Catherine's back ached fiercely and she shifted uncomfortably in her chair. She promised herself that if she could just get through this brief she was drafting, she would go home early. For her, that would mean leaving on time for once.
Her back had been hurting and she'd been having intermittent contractions all day, a sure sign she was doing too much. Concentrating on the brief was becoming more and more difficult.
Her attention wandered to the heap of unfinished work on her desk and she wondered irritably if she was going to be able to complete it all in two days.
In frustration, she tore off the top sheet of her legal pad, wadding it up and hurling it in the general direction of her overflowing wastebasket.
"Great timing, kid," she mumbled as she finally admitted to herself that she was probably in labor. With a sigh, she closed the case books on her desk and reached for her purse. The strongest contraction yet made her grip the edge of her desk until it passed.
On her way out, she stopped by Joe Maxwell's office to tell him she was leaving. Leaning against the doorframe, she waited while he argued with someone on the phone.
Her eyes widened as another contraction hit and Joe stopped talking mid-sentence. "I'll call you back, Bill." He slammed the phone down and came around his desk to put an arm around her.
"Are you okay, Cathy? Is it the baby?"
"I think so," she nodded. "I'm all right, Joe. I just wanted you to know I'm leaving."
"I'll walk you down."
Over her protests, Joe accompanied her to the elevator. Another contraction as they rode down made her hold on to his arm for balance.
Outside, Joe found a cab and helped her in. "Which hospital?" he asked.
Catherine shook her head. "I want to go home."
Joe gaped at her. "Are you crazy? You need to go to the hospital!"
Catherine was opening her mouth to argue when yet another contraction seized her. Joe took advantage of her distraction and climbed into the cab beside her.
"Take us to the nearest hospital that delivers babies," he instructed the driver. He dredged his memory for everything he'd learned before his daughter was born three years ago. "Come on, Radcliffe, breathe," he encouraged her.
Catherine was suddenly very grateful for his help. Neither of her two previous labors had progressed this quickly and she found it a little frightening.
* * * * *
In the tunnels below the city, Vincent stopped his restless pacing and cocked his head as if listening to some far away sound.
"She's in labor," he said, distractedly. "The baby is coming very quickly. She's on her way." He took a moment to kneel beside his two-year-old son, who was happily stacking blocks on the floor of Father's chamber.
"You stay with Grandfather, Jacob. I'll be back soon."
"'Bye." Unperturbed, Jacob waved and reached for another block.
Vincent stood. "Charles is with Jonathan."
"I know that, Vincent. The boys will be fine. Go!" Father waved him out.
Pulling his cloak on as he walked, Vincent used his sense of Catherine to guide him. After a minute, he was sure she wasn't going home because she was travelling in the wrong direction. Another minute and he was equally certain she wasn't going to use the entrance nearest her office.
Knowing there wasn't much time before the baby came, Vincent broke into a run. His feet carried him blindly on a path guided only by their bond.
After running through a series of steam tunnels on the extreme upper level, he came to a gradual stop. Taking a few hesitant steps back, he stared at the smooth curve of the pipe above his head.
Catherine was there, no more than a hundred feet away from him... but it might as well have been a hundred miles.
* * * * *
Catherine allowed Joe to help her into the emergency entrance of the hospital. An alert orderly produced a wheelchair and she sank into it thankfully, gripping Joe's hand as she panted through another hard contraction. It was only a matter of minutes before the baby would be born.
* * * * *
Below, Vincent stood in the emptiness of the tunnel, an imposing figure even in his aloneness. It was times like this when he felt the enormity of his differences the most.
Behind him, an insistent message reverberated on the pipes and with a detached part of his mind, Vincent recognized his own name. It was a moment before the message itself sank in.
With a sigh, he scanned the tunnel floor, seeking something with which to tap out a reply. A broken piece of concrete lay nearby and he picked it up. He gave his location, repeating it twice before tossing the chunk of cement aside and resuming his lonely vigil.
* * * * *
Catherine was wheeled briskly down a corridor and onto an elevator as Joe trotted alongside. A nurse accompanied them, clipboard in hand, trying to get information.
"Who is your doctor?"
Catherine forced herself to concentrate. "Peter Alcott," she said. "But he's out of town."
"Is this your first baby?"
Catherine shook her head. "My third... fourth..."
"Her third pregnancy, her fourth child," Joe clarified.
The nurse smiled at him. "Will you be going into the delivery room?"
Catherine answered for him, emphatically. "No!"
"I'm not her husband," Joe explained quickly. "I'm just a friend."
"In that case, you might want to go down to Admitting and give them what information you can," the nurse suggested.
The elevator doors slid open and Joe squatted down beside the wheelchair. "Will you be okay?"
Catherine spared him a small smile. "Sure, Joe. I've done this before."
"Yeah. Can I call someone for you?"
Catherine hesitated. "No... yes! Call Jenny."
Joe looked more than a little confused as he asked, "Jenny? Jenny Aronson?"
"Yes. Call Jenny."
Another contraction began and Joe stood aside as Catherine was wheeled into Labor and Delivery, staring after her with a thoughtful frown on his face.
* * * * *
Vincent turned his head at the sound of footsteps. Mary hurried around a corner, carrying her obstetrical case and panting from exertion.
"Vincent! Where is Catherine?"
"She isn't coming." Vincent sounded resigned.
Mary frowned. "...isn't coming? But Father said she was in labor.. that you had come to meet her..." She stopped beside him and set down her case. "He was afraid the baby was coming too quickly so he asked me to follow you."
Vincent gestured above their heads. "There was no time for her to come Below. She is there... above us... about to give birth."
"What's up there, Vincent?" Mary asked him gently.
"A hospital," he replied. "She will be well cared for."
Rapid footsteps sounded from the other end of the tunnel as Jamie and William hurried towards them. Simultaneously, Geoffrey appeared behind Mary.
"Where's Catherine?" they all asked at once. Mary began to explain. Halfway through, she looked over to see Vincent glancing up with a faraway look in his eyes. She stopped speaking and the others turned, following her gaze. In silence they watched.
After a few minutes, Vincent bowed his head and sighed. "The child has been born safely," he said softly. "Catherine is relieved and happy."
His own relief was evident in his voice. As he turned to his friends, they smiled at him, offering tentative congratulations. Lifting Mary's case, Vincent put his other arm around her. "Let's go tell Father," he suggested lightly.
* * * * *
Catherine turned her head and smiled as the recovery room door swung open to admit Jenny Aronson.
"Hi," she said, tired but happy. "Did you see the baby?"
Jenny nodded and grinned. "I stopped by the nursery first," she explained. "How are you doing?"
"I want to go home."
Jenny made a face. "So I heard. Cathy, you just had a baby. Your doctor asked me to talk sense to you..."
"Jenny," Catherine laid her hand on her friend's arm. "I want to go home. You should understand that."
Jenny's voice became gentle. "I do. But the doctor is very uncomfortable with the idea of you going home right now. The baby's not even an hour old yet."
The stubborn look on Catherine's face made Jenny try a different approach. "I know you want to be with Vincent, but your well-being is more important to him. You know that. Stay tonight and you can go home in the morning. Please."
Catherine still wanted to argue, but she was drained and shaky from childbirth. In her heart, she knew Jenny was right. Unwillingly, she nodded.
The recovery room door swung open again as a nurse wheeled in the baby. Joe followed shyly.
"Here he is, Mrs. Chandler, all washed and pretty for you," the nurse bubbled, picking up the infant and handing him to his mother.
Catherine gathered the baby to her eagerly. She had seen him only briefly in the delivery room before he'd been whisked away to be weighed and measured. She wasn't used to being separated from her babies after birth and she was glad to have him back.
"Hey, Radcliffe, how're you feeling?" Joe asked.
Catherine smiled at him. "I never thanked you for bringing me here," she said. "I'm glad now that you insisted."
"Yeah," Joe grinned. "The nurse told me he was born twelve minutes after we got here. You never would have made it home, Chandler."
"I know. Thanks, Joe."
Joe turned to Jenny. "Did you convince her to be reasonable?"
Jenny nodded. "As long as she gets to go home in the morning." She turned to Catherine. "I'll come get you, first thing... Damn! I just remembered, I have this meeting..."
A rebellious expression crossed Catherine's face and Joe broke in hastily. "I'll take you home, Radcliffe," he promised. "I'll be here bright and early."
* * * * *
An hour later, Jenny climbed the steps to Catherine's front door and rang the bell. After a moment, it was opened and a teenage girl with bright red hair peered out at her.
"Hi, Miranda," Jenny said. "I need to see Vincent."
Miranda opened the door wide. "He's in the dining room..." she began, but Jenny had already crossed the vestibule and Vincent met her in the hall.
"It's a boy, seven pounds, seven ounces and twenty and a quarter inches long, and they're both fine," Jenny said, all in one breath.
Brandishing cardboard swords, Charles and Jacob came charging in from the back of the house. Charles, at nearly six, was already taller than most boys his age. His straight brown hair was disheveled and there was a mischievous glint in his gray eyes. In contrast, Jacob was small and fair with his mother's delicate features. A fading pink scar was the only reminder of the cleft lip he had been born with.
"Hi, Aunt Jenny!" Charles said happily, dropping his sword for a hug. "Did you know we have a new baby?"
"I just came from seeing him," Jenny informed him. "I brought you something." Digging in her purse, she produced two Polaroid snapshots and gave them to Vincent.
Jacob pulled at his father's vest. "Jacob see," he insisted.
Vincent squatted down and put an arm around Jacob to steady him as he held the first picture so the boys could see it.
It was a close up of a newborn baby and Charles grimaced.
"Is that our baby?" he asked with distaste. "He's ugly! All red and squished."
Vincent quickly stifled a sound of amusement. "He looks very much as you did, Charles," he told the boy. "Except for the hair."
Jenny laughed. "This baby doesn't have any hair."
"Not any?" Charles asked in amazement.
"Well, not much, and what he does have is so blonde you can't see it," Jenny said.
Vincent was looking at the other photograph now and he seemed far away as he gazed at the image of Catherine holding their newest child.
Charles glanced at the picture and looked at Jenny sadly. "Aunt Jenny, when is my mother coming home?"
Jacob took his finger out of his mouth and echoed, "Mommy come home?"
"Your Uncle Joe's bringing her home in the morning," Jenny explained, crouching down to the children's level.
"I want her to come home now," Charles complained.
"Charles." Vincent's voice held a warning.
Jenny smiled sympathetically. "Charles, would you like to call your mother on the telephone? If it's okay with your father," she added, glancing at Vincent for permission.
"Right now?" Charles asked with interest.
Vincent nodded his approval and Jenny stood, holding out her hand. "Sure. Right now!"
Charles pulled her the few steps to the hall table and waited impatiently while she rummaged through her purse in search of the scrap of paper that had Catherine's hospital room number scribbled on it. She finally found it and dialed.
"Hi," she said a moment later. "It's me. Did I wake you up? ...Good. I have two little people here who want to talk to you. ...I'm at your house, where do you think?" Jenny laughed into the phone and passed the receiver to Charles.
He held a brief conversation with his mother, asking and answering a few simple questions. After a moment, she said something to him that made him look at Vincent and smile. "Okay," he agreed. "Here's Jacob."
Jacob had been reaching for the phone, saying, "Jacob talk, Jacob talk," over and over in a mournful monotone. He seized the receiver joyfully and began chattering nonsense.
Charles walked carefully around Jenny and Jacob and looked up at Vincent with a grin. "You have to bend down, Father," he instructed.
Puzzled, Vincent lowered himself to the child's level and Charles hugged him hard and kissed him soundly on the cheek.
"That's from Mother," he said with delight. "She told me to."
Jacob abandoned the phone in favor of bestowing his own hug and kiss and Jenny rescued the swinging receiver.
"Are you still there?" she asked Catherine. Receiving an affirmative answer, she went on. "You're going to have to teach that kid some phone etiquette. Hold on a sec."
Vincent had straightened and Jenny offered him the phone. "Your turn."
Vincent hesitated before reaching for the instrument slowly. He turned away as he lifted it to his ear.
Charles stared in wonder. "I never saw Father talk on the telephone before," he whispered to Jenny.
"Really?" Jenny glanced at Vincent curiously as she rescued a framed picture from Jacob's ungentle hands. Using her sleeve to remove the worst of the smudges Jacob had left on the glass, she returned the picture to its place on the table.
Vincent cradled the phone and looked at Jenny. "Catherine asked if you told me about the room," he said, his eyes making it a question.
"Oh... I forgot," she said in dismay. "I'm supposed to tell you she's in a semi-private room. She has a roommate."
Vincent nodded his understanding and Jenny thought she saw a glimmer of disappointment in his eyes. She'd have to ask Cathy to explain later.
"It's getting late. Is there anything I can do before I go? Maybe help get the boys ready for bed or something...?"
Vincent shook his head. "It isn't necessary. Miranda is here."
"We're going to stay Below tonight," Charles volunteered. "Father says I'm old enough to sleep in the boy's dorm... dorm..." he struggled with the word.
"Dormitory," Vincent supplied.
"Dorm-i-to-ry," Charles repeated, pronouncing each syllable carefully. "Jacob's too little. He has to sleep with Father," he added.
"No! Jacob sleep with Charles!" Jacob's protest was prompt and vigorous.
Vincent lifted Jacob in his arms and Jenny said a hasty goodbye, leaving Vincent with the unenviable task of reasoning with a two year old.
* * * * *
The next morning found Joe and Catherine deeply embroiled in argument as their cab moved slowly through the traffic. It had started when Joe learned that he and Jenny had been Catherine's only visitors the night before.
His first assumption had been that her children's father, the mysterious man he had never met, must be out of town. That illusion vanished when Catherine said something which indicated that he was at home, waiting for her.
Joe asked what he thought was a logical question. "Why didn't he come for you?"
The baby whimpered and Catherine soothed him. Joe had the impression she was stalling.
"He couldn't," she answered at last, with an air of finality.
Joe was disturbed by the man's absence yesterday and this morning, and his temper grew short as Catherine evaded his questions. There had been far too many similar incidents in her life and he had ignored them for far too long. There were all the parties she went to alone, the movies she hadn't seen and the plays she hadn't been to. Her social life, as far as he could tell, was non-existent except for obligatory functions, but that was only the surface.
There were the photographs, carefully framed, which graced a corner of Catherine's desk at the office. They changed over the years. First had been pictures of little Charles, followed by photos of Charles and his younger brother Jacob. The latest was a posed studio family portrait of Catherine and her two sons. The man in her life was conspicuously absent and it had required enormous effort for Joe not to ask about him.
One thing stood out above all this, however, and Joe could still feel outrage whenever he allowed himself to think about it. Baby Jacob, at six weeks of age, had undergone plastic surgery to correct his cleft lip. Joe had known that Cathy was apprehensive about it, especially in the wake of the other twin's death. "It's a general anaesthetic, Joe," she had told him anxiously when he had gone to her home to visit her and the new baby. "There's always a risk..."
On the day of surgery, he had taken an early lunch and gone to the hospital to offer whatever comfort he could. Jacob was still in surgery and Joe had been appalled to find Cathy in the waiting room, white-faced with fear and holding hard onto Jenny Aronson's hand. The child's father was nowhere to be found and careful questioning of the hospital staff revealed he had never been there. Joe was divorced from his wife, but, if it had been their daughter undergoing surgery, nothing could have kept him away.
Now his barely leashed anger and dissatisfaction with Catherine's vague replies to his questions made him push harder for information.
The more he pressed her, the more cryptic her answers became and the more his suspicions were aroused. Finally she resorted to a direct plea. "Don't ask me questions I can't answer, Joe."
He couldn't let go of it. "Why? Why can't you answer them?"
"I just can't."
The cab drew up in front of the house and Joe halted his interrogation to gather up some of the miscellany that goes with new babies.
"You don't need to come in, Joe," Catherine told him.
"Yes, I do." He was emphatic. "I want to be sure someone's there to be with you."
She smiled as she shifted the baby into the crook of her left arm, freeing her other hand to open the door. "I won't be alone."
Joe scowled. "He didn't even come to see you in the hospital yesterday..."
Catherine cut him off by climbing out of the cab and slamming the door. By the time Joe reached the sidewalk she was halfway up the stairs, and he hurried after her.
Catching up with her at the top, he took the keys out of her hand and unlocked the door. Before he could open it, she reached across him to stab the doorbell three or four times.
He had observed that action during prior visits to her home, and always wondered why she did it, but he was damned if he was going to ask. Trying to pry explanations from her was a little like beating your head against a brick wall - painful and highly unproductive. He followed her through the dim vestibule and into the hallway, standing with his feet firmly planted as she turned to face him.
"I'll be all right now, Joe."
"No way, Radcliffe. I'm staying until I see that someone's here to take care of you." His jaw was set in a way that told her this was one argument he didn't intend to lose.
She glared back at him, just as determined.
The impasse was broken by a low, gentle voice from the top of the darkened stairs.
"Joe Maxwell. I have much to thank you for."
Catherine made an audible sound of shocked protest. Joe knew immediately who the voice must belong to, and he took an involuntary step toward it. "Where were you yesterday when Cathy was having your baby?" he demanded belligerently.
The shadowed form at the top of the stairs began to descend quietly. "I was with her in the only way I could be."
It was another evasive answer and suddenly all the fury Joe had kept bottled up over the years out of deference to Catherine could no longer be contained. He shook off the restraining hand she laid on his arm and took another step forward.
"If it weren't for Cathy..." he began, enraged. The figure took one more step down and Joe broke off to stare in shock.
All at once, all his assumptions and expectations were shattered. Nothing in his wildest imaginings had prepared him for anything like this and time seemed to stop as he gaped. Vincent stood calmly, returning Joe's gaze until Catherine cleared her throat.
"Joe, I guess it's time you met Vincent. And now, if you gentlemen don't mind, I badly need to sit down."
Her words brought Joe out of his shocked state. She carefully made her way into the little-used living room, and Vincent made an eloquent gesture with his hands, inviting Joe to follow her. Catherine eased herself onto the couch and Joe stared in fascination as Vincent bent over her.
"You're all right?" He raised his hand as if to touch her face, then seemed to remember Joe's presence and lowered it to gently stroke the baby's head instead.
"I'm fine." Catherine smiled first at her husband and then at her son. "Isn't he beautiful?"
The look on Vincent's face as he took the child in his arms was all the answer she needed. Totally absorbed in his new son, Vincent crossed to a chair near the window and began tracing the baby's features lightly with his finger.
Joe, riveted by the expression on Catherine's face as she watched Vincent holding the child close, moved to sit beside her on the couch. "I guess," he said at length, "I owe you both an apology."
Catherine gave him a roguish grin. "That's quite a turnaround, Mr. Maxwell," she teased him.
Joe looked embarrassed. "Yeah, well, a lot of things begin to make sense now... things about you. I worried about you a lot, Radcliffe. I felt so helpless when you wouldn't tell me anything."
Catherine came to a sudden realization. "All this time you thought I was caught in an abusive relationship!"
Joe nodded briefly, his eyes on the floor. "I couldn't understand it," he explained. "You're so strong, so self-reliant. I could never understand why you would stay with a man who wasn't good to you, but I couldn't think of any other reason for all the secrets... all the times he should have been with you, but wasn't." He sighed. "And what confused me most of all was that you truly seemed happy. It was a paradox I couldn't make sense of."
Catherine reached for his hand and held it between hers. "Don't be ashamed, Joe. You wanted to protect me. I always knew that. But I couldn't tell you why I didn't need your protection. Maybe I just didn't know how."
"Yeah." Joe gave Vincent a shy glance as he withdrew his hand. He still looked embarrassed as he got to his feet. "I'd better go, Chandler."
Vincent rose from his own chair. "Thank you for bringing them both safely home." He shifted the baby to his left arm and held out his right hand.
Joe grinned awkwardly as he shook Vincent's hand. "I'm sorry for all the things I thought about you," he said.
"Your apology is not necessary. I know you truly care about Catherine. She is fortunate to have you as her friend."
Joe shifted uncomfortably under Vincent's praise and changed the subject. "By the way, what's the baby's name?"
Vincent exchanged looks with Catherine.
"His name's Evan," she said, imparting the name that had long ago been chosen.
Vincent glanced down at the infant in his arms and back up at Joe. "Evan Joseph," he added quietly.
Pleased and honored, Joe grinned.