The Red Rose And the Briar
by Toni Lichenstein Bogolub
(This story takes place immediately following "Legacy")
Diana Bennett smiled as she washed her long red hair. Thoughts of the new and wondrous world she had found beneath the city filled her thoughts. With an end to the murder spree of a former mental patient, life was nearing normal for those Below again. Her thoughts turned to the naming ceremony for the son of a very special friend. She basked in those memories as the water ran. Most of the shampoo had been rinsed away when the buzzer sounded.
With a sigh she wrapped a towel around her head and went to the speaker connected to the entryway. "Who is it?" she asked, pressing the "TALK" button.
A woman's voice came through. "Ms. Bennett; you don't know me. My name is Emily Blaik. I need to talk to you."
Diana was wary, but the name sounded familiar. "About what?"
"You were investigating the deaths of Catherine Chandler and District Attorney Moreno. This is in regard to that." It was a professional voice, polite but firm and assured.
Diana remembered then. "Very well, Ms. Blaik." She pressed the release, to allow the elevator to open. As it ascended, she quickly toweled most of the wetness from her hair and tossed the towel onto the kitchen island.
When the doors slid open behind the steel grate, she looked curiously at the woman within. Emily Blaik was about Diana's age, of medium height, slender, with blonde hair so short it barely reached her ears. She was clad in blue jeans and a thick cabled sweater, and light brown tortoiseshell glasses with very large, very thick lenses half-hid her eyes. They gave her face an open, innocent cast, but the deep blue eyes behind them were alert and intelligent.
Diana opened the gate and invited her in. The two women were seated on the white sofa, when Emily began, "As I said, you don't know me."
Diana interrupted, "Helena Emily Blaik. Formerly of Chicago, Illinois. You've been in New York for the past five years; as Elliot Burch's personal assistant."
Emily inclined her head in agreement. "Absolutely correct. That is why I'm here. I was in San Francisco when District Attorney Moreno was murdered and Mr. Burch was arrested. I came back immediately. And found that Mr. Burch was missing, presumed to have jumped bail and vanished." She remained poised and confident, but Diana could see strong emotions boiling just below her calm surface.
"Elliot Burch would not have jumped bail. Even if he was guilty, which he was not. It's been six weeks, Ms. Bennett. I need to find him. All I've found is dead ends, mysteries, and a persistent rumor that Mr. Burch was on the boat Compass Rose when it exploded and burned. I cannot and will not accept that until I see his body or speak to someone who did. I know you were no longer on the case at the time they found Ms. Chandler's killer, on Staten Island. Nonetheless, I'm hoping you may have some lead or idea, at least a place for me to begin."
Diana sat for a moment in silence. What could she say to this woman? There was something in her voice, in her eyes, whenever she mentioned Elliot Burch, even through the calm facade. And she was good; Diana was always careful to keep her name and face out of the public eye. But Emily found her anyway. How could Diana let her know that Burch was dead without compromising the secrets she had sworn to keep? The quiet determination onthe other woman's face spoke volumes. Emily would not stop without very convincing evidence.
The silence continued. Emily had spoken her piece; now it was Diana's decision.
"Ms. Blaik -"
"Call me Emily."
"Emily. As you've said, I was off the case. I'm afraid, though, that the rumor you heard was true."
"Did you see Elliot's body?" Emily demanded.
"No, I didn't, but a highly reliable source..."
"Can I speak to this source?"
"No, I'm afraid not." Diana tried to think of some way to convince her, but failed.
"Ms. Bennett -"
"Very well. Diana, until I see Elliot's body with my own eyes, or speak - directly - to someone who did, I will not believe he's dead. It's been tried before. Elliot Burch is very hard to kill."
"Emily, all I can tell you is that it's true. Elliot Burch died on the Compass Rose."
Emily stood up. "Thank you, Diana. I guess I'll have to try some other ideas I had. I appreciate your time."
Diana stood too. "It's the truth, Emily. I wish it wasn't."
"Thank you, Diana," Emily repeated. Walking over to the steel grated doors, she pressed the button to summon the elevator. "I told you the only way I can believe that." She pulled out a rectangle of cardboard, and placed it on Diana's table. "Here's my card. If you have any other news, or the name of your 'reliable source', call me."
She pulled back the elevator doors and entered. "In the meantime, I'll just have to keep searching on my own."
As the doors closed behind her, Diana shook her head. The only witness was someone Emily was not likely to meet.
Diana awoke early the next morning. Emily's calm face hovered at the fringes of her mind as she put together her breakfast. There was something behind those thick glasses, deep in those determined blue eyes, something desperate and frightened. She felt the need to tell Vincent, to see if he knew of a way to end her search.
Diana finished her meal, watered her plants, then headed for the way underground. When she reached the manhole, she checked carefully for observers, then slid down to the ladder to lead her Below.
Two minutes later, a figure in black jeans and an enveloping black windbreaker moved quietly from the shadows. The manhole cover was moved aside again, and another descended the ladder, to stand in the tunnels. A distant sound of footsteps revealed the direction Diana had taken. Blending into the shadows, along the dimly lit tunnels, the intruder followed.
Diana hurried toward Vincent's chamber, looking out for the sentries. A few turns later, from a hidden peephole came a cheery voice. "Diana! Shall I send word along the pipes to Vincent?"
Diana located the watching eyes, matched them to the voice. "Jeffrey; of course. I need to talk to him. It's about Elliot Burch."
She heard the taps and clangs that carried her message, and in short order answering sounds.
"Thanks, Jeffrey." Unseen and unheard, the intruder waited out of sight, behind Diana. Jeffrey came out from his post. "I'll take you down to Vincent's chamber. He's there, he says, with his son Jacob."
The two moved down the corridor, the boy talking animatedly to the red-haired woman. Behind them, moving like the water that formed and flowed on the cold walls, the stranger followed.
As they got closer to the occupied portions of the world Below, the lights were closer together, the shadows fewer and fewer. But the stalker was blessed by luck; no other denizens of this world passed, to see the flits between pools of darkness. As they approached their destination, Vincent appeared at his chamber door, his son cradled against his shoulder.
"Diana. I did not expect you."
"Someone came to see me last night, Vincent. Elliot Burch's personal assistant. She's looking for Elliot. She won't believe he's dead, she says, until she sees his body. Or until she talks to someone who did." Diana paced past Vincent, into his chamber. "She found me, Vincent. I'm not that easy to locate. She's determined. I don't know what to tell her."
Whatever Vincent was going to say was lost in Jeffrey's shout. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
Vincent placed baby Jacob in Diana's arms, and raced down the corridor. About 50 yards away, the boy faced the intruder in black.
Snow's black-suited form flashed through his mind. His fear inflated the figure facing Jeffrey to enormous proportions. Involuntarily, he bared his fangs with a bestial growl. His hands flexed, claws ready to strike.
Diana had stepped back into the chamber, safeguarding the infant. Unable to see into the corridor, she waited for the sounds of Vincent's rage.
Hearing nothing, she peered around the archway. Jeffrey and Vincent stood together. She saw both profiles clearly. Facing them, barely taller than the boy, the intruder pushed back the black windbreaker's hood. The torchlight glinted off Emily Blaik's thick glasses.
Diana started down the corridor. The two males were pounding questions at Emily, who looked from one to the other, then toward Diana.
"Is this where your 'reliable source' is?" If anything, she appeared calmer than when she had called on Diana.
Vincent looked at his red-haired friend. "Do you know this woman, Diana?"
"She's the one I was telling you about, Vincent. Elliot Burch's assistant." Diana reached them, baby Jacob cooing in her arms. She handed Vincent his son, then performed the introduction. "Vincent, meet Ms. Helena Emily Blaik. Emily, this is Vincent; the 'reliable source.'"
Emily's eyes were huge behind her glasses, but Diana felt she didn't even notice Vincent's unusual appearance. Emily focused on the other woman's words, her voice detached and mildly curious. "Catherine Chandler's Vincent, I presume. Elliot mentioned you - just before he sent me away."
Vincent nodded his agreement. "I am sorry to tell you that Diana was telling the truth, Ms. Blaik."
"Call me Emily," she murmured, as though they spoke of inconsequentials at a party.
"Emily. Elliot Burch stepped in front of a bullet meant for me. He fell into my arms; then the Compass Rose exploded. I barely escaped with my life. Elliot had no chance."
"So. I have my eyewitness," she murmured. "My quest is ended. I had hoped -" A single tear slid from beneath her glasses. Her shoulders slumped forward for a moment, with the weight of her new knowledge. Then she straightened up resolutely. "What is this place?"
"It's a very special place, a place of safety," Diana began. "A secret place..."
Vincent took the task from Diana, began to explain his world, and why it must be kept hidden. After a few moments, he turned to Jeffrey. "Go tell Father we are bringing a visitor. Then go back to your post."
The boy nodded, running toward Father's chamber. Vincent and Diana followed, both trying to explain the world Below to Emily.
Four Weeks Later
Emily sat sideways in a chair in Vincent's chamber, idly kicking her legs over the arm. Vincent was feeding his son, the child held to his chest, his eyes never leaving baby Jacob's face. She watched, a companionable silence binding them rather than separating them.
A volume of poetry lay open on the desk near her, where she had apparently been reading. She broke the silence to remark, "I've always loved Milne."
Vincent recited softly, "No one can tell me,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes."
Emily smiled. "I should have guessed you would like that one. The funny poems always were my favorites." Still softly, so as not to disturb the child, she began to declaim with great drama,
"There once was a dormouse who lived in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).
And all the day long he'd a wonderful view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."
Vincent's lips twitched. Emily noticed the small motion, and switched poems. Putting on a mock English accent thick enough to cut with a knife, she recited,
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great care of his mother
Though he was only three.
Said to his mother,
"Mother," he said, said he:
"You must never go down to the end of the town
If you don't go down with me."
A truly English voice replied from the chamber door,
Put up a notice,
"LOST or STOLEN or STRAYED!
SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN MISLAID."
Father entered the room with a soft chuckle. "I didn't think people read Milne anymore. Not his poetry, at any rate. Good afternoon, Emily. I didn't expect to find you here."
"Where else do I have to be? I've got no job now; I haven't taken a vacation in five years. No family to speak of; a couple cousins in Chicago. My whole life was Burch Properties. As Mr. Burch's personal assistant, I traveled with him, and worked when he worked. There was never time to make friends, keep up relationships." She was matter-of-fact. "I envy you your closeness, your family."
Father took in the compliment and changed the subject. "Mouse and Jamie were quite delighted with your gifts."
"Elliot always inspected everything personally; we spent a lot of time looking at dark foundations. Those miner's helmets got lots of wear. But I don't need them now, and I thought they might come in handy for Jamie and Mouse."
"They were headed for the darkest tunnels Mouse knew when I last saw them." Father laughed. "I expect them to be burned out in a matter of days."
Emily nodded, and pointed to a canvas bag lying beneath the table. "Batteries and spare bulbs. And when they need more, I can get them very easily."
"Thank you, Emily. The children are going to get quite spoiled. I doubt if more than a day has passed since your first visit that you haven't come by, bearing gifts."
"It's more than my pleasure; it's a way for me to feel, at least a little bit, a part of your world. I don't think I could live here forever; but what a wonderful place to be of some help to!"
"I spoke with the Council today, Emily. What you have been doing is rather - irregular. Generally our Helpers don't come and go quite so frequently as you've done."
"And?" She prompted.
"The unanimous decision was to allow you to do as you please, Emily. William in particular spoke quite strongly in your favor."
Emily grinned. "I promised him my recipe for challah, if I could keep coming Below to visit. He's a sucker for a good bread recipe."
Vincent suppressed a snicker. Father turned one of his sternest expressions on her, but the twinkle in his eyes was unmistakable. "Mouse has told me that he knows of a tunnel that runs past the basement of your building. He and Jamie are seeing if there is a way directly from there to us."
Emily swung her legs onto the ground, stood, and walked over to Father. "That's wonderful." She leaned over, and kissed the older man on the cheek. "Thank you. What an amazing society you've created down here, Father. I'm delighted to be allowed to be a small part of it."
Four Weeks Later
"I never knew you could see so many stars from the city," Emily said, looking into the night sky through Diana's telescope. "Just think; that light travels for millions, even billions of years, just to shine down on us; and we defeat it with smoke and glare in its last mile."
Diana looked up without the telescope. It was a typical night, with visible bands of clouds and pollution cutting the view into slim ribbons of stars.
The two women had just finished a huge pizza, made by Emily. It was becoming a weekly ritual; someone for each of them to talk to, about things that could not be shared with outsiders.
Emily went on, still intent on the magnified sky, "So Vincent is pretty special to you, is he?"
"He is." Diana's reply was quiet. She wasn't sure she was ready to discuss him with someone else; not even a friend like Emily. She changed the subject. "How did you come to work for Elliot Burch?"
Emily laughed. "In a very Elliot-ish fashion. He was attending a conference in Chicago. I was there, with my previous boss. Now Tom didn't exactly have the big picture; but then he wasn't really a detail man either. He was a real "man's man"; sounded great in negotiations, especially over expense-account dinners, but he didn't really know what he was talking about. I tried to cue him, and keep him from queering his own deals too much. I was reasonably successful, and Tom knew it. He didn't like it, but he knew it. The only real problem was that Tom couldn't keep his hands to himself. And when he drank, he was even worse." Emily's laugh was rueful. "A real all-around talent. But I managed okay; sometimes he strained my tact a little, but he paid well, and it was a responsible job. Anyway, I saw Elliot watching me during that conference. Tom was being - diplomatically put, rather difficult."
Emily's description put Diana in mind of several police higher ups she had run across in her career. "A son of a bitch?" she suggested helpfully.
"Well put. Nothing was good enough for him, except me, and he said I was being holier-than-thou. Plus, he was getting very close to the free booze, and it didn't help one bit. It was a week of hell, but I lived through it, and basically managed to keep Tom from embarrassing himself in public. The last day of that conference, Elliot came over to me when Tom left to use the facilities, and asked if I'd like a job where I wasn't working against my boss for the best interests of the company. I was a little hesitant about moving to New York, so he threw in use of the condo, and then mentioned the salary he had in mind. I gave my two weeks notice when Tom came back from the men's room."
Diana smiled at the picture Emily painted. "And did the job live up to your expectations?"
"About a thousandfold. Elliot was always on top of things; he knew what was going on. He gave me an enormous amount of responsibility, and freedom to get it done in. I loved working for Burch Properties. And Elliot never made a move on me." Her attention had wandered from the telescope. She stared out over the city, toward the spot on the skyline where the Burch Tower would have stood. Under her breath she muttered, "It was the other way 'round."
"What?" Diana had caught the whispered words.
Emily looked at her friend. "I said, it was the other way 'round." She sighed. "I suppose I meant you to hear that, which means I wanted to talk about it." Turning back to the view, she continued, "I went with Elliot to Santo Yrisado. You do your homework, Diana, I'm sure you know the basics; the Goronistas, and President-for-life Dr. Torreon." She spat the name out, her precise pronunciation almost a mockery. "Elliot tried to send me home when the crew chief's wife turned up in the pool, but I refused. If it was safe enough for Elliot, it was safe enough for me."
The city sounds filled the next few moments. Diana waited, and Emily resumed softly, "Then came the Annabel Lee , and the Goronistas went to New York and shot Elliot's father.
"Elliot had us all on the Daedelus in about twenty minutes flat, bound for New York. He took a chopper and went on ahead."
Emily looked back at Diana. "He never told me exactly what happened. I know his father died when the chopper exploded, and Elliot felt it should have been him. I guess Cathy told him about Vincent then, too - although I'm sure not in so many words." She paced back from the edge of the balcony, trying to make Diana see the scene as clearly as it still appeared to her.
"Elliot was broken, Diana. I'd never seen him like that. When the Burch Tower project was killed, one of his dreams died, and it hit him hard - but not like this."
"He came back to the Daedelus late the next afternoon and started to pickle himself in memory of his father. He was halfway through a fifth of vodka when I found him in his office; and Elliot hates vodka.
"So I dragged him back to his cabin and put him to bed."
Diana had no trouble picturing it. Emily determined would be a fearsome force.
There followed a very long silence. Diana could feel Emily searching for words, trying to describe what came after. Finally she spoke. "The next morning, I brought him aspirin and breakfast. I watched him eat, there in the rumpled shorts he'd slept in, then - Diana, there's a very old expression that pretty well covers what happened. I tripped him, and beat him to the floor."
It was what Diana had expected. Emily went on in a rush of words. "He needed someone. It wasn't love, Diana; it was more like despair." Once again she paused, trying to find the courage to tell the rest. At last, softly - "We stayed on the Daedelus for three weeks, between getting the project dismantled in Santo Yrisado and travel time. Elliot came to my cabin every night. He fell asleep in my arms. But he was always gone by morning." Raw pain laced her tone as she told her friend, "Sometimes, when he slept, he would dream. He would call out for his father; beg him to understand." Her voice fell off to a barely audible whisper. "And sometimes he would call her name."
"Oh, Emily." Diana crossed the balcony, and put her hand on Emily's shoulder.
"When we reached the city, he went straight to the office, and I went back to my condo, and neither of us ever mentioned it again."
The words floated on the wind for a moment, then Emily turned and started in from the balcony. "I can't stick you with the dirty dishes, Diana," she said, leaving the subject behind. "I'll wash and you dry."
Two Weeks Later
"William, this is wonderful!" Emily took another taste from the bowl he had presented to her. "What do you put in this soup?"
"Rosemary, thyme, onions, carrots, and whatever else we've gotten from the Helpers - just the usual," the large cook answered. He watched as she finished the soup, then took the bowl from her and continued his tour of the kitchen.
Despite Mouse's ingenious ventilation, this chamber was always steamy and hot. William's shirt was dark with sweat. Emily's face was flushed as William showed off his ovens, his domain from which he fed all the Tunnel community.
William turned to her, to observe her reaction. Emily had a hand raised to her forehead and an odd expression on her face.
"Is anything wrong?" he asked.
She replied quickly, "No, nothing, William." Her gaze became unfocused, and she added, "The heat's just making me a little dizzy..." She blinked, then fainted at his feet.
William was just fast enough to keep her from hitting her head on a chopping block. He lifted her easily, and carried her into the corridor, where the normal chill of the Tunnels fought the kitchen's heat. With the wooden spoon he still clutched, he tapped an urgent summons to Father against the pipe running along the wall, then settled himself on the floor, Emily stretched out beside him.
By the time Father arrived, Emily was sitting up, leaning against the stone tunnel. William was also still seated on the floor.
"Now, what happened here?" Father asked, opening his black bag, studying the two of them.
Emily said, "Absolutely nothing" at the same instant William replied, "Emily fainted, Father. In the kitchen, just a few minutes ago."
"It does get hot in there," Emily protested. She looked up at Father, who was approaching her, stethoscope at the ready.
"Yes it does," Father agreed. He ignored her protest, took her pulse, listened to her heart, studied her face. Emily rolled her eyes, sighed in long-suffering fashion, and waited with mock patience through the examination.
"Am I still alive?" she asked sweetly when he was finished.
"Quite alive," Father replied. "Do you think you're ready to move into a chair? William, would you get one?"
"Of course I am," she answered, and started to her feet. Halfway up, her knees buckled and she started to sink back down.
Father was ready, though. He caught her, gestured for William to place the chair, and steered her into it. Then he forced her head between her knees, and instructed, "Just breathe normally."
"How can I breathe normally when you've folded me in half?" she grumbled, but Father watched the color slowly come back to her face. After a few moments, he allowed her to sit upright.
William was still hovering, muttering about dinner being late while concern filled his face. Father studied Emily through narrowed eyes. "Stand up slowly," Father told her, "and lean on me."
"I can stand..."
"Young lady, please do as I tell you." His voice had an edge of command.
"Yes, sir," she mumbled, artificially meek. She did as she was told, and this time her rise was uneventful. Father started down the corridor. Emily accompanied him without resistance for a few minutes, then asked, "Would it be all right if I knew where we were going?" Father heard strain beneath the humorous face she showed to the world.
"To my chamber."
She was silent at that, and did not speak again until she was seated on the other side of his desk, looking into his knowing eyes.
"Well, Father?" She tried to keep her tone quizzically cheery, but failed by a hairsbreadth.
Father looked at her for another moment in silence. Finally he said, "You do know you're pregnant, Emily." It was more of a statement than a question.
"Yes, Father." She leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. Her voice was steady with only that tiniest hint of strain beneath. "Just about four and a half months. I know to the day when it happened."
"The father - does he know?"
"The father died before I knew, Father."
The obvious struck Father suddenly. "Elliot Burch!"
"Exactly. In San Francisco. A week before Cathy Chandler's body was found."
"What are you going to do?"
"What choice do I have? Elliot deserved a better deal than he got. He certainly deserves a legacy besides those steel towers." She was still cool, unemotional.
"And what about you, Emily?"
Father changed the subject. "Have you seen a doctor yet?"
"Besides you? Not yet. I know I should, but -"
Father took a small piece of paper, wrote briefly on it. "Here. Peter Alcott is an old friend of mine, and a Helper as well. He's in general practice. You can tell him that I sent you."
"Thank you, Father." She folded the paper and stuck it into her pocket. "It had to come out sooner or later. It's the sort of thing which becomes rather evident." Her tone was dry.
"Would you like to carry the news yourself? Or just wait..."
"Let's have Pascal put it on the pipes," she said wryly. "Go ahead, spread it around. It'll be no secret soon enough." She looked pointedly at her abdomen, hidden in the baggy sweatsuit.
Father studied her. "Have you thought about what you're going to do after the baby is born?"
She shrugged again. "The same things I'm doing now, but with a baby." She sighed. "I'm pretty well fixed Above, Father. My condo is mine; Elliot gave me the deed a year ago, as a year-end bonus. He paid me a terrific salary for five years, and kept me too busy to spend it. I'll manage."
"I'm sure you will. But remember, if you ever need help..." The end of the sentence was understood.
Emily leaned across his desk and touched his hand. "Thank you, Father. That's good to know."
Father reverted to his physician mode. "I want you to see Peter as soon as you can. And stay out of William's kitchen for a while!"
Emily grinned, snapped a crisp salute, then stuck out her tongue. "Yes, SIR!" She stood and started out the chamber. Halfway to the door she paused, turned back. "Thank you again. It helps to know there's a place like this." Then she resumed her exit, her stride as brisk as ever.
One Week Later
It was weekly pizza time. This week the two women were eating in Emily's home, a plush one-bedroom condo overlooking the park. Diana had heard the rumor Below, when she'd visited the previous day, from every person she passed. When Vincent had confirmed the truth of it, she decided to wait for Emily to broach the subject.
"You know my first name is really Helena," Emily was saying as she sliced the mushrooms. "It's a family tradition; my mother's name was Hermia, her father's name was Demetrius. Some ancestor was overly fond of Shakespeare, and especially 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. I was really glad I never had a brother. Lysander; that wouldn't have gone over too well in the Chicago Public School system."
As she sprinkled green pepper rings over the homemade sauce, Emily suddenly stopped her meaningless chatter. "You were Below yesterday, Diana. I'm sure you heard the rumors."
"They're true." Being Emily, she let the words hang in the air for a moment before continuing. "It happened the first time I ever flew with Elliot," she said. "He generally sent me out a day or two early to get everything set up, and came himself at the last minute; usually in his private plane. Anyway, in all of five years, somehow this was the first time we got onto the same airplane at the same time." Emily stopped her story, then looked around as if in search of eavesdroppers. Finding none, she confided in a stage whisper, "I'm scared of flying." She laughed ruefully. "And I mean terrified. White knuckles, nail biting, flinching when the stewardess drops a cup - I hate to fly."
Diana looked at her curiously. "Didn't your job involve a lot of travel?"
"Sometimes I flew two or three times a week." Emily shuddered delicately. "But otherwise, it was such a great job; what's a little inconvenience?"
Diana nodded, seeing more in Emily's eyes than her words. There was a brief pause while sliced onions were added to the fillings on the pizza.
"However - I was telling you how I got myself into this. So Elliot and I are on the same flight, and of course Elliot plans to work all the way to Frisco. He has me tell them to book us seats together, flanked by his bodyguards; in first class, of course."
"I swore to myself he'd never know. I figured I could manage to act normally. It was only a five-and-a-half hour flight."
The beginning of that flight was crystal clear in her mind. As she related it to Diana, she was suddenly back on the plane, in the cushy, spacious seat, her fingernails digging into the palms of her hands even though they still sat at the gate.
Elliot opened his black leather attache case and pulled out a folder. "About the union contract for the steel workers on the new development in Newark -" He cast a cursory glance in Emily's direction. He broke off to stare at her for a second. "Em, what's wrong? Are you sick?"
Emily took a deep breath and shook her head resolutely. "Nothing, Elliot, I'm fine. I have the contract here -" She reached for her own attache, and noticed Elliot staring at her hands. She was beyond trembling; her hands shook. Then the plane began to taxi, and the roar of jet engines filled the cabin. Elliot would have sworn that Emily's face couldn't have gotten paler, but she blanched another few shades.
Putting down the file, Elliot took her hand. It was icy to his touch. Her glasses slipped down her nose. With one finger, he pushed them back up. "What's the matter, Em?" Genuine concern sounded in his voice.
The tenderness was her undoing. She looked away, all her fine resolves fading into dust. In a small voice, she told him, "I'm afraid to fly."
He laughed, and she almost hit him. Then the runway was reached, and the plane paused for a second, turned and began to speed toward takeoff. Her hand tightened convulsively around his, gripping so hard it hurt. The other hand was curled around the armrest, her knuckles as white as her face. Her eyes were closed tightly, and her teeth fastened into her lower lip. As Elliot watched, he saw bright dots of blood appear as her teeth broke the skin.
"Poor kid; you're really terrified." He put his arm around her, and gathered her to his shoulder as best he could, considering they were seatbelted in adjoining seats. As soon as they were in the air, he summoned the stewardess. "Brandy," he ordered, as Emily protested weakly from the shelter of his embrace. Elliot ignored her. When the brandy arrived, he made sure she drank it all, then ordered her a second. And a third.
After the third, Emily was a little more relaxed. She finally noticed she was still clutching Elliot's hand, and quickly let go. Elliot laughed at that too, then set out to distract her for the duration of the flight.
Emily had seen Elliot ply his charm before, but he had never turned his capabilities toward her. He was as intoxicating as the alcohol, which he kept replenishing.
She was not a drinker. Functions she attended with Elliot were work; there was no social life. The adrenalin supplied by her fear kept her reasonably sober, at least until the plane landed. The relief brought by the wheels touching the earth and the plane slowing were swamped by cumulative effects of alcohol.
It was at this point that her recollection became rather fuzzy. She vaguely remembered Elliot pushing her into a taxi, and San Francisco passing by the windows. Then there was nothing until she woke up, in the dark, in her hotel room.
Emily's face was red, but her voice remained steady as she continued the story. "Diana, I woke up at 3:00 a.m. our time, midnight theirs. It was about two hours after that flight was scheduled to land. I was on the bed in my room, fully dressed except for my shoes. Elliot and I always take - took - adjoining rooms. He liked to work at odd hours, and it was part of my job to be available." For the first time she looked away from Diana's penetrating eyes. "We always did; and we never locked the adjoining doors." She shook her head. "Elliot hadn't touched me since we left the Daedelus. I guess two hours wasn't long enough for all that brandy to wear off; or maybe that was just an excuse for something I wanted to do. I took off my clothes, went through the door, and - well, I knew Elliot always slept in the nude. And I'm sure you can take it from there."
She turned deliberately back, and met Diana's gaze. "The only thing I can really blame on the brandy was what I didn't do. Which is what led to this." She patted the now-visible curve of her belly. "And that, Diana, is my sad story."
She laid the slices of mozzarella cheese over the finished pizza, and slid it into the oven. "And how was your day?"
Three Weeks Later
"And so we meet here, each year, to give thanks to those who have helped us. And to remember even the greatest darkness is nothing so long as we share the light." Father's voice filled the vast chamber with the traditional opening words of Winterfest, and then the Great Hall was ablaze with candles. From her place at Vincent's side, Diana looked out at so many now-familiar faces. She picked out close friends among the Tunnel dwellers, and a few surprises - people she would never have expected to be Helpers.
"David! David Shapiro!" She left Vincent, to greet an old friend she hadn't seen in years. "I should have known."
"A rabbi sees many people in trouble," replied the quiet black-haired man. "This is a wonderful place for tired souls. It gives you hope for the rest of us. I must say, though, that I'm not surprised to see you. Any news concerning Vincent spreads fast."
They caught up on each other for a few minutes, then David moved away, with a promise to keep in touch.
Diana turned and looked through the throng for Vincent. Seeing him surrounded by Helpers, she went in search of other friends.
This was the only time during the year that most of the Helpers came Below; many yearly acquaintances were being remade, and most of the denizens of the underground world were surrounded two and three deep by Helpers. Diana wandered aimlessly for a little while, then the press of the crowd began to wear on her. She sought a quiet corner, away from the chaos of impressions.
She spotted Emily sitting alone by a far wall. Her friend's pregnancy was quite evident, even from across the room. Diana crossed the distance and sat in a chair next to her.
"Anything new since last night?" Emily greeted her. Their pizza get-together had been just 24 hours ago.
Diana laughed. "Not really." Emily shifted a little in her chair, trying to find a comfortable position. The two woman sat watching the Brownian motion of the gathered guests.
"Hypnotic, isn't it?" Emily murmured. "I've always liked to sit at the edge of a group like this and take off my glasses." She did just that. "Now what I see could as easily be atoms under an electron microscope, or grains of colored sand in an hourglass. It's very soothing; you can feel the scale of the universe in the sameness of the motion."
"I didn't know you were a philosopher, Emily." Father had come up upon them unseen.
"Everyone who wears glasses is a philosopher, Father." She grinned. "At least, those of us who truly can't see without them. All you have to do is take them off, and the world is a magical place."
"James Thurber said much the same thing," the older man agreed.
"And he was a lot funnier than I am," Emily replied, replacing the tortoiseshell frames.
As they talked, Father sized Emily up in quick glances. A small frown creased his brow; he resolved to have a word with Peter before the end of the evening.
Father was always in demand at Winterfest; it was not long before Sebastian drew him away. Diana watched Vincent circulate, and tried to catch his eye, to bring him over. But the back of his black cloak was the most frequent view she saw of him.
Diana sat with Emily for another hour or so; in that time, nearly all of the inhabitants of the Tunnels came by, to chat for a brief while. Mary had mirrored Father's faint frown, gentle worry shading her face as she looked at Emily. Diana swore that they spoke to everyone - except Vincent. If Diana hadn't known better, she would have thought he was avoiding them.
During a break between visitors, Emily said, "Why don't you go find Vincent? I'm sure he's looking for you."
"Emily, he can see where I am. I'm sure of it."
"Humor me. I know you want to be with him; leave your old Aunt Emily, I'll be just fine."
"I hate to leave you sitting here alone."
"To start with, how long have we been alone so far? Ten minutes? And further, I will have you know that for five years, I went to every society function or charitable event attended by Elliot Burch. I had to circulate, keep my ear to the ground, find and confirm rumors, and otherwise be in the thick of things at each and every one. I like sitting and watching the crowd for a change. So go ahead, shoo, go find Vincent!"
"I'll bring him over to say hello to you," Diana told Emily. "I'm surprised he hasn't been here yet."
Emily smiled at Diana, and, needing very little encouragement, the redhead rose, and made her way through the crowd to that very special man's side.
She saw Diana speak to Vincent, with a motion of her hand in Emily's direction. Vincent replied to Diana, who still tried to urge him to Emily's side. Watching, Emily sighed, rose to her feet, and lumbered away, vanishing into the press of the crowd, and departing the Great Hall unnoticed.
Three Weeks Later
Samantha came to the entrance to Father's chamber. "Guess who's here!"
Peter stepped around his guide, and entered the chamber.
Father came around the desk to shake his hand. "Peter! It's always good to see you. But what brings you below?"
"Jacob, have you seen Emily Blaik lately?"
"Not for more than a week. I was just wondering myself where she'd been. It seemed she was here nearly every day." Father's expression became suddenly concerned. "Has something happened to her, Peter? Did she lose -"
"The babies? No, Jacob, -"
"Babies?" Father interrupted. "Then Mary and I were right, at Winterfest. Twins, Peter?"
His friend nodded. "We just found out a week ago. After what you and Mary said, I scheduled her for an ultrasound. That's a test you would enjoy, Jacob; imagine seeing the unborn baby simply and easily, in real time! Journal articles can't convey the thrill I felt the first time I watched one. But as to Emily - I didn't like the way she took the news. Too quiet. I tried to call her the next day; all I got was her answering machine. She never returned my calls. I went by her place a couple of times; there was no one home. She hasn't picked up her mail either. Frankly, I'm worried, Jacob. I had hoped she'd come down here."
"I don't think she's been Below, but let me check." Father stepped out into the corridor, and tapped a message on the pipes. "I've asked Pascal to relay this to all sentries, and add a general alert. If anyone's seen her, we'll know soon."
They waited for the replies, which started immediately. Every one was negative.
"Perhaps Vincent's friend Diana can help. She and Emily have became close."
As if in response to his thoughts, Vincent appeared in the corridor, coming toward the chamber.
"Well, Vincent!" Peter greeted him heartily. "And how's little Jacob?"
"He is well. Mary is with him now. It's good to see you, Peter." Vincent shook hands with his father's oldest friend. "I heard the message about Emily over the pipes, Father. Is something the matter?"
Peter shook his head. "I don't know, Vincent. I hope not." He recited the facts he had just given to Father again. "Have you seen her this week?"
Vincent averted his gaze. "No, I haven't seen her since Winterfest."
Father put his hand on Vincent's shoulder. "We all understand, Vincent. Following what happened to Catherine so closely, it must bring back evil memories quite clearly."
"Am I so obvious, Father?" This time the clear blue eyes met Father's ruefully. "But it's not so much the memories, as the dreams of what might have been. What Catherine and I might have shared. I look at Emily's changing body, and I see only Catherine, as she must have -" He stopped, unable to continue.
Peter stared at the pair as they spoke, looking back and forth as if unable to believe what he heard. When he spoke, he turned his back to Vincent, and addressed only his old friend. "Jacob, the first time Emily came to me, almost all we talked about was all of you. I've found that true of most Helpers who come to me. But she was so full of delight and pleasure, recounting conversations and mutual interests of half a dozen people. Especially Vincent. She seemed quite fond of Vincent. When I tried to talk to her about her child, she quietly changed the subject. I thought I was crazy at Winterfest; that I couldn't be seeing what I saw. I couldn't believe it of you."
Peter turned to the younger man. His tone was harsh as he went on. "Did you know Emily was just Cathy's age, too, Vincent? Another lash to flagellate her with. I know how you've suffered here. Some of the pain has been mine. For God's sake, I delivered Cathy. I knew her all her life. But do you people think you have a corner on suffering? Can't you see pain unless it's your own?"
His vehemence startled them. He bore in on Vincent again. "What if Cathy'd lived and you'd died, Vincent? Would you want Father to shun her, while she carried your child, to avoid the dreams of what you and she might have been? You told me yourself that Burch saved your life, in the end. He died for you, Vincent. And this is how you treat the woman who carries his children?" For the first time, Peter looked at Vincent with something like scorn. "Are you both so blind you can't see how much that poor girl loved Elliot Burch?"
It was as if a bright light had illuminated the tunnel. Once stated, it was so obvious that neither man could believe he hadn't seen. Peter watched the expressions of surprise and recognition, then shook his head. "You've known her for a lot longer than I have. You claim to be her friends. Didn't you stop to ask why she searched so hard and so long for Elliot Burch? Out of loyalty to her employer? To ask for a raise? And when you knew she was pregnant - couldn't you see that Emily Blaik isn't a woman who sleeps with a man she doesn't love?"
Again, once stated, it could not be denied. Vincent looked at Father. "I must go try to find her, Father. Peter is right; we have been blind." He shook his head slowly. "Once I heard it, I knew it to be true. Why didn't I see before?"
Emily's huge blue eyes, blinking away tears behind her glasses, while she calmly ascertained that Elliot was, indeed, dead, swam before him. That first day, Vincent had been sure she didn't even notice him, as someone different, unusual; she saw only the last person to speak to Elliot. Why didn't it occur to him there was a reason for that?
Peter added, "I'm planning to recommend complete bedrest for her, starting in a couple of weeks. She has no one to look after her."
Vincent spoke, his mind whirling with these discoveries. "Tonight, Father, I'll go to Diana, see if she has heard from Emily. Then - if I must, I will search for her, as she searched for Elliot." The darkness of his long hunt for Catherine enveloped him, showing him what Emily must have felt as she, too, hunted for a lost love. Vincent remembered the long tunnel of his mourning, his quest for his son. It had been over six months since Catherine's death, and still his heart was often heavy with the thought of her. And he lived among friends, who knew his grief and supported him through it. He tried to imagine what it would have been like for him to endure this time without words of comfort, and the understanding love of his family. He failed.
Father had not spoken a word since Peter began his tirade. He broke his silence only to say, "Bring her back with you, Vincent." Then his son was gone.
Diana had been able to give Vincent no clues. "I haven't spoken to her for about a week. We were going to get together last night, but I had to cancel. I left her a message. I was starting to worry too." She stepped away from Vincent, there on her balcony under the stars. "Twins. Emily must be in shock."
"Diana - did you know Emily loved Elliot Burch?"
"From the first time I spoke to her. It was in her face, in her voice; every time she spoke his name."
"Why couldn't I see it?"
"It wasn't something obvious; perhaps no one noticed but me."
"Peter noticed. And after seeing her only three times."
"Vincent, you can't blame yourself for everything in the world."
"I can only try to put right what I have done wrong, Diana. It was painful for me to see Emily, after I knew she was with child. I thought only of Catherine. But Emily is my friend; and, as Peter pointed out, Elliot Burch died saving my life. If he had not stepped between the assassin and me, I would have been the one to die in that explosion."
"This is all very true. But you can't help your feelings, Vincent."
"Perhaps not. But I can help the way I act. Peter's words ring in my ears; he asked, 'What if you had died and Catherine had lived? Would you have wanted Father to shun her, while she carried your child, to avoid the dreams of what you and she might have been?' " Vincent turned to face Diana, his eyes haunted by the vision he had conjured. "I must find Emily, Diana. Before, when I looked at her, I saw only shadows of lost happiness between Catherine and I. Now I see Catherine's pain; what she must have suffered alone, waiting, with my child....."
"Vincent, let it go. It is long over. Forgive yourself. I know that Catherine has forgiven you."
"I could not save Catherine. I know that. I could not even spare her pain. But I can keep another from suffering alone."
With those words, Vincent took his leave of Diana, heading for one of the 22 buildings owned by Burch Properties International, the one where he knew Emily lived.
Vincent ascended the building toward the balcony he had marked out as hers. When he reached it, he paused for a moment, looking out over the city below. The view reminded him of Catherine; he looked out across the park, and picked out her building. The night closed in around him, and the blackness that was never far from his soul engulfed him. He recalled the hopeful young man of many years ago, and the dreaming lover he had been. For a moment there was nothing for him but the pain. Then the bond with his son stirred within him, and the memory of love given to him in his hour of need moved the blackness back. He remembered his errand again, and turned to the balcony doors.
There was no light showing through the doors. He knocked, and waited. There was no stir within the apartment. He tried the door; unlocked. He stepped into the dark, and called her name softly. "Emily. It's Vincent. Please answer me, Emily."
Silence greeted him. His eyes coped with the darkness with ease. He moved from the living room toward the bedroom.
The bedroom door was closed, but Vincent's acute hearing detected muffled sounds within. He knocked tentatively on the closed door. There was still no answer.
Hesitantly he turned the knob and slowly opened the door. The bedroom was as dark as the rest of the apartment. Perhaps she was asleep; not unreasonable, given the hour.
The curtains were drawn, leaving the room in near total blackness. Vincent saw clearly the huddled figure on the bed. The muffled sounds turned into sobs. Vincent crossed the space swiftly, and knelt facing her.
He touched her shoulder. "Emily; Emily, look at me."
He felt the tremors come from deep within her. Her eyes were red and swollen; the glistening tears on her cheeks fell to join their predecessors on the dampened pillowcase. With one knuckle, he traced the route of a tear. She didn't react; she didn't seem to notice him, completely lost in her misery.
"Emily, please speak to me," he whispered.
"Go away, Vincent," was her reply. She turned away from him. It was an awkward, two-stage motion, as the bulk of her children weighed on her.
"Emily, Peter is worried about you. So are Diana, and Father. And William and Mouse. All of your friends are worried."
"Go away, Vincent. I'm fine. Leave me alone."
"Emily, you must think of your children."
Her voice was stronger. "Go away, Vincent. I'm taking care. I'm eating right. Now GO AWAY."
"Elliot would not want you to act like this."
That brought a laugh. "Of course he wouldn't. He loved Cathy Chandler. He wouldn't have wanted this to have happened at all." She gestured toward the sheet that bulged following the contours of her body. "And I didn't want this either, Vincent. All I ever wanted was Elliot."
The storm was unleashed again; her tears flowed like streams. Vincent gently took her into his arms, letting her cry. She had denied her pain for so long, but the weight of it had finally broken her. Between her sobs, in short, hiccupping sentences, she told him what Peter and Diana had deduced, of her love for Elliot Burch. His heart ached to hear her. There were some things worse than losing a love. Her heart was Elliot's, but he never knew; he never wanted it.
Catherine had told him that Elliot really loved her; his actions after her death supported the claim. But the truth of it touched him only now, borne by Emily's pain, as she whispered against his shoulder of Elliot calling Cathy's name in his sleep, on the Daedelus, in Santo Yrisado.
Vincent held her as she sobbed, until quiet filled the room. It was a strange sensation; as she leaned against him, every so often he felt a small nudge against his ribs; one of the unborn babies stirring within her. "Emily, come Below with me."
He felt her shake her head against his shoulder. "Emily, Peter told Father and me that he will want you to stay in bed, starting soon. Who'll take care of you?" He put one great hand against her cheek, and brushed away the tears still streaming from her eyes. "Also, Father has charged me not to return without you."
She gave a watery chuckle, and Vincent knew he'd won. "So, unless I want you to stay in my condo with me, I have to come."
"Yes, Emily." Vincent still held her gently, marvelling at the small kicks that tapped at his ribs even through all the layers of clothing between them.
"All right, Vincent. Most women in my position go home to mother; but she's been gone for ten years. So I suppose I'll go home to Father instead."
Vincent shook his head at the pun, and released Emily to dress and pack. In short order, she entered the hallway, to meet Vincent in the basement and go to stay Below.
Nine Weeks Later
Vincent entered the chamber silently. Emily was curled on her left side, per Peter's instructions. She was also sound asleep. He took the opportunity to study her as she slept.
She had taken off her glasses, and her face had the naked look of the glasses-wearer unspectacled. Her fine blonde hair fell almost to her shoulders now; a little longer than Catherine had worn hers. There was a pillow supporting the babies inside her, their presence outlined by the huge mound of blanket. With just over a month left to the term of her pregnancy, the children seemed to have taken over her body completely.
As he watched, she turned her head a little in her sleep. A soft sound came from her; then she whispered "Elliot!" With a start she was awake; she groped for her glasses, and encountered Vincent's great hand as he gave them to her.
She slipped them on and blinked up at him. "What a dream!" Softened by sleep, she looked like a child herself. "I dreamt I saw Elliot again. He was a lot closer this time, Vincent." She hugged the dream to her, her only chance to still see the man she loved. "He was only about fifteen feet away."
It was a recurring dream; she'd told Vincent of it half a dozen times in the past two weeks. She saw Elliot, standing - somewhere. The first time he was so far away she could barely see him. "But I knew it was Elliot, Vincent." As soon as she saw him, in her dream, she called to him. He would turn, and see her. He would recognize her, and smile, and then she would wake up. "If only I could stay asleep just a little longer, Vincent," she murmured to him once, semi-seriously. "Maybe he'd talk to me." Each time she dreamt it, Elliot moved a little closer.
It frightened Vincent. Recurring dreams had come to him many times in the past; nearly always, they carried some portent from the world beyond his dreams. What could this one mean? He was afraid that Emily was preparing herself to join Burch, in death; he understood the urge very well, and Emily had only allowed herself to mourn her love's death for a short time.
Preoccupied with his thoughts, he was unprepared for her change-of-subject question. "Do you dance, Vincent?" Her eyes were dreamy, focused on some past occurrence.
The last time he'd heard that question was at a Winterfest long past, and he and Catherine had danced to the music of the wind, there in the empty Great Hall. He drew himself back from that moment, and heard Emily answer herself. "I don't. I always stepped on my partner's feet, or tripped. But Elliot taught me to waltz." Her laugh was wistful. "At least, he taught me to waltz with Elliot. I could never manage to transfer that skill to anyone else."
Her face shone with the happiness of her memory. "I went to most of the society things Elliot attended; he wanted me to mingle and see what I could hear. It's amazing how many secrets people reveal at social functions, if you know how to look and listen."
"But there was one charity event, about a year after I came to New York. It was so boring all the people Elliot wanted me to look for had already left. Elliot was going to leave, too; he asked me, 'How about a turn around the floor before we go?' I told him, 'I don't dance.' "
"Elliot said, 'Have I finally found something my capable assistant doesn't do?' " Emily's ears turned red, blushing as she remembered the gently teasing compliment. "And he took me out onto the floor, and taught me to waltz."
When she turned to Vincent, the underlying sadness was clearly visible on her face. "For the first time, I knew why people liked to dance. But I could never manage to waltz with anyone but Elliot. I practiced, at home, alone; but I always tripped over my partner's feet, unless I was dancing with Elliot."
She reached out for Vincent's hand, and looked into his eyes. "Sometimes I envy your Catherine, Vincent; she and Elliot are together now."
"I know, Emily."
"But I suppose it wouldn't matter anyway; Elliot never loved me. He loved Catherine."
"Yes, I believe he did; in his own way. He was a different man when he died, because of her."
"Elliot was a realist, Vincent." Emily's voice was firm. "He did what he had to do, to accomplish his dreams. They were great dreams, that created so much for this city; jobs, housing, theatres... Sometimes he had to be hard. He was a good man."
"A very good man, Emily," Vincent agreed, remembering how Elliot had been unable, finally, to betray him.
"Elliot sent me to San Francisco five days before he died, to do a job I knew immediately had been invented on the spur of the moment. He wanted me out of the way; maybe if I'd come straight back, or refused to go, maybe..."
"Emily, hindsight is a fine thing. Neither of us can change what has already happened; no matter how we might long to."
"Yes, Vincent." She sighed. "Sometimes it's very nice to talk to someone who truly understands."
"Yes, Emily." He was only sorry he hadn't seen the truth of her statement months earlier.
Three Weeks Later
"Father, Father, Mary says to come quick; it's Emily!" Samantha leaned, breathless, against the wall by the Mirror Pool where Father had been studying the stars shown within the water's depths. He immediately rose to his feet and followed the impatient Samantha, who went running ahead, then stopped to beckon Father to hurry. "Mary said it was an emergency, Father!"
Father's mouth tightened to a grim line. Mary did not use that word lightly. He pushed himself to move faster, ignoring the familiar pain shooting through his hip.
Despite the hurry, it took a good five minutes to reach the hospital chamber. Father worried every step of the way; only two weeks from her official due date, in truth Emily's babies should arrive any day. She was in the hospital chamber now, awaiting Peter; he was to come tomorrow to take her Above, put her in the hospital to await the birth. So much could go wrong in a twin pregnancy; the human body was designed to bear children one at a time. Every possible complication passed through his mind several times on the journey.
Once within the hospital chamber, he found Mary trying to rouse Emily. Emily's replies were confused and groggy; with a chill, Father knew what he would find.
Her skin was cold and clammy; her pulse fast and thready. "She had that dream again, Father. You know; the one with Burch in it. She said this time he was so close she could touch him. She seemed so drowsy; at first I thought it was because she just woke up, but then she just got more and more confused. Oh, Father, I'm afraid she's bleeding!" Mary exclaimed.
Father had to concur; he ran his hands over her gravid abdomen, and was rewarded with a wince when he reached the upper right quadrant. "You're right, Mary. We must prep her immediately." He turned to Samantha, who was still catching her breath. "Samantha, go to Peter. Tell him we need him, now. I would guess he is still at his office. Hurry, Samantha!"
She was gone without a word, and Father turned back to Mary. "If Peter doesn't get here soon, we'll have to start without him. Prepare her, Mary; I'll put the word over the pipes. Vincent will want to know."
"Yes, Father." Mary was already at work.
The message reached Vincent in his chamber, as he laid his son in his cradle for a nap. Jamie was with him, watching, still timid about touching such a small human being. Little Jacob was asleep as he was laid down; Vincent whispered, "I must go now, Jamie."
The girl nodded; she had understood the pipes' tidings as well. "I'll stay with him, Vincent."
"He should sleep for several hours, Jamie; I will return before then."
"Okay, Vincent," she whispered after his retreating back.
Halfway to the hospital chamber, he suddenly thought of Diana. She and Emily had become very close; he moved to the pipes, and tapped out a message to Jeffrey. When he heard the reply noises, he made his request of the boy - to go Above, to Diana's, and bring her Below. When the affirmation came, he started toward his destination again.
Before he went a dozen paces, an urgent message sounded through the communication system. An intruder, outside the iron gate, in the ruined culvert in the park. With a curse for bad timing, he turned and set out for the concrete entrance at top speed.
The sentry was waiting on the other side of the rebuilt wall. "He came into the drainpipe about ten minutes ago, Vincent; he's looking all around, like he knows about the door. But I've never seen him before." He moved back from the peephole to allow Vincent access.
From that vantage point, Vincent saw a thin man with a brown-and-white beard and long wavy hair streaked with white, which was gathered at the nape of his neck with a rubber band. Along the hairline in front of one ear marched burn scars, of recent vintage; still red, not faded to their final shade of white. The man looked toward the hidden peephole, and his blue eyes were the confirmation for Vincent. He moved back and released the latch, then went through to the other side.
The man was startled, and stepped back a pace. He looked at the cloaked presence before him, and began, "Vincent! I figured if I survived, you must have. I came to see if you found Catherine's ch-" He stopped abruptly. "Hell, I have no idea why I'm here, Vincent. I just - had to come. I had to."
"The heart has ways the mind can never comprehend," Vincent murmured, surprised, and yet accepting. "Come with me, Elliot, and I will show you why you came."
He took the former tycoon's arm, and led him into the world Below.
Vincent had kept his pace down to a normal man's level, but even that was too much for Elliot. The other man was still recovering from his terrible injuries of nearly eight months ago. "What do you mean, you'll show me why I came?" Elliot was breathless, but the question had to be asked.
"I cannot tell you in words," Vincent said softly. "You will see in a few moments."
At that moment, Diana appeared, at the far end of the tunnel they followed, also bound for the hospital chamber. Elliot looked at her. "Diana Bennett! What in the world are you doing here?"
Diana froze for an instant in shock. "So she was right," she murmured finally, shaking her head. "You are hard to kill."
"Who was right?" Elliot demanded. A little of his old imperiousness came back. Then his voice changed abruptly. "Was it Emily? Do you know where she is?"
"Yes, Elliot, it was Emily," Vincent answered. The gentleness of his voice send cold fingers of apprehension down Elliot's spine. "We are going to her now."
As they continued their journey, words poured out of Elliot, as though he'd needed to talk to someone for months. "I sent her away. The night Cleon Manning quit, I finally realized just how dangerous it was getting. So I called an old friend in San Francisco, and trumped up an urgent job for her. It should have taken her two or three weeks. It was the best I could do on short notice; but I figured it would keep her safe, at least until the mess with Gabriel was over, one way or another." A hollow laugh escaped him. "I even made her fly out. I knew how panicked she got; I still wonder why she never told me before. Or why I never knew. She took a train from Chicago, when she first came to work for me." The words were almost panted, but Elliot did not seem to be able to stop.
"She flew out to Frisco, like I told her. She stayed for five days, then flew back; the day after Moreno's murder. Of all the stupid things - . Em should have stayed there. I've been looking for her for weeks now; she just vanished. No one's seen her, heard from her. She can't do that - she should know I can't run my business without her." He stopped, totally out of breath and suddenly aware that he was babbling.
They had reached the hospital chamber. Once inside, all three stopped abruptly. Father and Peter were there, in the act of transferring Emily to the screened table in the center of the room. She was already draped and prepared for the surgery to come. The immediate focus was on her belly, stretched and enormous. Elliot's eyes travelled over that body, up to her face.
Just as it had taken Vincent an moment to recognize the changed Elliot Burch, it was not until Emily stirred, opened her eyes, and squinted that Elliot knew her. "Em? Emily?" There was doubt in his voice; he could not believe that this was his assistant.
"Elliot?" Her voice was not even a whisper. Her eyes closed again, in a face as pale as she had been on the airplane bound for San Francisco. Father and Peter finished the transfer, then screened the table off from the rest of room.
Vincent escorted the dazed Elliot to a chair on the far side of the chamber. The strong man who built steel towers to the sky was gone, at least for the moment. Probably some time in the future the tycoon would return; but the man before him was tired, and not fully well.
Diana sat on one side of him, and Vincent on the other. They remained in silence at first. Elliot's eyes were glued to the shadows on the screens, watching as the doctors began the emergency surgery. "What happened to her?"
"She's pregnant, Elliot." Diana's tone was dry.
"I can see that," Elliot shot back impatiently. "Who? When? What's wrong?"
Vincent replied, "As to who - Emily told us it was you. In San Francisco." Vincent remembered very well the shock of discovering that he had a child. Something within him froze, hoping that Elliot would not live the same nightmare, and hold his children without ever being able to hold their mother again.
The other man dropped his head into his hands, pressing his fingers against his eyes. "I'd forgotten San Francisco. Has it been only nine months since then?" he whispered. "It feels like ten years. Twenty."
"It has been but a span of months, Elliot."
"They've been very long months." Some of Elliot's dry wit returned.
"They have," agreed Vincent.
"You know, while I was recovering, I realized how much I depend on her. I was so used to having what I wanted in front of me, practically before I could ask for it; it was hard to put up with ordinary mortals." His laugh was short. "Her real first name is Helena; out of 'Midsummer Night's Dream.' It should have been Puck; I swear she could 'put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes.' Or else she had a magic wand. She always knew what I needed -" The aftermath of Santo Yrisado overran him. "Even when I didn't."
He focused back on the shades of the operation in progress, across the chamber. "I have so many questions," he said, to no one in particular. "What's Em doing here? Where is here?"
"She came to Diana searching for you, and followed her down to our world, here below the streets. She became our friend; a Helper, who gave us aid and brought gifts from the world Above. When she needed help, we tried to be here for her."
"Why isn't she in a hospital? Forgive me, Vincent - but she deserves the best." He gestured around the stone room, with its lack of modern equipment.
"Her doctor, Peter, was going to take her Above tomorrow."
"It is an emergency. They had to operate immediately; there was no time to move her."
Elliot bowed his head into his hands. There was a helplessness about him that Vincent recognized. It was his own despair, when Catherine was missing and their bond was gone, that he saw. "Emily is a very strong woman. She's had a difficult time; carrying the children has put a great strain on her body."
"Children?" If Elliot had been dazed before, he was overwhelmed now.
"Twins, Elliot," Diana said gently.
The hum of low-voiced conversation from the makeshift operating theatre had been the undercurrent for their conversation. Then there was a new sound; the hearty wail of a newborn baby.
Elliot jerked upright as though he were on strings. Mary came out of the screened area, a flannel-wrapped bundle in her arms. She walked over, and showed the child to them. "Look, Vincent, Diana - a girl!"
Vincent took the tiny bundle from Mary, and held her out to Elliot. At first the builder shook his head, shrank back - then slowly he leaned forward, to look into the small face. The baby's eyes were open; they were the same deep blue as Emily's. Elliot looked down at his large hands, studied them for a moment, as if not sure what they were for. Then he held them out, and Vincent gave him his child.
Elliot held the baby in his hands for a moment, staring incredulously. She yawned. With infinite care, Elliot brought the child to his body, and cradled her against him.
Vincent watched him, seeing the love he knew this man was capable of. While Elliot was engrossed in the baby, Vincent turned back to Mary. "The other -?"
Mary just shook her head, sadness in her eyes. Vincent felt a sharp pang of loss for the other baby, whom he had anticipated for so many months.
"Emily - how's Emily?" Elliot still held the child against his chest. The dawning wonder of his daughter's existence was replaced by concern.
"It's too soon to know," Mary told him compassionately. She looked at the small gathering. "The long part of the operation is still ahead. It could be an hour or more."
The continuing undertone from the other side of the room drew their attention. Then Father called, "Mary - we need you!"
"Coming, Father!" She hurried back to her place, leaving the child with her father.
"Emily's a fighter. She'll pull through." Diana's words were spoken as much to reassure herself as him.
"Em can handle anything." If there was doubt in his mind, Elliot had conquered it. The driving self-assurance that had marked him in the world Above lent him a feeling of control. The events of the past nine months had rearranged his world, and today was beyond his comprehension. Certain that he would wake up back in a hospital bed, still drugged and in pain, he resolved to enjoy the dream while he could.
He looked again at his newborn daughter. "Emily's baby," he whispered. He touched a tiny hand, and the fingers curled around his.
"And yours." Vincent reminded him, understanding the other man's thoughts exactly.
Emily blinked her eyes. She felt strange; but that wasn't unusual. The entire past six months had been one long experiment in how unlike herself she could feel.
She peered around her, but saw nothing but undefined shapes. That was a friendly feeling; she couldn't ever remember waking up and being able to see clearly. She tried to reach out, to search for her glasses, but her arm was being held flat. She considered it, but her mind seemed to be tied down as well; it was hard to think. She peered at the multicolored blurs and squinted, trying to bring anything into focus.
A person-shaped blur appeared, then came closer. She attempted to identify it. Too short for Vincent; too thin for William or even Father. Too tall for Mary or Mouse. She heard the blur take something from the table beside her. It sounded like her glasses. Then a pair of hands came toward her, and slipped the glasses gently onto her face. Everything sprang into view - and Emily refused to believe what she saw.
She screwed her eyes shut and counted to ten silently, then reopened them. The apparition refused to disappear, but instead was smiling at her.
"This is not happening, so I must still be asleep," she said aloud. Her voice cracked as she spoke; something was definitely different about her body, but she couldn't seem to pinpoint it.
In answer, her visitor leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. His lips were warm and soft, and she started to melt inside. "Now I know I'm asleep!" she muttered.
His familiar shout of laughter filled the room. Emily allowed herself to really look at him. It seemed to be Elliot; but he was so thin. The added white in his hair and his beard aged his face, and the rough scar in front of his ear made him look less like a polished tycoon and more like a pirate. He wore a heavy cotton sweatsuit, entirely black, which added to his roguish appearance.
Elliot's expression became utterly serious. He walked around the bed, and pulled up a chair next to her free arm.
He took her hand and held it. He cleared his throat, and started, "Emily, I -" Then he looked down into her eyes, dazed and unbelieving, filling up with tears. His carefully planned speech flew from his mind. Gripping her hand tighter than he knew, his voice harsh, he groaned, "Oh Em, I lost you! I thought I'd lost you." He lifted her hand to his lips, then held it against his cheek.
This didn't seem like something from her dreams. It couldn't be true, though. Elliot was dead; she had finally accepted that. He couldn't be here; and he most certainly couldn't be looking at her with such joy and hunger. It had taken months, but the reality of Elliot's death had penetrated, and she had learned to live with it.
The thought of the past months cued her fuzzy brain, and she realized what was different. "The babies," she breathed, her eyes widening with fear.
"She's beautiful, Em. The most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
"She? But - there were..."
Elliot placed his finger against her lips, preventing her from finishing her sentence. "We have a beautiful daughter. She looks just like her mother. That's enough."
But tears were already rolling down Emily's cheeks. "I tried so hard to do everything they told me," she sobbed. "I did my best. What did I do wrong?"
"Don't cry, Em. Please don't cry. Things happen that we have no control over." He wanted to take her into his arms, but the IV tubes and surgical dressings made him wary. Emily's soft sobs tore at his heart. He pressed her hand tighter to his cheek, and wiped the tears from her face with his free hand. "Hush, Em." His urgency and pain, and frustration at not being able to hold her, made his voice shake. In five years, through Santo Yrisado and the fiasco of the Burch Tower, he had never seen Emily cry. It seemed to shake the foundations of his soul to see her now.
"Emily, please." He was begging her, for his own sake as well as hers. Her pain overcame his fear of hurting her; with exaggerated care, moving to sit lightly on the bed, he slid his arm beneath her shoulders and leaned down to her, to shelter her in his arms as well as he could.
Her glasses dug into his shoulder; he pulled them from her face and tossed them back onto the table. Then he leaned awkwardly back to her, to hold her as tightly as he dared.
Emily stiffened at Elliot's embrace. Her thoughts and feelings were in chaos; grief, loss, relief at the end of her ordeal, disbelief, bemusement and joy jumbled together with an edge of physical pain. And each thought or emotion was moving in a fog; she couldn't seem to grasp or examine one. Even the physical was suspect. The shoulder she leaned into felt real; the edge of beard that tickled her ear was a detail she remembered well, from Santo Yrisado and San Francisco. But the totality was beyond her comprehension.
There were too many conflicting emotions for her present state. Like an overloaded switchboard, her mind closed down. As sleep overwhelmed her, she thought she heard Elliot whisper, "I love you, Em."
The sound of voices across the chamber woke her the second time. She recognized Father's firm tone first. "Perhaps it would be better if you waited until she was stronger -"
Vincent's velvet whisper was next. "Father is right. She's had enough shocks for one day."
Another voice answered, "I don't agree. You don't know Emily the way I do. She saw me before; she won't let it drop at that."
"She may not remember seeing you. She was not completely out from under the anesthesia yet." It was Father's voice again.
"She'll remember me." Much of Elliot Burch's natural arrogance had returned.
"Elliot!" His name escaped her lips involuntarily. All three men stopped talking to move to her side.
Elliot reached her first, and handed her her glasses. Then he settled where he had been before, perched on the edge of the bed, and took her hand.
Seconds of silence stretched to a full minute, as the men waited for Emily's reaction. All she did was stare at Elliot, devouring him with her eyes.
Finally she whispered, "I feel like Sam at the end of Lord of the Rings. 'Is everything sad going to come untrue?' "
"No, but 'a great Shadow has departed'," Vincent murmured. There would always be wistful melancholy for him in seeing such scenes, but the worst of his pain was passing. Diana was a healing force for him now; thoughts of Catherine could bring great pleasure as well as pain, as Father had told him.
While these thoughts ran through his head, there was another silence. Finally, Emily turned to Father and asked in a small voice, "Is this real?"
Elliot intercepted the question and answered, "I'm real, Em." He lifted the hand he was holding, brought it to his lips, and kissed her palm. Then he leaned toward her, and laid her hand on his chest. "Feel my heart, Em. I'm alive. I'm real."
She closed her eyes, and Father reached down to the IV'd arm and took her pulse. Her eyes opened immediately at his touch, and she noticed the equipment for the first time. Panic chased out other emotions. She looked down at the too-flat sheet covering her. "What happened? The babies?" There was terror only a breath away.
"Emily, the placenta detached prematurely. You were bleeding internally." Father's voice was heavy. "One of the babies was stillborn."
"Em, we have a daughter." Elliot spoke firmly, dragging her attention from Father. "A beautiful baby girl. She has your eyes." He put forth the full power of his personality, making her focus entirely on him. Both Father and Vincent saw for the first time exactly what had propelled Elliot Burch to his position in the world Above. His very presence demanded full attention, and everything he said had the forceful ring of truth.
Emily's mind was still on hold. Emotion seemed to be all that was left to her. She had conflicting urges to laugh, cry, and scream. Most of all she wanted to pinch herself. The hand that gripped hers felt solid, but how could Elliot be here?
As she grappled with the situation, a new sound entered the equation. The cry of a hungry baby filled the room.
All heads turned toward the sound. Mary, who had been knitting quietly next to the cradle at the other end of the chamber, lifted the tiny complainer and brought her to Emily's bedside. "Father, Vincent, this young lady wants breakfast." She shooed them out.
She handed the baby to Elliot. "Hold her while I help Emily." It was easier the second time, more natural. He cuddled the tiny form to his shoulder, murmuring wordlessly to her as Mary efficiently helped Emily prepare to feed her. "Now don't try to move, dear," she said to Emily. "Let us do all the work."
She motioned to Elliot to bring the child over, then directed briskly, "Unwrap her a little. Skin to skin contact is very important for babies. That's good. Now, give her to Emily -" She directed him in positioning the child, who quickly got the idea, and was soon feeding hungrily.
No one who had known Elliot in the world Above - not even Cathy Chandler - had ever seen the expression on his face. Compounded of pride, love, and awe, it was an expression Mary was quite familiar with. A man looking at his beloved wife the first time she held their child, always looked like that. She smiled to herself and left the family alone.
A few candles created a flickering twilight in the hospital chamber, in deference to the late hour. Elliot slouched in a chair next to Emily's bedside, the cradle holding his day-old daughter near his feet.
Next to him was Vincent, his own son settling down to sleep against his father's shoulder. Sizing up Elliot's posture, Vincent suggested quietly, "Why don't you get some sleep, Elliot? Emily and the baby are asleep now."
The other man shook his head. His glance touched the woman and the infant. "I don't think I could sleep. Too many shocks for one day." He watched Vincent holding his son. Something about the half-light and the gentle lion-man invited confidences.
"You know that I really loved Cathy, Vincent. But she was always a dream; something that was beyond my reach."
He sat in silence, then leaned over to look at Emily. He called her name softly. When there was no answer, he continued, "Don't tell Emily, but when they fished me out, after the Compass Rose , I was pretty broken up. I don't think I was expected to make it."
Elliot stopped, trying to frame the experience for Vincent. "When I was 18, I was in an accident on the waterfront; I drifted in and out for a week or so, after that. I guess when they found me, I flashed back, and told them I worked on the docks. There was a night watchman missing in that explosion too; they assumed that's who I was. By the time I realized who I really was, I also knew enough to keep my mouth shut."
"I was lucky, Vincent; this guy had no family, no friends. No one to prove I wasn't Alan Robinson.
"Those first weeks, when they were sure I would die, and so was I - I thought about Cathy constantly. I created a wonderful fantasy; a place to be with her, where there was no pain.
"But Vincent, I discovered after a while that the voice I was listening for was Emily's. When the door started to open, the person I wanted to see come through it was Emily. Slowly she took over even the fantasies. I think I decided to recover when I dreamt about her, on the Daedelus, in my arms; and woke up calling her name."
Elliot looked Vincent straight in the eye. "I did love Cathy; she never loved me. But loving her changed me, Vincent. It opened my life to possibilities, and let me see what was under my nose." He looked from Emily to their daughter, and shook his head in wonder. "I've spent six weeks searching for her. Like searching for Cathy; cold with terror that I might find the same thing. And to find her now - Vincent, what can I say? It's beyond my wildest dreams." Elliot yawned and leaned his head back against the chair. Despite his earlier protestations, his eyes slid closed and he was asleep within seconds.
Vincent took his now-sleeping son, and stole silently out of the chamber.
"Repeat after me," said David Shapiro. Beneath the canopy, Emily and Elliot stood side by side. "Dodi li, v'ani lo."
Emily dutifully repeated the words. Elliot repeated them as well, and turned to look at his bride. "My beloved is mine, and I am my beloved's," he translated in a clear voice.
"By the power vested in me by the state of New York, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Elliot leaned down, and kissed her unhurriedly and thoroughly. Then he walked across the chamber to an empty chair and brought it back with him. "Now sit down," he commanded.
As Emily complied, Vincent recalled entering the hospital chamber in the early morning, a week ago, a few days before Father allowed Emily to return to her home.
The candles had flickered down to bare twilight. As Vincent came in, he glanced toward the bed Mary had made up for Elliot. It was as pristine as when she had carefully tucked the sheet in. His gaze proceeded to Emily's bed. She was there, still flat on her back, sound asleep; and Elliot was curled against her, one arm flung possessively over her even in sleep. He turned to leave, reluctant to disturb them, but Elliot was already stretching. His eyes half open, he saw Vincent, and waved to indicate he would join him. Silently, the bearded man rose, rubbing the back of his neck. He met Vincent in the center of the chamber, and whispered, "Come on out into the hall."
Once outside, Elliot stretched again, and continued rubbing the kinks from his neck. "Good morning, Vincent. Man, am I stiff."
"Good morning, Elliot. Mary had another bed in the chamber prepared for you, if you were uncomfortable."
"I wasted five years, Vincent," the builder said, motioning toward Emily, asleep in the chamber. "I'm not spending another night alone."
Vincent smiled to himself as he watched Elliot rest his hand on Emily's shoulder, as if she were so much a part of him he couldn't bear to be away from her.
Rabbi Shapiro moved to join the crowd, and Father came to stand by the couple. Mary, who had been holding the baby, handed the four-week-old girl to her mother. Father began, "And now we celebrate the child."
Diana looked at her friend. Last night, over yet another pizza at Emily's place, they had talked about the future.
"Diana, I don't even know what my name's going to be!" Emily was seated on the couch, with her feet up on the coffee table. "Elliot isn't sure yet if he intends to go back to being Elliot Burch, or start over as Stanley Kazmarek, Jr. I did tell him, however, that I refuse to call him 'Stosh'." Both women laughed.
"Seriously, I think that 'Elliot Burch' will turn up again before long. He loves the city so much; he won't be happy being less than he was. Despite his protestations to the contrary."
The subject in question appeared in the hall, carrying a fussing baby. "I can do a lot of things, Em," he said, "but feeding the baby isn't one of them." He scrutinized her carefully. "You look tired. Sure it isn't time to call it a night?"
"Elliot!" she protested as she took the child. But Diana took the none-too-subtle hint, and rose to leave.
"Tomorrow's the big day, Diana," Emily called after her.
"How could I forget? You've talked of nothing else for two weeks!" Diana laughed as she let herself out.
Father's voice brought her back to the present. "We welcome the child with love, that she may be able to love. We welcome the child with gifts, that she may be able to give. And we welcome the child with a name."
Elliot took the baby from his new wife, and held her as he said, "Her name is Catherine Titania Kazmarek."
Diana reached for Vincent's hand. He took it gratefully, thankful again for his friends and family. Then Elliot caught his eye, and nodded almost imperceptibly. Vincent looked across the room to the quartet of youngsters providing the music. Shortly, the strains of a waltz filled Father's chamber.
Elliot handed the baby back to Mary. Raising Emily gently to her feet, he asked, "May I have this dance?"
Vincent saw tears in Emily's eyes as she moved into Elliot's embrace. For the few moments that they danced, he felt that the chamber was filled with the light that shone from her eyes; a light that matched that in the eyes of the man who looked down at her.
Note from the author: This story has a prequel; in this case, the original story is Third Season, but the prequel takes place around the televised episodes, showing you where my original character was during all the scenes that featured Elliott. I'll send anyone the prequel, "The Harvest and the Seed", for the "price" of email comments on the stories--I'd appreciate it.