very confused. He wished he had not brought the subject up. Still, it might help to talk about what tormented him so. "When I told you Catherine had left me a son, were you not surprised to learn our relationship had progressed to that point?"
"Yes," Father admitted, wondering where this was leading.
"So was I," Vincent said and went back to his pacing.
Father sat stunned. "Are you sure..."
Vincent whirled, knowing what he was going to say. "Father! Catherine would never lie to me. She knew I didn’t remember." He forced himself to take a breath and speak in a quiet tone once more. "You read the autopsy report Peter gave me. She gave birth only a short time before she came to me on the roof. She was weak, exhausted, and drugged. She knew she was dying, and she used the last of her strength to find me, to tell me, so that I would know of our son."
"Did she say when?"
"There was no time. The life was almost gone from her..... I don’t know when, where..... that memory is precious beyond words... the memory of our only time together. And her death robbed me of ever having memories such as those to treasure!" As he spoke, his voice increased in volume until he could hear his own echoes in his chamber.
"Vincent," Father spoke softly, "I think I have some of the answers you seek. I cannot be certain, but let me tell you what I know.
"When Catherine went into the cave, you were in a terrible state. You were howling, bellowing in your agony. We heard Catherine scream your name twice, and then there was only silence. We waited for a long time... I don’t know how long, but it was awhile. We didn’t know what we would find, but I eventually decided to go in and see.
"When I entered, you were unconscious. Catherine was sitting on the floor, holding you in her lap. Later, when you were here in your chamber, resting comfortably, I asked her what had happened in that cave. All she said was, ‘A miracle,’ and she spoke no more about the subject. In the days that followed, she visited you often, and sat reading to you, but you slept soundly, and Mary and I were in and out of your chamber." Father stopped, knowing Vincent understood the implications. His son must have been conceived in the shadow of Vincent’s darkest hour. It was a cruel juxtaposition of joy and pain.
Vincent locked eyes with Father for a long moment. "Then I must go there."
With that, he was gone, leaving Father to reexamine his own memory of that day, and look at it with a new perspective.
Vincent sat on the floor of the cave, willing himself to remember. He ran his fingers over the hard floor, reflecting that this was where he had found her crystal. Still, the precious memory he sought to recover eluded him. There was no Beast, no Catherine, no memory here, only an empty cave.
The disappointment became unbearable. He ran from the chamber, ran through endless tunnels, not going in any particular direction so much as he was trying to get away from the disappointment and the anguish. Somehow, he found himself kneeling on her grave, panting hard from his exertions. The granite headstone offered no solace, no sense of his beloved. Only a name and two dates looked back at him. He gave himself over to his grief completely. Between the sobs, he threw back his head. A single word was ripped from his lips, carried on the wind to any who would hear his anguish and torment. "Caaathriiine!"
Kristopher watched from behind a tree as a broken man threw himself down upon a grave. Sobs wracked the body and his shoulders visibly shook. He knew this man, and knew of his pain. The name that was offered up to the universe sent a chill down his spine as the sound died away. He straightened up and paced, certain that his presence would go unnoticed.
He knew this man, knew the woman whose name he called. But this was not at all the destiny he had envisioned when he painted her and Vincent together. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. What had gone wrong? Catherine and Vincent were Meant To Be.
He remembered how reluctant she had been to let him draw her. But her face... he had been driven to capture the look of her face for all time. And getting to know her, he had grown to love her, worship her in a way. Was it all to end like this?
Clearly, Vincent would sacrifice himself for her. His was a selfless love, and he had proven his willingness to do so multiple times. But Vincent’s death wouldn’t improve the situation. Both of them had to be alive for the story to continue to its proper conclusion. Selfless love. Selfless love. He paced back and forth, thinking. Suddenly, it came to him. Kristopher smiled. He had a painting to do. Still grinning, he disappeared into the night.
Elliot sat on the couch in his office, thinking about his life in the last two months. First, Gabriel took him apart, then he framed him for murder, and finally, he had given him the choice of death or betrayal of Vincent.
"I didn’t take her away from you, Elliot, he did." The words echoed in his mind. "A woman who never loved you.... She kept his secrets.... Your dreams meant nothing to her... She loved him... And she bore him a child... I didn’t take her away from you, Elliot, he did.... He did."
The words played endlessly in his mind. Deep down, Elliot knew Gabriel was right. She had never loved him, she had loved Vincent. Vincent had taken away the possibility of Cathy ever loving him. What had Cathy seen in such a man? Living in the shadows, destined to never show his face... what kind of life could he offer a woman like Cathy?
"But I can give it all back to you, Elliot. Everything you lost. Wealth. Power..."
Gabriel’s words reverberated in his mind. It wasn’t too late. A lifetime of work could still be salvaged. And nothing could bring Cathy back. Helping Vincent wouldn’t bring Cathy back.
He looked at the clock. It was still two hours before he was to meet Vincent at the dock. He hadn’t slept well in jail, only an hour, two at most. He needed to rest. Maybe he could sleep, here in his office. At least he had his office.
Elliot lay down, but couldn’t relax. Gabriel had control of him now. He tried to ignore the sick feeling in his stomach. Somehow, in spite of his rise to fame and fortune, the neighborhood bully had found a way to break up the game. Had anything changed since his impoverished youth? It didn’t seem like it. The bully was richer and more mysterious in this new life Elliot had built, but had just as much power over his life as before. And this bully had killed Cathy.
Cathy. He loved her, truly loved her, and she had turned away. Losing her had been bad enough, but learning about Vincent had been devastating. She had chosen Vincent over him. Half a man, over him! What could Vincent offer her? A life in the shadows? Cathy deserved more.
"Stop it!" Elliot told himself. "I’ve got to get some rest."
He turned onto his side, ignoring the dread that was building in him. He was to meet Vincent tonight on the Compass Rose. Elliot knew what he had to do, knew what he should do. Curse that half-man for complicating his life and taking his beloved Cathy away!
Sleep came, after a time. But it was not a friendly sleep. He thrashed and called out, shaking a fist at some nameless figure.
Kristopher shook his head. "Elliot." He sighed, then studied the sleeping man a moment more. A look of empathy crossed his face, only to be replaced by his energetic smile. Kristopher never stayed serious or still for very long. "Wake up. Elliot, wake up."
Elliot opened his eyes to an unfamiliar face. He jerked upright. "Who are you. How did you get in here?"
"Shh. Shhh. I’m a friend of Cathy’s."
"She seems to have a lot of mysterious friends," Elliot said, standing up. He rubbed his neck, trying to work the stiffness out. ‘Mental note: buy a new couch,’ he thought, moving over to his desk. He wanted to be closer to his gun.
"Vincent, you mean?"
Elliot looked back at him, revealing nothing.
"So you have met him. That makes things easier. I have something to show you, and we don’t have much time." Kristopher snapped his fingers.
Elliot blinked. "What? Where are we?" he looked around. A single candle lit the room. No, a cave, he corrected himself. How had they gotten here?
Kristopher busied himself lighting a few more candles, and the room soon glowed in flickering light. "This is Vincent’s home. Would you trade your life for Cathy’s?"
"This is Vincent’s home. Would you trade your life for Cathy’s?"
"How did we get here? Cathy’s dead. Nothing will change that." Elliot tried to take charge of the situation. That was the number one rule of business for Elliot: always be in charge of the situation.
"You obviously are not an artist." Kristopher shook his head. "Look at this." He indicated the painting of Catherine and Vincent he had done so many years before.
"It’s a painting. So?"
"So, would you give your life to give Cathy this life?"
"You’re asking if I’m willing to die so she could be with him?" Elliot inquired, wondering how he had gotten himself entangled in this conversation.
"Yes. You love her, don’t you?"
"Of course I loved her. Loved. She’s dead. Understand?"
"How would you know? You’re no artist."
Elliot reined in his exasperation. Maybe if he played along, he would find out what this lunatic wanted. "Okay. Let’s assume, for just a moment, that she is alive. What kind of a life is this? Look at this place! Look at him! He lives in a cave! What can he give her? Candles? I would have given her the world."
"She loves him, Elliot. Him. He saved her life, she changed his. It was Meant To Be." Kristopher paused, realizing he was going to have to get a bit harsh. "Do you remember when you asked her to marry you? You were building your tower at the time."
"Yes, I remember." Elliot’s voice was bitter.
"Didn’t you ever wonder why she said she would marry you on the condition you stop building?" Kristopher saw Elliot’s eyes widen, and continued, relentless in his assault. "Your tower was destroying Vincent’s world. She loved him enough to marry someone else, if it meant that he would be safe from harm. She loved him enough to sacrifice her own future. How deep is your love, Elliot? I ask you again, would you?"
"Yes," Elliot whispered, feeling like someone had punched him in the stomach. "I never knew how much I loved her until she was gone. If my death could have somehow given her a happy life... even with him... then, yes."
"I was hoping you’d say that." Kristopher smiled. "I’ll see you soon." With that, he snapped his fingers.
Elliot sat bolt upright, and looked around. "Who’s there?" Quickly, he turned on the lights. He was alone in his office. He took a deep breath. "Vincent, you’re doing funny things to my head. Stay out of my dreams, okay?" he muttered to himself, vaguely aware he had dreamed of Vincent. Like most of his dreams, the memory faded as quickly as the darkness.
Elliot approached the dock, ignoring a growing feeling of dread. Would the nightmare ever end? After tonight, he knew that he would have his answer, one way or another,. Vincent. Damn him for stealing Cathy away from him! No, he admitted to himself, Vincent hadn’t stolen her. Elliot’s own greed had repulsed her. By trying to make sure no one ever controlled his life again, he’d ignored the plea of the one woman who could have made him happy, and lost her forever.
"Elliot." The voice came from a shadow, a shadow that Cathy had loved.
"Vincent, come here, I’ve got something to show you." The words passed his lips, but there was no feeling behind them. He felt detached, like he was watching himself act out a role. Would Vincent believe him?
"What’s wrong, Elliot?"
"You’re what’s wrong. Look at you! I could have given Cathy the whole world. What’d you give her?"
"All I could.... All I had.... All I was."
Elliot turned, looking at the gunman lurking in the shadows. Vincent’s words stung. Truly, Vincent had loved her. Elliot felt ashamed. Had he given her everything he was? No. His wealth had been too important to him. Catherine had chosen the better man.
He knelt down, thinking. How could he fix this? "The message was a lie. Get outta here! Now! You were a fool to trust me. Go!. Now."
"Catherine trusted you."
"No." Vincent’s eyes bore into him and Elliot could feel Vincent looking into his very soul. He buried his face in his hands, ashamed that Cathy’s trust had been so misplaced.
"Let me help you, Elliot."
Elliot looked again at the gunman. He thought of Cathy and made a decision. This man must live. No matter what, he must live. For Cathy. For her son. "Vincent!" He threw himself at Vincent as he shouted the warning. "Please," he prayed, "Let me do this right. For once in my life, let me do it right."
His body jerked as the bullets lodged inside him. So, this was what it felt like to die. Was it like this for Cathy? Would he get to see her? Could she be waiting for him, in Heaven? No, he wasn’t going to Heaven. ‘Don’t kid yourself, Elliot. They wouldn’t take you. Even if you still had your money, it wouldn’t help you there.’ Still, would he at least get to see her? Just for a moment, before going to the place where he would pay for his crimes? He hoped so.
He felt Vincent catch him and lower him to the deck. Funny, how fast you could think when you were dying. The ring! He would need the ring. Elliot fumbled for it in his pocket and offered it up. "Take this." He handed it to Vincent. "Go!"
"You wouldn’t leave me."
"Damn right, I would!" He felt a quiet pain as he said that. Yes, he would have. Why did Vincent always give him more credit than he deserved?
"Not again," Vincent whispered, holding Elliot’s dying form. First Catherine, then Steven and Sam. Now Elliot. Would it ever stop?
Elliot inhaled, wanting to urge Vincent away. He never got the chance.
Elliot watched, detached, as the ship exploded. Cathy? He felt her presence near. Searching, he moved away from the fireball, questing for her....
A gust of wind chilled Catherine, and she drew her thick coat tighter about her. It was a dark night, and the dim light from the quarter moon was mostly obscured by clouds. She hadn’t even brought a flashlight. What had she been thinking, visiting her father’s grave at this hour? She should have asked Vincent to come with her, at least.
"Cathy! Let me do another painting. Please, please, please?"
Catherine started violently. Immediately, all of her senses were on alert. Her heart raced, and adrenaline pumped into her system. She scanned the area, looking for escape routes as she turned around.
A huge sigh of relief escaped her lips when she saw him. "Kristopher? Have you been following me again? You startled me!"
"I confess. Please. Let me paint you again. I didn’t get it right the first time. It’s going to take another one to get it right. Besides, it’s awfully late to be out here by yourself."
Catherine looked around, suddenly realizing she had no idea how she had gotten here.
Kristopher recognized her disorientation and distracted her. It wouldn’t be good for her to see the adjacent headstone. "Pretty please?"
She turned back to him, confusion in her eyes. "I have to see Vincent."
"We’re nowhere near a tunnel entrance, Cathy. You can go see him later. Please? Once just wasn’t enough. I thought it would be, but it wasn’t. You HAVE to let me do another one. Working from a sketch wasn’t good enough. I need you there while I paint. Come on, it won’t take that long. Please? For me?"
Days passed. Finally, he was happy with the result. Catherine was growing increasingly impatient, and time was running short. Thankfully, his task was done.
Catherine walked slowly through the tunnels, being careful not to scrape the package she was carrying against the tunnel walls. Her heart beat faster. Knowing she was going to see Vincent always did that to her.
"Jamie, how are you? Is Vincent in his chamber?" Catherine asked, greeting her friend warmly.
Jamie dropped her tray of food and stood there staring. Catherine?
"Jamie?" Catherine looked over her shoulder, and saw an empty tunnel behind her. She set the package down and leaned it against the tunnel wall. "Jamie, what’s wrong?"
"Catherine?" Jamie found her voice and reached a shaky hand out to the vision before her. A warm hand wrapped itself around her own, and Jamie fell into Catherine’s arms. "Catherine! You’re real! You’re alive!" she said through her tears. "How?"
Catherine hugged Jamie, feeling very uncertain. "Jamie, what are you talking about? Of course I’m alive. I’ve been alive my whole life," she teased.
Jamie pulled away and shook her head. "Let’s go see Father." Taking Catherine’s hand in her own, she stepped over the tray and led the way to Father’s chamber.
Father listened to the message coming over the pipes and sat in stunned disbelief. He was just beginning to conclude he was going mad when Catherine appeared in his doorway.
"Catherine!" He limped over to her quickly and embraced her tightly, making no effort to hide his relief or tears. "You came back to us."
"I found her in the tunnels near the storeroom close to my chamber," Jamie said quietly from the doorway. "None of the sentries saw her come in."
"Catherine, which entrance did you use? The one in the park?" Father prompted, leading her to sit in a chair near his desk. He poured them each a cup of tea and sat down beside her.
Catherine’s eyes lost focus as she tried to recall. "I... I don’t remember, Father."
"What’s the last thing you do remember?" he asked gently. "Do you remember being kidnapped?"
Catherine thought carefully. "Yes. I was..."
"Pregnant," he supplied softly.
She looked at him, surprise evident, and nodded. "A son. They let me see him. He was so beautiful. And then.... they gave me a shot. He promised I wouldn’t suffer." Catherine’s voice grew fainter. "What happened, Father?"
"I’m not certain. Do you remember anything else?"
"Vincent. I had to find Vincent. I knew he was in the building, I heard him. I went to the roof. He was there. He held me. I told him about our son." Catherine’s voice was barely above a whisper as she remembered the next words she had spoken. "‘Though lovers be lost...’"
"‘Love shall not,’" Father continued.
"‘And death shall have no dominion,’" they finished in unison.
"I don’t remember anything after that. Father.... how long has it been?"
"What happened? Where was I? Why can’t I remember? Where’s Vincent?" Catherine looked around, imagining what he must be thinking.
"Missing. He has been talking with a policewoman, an investigator of your... case. I have helpers going to find her now. She sent a message for Vincent and was the last person to talk to him."
Catherine stood up to go. "Maybe Elliot can help. He’d help me, if I asked him to, and he can be discreet."
"Elliot Burch is dead, Catherine," Father said quietly. There was never a gentle or easy way to pass on the news of someone’s death. "He gave his life to save Vincent’s."
"Elliot met Vincent?" Catherine sank back into the chair, her mind reeling.
"Vincent went to him for help. They were working together to find your son."
"Where was I, Father?"
"Catherine...." Father put his arm around her shoulders. "Catherine, Vincent carried you back to your apartment and called the police. They identified the body as you. They did an autopsy and found that ... individual died of a morphine overdose shortly after giving birth. A lot of us went to your funeral. We believed you were dead. Now, you are here, and obviously alive. I don’t know where you were, or what happened to bring you back to us. Somehow you came back. Maybe this will all sort itself out somehow and maybe it won’t. The important thing is you’re here now, and very much alive. Although, I’d like to check you over myself and make certain you are healthy."
Catherine look up at him, smiling slightly. The warmth of his greeting still hung about her.
Father smiled back at her. Truly, her return was nothing short of a miracle.
"Catherine." Mary came into Father’s study, unable to stay away. "There are no words." She opened her arms and held Catherine tightly. After several long moments, she pulled back enough to look at her. Gently, she put her hand to Catherine’s cheek. "I have missed you so. It’s good to have you home, isn’t it, Jacob?"
"Yes, it is," Father agreed. He squeezed Catherine’s shoulder. "We have all missed you, Catherine, and worried about you."
Catherine covered Father’s hand with her own and looked into his eyes. There was a softness in his gaze, even more so than there had been during Vincent’s illness.
"How do you feel, Catherine?" he asked gently.
"Tired, worried.... strange."
"Strange? How?" Father looked at her sharply.
"I don’t know how to explain it. Everything I know seems unfamiliar somehow. Like I don’t belong here."
"You do belong," Mary asserted, squeezing her hand, and looked at Father, daring him to disagree. The tender concern in his eyes surprised her. Disconcerted, she turned back to Catherine. "What you feel is to be expected. You were a prisoner for over six months. You were kept away from all of the people who love you. After so long, it’s bound to feel strange to be back. It will pass. As the days go on, you’ll begin to feel more settled, and then you’ll begin to heal."
"No, Catherine, you’re not," Mary said gently. "Eight months of your life were stolen from you. You went through your pregnancy alone, instead of with people who could share in your joy and ease your fears. Now that you’re safe, you’re going to start dealing with what happened to you."
"I’ve had plenty of time to deal with it," Catherine countered, her temper flaring. "I had more time than I knew what to do with."
"She’s right, Catherine," Father said firmly. "I want you to be prepared to get depressed. Once Vincent and your child are home, you’re going to have a letdown. You had to be strong, and depression will most likely follow. It’s quite normal after what you’ve been through." He let his voice fill with the emotion that had been building since Catherine’s return. "And you’ll be here, with us. We’ll help you through it. You don’t have to be strong right now, Catherine. You’re safe now. You’re home."
Father’s words brought tears to her eyes. She had never dreamed he would welcome her so warmly. The love in his voice broke through the wall of control she had built up during her months of captivity. "I want to see Vincent. Please find him, Father. I need to see Vincent, and we have to find our son." Her fears for her son kept her from letting go completely, but the tears began to flow. She let Mary hold her while she cried. Her arms felt empty. The fear and terror she had felt since she came to realize Gabriel wanted her child now overwhelmed her. Would she ever get to hold her son?
"He’s missing, Catherine. Missing, not dead. Remember that. The helpers are looking for Diana now," he reminded her.
"Father!" Jamie burst in, breathless. "They found her. She’s at the park entrance," she managed to get out in between deep, gasping breaths.
"Tell them I am coming." Father picked up his cane.
"I’m coming with you." Catherine stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"No. There is too much we don’t know. Stay here, Catherine, where I know you are safe. As soon as we have word, I promise, we will tell you."
"He’s right, Catherine. With Vincent and your son both missing, we don’t need to be worrying about you, too. Please, stay here, until we know more." Mary gently restrained Catherine by the shoulders, and they both watched Father follow Jamie out of the chamber.
"Tell me it’s going to be all right, Mary," Catherine begged, letting her head sink to Mary’s shoulder as she looked at the empty doorway. "Please, tell me they are going to find them."
"We’ll try, Catherine. You know we’ll try," Mary whispered as she tenderly stroked Catherine’s hair.
Mary sat with her, not speaking, but offering her presence as comfort as they waited for word. After what seemed to be an eternity, Jamie ran in again, and went to Father’s desk.
"What have you learned?" Catherine demanded.
"The baby is sick, maybe dying. Vincent turned himself in, to save the baby," Jamie panted.
Catherine gasped and slumped in her chair. She watched forlornly as Jamie retrieved keys and dashed to a locked cupboard.
"This woman, she’s with the police," she said, fumbling with the lock. Finally, the door swung open. "Been helping Vincent. Needs a gun. Father is giving her this one. That’s all I know now." Jamie held up the wrapped gun Catherine had brought to Father so long ago before running for the entrance and disappearing into the tunnels.
"I’m here, Catherine. I’m here." Mary held the younger woman to her and her heart broke as she felt Catherine’s shoulders shaking beneath her touch.
After an agonizing wait, Father at last hurried into the chamber.
Instantly alert, Catherine turned to him. "Father, what is it? What have you learned?"
"Gabriel kidnapped Diana, then released her so she could take a message to Vincent. Your son, Catherine, is very sick. Vincent sacrificed himself to save the child. I need to go Above. As soon as I change, I will tell you the rest."
"Shh, Catherine. Try to hold on to hope," Mary said softly, squeezing Catherine’s hand. "Father loves Vincent, too. We’ll find him."
Catherine looked up at her with tears in her eyes. Wordlessly, she searched Mary’s face for any sign of hope. Finding only a reflection of her own worry in the kind face, she looked down. "Oh, Vincent," she whispered, reaching yet again for the crystal that no longer hung around her neck. As it had every time she had reached for it in the last long months, her hand found nothing but the memory. Empty, her fingers fell again to her lap. How she had craved even that small comfort during her interminable months of captivity. But sometime after Vincent’s illness, the precious gift had been lost. Unable to hold them back, the tears overwhelmed her. Catherine buried her face in her hands and surrendered herself to her grief and worry.
"Diana drew a sketch of a floor tile from Gabriel’s estate. I need to take it to Joe Maxwell," Father said, returning to the study. He placed a hat upon his head and buttoned his suit coat. "Diana believes that the tile will help Joe locate where Gabriel lives. Once we know that, Diana has promised to do everything she can to free Vincent and the baby. One of the helpers is going with her, to bring us messages of any progress she makes, and to inform us of anything we can do to help. I will return as soon as I can."
Mary nodded her understanding, and met Father’s eyes before his gaze fell to Catherine. The distraught woman didn’t look up. He looked back to Mary and shook his head. She smiled wanly and watched him go.
The silence of the chamber was overwhelming, Catherine noticed, finally. "The pipes, why are they so quiet?" she whispered.
"Father asked that only necessary messages be sent. That will help us when news of Vincent does come," Mary explained. She contemplated Catherine, then straightened up. A change in approach was definitely in order. "Will you come help me in my chamber?"
"We have new clothes to make, for some of the new children. You can help me cut out material."
"I don’t know how to sew."
"Good. Then we can keep your mind busy with learning while we wait." Mary stood up, and looked tenderly at Catherine. "Fretting isn’t going to help bring Vincent back safely, or your child either. I always find it best to keep my hands busy, even if I can’t keep my mind on what I’m doing. And it is always soothing to make something with your hands when your heart is heavy."
"I’ll try," Catherine said weakly, forcing herself to stand.
"Good. And the new children will appreciate it. These two just arrived a few days ago with their mother. They have nothing, Catherine, just the clothes on their backs. And those were so threadbare and worn, they wouldn’t even keep Vincent warm." Mary chatted about the new children while they walked to her chamber. She walked with her arm around Catherine, providing what small comfort she could.
Catherine’s lifeless eyes looked around the large room Mary led her to. "I don’t think I have ever seen this chamber before." A small alcove held a bed, table, and some personal belongings. The larger portion of the room was full of the tools of the sewing and mending trade. She looked at the shelves that lined one part of the chamber. They were pulled out from the walls and held stack after stack of fabric pieces, sorted by color and weight. Boxes, neatly labeled, held smaller swatches of cloth. Each set of shelves had candles on the floor in front of it. Mary blew them out and then retrieved an unmarked box.
"What are the candles for?"
"My futile attempt to keep the fabric from getting too damp. Father calls them a fire hazard, but I only have them lit when no one is here, and you can see that each one is sitting in a container of sand, and kept well away from the shelves. I think the heat helps drive the dampness away, just a bit. It would be a waste to have the fabric lost without being used.
"This box contains the material that the two new children picked out. I always try to get them involved, especially the first time they get new clothes. It helps them feel like it really belongs to them."
"Pink, purple, and orange?" Catherine looked up skeptically as Mary laid some fabric in front of her. None of the fabrics had a bold pattern, but the colors clashed horribly, even in the dim candlelight.
"Umm hmm. Or would you prefer paisley, stripes, and checks?" Mary said, getting out the other child’s fabric selection. "I suggested some other things, but this is what they wanted, so this is what they will have. I just pity the poor mite who gets these as a hand-me-down in a few months." She laughed softly. "The little children always love the bright colors, and we have so few, that I confess I hold those fabrics back just for them. I suppose that means I am as much to blame as anyone for their choices!
"That reminds me..." Mary went to her dresser and retrieved a small box from the bottom drawer. "I wanted to give this to you."
"What is it?" Catherine asked, already more interested. For a few moments, at least, the worry seemed to weigh less heavily on her.
"These were some of Vincent’s clothes when he was little. I should have passed them on to other children when he outgrew them, but I never did. I want you to have them, for your son to wear."
Catherine thanked Mary with teary eyes and opened the box. On top was a small crocheted outfit that would fit an infant. The yarn was creamy, pale yellow, and had been used to make a small hat that matched the boots and sleeper. "Oh, Mary. It’s beautiful. Did you make this?"
Mary nodded. "A long time ago. Somehow, it has survived all of these years in storage. He wore it on his naming day, as your son will, if you choose."
"Mary...." Catherine broke down, but forced herself to continue. The next item was a purple and blue shirt that looked just right for a three-year-old. The purple was a deep shade of amethyst, and contrasted strongly with the pale blue. The shirt had been pieced out of several small scraps of fabric, ingeniously assembled to make a shirt that was both warm and comfortable, if nothing else.
"Vincent didn’t want to match colors either. He was quite determined! He stood there with the purple scraps in one hand and the blue in the other, insisting that he was going to have a shirt made out of them. And it got washed most every day by someone who took pity on him when he was forced to give it up to be laundered. Even then, he was quite stubborn. When he decided what he wanted, not even Father could turn his mind from it. Just as when he fell in love with you." Mary pulled a chair out and sat down next to Catherine at the work table. "I can still see him standing there, about this tall," Mary motioned with her hands, "Looking at me with these big blue eyes, daring me to tell him he couldn’t have that fabric for a shirt. Where have all the years gone?" Mary brushed a tear from her cheek and went back to her dresser. "There is one more thing."
She lifted a quilt out of the bottom drawer of her dresser. It was large enough to cover a single bed. She brought it over to Catherine and laid it on her lap. "Vincent doesn’t know I have this. For years, I told myself it was the work of a silly old woman. But now, I am so glad I ignored the voice of reason and made it.
"You know that I love all the children here, and have loved the ones who are now grown and gone. But Vincent was always special to me. There was something about that little baby that burrowed its way deep into my heart. I have always thought of him as my son. All of the children call me Mary. I never told Vincent, but a part of me always wished that he would call me Mother."
"Why didn’t you tell him? I know how deeply he cares for you. You are his mother."
"Because I didn’t want to be unfair to the other children, or have them think I loved them less."
Catherine nodded her understanding, knowing how important it was to Mary to have all of the children feel loved and cherished.
"Father never talked about it, but I always sensed his hesitancy for Vincent to have a relationship with someone, or a child of his own. For years, I doubted Vincent would dare to defy Father and have a family. Father never understood how human Vincent is, and how insignificant his differences are.
"I never told anyone this, and hardly let myself dream, but I hoped that someday Vincent would have a woman to love and a child to raise. I wanted to give that child something that Vincent didn’t have: a past.
"You know how frequently clothes here are passed down from the older children."
"And I felt guilty even holding those two items back. So instead, I saved scraps. Every time I made Vincent new clothing, some scrap of the leftovers went into a box. And eventually, I made that box of scraps into a quilt. This quilt is made from the pieces of Vincent’s childhood, to be given to his own child someday. Your son will be home soon, Catherine, and I wanted you to have it waiting for him when he gets here."
"Mary... there are no words." Catherine let the tears come.
Alone in Mary’s chamber, the two women held each other, crying tears of fear and hope, that their sons would return home soon.
When he left the District Attorney’s office, Father allowed himself to feel a bit of relief. In spite of his hostile attitude, which was understandable under the circumstances, Mr. Maxwell seemed to have listened to the message and was taking the drawing of the tile seriously. Jacob adjusted the hat on his head and tried to appear calm and dignified as he stepped out onto the streets and headed for the nearest tunnel entrance. It was going to be a long night, and his son’s and grandson’s lives were hanging in the balance. Either way, though, it was going to be over soon.
Dawn found Diana sitting on a park bench and nibbling at the sandwich the tunnel dwellers had given her. A cup of hot coffee sat beside her, untouched. She was more than grateful for the food, as well as the cash they had supplied her with, but what really comforted her was the gun in her pocket. Vincent’s father had given it to her mere hours ago, and she couldn’t help but wonder if Joe had indeed listened to the older man when he delivered the sketch.
She tore off a small bite of bread and tossed it to the pigeons who had gathered at her feet. It was frustrating to have to wait for Joe to meet her later that morning. Vincent’s friends were arranging that, too. Until that time, she dared not go home, or to any of her usual haunts, for fear Gabriel’s men would spot her. She’d spent the night wandering the city, moving from the bus station to the train station and finally to the park. Vincent’s life now depended on her ability to do nothing, and that had never been one of her strong points. Her fingers itched to type out her thoughts on a keyboard, allowing her to clarify the workings of her mind.
Instinctively, she knew Gabriel now wanted her dead. By now, his plants inside the police department surely knew about the drawing of the floor tile. The race against the clock had begun. Somehow, she had to get to Vincent before anyone else did, and before Gabriel decided to cut his losses and kill both Vincent and the child. That meant she had to meet Joe. Yet here she was, sitting in the park, feeding pigeons. It was a strange world.
Father entered Mary’s chamber and saw that Catherine was asleep on the bed. Mary sat nearby, working on piecing a sleeve into the developing shirt. "Father," Mary said, asking all of her questions with a single worried look.
Alerted by the sound, Catherine woke and sat up. "Tell me," she said firmly, bracing herself for horrible news. Father was still wearing his suit, and he looked like he had been up all night.
"Diana’s drawing let the police find Gabriel’s estate. The police are planning a raid there later this afternoon. Diana has gone ahead alone, using the tunnels, to try to get there first." Father leaned heavily on his cane and looked intently at Catherine. "She’s a remarkable woman, Catherine. I have faith in her. You must not give up hope. Vincent never did."
"Which tunnels will they use to return?" Catherine demanded as she rose to her feet. "I want to go wait for them."
Father knew it was useless to argue, especially since he planned to do the very same thing. He smiled fondly at her. "We’ll go together."
Catherine pulled out of a dazed reverie when she heard the coos of a baby down the tunnel. She quickly scrambled to her feet and stood as close to the turn in the tunnel as she dared.
They were coming. She knew it, dared to hope. Her heart beat faster, but she forced herself to wait. Father was right, seeing her would be a shock. She had to stay out of sight until Father had a chance to prepare Vincent. There was no telling what condition he would be in, and it would be nice for Vincent to have his arms free to hold her. She scarcely dared to breathe as she gripped the rough wall and listened.
"Vincent," Father said, loudly enough for Catherine to hear. "The child?"
"Unharmed. The illness has passed."
Catherine held her breath as Vincent’s words reached her. That voice! To hear it carry such wonderful news summoned a fresh flood of tears.
"May I hold him?" Father asked, handing his cane to Diana. He leaned against the wall of the tunnel and took his grandson into his arms. "Oh, Vincent," he said, running his fingers lightly over the youngster’s soft scalp. He blinked back tears and looked up at his son. "Vincent, I want you to prepare yourself for something."
"For something so stunning and wonderful you won’t believe your eyes." He hesitated, too aware of the fatigue in Vincent’s posture. "I don’t know exactly how to tell you this..."
Catherine couldn’t hold herself back any longer. A feeling of calm swept over her. They were safe and together. She wanted to watch his face when he realized she was there. She took quiet steps, rounding the corner to the section of tunnels where her family waited. Father stood leaning against the wall, holding his grandson. Vincent was standing close, looking at the baby with wonder. The tender scene was overwhelming, yet she somehow found her voice.
A voice from further down the tunnel reached his ears. He knew that voice! It was the voice he had never thought his ears would be blessed to hear again. Slowly, he turned and saw a figure walking hesitantly towards him. She was wearing the tunnel clothes she had worn during that short time when she had lived in his world, grieving for her father. He wanted to look at Father, to confirm that someone else saw what he was seeing. He heard Diana’s quiet gasp, and that registered somewhere in his mind. But he couldn’t take his eyes off of her. He hardly dared to blink, for fear that the vision of his Catherine would fade and disappear.
Catherine stopped, seeing Vincent’s disbelief. In his eyes, she also saw hope and the yearning to believe that the vision was real. "‘Though lovers be lost,’" she said softly, repeating her final words to him. The tears were streaming down her face.
"‘Love shall not.’" Vincent’s voice broke and he opened his arms to her.
In an instant, all doubts were removed. Somehow, the last few steps were covered in a leap propelled by love. She was there, warm and alive, in his arms. Wetting his cheeks were her tears, his tears, mingling together. "Catherine!" He stroked her hair and held her close, letting the tears come.
"Tighter. Hold me tighter," she pleaded, and though he feared he would crush her ribs, he obliged and held her to him as firmly as he dared, then eased his grasp on her to look at her face.
He never got the chance. As soon as his grip had lessened, Catherine took his face in her hands and kissed him. Right there, in front of Father! In front of Diana. Savagely, passionately. How unlike the lips he had kissed good-bye, cold and lifeless, as she lay on the bed in her apartment.
Diana brushed at her own tears and finally looked away from the happy scene. "Father?" she asked, not knowing what other name to call him.
"She appeared shortly before the helpers brought you Below. We didn’t believe it ourselves, at first. I can’t even begin to explain it. None of the sentries saw her pass. She doesn’t remember anything of the last two months, but physically, she has recovered fully from giving birth."
Oblivious to the conversation, the reunited lovers looked into each other’s eyes. The baby cooed, drawing their attention.
"Father, I never got to hold him." Catherine stepped closer, and took her son into her arms. Vincent stood behind her, surrounding both of them with his arms. She leaned back into him, needing the contact. Sobbing, she clutched the child closer, and laid him up against her shoulder. Her lips caressed the top of his head.
Finally, she opened her eyes, and looked at the woman standing patiently by Father. "Thank you, Diana. For everything you have done, I cannot thank you enough."
Diana nodded, not knowing what to say. Vincent and Father were obviously convinced she was Catherine. This was not the time or place for her to give voice to her questions.
"Vincent, I want to go home," Catherine whispered, turning so she could walk back beside him.
Vincent nodded, and scooped her up in his arms. She held their baby, and he carried both of them easily, in spite of his fatigue and the injury to his hands.
"Are you well enough?" she murmured in his ear.
"With love, all things are possible," he answered just as quietly and saw she was not reassured. "Don’t deny me what I have longed for, Catherine. Too long, my arms have been empty. When I held you last...."
Catherine relented. "Later, Vincent. Right now, just hold me and take us home." She rested her head against him.
Father waved them ahead. "We’ll get there eventually. Go to your chamber, Vincent. I’ll be there to tend to your wounds shortly." He noticed Diana’s questioning look. "Didn’t you notice his hands? He’s been badly burned. No telling what horrors he suffered..." He placed his hand on her shoulder. "Thank you, Diana, for bringing my son and grandson home."
Diana returned his cane, then offered him her arm. Together, they slowly made their way back to the world where love warmed the air.
As the reunited trio neared the home chambers, a crowd formed and moved with them towards Vincent’s chamber. Countless hands touched them as they moved through the throng. It seemed that everyone needed the reassurance that the lovers were together again. Necks craned to get a glimpse of the baby, and joyous whispers were exclaimed when they caught a glimpse of blue eyes watching everything around him.
Vincent navigated by instinct, blinded as he was by the tears of joy streaming down his face. He simply followed the path of least resistance as the crowd parted in front of him to let him pass. Mary stood at the entrance to Vincent’s chamber and likewise moved aside, but made no move to follow him. Instead, she firmly planted herself in the center of the passage. "I want all of you to go into Father’s study," she told the assembled group of well-wishers.
All of the children, and even some of the adults, protested. "Aww, Mary, we didn’t even get a good look at the baby!" "We want to hear what happened!" "Is the child healthy?"
Mary gave the tunnel dwellers a stern look as the cacophony of protests reached her ears. "Honestly!" she exclaimed, planting her hands on her hips. "Catherine and Vincent need some time alone. Father needs to check them, and you saw as well as I did how exhausted they are. You will all have plenty of opportunity to smother them with affection in the days to come!"
"Mary’s right," William bellowed over the din. "Give them some time. Anyone still out here in five minutes doesn’t get sweet rolls!"
William smiled at Mary over the motivated, dispersing crowd. He moved closer to her as the corridor was cleared in record time. "I’ll fix a tray for them first." He ducked his head slightly and leaned closer, in a conspiratorial manner. "Actually, I’ve had a bottle heating for the last hour," he admitted, before enveloping her in a bear hug.
Vincent set Catherine down on his bed, then fell to his knees on the floor and put his head in her lap. "Catherine," he sobbed. "I tried to find you. I tried...."
"Shh." Catherine stroked his hair with one hand while holding Jacob against her shoulder with the other. "You did find me, Vincent. You did find me."
"Only to abandon you! Catherine, how could I have left you?"
"Vincent, it’s over." Catherine put her fingers under his chin and forced him to raise his eyes and look at her. "I’m here. Our son is here. The details aren’t important right now. What matters is that we’re together. It’s over...."
"Catherine," Vincent pleaded, still unsatisfied. The joy he felt at having her with him was eclipsed by guilt. He should never have taken her to her apartment that night. He should have brought her Below. Home.
"Tomorrow, Vincent. Let it keep until tomorrow. For now, there are three things I want."
"I want to lie next to you in this bed and feel your arms around me while we watch our son sleep. I want to hold him and count his fingers and toes and kiss every inch of his beautiful face. And I want to talk about what we are going to name him. The rest will keep until tomorrow."
Vincent bowed his head in acquiescence.
"I was wrong, Vincent. There is something else I want, too." Anguished eyes looked into hers and she smiled softly. "I want you to kiss me."
"Vincent? Catherine? May we come in?" Father called softly from outside Vincent’s chamber.
"Of course, Father," Vincent answered, trying to compose himself as he got to his feet. Turning, he saw Father enter, followed by Mary and Diana. Mary had a bottle, while Diana carried a tray of food.
"Come sit at the table, where there is better light," Father requested as he placed his medical bag on the table next to the candles. "Do you have other injuries aside from you hands?"
"None of consequence, Father."
Mary went over to Catherine. "Why don’t you scoot up against the headboard, dear?" As soon as Catherine had done so, she handed her the bottle.
Catherine hesitated, having never given a baby a bottle before. "Mary..."
"It’s all right," Mary smiled reassuringly and sat down on the edge of the bed. "There’s a first time for everything. You didn’t have the benefit of younger brothers and sisters when you were growing up."
"I haven’t even had books to read." Catherine’s voice was bitter as she referred to her captivity.
"Catherine," Mary said, "You aren’t alone anymore." She placed Catherine’s hand on the bottle and guided her movements. "Now just hold the bottle like this, so the milk covers the nipple," she explained as she placed the nipple in the baby’s mouth. He began sucking greedily. "See how easy that is?"
Catherine nodded, bowing her head so the tears were hidden behind her bangs.
"After he’s had a few ounces, I’ll show you how to burp him." Mary waited for Catherine’s nod, then got up and turned to Diana.
"Will you help me pull that table over here?" she asked.
Diana immediately assisted her, and the two of them easily maneuvered the table over to the side of the bed. Diana retrieved the tray from the chair she had placed it on and busied herself setting out the silverware and steaming bowls of stew William had prepared. Golden brown rolls were piled in a basket, and Catherine’s stomach grumbled at the aroma.
"Catherine?" Diana asked hesitantly.
Catherine looked up at her, not knowing what to say to this woman.
"Is there anything you want from your apartment? A favorite outfit, family pictures..."
"Not that I can think of right now."
Diana nodded. "If you think of something, I’m willing to fetch it for you. I know this is difficult for you, but you’ll have to decide soon if you want to reclaim your life up there."
"What do you mean?" Father asked as he finished bandaging Vincent’s hands.
"She’s been declared dead," Diana reminded him. "Her estate will be handled according to her will. It won’t be long before the investigation is closed. Joe insisted on covering the rent these last couple of months, but he won’t be able to do that much longer. If she ever wants to go back, now is the time to decide, or there won’t be anything left to go back to."
She turned back to Catherine. "I don’t mean to pressure you to decide right now. Give yourself a few days. I just want you to be aware of your options, so we can try to come up with a cover story if you do go back. There will be a lot of questions we can’t answer. And Joe Maxwell will probably ask most of them&endash; he never stopped looking for you and Gabriel."
"I understand. Thank you." Catherine turned her gaze back to her hungry son. "Right now, I just want to hold him."
Diana nodded and withdrew to the periphery of the room.
Father closed his medical bag and picked up his cane. "Your hands will heal in a few days... if you rest and take care of yourself."
Vincent nodded. With Catherine and their son here, where else would he go? He watched as Mary showed Catherine how to burp the baby. He was so engrossed in watching them he almost didn’t see Cullen carry a cradle into the chamber.
"Set it over here by the bed, Cullen," Mary directed. "Thank you for bringing it so quickly."
"May I see him?" Cullen asked, going over to the bed. Catherine looked up at him and smiled, turning slightly to give Cullen a better view. "He’s perfect," he said, his voice breaking.
"I think so," she agreed. "Thank you."
Father picked up his medical bag. "We’ll leave you alone now. Eat your dinner and just set the tray outside. If you need anything during the night, don’t hesitate to come get me. "
"Yes, Father," Vincent said softly. If this were a dream, he prayed he would never wake.
As soon as the trio had retreated out of Vincent’s hearing, Father turned on Diana. "How could you do that?"
"Put that sort of pressure on her. Her life is here now," Father said firmly.
Diana countered in an even tone, "You don’t know that."
"Diana, you can’t expect her to go back and leave her child here."
"It’s up to you to decide what she does?" Diana was shocked at the older man’s attitude.
"Jacob Wells, you listen to me and listen carefully, because I’ll only say it once," Mary cut in. "Don’t you dare try to tell Catherine and Vincent what they can and cannot do. That evil man Gabriel has run their lives long enough, and I won’t stand by and let you take over that role."
Father’s jaw dropped. Never in his memory had Mary spoken so harshly to him.
"Catherine will do what she and Vincent decide is best. If they ask for your advice, you can give it to them then. In the meantime, keep your mouth shut!" Mary took Diana’s arm and the two of them went ahead to Father’s study, leaving a stunned patriarch standing alone in the passageway.
Diana sighed when they entered Father’s study. She was exhausted, and wanted to be alone to review the day’s events in her mind. She didn’t have the energy for this right now. She felt everyone in the room watching her as Mary guided her to a seat at the table.
"Sit down, dear," Mary said gently. Her voice easily filled the suddenly silent room. "William brought you a tray of food."
The chair legs grated on the floor as she pulled it away from the table and Diana winced at the noise. "Thank you."
Mary turned to the assembly. "This is Diana. She helped bring Vincent and the baby home. I know you all have a lot of questions, and in time, we hope she will be able to answer some of them. But please be patient, as our guest is very tired."
"How’s Vincent?" a male voice called out. "What about the baby?" someone else asked.
Mary held up her hand for silence and a hush fell up on the room again.
"Both Vincent and the child will be fine," Father answered from the doorway. His entrance incited another barrage of questions, which he ignored. Instead, he crossed the room and sat down near Diana. "We have a new helper in our midst," he continued, nodding at Diana. "Her courage is what brought Vincent and the child home to us."
Diana concentrated on her bowl of stew, both due to hunger and a strong desire to disappear from the room. She didn’t even look up when Father complimented her courage.
The tunnel patriarch continued. "Her name is Diana, and she has been helping Vincent search for the child for some time now. Before this morning, however, she knew nothing about our community. While she rests and eats her meal, I would like to ask each one of you to briefly introduce yourself. Then, I will tell you what I know about the man who brought such grief to this world. We do not yet have all of the answers to our questions. The important thing tonight is that our extended family is once again intact. Lengthy discussions can come later."
Father turned to Diana. "I realize you must be very tired. But if you would indulge us for a short time and tell us briefly what you know, I would be most grateful."
Diana nodded and took a deep breath. "I can’t stay long. I’m sure the department, and Joe, are looking for me."
Mary nodded her understanding, then made a suggestion of her own. "Dear, why don’t you sleep here for tonight? Forgive me, but you look exhausted, and we have guest chambers for our helpers to use. You won’t be disturbed by telephones or doorbells. And I was told you were kidnapped from your own bed last night. Here, sentries keep watch at all of the entrances to our world. You can sleep and know that you are safe."
Diana considered for a moment, then nodded. It would be nice to sleep soundly for a few hours before dealing with the madness that waited Above. "Thank you."
With that matter settled, the introductions began. Later, when Diana was sipping tea and nibbling on a cinnamon roll, she told them about her own involvement in Catherine’s case. As promised, Father kept the meeting brief, and Diana was soon led to a private chamber for some much-needed sleep.
Late the next evening, Diana heard a tap on the glass above her. She looked up, knowing it had to be Vincent. All other visitors to her loft used the front entrance and elevator. She hastily set her mug on the coffee table and fetched a jacket from the closet before she joined him on the roof.
"Shouldn’t you be resting?" she asked as soon as she got outside. She noticed he was wearing thick leather gloves, presumably to protect his hands from further injury.
"I needed to see you. To thank you. What you have done...."
Diana smiled softly at him. Anyone who looked at him could see the change. His eyes had life in them again. Somehow, his voice had also become richer. "How is she?"
"Frustrated." Vincent bowed his head, as if ashamed to admit that Catherine, his perfect Catherine, was having difficulty. The frustration had increased with every feeding during the night, until mother and son were both reduced to tears. When Vincent had then tried to give the screaming child the bottle and met with immediate success, Catherine had cried even harder. Mary had tried to console her, explaining the baby was simply reacting to her tension, but Catherine wouldn’t be comforted. In a few short hours, she had convinced herself she was a failure as a mother.
"Is it about something in particular?" Diana coaxed him to continue.
"As much as she loves children, she has never cared for an infant before."
Diana had to strain to hear him, and stepped closer. She laid a hand on his arm, which caused him to look up, into her gaze. "She’s been through a lot. All first-time mothers are overwhelmed, and she’s dealing with that in addition to everything else."
"So Mary said." Vincent moved away. "It hurts to see her like this. I want to fix it somehow. The miracle of her return shouldn’t be marred by such turmoil as I sense in her."
"You sense her again? Like before?"
"Not like before. Now it’s stronger, with more clarity...." Vincent groped for the words to explain something that no words could describe. The bond had sprung back to life the same moment she had leapt into his arms, though he had been too overwhelmed at the time to notice.
"So you’re convinced it’s really Catherine," Diana said, hugging herself tightly in the chilled air. Vincent gave her a sharp look, as if wondering how she could even consider such a thing, much less say it. "I was there for the autopsy, Vincent. My job is about solving mysteries, and even you have to admit how impossible her return seems."
Reluctantly, he nodded. "I decided not to question a miracle. It is Catherine. I feel the truth of that in my soul. I cannot explain how it happened, nor do I know what events transpired from the time I last saw her to return her to us in such a way. She lives. That is all that matters."
"Is it really that simple?"
"No." Vincent paced away, wondering why he was confiding all of this to Diana. "She has always been a woman of both worlds. I fear if she tries to deny that side of herself, she will find that her sanctuary has become her prison."
"And Father insists she should stay Below," Diana added, remembering his comments from last night.
"He told you?" Vincent was surprised. How could Diana know of the argument he and Father had this morning while Mary tried to soothe Catherine’s nerves as the new mother attempted once more to feed her son.
Diana nodded. "And Mary told him, in no uncertain terms, to mind his own business."
"Mary?" Vincent gaped at her.
Diana smiled. "Your father was stunned, too. But what does Catherine want? Should I start planning for her return?"
Vincent nodded. "She has not yet decided, but I think her heart will lead her home, and her home is in both worlds."
"It’s going to be complicated, I have to warn you. You can’t return from the dead without people asking questions."
"And there are questions she cannot answer, questions she will not answer," Vincent agreed. "But can her return be made possible, if that is what she wants to do?"
"I think so. Let me start thinking about how we could do it. I won’t take any steps that can’t be undone easily. Cathy needs time before she has to make that sort of a decision. Concentrate on her, and I’ll work on the details here."
"Once again, I owe you more than can ever be repaid," Vincent said softly.
Diana considered her words carefully before answering. "Knowing about your world, and having friends there, is payment enough."
Catherine lay on the bed in their shared chamber, trying to read. Three days had passed since their reunion, and her initial joy seemed to have been replaced with despair. She was gaining confidence in caring for their child, but her mood was dark. They had agreed on a name for their son, and the naming ceremony was scheduled to take place tomorrow. Yet even planning that event had done little to penetrate the melancholy that clung to Catherine like a shroud.
Vincent was sitting at his table, supposedly writing in his journal but actually watching Catherine. Through their bond, he could sense the inner turmoil that crashed on the shores of her soul without reprieve. It broke his heart to watch her struggling for a return to normalcy in her life.
"Your heart is troubled," Vincent said softly as he set his pen aside. "Can you tell me?" Though she had said she wanted to withhold nothing from him, he knew that some of the wounds were too fresh, the memories too bitter, for Catherine to put into words. In time, perhaps the words would come. Meanwhile, he tried not to pressure her.
Her lower jaw quivered and he moved quickly to her side. Seating himself on the bed, he drew her into his arms and rubbed her back gently as she cried on his shoulder.
"What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be happy here?" she sobbed. "All those months, all I wanted was to be here with you and now that I am..."
Vincent held her even more tightly, nodding slightly to himself. "Catherine, you are a woman of both worlds. Trying to deny the truth of that will only bring you pain."
"But I love you!" Catherine cried, pulling away so she could look at him.
"And I love you," he assured her. Gently, he brushed the tears from her cheeks and tucked her long hair behind her ears. "But that doesn’t mean you have to make my home into your prison." A gentle finger pressed to her lips kept her silent while he continued. "This will always be your home. But if you turn your back on the world Above, you deny who you are. And you doom yourself to watching others take our son into that world in your place. As he grows older, I want you to show him the world that lies beyond these tunnels... the world I can never see. You can’t do that if they believe you are dead, my love."
Catherine watched him, searching his eyes to see if that was really what he wanted for her.
Vincent nodded. "You don’t need to give up your life Above for us to have our Dream. We’ll find a way for you to have both."
"You’ve thought about this a lot, haven’t you?" she observed quietly.
"You need your friends, Catherine. This is not the time to be making decisions about your future. You need time to heal, time to regain a sense of safety, time to feel connected to the world again. I’ve already spoken with Diana. She is making plans for your return, should you choose to go."
"I don’t want to go back to my apartment."
"Then don’t. Let people think you are staying with Diana, and spend your nights Below."
Catherine nodded. It could work.
"Don’t you want to see your friends?" he prodded gently.
"I feel like I’m failing you," she whispered.
"Never," he assured her. "Rest now," he whispered as he pressed his lips to her forehead, then helped her lie down. He tucked the quilts around her and blew out most of the candles. "I’ll return shortly."
Joe wiped away tears once again as he sorted through the papers in Cathy’s desk. After all this time, it was difficult to let go of the hope that had sustained him first through Catherine’s disappearance, and then through the search for her child.
He looked over at Jenny, who was sitting on the floor of Cathy’s bedroom going through the contents of a trunk. He could tell from the slant of her shoulders that she was faring no better than he.
He sighed and glanced back at the desk. So many papers to sift through. But with Cathy’s parents both dead, it fell to friends to sort through the remnants of her life and distribute them appropriately.
He heard a knock at the door and was grateful for the interruption. He stood up stiffly and glanced at his watch. It was still a bit early for the pizza to be here. It was probably a group of school kids taking up a donation, he decided. "Just a second!" he called through the door as he worked the locks. As soon as he opened it, he wished he had pretended no one had been home. The visitor was the last person he wanted to see right now. "Whatever you’re selling, we don’t want any," he snapped as he shut the door.
"Hey, I ordered a pizza, not a visit from Depression!" Joe yelled through the door as he went back to Cathy’s desk. He should never have told Diana he and Jenny were taking it upon themselves to start disposing of Catherine’s belongings this weekend.
"Joe!" Diana pounded on the door again. "I’ve found Vincent."
Joe froze and looked at Jenny. She gestured for him to go open the door. Reluctantly, he walked back to the door and put his hand on the knob. "So, where is he?"
"Open the door and I’ll tell you."
Joe cracked the door open and waited, ready to slam it closed if Diana hesitated.
"He’s on the balcony." Diana used Joe’s shock as an opportunity and shoved her way inside. Joe gaped at her, but she nodded once and closed the door behind her.
When Jenny heard that Vincent was outside, she went to the balcony doors and threw them open. Cold air rushed past her. Ignoring it, she stepped outside.
A tall man stood with his back to her. His gloved hands rested lightly upon the terrace wall as he looked out on the city. A black, hooded cloak concealed his face.
"Vincent? My name is Jenny." She spoke quietly to the figure, surprised that he hadn’t turned around. Hesitantly, she stepped closer.
A soft, quiet voice filled the night. "I know."
The hooded head dipped forward. "Catherine has told me about you. And while I know she longed to tell her friends about me, her need to protect me was greater." Vincent straightened, then turned towards her and slowly pushed back the hood that had kept his face hidden in shadows. Once that was removed, the moonlight illuminated his features clearly. Gentle eyes watched her, waiting for the inevitable reaction.
In a flash, Jenny understood why Cathy had remained silent about someone so important to her. Overwhelmed with emotion, Jenny threw her arms around him and hugged him fiercely. "It’s so good to meet someone else who loved her," she whispered into his shoulder. He smelled of candles and other things that her mind translated simply as the smells of safety and home.
Vincent glanced at Diana, who stood with Joe in the doorway. He closed his eyes against Joe’s stare, and allowed himself to savor the moment Jenny had given him. Gently, he put his arms around her and stroked her curly brown hair. "Thank you, Jenny. I have wanted to meet Catherine’s loved ones for a long time. I came tonight to take you to her. She’s alive, and wants to see her friends."
"What?" Joe spoke for the first time.
Jenny pulled back and looked at Vincent, obviously confused, as Joe and Diana joined them on the balcony.
"Catherine is alive," Vincent repeated. "Diana and I came tonight to take you to her. She needs you, both of you," Vincent said, looking from Jenny to Joe.
"It’s true, Joe," Diana added softly, stepping forward and brushing Joe’s arm with her hand, not knowing what to do to convince him, comfort him.
"Wait a minute. I saw her body. They did an autopsy- you were there! And now you want me to believe we couldn’t identify her?" Joe looked from Vincent to Diana as he stepped out onto the balcony.
Vincent spoke softly, willing them to believe. "I cannot explain. I was with her...when she died. I brought her home. I stayed with her all night, past the dawn...." His voice broke and he drew a deep breath. "Trying to find the strength to bid her goodbye." He moved away from Jenny to the balcony doors and looked at the bed where he had laid her body and kissed her one last time.
"So? What happened?" Joe prodded.
"Four days ago, she came to the tunnels," Diana answered for Vincent. She could see that he was lost in the memory of another night.
"Tunnels?" Jenny asked, feeling confused.
"Where he lives," she explained, looking at Vincent. His gaze was distant as he looked at Catherine’s apartment. Her belongings. Her world. Diana continued, "She doesn’t remember anything from the last two months. But it is Catherine, Joe. You can see for yourself."
Vincent’s eyes fell on the owl mask lying on the floor next to the trunk. Even though it was half hidden under other things, it shone like a beacon in the night, drawing his attention to that distant memory. He crossed the room and knelt by the trunk. Mesmerized, he reached down and picked the mask up, turning it over in his hands. "She kept it," he said softly, more to himself than the three who watched him. A faint smile crossed his face as he remembered the magical night she had worn it. For that moment, the weight from his shoulders lifted. "Would you be able to carry the trunk and its contents to the basement?" Vincent asked, turning to looking at Diana. They had drifted inside after Vincent, moving away from the chilled evening air.
"I think we can manage it," she told him.
"I’ll meet you Below." With that, he went to the balcony and vanished into the night.
Another knock to the door broke the spell left in Vincent’s wake, and Diana went to answer it. Seeing a delivery person, she turned to Joe. "Your pizza’s here."
Diana was intrigued by the contrasting responses Jenny and Joe were having to the news that Catherine was alive. Jenny had an air of calm acceptance about her. She had hardly spoken at all after Vincent’s departure and had efficiently repacked the trunk so it could be carried without disturbing the contents. Jenny was so matter-of-fact about the evening that Diana could almost forget how miraculous Catherine’s return really was. Joe, however, kept her from being affected by the spell of tranquility that surrounded Jenny.
If Jenny’s mood was serene, Joe’s was the definition of unrest. He talked non-stop as the trio dragged, carried, and shoved the heavy trunk out of the apartment, into the elevator, and finally to the hidden tunnel entrance in the basement. He asked questions, repeated his disbelief, and badgered Diana for explanations she refused to give.
While he waited, Vincent hurriedly pulled more bricks away from the wall built to seal Catherine’s basement. In his haste to reach her balcony, he had made only the smallest opening necessary. After only a few minutes, he had doubled the size of the hole, and he moved further into the basement to wait. He didn’t normally venture this far into Catherine’s building, but was confident that Diana was watching for intruders from Above. And his strength was needed to maneuver the trunk down the ladder. Cullen was on his way, to assist in carrying the large item back to Vincent’s chamber, but Vincent didn’t have the patience to wait. He climbed the ladder, which took him further into this portion of Catherine’s building than he had ever dared before.
"How do you suggest we get this down the ladder?" Diana asked him as soon as she opened the panel. "It’s not exactly light."
"Vincent?" he heard Cullen call from beneath him. "I brought ropes like you asked. What are we moving?"
Vincent looked down and saw Cullen smiling at him. "Don’t tell me you had the sense to ask for help, but were going to try to start without me. Hello, Diana."
"Hi..." she groped for his name, which Vincent promptly whispered to her. "Cullen," Diana continued, "We have a trunk of Catherine’s."
Cullen nodded and climbed up the ladder beside Vincent, who was hanging off the side in an effort to make room for the bulk of two men. "That looks easy enough," he commented as he climbed into the basement and got a look at the item in question. "Just give me a minute to secure the ropes, and I’ll lower it down to you, Vincent."
"You live down there, too?" Joe asked as the large man deftly secured ropes around the chest.
Cullen nodded without looking up from his task. When he was done, he handed the ends of the ropes to Joe and slid the trunk over to the opening over the ladder. "Ready, Vincent?"
With Joe taking up the slack in the ropes, Cullen slowly heaved the trunk over the edge of the opening and lowered it to Vincent’s waiting hands. Vincent balanced the trunk on his shoulder as he slowly made his way down the ladder while Cullen and Joe kept the ropes taut so it remained in Vincent’s grasp.
"I have it," Vincent called, and Cullen nodded to Joe. He tossed the ropes through the opening and held out his hand to Jenny. "The rungs are old, miss, but sturdy. There are a couple on the wall to your left you can use to help you get turned around."
"Thank you," Jenny said as she smiled softly at Cullen. In other circumstances, the dark, dusty space where Vincent waited might have been intimidating. Today, she felt no hesitation. Cullen’s work-calloused hand was warm and she could feel the strength behind his gentle grasp. Neither this man nor Vincent would allow her to slip and fall.
She was only half-way down the ladder when she felt strong hands on her hips. "I’ll lift you down," she heard Vincent say in that wonderful voice of his. She released her hold on the rungs and he set her gently on her feet. "I don’t suppose you have a single brother, do you?" she asked him from behind lowered lashes.
Vincent chuckled softly, "Actually, I do, but Devin no longer lives with us." Seeing the hint of disappointment in her eyes, he hastened to explain. "His heart leads him to constant travel, and we have doubts he will ever settle down and live in one place for very long."
"Figures," she muttered under her breath while Vincent turned back to the ladder to guard Diana’s descent. Candlelight flickered beyond a rough opening in a brick wall. Curious, Jenny moved closer and saw a lantern resting on the floor just beyond the passageway. She knew Vincent and the other man would be burdened with the trunk, so she retrieved the lantern and waited for the others to join her.
It wasn’t long before Vincent stepped through, one hand holding the end of the trunk. "May I?" he asked.
Jenny smiled inwardly and deliberately misinterpreted his request for the lantern. She took his free hand with hers and held the lantern higher, to better light the way. Bemused and surprised, Vincent smiled slightly at her, then nodded for her to proceed towards the darkness that lay beyond the flickering light of the lantern.
The group walked in silence for some time, with Vincent guiding Jenny with slight pressure to her hand. Joe and Diana followed behind Cullen and were using a flashlight Diana had produced from the pocket of her coat.
Without warning, Jenny felt Vincent tense. She turned to look at him, but his gaze was distant, his attention focused inward.
"Catherine," he whispered to himself.
"Go to her," Cullen said, seeming to understand what was happening. "I’ll let them know you’re on your way." He lowered his burden to the tunnel floor and pulled a small pipe from his pants pocket.
With a quick nod of gratitude, Vincent lowered his end of the trunk to the floor and withdrew his hand from Jenny’s before disappearing into the darkness. They could hear his soft footfalls for a moment, then all was silent.
Cullen tapped several times on the pipe that ran along the stone wall, then turned his attention to the group. "We can come back later for the&endash;"
"What’s with the pipe banging?" Joe interrupted. Diana had refused to answer his questions, and Vincent had intimidated him into silence, but maybe this man would start explaining the mysteries. If not...
"It’s how we communicate," Cullen replied. He studied Joe for a moment and decided he was simply curious. "Catherine probably had another nightmare."
"If you don’t know for sure, then why’d he go running off like that?"
"Because he sensed her need," Cullen answered.
"Later, Joe," Diana said softly as she took his arm. "It’s hard to explain." She looked to Cullen and spoke in a normal tone. "If Joe takes the lantern and the other end, Jenny and I can use the ropes on the sides and help you carry this. There’s no sense coming back later when we can manage it now."
When the four were underway again, Cullen made an effort to make conversation. "You here for the naming ceremony tomorrow?"
Three pairs of clueless eyes turned to him in response. "Naming ceremony?" Jenny asked for all of them.
"Every member of our community gets a naming ceremony. It’s more important than a birthday to us, since a lot of us don’t even know when our birthday was. For the adults who join us, it’s a day that marks the start of a new life. Every member of the community gives the honored person a gift. The naming ceremony for Catherine’s and Vincent’s baby is tomorrow. I assumed that’s why you were here."
"What sorts of gifts are standard?" Diana asked. Even if they were not invited, she felt it would still be appropriate to get Vincent’s and Catherine’s child a present.
Cullen shrugged his shoulders. "Lots of people we get come to us with nothing, so clothes and blankets and toys for the kids are popular. It gives them things to call their own. Doesn’t have to be fancy. A promise to spend time with someone doing a favorite activity or taking a turn at chores isn’t uncommon."
Jenny and Diana exchanged a glance, and they could each see that the other was already conspiring to present the new baby with the perfect gift. Even Joe seemed to be thinking about the possibilities.
Cullen directed them to set the trunk in the passageway before leading them to an archway. He gestured for Diana and the two newcomers to go in. Joe followed Jenny and Diana into a cozy chamber which illuminated with lots of candles. Joe’s eyes fell on the bed, where Vincent was sitting. His back was against the headboard, and he had a book open in his hand. Snuggled next to him, with his arm around her, was Catherine. Her eyes were closed, and she was obviously relaxed and content, listening to him read. Vincent saw them coming in and paused.
"Don’t stop," Catherine begged, not opening her eyes.
"Catherine, look who is here to see you," he urged softly.
Catherine obediently lifted her head and opened her eyes so she could see who was at the door, and could not believe what she saw. Jenny and Joe were both there, with tears in their eyes. Jenny had covered her mouth with her hand, and was leaning heavily on Joe to stay upright.
She turned back to Vincent, in disbelief. "How did you ever get Father to agree?"
Vincent smiled tenderly and helped her get up. For once, he had not asked Father’s permission, but rather announced that the decision had already been made.
Unable to decide who to hug first, Catherine opened her arms and drew them both into her embrace, crying with joy.
Vincent drew two chairs closer to the bed for them to sit. The baby woke, and he checked the child’s diaper before he picked him up, cuddling him. Cullen came in with a third chair and placed it with the others, then quietly slipped away.
Diana had stood back while Cathy was reunited with her friends, and now she drifted towards the door, intending to leave them alone. Vincent took her hand. "Please, stay."
Unable to refuse the look of gratitude in his eyes, she acquiesced and sat down in the chair Cullen had brought for her.
Jenny finally pulled back from the tearful three-way embrace and noticed the baby. "Oooh. Can I hold him?" She reached out and let Vincent place the baby in her arms. "He’s beautiful! Especially his eyes." She tilted her head, looking between the baby and Vincent for a moment. "He has your eyes, Vincent."
Before he could come up with a reply to that unexpected compliment, Mouse burst in.
"Catherine! Eat dinner with others? William wants to know. Friends, too," Mouse said, placing a basket of bread on the table. Mary followed behind him, carrying a tray of tea service for all of them.
"Thank you, Mouse. Actually... perhaps we could eat in Father’s chamber? It’s cramped with all of us in here." Catherine winced after she spoke, when she realized what she had just said.
"Could make it bigger. Get explosives, make bigger chamber, for you and Vincent."
"Thank you, Mouse, but I like my chamber the way it is," Vincent said quietly, looking up from the basin where he had retreated to clean his hands.
"Okay good, okay fine. Eat in Father’s chamber. Need tables, chairs. Mouse will do." Without another word, Mouse ducked out the doorway and went to prepare Father’s chamber for dinner.
"Weathered another one," Catherine muttered, under her breath. "That’s the third time in two days he’s offered to make this chamber bigger. And like an idiot, I had to mention it was too cramped for us to eat."
"He means well," Mary said gently as she set the tray on the table. "He is just happy to have ‘Vincent’s Catherine’ back. We all are. Have some tea. We will have dinner ready soon."
"Thank you, Mary," Catherine said softly as the older woman left. Joe and Jenny sat down in the two remaining chairs and helped themselves to the bread. Diana was already sipping a cup of tea. Satisfied that her guests were comfortable, she turned to Vincent, savoring having him in the same room as her friends. She saw fresh blood on the bandages Vincent had placed beside the basin. "Vincent, your hands! What did you do to open the wounds?" Concerned, she went to him, and took his wrist in her fingers, forcing him to let her see.
"I went to your balcony to meet your friends," Vincent said quietly, wishing she hadn’t noticed the bandages.
"My balcony? Vincent, surely that wasn’t necessary. Does Father know?"
"Do I know what?" Father said, coming into the room.
"Vincent’s hands are bleeding again," Catherine answered, omitting the details of how and why it had happened.
"You!" Joe said, standing up, not even hearing Cathy’s explanation. "You live here, too?"
"Vincent is my son, Mr. Maxwell. Now that you have met him, and seen our world, I trust you understand why I couldn’t tell you more." Not waiting for an answer, he went to examine his son.
"You have met?" Vincent looked at the two men, several unspoken questions in his eyes.
"Twice. The first time was after Elliot Burch was killed. The second was after you turned yourself in to Gabriel," Father explained, as he looked at Vincent’s hands. "I suppose it is pointless to tell you that you can be foolish and stubborn." Father sighed and looked up at his son.
"As I learned from your example, Father," Vincent teased back gently, trying to derail the coming lecture.
"Hmh. Well, the damage is done. Come to my chamber and I’ll put some clean bandages on those wounds. Hopefully, you’ll let them heal this time." Jacob made his way slowly to the door, then turned to the group sitting next to Vincent’s bed. "Are you actually all coming to the study for dinner, or is Mouse gleefully rearranging the furniture on a whim?"
"We would like to eat dinner there, if we may, Father," Catherine said from the bed where she was once again sitting. "Although Mouse has offered several times to enlarge Vincent’s chamber."
"Dear God, I hope you deterred him!"
Vincent chuckled. "For today, at least."
"Maybe it will help if I told him Elliot is the one who gave me the explosives I needed after the cave-in. Mouse seems to think I can get explosives any time he wants," Catherine offered with a sad smile. It hurt to think about Elliot’s death.
"Elliot gave you explosives?" Joe couldn’t keep quiet any longer. Each sentence one of the tunnel dwellers uttered invoked new questions. "Radcliffe, you’d better start explaining all of this." Joe turned to Cathy, finding her to be the only target for his questions, given Father and Vincent’s retreat.
"I will, Joe. At least the parts that I can. Diana will have to help, too."
She felt such confusing emotions towards this woman who had made it her business to understand the workings of Catherine’s and Gabriel’s minds. Always, there was a strong feeling of gratitude for everything she had done for Vincent, their son, even herself. But she couldn’t help but feel a stab of jealousy, knowing that this woman had become Vincent’s confidant in her absence. That thought always brought feelings of guilt, since Diana had assured her she was not interested in competing with Catherine for Vincent’s affection. Catherine forced a warm smile to her face as she looked at the redheaded woman who had saved Vincent’s life.
Diana let Catherine stare at her, thinking that she understood what Cathy must be feeling. Surely it was disorienting to be home after months in captivity, followed by two months of time that were lost completely. Diana couldn’t help but like Catherine, and was determined that the young lawyer come to think of her as a friend. "Of course," she said quietly, "Although I don’t think anyone can explain the miracle of your return. Even Gabriel thought you were dead." Diana smiled softly, sadly. "He was quite surprised when I told him I was using your gun. It seemed fitting."
"You killed him?" Joe exclaimed.
"Yes," Diana said evenly. While she had not yet resolved her own feelings of guilt, she still believed she had done what was necessary, what was right even, to protect Vincent and the baby. "Gabriel promised that he would never stop looking for Vincent and the child. With his power, he would have controlled any jury. It was the only way."
"You went to his estate before the raid?! You could have blown the whole thing!"
"He knew you were coming, Joe. He had men throughout the police department. He controlled Moreno. You don’t seriously believe your raid would have been a surprise to him? He would have killed Vincent, taken the child, and then come after you."
"Joe, the best way to explain is if we start at the beginning. Please, just be patient," Catherine broke in.
"Where’s my little angel?" Mary asked, returning with a bottle. "William and the others have your dinner ready and waiting for you, Catherine. Why don’t you go eat and talk with your friends. I’ll feed him and bring him to you in a little bit."
"Are you sure, Mary? What about your dinner?"
"I already ate. Besides, I want some time with this precious little boy. Go on, go relax and enjoy yourself."
Jenny stood up from the rocking chair and let Mary get settled in it before handing the baby over to her. "It seems to me that this lucky little guy is going to grow up wondering what a bed is, with all the people who want to hold him!"
"We’re just making up for lost time," Mary said, her eyes twinkling.
Jenny nodded, smiling her understanding. "Joe, will you carry the tray?" She picked up the bread basket and followed after Catherine.
Joe sighed, and obediently brought the tray. Why was there such a fuss being made over tea? Didn’t anyone down here know about coffee?
Telling Joe and Jenny about the details of her private life took longer than Catherine had expected... long enough to eat, clear away the dishes, and finish three pots of tea. Without even a moment’s reprieve, conversation had moved next to the announcement Catherine intended to regain her life Above.
"Catherine’s place is with her family," Father declared.
"Who made you king?" Jenny snapped without taking her eyes off of Cathy. She had not spoken about Father’s disapproval of her relationship with Vincent, but Jenny had sensed it several times. The guarded looks Catherine cast in Father’s direction, the vague references to difficult times during her courtship with Vincent, and most of all, the pain that flickered behind a steady gaze told Jenny the rest of the story. Nor did Jenny miss the defferential way the tunnel dwellers spoke to Father, including Vincent. She itched to get Cathy somewhere alone where the two of them could talk about all of the unspoken truths, but until then, Cathy needed an ally.
"What?" Father stammered.
"I said," Jenny enunciated each word as she turned to Father, who sat at the head of the table, "Who made you king? It may have escaped your attention, but Catherine is a grown woman with all the rights of a legal adult. And that means she gets to make her own decisions about where and how she lives her life."
"You misunderstand. I was simply trying to say..." Father attempted to explain.
Jenny didn’t give him an inch. "I understand perfectly. And it’s very clear to me that both Cathy and Vincent want her to reclaim her life Above, as you call it. So with all respect, you can either give some practical suggestions to facilitate her return, or be quiet."
Father looked at her with a stunned expression and said nothing.
Joe had been uncharacteristically quiet during the discussion of how to accomplish Cathy’s return, to the point of tuning the others out. He was searching for the best way to provide Cathy with the stable home life she needed while still finding a way to get her back to work. Without even being aware of whether he was interrupting someone, he looked up from the spoon he had been toying with. "Radcliffe, I know we’ve never talked about this, but how much money do you have? Or did you have. Geez, Cathy, do you have anything left? Your will..."
"Peter Alcott’s the beneficiary, and he’s been a friend of Father’s and mine for years. I’m sure he’ll give my estate back to me, since I’m back from the dead." Catherine explained. She was grateful for the change in subject and leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. Joe and Jenny were sitting across from her and Vincent, and she took Joe’s hand in hers. "As far as exactly how much money is in that estate...I honestly don’t know the exact figures. I’ve always let Dad’s accountant handle things. Why?" She smiled at him. "I know that look.... You’ve thought of something."
"Real estate in the Big Apple isn’t cheap, but do you have enough dough to buy yourself a brownstone in the city?"
"If you owned the property, you could do anything to it you want..." he paused dramatically, waiting for her to guess what he was thinking. "Like adding a tunnel entrance in the basement."
"Perfect!" Jenny exclaimed. "It’s so obvious! Then you can come and go as you please, entertain guests, and no one will ever know you aren’t there much."
"Vincent would be able to live there, too," Diana pointed out quietly from her seat beside Joe. She knew how Vincent longed to stretch the boundaries between the worlds Below and Above. A house with a tunnel entrance would allow him to experience living in Catherine’s world while still providing the safety of the tunnel community.
They all watched as Vincent and Catherine gazed at each other, silently contemplating the possibilities. Finally, Vincent nodded and drew Catherine’s hand to his lips. "Our Dream is being realized," he told her softly.
Jenny watched Father out of the corner of her eye and was pleased to see him nod in hesitant approval.
"We’ll need to examine the maps, of course, and you still have to find suitable property, but it does seem to be a practical solution," Father conceded.
"I’ll start in on the real estate section on Sunday," Jenny promised before yawning. "I hate to break up the party, but I need to get home and get some sleep."
Father decided it was the proper time to extend an olive branch to Jenny. "Will you be able to return tomorrow? All of you? We’re having a party for my grandson."
"I wouldn’t dream of missing it," she answered with a smile.
Joe and Diana nodded and Father pushed his chair back from the table with a feeling of satisfaction. "Good. I’ll go ask some of the older children to escort you home. They’ll show you the tunnel entrances closest to your homes and meet you there again in the morning. Shall we say ten o’clock?"
"So much for sleeping in," Joe mumbled to Diana as he nodded at Father with a courtroom smile plastered to his face. He still hadn’t decided if he liked the man or not.
"Wake up, sleepyhead!"
"Who is this?" Diana yawned and leaned against the wall by the intercom. She had just gotten up and was not yet ready for company.
"A friend of Vincent’s. C’mon, you don’t want to be late for the party, do you?"
Diana’s brow furrowed as she pushed the release for the elevator. Her caller seemed to be legitimate, but she was supposed to meet her escort Below, in two hours. With a sigh, she closed her robe and brushed her hair out of her eyes.
"Good morning," he said as he opened the doors to the elevator and bounded into the room. "Hey, this is a great place! All the natural light is perfect!"
"Who are you?" Diana was taken aback at the way he had waltzed into her home.
"Kristopher," he supplied absently as he wandered around the loft. He bent over a rosebush. "Is this the one from her balcony? You better tell her you have it." Without waiting for her to answer, he moved to the kitchen sink and played with the faucet.
"Can I help you?" Diana prodded as she followed him around the room. He acted like she wasn’t even there. "What do you want?" she demanded.
"The red-head’s threatening me with her temper!" He clucked his tongue at her tone and examined his hands in the light that streamed through the window. "Does this mean you won’t pose for a sketch?"
Again, he didn’t wait for her to answer and resumed his wanderings. When he moved towards her curtained bulletin board, she blocked him. "No!"
For the first time, he looked her in the eye. "Don’t exhume the casket. You won’t get your answers there."
"Whose casket?" Diana demanded. "Who are you? What do you know?"
"Questions, questions. Always questions. I bet you always color inside the lines!" He nodded knowingly. "You ask too many questions." His head cocked sideways for a second and he framed her image with his hands. "You’ll look better once you get a shower. Don’t be late!"
With that, he turned on his heel and let himself out, leaving a stunned, confused detective standing mutely beside her computer.
"Kristopher Gentian," Catherine guessed and shook her head. "It had to be him."
Vincent nodded and poured more tea for Diana. "We found him to be equally mysterious."
"Who is he?" Diana slumped back in her chair. She had begun to feel foolish about her discomfort when she went to the tunnel entrance and tapped out a summons for an escort in Morse code. Her guest had been unlike any she had ever encountered, though she couldn’t identify exactly what was different about him. She’d met plenty of lunatics in her career, but Kristopher was a new variety. He seemed harmless, and that alarmed her more than anything.
Vincent gestured to the painting that hung in his chamber and explained what little he and Catherine knew about the mysterious artist.
After she had assimilated the new information, she shook her head sharply in a futile effort to clear her thoughts. It was reassuring to hear that Vincent and Cathy both knew him. Maybe he really was harmless. "How did he know so much? He seemed to know you’re alive, and warned me not to have the casket exhumed."
Catherine smiled and shrugged. "Kristopher doesn’t answer questions."
"Are you going to have it exhumed?" Vincent asked, bringing the discussion back to the subject of Catherine’s scheduled return on Monday.
"I don’t think it will be left up to me. Once I tell my superiors on Monday that Catherine Chandler is alive and Joe confirms it, I suspect the matter will be out of my hands."
"Are you sure you aren’t going to get into trouble?" Catherine leaned forward anxiously. The plan was for Diana to claim Catherine was in seclusion with her child and that she adamantly refused to talk to the police about her ordeal. If Diana’s failure to follow standard procedures and have the woman examined at a hospital was questioned, Diana was going to insist that Catherine had been seen by Peter Alcott and had threatened to disappear again if the legal system treated her like a criminal. Peter had seen Catherine and had expressed willingness to assist Diana in deflecting the police force from trying to bring Catherine out of hiding, citing her fragile health after months of captivity. Naturally, the D.A.’s office was willing to let the case they had been building against Gabriel fade from memory, especially since the man in question was dead.
Diana nodded confidently. "Even if they reprimand me, it’s a small price to pay. It won’t be the first time I ignored standard procedure." She ran her fingers through her hair and gazed back at the painting. "I do intend to investigate this Kristopher Gentian, though. He knows a lot more than he’s telling about your case."
"Good luck," Catherine responded. "You’re going to need it."
Just before lunch, everyone gathered in Father’s study for the official welcome of a new child into their community. Jenny was moving about the room, snapping picture after picture with the camera she had brought with her. The flash seemed incongruous with the candlelit chamber, but Catherine was thrilled that she was going to have pictures of this day to treasure for the rest of her life.
"Uh, oh," she murmured to Vincent as Father covered the camera lens with his hand.
"Do you realize the risk this poses to our world?" they heard him say.
Jenny bristled. "Does every single thing here need your explicit approval?"
Father stammered for a moment before recovering. "I’m only concerned about protecting the safety of those&endash;"
"Have you ever heard of a concept called trust?" Jenny replied coolly. Without waiting for him to reply, she moved away and deliberately snapped a picture of Vincent holding the baby.
"I think you have an ally," Joe moved closer and whispered to Cathy as she hid a grin behind her hand.
"Father is not accustomed to being dismissed." Vincent commented after hearing Joe’s remark. While he liked Jenny, he felt bad for the way she was treating Father.
Cathy smiled up at Vincent. "Father is also far too accustomed to having people defer to him. And Jenny can be trusted."
Once he had recovered his composure, Father called for everyone’s attention and gestured for Vincent and Catherine to join him in the center of the room. "It has been said that the child is the meaning of life. The truth of that has never been more apparent to me than it is on this day, when we celebrate the child, this new life that has been brought into our world.
"We welcome the child with love, that he may learn to love. We welcome the child with gifts, that he may learn generosity. And finally, we welcome the child with a name." All eyes turned to the proud parents, waiting to hear what name they had chosen.
"We have named our son Jacob," Vincent said, his voice filling the room. The baby in his arms looked up at him and Catherine’s arms encircled them both.
"Jacob Joseph Chandler, in the world Above," Catherine added, once murmurs of approval had faded. "He will be raised in both worlds, loved by both worlds, but this will always be his home."
Joe gaped at Catherine while Jenny shook his hand in congratulations. He had never expected to have this honor bestowed upon him. Forgetting that this was a ceremony, he rushed forward. "Cathy... what about your father?"
Cathy smiled and took both of his hands in hers. "We hope to have more children, Joe. We’re saving Charles for a future son. Now come stand with us. Jenny, Diana, you, too, please. This is the perfect time to meet everyone individually."
"Why?" Jenny asked as she complied and moved into line next to Joe.
"Because this is when the new member of the community is presented with gifts," Father explained. "You’re new, and we don’t expect you to&endash;"
Once again Jenny cut him off, this time with a broad smile that told him she was teasing. "Oh, no, you don’t! We three topsiders came prepared. All we need is a big strong helper to lug that stack of boxes over here." One of the children scrambled to comply. "This one is from Diana," Jenny said as she handed a box to Catherine.
They all watched Catherine open the package. Inside was the softest, most cuddly teddy bear any of them had ever seen. "It’s beautiful, Diana. I believe this will be much loved for many years to come." Appreciative comments filled the room and Diana smiled shyly.
Jenny waited for Catherine to start the bear on a journey around the room, and then handed her the next box. "This is from Joe."
Catherine met Joe’s eyes. "Knowing you, I’m almost afraid to open it," she teased, then removed the lid. She held up a baseball for everyone to see.
"That comes with a promise, Radcliffe," Joe explained. "You have yourselves a chaperone to all the baseball, football, and basketball games junior here wants to attend when he’s a bit older." He paused and looked around the room with a mischievous grin. "I might be persuaded to take a few other kids, too."
Catherine’s response was lost in the din as the tunnel children whooped in excitement, but Joe saw gratitude in her face. It was reflected in Vincent’s eyes. For all that he could provide his son with, Joe knew Vincent would never be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of sitting in the stands with his family and cheering for the home team. Father, too, was nodding in approval.
Jenny waited for the group to quiet and motioned for Catherine to kneel and open the last box.
"Oh, Jenny!" was all Catherine could say.
"What is it?" someone across the room asked.
"The complete works of Laura Ingalls Wilder, two biographies about her, and a biography about her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane," Catherine announced.
"What can I say?" Jenny said, shrugging her shoulders. "I help publish books, so it only makes sense that I give them away as gifts." She raised her head and addressed the child who had helped bring the box over to her. "There’s another box of the same books at home for the rest of you to have, but the two boxes together were too heavy for me to manage. I’ll bring them next time."
Catherine got to her feet and the tunnel dwellers took that as their cue to form a line. One by one, they introduced themselves to Jenny and Joe, reminded Diana of their names, and presented Jacob with their gifts.
Standing there, with Catherine by his side and their son in his arms, Vincent thought his heart would explode with joy.
When her son became fussy, Catherine knew he was ready for a nap. She quietly excused herself from the throng still inhabiting Father’s study and walked the short distance to Vincent’s chamber. The stone passages muted the sounds of the party, but the hum of conversation followed her all of the way to Jacob’s crib.
She laid her son, J.J. as Joe had called him, down on his back and waited until he drifted off to sleep. Turning to exit the chamber, she noticed a large, burlap-wrapped object leaning on the far wall. A wave of deja vu swept over her and she went to ask Vincent about it.
"I know nothing about it," Vincent told her a few minutes later. "Perhaps Father can tell us where it came from." He took her arm and guided her around the clusters of adults who were enjoying their conversations. "Father, do you know anything about an object being delivered to my chamber?"
The tunnel patriarch looked up from the book he had been showing Jenny and nodded. "Jamie reminded me of it this morning. In the excitement of Catherine’s return, we forgot that Catherine had it with her when Jamie found her. Have you opened it?"
Vincent shook his head and turned to Catherine. "You have no memory of this?"
Her brow furrowed as she concentrated, then looked up at him. "No. But I think we should open it."
"You have me curious," Jenny said. "Mind if I tag along?"
"Please do," Vincent replied and gallantly offered her his arm.
Moments later, the two women stood watching as Vincent carefully cut away the protective wrapping. Without intending to block their view, he moved into Catherine’s line of sight so he could free the fabric that had snagged on a corner. As it fell away, Catherine heard his quiet gasp and tugged at his elbow so he’d move aside and let the women see. "What is it?"
Wordlessly, he stepped away.
"It’s stunning!" Jenny exclaimed, as she saw the painting that had been unveiled. "Who’s the artist?"
Catherine and Vincent gazed at each other silently before turning back to the painting.
"Kristopher," Vincent answered quietly.
The portrait was as beautiful as the first he had given to them, only this time, Jacob was in it as well. Vincent was seated in the large chair in his chamber, with Catherine sitting sideways on his lap. Both of their gazes were directed down to the toddler who was sitting on Catherine’s lap and looking out at the artist. His right hand was holding Vincent’s and in his left he grasped a wooden horse. It was a toy like those the other tunnel children played with. Vincent was wearing dark green slacks and a light green shirt, which perfectly matched the gown worn by his beloved Catherine. Jacob’s outfit could be attributed to either world his parents lived in. The cream sweater and soft moccasins on his feet were from Below, while his pants were unpatched and spoke of expensive stores Above.
"Are the paints dry?"
Jenny heard the strain in Catherine’s voice and looked askance at her. What sort of a question was that? And why had the newborn J.J. been painted as a toddler?
Vincent stepped forward, then sharply drew back again. "I didn’t notice before..."
"Notice what?" Jenny coaxed, confused at how both of them were acting.
"There is a second painting behind the first," he explained.
"It’s not going to bite you," Jenny teased and stepped forward to move the first painting away so they could see the one behind it. She carefully picked the canvas up by the edges and leaned it against the wall, then turned back to gaze at the second portrait. Her jaw dropped and she looked at Vincent and Catherine. They were as stunned as she was.
"I think they need to see this," Catherine said in a strangled whisper before slipping away.
"What’s the big mystery, Radcliffe? Don’t you know that nothing is going to top the bombshells that have already been dropped on me?" Joe’s voice drifted into Vincent’s chamber, followed by the man himself. Catherine was leading him by the hand. Diana and Father were following behind her.
"Oh, my God!" Joe gasped as he saw the painting nearest the door.
Diana paled visibly and turned to Joe, who seemed to be as shaken as she was. Finding no answers there, she turned her attention once again to the painting where she and Joe were portrayed in a lovers’ embrace. He was in a tuxedo, she in a cream gown that could be mistaken for an antique wedding dress. Her long red hair was pulled back from her face at the sides and spilled over her shoulders in masses of soft curls. The two stood together, arms around each other’s waists, looking out at the assembly in Vincent’s chamber.
"Catherine, read the inscription on the lower right of the other portrait," Vincent prompted quietly. He had examined the painting more closely while Catherine fetched the others, and wanted her to make the discovery for herself.
"Other?" Joe tore his eyes from the image of Diana in his arms and saw the painting of Cathy’s family. "Where did these come from?"
Ignoring him for the moment, Catherine bent down, shuddered, and read aloud. "‘And Death shall have no dominion.’ Kristopher."
"Who’s Kristopher?" Joe asked.
Again he was ignored as Catherine moved to the painting of Joe and Diana. "‘Of things that are not and that should be,’ followed by the initials K.G.," she read mechanically. She straightened up and turned into Vincent’s embrace. Unbidden sobs wracked her body and she buried her face in his chest.
Joe grew more impatient. "Will someone tell me what this is all about?"
"Keep your voice down, you’ll wake the baby," Father reprimanded him. "Let’s go to the dining hall so we can sit down and talk about this comfortably," he suggested and started for the door. He knew that the dining area would be empty, since the party in his study was likely to be the main site of activity for the afternoon.
"I’m not leaving my son here alone," Catherine insisted. Her voice was muffled by Vincent’s tear-soaked vest. "And there isn’t much to tell."
"Where did the paintings come from, Cathy?" Joe asked in a much softer voice. "And why are you crying?"
Catherine straightened at last and wiped the tears from her cheeks. "I don’t like feeling like a pawn in someone else’s game." Looking at the baby sleeping in the crib, she added in a barely audible whisper, "I had enough of that with Gabriel."
Vincent’s gentle hand rubbing her back gave her comfort and she drew strength from his touch. "You remember me talking about Kristopher Gentian, don’t you, Joe?"
"The dead guy?"
Catherine nodded mutely.
"Of course I remem&endash; wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me he painted these? How? I’ve never even met the guy and you want me to believe he painted me with her?" Joe snapped, pointing at Diana.
"A long time ago," Vincent added softly. "Just as he did the other one."
"How do you know that?" Joe demanded, skeptical of Vincent’s certainty.
"Both portraits are completely dry. With oil paints, that takes months, sometimes years," Vincent explained.
Diana had been standing in front of the portrait of her and Joe, trying to make sense of it all. She’d never even thought of Joe in that way before... aside from thinking he was handsome once or twice. She hugged herself tightly and stared at her own face gazing back at her. The eyes of the woman in the painting were joyful, contented, and not at all like the eyes that looked back from her bathroom mirror.
She took a deep breath and collected her thoughts. This was simply another clue, to be considered in the context of a larger case. "Look, I’m going to start checking into Kristopher this afternoon. I want to know who he is." She turned to Father. "Will you ask someone to guide me back to the entrance by my loft? I’m not certain I know my way yet."
"I’ll go with you," Joe added, avoiding her gaze. He’d always thought Diana was pretty, but he’d never even considered her as a potential... Stopping the thought before it could progress further, he turned back to Cathy. "Sorry to cut out early on you like this, but I have some errands to run. It was a nice party." He hugged her quickly, murmured congratulations to Vincent, and followed Diana and Father from the chamber.
"You two okay?" Jenny asked. Catherine had turned away once more, seeking shelter in Vincent’s arms.
"Then I’m going to go bug Father by taking another roll of pictures." She grinned and winked at Vincent before leaving them alone.
"That painting frightens me, Vincent," Catherine confided.
"I find it to have just the opposite effect on me," he told her and gently turned her by the shoulders so she gazed at it once more. "Look, Catherine. Our son is well over a year old, and we are both with him. It’s like Kristopher is promising us a future. A future together. See how happy we all look. Look at how Jacob is thriving! He has both his parents."
"I know. But when was it done? How can Kristopher know about our son? Why do I have the feeling I should remember posing for him? He’s a con artist, Vincent, nothing more."
"Are you sure? Listen to your heart, Catherine. Look beyond the fear, to the truth you know."
She lifted her chin and looked at him. "What? What do you sense?"
"It’s difficult to describe." His eyes became unfocused as he searched for the words to convey his feelings. "A vague impression of someone watching over us, protecting us..."
"Like a guardian angel?"
"Perhaps. A guardian angel with tremendous talent as a painter."
Catherine nodded slightly, but remained unconvinced.
"I hope you didn’t decide to walk me home because of a painting," Diana said as soon as Kipper secured the door behind them and headed back to the party.
"Don’t flatter yourself," he snapped and realized immediately how rude that had sounded. "I’m sorry, I just meant that&endash;"
Diana spared him the necessity of explaining. "I understand."
"But I do need to talk to you. Mind if I come up?" Joe asked, shoving his hands deep into his jacket pockets.
Diana nodded and produced her keys from the pocket of her slacks. "This sounds serious."
She gestured with her hand and followed him inside her building. He seemed agitated, which he confirmed by fidgeting the entire time they ascended in the elevator. The circles under his eyes spoke of a poor night’s sleep.
"Please, sit down." Diana gestured to the sofa as she led him into her loft. "Want some coffee?"
She watched him surreptitiously as she heated water and retrieved mugs from the cupboard. He never moved, not even to take off his jacket. He just sat there, staring into space. "Cream? Sugar?"
"Black," he replied without looking up.
She put the mug into his hands and sank into a nearby chair, waiting.
Finally, he met her gaze. "Tell me about Vincent."
It was the middle of the night when Catherine sat bolt upright in bed.
"What’s wrong?" Vincent asked, reaching for her. "Did you have a disturbing dream?" When he touched her arm, she began to scream. She paused only long enough to draw another breath and screamed again. Frantically, she clawed at his arms as if he were the enemy, someone to escape.
Realizing that words alone would not free her from the grip of her nightmare, Vincent extracted himself from her grasp with some effort, and began to quickly light candles throughout the chamber. "Wake up, Catherine. You’re dreaming." He kept repeating the words to no avail. She was in a total panic, and he felt her terror through the bond. Her constant screams echoed through his chamber.
The light was not enough to wake her, so he took the pitcher of cold water from his dresser and went over to the bed. He poured some into his cupped hand, and splashed her face.
The shock of the cold water finally woke her and Catherine crumpled into a heap on the bed, finally quiet, and obviously drained.
"You were dreaming, Catherine. You’re safe now. It’s all right." He touched her shoulder gently and then went to calm Jacob. His mother’s screams had wakened and frightened him. Vincent picked him up and cradled him over his shoulder, speaking in soothing tones. As difficult as it was to watch Catherine struggle with the wounds her captivity had inflicted, it couldn’t compare to the despair he had felt when he had believed she was dead.
He sank back down onto the mattress beside her and slowly stroked her back with his free hand. "Can you tell me?"
Catherine spoke hesitantly, trying to find the words to describe the disjointed, illogical happenings of her dream. "I was standing on water. A river, maybe a lake. Gabriel was there, holding Jacob. He had a paintbrush in his hand, one that fired bullets. He was going to shoot me, but then Elliot was there, and he flung himself between us. Elliot disappeared and the water turned to blood. Burning blood. There was fire everywhere. I couldn’t see. When you touched me, trying to wake me up, I thought it was Gabriel. A part of me realized I was dreaming, but I couldn’t wake up."
"Dreams can be terrifying," he sympathized.
"I want them to stop."
"They will, in time. I have been having nightmares, too. We are both healing, Catherine." He paused, searching for the words to convey his selfish... was it thankfulness? ...for her suffering. "Forgive me for being grateful that you are able to have nightmares, my love. The sleep of death is devoid of dreams." Her understanding surged though the bond to him, and she sat up with renewed strength.
She placed a protective, soothing hand on Jacob as she leaned against the source of her strength. "You’re right, Vincent. Thank you for reminding me. We survived... healing will follow."
Police reports of people who had been mauled, lists of cases Catherine had worked on... notes about Diana’s excursions into the tunnels... Joe pored over all of it. He wanted to understand, to find something to show him what he should do. But for all of Diana’s talk about empathic bonds and Vincent’s gentleness, all he could see in his mind were the gruesome photos of Vincent’s victims.
When Diana got up in the morning, she found Joe sleeping on the couch. She had gone to bed around midnight, recognizing that Joe had to face the truth on his own. Apparently, he had fallen asleep before accepting the burden of the secret laid upon him. His head was resting at an awkward angle and he had some of her notes in his lap. Scattered over the coffee table and floor were all of her files on Vincent, Catherine, and the man who had tormented them both. Diana eased a slightly crinkled paper from his hand and covered him with a blanket.
His devotion to the facts reminded her of herself. She quickly discarded the thought. Her mission today was to start learning about the mysterious artist Kristopher and she couldn’t allow a painting to destroy her focus.
Joe was still sleeping when she left the loft.
"What is it, Vincent?" Catherine asked as she laid Jacob in his crib. He’d been brooding for days now, and she was tired of waiting patiently for him to resolve his thoughts. He turned to her looking almost... contrite. As if he thought she wouldn’t notice he was concerned about something.
"Vincent?" Crossing the chamber to him, she took his hands and lost herself in his blue eyes. "Of course I noticed," she chided gently. "You’ve been troubled for days now, but it is worse this evening. Tell me."
His reserve crumbled and he drew her to the bed and bid her to sit beside him. "Have you heard from Joe?"
"Not for a couple of weeks. Why?"
"He is your friend and it troubles me that he is staying away."
Catherine felt a tremendous weight lift from her shoulders as she realized what Vincent had been so anxious about. "Vincent, he’s the acting district attorney. You know how relentless my workload was at times. Right now it’s even worse than that for Joe. He isn’t staying away. He’s probably just too exhausted to do anything more than drag himself home at night."
"It’s Sunday evening," he said and gestured helplessly with his hands.
She countered smoothly. "And you know as well as I that the work week at the D.A.’s office doesn’t end Friday at five."
Catherine could see he was still uncertain and tried another approach. "Vincent, I’ve known Joe for a long time. I know how seriously he takes his work. Right now he carries a very heavy burden. In the wake of the Moreno fiasco, people need to be able to believe in him. Joe’s the sort of man who will do everything in his power to live up to that responsibility." Catherine shrugged deprecatingly. "Visiting with me comes after eating and sleeping on his list of priorities right now. I understand that."
Vincent bowed his head, hearing the truth behind the words his beloved spoke. She still didn’t realize what she had said... how truly she had described her friend. She thought she was comforting him, and all she had done was validate his concerns.
Vincent put his arm around her and pressed his lips to her temple. "Do you mind if I go Above for awhile?"
Catherine pulled back and smiled up at him. "Mind? Why would I mind, when I know how much your journeys Above mean to you?" Her tone became teasing as she moved to retrieve his cloak from where it hung by the door. "I’ll show you how much I mind," she said as she held it out to him.
He felt a pang of guilt for the way he was deceiving her, but quickly pushed it aside. Why trouble her if his concerns were, indeed, groundless? "Sleep well, my love. I’ll be back before dawn."
She nodded wordlessly and wrapped her arms around his waist for a final squeeze before releasing him. He stayed long enough to tuck her into bed and put out all but a single candle, then slipped from his chamber. It was time to pay Joe Maxwell a visit.
The sound of knocking finally got his attention and Joe stiffly got up and went to the door. "Who is it?" he asked through the wooden panel as he fought back a yawn.
He heard the sound again, and realized it was coming from behind him. Someone was tapping on his window. When that thought registered, his tired mind did a double-take&endash; his window? He looked at the photographs and files strewn all over the couch, coffee table and floor. If Vincent had chosen now to pay him a visit, he had probably already seen the mess through the window, since he had never bothered to hang curtains out here. And if he had seen that, then he had also seen Joe poring over them...
Cautiously, Joe forced the window open and stuck his head out. Yep, it was Vincent. Then again, who else would be standing on his fire escape at this hour? Most of his other visitors had the good sense to use the elevator. Belatedly, Joe realized that Vincent didn’t have that option.
"I hope you don’t expect me to join you on that rickety piece of metal the city calls a safety device," he heard himself say as Vincent separated himself from the shadows. "I don’t like heights and it’s damn cold out there," he added as he waved Vincent in and moved away from the window.
He watched as Vincent slipped over the sill with more grace than he himself would ever be able to muster. Still, Vincent said nothing. ‘He didn’t even glare at me accusingly,’ Joe thought to himself as he put his back into shoving the window shut. In addition to all of the other chores he’d let slide, he’d never gotten around to soaping the window frame.
"Have you talked to Diana lately?" he asked as he headed to the kitchen for a refill of coffee. Without waiting for Vincent to answer, Joe continued. "She came by the office today. She’s dropped Cathy’s case. In any other town, when someone’s casket is dug up and found to be empty, it makes headlines. Here in New York, we bury the story when we can’t find a body. She’s given up on your strange painter friend, too. Want some coffee?"
"No, thank you." Vincent paused and Joe could picture him in the living room, looming over the scattered files. "You disapprove."
‘Damn right, I disapprove, I’ve seen the crime scene photos,’ Joe mentally retorted before answering Vincent’s intended question. "Diana believes less harm would come from letting it go unsolved than by digging for the truth. Who the hell am I to argue with a detective?"
"You disapprove," Vincent said again as Joe rejoined him in the living room.
"If we can’t depend on the truth, what else is there?" Joe hastily moved a pile of laundry out of the armchair and motioned for Vincent to sit down before sinking back to the spot on the couch where he had spent most of his weekend. Actually, he’d spent every spare moment studying Diana’s notes for the past two weeks.
"Veritas vos liberabit," Vincent said quietly as he divested himself of his cloak. He draped it over the back of the chair before sitting down.
"The truth will set you free." Vincent translated. "The men who worked for Gabriel all wore rings with that inscription."
He couldn’t hold Vincent’s gaze and instead looked down at his mug. Diana’s notes had mentioned the inscription, but had given no translation of the phrase. "Why did you come?"
"You know why."
Joe’s head jerked up and Vincent gestured at the expanse of paper debris that lay between them. "I know what I am, and what I have done. Nothing you can say will compare to what I have told myself my entire life. Ask your questions."
Dawn found the two men still engrossed in conversation. Vincent recognized Joe’s need, and knew he could not leave yet. But if he didn’t return Below soon, many would worry. His eyes fell on the phone and he pointed to it when Joe got up to get yet one more cup of coffee. "May I?"
"Feel free," Joe said wearily as he stumbled to the kitchen for a refill. Wanting to give Vincent at least the illusion of privacy, he busied himself by dumping the contents of the pot down the drain so he could start a fresh batch of coffee brewing. As he worked, he couldn’t help but listen to Vincent asking someone named Peter to tell the people Below he was with Joe and would return after dusk. Joe shook his head, marveling yet again at the network of communication that linked the two worlds.
After Vincent had hung up the phone, Joe went back to his seat on the couch. "You’re staying the day?"
"It’s not safe for me to leave in the daylight," Vincent reminded him. "But you need not stay home from work." He looked to the clock on the wall. "When do you need to be there?"
Joe shook his head. "Gonna call in sick. If they don’t like it, they can do us all a favor and fire me."
"If they do, they will be doing a grave disservice to the inhabitants of this city."
"How can you sit there and compliment me when you know what I’m thinking about doing?" Joe asked, once more looking for wisdom in the swirling liquid in his mug.
"Because you are an honorable man."
Joe looked up and met Vincent’s implacable gaze as Vincent continued. "You believe in the work that you do. You fear making difficult choices that lead you to choose the path of corruption. You are concerned that doing what seems to be right, but what is not legal, is the first step in your own corruption. Lesser men would not hesitate to act, one way or the other. But you, Joe, you are the type of man who also wants to know the consequences of your actions. In your heart, you need to know that your work serves the greater good of society. I have nothing to fear from you, no matter what you decide, because you are a good man. You have chosen the more difficult path, of doing what you believe to be right, rather than what you find to be easy."
"You give me a hell of a lot more credit than I deserve."
"You give yourself much less."
Joe took a final swig of the stale, cold coffee from his mug and spat it out into the sink. It had been an hour since Vincent had left, and Joe still hadn’t decided what to do. The only thing he knew was that prolonging his inner debate wasn’t going to help him any. Maybe if he got some sleep, he’d know what to do in the morning.
Yawning, he fumbled for the light switch in the kitchen, then slowly made his way around his small apartment, turning out the lights. He cursed a few times as he tripped over magazines and other, unidentified objects as he headed towards the bedroom.
The clouds parted and moonlight streamed through the window near the fire escape. Joe wasn’t one to pause and marvel at such trivial things, but tonight the moonlight caught his attention.
"I’ve been spending too much time with Vincent," he muttered to himself in a mocking tone. Even so, he let himself be drawn to the window. "The city that never sleeps," he commented to no one in particular. He didn’t even have time to take care of goldfish, much less a cat or dog, and for once, his aloneness bothered him. Cars continued to crawl by on the street below him, and he knew that he would find the same to be true no matter what time he gazed out tonight.
Strange, he’d never stopped to consider what it would be like to only see the city at night. What was it like to live one’s entire life in shadows, fearing the sun as much as any legendary vampire?
"Listen to your heart, Joe," Vincent had said. Joe closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the pane of glass.
When he finally straightened and padded off to bed, he had made his decision. He knew it was the right thing to do. Actually, it was the only thing to do... the only thing he could do...
Nothing at all.
Elliot adjusted his bow-tie and smiled to himself as he watched her check her makeup in the mirror. They were alone behind a partition in the Great Hall, moments away from her march down the aisle to where Vincent was waiting for her. Catherine had never looked more radiant than she did today. Her wedding gown suited her perfectly and the flowers in her hair made her look angelic. "You look beautiful, Cathy."
She started violently at the sound of his voice and whirled around. Her jaw worked, but no words followed. The color had drained from her cheeks as she realized she had, indeed, identified the speaker correctly.
He gave no sign he noticed her shock as he stepped forward. "Vincent’s a lucky man. May I have the honor of escorting you down the aisle?"
Her tear-filled eyes flashed with questions, but she closed her mouth and nodded mutely.
He picked up her bouquet from the dressing table and handed it to her, then offered his arm. He could feel the warmth of her fingers through the sleeve of his tuxedo. Just as he was about to wish her well, the sound of the violin indicated he had run out of time.
With her head held high, Catherine allowed him to escort her out from behind the partition. The flash from Jenny’s camera repeatedly illuminated the chamber beyond the ability of the hundreds of candles, then faded just as quickly. He heard a collective gasp from the helpers who recognized him as the pair walked, but his smile didn’t falter. Elliot was more interested in watching Vincent.
The stunned groom stood with his father and met his gaze only briefly, nodding imperceptibly before turning his attention to the bride. The absolute and total love Vincent felt for the woman walking towards him was obvious. Was it any wonder Cathy had chosen this man over himself?
Elliot stopped, standing between the two lovers. Taking Vincent’s hand, he placed it on Catherine’s smaller one and rested his own lightly on top. "Her family and I give our blessing to this union," Elliot announced to the assembly. His purpose here accomplished, Elliot turned and walked back the way he had come and disappeared behind the partition.
Diana slipped quietly from her seat to look for him, but he was gone.
There was awed silence in the chamber for a long moment before Father cleared his throat. "Yes, well..." He shook his head, mentally echoing the disbelief that had swept through the chamber. As there was no intelligent comment he could make, perhaps the better course was to proceed as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Decided, he took a breath and addressed the assembly again.
"Catherine and Vincent have shared a dream.... a dream I didn’t always share." Father paused to wait for the laughter at his comment to quiet before he continued. He looked around the assembly of helpers and tunnel dwellers that had gathered in the Great Hall for a day even he had never dreamed would come.
His son stood before him, holding hands with his beloved bride. She wore an antique wedding gown she and Jenny had found in an upscale antique store. Simple in design, the pale blue dress complemented the color of Vincent’s eyes. The scooped neck and fitted bodice topped luxurious folds of fabric that went to the floor. It occurred to Father that Catherine had never looked lovelier.
Vincent wore a silk shirt, over which he wore his Winterfest vest. The shirt had been a gift from Catherine, purchased because it exactly matched the color of his eyes. New, dark blue pants were tucked into his boots. His golden hair framed a face filled with joy. Father couldn’t remember a day when he had seen his son so happy.
"But the power of love cannot be denied. Love is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful.... Their love has brought them to this day, in spite of me, in spite of those who would take Catherine from us, in spite of death itself. On this day, we recognize this miracle of love that brought them together and gave them Jacob. We welcome the union of his parents with our love, our support, and our awe."
Father paused again and shook his head in wonderment. "I don’t understand how you managed to return to us, Catherine. It’s a tantalizing mystery that I suspect will forever be unsolved..." He hesitated, realizing he had unwittingly reminded everyone of Elliot’s mysterious visit. "However it happened, I’m grateful.
"Dearest Catherine, you first came to us in a moment of great need. Little did I realize then that, in helping Vincent save your life, I would be saving Vincent’s life as well. In spite of me, you dared to love him. And you risked your own life to bring him out of the darkness that almost consumed him. You gave me back my son. You made me a grandfather. Thank you, Catherine, for giving us your love.
"Vincent, my son. In your life, you have taught me much. And as difficult as the past year has been, in your pain you reminded me that nothing is more important than the love of a family. Your love, Vincent, your love, has made our family grow. Not only do I have a grandson, I have a daughter as well.
"Mary, will you bring Jacob here, please?"
Father took Jacob in his arms. "Jacob is proof of the power of love. Through him, your lives are forever intertwined. Today, you have chosen to publicly proclaim your love for each other, and for your son."
He turned to the assembled crowd. "By your presence here today, you are pledging your support to this new family. From this day forward, do you promise to love them, care for them, and help them as they journey in their new life together?"
"We do," came the unanimous reply.
"Then let us hear their vows."
Kristopher and Elliot stood at the top of the grand staircase, shielded in shadows, watching the ceremony taking place below them. "They still insist on asking questions. Always questions! They still don’t understand. "
"Understand what?" Elliot asked in a distracted tone as he loosened his tie and undid the top button of his shirt. He was too enthralled with the proceedings taking place below them to pay Kristopher much mind.
Kristopher grinned and shook his head. "Miracles."