By Edith Crowe
"Ha--caught you, Radcliffe!"
"Yipes! Joe, you almost gave me a heart attack. Since
when have you taken to lurking outside Ladies' Rooms? You'll never
get to be mayor that way."
"I'm not lurking, Cathy," Joe replied sternly. "I'm
keeping an eye on one of my employees who's come down with the latest
office bug and is too stubborn to admit it."
"Joe, I'm not really that sick--I've been taking lots of
vitamin C and it's really working. I admit my stomach's a little
rocky now and then, but I feel OK most of the time, honestly. If you
send me home it'll probably get worse; work takes my mind off it."
"I'm so glad the DA's office can be of service, M'am."
"Joe, sarcasm doesn't become you," Catherine announced
loftily as she began edging surreptitiously toward the office.
Joe's tone turned ominous. "If Manuel had gone home when
I told him to, he wouldn't have infected half the staff. No more
Mister Nice Boss, Chandler. Out." He pointed to the door with a
flourish worthy of the villain in a Victorian melodrama.
"OUT! If it'll make you feel better, take some work home
"I don't have anything left I can do at home," Catherine
admitted. "I've already read all the new case files."
"I thought you had reformed, Radcliffe." Joe was getting
that big brother look in his eye again. "You've almost gotten down to
the work of a normal human being lately. I was hoping it meant you'd
decided to have a personal life or something."
"Everybody's social life has slow weeks," Catherine said
evasively. "All right, you win, I'll go home."
"Feeling uncomfortable?" Joe asked pointedly.
"It's just that it's getting stuffy in here,"
Catherine retorted, fixing him with what she hoped was a withering
look. Trying not to look quite like she was fleeing the scene of
battle, she collected her belongings with as much dignity as she
could muster and left the office aware of Joe's speculative stare
following her out.
Riding down the elevator she leaned thankfully against
the wall and closed her eyes. Catherine wondered why she couldn't
have a boss who didn't give a hoot about his employees. Of course
then he wouldn't be Joe. She didn't really want him any other way,
even if his curiosity about her personal life forced her into verbal
gymnastics all too often.
She opened her eyes and focused them on her left hand.
The silver ring of Celtic knotwork was beautifully ambiguous. Most
people who didn't know her assumed it was a wedding ring--which it
was, to her. Those who knew her, if they thought about it at all,
tended to think it might be a "partner ring," or a family heirloom,
or even an attractive professional woman's way of discouraging
unwanted suitors. What Joe thought she had no idea. She had caught
him surreptitiously eyeing it more than once but he had been
uncharacteristically silent. Perhaps he sensed that any question
would open altogether too formidable a can of worms. Perhaps he
thought if she wanted him to know about it she'd tell him--and was
hurt because she hadn't.
Catherine shut the door of the house behind her, drinking
in the sense of peace it always gave. Maybe staying home wouldn't be
such a bad idea after all--even though it had seemed rather empty all
week without Vincent's presence. She wouldn't have been so eager to
take all that work home lately, no matter how short-staffed this flu
had left the DA's office, if Vincent hadn't been needed in the far
reaches of the Tunnels for major repair work. For a moment she
considered visiting Below, but dismissed the idea. Joe might possibly
be right, and she couldn't risk infecting anyone in the Tunnels,
especially the children. Even a simple flu was such a drain on their
resources ... she couldn't take such a chance just because she wanted
Putting her coat away in the closet and starting
upstairs, Catherine decided to face the chaos her home office had
become. Keeping all the parts of her life in balance sometimes seemed
like juggling an extremely varied assortment of objects while
standing on a tightrope. Balanced on one foot. She smiled ruefully
when she thought of how often her attempt to keep up with her old
friends turned out to be the ball that dropped. With a righteous
sense of resolution, she plunked herself down in front of the paper
mountain and set to work.
Almost two hours later, she leaned back, sighed mightily,
and surveyed her accomplishments. A disorderly pile of unpaid bills
and unanswered letters had been transformed into a neat stack of
stamped envelopes. The wastebasket overflowed with junk mail detritus
and the books Devin had asked to borrow were carefully packaged and
ready to mail. Catching sight of the desk calendar brought to light
by her recent excavation, Catherine felt a pang of concern. Had she
missed lunch with Jenny again? Please, God, let it be next
week, she prayed as she realized the date showing was almost two
weeks ago. Chandler, you've got to get organized, she
admonished herself. Suddenly her hand stopped in the act of turning
the page. For a long moment the world around her seemed as still as
her body had become. Slowly she laid the calendar back on the desk.
As if a spring had been released, she leaped up, rushed down the
stairs and out the door, throwing on her coat as she ran.
An hour later she was sitting on her bed, staring at the
objects in her hands. It couldn't be true, it wasn't possible...was
it? The turmoil of conflicting emotions within her threatened to
swamp any attempt at rational thought. With a prodigious effort of
will she tried to impose some measure of calm. Taking a deep breath,
she reached for the phone.
"Hi. Yes, it's me, Cathy. No, I'm fine. Well, maybe I do
sound a little strange, but I have good reason--I think. What I
really need this minute is to talk to a friend. Are you busy right
now? ... no, I'd rather come over there if it's all right.
Thanks--I'll be right there!"
"Vincent OK? Dust in face?"
"No, Mouse, I'm fine."
"Why're you shaking your head then? You do look a little
funny," Jamie asked curiously.
"Looks to me like he's getting a message from radio
CATH," Cullen grinned wickedly as they hoisted the last piece of
lumber to shore up the crumbling passage. "You didn't drop the beam
or anything this time so it must be suitable for the whole family."
"Your metaphors are certainly original, Cullen," Vincent
replied, attempting to ignore the teasing tone. Cullen's sense of
humor sometimes took an unfortunate turn where he and Catherine were
"There's nothing wrong, is there, Vincent?"
Vincent reached out to rest his hand on Jamie's shoulder.
"No.." he replied uncertainly. "I'm not sure what it is. She's
feeling some strong emotion, but it's very complicated...different
from anything I've sensed before."
"Well," Cullen yawned as he picked up his tools, "you'll
be seeing her in another day and you can ask her yourself. We should
finish this by tomorrow afternoon, and I'll be glad to see the end of
it. What a job."
"Good job," Mouse insisted proudly. "Last forever!"
"Well, a long time, anyway," Jamie amended. "You've been
a big help, Cullen."
"Maybe, Jamie my girl, but I'm made for finer things.
Cathy found a great old chest in the basement of the Chandler-Wells
residence. With a little repair work and a lot of elbow grease it'll
be perfect for Mary's room. She needs more storage space."
As they moved wearily back to their camp, Vincent smiled
inwardly. It pleased him that his relationship with Catherine often
seemed to bring almost as much happiness to his friends and family as
it did to himself. He recognized that even Cullen's relentless
teasing was just another way of sharing their joy. The depth of that
joy astonished him--every time he thought they had reached the limits
of it, new vistas opened up.
The house had seemed a gift from the Fates as much as
from Catherine's surrogate grandmother. Within its sheltering walls
they had been able to build the kind of life he never dared imagine
he could have. How often in their early days together they had talked
with such pain about their dream ... now life was like that
dream--only better. For so long they had agonized over the demands
their different worlds made upon them, and in the end they created
their own special place in between; a place that served not only as a
refuge for themselves but as a bridge for those they loved and those
who needed them; a bridge between Above and Below.
Indeed, the "Chandler-Wells residence" seemed to have
acquired a symbolic importance to many of the Tunnel family. Eric had
taken to calling it the Rainbow Bridge, and Samantha had dubbed it
the Last Homely Tunnel, much to Catherine's delight. Father had been
reluctant to spend much time there at first, partly from his
longstanding distrust of the world Above, partly from a fear of
intruding upon them. Gradually seduced by the irresistable collection
of books and music that Catherine constantly added to, he could now
be found almost as often in their library as in his own chambers.
Vincent knew that Catherine still regretted that she
could not show him her whole world. In lieu of that she seemed
determined to collect every nature or travel program available on
video. He smiled as he remembered her eagerness to have him view the
latest acquisition. Curled up with her on the sofa, enthralled by the
rather astonishing mating ritual of the banana slug, he solemnly
informed his wife that he now knew more about the habits of obscure
flora and fauna than most people would ever want to. Catherine
retaliated by tickling him, and somehow-perhaps it was the influence
of those banana slugs--they never did see the end of the program.
Vincent reluctantly set the memory aside for savoring after the rest
were asleep. No sense encouraging Cullen.
True to Cullen's prediction, the construction crew
completed its work early the next afternoon. Jamie, Cullen and Mouse
detoured to the bathing pools to wash off the dust. Vincent briefly
considered joining them, until he realized it was Saturday and
Catherine would probably be home. After more than a week's absence,
she would surely prefer to see him sooner and grimy than later and
clean. Besides, the bathing facilities at the Chandler-Wells
residence would likely provide a degree of personalized attention not
available Below ... Vincent began to run.
Reaching the house, he raced up the hidden stairway to
the second floor, sensing Catherine's location. As he emerged into
their bedroom, Catherine threw herself into his arms before the panel
opened all the way. "Oh Vincent, I'm so glad ... you're home ... I
missed you so much ... " Her words were punctuated with kisses that
Vincent returned avidly, holding her as if he had been gone a month
instead of a week.
Eventually they paused to breathe and drink in the sight
of each other. Catherine looked more beautiful than ever, even
through the thick coating of Tunnel-dust that now clung to her.
"Catherine, I'm sorry--I should have cleaned up before I came home,
but I couldn't wait." He tried with little success to brush the dust
from her face. "I've become spoiled, my love. Having you with me
every day makes a week apart seem so long."
"I'm glad you decided not to wait. I've been so anxious
for you to come back ..."
Vincent was confused by the indefinable look on her face.
He could detect no distress in her, quite the opposite--but there
were layers and depths to her emotions unlike any he had sensed
before. "Catherine--is anything wrong?"
"Of course not, love, you'd know if there were." Her tone
was light, even; a deceptively smooth surface over deep currents.
"Come on, let's get you cleaned up ... and me."
Sharing a shower with Catherine usually meant that
getting clean was of secondary importance. This time, however, she
was content to concentrate on bathing him, with a gentle thoroughness
that made it seem like she was seeing his body for the first time.
Falling under the spell of her odd mood, Vincent let her dry him and
comb his tangled hair, after he had done the same for her. Only
afterwards did she lead him back to the bedroom.
Catherine made love not with the hungry passion Vincent
expected after their separation, but with a slow, aching tenderness
that left him too moved to speak. For a long time afterwards he lay
holding her, thanking every god he knew of for such a gift. It was
Catherine who broke the silence at last. Raising her head from the
hollow of his shoulder, she studied his face for a long time before
touching her lips to his.
"Vincent ... " She traced the line of fur from his nose
to his upswept brow with a touch light as a breeze. "Can we go
downstairs for a little while? There's something I want to show you."
At that point, Vincent could not have refused her if she
had suggested walking to China. Besides, he sensed in her a rising
excitement and anticipation that told him the explanation for her
strange mood might be at hand. He put on the dark green robe
Catherine had given him for his birthday--could it really be three
years ago now? The happiest years of his life. As he walked down the
stairs with Catherine's hand in his, he realized that in a little
over two months, it would be the sixth anniversary of their meeting,
and the third of their wedding.
Just over three years since they had become lovers,
almost three since Catherine had bought this house that had become
their refuge. Vincent smiled to himself. He and Catherine should
visit Narcissa again soon. Surely she would read magical significance
into all those threes coming together. To him, though, every moment
he spent with Catherine was more magic than any man deserved.
Leading him to the library, Catherine motioned Vincent to
sit on the sofa, while she retrieved a book from the shelves and sat
down beside him. "I bought this from Mr. Smythe yesterday."
Taking the beautiful old volume in his hands, Vincent
smiled fondly at his wife. "Mr. Smythe certainly must bless the day
you first walked into his shop, Catherine." He looked with pleasure
at the well-laden shelves surrounding them. He and Catherine had
begun with a substantial collection between them, and it had grown
even larger in the past three years. Catherine must surely be the
bookseller's best customer.
Turning his attention to her latest acquisition, Vincent
turned the pages with appreciation. It was a jewel of a book, made in
the days when the binding was as much a work of art as the contents.
Despite their age, the illustrations seemed as fresh as the day some
fortunate child first turned over these pages in the the early years
of the century.
"Catherine, it's beautiful--a true work of art, as well
as a classic story. Why did you choose it? Was it a particular
favorite of yours as a child?"
"Yes, but that's not the main reason I got it." Catherine
gently traced the complex pattern of the binding as Vincent held the
book. "I wanted to read it to Jacob someday."
Vincent stared at Catherine, as confused by the tone of
her voice as by her words. "I'm sure Father would appreciate this as
a thing of beauty, but it seems an--unusual choice for something to
read to him."
Catherine dropped her eyes to Vincent's lap as she gently
took the book from him, twining her fingers around his. "I don't mean
Father," she said softly, a catch in her voice. "I mean Jacob
Vincent was more confused than ever; he was sure neither
he nor Catherine knew anyone of that name ...
"Or it could be Caroline Mary."
As Catherine raised her eyes to meet his, the emotions he
knew she had been keeping in check were suddenly freed. Vincent felt
as if he had been tossed into raging rapids, unable to sort out the
powerful tangle of feelings he read in Catherine; unable to make
sense of her words.
Catherine raised his hands to her lips, kissing each one
in turn without taking her eyes from his. She took a deep breath.
For a long moment, Vincent sat immobile, stunned.
"Catherine ... " His voice sounded strange even to himself. "Are you
sure? When we agreed to take no steps to prevent this I ... I really
did not believe it was possible. My biochemistry is so different ...
Father told me it was impossible, Peter ..."
"Peter believes it now," she said gently. "As soon as I
realized I was late I ran to the drugstore like a madwoman. I got two
pregnancy tests--different brands--and they both said yes. Then I
went to see Peter, and he confirmed it. I've been having morning
sickness for a week. There's no doubt."
Of all the conflicting emotions that assailed Vincent,
fear was uppermost, followed closely by guilt. Paracelsus' horrible
lies still haunted him, even though the rational part of him knew
them as lies. His great unspoken fear was that the truth might be
worse. The dark unknown that was his origin suddenly became populated
with demons, each showing him a scene more hideous than the last, and
all ending in pain and death for the woman he loved more than his own
"Vincent ... Vincent!" Catherine's voice brought him back
to reality, but the fear was still mirrored on his face.
"Oh, dear love, don't do this to yourself!" Catherine
pleaded. "It will be all right, I promise you. I have the two best
doctors anyone could wish, and I want this so much. Dear Vincent--let
yourself be happy. Let yourself believe in just one more miracle."
The love and conviction in her voice overwhelmed the
demons, for the moment at least. With an inarticulate sob, Vincent
took Catherine in his arms, clinging to her like a drowning man to a
rock. "Catherine, Catherine ... a child of ours would bring me more
joy than I could ever tell you. I wanted it too, more than I could
admit, even to myself. But I am so afraid for you ..."
Catherine held him as tightly as she could, stroking his
hair as she reassured him. "Everyone thought this was impossible ...
I can't believe in a Providence that would give us such a gift if it
were fated to bring anything but joy. Oh, dear heart ... let yourself
believe that you deserve to be happy."
Vincent was never able to remember what he said after
that. He only remembered that they laughed and cried by turns, and
kissed, and held each other a long time.
He could feel Catherine's joy and love through the bond,
so strong it was almost tangible. If she asked him for the moon at
that moment, he would have found a way to get it for her. "What it
She got to her feet and tugged on his hands so he would
follow. "I've been keeping this inside for too long. Now that I've
told you, I want to shout it from the rooftops--but I'll settle for
pounding the pipes. Shall we go tell Father he'd better get used to
being called Grandfather?"
Some time later, Catherine found herself experiencing a
distinct feeling of déja vu as Father's reaction paralleled
Vincent's. Shock gave way to fear and finally a wary sort of
"Catherine, I should have expected this," Father finally
conceded. "This was the only impossibility you had yet to make real."
"I guess this means you'll have to revise your definition
of 'impossible,' " Catherine smiled. "There are more things in heaven
and earth, Father ..."
"Marriage to my son," Father laughed, "has certainly
increased your repertoire of Shakespeare quotations."
"Only one of many gifts it's brought me," Catherine
replied as she looked fondly at her still-dazed husband.
Her equally dazed father-in-law gathered the shreds of
his professional persona around him and attempted to sound
businesslike. "Well, I'm sure that Peter and I shall have much to
discuss. Were you able to determine how far along you are?"
"I'm pretty sure it happened at Winterfest," Catherine
replied with a reminiscent smile. "Well, not at Winterfest, of
course; someone would have noticed. Afterwards." She ignored the
strangled sounds coming from Vincent's direction.
Father maintained his aplomb with difficulty. "That means
the child is due in ... September. Catherine, I hope you intend to be
tested. Having your first baby at thirty-five ... "
"Father ... I need to think about that. Some of those
tests are risky, and I won't take any unecessary chances. Peter and I
are ... negotiating."
If Father had learned nothing else in the past six years,
he learned when to retreat gracefully, if not permanently. "Well ...
do you wish to make this common knowledge as yet? I know many of our
community have prayed for this day for a long time."
"Even though it was impossible?" Catherine asked
"Apparently my opinion is not as revered Below as I would
wish. In this case, I am glad to have been proved wrong."
"Catherine is eager to tell everyone," Vincent offered.
"On the way down I had to restrain her from tapping out the news
herself. I finally convinced her it would break Pascal's heart."
Catherine pushed back her chair. "There are a few people
Vincent and I want to tell personally, then Pascal can put it on the
pipes. I'm beginning to appreciate how the Princess of Wales must
have felt the first time she got pregnant."
The definition of "a few people" kept expanding as the
prospective parents sought out their special friends Below. Catherine
insisted on telling Mary first--partly because of the unstated but
pervasive feeling in the community that she was "Mother" to Jacob's
"Father"; partly because she would be involved in this birth as much
as Jacob or Peter. Although she was loath to admit it to Vincent,
Catherine was not totally fearless at the prospect of childbirth.
Vincent would assume she feared bearing his child; Catherine
knew she could never convince him that her trepidation would be
neither more nor less if this baby's father were the most ordinary
man imaginable. It was just that this experience was as new to her as
it was to her husband. Knowing that someone like Mary was around gave
Catherine considerable peace of mind. Not that she didn't have
complete faith in Father and Peter as doctors--but past a certain
point, their knowledge was necessarily only observational.
They found Jamie and Mouse together, an event becoming
increasingly common, to Catherine's delight. Vincent made no secret
of his amusement at the way that marriage seemed to have turned
Catherine into an inveterate, if subtle, matchmaker. Underneath the
amusement, it pleased him more than he would admit that she found her
own married state so congenial she could hardly wait to usher all
their friends into similar conditions of domestic bliss.
They were especially touched by Cullen's reaction. For
all the years Vincent and Catherine had been together, Cullen's
pleasure at their happiness had been expressed obliquely, overlaid by
the protective coloration of dry wit and relentless teasing.
Expecting more of the same, they were touched when he led them to a
corner of his workshop and showed them some exceptionally fine pieces
"That's for the cradle," he said with a catch in his
voice. "I've been hoping for years this day would come."
Lena was ecstatic, and confided that she hoped to have
similar news herself before too long. She and Julio had decided that
it was about time four-year-old Cathy had a little brother or sister.
With a reminiscent smile, she gave Vincent her highest recommendation
as a childbirth assistant.
William tried to ply Catherine with food, reminded her
she was eating for two, and pointed out that "fancy Topsider food"
wasn't adequate for a woman in her condition. Accepting half a dozen
muffins and a basket of fruit was the only way Catherine could
extricate herself. Judging by the grins directed their way as they
continued on through the Tunnels, it became obvious to Catherine and
Vincent that if they didn't get to Pascal soon there'd be hardly
anyone left to tell. Laughing and eating muffins, they headed toward
the pipe chamber.
Much later, when they finally escaped to the quiet
privacy of their bedchamber, Catherine flopped onto the bed with a
groan of mock exhaustion.
"Good grief! I wasn't expecting such a major social
event. I can't believe how fast news travels around here. Who needs
communications satellites when you've got pipes?"
Laughing, Vincent lay down beside her. "It did turn into
quite a community celebration," he admitted.
"I'll say! I thought at any minute somebody was going to
suggest we open up the Great Hall. And where on earth did William get
champagne, of all things?"
"I didn't dare ask. I was afraid it might have something
to do with Mouse." Vincent propped himself up on one elbow to smile
at Catherine. "It's too bad you couldn't drink any."
"Not good for Junior." She smiled back, playing with the
golden hair where it fell over his cheek. "It's a pretty good
feeling," she told him softly "to know so many people are so happy
"It certainly is," he agreed, kissing her forehead.
"Mm. And we still have to tell Uncle Devin. And Jenny."
Catherine laughed. "Although, knowing Jenny, there's probably a
message on my recorder right now telling me about this dream she
She broke off as Vincent began kissing her again, and not
on the forehead. As his lips moved from her cheek down the side of
her neck, Catherine tilted her head back with a sigh, burying her
hands in his hair. Just as she was about to move them to the
fastenings of his vest, Vincent stiffened--not in the right
place--and drew away from her.
"Vincent, what is it? What's wrong?"
"Catherine, I forgot..." He gestured vaguely in the
direction of her midsection. "I don't want to hurt you ..."
For a moment, Catherine was totally confused. Surely he
had gotten over those fears years ago! Then the truth suddenly came
to her and she sat up with a start.
"Vincent, are you worried about making love because I'm
pregnant?" When he nodded, she dropped her head for a moment
and took a deep breath. Much as Catherine loved her hyper-protective
husband, there were times when she was hard put to decide whether she
should laugh or give him a swift kick.
"Vincent, we made love this afternoon, didn't we?"
"Did you think I could possibly have forgotten?" he
"I should hope not, or I'm definitely losing my touch."
Catherine leaned toward Vincent to look him directly in the eye. "I'm
only a few hours more pregnant now than I was then."
"I didn't know you were pregnant then," he answered
"Argghh. Vincent, it didn't hurt me then, it's not going
to hurt me now or many months from now, although we'll have to start
getting creative about positions by then."
Vincent's thoughts about the implications of such
creativity were all too plain on his face. He was weakening.
"Catherine, are you sure? I wouldn't want to risk ... "
"Dear heart, just because I've never been pregnant before
doesn't mean I don't know anything about it. I have friends who've
had babies. And besides, I've done quite a bit of reading on the
"When?" Vincent was surprised. "I thought you only found
out yesterday you were pregnant."
"Actually, the reading was a couple of years ago,"
Catherine replied quietly, unable to look at him when she
saw the quick comprehension in hiseyes.
When they first became lovers, Vincent had insisted the
possibility of a child, however remote, was too great a risk. It had
taken almost a year for him to relent, and she was sure he only did
so because he, like Father and Peter, didn't really believe it could
happen. And because he eventually realized the depth of her pain and
longing, no matter how carefully she thought she had hidden it from
him. Catherine had been elated when he first agreed they would no
longer take any steps to prevent her conceiving; she expected to
become pregnant right away, as though the strength of her desire
alone could make it happen. As the months and years went by, however,
the books she had pored over so hopefully gathered dust in a remote
corner, and she almost began to accept that this was one dream that
would never come true.
Wordlessly, Vincent drew her close and held her tightly
as she buried her head against his neck. After a long moment, he
spoke again. "Catherine ... your longing is over. You are making the
last of my dreams come true." At his words, the sorrows of the past
dissipated like a mist, and the future held all her attention.
Pushing herself away to look at Vincent once more,
Catherine returned to the subject at hand. "The dream does not
include spending months with you afraid to touch me. Keeping my hands
off of you was hard enough when I could only fantasize what making
love with you would be like. After three years of knowing how
good it is, I couldn't stand it. I'll dig out the books again and you
can read them too."
"Do they have pictures," he asked innocently, "in case
our creativity is lacking?"
Catherine began to laugh in astonished delight. "Will you
listen to us? For years we never said the word 'sex' in each other's
presence. If there'd been a National Euphemism Award we'd have won it
three years running. Now we're talking about creative positions and
naughty pictures without a blush."
"Well, Catherine, we have been lovers for over three
years, after all, and married almost as long. That has a way of
"It certainly does," Catherine agreed with a fond smile.
"I like it a lot. How about you?"
"I like it very much."
With a sudden movement, Catherine flipped over to lie on
top of her husband. "And ..." Swiftly untying his vest, she slipped
her hands underneath Vincent's shirt as she punctuated her words with
kisses. "There'll be no more ... of this ... unneccesary reluctance
... to make love ... to your ... perfectly healthy pregnant wife."
Since Catherine was also rubbing her body sensuously over
Vincent's as she kissed him, it was perhaps understandable that his
reply was largely unintelligible. Taking it as agreement, she
Much later, Catherine lay in a state of peaceful
relaxation while Vincent slept his well-earned sleep beside her. She
smiled to herself as she stroked the furry arm that lay protectively
across her stomach. Given the excitement of this day, not to mention
the recent exercise, she was surprised to find herself still
conscious. Something had been tugging at the back of her mind since
yesterday--perhaps that was keeping her awake. She allowed her
thoughts to drift, hoping the elusive memory would surface.
Almost six months ago, with New York at the humid height
of its summer discomfort, anyone who could had escaped the city for
the beaches or the country. Catherine's escape was vertical rather
than lateral, into the cool depths of the lower Tunnels. Vincent was
leading one of his regular expeditions to the crystal cavern, and
Catherine liked to accompany him on these trips whenever her schedule
allowed. The ethereal beauty of the place always moved her,
especially since it was the source of the precious crystal that hung
around her neck.
Catherine was glad that Jenny had been able to come this
time. After two years of hearing about its wonders, Catherine was
afraid her friend had begun to suspect it was as mythical as King
Solomon's Mines. As Vincent made the way ahead, on the alert for
loose rocks or other dangers, the two women brought up the rear,
watchful for any straggling children.
"Wow, this is amazing," Jenny exclaimed. "I had no idea
these tunnels went so deep! I feel like we're going to stumble across
Pellucidar any minute."
"There are tunnels a lot deeper than where we're going,"
Catherine replied. "But those are too dangerous to take the children.
Some of the deep places not even Mouse has been to. Only Vincent."
Jenny was too intuitive, and too good a friend, to miss
the undercurrent of pain in Catherine's voice. "Cathy, I know that
was a terrible time for you, when Vincent almost lost himself down
there. I only wish I'd known then what was going on with you, so I
could've helped. But that was over three years ago. You brought him
Catherine slipped an arm around Jenny's shoulder to give
a quick hug. "Thanks for reminding me. It's hard not to think of it
when we go on this expedition."
"Why? You didn't find him anywhere near here, did you?"
"No ... you see when Vincent was so ... sick, when he
wasn't himself, Mary asked him to take some of the children to see
the cavern. His reaction then, and Father's, made her and others
realize how seriously ill Vincent was."
"I get it. And knowing Vincent, I suppose he felt awful
about disappointing the children." Jenny had known Vincent long
enough by now to realize that would bother him most of all.
"He hated having them see his weakness, his lack of
control." Catherine's eyes never the left her husband's graceful back
as he walked before them. "Ever since then, he's made a point of
taking groups of the children to the crystal cavern when they get old
enough." Catherine turned to Jenny and smiled. "It's become something
of a coming-of-age ritual."
"Well," Jenny grinned, "my bat mitzvah was a helluva long
time ago, but I'm glad I got to come anyway. Does Vincent usually
have you bring up the rear, or is this just husbandly thoughtfulness
so we can talk girl talk?"
"Mostly the latter," Catherine admitted, "but he's always
careful there's someone else along to make sure nobody wanders off.
These passages are too deep to be used often, so there's always the
possibility of something hazardous that hasn't been found in a
regular patrol. Usually one of the older children comes, someone
who's been on the trip before. It makes them feel so important and
"Vincent is so terrific with kids," Jenny began,
regretting the words too late to recall them. Glancing sidewise at
Catherine's face, she winced at the pain her friend could not quite
Oh, Cath," she said hopelessly, "I'm sorry. That was a
stupid thing to say. I just didn't think ..."
"Jenny, there's no reason for you to be sorry." Her voice
was controlled--too controlled. "It's absolutely true. He's wonderful
with children. He'd make a perfect father. It seems so unfair we
can't ... oh, damn!" Catherine took a deep breath. "I can't give in
to this, he'll feel it."
"It's all my fault," Jenny said miserably. "You haven't
said anything about it in so long, I forgot for a moment how much it
"Jenny, Jenny, stop blaming yourself! The world is full
of things that remind me of children. Most of the time I succeed
pretty well in ignoring the pain, or suppressing it. If I didn't,
Vincent would feel terrible. He'll blame himself for anything given
half a chance."
"Entropy?" Jenny tried to lighten the mood. "The
"Pretty much," Catherine agreed with the hint of a smile.
"I don't mind it for myself that much. There's no guarantee I would
have had children even if I'd never heard of Vincent, although I
always wanted them someday. After all, I was pretty close to thirty
and still single when I met him."
"Yeah. You might have been crazy enough to marry a jerk
like Tom Gunther." Jenny's opinion of Catherine's former boyfriend
had never been high. "I can't imagine him letting kids mess up his
"How true." Catherine shook her head in wonder. "Could
that really have been me? Most of the time it seems my life before
Vincent happened to somebody else. Someone I barely recognize now."
Sensing that Jenny still felt guilty, Catherine took her
arm as they walked along. "God, Jenny, what right have I to complain?
I have Vincent, and he's a greater gift than anyone could hope to
deserve. I have a whole loving community and family Below, and
friends like you and Joe and Peter Above. I should be ashamed of
myself for not being content."
"It's not yourself that's the issue, though is it? It
wouldn't hurt so much if it were."
"Oh Jenny," Catherine sighed. "Sometimes I forget just
how well you know me. No, it hurts because I want it so badly for
Vincent. I've been able to give him all the other things he convinced
himself he could never have ... my love, marriage, a life together.
Maybe I began to believe I could make anything happen. I've read
enough of the classics to know what happens when you let that
hubris get out of hand."
"Oh, bull!" Jenny sputtered. At Catherine's startled
look, Jenny continued. "The older I get, the less sympathy I have for
that attitude. Do you have any idea how many versions of the Great
American Tragedy end up on my desk in the course of a year? If I want
tragedy, I'll read the newspaper. In a world like this, making up
more seems sadistic at worst and adolescent selfindulgence at best."
"Wow!" Catherine exclaimed. "Have I hit a nerve?"
"Just one of my pet peeves," Jenny admitted somewhat
sheepishly. "Maybe it's my family history, but I've always had more
respect for people who dream about better things, especially if they
work to make them come true. Pain and angst and all that are too
easy. Any idiot can destroy; creation is the real challenge."
Catherine regarded Jenny with astonishment. "I never
realized you felt that strongly ..."
"Cath, it's one of the reasons I admire the people Below
so much, especially Father and the others who really built this
place. And it's one of the reasons I admire you."
"Yes, you. I know the first year with Vincent was rough,
everybody telling you all the time how impossible it was, till you
hit bottom and escaped to Nancy's. But you came out the other side
and never looked back. You dusted yourself off and started making
good things happen."
Catherine was lost in memories for a moment. "You make it
sound a lot simpler than it was. Our second year was no bed of roses,
"I don't mean to imply it was. From what you've told me,
I know it was a hard road." Jenny smiled. "With no road maps. You
were on your own, but you got things figured out. You were determined
that you and Vincent were going to be happy, dammit, and you made it
"Dear Jenny, what would I do without you? You have such a
unique way of looking at things."
"Well, you can take your hubris and shove it,"
Jenny announced firmly. "I'll take eucatastrophe any day."
"What kind of catastrophe?" Catherine asked, puzzled.
"That sounds familiar but I can't place it."
"Tolkien, in his essay 'On Fairy-Stories.' A classic. The
sudden joyous turn that denies universal defeat; the Consolation of
the Happy Ending; 'Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as
grief.'" Jenny spoke earnestly. "Cathy, your life with Vincent has
had its share of eucatastrophes. Don't give up hope of one more."
"I'll never give up hope. Not with friends like you to
keep me on the right track." Suddenly Jenny's attention was on a
narrow passage which branched off to the right. "What is it?"
Catherine asked, suddenly alert.
Jenny's face screwed up in puzzlement. "I could have
sworn I saw somebody angle off into that tunnel, but it couldn't be.
We would have heard if someone had been that close behind us."
For the first time since their conversation had become so
intense, Catherine looked around to judge where they were. She had
been on this trip often enough that the route was somewhat familiar.
When she figured out their location, Catherine began to have a pretty
good idea who the elusive figure might have been. "Jenny, it was
probably Narcissa. She's one of the few people who frequent this part
of the Tunnels."
"Narcissa? Wasn't she at Winterfest? That strange old
black woman who makes you feel like she could turn you into a toad
anytime she wants?"
Catherine laughed. "That's the kind of description Father
Jenny did not laugh. "Maybe, but Father wouldn't mean it.
I do." She was thoughtful a moment. "Why didn't she say hello?
Doesn't she like us Topsiders?"
"It has nothing to do with you," Catherine assured Jenny.
"She just likes her solitude. Some years she doesn't even come to
Winterfest, although she's been doing that pretty regularly lately. I
think she has a soft spot for Vincent and likes to make sure I'm
treating him right."
"Well, I hope she shows up again this year," Jenny spoke
quietly to Catherine, as if the elusive Narcissa weren't a long way
off by now. "I'd sure like to talk to her more. She looks like she's
forgotten more than most of us will ever know."
Jenny shook herself. "Well, enough of this serious stuff.
We need a new subject." With a wicked grin, she turned to Catherine.
"Have you ever noticed how sexy Vincent looks from this angle?"
Giggling like they were back in college, the two spoke no
more of serious things for the rest of the journey.
Smiling at the memory, Catherine was brought back to the
present as Vincent stirred in his sleep. She watched him anxiously
for a moment, concerned that his movement might signal the beginning
of a troubling dream. His nightmares came less frequently now than
when they first began sharing a bed, but they always had a vividness
that made them seem terribly real to him. Catherine doubted these
visions would ever leave Vincent completely; they were too closely
allied to that preternatural empathy of his which found its purest
expression in their bond.
Catherine relaxed as Vincent simply snuggled more closely
against her and quieted. Only one small candle near the door was
still burning, but it gave enough illumination to highlight his
golden fur as it followed the contours of the muscles beneath. How
beautiful he was, how magical. Sometimes she could hardly believe he
was real, and really hers. What had she ever done to deserve such
At first, Catherine had chastised herself for wanting a
child of their own so much. After all, Vincent and Father were as
perfect an illustration as anyone could wish that ties of love were
no less strong then those of biology. Stronger, sometimes, she
thought, thinking of Devin. Catherine had considered adoption more
than once. The world being what it was, it was all too inevitable
more babies would be brought to the Tunnels in need of rearing. But
the community as a whole did such a good job of that, and Catherine
worried that selecting one or two children for special attention from
her and Vincent would hurt the others.
Part of her desire stemmed from loving Vincent so much,
and wanting to give him everything she could. She knew that giving
him a child of his own would make him unbelievably happy, more than
even he realized. Once the fear was gone, he would revel in
fatherhood ... and he would be so good at it.
There was yet another reason, one which she had always
kept to herself. She had come to love Vincent's people and his world
almost as much as she loved him. As she moved through her often
frustrating days above, the tide of cruelty and unhappiness she waded
through often threatened to engulf her. Knowing the Tunnels were safe
below her feet, that another and better way of being existed, often
gave her the strength to carry on.
Vincent was more than a much-loved and useful member of
that unique community; he was its symbolic heart in a way she only
dimly understood. He was also its protector, like the King's Champion
of old. More than once he had been all that stood between the
community and its destruction--by Paracelsus, by Lin and Henry's
pursuers, by so many others. Catherine fully intended that she and
Vincent would live a good long time, but even his exceptional
strength would not last forever. Who would protect this place when he
no longer could?
One of Vincent's greatest fears, she knew, was that he
would father a child like himself. It was Catherine's greatest hope.
More than once she had resented the way everyone took Vincent's
protection for granted, knowing the pain it caused him to unleash his
killing power--no matter how just the cause or how necessary the act.
Nonetheless, she was forced to admit how important his protection
was, and how much he considered it his duty despite the undeniable
emotional cost. If he had a son like himself-- possessing that power,
but one who had no doubts about the circumstances of his birth, no
deep-seated fears of abandonment, who could be guided to adulthood
forewarned of the demons he might have to face ... then the King's
Champion would have a worthy successor, and need carry that burden
alone no longer.
Now hope and possibility was becoming reality with every
breath she took, every beat of her heart, as the child grew within
her. Unlike most of those Below, Father had been a bit ...
restrained? ... in his enthusiasm. More than once she had seen him
looking at her with a worried frown; Peter had had the same look when
he had confirmed the pregnancy. Catherine wondered if they knew how
transparent they both were. After years of suggesting to her, as
gently as possible, the unlikelihood of her conceiving a child with
Vincent, the unlikely was now staring them in the face. Now their
happiness for her was tempered by the fear that she would lose a
child whose father's biochemistry was so different from her own. That
was, of course, a very realistic fear, given what they knew. Somehow,
Catherine couldn't share that fear, sensible that it was. But then,
she knew some things they didn't ...
Winterfest was Catherine's favorite day of the whole
year. Even though this was her fifth one, it was as magical as the
first--no, moreso, because she had so many wonderful memories
associated with it now. Leaning against the stair railing, she
watched Vincent lead Samantha around the floor in a waltz. He looked
so handsome in his holiday finery it was almost more than she could
do to keep from dragging him off to continue their celebration in
private. How grown-up Samantha looked now! Catherine hugged herself
in complete contentment. It felt wonderful to be so much a part of
this community that she noticed these things. Many of the children
she knew from her earliest times Below were adolescents now, getting
ever closer to adulthood. More and more she could understand
Vincent's pride at their blossoming. Lost in her thoughts, Catherine
didn't at first notice the figure that approached her slowly up the
stairs, using the railing to guide her steps.
"Narcissa!" Catherine hastened to help the old woman.
"I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were there."
"Come, come child, I'm not as helpless as all that," she
cackled. "Just stiffer than I was in my younger days. Ah!" Narcissa
lowered herself to sit on the top step with a grateful
sigh. "The way up from the deep places gets longer every
"Maybe you should move closer to the central chambers,"
Catherine suggested, worried. "Everyone would be happy to have you."
"Even Father?" Narcissa asked.
"Even Father," Catherine insisted. "Besides, it would be
good for him ... keep his adrenalin going. There's not as much
excitement around here as there used to be. Thank God!"
Narcissa patted Catherine's knee. "No, child, I need the
deep places, the quiet places. They are my power."
"We all worry about you, alone down there." Catherine put
her hand over Narcissa's. "What if something happened to you?"
"Someday it will, child, and I will become part of the
stone and the darkness. But not for a long while yet." She smiled at
Catherine. "I have too much yet to do, too many to watch over."
Catherine shivered, but not in fear. Father might make
light of Narcissa, call her a deluded old woman, but Catherine sensed
depths in Narcissa that sometimes awed her, made her think of stories
of goddesses who disguised themselves as mortals to move among them,
testing them, meting out whatever boon or doom they earned. Everyone
knew Vincent's role as protector of the Tunnels, but Catherine often
wondered about Narcissa's. She had visions of magical wards
surrounding the world Below, conjured by this strange and disturbing
crone. Years ago, Catherine would have scoffed at magic, but her
recent life had made her reluctant to dismiss any possibility out of
"Our Vincent is very happy tonight, is he not?"
Narcissa's question brought Catherine's wandering
attention back to the scene below. "It looks that way." Catherine
smiled at the woman beside her. "I do my best."
"And from what I hear, child, that is very good indeed."
Catherine wondered how someone who lived in such isolation as
Narcissa did could know so much about the life of the Tunnels, but
was reluctant to ask. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear the answer.
Catherine turned back to watch Vincent. "He deserves all the
happiness I can give him. More."
"Well, child, I must be on my way." Narcissa began to
rummage in the bag she carried. "But first, I have a gift for you and
Catherine was touched. "Narcissa, that's very sweet of
you. Let me get Vincent, and ..."
"No, no, child, I have been away from my own places long
enough." She drew a small pottery flask from the bag, carefully
sealed with cork and wax, and handed it to Catherine. "Here. Both of
you must drink this tonight before you go to bed. It will bring you
good fortune, and make wishes come true."
Catherine accepted with a dubious look at Narcissa, whose
face wore a strange smile. She sounded like something right out of a
fairy tale at times. Catherine often wondered if she did it on
purpose, just to get Father's goat. Playing along, she accepted the
old woman's gift with gravity. "Thank you Narcissa, from both of us.
I'm glad you care so much about us."
The old woman nodded. "You must promise to drink it
tonight, at the turn of the year." Narcissa cackled again. "You
musn't let anything make you forget."
Catherine ducked her head down as she felt a blush rise
into her cheeks. Surely Narcissa couldn't know how she and Vincent
always spent the night of Winterfest--could she? Unwilling to look
Narcissa in the eye, Catherine nodded. "I promise. Thank you for
She watched Narcissa's shoulder shake with mirth as the
old woman moved down the steps. Thinking of Vincent made Catherine
realize she'd been letting him dance with other women far too long.
Tucking Narcissa's gift into a safe corner, Catherine entered the
dance floor to retrieve her husband.
"I think this was the second-best Winterfest ever,"
Catherine announced to Vincent as they reached the entrance to the
chambers she always thought of as The Resort. What else would you
call a room with a deliciously large four-poster bed and its own
bathing pool right next door?
Vincent laughed at her emphatic tone. "You say that every
"Well, it's true. They keep getting better all the time."
"But not good enough to become first best?" Vincent asked
her softly as he pushed the tapestry aside to allow Catherine to
enter the room and light the candle near the door.
"Vincent, every Winterfest with you has been glorious,"
she whispered, wrapping her arms around him. "But how could any equal
the first one we spent in this room? That was the beginning of the
best time of my life." Catherine looked deep into his shadowed eyes.
"Every time we make love is wonderful," she told him with a catch in
her voice. "But the rest wouldn't have happened if that first night
here hadn't proved it was possible for us. That's why I'll always
treasure that memory as special."
Vincent buried his hands in Catherine's hair, looking at
the face between those hands as if he could never get enough of the
sight. "Such a brave journey into the unknown that was for you. How
did you ever find the courage?"
"Some risks are worth taking, Vincent," Catherine
reminded him as their lips met in a deep, lingering kiss.
After several more, Vincent pulled back a little and
smiled. "Perhaps we should light the rest of the candles," he
suggested. "I love the sight of you as well as the feel of you."
The tone of his voice sent delicious shivers of
anticipation running through Catherine's nerves. "Good idea. Then why
don't we relax in the pool for awhile? It's the longest night of the
year, after all." Her voice was silk. "Let's make it last."
After the candles were lit, they undressed each other
slowly, savoring every touch and glimpse as each was revealed to the
other. They tied up each other's hair in leather thongs to keep it
free of the water, then passed through a second doorway to the pool
beyond. Taking bathing supplies from a small cabinet near the
entrance, they set them near the edge of the steaming water. Vincent
noticed that Catherine added an unfamiliar pottery vessel to the
"Catherine," he asked, "what is that? You've already
given me my Winterfest present."
"That," Catherine replied, slipping into the water beside
him, "is a present to both of us from Narcissa. She made me promise
we'd drink it tonight before we got too... uh, distracted. Since we
usually get distracted pretty quickly, I thought we'd better do it in
"Are you sure it's quite ... safe?" Vincent asked
dubiously as he slit the wax seal with his claw and sniffed the cork.
"Oh, Vincent," Catherine laughed, "you sound like Father.
You know Narcissa would never give us anything dangerous. She said
this would bring us good luck and make our wishes come true."
Catherine leaned over for a sniff of her own. "It could be a magic
potion, but it smells more like an herb cordial to me."
Catherine grinned lasciviously at her husband and wrapped
her arms and legs around him in the water. "Maybe it's an
"Catherine," Vincent asked huskily as he held her close
against him, "are you familiar with the expression, 'coals to
Laughing, Catherine kissed him soundly before she slipped
from his arms to pour the cordial into two small cups she had
abstracted from the festivities in the Great Hall. "Come on, I
promised. Let's drink a toast to the new year, or the return of the
sun, or something appropriate."
Vincent accepted the cup Catherine offered him, his face
suddenly serious. His eyes locked on hers, he raised the cup. "To one
who has been a light to all the shadowed places of my life, and a
torch to lead my soul out of darkness. I would make your every wish
come true if I could."
Catherine's eyes filled with tears at the naked emotion
in his voice. She was afraid her own would fail her as she raised her
cup to him in turn. "To one who not only gave me back my life, but a
reason to live it. I only hope I can make you as happy as you
The liquid slipped down their throats with a sinuous
warmth. It tasted of summer herbs and autumn spices; of spring
freshness and winter cold. It was like life distilled; relaxing and
invigorating all at once. Its warmth seemed to flow to every cell of
their bodies, leaving all the senses at their highest peak. With a
look of surprised delight Vincent carefully set the cup down by the
side of the pool. "A generous gift indeed," he said shakily.
Catherine laid her cup beside his. "A good beginning."
Without a word, they moved into each other's arms at the
same time. As they kissed, the taste of the cordial mingled in their
heightened senses with the familiar taste of each other. Catherine
leaned her head against the side of the pool as Vincent's mouth left
hers to trail kisses down her neck and throat. When his tongue found
her breasts, the pleasure was almost too intense to bear. With a
wordless cry she wrapped her legs around him, needing to be so close
they ceased to be separate beings.
She never remembered later how many times they made love
that night; it seemed like one fluid dance from pool to bed, one
seamless ebb and flow of pleasure and love, giving and receiving.
After she came down to earth, Catherine had wondered if Narcissa's
gift hadn't been an aphrodisiac after all. Lying here now next to
Vincent, their child growing inside her--a child conceived at
Winterfest, she was sure--Catherine thought she had her answer at
The next morning, Catherine discovered that she had been
the object of a conspiracy. She awoke alone, and much later than she
normally would have when Below. Reading the note from Vincent on the
pillow beside her, she shook her head in dismay at the unnatural
quiet. This excessive coddling would have to be nipped in the bud.
Throwing off the covers decisively, she jumped out of bed to begin
her anti-fussing campaign, only to sit back down with a thump as a
wave of dizziness came over her. This might be a bit more of a
challenge than it first appeared.
When she entered Father's study Vincent leaped up to take
her hand as she came down the stairs. Catherine decided a discussion
of coddling could wait. Sitting down at the table with her two
favorite men, she eyed the food warily as Father offered her some
breakfast. "How about just some tea for now?" she suggested. "My
stomach has a way of taking irrational dislikes to all sorts of
things these days."
Father poured her a steaming cup. "This is a very
delicate herb tea, my dear," he assured her. "And some dry toast
should be all right, if you eat just a little at a time."
"Maybe," Catherine agreed somewhat dubiously. "I will
admit that most of the stuff that passes for food around the office
made me nauseous even before I was pregnant. In the last week being
within ten feet of it sent me rushing for the nearest bathroom."
"Remember, Catherine, it usually goes away by the
fourteenth week," Father reassured her.
"Usually?" Vincent asked in a concerned voice. "How long
could it last?"
"Well," Father replied vaguely, "some women never
experience it, some have it longer ... "
"What is the longest?" Vincent demanded.
"Well, it has been known to last as long as ... nine
months," Father mumbled. Unfortunately, Vincent's hearing was too
acute to miss anything. His face took on a stricken look.
Catherine took his hand, trying not to laugh. "Vincent,
dear, I hope you're not going to expect the worst all the time, or
the next seven and a half months are going to be very trying." She
turned to Father. "And that goes for you too!"
Father spoke earnestly. "Catherine, I have no desire to
alarm you, and certainly not Vincent--not that he needs any
encouragement to worry about you. But you must admit there is reason
for ... vigilance, at least. Vincent's biochemistry is unique; we
have no way of knowing how that will affect your pregnancy."
"You were sure Vincent's biochemistry was so unique we'd
never be able to conceive a child together in the first place.
Doesn't the fact that we have tell you something?" Catherine reached
across the table to touch the older man's hand. "Father, few women
have as much attention and care during a pregnancy as I will, and I'm
very grateful. Just don't let worry spoil the joy of it. Everything
will be all right, I promise."
Vincent touched Catherine's cheek gently. "You sound so
positive--I wish I could believe you."
Catherine captured his hand in her own and kissed his
palm. "Vincent, have I ever failed to keep a promise to you?"
"No," he whispered. "Never."
Catherine answered his slow smile with one of her own.
She knew his doubts would return, but for now the fears had receded,
leaving the happiness uppermost.
Father's indulgent contemplation of the parents of his
future grandchild was interrupted as Mouse burst in with his usual
disregard of etiquette.
"Mouse! In heaven's name, what--"
"Father, Narcissa's coming! Saw her in lower
Tunnels-headed this way."
"Are you sure, Mouse?" At the young man's emphatic nod,
Father's brow furrowed in perplexity. "How extraordinary. Narcissa so
seldom comes near the central chambers anymore, and now less than six
weeks after Winterfest. Mouse, did there seem anything wrong? Did she
"Nope. Humming to herself. Looked happy."
"Perhaps she heard the news on the pipes last night and
came to congratulate us," Vincent offered.
"Perhaps," Father agreed, "although she spends most of
her time below the level of the pipes."
A smile as enigmatic as Mona Lisa's spread over
Catherine's face. "I'm sure she knows--even without the pipes."
"Now, Catherine," Father began to bluster, "you shouldn't
encourage her delusions of--"
Laughing, Catherine rose and tugged Vincent's hand. "Come
on, let's walk down to meet her. If nothing else, it'll keep Father's
blood pressure from the danger zone."
They met the old woman by the Mirror Pool. Vincent
greeted her first in his usual affectionate way. Then she turned to
Catherine. For a moment, the women stood looking at each other in a
silence so charged it was almost tangible. Then Narcissa asked
softly, "Something you have long wished for has come to pass, has it
Catherine stepped forward into Narcissa's arms with an
inarticulate cry and hugged her fiercely. "Oh Narcissa," she cried,
her voice breaking, "I am so happy! No one ever had such a gift."
"Not a gift, child," the old woman replied softly as she
stroked Catherine's hair. "Something you have earned. Something that
was meant to be."
After a moment, the two broke the embrace and Narcissa
looked Catherine over with a critical eye. "You look well, child."
Narcissa spread her gnarled hand over Catherine's abdomen. Her
almost-sightless eyes seemed to look inward. Then she began to laugh.
"My, my, I do my work well! Better than I think, sometimes."
Catherine put her hand on Narcissa's arm. "What is it?
What do you see?" she asked anxiously.
Narcissa picked up her basket and shook her head, still
chuckling. "You'll know in good time, children. You musn't let the
Old Man worry you. He has his ways of knowing, and I have mine. He
worries about what could happen, what might happen, what will never
Narcissa turned to Vincent. "You were always my special
one. Such a loving child, but so much pain held inside. Her love
heals you more every day." Vincent looked at Catherine. "A child's
love will heal you too. Enjoy this time, Vincent, it is like no
The old woman resumed her walk toward the central
chambers. "Come along. We shall have a little visit. I have some
things Catherine can use to help her."
Catherine pitied her poor husband. He didn't seem to know
quite what to make of this unexpected and cryptic encounter.
Catherine tucked her arm in his and urged him to follow. Perhaps
someday she'd tell him what she knew. Perhaps.
Vincent was just pouring Catherine's tea as he heard her
steps coming down from the bedroom. The attractive and businesslike
Assistant District Attorney who entered the kitchen was in marked
contrast to the considerably less kempt woman who had chased him out
of the bathroom earlier to have morning sickness in privacy.
"How do you feel, Catherine?" He asked with concern as he
handed her the tea. "You should have let me help you."
Catherine kissed her husband on the cheek as she
gratefully accepted the cup. "Vincent, you've seen me bruised,
bleeding, filthy, beaten up, shot, and more than half drowned--but
there's a limit. I am not at my best while retching, and it's better
for my image to do it in private. Besides, I've had so much practice
I've gotten it down to an exact science."
Vincent looked pained. "I wish you didn't have to go
Catherine sat down at the kitchen table and patted the
chair beside her. "It's all part of the job, Vincent. If I could put
up with up getting beaten up, shot, etc. for the DA's office, I can
certainly put up with a little nausea as part of this Mom thing."
Vincent still looked morose. "Actually, I think it's harder on Dad."
Vincent's eyes widened at her last word. "Dad?" he
repeated wonderingly. "It sounds so strange."
Catherine smiled. "You'll get used to it fast enough,
love. Actually," she said thoughtfully, "Father fits you better, but
that could get awfully confusing Below."
"You don't think Father would accept Grandfather after
all these years?"
Catherine gingerly attempted a piece of toast. "I don't
know--we'd have to have retraining sessions for everyone or
something." She looked up at Vincent. "You really don't have to wait
until I leave to eat breakfast."
Vincent sipped his tea. "Catherine, I have no wish to
risk making you ill. I can wait."
Checking her watch, Catherine rose. "That tea that
Narcissa gave me really helps; it's only bad first thing in the
morning now. Thank God I can take the stuff to work." Vincent handed
her a thermos. "It's kept Joe from tracking me every time I go
anywhere near the Ladies' Room."
Vincent followed Catherine as she moved to the front
hall, and helped her on with her coat. "But the respite is over," she
sighed. Today was the day she told Joe she needed a leave of absence.
In another six weeks or so, her condition was going to become pretty
obvious, and she wanted to give her beleaguered boss plenty of time
to find a replacement. Catherine knew he wouldn't be at all happy at
her leaving, and wanted to make it as easy on him as possible.
"Catherine--this will be difficult for you," Vincent said
unhappily. "If only--"
"Vincent--don't worry. We've talked about this so much, I
practically have my speech memorized, with half a dozen variations."
"Catherine, if you wish to tell him everything, if that
would make it easier, I'm willing to take the risk."
Catherine took Vincent's hands in hers. "Darling, Joe's
suspected for a long time I have a hidden side to my life. My guess
is that anything he's thought of is probably much more lurid than
"Then tell him the truth, Catherine," Vincent suggested.
"He is a good man, and he cares for you. I'm sure he would keep our
secret. We should have let you tell Jenny much earlier than we did."
"Vincent, it wouldn't be fair to Joe to give him such
"My love, you have been in that position for years,"
Vincent reminded her.
"Mine aren't really very divided any more," Catherine
countered. "Besides, if it became absolutely impossible for
me-ethically, emotionally, however--I could quit in a minute. There
are lots of other ways I could use my training to help people. Joe
doesn't have that freedom."
Vincent released her hands to pull her close. "Would it
really be so easy to leave?" Vincent asked, unbelieving.
"It wouldn't be easy," Catherine admitted. "Joe and I
make a good team. I like working with him, and I know--on good days,
anyway--that I make a difference. But I don't have to prove myself
anymore." Catherine rubbed her cheek against Vincent's chest. "Joe
didn't have the kind of advantages I did. He came up the hard way.
I'm not sure if he really has political ambitions--I don't think he
knows for sure--but I don't want to limit his options by saddling him
with the burden of our secret."
"Then you'll tell him what we decided?" Vincent asked.
"Mm-hm. Only as much as I have to." She pulled back to
look at her husband's face. "A kiss for luck?"
Vincent complied eagerly. Sighing, Catherine picked up
briefcase and thermos, steeling herself to face a difficult day.
She smiled. "Now, how about a nice husbandly goodbye
Laughing, Vincent took her face in his hands and kissed
her thoroughly. "What are you thinking?" he asked curiously.
"I was just thinking how many people do something like
that out of habit, without thinking about it. I can't imagine us ever
taking this for granted."
"No," Vincent agreed softly. "Not after what we've gone
through to earn this, how many obstacles we had to overcome."
"How hard we work every day to preserve it," Catherine
"How close we came to losing it." His voice was rough
with remembered pain.
Catherine's eyes were moist. "Vincent, I love you so
much." She laid her cheek for a moment against his chest. "I can face
anything as long as I have you to come home to."
"I'll be waiting," he promised, as he moved away from the
door. Catherine gave him a last loving look as she slipped through
and closed it behind her.
Catherine fidgeted. Her attempts to bury herself in work
to avoid thinking about her upcoming appointment with Joe were
singularly unsuccessful. Every time she had convinced herself an hour
had passed, her watch would insist it had only been fifteen minutes.
She drank so much of Narcissa's tea she was afraid she'd float into
Joe's office when the time finally came, but it seemed her fluttering
stomach couldn't be blamed on pregnancy this time. At last the hour
arrived. Taking deep breaths and willing herself to relax, she walked
up to Joe's office door, squared her shoulders, and knocked.
"Well, Radcliffe," he greeted her. "You actually made an
appointment to see me. This must be serious." His tone was
light, but the undertone of uncertainty was all too obvious.
Catherine sat down carefully and screwed up her courage
to look him in the eye. "I wanted to make sure we weren't
interrupted. It is pretty important."
"Cathy, is something wrong?" Joe asked worriedly.
She smiled. "Oh no, something is very right. It's just
that ..." Here goes, Chandler. "I need to take a year's leave of
absence, starting at the beginning of April. I wanted to give you as
much time as possible to find a good replacement."
Joe looked as if whatever he had expected her to say,
that wasn't it. "Cathy, you're not sick, are you? I knew it, that
wasn't just flu you had! Look, don't try to keep it from--"
"Joe, Joe, calm down," Catherine reassured him. "I'm not
sick, I promise you. It's not that. Let's just call it ... personal
Joe got up abruptly and began pulling darts out of his
board with a vengeance. "Look if it's the job, we can work something
out. I told you you don't have to prove anything to anybody. If all
that domestic violence work is getting to you we can find you
something else. Or ... " He turned suddenly to face her, darts
clutched in his hand. "Cathy, you're not in trouble, are you?"
For a moment Catherine was taken aback at the
time-honored euphemism. Technically speaking ... but that wasn't what
Misreading her temporary silence, Joe's face became
concerned. "Cathy that's it, isn't it? Kiddo, I wish you'd trust me.
I told you years ago, we could get you out of it-- whatever it is."
He looked hurt. "Cath, I know I'm your boss, and you must think I've
got no business butting into your private life, but it's only because
I care about you."
Catherine put her head in her hands and sighed. Oh, damn.
She raised her head again and looked Joe's face. She
couldn't put him through this any more.
"Joe, please, sit down and put the darts on the desk
before you hurt yourself. I'll tell you why I need to leave."
Joe did as she asked and looked at her expectantly.
Catherine couldn't help but smile as she said the words.
"Joe, I'm pregnant."
As long as she lived, Catherine would always treasure the
look on his face at that moment. At first he seemed to believe he
couldn't possibly have heard her correctly; when it sank in,
astonishment was quickly followed by total confusion at how to
"Pregnant? But Cathy you're not ... I mean I didn't
think... I mean, if you got married how come you never ... but if
you're not it doesn't ... oh, shit." His face was a startling shade
of pink, and articulate speech seemed to have deserted him.
Catherine took pity on him. "Joe, it's awfully hard to
explain. I'll tell you as much as I can, but I can't tell you
Not trusting himself to speak, Joe waved a hand to
encourage her to continue.
Catherine absently began twisting the silver ring on her
left hand as she spoke. "In every way that counts, I've been married
for almost three years. Just not in any way the State of New York
would absolutely recognize as legal."
"Cathy, I don't understand--why not?"
"Because legally, my husband doesn't exist ... and he has
to stay that way."
"Look, if he's in some sort of trouble--"
"Joe, do you remember the accounts of my assault six
years ago? God knows the papers had a field day with it, although
they could only speculate."
"Yeah, but the police reports--" Joe suddenly clamped his
Catherine smiled at him. "It hardly surprises me that you
looked up the reports, boss. It would have surprised me more if you
hadn't. There were a lot of gaps, weren't there?"
"You never said where you were for those ten days."
"Those animals just dumped me in the park like a piece of
garbage; it didn't matter to them whether I lived or died. Vincent
found me there and took care of me. He saved my life."
"My husband. The father of this child. The man I've loved
more than my life for five years."
"My God, Cathy, I've never heard you talk about anybody
like that before. How could you keep this a secret for so long? And
"Vincent brought me to his home," Catherine continued.
"His father is a doctor, and the two of them treated me and took care
of me until I was ready to face the world." Catherine appeared to
change the subject suddenly. "Joe, you've been part of this system
long enough to know how often we don't win. How often we make things
worse when we try to help. How often people don't get enough help, or
fall between the cracks and get none at all."
"Cathy, we do the best we can. I know the bureaucracy
sometimes seems like it's only there to get in the way, but we try."
He seemed confused at this unexpected direction.
"Vincent and his father are part of a community of people
who have their own way of helping each other, outside that
bureaucracy. It works, but they don't always follow the letter of the
law, our law, anyway. They've given new lives to people that our
system ignored. I don't want that system to crush them."
"So what has all this got to do with Vincent?" Joe asked.
"Why does he have to be such a mystery?"
"Vincent was abandoned on the day he was born," Catherine
replied softly. "He was brought to these people and raised by them;
he's lived with them all his life. He was educated by them, and he
spends his life helping them. He teaches the children, he fixes and
builds things, he --"
"OK, Cathy, he sounds like a paragon. But I still don't
understand why he has to be such a big secret. Nobody's going to care
at this late date that he played hooky from the public schools. Is he
so dead set against 'the system' that he won't be a part of it even
to marry you? Especially now? I know you think I'm old-fashioned
sometimes, but after all--"
"No, Joe, you've got it all wrong! Oh damn, I'm just not
explaining this as well as I thought." Suddenly unable to sit still,
Catherine rose from the chair and walked to the window. She stared
unseeing at the city for a moment, trying to collect her thoughts.
"Vincent doesn't set himself apart from our world out of
some arrogant fanaticism. It breaks his heart that I have to keep our
love a secret." She turned to Joe. "It would be dangerous for Vincent
if his existence became known. At worst, it could mean his death. At
best, his life would be made a living hell. You see, Vincent's ...
"What do you mean, different?" Joe demanded. "How
different can a guy--" He stopped suddenly, then continued in a
changed voice. "You mean different as in, well, 'special'?"
Never was that euphemism more apt, Catherine thought.
"Yes, Joe. He's very special."
"You said he was an abandoned baby. Was he ... well ...
deformed in some way?"
Catherine returned to the chair and sat down heavily. "I
never quite know how to answer that," Catherine sighed. "Some people
would say so. Some have called him a monster. I don't want to make
myself out to be some saint, loving this poor, hideous creature
because I can see the beautiful soul underneath. I think he's the
most beautiful man I've ever seen, outside and inside--and I'm not
the only one who does."
Joe was still a little stunned at Catherine's revelation.
Would there ever come a time when she couldn't surprise him? "If he's
that afraid of showing his face, it sounds like you expect the first
group would be in the majority."
Catherine nodded. "Most people are afraid of anyone
different," she said unhappily. "They'd rather destroy than try to
understand. Vincent's not a small man, Joe. He could be very
intimidating to someone like that--someone who might shoot first and
ask questions later." Her face darkened with anger. "Even if he
didn't get killed, the world is full of leeches like those tabloid
reporters who'd treat him like a freak. Vincent is such a sensitive
person--sometimes I think that would be worse than death to him."
Joe was appalled to see her eyes fill with moisture. He
grabbed a box of tissues and hurried to put an arm around her
shoulders as he sat on the arm of her chair. Catherine accepted his
fistful of tissues gratefully, smiling through her tears.
After a moment, she continued. "Not only would people
like that make Vincent's life miserable, they wouldn't rest until
they found out where he came from. If that happened, a lot of good
people would lose the only safety they've ever known, their refuge."
"Cathy, why were you so afraid to tell me all this? I
could have helped you."
Catherine shook her head emphatically. "Joe, the less you
know, the better. You're supposed to uphold the letter of law.
Vincent and his people don't always do that, although they're some of
the most ethical people I know. I won't put you in a position like
"Cath, it doesn't matter ... "
"Yes it does," Catherine insisted. "Joe, I've told you as
much as I'm going to. Now you know that I'm happy, and loved, and you
can stop worrying about my lonely workaholic future."
"God, was I that obvious?" He asked sheepishly.
Catherine's raised eyebrows were answer enough.
"Well," he said, walking back to his desk, "about this
"You can understand why I can't take a regular pregnancy
leave, and why I need to be out of here no later than the beginning
of April. Things are going to start getting obvious before too long,
and I don't want the office gossip mill to find out about this."
"Cathy," Joe asked with concern, "you can't keep this a
secret from everybody--it's not like you can leave town, if things
are like that for Vincent."
"Believe me, Joe, most people will think that's just what
I've done. I'll be spending most of my time with Vincent's people, or
in our house."
"You know, Cath, celebrities have babies without being
married all the time, it's hardly news anymore. You don't have to
shut yourself up if you're worried what people will think."
It's not that, Joe," Catherine replied seriously. "You
see, since we don't know what caused Vincent to be they way he is--
well, the baby could look like his father. If that's the case, he'll
need to be protected too. The fewer people that know about this, the
fewer people to wonder why there's no baby in evidence later."
"Geez, Cathy, I never thought." Joe looked at her with
undisguised admiration. "You've got a hell of a lot of guts, you know
"Joe, I warned you, don't act like I'm Mother Teresa or
something." She smiled. "I wish you could meet Vincent, then you'd
realize I'm the lucky one. But it's better if you don't, so just
trust me, OK?"
"OK," he capitulated, laughing. "If he can put a look
like that on your face, he must be something. Kid, you'll get your
leave. If Moreno gives me any trouble I'll remind him he still owes
you one from the time he used you to get at Elliot Burch."
Catherine moved to the door and opened it. Just before
slipping out she turned to her boss with a grin. "Thanks, Uncle Joe."
Catherine laughed to herself in delight. She could hardly
wait to tell Vincent about Joe's expression at that parting shot.
"Peter, we've been through all this before. I see no
reason to change my mind." Catherine folded her arms decisively and
gave him a look that would discourage further argument in the most
contentious criminal. Peter Alcott, however, didn't give up quite so
"Catherine, we're dealing with an unknown situation here,
that neither my training nor Jacob's could have prepared us for. The
more information we have to go on the better."
"Peter, I won't risk this child. Amniocentesis can cause
a miscarriage, you know that's true. I won't take that chance."
"Catherine, the likelihood of a spontaneous abortion
because of this test is so small ..."
"I don't care how small it is." Catherine leaned forward
and gripped the edge of Peter's desk. "We're talking about Vincent's
child. A child no one believed we could even conceive. Well, by some
miracle, we've done that--but I doubt we'll get a second chance.
Any risk is unacceptable."
Peter Alcott sighed. "Catherine, it's because this is
Vincent's child that I'm concerned. We have no idea what effect his
genes might have. This pregnancy and birth could be very dangerous
for you; we need to be prepared."
Catherine rose and began to pace in frustration. "If
Vincent is such an unknown quantity, what good would the test results
be? You wouldn't know how to interpret them anyway."
Peter shifted uncomfortably. "We don't know that ... "
"Besides," Catherine interrupted, "what's the point? It
would only tell me things there's no point in knowing. Do you
seriously think I'd consider aborting this child even you did
discover a problem? Do you think we'd love this child any less if it
had Down's syndrome, for instance? Knowing Vincent, he'd only love it
more." Her voice softened at the thought.
Seeing the look on her face, Peter capitulated. "All
right, Catherine, you win. But what about a simple blood test that
cannot possibly harm the fetus?"
"What kind of test? What does it do?" Catherine asked
"It will help determine your due date, for one thing," he
replied. "Although you insist this child was conceived at Winterfest,
you seem further along than that to me, based on your size and weight
"Thanks a lot," Catherine told him sarcastically.
"Catherine, we all know you can't possibly have this
child in a hospital, in case it resembles Vincent. I want to estimate
your date as accurately as possible so we can be prepared." He rose
and walked toward Catherine, taking her hand. "I promise you, there's
no danger in this test."
"Is that all the test does?" Catherine asked
suspiciously? "Tell you how far along I am?"
"Well", Peter admitted, "an elevated level of the protein
could be caused by other things--placental bleeding, for example, or
"Or what?" Catherine got the impression he didn't want to
"It could also suggest neural tube defects in the fetus."
"I don't like the sound of that, Peter." Catherine
shivered. "What does that mean?"
"Defects in the development of the brain and nervous
system," Peter explained uncomfortably. "Spina bifida is probably the
Catherine was silent a moment, considering. "All right,
Peter, do the test." She touched his arm. "I'm not trying to make
your life more difficult, or Father's. I understand that you're only
concerned for me and the baby. But I'm having this baby, no matter
what. If I can tell you something that will help you without risking
it, I will. But that's as far as I'm willing to go."
Peter raised his hands in capitulation. "I'll take what I
can get, my dear." He pretended to scowl at her. "You're a very
difficult patient, do you know that?"
Catherine smiled sweetly at him. "Just think of it as a
payback for all those bad jokes about seeing me naked."
A week later Catherine was wading her way through sales
brochures for law databases. She didn't want her legal skills to rust
during her leave, and decided doing research and consulting for
various legal aid and public interest law organizations would be just
the ticket--not only could she make a real contribution, but it would
be interesting and different from what she'd done before. Although
she expected to spend much more time Below now that she wasn't
working, she was afraid Vincent would never be able to concentrate on
the children's classes with her around. Several of them had already
made their amusement at their favorite teacher's recent air of
distraction all too clear.
The ring of the doorbell startled her. Looking through
the peephole, she was surprised to see Peter Alcott on the stoop.
Catherine moved quickly to let him in. The weather was having trouble
making up its mind between winter and spring; right now winter seemed
to be winning.
"Peter, I'm amazed," Catherine joked as she took his
coat. "Aren't you afraid this will ruin your medical reputation?
People might get the idea you make house calls."
"You should be concerned about your own reputation, my
dear," he replied. "Having such a handsome and distinguished man as
myself visit you will no doubt cause the neighbors to assume the
The tone of his voice jarred with the bantering words.
Catherine was suddenly suspicious, and a little afraid. "Peter,
something's wrong, isn't it? Tell me."
"Now, Catherine," he reassured her, "there's no reason to
assume anything's wrong. Your test results came in, and the FAP is
elevated ... "
"Oh, God," Catherine whispered, "you don't think ... "
"Catherine!" Peter said sharply. "What I think, what I've
thought all along, is that you conceived earlier than you said.
There's absolutely no reason to assume anything more serious."
"How can you tell for sure?" Catherine asked worriedly.
"What do we do now?"
"Can you come to the office with me? I'd like to do an
ultrasound--you have no objections to that, do you?"
"No," Catherine admitted. "You mean we can do it right
"I'd like to set your mind at rest as soon as possible,"
he replied. "I'd also like to keep Vincent from having a fit, since
he has such a tendency to assume the worst. I was hoping he wouldn't
be with you. We can have this all settled before you have a chance to
tell him about it."
"Let me send a message Below," Catherine asked. "I
planned to meet him there when he's through teaching. I want him to
know I might be late, and tell him not to worry."
While Peter waited, Catherine went down into the basement
to tap out a message on the pipes. She was sure Vincent had felt her
momentary fear, and didn't want him abandon his duties Below to come
to her. Concentrating on staying calm herself, she prayed that Peter
was right, and there really was no cause for concern.
Only Vincent's overdeveloped sense of responsibility kept
him from going to Catherine when he felt that moment of fear and
doubt, fleeting though it was. Her message failed to reassure him,
but he realized there was nothing he could do until she came to him.
When he finally felt her presence in the Tunnels, it was all he could
do not to rush away to meet her. Perversely, the class had lasted
longer than usual, and he could not bear to cut short the children's
enthusiastic questions. He detected no fear in her now, but it was
hard to concentrate on the bond and pay attention to the children at
the same time. He hoped Catherine was not blocking her emotions again
to spare him pain.
He arrived at Father's study only minutes after Catherine
did, hardly noticing that Father and Mary were also there. Seeing
Catherine with Peter Alcott, Vincent felt the fears he had pushed
into the depths of his mind rise again with paralyzing suddenness.
Lost in his familiar terror, he was astonished when Catherine ran to
him, laughing, and threw her arms around his neck before proceeding
to kiss him soundly.
"Oh, Vincent," she cried in delight, "you clever,
Expecting bad news, he was unprepared for this reaction.
Catherine had no qualms about expressing her affection for him in
front of others, but usually in a much more restrained fashion. He
looked at her beaming face in utter confusion, and then looked at
Peter. "I don't understand," he said helplessly. "I was afraid ..."
"I think it would be an excellent idea if we all sat down
now," Peter suggested. They proceeded to do so. Catherine was in no
mood to be separated from her husband even by the width of a chair
arm, and settled herself firmly on Vincent's lap.
"Will someone please explain what is going on?" Father
demanded with impatience. Peter looked at Catherine, who turned to
Vincent with a loving look.
"Dear heart," she announced happily, "we are not going to
have a baby. We are going to have babies. Twins."
Vincent stared at Catherine's grinning face in stunned
silence. The two of them were an island of stillness in the midst of
sudden pandemonium, as everyone else began talking at once. The
hubbub died down when the others realized Vincent and Catherine were
paying them no attention whatsoever.
"Oh, Vincent," Catherine was saying happily, "not only
will our children have two parents who adore them, they'll have each
other ... and I get two babies for the price of one--so to speak."
Laughing, she hugged Vincent.
"Catherine ... " Vincent could not for the life of him
think of anything else to say. After three months, he had barely
managed to assimilate the idea of becoming a father after
thirty-seven years of believing it impossible. He had thought his
remarkable wife had run out of major surprises, but apparently his
assumption was a bit premature.
"Catherine," Father said in a very different tone of
voice, "this is a serious matter. Has Peter explained that a multiple
pregnancy is, by definition, high-risk? There's a greatly increased
chance of premature labor--"
"I told her," Peter asserted firmly. "Also, I pointed out
she was under increased risk for hypertention, anemia,infection ..."
"Dear God," Father exclaimed, "the possible complications
of delivery, and postpartum bleeding ..."
"Stop it! Will you listen to yourselves--and look at what
you're doing to poor Vincent!"
Everyone, even the increasingly terrified Vincent, stared
at Mary. Father and Peter huffed in embarrassment and were silent
before her implacable gaze. This was not the Mary they were used to.
"Not only have I delivered more babies than Father," she
announced, "I've also had them, which is more than either of
you can say. You make it sound much worse than it is. There are
plenty of women who have twins without any great problem, especially
when they know they're carrying them this early in the pregancy."
"Now, Mary," Father insisted, "you can't deny there are
more possibilities of ... "
"Possibilities only," Mary interrupted firmly. "Catherine
is an extremely healthy and strong young woman, and her pregnancy has
gone quite well so far. Don't frighten her and Vincent by talking
like doctors instead of people."
"Mary," Catherine congratulated the older woman, "I
couldn't have put it better myself! In fact, I don't think I could
have put it as well." She turned to Vincent and stroked his cheek in
reassurance. "Please don't be afraid, dearest," she begged him.
"I promise everything will be all right."
"Well," Father began placatingly, "it is true that
forewarned is forearmed. We'll have to watch your progress very
closely. But one thing is clear--you cannot have these children
Below; the danger of complications is too great."
"No!" Catherine wailed. "You're all my family, I want to
have my babies down here."
Peter, Father and Mary answered Catherine all at once,
and battle was joined again.
"Wow," Jenny exclaimed, "what happened then? What did you
finally decide?" She and Catherine were sitting comfortably around
Catherine's kitchen table a week later, demolishing an enormous
lunch. Actually, Catherine was demolishing most of it, in between
giving Jenny a lively account of the events following her startling
"I had to give in on that," Catherine sighed. "They're
right, I can't take the risk in case there are problems. I don't
think there will be, but if I absolutely had to be rushed to a
hospital ... Vincent would never forgive himself if anything happened
"So Father and Peter finally got you to agree with them
"Well, not quite," Catherine corrected her. "Vincent
asked me to do it. He worries so about me, Jenny. I couldn't bear to
give him anything more to worry about." Catherine gave herself a
third helping of bulgur pilaf.
"God," Jenny said enviously, "I'm tempted to get pregnant
just for the experience of being able to eat like that just once. I
can't believe how much you're putting away these days."
"Hey," Catherine reminded her, "I'm not just eating for
two, you know, I'm eating for three."
"So, come on," Jenny prompted, "what are you planning to
do? You can't possibly risk having the babies in a hospital, can you?
Not unless your life was in danger."
"No," Catherine said with conviction. "Not without
knowing whether the babies will take after Vincent. There's no way to
keep our secret if that happened. I'm having the baby at home, with
all the high-tech equipment money can buy standing around just in
case. Thank God I've got plenty--of money, I mean."
"And all you spend it on is books, CDs, videotapes, and
anything you can get for Vincent's folks without triggering the pride
Catherine smiled. "Funny you should mention that. Guess
where all the medical equipment's going after I'm through with it?"
"Let me guess," Jenny played along. "Tunnel General?"
"Well, I can't keep it here," she countered. "It doesn't
go with the decor. Besides, the room we're setting up as a delivery
room is supposed to be the nursery eventually. We won't need it for
awhile, since I plan to stay Below most of the time after the babies
are born, and we'll keep them in our bedroom at first when we stay up
here. Want some ice cream?" Catherine tossed over her shoulder on her
way to the refrigerator.
"Have mercy," Jenny moaned. "I'll have to eat celery
sticks for the rest of the week at this rate."
"No problem," Catherine reassured her, "it's really only
ice milk. I'm behaving myself."
"Actually, you've been a saint ever since you convinced
Vincent to risk having kids," Jenny said in admiration.
"I've almost forgotten what alcohol and caffeine taste
like," Catherine sighed. "I'm sure some of my colleagues thought I'd
joined some strict religious sect. It paid off, though. It helped me
convince Father I've never been in better shape than I am now.
Between my sterling diet habits and all the exercise I get--"
"I didn't think sex counted as aerobic exercise,"
"Jenny!" Catherine threw a roll at her friend's head. "If
you ever say anything like that in front of Vincent, I'll pitch you
into the Abyss. I was referring to things like walking and stair
climbing and stuff like that."
"Right," Jenny grinned.
Catherine tried to glare at her, but couldn't keep a
straight face. "Our latest argument is how much time I'm supposed to
spend in bed," Catherine continued.
"Oh?" Jenny asked archly.
"You have a one-track mind," Catherine laughed. "Bed rest
is supposed to reduce the risk of premature labor, and I think
there's also something about improving blood supply to the fetus, or
something. I have to read up on it."
"I can just see you," Jenny said, "quoting medical books
at Father. How's his blood pressure?"
"Rising, I'm sure," Catherine admitted. "Sometimes he
forgets his daughter-in-law is a lawyer who's done her share of
grilling expert witnesses. Father wanted me to plop myself into bed
immediately, from what I could gather, and stay there for the next
four months. Peter suggested four hours a day plus lots of sleep, and
Mary said there's no actual proof it works. I don't think Father
realizes how much of his medical library she's been through."
"I'm amazed at Mary," Jenny said. "I never thought she'd
say boo to the proverbial goose."
"Everybody's amazed at Mary," Catherine agreed. "I think
there's something about Vincent and me that brings out the unexpected
in people. But wait till I tell you about the Great Stair
"Do go on," Jenny encouraged, fascinated.
"Well, Father didn't think I should come Below at all
until the babies are born, because of all the stairs I have to climb.
I really hated the idea of that," Catherine said emphatically. "So
many people down there care so much about us--Mouse, Jamie, William,
Cullen, Samantha--our love has always been something special to them.
So many people were so happy for us when they first found out Vincent
and I were having a baby; it would break my heart not to share it
with them as much as I could. But I didn't want to do anything to
endanger these little ones." Catherine patted her stomach
"So how did it come out?" Jenny demanded.
"Father was pointing out in his most authoritative manner
that I was going to have to give in on this one, since there was no
way to get Below and back without climbing more than was good for me,
and I was getting more and more morose."
"Cath, I can't stand the suspense," Jenny almost shouted.
"how did you finally convince him?"
"I didn't," Catherine smiled. "Vincent suddenly stood up
right in the middle of Father's lecture, picked me up and carried me
up the stairs and out of Father's study. When Father tracked us down
in our chamber, I was still giggling and Vincent was looking
Jenny laughed uproariously. "Oh, I wish I'd been there to
see it! I wish you had it on videotape."
"Me too," Catherine agreed, joining her laughter. "I'd
like to replay it--it was wonderful. Father's face was a sight to
Catherine was appalled to discover she had fallen asleep
yet again. This bed rest thing had a tendency to turn into naps all
too often. Such behavior was not calculated to show Father how little
this pregnancy was affecting her. Of course, the truth was she felt
much more tired than she ever expected to. Nancy hadn't been like
this; she looked like she could have had her babies in the proverbial
field and gone right back to harvesting. Of course, Nancy'd had the
sense to have her kids one at a time.
Still an overachiever, Chandler, she kidded
herself. A soft rustle in the corner caused her to turn her head.
Vincent sat in a chair, a book open but ignored on his lap. Clearly
watching her had been more interesting to him than the written word.
Catherine smiled. Feeling like a laudanum addict was a small price to
pay to put a look like that on her husband's face. "Hello, love," she
greeted him. "How long have you been there? How long have I been
He moved to sit on the bed beside her. "Almost two hours,
to answer both questions. How do you feel?" He gently stroked the
sleep-tousled hair away from her face.
"I feel disgustingly self-indulgent," she answered. "The
old Cathy Chandler would have put up with this much better. Catherine
Chandler-Wells, crusading ADA, longtime Helper, is used to a more
Vincent bent to kiss her soundly. "Catherine
Chandler-Wells must realize," he told her, "that her friends and
family are enjoying the opportunity to take care of her, all the more
because they will probably not get another chance. Think of how happy
you're making Father."
"That's what bothers me. If it were up to him, I'd be in
bed all day, and I was hoping to show him I didn't need it at all."
She pouted. "This compromise was only because I absolutely refused to
consider drugs if premature labor threatened."
"Are you sure ..." Vincent began.
"Absolutely," Catherine cut him off firmly. "Your
reaction to drugs is too unpredictable--what if that's something the
babies inherit? Too big a chance to take, so here I lie. If only I
wouldn't fall asleep so much!"
"My love, I think letting yourself be taken care of is
the hardest part of all this for you."
Catherine sighed. "You're right. I thought I had
reformed; ever since we've been married I've tried not to overdo it
at work, but old habits are dying harder than I thought. It's all
your fault, you know."
Vincent caressed her swollen belly lovingly. "Catherine,
you can't claim this is all my fault."
"Not that! You can bet I'm taking my share of the credit
for Junior & Junior." Catherine attempted to scowl convincingly
at her husband. "I mean six years ago, when you started me on the
road from Ms. Fashion Law to what I am now."
Vincent raised his eyebrows at her. "And what might that
The scowl dissolved into a beatific smile. "The happiest
woman on earth," Catherine admitted as she wound her arms around
Some time later, a combination of hunger and the desire
to show Father she wasn't a total slug drove Catherine out of their
chamber on Vincent's arm. Intending only to cut through Father's
study on their way to the kitchen, they were surprised to find him
there talking with Peter Alcott.
"Well, how's my most challenging patient?" the latter
asked with unconcealed amusement.
"Absolutely fine," Catherine replied loftily, "as if you
didn't know. With all the poking and prodding I get all the time from
you two, I can't sneeze without you knowing about before I do."
"How's the bed rest working out?" Father questioned.
Catherine wondered how often he might have peeked in and
caught her sleeping. She decided to brazen it out. "Driving me crazy
with boredom, actually, but I'm trying to be cooperative." Vincent
didn't say a word, she noted. Wise of him--three years of marriage
had taught him the virtue of silence in appropriate situations.
"We didn't expect to see you today, Peter," Vincent
offered. "Does your visit have something to do with Catherine?"
"Only indirectly," he replied. "Why don't you join us and
I'll tell you what it's all about."
Vincent insisted they all wait until he brought food for
Catherine. While they waited for his return, Catherine talked about
inconsequential things with her her two doctors. Despite the overtly
casual air, she felt like something in a petri dish. Whenever she was
in the same room with either one of them these days, Catherine was
sure sure they were watching her like hawks for the least suggestion
of complications. She sighed. Only a little past the halfway point.
Catherine hoped she could get through the rest of this pregnancy
without throwing things. Knowing them, they'd only tut-tut knowingly
and blame it on her hormones.
Only after Vincent returned with enough food for several
mothers-to-be and assured himself there was nothing else his wife
could possibly want did Peter begin his explanation. "I said this was
indirectly related to your condition, Catherine," he began. "This is
something that has been imminent for some time, but your pregnancy
has convinced me that now is the time to bring our plans to
"What do you mean?" Catherine asked--as well as she could
with her mouth full. "What plans?"
Father took over. "For some time Peter and I have been
concerned that those Below have only us to depend on for medical
help. Mary is the best nurse and midwife I've ever known, and most of
the community are well trained in first aid and other basic
techniques. But it has caused us concern that we have access to no
doctors younger than us."
"In Jacob's case," Peter continued, "he can only
contribute his considerable skills. I'm the only one with connections
Above, the only one who can legally obtain medical equipment and
drugs, for instance. If anything happened to me, the situation Below
could become very serious."
Father took up the explanation again. "Many of our people
could go Above to use medical facilities if it became absolutely
necessary, and it weren't an emergency. But that only applies to
those who had some prior existence Above. There are others ... "
"Such as I?" Vincent interrupted unhappily.
"Not only you, Vincent," Father continued. "There are
those like Pascal, who were born down here--or those like Mouse, who
have been here almost all their lives. Can you imagine what would
happen to Mouse if he had to go to a hospital up top?"
Catherine shuddered. Any encounter with the vast and
impersonal social service bureaucracy would be unpleasant and
dangerous for those who had been Below for all or most of their
lives. Aside from the possibility of difficult questions, people who
had no legal existence had little protection against the enforced
care of the monolithic agencies that so often did more harm than
good. Catherine feared that her legal skills wouldn't be enough to
keep Mouse out of the permanent clutches of well-meaning bureaucrats
bent on keeping him "for his own good"--and destroying him in the
process. As for Vincent--
"What can you do?" Catherine asked sharply. As Vincent
reached for her hand, she knew that her fear for him had been all too
"I had hoped," Father sighed, "that one of our children
who went back to the world Above might choose a medical career, and
be available to help us. So far that hasn't happened, although Eric
has been considering it. Even if he does follow through, it would be
many years before he were in a position to be of use to us."
"For some time," Peter said, "I've been keeping my eyes
open for a possible Helper who was a physician. There is a woman--a
resident at St. Vincent's, appropriately enough--who I believe would
be perfect. I think now is the time."
"Why now?" Catherine asked suspiciously. "This has
something to do with me, doesn't it? I don't want you to take any
risks on my account."
"I don't believe there is any risk," Peter insisted. "I
have every confidence that Dr. Robinson will make an enthusiastic and
trustworthy Helper. Jacob has merely been procrastinating."
"Procrastinating!" Father exclaimed indignantly. "I was
merely being cautious. It is difficult to predict who will make a
"Especially for you, Jacob," Peter retorted. "As I
recall, you didn't think Catherine was Helper material at first, let
"Let alone a potential daughter-in-law," Vincent broke
in, "and mother of your future grandchildren." He turned to Peter to
give Father a chance to recover his aplomb. "Are you sure of this
woman, Peter? Your judgment has never failed us before."
"Very sure," Peter insisted, "and I'm confident the
Council will agree."
"You still haven't explained how this relates to me,"
Catherine reminded him.
"Cathy, I admit your pregnancy has been going well so
far, although it's early days yet. Your mother had an easy pregnancy
and delivery with you, and I'm hoping you take after her in that.
Mary is right, many women deliver twins without any problem ...but we
have to be prepared for any eventuality." He leaned forward to speak
directly to Catherine. "If everthing goes well, and you can have a
natural vaginal delivery, no one will be more pleased than I. I
delivered you thirty-five years ago, and I consider it a great
privilege to be able to do the same for your children."
Catherine looked at Peter with new eyes. She had been so
focused on his professional concern for her she had almost forgotten
what a dear friend he was. "Peter, I'm glad you're going to be there
for me. I'm sure Mom and Dad are happy about it too."
Peter continued in a suspiciously husky voice. "With
twins, there's a better-than-usual chance that an emergency Caesarian
will be needed. Jacob or I are capable of doing that if necessary,
but I'm concerned that neither of us is an expert in anesthesia.
Twins are very vulnerable to oxygen deprivation, and with the
possibility of unusual drug reactions--I would feel a lot more
comfortable with an expert anesthesiologist around. Even if you have
a normal delivery, another physician will make me feel better." Peter
smiled. "I'm not sure we can count on Jacob's equilibrium when his
first grandchildren are being born."
"Are you impugning my professional objectivity?" Father
asked in mock indignation. He turned to Catherine. "Peter's
protegé did a residency as an anesthesiologist for a year
before switching to emergency medicine. I am forced to admit, her
background is ideal for our needs."
"Not only is she an excellent physician," Peter asserted,
"but a very likable woman. I think she and Catherine will get along
"Well," Father agreed, "you can put your recommendation
before the Council tonight. If it's accepted, we shall all look
forward to meeting her."
Almost a week later, Catherine found herself back in
Father's study, no more able to sit still than most of the Council
and other members of the community who had gathered to meet the new
Helper. Peter's advocacy had been eloquent and convincing, and none
could deny how important another doctor would be to everyone in the
Tunnels. Catherine was more nervous than most, since it seemed she
was going to be the still mysterious Dr. Robinson's first patient.
Everyone else involved in her pregnancy and delivery was an old
friend, and she definitely had mixed feelings about letting a
stranger into that select group at this late date. If it weren't for
An excited murmur rippled through the group as Pascal
entered the room to report that Peter and his friend would be there
in a matter of moments. Catherine clutched Vincent's hand tightly and
tried not to look as nervous as she felt. Vincent lifted her hand to
his lips and kissed it reassuringly--but Catherine had her suspicions
that he was as nervous as she.
Just then, Peter Alcott stepped through the door. A
second later, he was followed by a tall black woman with the longest,
most graceful neck Catherine had ever seen and a head as exquisitely
shaped as a Benin bronze. She was dressed in attractive but casual
clothes--not unlike the sort of thing ADA Catherine Chandler was wont
to wear during everyday time spent in the Tunnels--although Catherine
Chandler never looked like a Vogue model in them, she thought
ruefully. Even less now. A twinge of distress attacked Catherine as
she gazed ruefully at her fast-expanding front.
Peter was busily making introductions--to Father, who
looked rather bowled over by the impressive Dr. Robinson, and Mary,
who had admitted to Catherine she was looking forward to working with
a doctor whose knowledge of female innards was not just theoretical.
As they moved through the room, the new Helper was introduced to the
Council and all the other members of the community who had managed to
squeeze into Father's chambers. Even Jamie looked impressed by the
new arrival, and Catherine knew Jamie was not easily impressed.
Catherine had deliberately chosen a remote corner to give
herself a chance to look over this stranger as much as possible
before the inevitable meeting. Vincent always hung back when someone
new was introduced, anyway. He usually gave new residents several
days to get used to the Tunnels before showing himself. New Helpers
were different. In some ways, their reaction to him was the final
test before their full acceptance. Even though Helpers were well
prepared before finally being introduced to the Tunnels, no one could
be completely prepared for Vincent.
Finally they reached the corner where Vincent and
Catherine waited. As Dr. Robinson turned away from her greeting to
Sarah, only a slight widening of her dark eyes betrayed surprise.
Without the slightest hesitation she extended her hand. "And you,"
she said evenly, have got to be Vincent. May I say that Peter's
rather ambiguous hints didn't do you justice?"
Vincent relaxed as he took her hand in turn. "If you'll
allow me to say the same about you," he smiled.
"The legacy of many generations of Masai and Somali
genes," she admitted. She turned a little.
"I know you're Catherine Chandler," she said warmly.
"I've been eager to meet you. I've heard so many good things about
your work with battered women and abused children. I see all too much
of that in the emergency room, you know, and your name has come up
many times. I think we have quite a few professional contacts in
Catherine shook her hand warmly, all nervousness gone.
"It never occurred to me that we would," she admitted, "although it
makes sense. I'm afraid I've been thinking of you mainly in
"I'm hardly an expert," the black woman laughed,
"although I've delivered a few babies in my time, including once on a
Boeing 747. That's not an experience I care to repeat, so I hope
you're not planning on any plane trips."
"Not a chance," Catherine laughed. "Vincent would be a
"Since you're my first patient in this new job, I hope
we'll have time for a good long talk soon. It doesn't look like it'll
be tonight, does it?"
"Not considering how early my bedtime is these days,"
Catherine agreed. "You're going to be a nine-day wonder, anyway, Dr.
"Oh, good grief, call me Helen, please." She smiled at
both Catherine and Vincent. "Why do I have the feeling that my life
is going to be a lot more interesting from now on?"
A few days later, on a glorious May afternoon that made
Catherine remember why she loved New York, she opened the door of the
house to admit Helen Robinson.
"What a wonderful house!" Helen exclaimed in unfeigned
delight. "Peter told me there was an interesting story behind it--did
you inherit the place?"
As they settled in the light-filled living room with tall
glasses of iced tea, Catherine explained about her late grandmother's
old friend Edna, who had offered to sell her the house when she
decided to leave New York to live with her son's family. The
opportunity had come at the perfect time, only a month after
Catherine and Vincent had become lovers, when Catherine was becoming
increasingly concerned about the danger Vincent faced whenever he
came to see her. The house would have been a godsend even without its
"Did Edna know about you and Vincent?" Helen asked.
"No, although I know she suspected I was involved with
somebody not quite acceptable in my former social circle,"Catherine
smiled ruefully. "I often wonder just who she thinks it is--I've been
afraid to ask. Next time she comes to New York for a visit, I'm going
to ask if she can meet Vincent. I trust her to keep a secret, and I
think she'd be delighted. Her own family always considered her quite
the rebel. When she married an actor, of all things, it was
considered quite shocking. Of course, that was over fifty years ago."
"Peter said this house was pretty special--I take it he
meant something more than Tunnel access. From what I gather,
Manhattan is full of Tunnel entrances." Helen shook her head in
wonder. "I still haven't quite gotten used to the idea of a whole
different world beneath my feet."
"That's how I felt six years ago, and look at me now,"
Catherine grinned. "Actually, this house has a juicy secret passage
that goes along one side from basement to roof. It seems Edna's
stuffy family had a long history of smuggling, illegal booze during
Prohibition, you name it."
Helen laughed uproariously. "That's fantastic! What
"That's much more polite than what Edna called them,"
Catherine assured her. "Whatever its shady history, it's perfect for
Vincent and me. It means a lot to me," Catherine continued in a
suspiciously husky voice, "to give Vincent as close to a normal home
life as possible. It's something he convinced himself he'd never
"You've really worked miracles," Helen said admiringly.
"He's pretty special, isn't he?"
"In more ways than one," Catherine agreed. She looked at
Helen, considering, before she continued. "I was impressed with your
reaction when you met him," Catherine continued. "It's not exactly
typical, as you can imagine."
"Blame it on my heritage," Ellen told her. "He looks like
something my ancestors might have worshipped. And the scientist in me
finds him utterly fascinating." Noticing a strange look on
Catherine's face, she became concerned. "Catherine, does it bother
you to talk about Vincent this way? Peter told me about Hughes--I
don't want to stir up unpleasant memories."
Catherine shook her head. "I'm sorry, just a flash of how
he looked in that cage--it still gets to me sometimes. I know it's
important to talk about it, especially with the babies and all.
Frankly, I'm glad to have someone to talk to that can be more
objective--it's hard to talk to Father or even Peter about it, let
"Peter said you managed to--shall we say, 'liberate'
Hughes' records on Vincent when you rescued him. Do you mind if I see
"Please, go ahead--you deserve to know as much as you can
about what you're getting into. But they won't help you much, Hughes
didn't have very sophisticated equipment available to him. They only
told us that Vincent is a remarkable physical specimen," Catherine
smiled, "and I already knew that. Besides," she continued, her smile
gone, "they had him drugged almost the whole time, that must have
messed up some of the results."
"I wish we could get a DNA scan on him," Helen sighed,
"but there's no way we could get that kind of equipment and
expertise-unless you happen to have a Helper who's a research
biologist with some heavy grant funding?"
Catherine's only reponse was a rueful laugh.
"Well," Helen went on, "the fact that you're pregnant at
all suggests that Vincent isn't that different, although, frankly, if
I didn't have the evidence before my eyes I would have agreed with
Peter and Father that it wasn't possible." Catherine smiled but said
nothing. "Did either of them discuss the possibilities with you,
genetically speaking?" Helen continued.
"On a basic level," Catherine replied. "I kept thinking
of Gregor Mendel and his pea plants."
Helen smiled. "Well, if whatever genes give Vincent his
unique characteristics are dominant, the children could look like
him. If they're recessive, they could be quite normal. They'd carry
the genes, of course, but since the likelihood of them having
children with someone who carried the same recessive genes is
virtually zero, your descendants could carry those genes for
generations and they'd never be expressed. What is it?"
Catherine started. "I'm sorry--I'm just getting used to
the idea of being a mother. The idea of being a grandmother and an
ancestor, even ... it's a bit much to take in."
"Sorry, I guess I'd better stick just to the next
generation," Helen laughed. "It's also possible Vincent's genes are
neither dominant nor recessive, and your children could be a blend of
both your characteristics."
"Gregor's pink pea plants," Catherine replied.
"In a manner of speaking," Helen agreed with a smile.
"Then there's the last possibility."
"Another one?" Catherine asked curiously. "Father didn't
mention anything else."
"Since we don't know how many genes are involved in
giving Vincent his unique characteristics, or where they are ... they
could all be on the Y chromosome. If that's the case, a son could
take after him but a daughter show none of those traits whatever."
Catherine sighed. "I was hoping our children would
inherit his hair ... it's so much more beautiful than mine ... and
his eyes ..." She suddenly became aware of the tone of her voice and
blushed. "Oops. Do I sound like someone who's got it bad?"
"In my professional opinion, you're an incurable case,"
Helen grinned. "But it does bring up another point. We really don't
know which characteristics belong to the human side of Vincent and
which to ... well, to whatever else he is. Since I haven't had the
chance to examine him, can I ask you a question at the risk of making
you blush even more?"
"What?" Catherine asked dubiously.
"Just how different is he from other men? All I've had
the chance to see is his face and hands. I'm sorry if it embarrasses
you, but it would really be useful."
"Oh God," Catherine replied helplessly. "Part of me wants
to crawl under the rug, and part of me is thrilled to have another
woman besides my friend Jenny to talk with about this."
She took a deep breath. "OK. Other than what anyone can
see, there isn't that much. He'd have claws on his feet if he let
them grow, but he keeps them trimmed so he doesn't have to wear steel
socks. He's awfully furry, but it follows the same distribution
pattern as any man, it's just thicker, and softer-more like fur than
hair. It's especially thick on his chest, and lower arms and
legs--like you've seen on his hands. But on his sides you can see his
skin through it, and you can see there's none on his neck and throat.
He's heavy for his size because he's so muscular."
Helen looked not only fascinated but impressed. "Hmm.
Those are all relatively superficial differences. What about this
exceptional strength I've heard about?"
"He's amazingly strong, but he's not Superman. I once saw
him fight another man who was unusually strong, and it was a near
thing. His claws really saved him, and the fact that he was fighting
for my life at the time. He's got an amazing constitution; I've seen
him able to fight or run with injuries that would have most men
unconscious. He can see in the dark better than anyone, and his
hearing is very acute; his stamina is remarkable."
"A lot of what you describe is a difference in degree,
not in kind. I've seen what medical records Peter and Father have on
him, and in many ways he's not that far from the upper range of human
abilities. Some things--his strength, his heart rate--are within the
upper limits of the range. You may discover that many of those
characteristics belong to his human part, which is probably a larger
percentage of the total than most people think, including him."
Catherine impulsively reached out to take Helen's hand.
"Do you think you could get him to believe that?"
"I promise I'll suggest it at every opportunity. I know
I'm pretty new to all this, and I don't want to sound like some
arrogant young whippersnapper, but I think there's a good possibility
Vincent's differences are not so great as he's been led to believe."
"An ally at last!" Catherine rejoiced. "What about his
strange reactions to drugs? And the lab that thought we sent animal
"I'm not saying he doesn't have biochemical differences,"
Helen warned her, "he clearly does. But people have unusual drug
reactions who don't look like Vincent. And the lab--well, they deal
with pretty high volume. If they found anything in the least
anomalous they'd just bounce it back to get it out of the way. I'd
like to study it more. What this means for you," Helen said, "is that
many of his characteristics could be perfectly human ones heritable
by a child of either sex. So you may get those beautiful blond babies
Catherine beamed. "Doctor, has anyone told you your
couchside manner is terrific?"
Catherine and Helen got along so well they were still in
the living room talking up a storm when Vincent arrived. Catherine
was astonished to realize it was almost dinnertime.
"Helen, would you like to stay?" She asked. "Can you?
I've been talking so much about myself I don't even know if you have
a family I'm keeping you away from."
"I'd love to stay, actually, if it's not too much
trouble. My husband's out of town right now, and I'm on the
midnight-to-dawn shift in ER these days. Can I help with dinner?"
Vincent insisted he was perfectly capable of turning out
a passable dinner, and proceeded to do so while Catherine and Helen
continued their animated conversation in the living room.
After a meal that was much more than passable, Catherine
brought up something that had been puzzling her ever since Peter had
first told her about the potential new Helper.
"Helen," Catherine began tentatively, "Peter seemed
awfully certain that you and I would hit it off. Somehow I got the
impression there was more to it than the fact you're an extremely
"I got the same idea from him," Helen admitted, "and
after hearing the story of your life today I think I've got it
figured out. We actually have a lot in common."
"Like what?" Catherine asked. "Certainly not our height."
"Or our color, I notice you didn't mention." Helen became
serious. "I had a very privileged and insulated background, Cathy. My
parents were both upper middle class--my mother grew up in Atlanta,
my father in New England. I was born there, but we moved to Hawaii
when I was very small; I lived there until college."
"What do your parents do?" Vincent asked, curious.
"My dad's a biologist; mom's an anthropologist. They
still teach in Hawaii. Between our money, and growing up in a place
where a racial and cultural mix was a fact of life, I was spared a
lot of the bad experiences I might have had elsewhere."
"How did you end up in New York?" Catherine wondered.
"By way of Stanford, where I met my husband. I came
partly because he wanted to go to law school here, and partly because
I was beginning to feel unhappy at the kind of privileged life I was
"I think I'm beginning to get the picture," Catherine
Helen nodded. "I had no experience as dramatic as yours,
Cathy, it was more a gradually increasing dissatisfaction. And Daniel
had something to do with it, too."
"Daniel?" Vincent asked. "Is that your husband?"
Helen nodded. "He always had a strongly developed social
conscience. He's a terrific lawyer and could make a fortune at the
kind of firm Cathy started out in--but he's never wanted to do
anything but public-interest law."
"Peter said you planned to specialize in anesthesiology,"
Vincent said, "which makes you extremely valuable to us if Catherine
needs that. Was the change to emergency medicine part of your desire
to be of more help to others?"
"Very perceptive," Helen nodded. "For many of the poor,
the emergency room is the only medical care they ever get. Besides,"
she confided, "I discovered that other MDs think anesthesiologists
"I can see now why Peter was so sure we'd like each
other," Catherine told her. "I guess we've followed a similar path in
"More than you think," Helen replied softly. "You see, I
can also sympathize with what it means to have a love that's
not-socially acceptable, shall we say."
"Your husband--" Vincent began.
"Is white," Helen concluded. "Very white--mostly Irish,
with a touch of French and Swedish. I know it's hardly in the
same category as the problem you and Cathy have--but
there are plenty of places in this world even now where our marriage
would be viewed as a capital offense. It's more hidden these days,
but it's still there."
"I hope we get to meet him," Catherine said warmly.
"You certainly will, Cathy," Helen agreed. "I think it
might take a while to convince those Below that he should be let on
the Big Secret over there." Helen waved her hand in Vincent's
direction. "You know, Daniel loves to play chess," she said
thoughtfully. "Maybe the possibility of a new partner would influence
"Does your husband play chess well?" Vincent
"He's a terrific player!" Helen replied enthusiastically.
Catherine laughed and shook her head. "Then believe me,
you'd be better off not to mention it at all."
Even as Vincent felt himself waking, he wondered if
Catherine's distress had disturbed his sleep again. For only two
babies, they seemed at least four times as active as one. Their
vigorous movement often kept Catherine awake; sometimes she would
spend many of the night hours in the rocking chair, trying to quiet
them. As he became gradually more alert, Vincent knew Catherine was
beside him, but something seemed wrong. He usually woke quickly, but
this time he seemed to be clawing his way to consciousness from the
bottom of a deep pit. And that smell in the air--something all too
familiar to him, he knew, but not pleasant ... that coppery tang of
Suddenly awake, the sound of screaming assaulted him.
Turning to Catherine in blind panic, he saw the agony on her face as
the horrible lake of red poured from her belly to stain the sheets
around them. When he saw the small clawed hands emerging from the
wound, he tried to hold her torn flesh together with his own hands.
As the blood matted his fur, he heard hideous roaring screams of pain
and fear, only dimly realizing they came from himself. Despair
overcame him as he saw all his dreams shattering around him. All he
had ever wanted to give her was love, and he had brought her only
"Vincent! My God, Darling, wake up, please! VINCENT!"
It took a while for Vincent to turn from the hideous
vision inside himself and focus on his surroundings. The first thing
that penetrated was Catherine's face, filled not with pain but fear
and confusion. Blindly he reached out to touch the smooth,
unblemished skin over her rounded belly. The sheets, though
hopelessly tangled around them, were unstained.
As Vincent's pounding heart gradually subsided, the
tapestry covering the door was flung aside and Father rushed into the
room carrying his medical bag, followed closely by Mary. Only the
surety of a dire medical emergency would have caused him to ignore
their privacy, but the screams that tore the night apart were like
nothing ever heard Below, even from Vincent. Catherine was too
concerned for Vincent to care about, or even notice, their nakedness.
The look of terror on Vincent's face frightened her even more than
the pounding of his heart and the deep, rasping breaths that swelled
his chest. His panicked eyes kept moving from her face to her belly,
where his hand still rested.
Her hands moved incessantly, sweeping the wild tangle of
hair from his face; caressing his cheeks, his chest, his back-trying
to wipe away that horrible look of fear. "Vincent, dearest, it was
only a dream. Everything's all right."
With an inarticulate cry, Vincent took her in his arms
and buried his face against her neck. Holding him, Catherine looked
helplessly at Father over his shoulder. Father shook his head. His
experience of Vincent's dreams was several decades beyond
Catherine's, but he remembered none so terrifying as this one seemed
Eventually, Catherine's caresses seemed to calm him
enough that he pulled away from her toward the concerned faces around
him. Mary tucked a comforter around them both, more concerned about
possible shock than modesty. "What did you dream, Vincent?" Catherine
asked him gently. "Please tell us, love--don't hold it in."
Haltingly, he began to describe the dream, his head bowed
so his face was hidden by a curtain of gold. Telling it was almost as
painful as experiencing it, but he knew the wisdom of doing so,
rather than leaving the hideous images to fester inside him. When he
finally raised a tear-streaked face to his wife, he was pained to see
the tears that covered hers. As he watched, her look of pain turned
to one of anger, and she pounded one small fist against the mattress.
"Damn Paracelsus! Damn him to Hell!"
Father sighed and sank heavily into a chair by the bed.
"An understandable sentiment, Catherine," he said wearily, "But
probably unnecessary. I'm sure he did that quite effectively by
himself." He looked at his son. "Vincent, I thought you had conquered
your fears about this pregnancy. You seemed happy about it."
"I thought I had conquered them as well," he said
miserably. "It seems I was wrong."
"Vincent," Father began unhappily, "I know I seem to
dwell on possible complications; I'm afraid it's my fault that you
"Father, no!" Vincent interrupted. "You have only
expressed reasonable caution. I have no one to blame but myself."
Mary's soft voice pulled Vincent's attention from his own
misery. "Vincent, in six months Catherine has shown no evidence of
any problems other than tiredness and mild anemia. Neither of those
are at all unusual in any woman carrying twins. She's doing
beautifully, Vincent, really. We wouldn't lie to you if there were
any cause for worry; believe me, there isn't."
Vincent looked at her with gratitude, but lowered his
head again without replying.
Father rose and picked up his bag. "Well, it appears that
my medical assistance won't be needed. I imagine the best we can do
is leave you two alone so you can try to sleep." Neither looked at
him as he ushered Mary out the door--Catherine's eyes were on
Vincent, and Vincent's eyes were on his lap. With a shake of the
head, Father left, letting the tapestry curtain fall behind him to
cover the door.
Catherine slept most of the next day, exhausted by her
worry for her husband as well as lack of sleep. Vincent hovered
around her all morning in mute misery, then disappeared soon after
lunch when she fell asleep again. An hour after that, Mary went in
determined search of him, finally tracking him down in the Chamber of
the Falls. He sat with his arms wrapped around his legs, chin resting
on drawn-up knees, the very picture of depression and
self-recrimination. Mary watched him quietly for several minutes,
then squared her shoulders, lifted her chin, and went forward to
beard the lion in his den.
"Vincent, may I talk with you?"
The fact that he hadn't heard Mary approach told her
volumes about the depth of his brooding. After his initial startled
response, Vincent motioned her to sit beside him, but kept his eyes
fixed on the waterfall.
"Vincent," Mary began in a businesslike fashion, "you
know Catherine is determined to have the twins without any
medication." This statement didn't seem to call for a response, so
Vincent made none. "That's quite wise of her," Mary continued, "since
analgesics are discouraged in a twin birth."
Vincent remained silent. Mary plunged ahead. "With only
three months left--possibly less, since twins are often early--it's
time to begin serious preparation for that birth. It's quite possible
to bear a child with little or no pain--or at least none that can't
be managed--if a woman has been trained in what to do, and is
properly motivated. Catherine is as motivated as any woman I've ever
seen. But Vincent, you have an important decision to make."
"Me?" Vincent finally turned his head to face Mary.
"Vincent, the most important factor in controlling pain
in childbirth is being able to relax."
"Catherine has been doing the relaxation exercises you
showed her," Vincent insisted. "You said she was making excellent
"And she is," Mary agreed. "But there's more to it than
that. Being able to relax one's muscles so completely is not easy,
Vincent. Emotional tension can cause muscle tension, and that leads
to pain. If you aren't able to overcome your fears, we had better
make some decisions now about other ways to handle this birth."
"What do you mean?" Vincent demanded.
"Vincent, the husband doesn't have to be the labor
coach, you know, even though it's preferred. You would have been
ideal, because of that wonderful voice of yours--sometimes a woman in
second-stage labor gets so relaxed between contractions not even the
doctor's voice will penetrate, only her husband's. Catherine will be
disappointed, I'm sure, but she's a sensible young woman and will see
the wisdom of it. I'm sure Jenny would be happy to do it, she and
Catherine are very close ... of course, it might be difficult for her
to get the time off work ... but then there's Jamie, of course!
Jamie's so fond of Catherine, and she's such a strong, intelligent
girl--yes, Jamie would be an excellent choice ... or perhaps--"
Mary had been surreptitiously observing Vincent's
increasing agitation out of the corner of her eye. Suddenly, he rose
to his feet in one swift movement, hair and cape swirling with the
force of it.
"Why Vincent, dear, what's wrong?"
"Catherine is my wife, bearing my children!
Do you think I would let anyone else guide her through this? My place
is by her side."
"Well, ideally, yes, of course, dear," Mary soothed him,
"but if you aren't able to do it I'm sure Catherine will
"I can do it," Vincent almost shouted, "and I will!"
"Now really, Vincent, after last night--" Mary
tut-tutted. "There's no reason to be ashamed. More than one husband
has been unable to put aside his own fear in a situation like this;
why, I remember one poor young man who was such a phobia about
"Mary," Vincent said in a voice that would brook no
disagreement, "there will be no repeats of last night. You are not to
suggest or even consider that anyone else do this for my wife."
Turning on his heel, Vincent stormed out of the Chamber of the Falls
toward the home chambers and Catherine.
Mary watched him go. Not until he turned around the bend
did she allow her self-satisfied smile free rein. Rising to her feet,
she dusted off her hands in the gesture of a job well done, and
His duties Below finished for the moment, Vincent made
his way through the Tunnels towards the entrance to the house that he
and Catherine shared Above. As her time grew closer, she spent more
time there than Below, at the insistence of her extensive medical
team. Vincent seemed to have little to do these days, aside from his
teaching. Construction and repair crews never included him anymore,
and all the many small tasks he had been accustomed to perform, from
moving heavy furniture to reading sick children to sleep, were
apparently not required or being taken on by someone else. What a
coincidence that his workload had suddenly become so light just when
Catherine began spending most of her time Above. Vincent smiled
gratefully. He knew a conspiracy when he saw one.
Since Catherine could not now go Below as much, the whole
community seemed to have decided to bring Below to her. She was
seldom alone when he wasn't with her. Jamie, Mouse, Rebecca,
Samantha, Eric, Mary, Father and countless others took turns at
Catherine- watch. Although it was unlikely anything would happen so
suddenly to Catherine Vincent wouldn't feel it, he was grateful for
his friends' concern. If nothing else, it kept Catherine from being
lonely and bored. In fact, she had laughingly confessed to him just
last night that the Chandler-Wells residence was beginning to
resemble Grand Central Station.
Mouse was having a wonderful time inventing elaborate
devices to make Catherine's life easier. His pride and joy was a
chair with a tray attached to hold her computer keyboard, wide enough
so she could sit Indian-style and "stretch the baby door," as Mary
put it. He had gleefully planned an elaborate system of pulleys and
ropes so Catherine wouldn't have to climb stairs, and abandoned it
with great reluctance when Catherine hastened to tell him the house
possessed a tiny elevator, installed during the last illness of
Edna's late husband.
As Vincent reached the hidden stairway, he sensed that
Catherine was on the top floor. Opening the wall panel to enter the
solarium, he noticed with surprise that the shoji screen which
usually sat in a corner of the room was under the skylight, blocking
his view as well as that from the room's more conventional door.
Suddenly Jamie's head popped out from behind the screen and
immediately popped back again.
"It's OK, it's Vincent," Jamie said to someone behind the
screen--presumably Catherine. His wife's reply was not quite
intelligible, but it resulted in a giggle from Jamie, who emerged
from behind the screen again and moved toward Vincent.
"Hi," she greeted him cheerfully. "As long as you're
here, I guess I'll make myself scarce."
"You needn't leave, Jamie," Vincent assured her.
"Catherine enjoys your company."
"Oh, I've been here for hours," Jamie replied breezily.
"We've been talking up a storm."
"About what?" Vincent asked suspiciously.
"Oh, all sorts of things. Being older than me, and a wife
and mother (almost, anyway) and all that--Catherine's got lots of
good advice. Say, did you just come from Below? Do you know where
Mouse is now?"
"He was helping Cullen with the cradle. Having to redo it
to fit twins has put things behind schedule."
"Thanks." Jamie grinned. "Well, have a nice afternoon."
Vincent shook his head in amusement at her rather
transparent train of thought. Poor Mouse didn't have a chance.
Instead of leaving by way of the secret panel, Jamie chose to exit by
the door into the hall. Curious. As he turned toward the screen,
Vincent heard her lock the door behind her.
Stepping behind the screen, Vincent stopped in his
tracks. Catherine was sitting on a blanket placed on the floor,
leaning comfortably against a backrest. The filtered sunlight
spilling through the frosted glass made her skin glow. This was quite
noticeable, since she wore tiny gold earrings, her crystal necklace,
and nothing else.
"Catherine!" he sputtered. "What--"
"Sit down, dear," she replied, patting the blanket beside
her and looking up at him with a langorous smile. "I'm doing this on
medical advice. Why don't you take off that cape first? It's much too
warm in here for that."
"Helen and Mary," Catherine explained, "have been telling
me that in benighted cultures such as ours, where people run around
with lots of clothes on all the time, it's a good idea to--well,
toughen up the lunch counter, so to speak."
Vincent looked hopelessly confused for a moment, then
light dawned. "You mean this has something to do with breastfeeding?"
"You clever man," Catherine congratulated him. "With two
babies--especially if they inherit their father's appetite--I'd
better be good and prepared. Actually, I should be sitting in direct
sunlight, but I'm not about to go onto the roof like this; with my
luck there's sure to be some weirdo out there with binoculars. I
thought I might as well sit under the skylight at least--maybe it'll
have a placebo effect."
"How often are you supposed to do this?" Vincent asked.
"Actually, it would be great if I just walked around
topless all day from now on," Catherine replied sweetly. "But I
thoughtthat might be upsetting to Mouse and Eric and Fa--"
"Not to mention me," Vincent interrupted in a strangled
"Really?" Catherine asked innocently. "Well, there's lots
of other things that help ... massage, for instance, like this ...
Vincent saw. He couldn't take his eyes away. Catherine
was right--it was very warm in here.
"Of course," Catherine went on, "it gets pretty boring
after a while to do this all by yourself. And there are other really
useful things that just can't be done without help."
"Such as?" Vincent's voice was getting very gravelly.
"Well, think about what the babies are going to do to
these poor, delicate little--well, not as little as they used to be,
I admit--breasts of mine ... " Catherine sighed. "The more trialruns,
so to speak, the better off I'll be later." The look of wide-eyed
innocence was belied by the flicker in those eyes.
Vincent looked into their green depths for a long moment
as a slow smile transformed his features. Father did not raise stupid
sons. As his hand reached toward one breast and his mouth lowered
toward the other, he felt Catherine's contented sigh as her hands
buried themselves in his hair. So this was why Jamie locked the door.
When Vincent came to bed that night, Catherine was
sitting up with one end of a stethoscope in her ears and the other
against her belly. She grabbed her husband's hand excitedly as soon
as he got close enough. "Oh Vincent, this is wonderful! Father was
right, I can hear their heartbeats! They're so strong, just like you
Vincent's own ears were so sensitive he had noticed the
rhythmic sounds when he laid his head against her, which he seemed to
love doing at every opportunity. When Catherine confided her
disappointment that she couldn't--even if her ears had been good
enough her bending ability certainly wasn't these days--Father had
laughed and told her it was time she might be able to hear them
herself with a little help.
When Vincent slipped into bed beside her, Catherine put
the stethoscope on the nightstand and turned to give him a resounding
kiss. That horrible dream he'd had a month ago apparently had a
cathartic effect. Ever since then, Vincent seemed to be looking
forward to the birth as much as she. His arm slid around her asshe
snuggled her head against his shoulder. Catherine was sure that he
still had some fears buried deep; they wouldn't leave him completely
until he held his children in his arms. She was equally sure that all
would be well. Giving birth would be a lot less trying than being
pregnant; at least she'd get to do something other than lie
around becoming an increasingly more accurate imitation of the
Vincent rubbed his cheek against her hair and kissed the
top of her head. "I wish you weren't so uncomfortable at night," he
sighed. "It worries me that you get so little sleep."
Catherine patted his hand reassuringly. "It'll get worse
before it gets better, love, but don't worry about it. I make up for
some of it during the day."
"What do you mean, it'll get worse?" he asked, anything
"Well, those contractions Father warned me about have
started, and they'll get more frequent as time goes on. The bigger I
get, the harder it is to find a comfortable position. And after
they're born, I'll be feeding them all the time. I figure I can sleep
when they're weaned." Catherine raised herhead from Vincent's
shoulder and laughed at the morose look on his face.
"Why the sudden concern?" she asked. "You've been messing
up my sleep for six years now."
"What do you mean?" he demanded indignantly.
"Well, to begin with, it was partly your fault that I
changed from a nice underworked corporate lawyer in Daddy's firm to
Catherine Chandler, Crimebuster. When I think of how many nights I
spent roaming around scummy parts of town, following up leads, not to
mention wading through paperwork ... "
"Which you stopped doing when you believed it put me in
danger," he said gently.
"Well, the paperwork didn't stop. And then, I'd come home
from a long day at work and spend most of the night on my balcony
with you instead of catching up on my sleep."
"I thought you didn't mind," Vincent replied with a
"Of course I didn't mind!" Catherine exclaimed in
exasperation. "You're the one who thinks sleep is so important, not
"What about after you bought the house? I don't have to
wait until darkness to see you anymore."
"Well, in the last three and a half years you've found
all sorts of delightful ways to interfere with my sleep," Catherine
purred. "Not every night, but often enough to make all my girl
friends madly jealous if they knew."
"Catherine!" Vincent laughed. "You're incorrigible."
"Don't blame me, you're the one who turned out to be so
talented. I wonder if the progeny will inherit that from you? If so,
we'd better keep it quiet or we'll have to beat off an army of
suitors when they reach puberty."
Vincent was suddenly very quiet, and the smile fled from
his face. Catherine knew at once what was wrong; inevitably the
doubts would overwhelm him again as the birth approached. It was past
time they talked about it once more.
"Vincent--dear heart--tell me what you're thinking."
"I was thinking," he admitted sadly, "that our children
may never forgive me for what they inherit."
"Vincent--we've talked about this before, years ago. I
never would have tried to have children, no matter how much I wanted
to, if you hadn't agreed. You did agree," she reminded him.
"I agreed to a possibility, one that few believed could
ever became actuality." He spread his large, furred hand over her
stomach. "But now, that actuality is only two months away. What if
either or both of these children is like me? Did I have the right to
inflict that pain on anyone else?"
"Vincent," Catherine said gently. "Even if we have a
child like you--and nothing would make me happier--it won't be you.
Our children will have a different life." She put her hand on top of
his, stroking the furred back lovingly. "Dearest, I know you've
always believed you were abandoned because your parents, or your
mother at least, couldn't bear the sight of you. I don't think that's
true, I can think of lots of other explanations. But even if that
were true in your case, it certainly won't be for our children.
They'll have both parents with them from the minute they're born, and
they'll always know how loved and wanted they are."
"I never doubted Father loved me," Vincent replied. "It
didn't take away the pain of being different."
"Vincent, much of your pain was not just because you were
different, but unique--utterly alone in that difference. Don't you
see, that's something a child of ours will never know. If they're
both like you, they'll have each other." Catherine twined her fingers
around Vincent's and lifted his hand to rub it against her cheek.
"Even if only one takes after you, he, orshe, will still have you.
And how could any intelligent child not be proud to take after such a
"Oh, Catherine." Vincent wrapped his arms around his wife
and held her as close as he could. She gently stroked his back as he
held her, knowing from the catch in his voice he was fighting back
tears. After a long while, he pulled back and lay against the
pillows, his eyes closed.
"Even with all that," he went on, "a child like me will
be confined to life Below. Will I ever be forgiven for that?"
"Look at me," Catherine commanded gently. As he opened
his eyes, she put her hand on his chest and looked directly into
their beautiful blue depths. "There are people born in the Tunnels
who live their whole lives there, out of choice, like Pascal. Do you
think he feels trapped? And remember, plenty of children Above lead
lives more miserable and restricted than anyone Below could dream
of--I know that only too well. Besides, you've done pretty well
despite restrictions, haven't you? Do you remember what that
irreverent brother of yours said to you just before our wedding?"
The pain in Vincent's eyes gradually gave way the
faintest beginnings of a smile. "I remember."
"Quote, please," Catherine insisted, doing her best
imitation of Father.
"Little brother," Vincent recited, "I've been all around
the world and here I am still single. You spend your whole life in a
hole in the ground and snag the most eligible woman in New York."
Catherine turned out the lamp and snuggled into her most
comfortable position, one leg draped over her husband's thigh. "Don't
you ever forget it, buster," she laughed as they settled themselves
Catherine stood in her dressing room without a stitch on,
scowling glumly at the shirt which had managed to slip off its hanger
and land on the floor. The prospect of trying to retrieve it was so
depressing she had just about decided to ignore it and wear something
else. Turning in disgust to rummage for an alternative, she caught a
sudden glimpse of herself in the full-length mirror and almost jumped
out of her skin. Dammit, had Vincent closed the bathroom door?
Glumly, Catherine realized how assiduously she had been avoiding
mirrors lately. She stared in growing dismay at the sight of her
suddenly unfamiliar body.
What had happened to the Catherine Chandler who was so
proud of her small waist she wore all those wide belts to show it
off? The petite woman with long neck and exquisite bone structure
that Vincent loved to trace with his fingers? She had wished for
bigger breasts since she was a teenager--now she had them, but they
felt and looked like they belonged to someone else. God, her face was
so bloated, and her ankles looked more appropriatefor some poor bag
lady who had to wear slippers all the time because shoes wouldn't fit
over the swelling. And everything stuck out so--nipples, navel, not
to mention that huge bulge in front that made her look like a snake
who'd swallowed a wildebeest.
After weeks of avoiding this confrontation with herself,
Catherine was horrified. It was worse than she thought, she was
grotesque. How could Vincent stand to look at her? How grateful he
must be that her usually insatiable appetite for his lovemaking had
at last been reduced in the face of her increasing discomfort. He
still seemed to want to touch and caress her at every opportunity,
but he must be forcing himself so she wouldn't feel unloved.
Catherine's lip began to tremble. The sight of her disgusted him, she
was sure of it, and he was hiding it from her.
Catherine almost jumped out of her skin when the last
person on earth she wanted to see suddenly appeared in the doorway.
She stood rooted to the spot in horror; there was no place to hide.
The unexpected sight of her hadn't given him time to hide his
revulsion--look at that strange look on his face! He couldn't stand
the sight of her, he might as well admit it.
"What is it?" she heard herself ask accusingly. "What are
"Catherine--" he stared. "I didn't expect ... "
"I'm sure you didn't," she said testily. "Answer my
He spread his hands helplessly. "I was just
thinking--I've never seen you look more beautiful."
If Vincent had been surprised at her question,
Catherine's response to his heartfelt reply thoroughly disconcerted
him. She began to cry with great abandon, soaking the front of his
shirt when he reached out instinctively to hold her close--or as
close as was possible these days. Vincent had once feared the idea of
Catherine in childbirth, but he was beginning to look forward to it
with great eagerness all of a sudden.
Catherine began to blubber again in telling the story,
but Jenny had the presence of mind to see it coming and keep her best
friend well supplied with tissues. Catherine blew her nose and
continued her narrative.
"God, Jenny, what poor Vincent must be going through.
Feeling my emotions through the bond--by now he must think he's on
the world's biggest and most unpredictable roller-coaster."
"Look at it this way," Jenny suggested cheerfully, "it'll
keep him so discombobulated he'll forget to worry about B-day. So
how've you been feeling, anyway?"
"As well as any woman can expect who weighs a thousand
pounds," Catherine replied grumpily.
"Now, Cath, you're exaggerating, Jenny replied. "You
don't look an ounce over five hundred."
Catherine began to laugh in spite of herself. "Well, I
still have those damn leg cramps, and if I take any more calcium I'll
start to solidify. Vincent's leg rubs work better anyway.
A full night's sleep is a distant memory. Not only do the
Chandler-Wells offspring spend most of the night wrestling or dancing
the fandango ... "
"Maybe you've got another Fred and Adelle in there,"
"Or Hulk Hogan and--shoot, I don't know the names of any
other wrestlers. Anyway, I can't find a position that's comfortable
for more than half an hour. At least I don't have trouble breathing
any more, and despite the way I look, I don't feel quite so heavy."
"Does this mean something?" Jenny asked.
"It usually means the baby's moved down, according to my
sterling team of doctors," Catherine told her.
"Well, that sounds promising," Jenny said brightly.
"Maybe that means you'll be early."
"Ha!" Catherine replied. "If there's one thing I've
learned from all the reading and doctor-badgering I've done, it's
that an 'average' pregnancy is a myth. Peter tells me it could mean
only two more weeks, or four more weeks. Great. No two books agree on
what average is, but I guess it doesn't matter, since nobody has an
average anything anyway."
"At least you don't have to stay in bed so much now,"
Jenny reminded her.
"Right. That gives me more time to perfect my waddle,"
Catherine retorted. "God, I wish this were over with! Everybody's as
nervous as cats."
Jenny began to giggle helplessly. "What's so funny?"
"Speaking of Vincent," Jenny choked out.
"You rat!" Catherine couldn't help joining in her
laughter. "Having you for an honorary aunt is going to warp our kids
"Speaking as an honorary aunt," Jenny continued when she
got her breath back, "I'm reminding you I expect to be notified as
soon as the blessed event is underway. I insist on being here to
"Jenny, I'd love to have you here, you know that--even
though our biggest problem isn't going to be lack of help, but
keeping the crowds down. But how could you get off work on short
notice? Fall is the biggest time for a publishing house."
"Listen," Jenny replied smugly, "I'm the fair-haired
editor around there ever since I discovered one of their best-selling
authors. They're terrified I might go elsewhere and take the
lucrative John Winslow with me."
"AKA Devin Wells," Catherine grinned. "So he's still
selling like hotcakes?"
"Better all the time--especially that space opera series
of his; we can hardly print those fast enough. Boy, I owe you for
that one, Cathy."
"Owe me? You're the one who got him published."
"Sure, but you're the one who first got him thinking
about trying a legal way of telling lies," Jenny reminded her.
"So he owes us both," Catherine grinned wickedly. "He can
pay me back by babysitting whenever he sets foot in Manhattan."
She raised her glass of skim milk. "To fiction!"
"To fiction," Jenny echoed. "Say, the setup in the
'birthing room' looks pretty impressive. I didn't know they made
double hospital beds."
"I didn't either until Helen told me," Catherine
admitted. "She'd seen them in some birthing centers and thought
something like that would be just the ticket for me and Vincent. Poor
dear, he'd have the babies for me if he could figure out a way
to do it; at least this will let him get as close as he can."
"Cathy ... " Jenny began.
"Well, I was wondering--with this bond of yours, isn't it
possible that Vincent will get too involved--not be able to coach you
like he's supposed to?"
"He insists it won't be a problem. Remember, what he
picks up from me are emotions. Even if part of the labor is painful,
he won't feel the pain, but my emotional reaction to it. And I'm sure
my emotional reaction to that kind of pain will be--I don't
know--determination, excitement, elation. Nothing negative."
"Should be pretty interesting for him, no matter what,"
"Well, on the off chance it's so interesting he passes
out or something, Jamie's been trained as a backup," Catherine
confided. "Vincent resisted that at first, but Mary insisted that it
was a reasonable precaution, since she'd be too busy midwifing. Jamie
was eager to learn, anyway--said it could come in handy in the
"You mean when other Tunnel women had babies."
"Sure," Catherine replied nonchalantly.
Jenny looked at Catherine suspiciously for a moment, then
grinned. "You've become such a yenta, you know that? Mouse is
"Aaronson," Catherine warned, "shut up and drink your
Vincent woke to discover Catherine sitting up beside him,
leaning against the headboard. He frowned. Poor Catherine looked so
tired these days; if only she didn't have such trouble sleeping.
"Catherine--how long have you been awake?"
"A couple of hours," she replied distractedly, looking at
the glowing face of the bedside clock.
"You should have wakened me, love," he chided gently.
"Shall I rub your back? Perhaps that will help you sleep."
She turned to him in the darkness. Only eyes like his
could have seen the slow smile she gave. "Vincent, I don't think
either one of us will be sleeping for a good long time."
Suddenly the feelings of amusement and--excitement that
flowed through the bond made sense. "Catherine!" he grabbed her
shoulders. "You don't mean ... "
"Nice regular contractions, every fifteen minutes, for
over an hour." She took a deep breath. "I think this is it."
"But--it's too early! You're not due for three weeks!"
"Two and a half, actually. That doesn't really count as
early, especially with twins." Catherine touched her husband's cheek
in reassurance. "It's OK."
Vincent turned on the bedside lamp so he could see
Catherine's face better. She looked excited, elated as she took his
hands in hers. "Oh, Vincent, just think--by this time tomorrow we'll
be parents! Our children will actually be here!" She grinned even
wider. "They're probably early because they can't wait to meet their
"Oh, Catherine--I love you so much." Vincent held her in
his arms a moment, then kissed her slowly, tenderly. Reluctantly
releasing her, he drank in the sight of her glowing face. "Will you
be all right? I must notify Father."
"Go ahead, pound the pipes, I'll be fine." She shook her
head. "Poor Father; I hate to drag him out at four in the morning,
but he'll have a fit if we wait. I'll call Peter." She took Vincent's
face in her hands and they kissed once more, very gently. "Don't
worry--believe me, we've got plenty of time."
As soon as Vincent received excited confirmation from
Pascal that his message had been received and would be passed on, he
ran back up the stairs to rejoin Catherine. A tousled but no longer
sleepy Father, accompanied by Mary and Jamie, was the first to
arrive, followed closely by Peter--who grumbled that Catherine seemed
inordinately pleased that she had managed to wake him up in the
middle of the night. Catherine only grinned--she had rather enjoyed
it. Helen, assured there was no reason for hurry, joined them shortly
after her hospital shift ended at dawn. Catherine insisted there was
no need to drag Jenny out of bed until then, at least. Once her
plethora of doctors had assured themselves that Catherine was,
indeed, in labor, they retreated to the kitchen to stoke up on coffee
and leave Vincent and Catherine alone until called for.
They walked around the house at first, especially the
library; sometimes Vincent would pull a book from the shelves and
softly read passages to Catherine--everything from Sonnets from
the Portuguese to an ancient Aztec "Poem to Ease Birth."
Catherine was touched to think of him poring through
books Above and Below throughout the months of her pregnancy,
choosing things to read to her during the long hours of waiting. When
a contraction came, she would bend over slightly, leaning against
Vincent's body, breathing carefully until it passed. He held her
gently as a flower, his hand on her abdomen, lips brushing her hair.
At intervals, someone would peek in quietly to check on the
parents-to-be. Sometimes Catherine would ask for ice to suck; most of
the time she barely seemed to notice, concentrating on strange but
exciting sensations inside her, and the reassuring presence of
Vincent at her side.
"So how long is this likely to last?" Jenny asked, too
nervous to sit still.
"Relax, Jenny," Peter encouraged. "It'll be hours yet
before things get interesting."
"I'll bet they're pretty interesting for Catherine right
now," Jamie retorted.
"Not to mention Vincent," Helen added.
"Anything is interesting to those two as long as they're
together," Father laughed. "Even watching crystals grow." His face
clouded. "They look so happy, so excited. I pray nothing goes wrong."
"Oh, for heaven's sake," Mary exploded. "Everything seems
to be going quite well. The babies are in a good position, Catherine
and Vincent have been well trained in what to do ..."
"By the best of teachers," Father conceded.
"Thank you," Mary replied primly.
"Sounds more like grandfather jitters than professional
concern to me," Peter accused. "Calm down, Jacob, and let yourself
enjoy the process. Even Vincent's been able to do that, and he's
rather more involved than you are."
Father subsided reluctantly under this multiple assault.
He sighed. "I can hardly wait till it's over."
"I can hardly wait till it's over," Catherine admitted.
Vincent stopped his gentle caresses to look at her with
concern. "Is anything wrong? Are you in pain?"
"No, nothing like that," she reassured him. "I'm just so
eager to see the babies, find out what they're like. Will they be
identical twins or not? Will we get two alike or one of each? This
part just takes so long!"
Vincent held her close as he gently stroked her breast.
"I'm doing my best to help."
"Mmm. You can keep doing that whether it helps or not. I
can't believe you got Father to admit--mm, do that again--that it can
"One of the advantages of being well-read," Vincent
replied with amusement. "He couldn't deny it when I was able to quote
chapter and verse."
"Did you ever tell him about those people in Polynesia or
wherever who make love during labor to help things along?"
"No, I thought that would be too much for him--and that
reference was more dubious." Vincent almost purred as he kissed her
neck. "Would you like to go suggest it to him now?"
Catherine gazed at him in mock horror, which soon
degenerated into giggles. "Oh, it's so tempting, just to see the look
on his face! But somehow, I don't think it's a good idea at this
stage to give your doctor apoplexy--not to mention your
The medical crew was cleaning up after a scratch lunch in
their kitchen headquarters when Vincent and Catherine appeared in the
doorway. "Catherine thinks she'll be more comfortable in bed now,"
"Catherine, do you feel all right?" Father asked
immediately. "Are you experiencing any pain?"
"Not exactly," Catherine said carefully. "But the
contractions are getting pretty close together and more--intense. I
think it's time."
"Well, make sure you take the elevator upstairs," he
commanded, glaring at Vincent.
"Of course, Father," his son answered seriously. He
turned back just before they disappeared from the doorway. "Just
remember," Vincent added as a parting shot, "no one ever gets stuck
on the stairs." The look on Father's face sent everyone into
paroxysms of laughter as they prepared to follow.
As the contractions came ever closer together and
intensified, Catherine found it harder and harder to avoid tensing;
her eyes closed as she concentrated. Vincent's hand rested lightly on
her abdomen, checking her breathing, as his voice flowed around her
like warm cream. It never stopped, conjuring pictures in her mind of
happy, peaceful times they had spent together, telling over and over
again how precious she was to him, how much he loved her. Sometimes
he would recite poetry to her--the rhythmn of the words, spoken in
that beloved voice, relaxed her more effectively than anything else
possibly could. Soon the contractions came so close together they
seemed almost constant; the feeling of pressure and fullness
increased until a moan of pain escaped her.
"Catherine--what's wrong?" Vincent's voice was concerned,
but he kept it calm by force of will.
"My back--" she breathed. "Vincent--help me."
Anticipating Peter's instructions, Vincent turned
Catherine on her side and pressed the heel of his large hand into her
lower back. Catherine almost cried in relief as the pain lessened.
Peter's voice, speaking softly, gradually penetrated her
"Cathy, I know this is the hardest part, but
remember--it's the shortest. Just think of how soon you're going to
see those babies."
"Peter, I've got to push!"
"No, you don't, honey, not yet. I know it's hard to
relax, now, Cathy," Peter reassured her, "But you can do it. Not much
"My dear, brave Catherine," Vincent whispered softly, "I
love you so--breathe gently now, my love--soon ... "
Suddenly, when she was sure it would go on forever, the
backache disappeared, and Catherine felt an overwhelming sense of
relief. "Now?" She demanded? "Do I get to push now?"
"You bet!" Peter replied with feeling. "You're in the
Vincent helped her rise to a sitting position again as
Mary raised up the bed. Vincent kept his arm around her shoulders,
lifting her forward with each contraction, his cheek against hers.
Catherine held Vincent's hand on one side and Jamie's on the other,
squeezing them each time she bore down. After awhile, the relaxation
she sank into between each one became so profound she was aware of
little around her besides Vincent's voice in her ear or lips on her
forehead. He seemed to know without her asking when to wipe her brow
with a cool cloth, or when her lips were dry and needed the gentle
touch of his finger smoothing something soothing on them. Catherine
lost all track of time as she focused on the rhythm of rising,
pushing, when to breathe and when not to. Her concentration was
broken when she began to feel a burning, stretching sensation that
caused a sudden flicker of fear.
"Oh God, I feel like I'm going to burst!"
"You're not, child," Mary said calmly. "Everyone says
that and no one ever does. Give a good push at the next contraction,
and then relax. You'll be seeing your baby very soon."
A little while later, Vincent almost lost his
concentration when Catherine cried out his name and wrapped her arms
around his neck. Her cries, ecstatic tears, and the feelings that
flooded him through the bond were those he had only felt from her
before during the climax of their lovemaking.
"The baby's crowned!" Peter announced exultantly.
"Breathe quickly now, don't push."
Vincent couldn't tell if the overwhelming sense of
excitement and expectation he felt was his, Catherine's or both-and
it didn't really matter, since he had no sense of where one left off
and the other began.
"There's the head!" Mary cried. "Look at your firstborn."
Mary gently rotated the baby's head until it faced the stunned
parents. "Come, now, help with the rest."
Tears were pouring unchecked down Catherine's face as she
reached down to help bring their child into the world. As the tiny
shoulders and torso emerged, Vincent reached out with one hand to
place it under the baby. Catherine knew as long as she lived, she
would never see anything more moving than the sight of that large,
furred hand gently easing the small form from her body.
"Ah, Cathy," Peter whispered in a shaky voice, "she looks
just like you did all those years ago. Say hello to your daughter."
The baby announced her arrival loudly as Mary quickly
cleaned her eyes and mouth and Peter just as quickly checked her
over; then Mary lifted her to Catherine's breast and covered her with
a blanket. With one arm still circling his wife, Vincent rested his
other hand on his daughter under the blanket.
Blinking his tears away to drink in the sight of the tiny
face against Catherine's breast, he marveled at the perfection of it,
overwhelmed by astonishment and relief. "Oh, Catherine," he breathed
when he was finally able to speak, "she's more beautiful than I ever
Catherine's tears began again as the tiny mouth began to
suckle gently. "Oh Vincent--how could any child of yours not be
beautiful? Thank you for such a gift."
Vincent gathered mother and child more closely into his
arms. "Catherine, dearest, it is I who must thank you--for having the
courage to believe this dream could come true--and to make it come
true." He kissed her hair, her forehead, the tracks of tears on her
flushed cheeks. Lost in contemplation of a miracle, both parents
realized only gradually that Father was standing beside them, looking
stunned. Catherine reached out her hand to draw him into their
"Meet Caroline," Catherine said softly.
Wonderingly, Father reached out to touch the downy head
that lay at Catherine's breast. He shook his head, unable to speak at
first. "Ah, Catherine ... Vincent ... there are no words ..."
Squaring his shoulders, Father brought himself back to the job at
"Your task isn't over yet, Catherine," he reminded her.
"But I'm an old hand at this now," Catherine grinned. She
felt exalted, elated--invulnerable. A beaming Jamie gazed smugly upon
the whole family, proud of how well her first foray as assistant
labor coach had gone so far. Jenny and Helen emerged from the corners
of the room to congratulate the new parents and gaze in awe at the
tiny replica of Catherine who suckled contentedly, unaware of the
miracle of her existence.
Within minutes, labor started again. Father and Mary
moved down to escort the second of the Chandler-Wells offspring into
the world, as Peter retired with Jenny to positions as observers. The
new parents reluctantly allowed Helen to remove Caroline temporarily
so Catherine could concentrate on her sibling. The second labor was
easier for Catherine, now that she knew what to expect and was fresh
from the triumph of her daughter's birth. Once again, she experienced
that moment of orgasmic pleasure as the baby's head crowned.
The second baby slipped out all at once, and as Catherine
and Vincent reached for the tiny body to ease its passage Catherine
gave a joyous cry. "Oh, Vincent, how wonderful! Isn't he beautiful?"
Her happy tears began again as her finger traced the line of the tiny
mouth that led to the flat kitten-nose, already kissed with the
faintest line of golden down along its side. Mere ghosts of claws
tipped the tiny fingers that clutched at Catherine's breast. Father's
face, too, was streaked with tears as he remembered that day so many
years ago when a similar magical child was laid in his arms to
transform his life. Not in his wildest imaginings had expected that
day would lead to this.
Vincent looked from Catherine's ecstatic face to Father's
and back to that of his son. Feelings of unalloyed joy washed over
him from Catherine through their bond. And strangely, for the first
time, he sensed more than her presence. Though they were faint and
still unformed, two new flames of consciousness flicked at the edges
of his awareness. His awe at this realization was so great, for a
moment he forget to breathe.
Then Helen brought Caroline back to lay her beside her
brother on Catherine's breast. Looking at his family--his
family--Vincent suddenly knew with total certainty there could be no
doubt about the rightness of such a miracle. He raised his eyes to
scan the faces around him, that looked on them with joy, relief and
unmistakable love. Gathering his wife and children into his arms, he
kissed Catherine's forehead and rested his cheek against her tousled
hair. "Oh, my love-- there is no magic greater than yours."
As he pulled back to see her face, Catherine looked into
the blue depths of his eyes, seeing his fears and doubts melt like
snow in the sun. "Dear, dear, Vincent," she whispered, "there is no
greater magic than love."
The soft light of lamps and candles washed over Vincent
as he lay in bed, holding his sleeping daughter in his arms. Beside
him, Jacob stared enraptured at his mother's face as he still suckled
energetically at her breast. Catherine turned her gaze to her
husband. How peaceful he looked, how happy, now that his great fear
had been laid to rest at last. He was ecstatic at being a father, as
she knew he would be, but still not used to the daily wonder of it.
She smiled. Perhaps he never would be.
Raising his head from his daughter's fascinating face, he
caught his wife watching him with unconcealed indulgence. "What are
you thinking?" He asked softly. Even though the bond sent him
uninterrupted waves of happiness and contentment, it pleased him to
hear the words as well.
"I was just thinking how happy you look," she said
simply, "and how happy it makes me to see you that way."
"Catherine," Vincent replied unexpectedly, "do you know
one of things I love most about you?"
"The fact that, in the entire month that has passed since
our children were born, you never once said, 'I told you so.' "
Catherine smiled at him tenderly. "I didn't have to. You
get that message every time you hold these two, or look into their
faces. I think I may have mentioned it to Father once or twice, I'm
forced to admit."
Vincent laughed softly, shaking his head.
"Catherine--what made you so sure that all would be well?"
Her look was enigmatic. "Because I've come to believe in
magic, and fairy tales. Sometimes a happy ending is the only one that
fits. In fairy tales you have to earn that happiness, but you can be
sure it'll be waiting for you at the end."
"But this isn't the end," Vincent replied.
"No," Catherine agreed, stroking little Jacob's
increasingly sleepy head. "Only the beginning of the
"That's the part the stories never tell," Vincent pointed
"Then I guess that means we'll have to write the book
ourselves," Catherine replied firmly.
"Psst! Can we come in?" Two blond heads peered hopefully
around the open doorway.
"Mouse, Jamie, of course," Catherine invited. "I think
Jacob's finally finishing his dinner."
"Eats lots." Mouse observed. "Like Vincent."
"Yes, he certainly takes after his father," Catherine
agreed. "I wonder if it's the food or the container he finds so
Jamie grinned at Vincent's discomfiture. Mouse screwed up
his face, for a moment, then began to blush.
"Well," Jamie began, taking pity on them both, "we just
wanted to see how the babies were doing." Jamie had taken a
proprietary interest in both children since helping escort them into
Mouse adored them and found them fascinating, if a little
scary. He began to describe elaborate plans for a complicated play
apparatus that sounded like some bizarre hybrid of an erector set and
"Mouse, they're awfully young yet," Catherine interrupted
"Any such plans would require very close supervision,"
Vincent added, unwilling to discourage Mouse but equally unwilling to
trust his precious children to one of that young man's more dubious
"Don't worry," Jamie reassured them, patting Mouse's
shoulder, "I'll take care of it." Catherine grinned openly and even
Vincent couldn't hide the ghost of a smile. Mouse smiled happily too,
not really sure what was going on but glad all his friends were in
such a good mood.
"Like the cradle?" he asked for about the fortieth time.
"Big enough? Babies comfortable?"
"They love it," Catherine replied warmly. "You and Cullen
did a wonderful job."
"OK, good; OK fine!" Mouse exclaimed gleefully as they
headed toward the door. At Vincent's request they lowered the
tapestry behind them, the signal the room's occupants wanted privacy.
Vincent rose to put Caroline into the cradle, then took the
finally-satiated Jacob from Catherine and laid him beside his sister.
He stared at the two sleeping faces for a long time before rejoining
Catherine in their bed. He wrapped his arms around her as she
"I keep remembering," Catherine said quietly, "how happy
everyone was on their naming day. Especially Father."
"He really had no idea we had picked out Jacob Charles."
"Mmm. I'm glad we decided on Caroline Mary. I just wish"
Catherine sighed, "that Charles and Caroline Chandler had been there
to see it."
"Don't you think they were?" Vincent asked as he gently
pushed the shining hair away from her face.
Catherine hugged him gratefully. "Of course. I'm sure
Settling back down, Catherine rubbed her cheek against
Vincent's chest in sleepy contentment. "Are you very tired,
Catherine?" he asked. "You seem to spend so much time feeding these
babies--I worry that you don't get enough sleep."
He could feel her smile against his chest. "Dear heart,
I've never been so indulged in my life. It seems all I have to do is
eat, sleep, and feed babies." As if of its own volition, her hand
began to stroke the soft fur that her cheek rested on. Her voice
turned serious. "I'm so lucky to have such a loving group of friends
and family to help me, not to mention the world's most perfect
husband. So many people have none of that. I know how fortunate I
"You have such a loving, generous spirit, Catherine,"
Vincent whispered softly. "You bring out generosity in others." They
lay quietly for a long time, only the idle tracery of Catherine's
hand on his chest telling Vincent she was still awake. Suddenly she
turned her head to kiss the spot where her cheek had rested, and
trail more kisses along his collarbone and throat until her lips
rested on his. After a long, slow kiss they broke apart to look at
each other's faces.
"Catherine," Vincent marveled, "I can still hardly
believe it. You've made all of my dreams come true."
"Well," she replied seriously, "we'll have to get you
some new dreams. How about Caroline Chandler-Wells, President of the
United States?" No ... " Catherine mused, "better she should do
something honest--a crusading lawyer like mom, or a doctor like
grandpa, or maybe a writer like Uncle Devin, or an artist ... maybe
she'll decide to stay in the Tunnels, and everyone will be asking
'Mother's' advice someday."
"What about Jacob?" Vincent asked carefully.
"Jacob," Catherine announced firmly, "is going to be just
like his father." She put her hand gently on Vincent's cheek.
"Teacher. Builder. Renaissance Man. Protector of the Innocent ..."
"Oh, Catherine ... " He put his hand over hers and turned
his face to kiss her palm.
"Remember," Catherine continued, "they were born on a
Friday. Loving and giving. Somewhere ... " Her eyes seemed fixed on a
far horizon. "Somewhere, right now, or in the near future, are two
people who'll bless the day those two were born-just as I bless the
day you were. Then we can start having dreams for our grandchildren."
Vincent could hardly take in such a prospect. "Catherine,
you amaze me--to have not only the courage to dream great dreams for
us, but the determination to make them come true."
Catherine's only reply was a sleepy, contented smile.
Vincent turned off the lamp, leaving just one small candle burning.
As he turned back to her, she snuggled against him happily, resting
her head in the hollow of his shoulder.
"You grow more beautiful every day," he whispered. He
gently stroked her breast with a touch that, for the moment at least,
had more of reverence than passion in it. With a sense of peace
greater than any he had ever known, Vincent laid his golden head
beside hers. Soon, in the soft glow of a single candle, they
slept--to dream new dreams.
First published in Definitions of Love 4 (1990), edited
by Kay Simon
About the Author
: Edith Crowe is an academic
librarian who has been involved in various fandoms (starting with
) since 1972. Beauty and the Beast
is the one she's most emotional about and the first (and so far only)
one to inspire her to write fiction. She had seven "continuing
classic" stories published in the late 80s and early 90s, in zines
now out of print. New stories include the rather racy "My Furry
Valentine" in the A Kingdom by the Sea
conzine and several in
issues of Sanctuary.