Vincent and Catherine's hands reaching toward each other 

 

 

“How Shall I Hold My Soul…”

 

 

A Story of “Beauty and the Beast”

 

 

By Judith Nolan

 

 

This story has been written for those who believe in the dream of “Beauty and the Beast.” Vincent and Catherine’s dream we will hold in our hearts…always…

 

A very heartfelt thanks to my friend and fellow Beastophile, Victoria Rudd, “Tic.” Without her encouragement and expertise in research, this story may never have been written.

 

Thanks also to my Tunnel sister, Jean Pratt, and to Jan Blunt for reigniting my “obsession” with the Tunnel world. I will always be grateful. For Jo and Carole, thanks for saving a space for me at the gathering after all these years.

 

This story is dedicated to all the cast of  “Beauty and the Beast” but especially to Ron Perlman for having a great and beautiful soul…thank you.

 

(Please do not reproduce by any means, this story)

 

“How Shall I Hold My Soul” is an amateur fiction fanzine and as such does not intend to infringe upon the copyrights of RON KOSLOW FILMS, REPUBLIC PICTURES, CBS TELEVISION, WITT THOMAS PRODUCTIONS or any other holders of “Beauty and the Beast” copyrights.

 

 


LOVE SONG

 

How shall I hold my soul, that it may not be touching yours?

How shall I lift it then above you to where other things are waiting?

Ah, gladly would I lodge it, all forgot,

With some lost thing the dark is isolating

On some remote and silent spot that, when your depths vibrate,

Is not itself vibrating.

 

You and me – all that lights upon us, though

Brings us together like a fiddle-bow

Drawing one voice from two strings it glides along.

Across what instrument have we been spanned?

And what violinist holds us in his hand?

Oh, sweetest song…

 

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

 


I was alone

You found me waiting and made me your own

I was afraid

That somehow I never could be

The man you wanted of me…

 

The story of my life

And every word is true

Each chapter sings your name

Each page begins with you…

 

Neil Diamond

 

 

Catherine crouched beside the bed, her head bowed in submission. The pain was worse this time. She felt weighed down with guilt and a deep sadness. She could sense her own life, and the life she carried within her, seeping slowly beyond her grasp.

 

“Oh, Vincent…where are you?” She began to weep silently, the tears unheeded in her dejection.

 

After a time she drew a steadying breath and brushed a tired hand across her cheek. She would not give in; she would not give them the satisfaction of seeing her defeat. Vincent had taught her to be strong. She would survive; she had to survive, but the struggle was hard, very hard. Suddenly she looked up and her heart leapt.

 

Vincent! Here at last!

 

The familiar cloaked figure stood in the corner, watching her with a look of fatalistic despair, his blue eyes clouded and pained. He watched her silently, unmoving.

 

Catherine pushed her abused body to stand and she staggered towards him, longing to feel those strong arms around her once more. Needing his healing strength, now, more than ever. But as she gathered him against her, Vincent vanished, for he had never been, leaving Catherine standing, sobbing, in the corner of the room. The blank walls mocked her frightened gaze with their coldness. She turned to look about the room, hunting for some sign, some trace of her love. Suddenly her breath caught in her throat.

 

Pipes! Why hadn’t she seen them before. Pipes that flowed through her prison and down…down to the bowels of the earth…to him…to Vincent…

 

Scrambling now, whimpering in her eagerness, Catherine grabbed one of her shoes from the floor beneath her cot and fell to her knees on the cold concrete, grasping the pipes in a desperate grip as she struggled to calm herself. Frantically she began to tap out her personal code…over and over again, feeling it echo down through the floor…

 

 

Far below an old man leaned towards the pipes that flowed past him in both directions. He listened intently, disbelievingly, as a message echoed to him. He pressed a withered hand to the cold metal.

 

Catherine! Vincent’s Catherine, alive!  The code was a very personal thing down here in the tunnels. No one would use it deliberately to confuse or deceive. It had to be Catherine. It just had to. Desperately he hunted for the connection to the world Above before sending the message on to alert Vincent.

 

 

Far above Catherine was nearing the end of her strength. She could hear someone coming, the guards who would break her tenuous connection with freedom and hope. They burst into the room, rushing her, dragging her back from her feeble attempts at fighting them off.

 

“No…no!” she cried, as they dragged her out.

 

The door shut behind them and there was only the bare concrete corridor. Catherine felt the tears returning as they dragged her after them into a different, larger room. They hoisted her resisting body onto a hospital bed and strapped her limbs down.

 

Vincent! Her mind screamed silently as she struggled to be free, but the drugs and the abuse she had suffered in the past weeks had sapped her strength, leaving her weak and defenseless. The growing fog of disconnection broke her will to resist.

 

If only her message had gotten to Vincent.

 

She could picture him, running to her rescue, frantic in his desire to save her, even at the cost of his own life. Running through the tunnels, his mane and cloak flying about him…

 

 

Below, the old man went on tapping out the message. In the pipe chamber Zach listened intently to the coded message, his young face grim and determined. Raising his sticks, he sent out the distress call for Vincent.

 

 

“Let it go this time, Miss Chandler, please,” the doctor begged Catherine in a pained voice, as he injected her with more drugs.

 

Catherine fought weakly, but she was powerless to drive off the numbing effects of the injection as it began to shatter her will and her very life. “Vincent,” her mind whispered silently. “Oh, Vincent…”

 

 

Below, Vincent could feel the power of his dark side taking control as he raced through the tunnels. He could feel the blind rage filling him, consuming his rational mind as he fled through the darkness to rescue his Catherine. But this time he welcomed the rage and the sheer, violent energy that powered through him.

 

Would he be too late? Forever, too late?

 

He surged to greater speed, the nagging thought too awful to contemplate. He would need every ounce of his great strength and will if he were to reach Catherine in time. Her message had been urgent, and a cold dread filled Vincent’s thoughts as he raced Above.

 

Forever, too late… Through the darkened streets the thought pursued him, taunting him with cold, mocking laughter. Too late…too late…

 

 

Two men stood guard in the corridor leading to Catherine’s cell. Sounds came from the wall before them, sounds of some great animal screaming with pain and rage. The sound of hammering and destruction from beyond the wall.

 

“What the…?” One guard started forward, just as the wall exploded inwards and a tawny, elemental force descended upon him, breaking his neck with one great swipe of its clawed hand, killing him instantly. His last thoughts roiled in complete disbelieving confusion as Vincent ripped him apart.

 

The other guard was flung back against the wall. Raising his gun at this fiend from hell, he fired erratically, but Vincent turned from him and, ripping the steel door from its seating, used it as a shield against the bullets. The second guard gave one despairing cry as Vincent squashed him like a bug against the wall.

 

Catherine! Vincent’s mind gave a silent scream as he dashed into the cell, only to find it bare. Running forward to the barred window, he glared down into the street below.

 

Catherine!” His cry was ripped from the depths of his soul, as he saw his love being hustled into a car. With a scream of primeval rage, he reached out and ripped away the grill that covered the window. Then, not stopping for rational thought, he leapt through the window, showering glass down on the car as he landed on the roof, crouching, screaming his deep pain and blind rage.

 

“Get going, you fool!” The guard in the passenger seat shoved the driver violently as the man gawped up at the roof. “They said we had to deliver this one right quick.” He jerked an impatient thumb at Catherine, curled up into a ball of misery, moaning softly on the back seat.

 

Sitting beside her, the doctor’s face was white with terror. “What is that?”

 

The driver pointed at the roof. “There’s something out there. Something damn big and mean.”

 

“It’ll be in here with us in a minute, if you don’t move!” the other guard shouted in fear, pulling out a switchblade. Suddenly his window imploded and a great hairy hand snaked in, seeking his throat. With a cry of dread he slashed at it, drawing blood and a deafening howl of impotent rage and pain. The hand was snatched away.

 

“Get moving, for God’s sake! Before whatever that is out there comes back!”

 

As the frantic words left his lips, the great hand returned to grasp his chin and break his neck cleanly with a sinister crack that made the driver’s eyes bulge in disbelief. He had seen men die violently many times, but this unseen menace broke his nerve. With a whimper of fear he tried to put the car in motion, hoping the jerky action would dislodge his unwelcome passenger.

But Vincent grasped the edge of the windscreen with his claws and hung on grimly. The car plunged forward, accelerating away and taking the corners at breakneck speed.

 

“Get us out of here!” Huddled in the back, the doctor held Catherine’s near-unconscious form against him, watching the body of the dead guard fall about drunkenly. It was an awful sight. He wished he had the courage to open his door and jump for his life. His contract didn’t say anything about dying violently at the hands of some great, howling animal. In the next instant the driver screamed in abject terror as the face of a demon from his worst nightmare suddenly appeared at the top of the windscreen, staring at him through the glass with blue eyes that blazed with an unquenchable hatred. 

 

Vincent had inched forward against the clutch of the wind, using his great strength to raise one fist and smash it through the windscreen, reaching for the driver’s throat. The man was now driving on sheer instinct, his bulging eyes fixed on twins pits of blazing sapphire hell. Vincent’s clawed hand closed around his throat, ripping and tearing at his flesh, crushing the life out of him without pity.

 

The car careened along, striking sparks from its bodywork as it bounced from impact to impact, throwing the occupants around violently. With one powerful wrench Vincent dragged the dying driver’s body through the windscreen, intending to rip him apart in his all consuming rage, but the man made one last desperate attempt to escape. He slipped out of Vincent’s grasp to fall into the road before him. With one final, despairing scream, he vanished beneath the wheels of the vehicle with a sickening thump.

 

The car slewed dangerously, and Vincent was pitched headlong from the vehicle to the ground beside it, as it crashed into a wall with a screech of protesting metal. Scrambling to his feet, screaming in violent rage, Vincent tore the rear door away and flung it from him.

 

“Don’t hurt me…for pity’s sake, don’t hurt me…” the doctor begged, his frightened, white face staring out at Vincent as the man tried to scramble away. 

 

But Vincent was beyond hearing, beyond all reason or compassion. These men had kidnapped and hurt his Catherine. There could be no mercy. The doctor tried to scuttle sideways out of reach, but Vincent pounced on him, dragging him babbling in fear,skywards to dangle in his great hands as he crushed his ribcage. The man’s desperate screams filled the night with awful despair.

 

“Vincent…” The whisper was thin, almost non-existent. A tiny echo, more than a sound, but he heard it. He heard it through the firestorm of rage that consumed his rational mind, through the unstoppable desire to kill everything in his path. “Vincent…”

 

With his last breath the doctor watched as sanity returned to the sapphire eyes burning into his astonished gaze. In the next moment he was tossed aside like a rag doll, to crash barely conscious and forgotten into the road. He could only lie there in blinding pain and disbelief, struggling to breathe as he watched the incredible scene unfolding before his eyes.

 

A small, trembling shape in a white hospital gown held out one shaking hand towards the ravening beast, and the animal did not fall on her and savage her slender limbs. Instead he ducked his great shaggy head into the car’s dark interior, his blood-drenched hands reaching out with great care.

 

“Catherine…Catherine…” The huge beast’s voice was low and halting, filled with pain and anguish.

 

Catherine could not answer; with the last of her willpower she crawled into the safety of Vincent’s arms, her body exhausted beyond belief, needing now, more than ever, his great strength, his comforting warmth.

 

“Oh, Catherine…” Vincent folded her small body against his, feeling the slow, uncertain rhythm of her heart against the wall of his great chest. His wrist was bleeding sluggishly, but he ignored the pain as he held Catherine. Her trembling communicated itself to him. He could feel the tears of her ordeal seeping through to his skin as he bowed his head over hers with a sigh wrenched from the depths of his being.

 

“Vincent…”

 

The breath seemed to bleed out of her then, and she became alarmingly limp and still in his clasp. Vincent pulled back to look down at her closed eyes. “No! No, Catherine…no!” he cried despairingly as her whole body seemed to become lifeless in his arms. “No, not now…” But she was beyond hearing. With one last desperate cry, Vincent gathered her in one arm, pulling the folds of his cloak from himself to drape them around her.

 

Ignoring the doctor crawling away on all fours, Vincent surged to his feet. He began to run, running as if all the devils in his own private hell were pursuing him, taunting him, snapping at his heels. Down into the bowels of the earth he carried his precious burden. Down to the one man who could possibly save her…if anyone could save her now… A cold hand gripped his great heart as he fled into the night.

 

“Don’t die, Catherine…” Vincent whispered against her cold lips. “For if you die, I must also. For there can be no life for me, without you…”

 

 

 

So are you to my thoughts as food to life

Or as sweet-season’d showers are to the ground

 

William Shakespeare

 

 

“She must live, Father…”

 

“She is very weak. The drugs that they have given her—”

 

“No! She will not die! I won’t allow it!”

 

The words echoed through Catherine’s mind, tugging at her memory. But her eyelids were too heavy to lift. They were weighted down by fatigue and pain. Surrendering to oblivion was much easier, so she drifted away again on a ghost of a broken sigh…

 

 

The room was filled with strange tappings, echoes that found a willing companion in the headache that thundered brutally behind her closed lids. Weakly Catherine moved her head, but the effort was too great, and she settled into welcome stillness once more…

 

 

There was the scent of candles. Candles and the faint tang of rosemary. Why did these sweet smells mean so much? Catherine’s wandering attention nibbled away at this question, without finding an answer. She groaned then, a small, fractured sound, trying to ease the dull ache of her cramped limbs. She licked at her parched lips. Suddenly the stealthy sounds of footsteps stilled her breathing. Her heart leapt with fear.

 

Oh, no, not again! No more needles, please!  She wanted to shout, rage and scream her denial, but her voice was lost somewhere in the parched landscape of her throat. She turned her head from side to side, trying to find an escape. Her eyelids weighted heavy. Try as she might, she was unable to force them open to glare at her assailant.

 

Cool fingers were laid against the frenetic pulse leaping in her wrist. The light touch made her arch her back in desperation. “No…no!” A deep shudder of revulsion rippled across her skin. She tried to escape, but there was an insurmountable pile of pillows and cushions blocking her path. “No,” she managed to cry again, her fear giving her the strength to squirm away.

 

“You’re safe. You’re safe now.”

 

Catherine’s heart missed a beat. That voice; why did she know that voice?  There was a hitch in it, an undertone of deep emotion held tightly in check. None of her assailants had ever spoken to her so calmingly. As if her mental state mattered. Her struggles stilled as she tried once more to raise her eyelids that weighted so heavy.

 

Through her lashes she could see candlelight. Candlelight and deep shadows that defied definition. They flickered and moved, painting patterns on the walls, which confused her eyes and mind. But she could discern no one, though she sensed someone was hovering nearby, just out of the line of her vision.

 

“Where are you? I…I can’t see you,” she whispered brokenly.

 

“I am here,” replied the voice. A man’s voice, deep and very beautiful. Sorrow underscored every syllable. “Don’t be afraid, sleep now… There is no one to hurt you here.”

 

Catherine rolled her head in search of him, but the voice echoed to her from the right, hidden in the deepest shadows. She could just make out a darker bulk of shadow against the rest. She surrendered with a discontented moan.

 

“I can’t see you,” she complained.

 

“No one will hurt you,” he repeated the reassurance. “You are safe with me…always.”

 

Again the catch of deep emotion in his beautiful voice. It soothed her shattered nerves, slowed the erratic pounding of her heart. The faint, distant tapping followed Catherine into her dreams.

 

“Please…don’t leave me…” she whispered to the watching shadow as she drifted away. “I need you…”

 


“How is she?” Father limped into Vincent’s chamber, leaning heavily on his stick. The last five days had taken their toll on him as he and Vincent struggled to keep Catherine alive. They had taken few breaks from their vigil.

 

Vincent moved silently from the shadows to stand beside the bed, staring down at the small figure huddled so pathetically among its scattered cushions. His broad shoulders slumped, as if the whole weight of the world rested there. “She is sleeping.” Vincent reached out one hand to brush back the length of hair that had fallen forward across Catherine’s pale cheek, but he halted the gesture halfway and let his hand fall again to his side.

 

“The drugs they gave her were very powerful.” Father sighed heavily, limping forward to place an arm around Vincent’s shoulders. “She has been through a violent and frightening ordeal,” he said softly, trying to ease the lines of strain and worry on his son’s face. “The human mind can only take so much and then it shuts down. It’s the only way it has to protect itself. The balance is such a delicate thing.” He sighed again, shaking his greying head. “Who knows what they did to her. We can only watch and wait…and hope.” He drew Vincent’s head down to kiss his forehead gently. “You should get some rest. Mary will sit with her.”

 

“No.” Vincent shook his head. “I will stay near. Mary can sit beside her, but I will never leave her again. I lost her once; I will not allow that fate to happen again. I…I don’t think I could bear the pain.”

 

“It is your love that will pull her through this, Vincent.” Father let his arm fall away. “Believe in your bond. It’s more powerful that all the medicines I could prescribe.”

 

“But our bond…” Vincent whispered raggedly. “Our connection… When Catherine needed me most…I failed her completely.”

 

“Yes, but how many times did you save her?” Father took his arm and gripped it tightly. “And you have saved her now. Against all the odds you found her and brought her home. Remember that…always. Do not blame yourself.”

 

“But at what cost, Father? What has been the price?” Vincent questioned bleakly, tears streaming unheeded down his cheeks. “She is lost to me; I can feel it. I feel nothing but the pain of grief and loss.”

 

“Let her heal, Vincent.” Father blinked back his own tears. “Let her mind do its work and try to be patient. You will find each other again, of that I am certain. You must believe.”

 

“Believe, Father? I don’t know what I believe in anymore. I wish I had your certainty.”

 

For a long time after Father had limped from the chamber, Vincent stood beside the bed, gazing down at Catherine’s sleeping form. His mind and body roiled with guilt and grief.

 

“Oh, Catherine,” he groaned softly. “Don’t leave me…not now…”

 


Lie still, lie still my breaking heart

My silent heart, lie still and break

Life, and the world and mine ownself,

Are changed for a dream’s sake.

 

Christina Georgina Rossetti

 

Catherine came slowly to herself. Her body ached in every joint, every muscle. Her weakness chained her to where she lay, beneath a worn patchwork quilt on a bed that was soft and yielding. Her headache had retreated to the recesses of her mind, but the rhythms of that constant metallic tapping still echoed to her from the far distance, plucking at her consciousness, teasing at the blank void that seemed to fill her head to exclusion of all rational thought.

 

She forced her eyes open against the sheer weight of their weariness. Her last memory was of a cold, bare cell with a hard cot and none of the echoing shadows surrounding her now. She caught her bottom lip between her teeth in consternation.

 

Why couldn’t she remember who she was, where she was? What is this strangely quaint place?

 

The faint rustle of cloth against leather drew her attention. Someone was standing in the shadows again, just beyond the small circle of light shed by a single candle on a writing table in the middle of the room. She could sense their presence, rather than see the person clearly.

 

Catherine tried to pierce the gloom, but all she could make out was the flash of a metal buckle and the gleam of a pair of eyes watching her from the depths of what appeared to be a hood over his hair. She knew instinctively the shape was that of a man. A big man, with broad shoulders and powerful thighs. The same man who had spoken to her before, comforted her in her fear. But who he was, or why he kept his distance she had no idea. He seemed content to simply stand and watch her.

 

The idea puzzled her. Why doesn’t he speak? She wanted to hear his voice once more. those warm, soothing tones that banished her fear and relieved her pain. She turned her head against the softness of the cushions that were supporting her head, trying to see him more clearly.

 

 

“What is this place?” Her voice felt scratchy with disuse. She cleared her throat. “Who are you?”

 

He did not reply. The silence between them stretched into infinity. She could sense a growing tension in him and wondered why.

 

“This is a safe place,” he finally replied, almost as if the words had been forced out of him. “No one will hurt you here.”

 

But that voice was as gentle and beautiful as she last remembered it. So it hadn’t been a dream after all. But why did he continue to hide from her?

 

“I…I don’t remember how I got here. Or how long I have been here. Do you know?”

 

“I carried you. You were injured…in an accident.”

 

The man moved slightly then, half turning away from her, making him even more difficult to see in the faint candlelight. His voice had sunk even lower. There was an overlaying sadness to the beauty of his voice now, a roughness that held a wealth of suppressed emotion and pain.

 

“Yes, an accident.” Catherine’s brows drew together in concentration, trying to force the memory. Of the accident and him. “I do remember some men.” She raised one hand unsteadily to her forehead. “They…they wanted to know something…about someone. I can’t seem to remember what it was…” She shook her head. “I remember something about a car crash. Was that the accident I was in?”

 

“Rest now, it’s over. It was nothing but a dream, a very bad dream.” Vincent pushed back the wave of despair that threatened to engulf him.

 

It was better this way. Catherine didn’t remember anything. She was free now, free to live another life, a new life uncomplicated by their relationship. As long as she was alive and in the world he could be content. Or pretend to be so.

The thought gave him no comfort from the aching void that existed within his heart. He felt as if his very soul would break. But he would do it for her. For what they once had together.

 

“A dream,” Catherine echoed, puzzled. “But I feel so weak. And my head hurts.”

 

“Time. It will take time, but you will be well again…Catherine.”

 

“My name…is that my name?” Her head turned fitfully against the pillows.

 

“Yes, that is your name.”

 

“Catherine.” She drew a long breath, releasing it slowly. “ How do you know that is my name?”

 

“You told me…once.” Vincent fought for control now. He wanted to run, to escape, to nurse this new grief. To come to terms with it before it consumed him. But he could not bear to leave…not just yet.

 

“Catherine.” She turned the name over, considering it. “I remember now. Yes. I was so frightened I would not remember who I was. Thank you.”

 

Her soft sincerity nearly broke Vincent then. “Don’t worry. I won’t ever let you forget.”

 

Catherine had to strain to hear him. His voice had sunk so low as to be almost inaudible. “Thank you…for helping me. That was very kind of you. But I don’t know your name. You’re always there, just out of reach. I wish you would come closer. What shall I call you?”

 

“My name is not important.” Vincent inhaled deeply. “I am a stranger to you.”

 

“But I would like to know your name…please.”

 

Vincent moved, stepping back into the deepest shadows. “Rest now. You need to regain your strength. We will talk again later. You should go back to sleep.” He was already distancing himself from her, both physically and mentally. It was better this way. He would not see her again. At least, not with her having any knowledge of his presence.

 

“It feel as if I’ve been sleeping half my life,” Catherine complained, feeling the lassitude stealing over her limbs again. “I can’t…” She paused, sensing he was already gone. The black emptiness of the shadows mocked her. She wanted him to come back, to talk to her again -- soothe her with the softness of his voice and the strength of his presence. “I don’t want to feel so alone.” She felt a tear sliding down her cheek, but she was powerless to wipe it away.

 

Another followed it, then another. Why couldn’t she remember anything more than her own name? There was more, much more, hovering at the edge of her vision. So much more that was locked away somewhere inside her mind.

And she knew instinctively that the man in the shadows was somehow a part of the whole. A large part of the puzzle she couldn’t solve.

 

She fell into a fitful sleep wrestling with the mental prison of her own making. In her sleep tears still ran down her cheeks, and once she cried out for someone who wasn’t there…

 

 

 


So must pure lover’s souls descend

To affections, and to faculties

Which sense may reach and apprehend

Else a great prince in prison lies.

 

John Donne

 

Vincent descended the short staircase into Father’s chamber, his movements heavy with despair. The familiar, straight figure of the only parent he had ever known was seated at his desk reading an old, worn volume of poetry. But he looked up the moment he heard Vincent come in.

 

“Vincent. Please come and sit down. You look deathly tired.”

 

“I…have been talking to Catherine…”

 

Father exhaled slowly. “Does she remember…anything?” he asked slowly, concern furrowing his brow. “Or you?”

 

“She couldn’t remember her own name.” Vincent slumped into a chair, his hands clenched before him on the table. “Not until I told her.”

 

“So she remembers nothing of this place?” Father moved to lay his hand over Vincent’s as they twisted painfully together.

 

Vincent looked up, his eyes filled with unbearable pain. “Nothing,” he returned bleakly.

 

“Perhaps it is for the best.” Father sighed, after a long pause.

 

“But to lose her, Father…”

 

“You loved her, Vincent. And you saved her. But…I’m afraid yours was always a dream without a future. You can give that to her now. I have always dreaded this day from the first moment you two met. I knew it could only end in deep pain for you both.”

 

Though lovers be lost, love shall not. And death shall have no dominion,” Vincent quoted the poem softly, the tears flowing unheeded down his cheeks.

He drew a breath so deeply into his lungs, it ached all the way to his soul. He shook his great head. “She saved me, Father. She saw me – all that I am, all that I will ever be – and she didn’t turn away.”

 

Father nodded. “You had the courage to love her, Vincent…now have the courage to let her go. It will be for the best…in the end.”

 

“And if she remembers…one day?” Vincent questioned bleakly.

 

“If she remembers, perhaps she will look on it as having happened in another lifetime. A distant memory of something you both once shared and lost.”

 

Vincent turned his head to consider him, to try and find some comfort in Father’s words. “But I will remember,” he said finally. “I will remember every day. Every thought…every word. I will remember for the both of us.”

 

“Then she will live for you, Vincent,” Father counselled, in a breaking voice. “She will live in you…always.”

 

“Yes…” Vincent returned on a sigh that broke Father’s heart. They sat together for a long time in brooding silence.

 

 

Mary fussed about Vincent’s chamber, tidying, dusting, straightening whatever came to hand. All the while she watched Catherine covertly, from the corner of her eye. The younger woman lay among the tumble of cushions and pillows, fretfully plucking at the edge of the quilt.

 

“Why doesn’t he come, Mary? It’s been four days now.”

 

Catherine’s face was shadowed and pale, her eyes seemingly too large in its thinness. Mary pulled a scrap of cloth from her pocket and blew her nose determinedly.

 

“Why, Mary?” Catherine’s gaze was demanding.

 

Mary knew to whom Catherine was referring, but wisely she kept her own counsel. She and Father now shared Catherine’s ongoing care. The less she knew now, perhaps the better the break would be. At least that’s what Father said. Mary disagreed, but kept her silence. She rearranged a stack of books on the mantelpiece and again dusted the same spot vigorously. “Perhaps he has other duties, other work to do.”

 

“What work? What duties?” Catherine questioned querulously, as she surveyed the other woman closely. “There is something you’re not telling me and I want to know what it is.”

 

 “We…he… Well, he’s away a lot.” Mary kept her eyes firmly on her duties.

“Taking care of things.”

 

“Where? Why?” Catherine sighed. “Why won’t anyone tell me anything. I try to remember, but it just won’t come. Help me, Mary, please.”

 

Mary straightened from her task and moved to the table in the centre of the room. She picked up a steaming bowl of soup from a tray, the true purpose of her visit. “You really do need to eat something. You need to regain your strength.”

 

“Only if you promise to tell me the truth.” The old familiar look of stubbornness flashed into Catherine’s eyes. Mary knew that look well. “Otherwise, I’m not hungry.”

 

Mary carried the bowl to her and sat down on the side of the bed. “It’s for your own good,” she hedged desperately. She held out the bowl.

 

Catherine ignored it. “Regain my strength for what?” Catherine pushed herself into a sitting position. “I can’t even remember what I did…before.”

 

“The more you try, the harder it will be.” Mary shook her head. “You must not try and force it.”

 

“What else do I have to do, lying here a complete invalid.”  Catherine turned to thump a pillow into submission. “I see images…fragments of things I should be able to name, but I can’t. I see faces, faces of people I should know, but they slip away from me when I reach for them. One face…a man’s face. He is…different somehow. Beautiful, very beautiful in a way I cannot explain. He’s very close and yet…”

 

Her voice trailed off as Mary spooned some soup, holding it out hopefully towards her mouth. Catherine gasped. There was a flash of memory. A scrap of vivid imagery that laid itself over Mary’s work-worn hand.

 

Catherine saw another – a hand with soft tan fur on it’s back and long curving nails, claws almost. The hand reached for her, palm uppermost as if in supplication. There was no menace in the gesture, just a sense of incredible despair and loneliness. Catherine jumped as the warmth of the soup spoon touched her lips. Instantly the image was gone as if it had never been, leaving only Mary’s concerned eyes and wary look.

 

“Where is this place, Mary?” Catherine asked suddenly, after swallowing the soup without tasting it.

 

“In New York,” Mary returned guardedly, wishing Father would walk in and save her.

 

“He said this was a safe place.” Catherine took another mouthful of the soup with a puzzled frown.

 

“It is a safe place.” Mary nodded. “It’s our home.” She dropped her eyes to the bowl of soup, stirring it absently.

 

“But rock walls and candles.” Catherine looked about her. “No electricity.” She frowned. “No television or stereo.”

 

“We…um, prefer it that way.” Mary spooned more soup in the hope of forestalling more questions. “We like to keep things simple.”

 

“And your clothes.” Catherine studied the older woman with sudden interest. “They look almost…medieval.” The word just flashed into her mind. She frowned over it. It fitted her thoughts exactly. Catherine remembered the man with his concealing hood and cloak, long boots on his feet and legs.

 

“We make our own clothes.” Mary stood with a troubled sigh. She glanced to the doorway, willing Father to appear. Let him find answers for these impossible questions. She was too truthful a woman to evade Catherine for much longer. She turned to watch her settle back among the cushions, curling up with a sigh. She wanted to encourage her to eat some more soup, but the task was becoming fraught with difficulty. If only Vincent were here, he would know what to do.

 

Catherine smoothed the fabric beneath her cheek. It was a soft cotton, well-worn and mended, but there was also velvet and silk bordered with fine, dark leather. Like Mary’s clothing, a collection of pieces that shouldn’t be together, but somehow seemed to belong there in this candlelight room of flickering shadows and impossible secrets.

 

Like the fragments in my mind, Catherine mused wearily. She felt as if someone had taken a million jigsaw pieces and scattered them in a heap. It was up to her to fit those pieces together. To make them slot neatly into the black void of her memory.

 

“If you need anything else, I will be close by.” Mary picked up the tray. “Father will look in on you later.”

 

“I wish I knew what to believe.” Catherine watched her leave with resignation. Again the issues uppermost in her mind had been neatly avoided. Why were these people keeping things from her? And the man who said he had rescued her. He’d vanished without a trace.

 

No, that wasn’t strictly true, she decided then, glancing around her at the collection of books and objects that filled the room. This was his room – she knew it instinctively. But why he had abandoned it – and her – she could only guess.

 

Catherine shifted uncomfortably. There was a heavy weight in the pit of her stomach and her back ached. She eased it by arching forward, pressing her hands to the base of her spine. As she did so her attention was caught by a small, slim volume on a small table near the head of the bed. Idly she picked it up and turned it over in her hands. It fell open to reveal a pair of pressed roses, one white and the other blood red.

 

‘How shall I hold my soul

That it may not be touching yours

How shall I lift it then, above you,

To where other things are waiting’

 

Catherine ran one fingertip over the words gently. They spoke to her in a way that she could not define. The faded fragrance of the roses filled her senses.

 

“Where are you?” she questioned the shadows. She closed the book carefully on the pair of dried blooms. “What have I done to drive you away?”

 

 

‘I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I

Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?’

 

John Donne

 

 

Far below her, Vincent sat at the edge of the waterfall watching the cascading torrent without seeing it. He had come here to think and to plan. He had been avoiding Catherine in these last days. Now that she would recover, he needed to keep his distance, no matter what it cost him. She could have the life she deserved now, free from the complications of loving him.

 

But the urgent problem remained that there would still be men who would be hunting for her. He’d managed only a temporary reprieve by bringing Catherine Below, but she couldn’t stay here indefinitely. No matter how much Vincent himself might desire it.

 

He allowed the sensations to flow over him, the memories of what they had once been to each other. They were bittersweet reflections that tore at his soul. But they were a part of him – they would remain with him…always.

Catherine had gone into the blackness of that cavern deep below where he now sat and faced him in all his pain, in all his terrifying rage and terrible power. But his mind was as blank of those events as Catherine’s was now. He simply could not remember anything of that time, except that somewhere down there he had lost their connection, the precious bond that had bound him inexorably to her.

 

He shook his head. He felt adrift and alone without it.

 

Catherine had truly been lost to him when the men had taken her. He could not allow that to happen again. But now that he could no longer sense her fear of the dangers she might face Above, he was at a loss to know what course to take. The cold, black waters before him rushed on, uncaring of his dilemma.

 


Father limped into Vincent’s chamber to find Catherine reading a volume of poetry. He recognised the binding. He had given the book to Vincent many years ago for his tenth birthday.

 

“How are you feeling?” He put aside his stick and rested his medical bag on the table. He looked up to find her green eyes studying him intently. Nestled among the pillows of Vincent’s bed, she looked small and helpless, but Father felt a feather of dread move along his spine. Catherine’s lawyer mind had been razor sharp and probing. How long could they maintain the pretence?

 

He thought back to the time when he had urged Vincent to get Catherine out the very first time she had come to them, before she could learn too much. But now…it was doubly important that she should leave and quickly. He loved the young woman dearly and in another life… But it was not to be; he had known that from the start. It was simply too dangerous now. It could never be. Everything he held dear was at stake.

 

“I feel as if someone has used me for a punching bag,” Catherine answered him now. “I hurt everywhere.”

 

“They were not…kind to you, whoever did this.” Father shook his head, taking out his instruments.

 

“There are many forms of torture, Father.” Catherine watched closely as the old man’s head jerked up and he stared at her. She sensed his surprise and consternation at the familiar form of address. Catherine tilted her head with inquiry. “Why does Mary call you that?”

 

“Oh, it’s just a way she has.” Father shrugged uncomfortably as he took her pulse and tended to her healing lacerations.

 

“You don’t make a very good liar.” Catherine watched his averted face. “It makes you uncomfortable.”

 

Father looked up with a wry twist to his lips. “It is not a habit I would like to cultivate,” he admitted wryly.

 

“Why can’t I remember? Why is my mind so blank?”

 

Her pain and confusion tore at his crumbling resolve they were all doing what was best for his patient. Father looked away, shuffling his instruments in his bag for a moment as he sought to find the right words. “Sometimes, in moments of extreme trauma the mind simply shuts down. A kind of safety valve, if you like. You cannot force the memories.” He came to sit on the edge of the bed and took Catherine’s hand gently between his own. “Time is a great healer. Let yourself drift with it. You cannot push your mind to suddenly remember something that it may be desperately trying to forget.”

 

“But the man in the shadows said it was only a car accident.” Catherine’s eyes widened with dismay. “There’s more than that, isn’t there?” She gripped Father’s hands. “More you don’t want me to remember. What did they do to me?”

 

“They drugged you.” Father soothed his hand over hers before raising it briefly to touch her pale cheek. “We didn’t want to upset you more than we had to. You were very ill. But I’m afraid they used other forms of persuasion.”

 

Catherine raised her arm so that the simple cotton gown she wore fell back to reveal the discolorations on her forearms. “They tied me down,” she murmured. “They tied me to a bed and they tried to get me to tell them something. Give them something they wanted. A secret… I can’t remember, but I feel it was a very important secret.”

 

Father placed a reassuring hand over the bruising. “It’s in the past. Please think of it as nothing more than a bad dream.”

 

“That’s what he said.”

 

 “Who?” Father watched her reaction warily.

 

“The other man, my man in the shadows. The one who was here…every time I woke up. He was over there, just watching me, always too far away to touch. I never saw his face.” Catherine took Father’s hand tightly between her own. “Why did he leave me? Where is he now? Mary wouldn’t tell me.”

 

“Perhaps he was simply a part of your dream, too.” Father squeezed her hands, before standing up to repack his bag. He knew his words were lame and transparent, but they were all that he could think of then. He felt like a man standing on the edge of a bottomless pit and the ground was crumbling under his feet.

 

“If that is so, then I am certainly dreaming now, Father.” Catherine leaned back against the pillows, her small store of strength easily exhausted. “For he was and is as real as you and I. Do not treat me like a child.”

 

“It’s late; you should sleep.” Father picked up his stick and slipped his arm through its loop.

 

“How can you tell day from night here? I haven’t seen the sun in days.”

 

“Rest now.” Father turned towards the chamber entrance. “You need to regain your strength. One day, very soon, you will be able to go home.” The hearty encouragement of his words sounded hollow, even as he voiced them. He sighed bitterly. “I will see you again soon.”

 

“Thank you, Father.” Catherine watched him leave, nothing his heavy limp.

 

Curling up to ease her aching back and uneasy stomach, she pressed the book of poetry to her breast and lay for a long time contemplating the strangeness of it all. She found no answers as her eyes drifted closed and she slept.

 


The dreams began then, as Catherine slipped over the edge of consciousness. Faces, both those she knew but could not name and other shadowy ones. These last seemed to menace her in a way that truly frightened her. Curling ever tighter into a miserable ball, she whimpered in her sleep, crying for something…someone to come and save her. Someone who was always just beyond her reach, out there in the darkness, watching her suffering helplessly.

 

The book of poetry bit into her soft flesh as she struggled with the demons alive in her memory. She lashed out and encountered something warm and solid in the darkness.

 

“It’s all right. No one will hurt you here.” A cool, firm hand smoothed across her brow, brushing back the damp hair from her eyes.

 

He was back, at last! Catherine leaned into his touch, pressing her cheek into his palm. She feared she would never hear his voice again. “You came back,” she whispered raggedly, pushing aside the chill of nightmare.

 

The chamber was filled with gloom beyond the single candle flame. But he was close this time, much closer than before. His warm, masculine scent was overlaid with leather and smoke. She could sense him kneeling beside the bed, but his face was still in deep shadow, hidden within the folds of his hood, almost impossible to discern clearly. Catherine felt an almost overwhelming desire to reach out and push back the hood. Expose his face – in her mind’s eye she could see her hands doing just that. It was a compelling vision. A sob caught in her throat.

 

“I thought I might never see you again.” She wondered what he would do if she slipped out of bed and into his arms. It would be heaven to feel secure. To just be held there, against his heart. Just to have human contact, to feel safe again, even for a moment.

 

“You were crying out in your dreams.”

 

“It was a nightmare.” Catherine let the soft tones of his voice flow over her. It was an incredibly tender sensation. Not the words, but the way they were spoken. Deeply and with love. She responded without thinking. “I couldn’t find you. I looked everywhere.”   

 

“I was always here. I will always be here.”

 

“I wanted you so badly. I needed to see you. Please tell me your name.”

She heard his sharp intake of breath then. Suddenly she realised she was holding her own, as if the revelation of this one fact would open all the locked doors inside her mind.

 

“My name is not important,” he replied, drawing himself further back into his hood. “You must get some sleep.”

 

“I was so afraid.” Catherine’s fingers itched to reach out and push back that concealing cloth, but she feared he would leave her alone and frightened once more. “Why won’t you tell me your name?” she begged, as the silence between them stretched unbearably.

 

“My name won’t help you sleep.” Movement in the darkness suggested he shrugged.

 

“Why are you all so secretive?” Catherine pulled back from him then, inexplicably angry and hurt. She knew then that this man knew more about her than he’d told her. He was keeping all her secrets deliberately. “Everyone seems to be at great pains to keep me in ignorance,” she stated hardly, her voice choked with pain. “Am I that much of a threat to you and the others?”

 

“Oh, Catherine…” This was spoken on a long sigh, from the very depths of him. “You could never hurt us.” He stood and moved back beyond the tiny circle of candlelight. 

 

“Don’t go!” Catherine threw out a restraining hand. “You can trust me. Who would I tell anyway? I couldn’t even remember my own name until you told me.”

 

“There are reasons…”

 

“What reasons?”

 

“This is a secret place.”

 

In the tiny circle of light she saw his hands clench. That was when Catherine suddenly noticed his hands. Long fingered and strong – with soft fur on their backs and sharp, claw-like fingernails. Just like those in her vision. She jerked her attention back to his unseen face. “Why is it secret? What have you to hide? Why are you here?”

 

The candlelight flickered and danced, deepening the shadows into which he had moved. There was no sound other than that strange distant tapping that was a constant of her life in this stone room.

 

“This is a place of safety where people can come to…to heal and to find themselves again.” He had been silent for so long Catherine was beginning to think he was not going to answer her.

 

“And you live here…you and Father and Mary?” Catherine probed carefully. “Why?”

 

“I have lived here all my life,” Vincent stated simply. “I have no other place to go.”

 

“So do you have family here?”

 

He shrugged. “All who come here are my family.”

 

“Is this place run by the government? Some kind of halfway house?” Catherine did her best to sift through the bare facts he was giving her, trying to make some sense of it all. Trying to remember.

 

“No, we have our own government here.” He’d moved again, closer to the door, as if he was about to disappear again. Perhaps for good.

 

“Why can’t any of you answer a straight question?” she railed then, her frustration boiling over. “I’m not a fool!”

 

It was all Vincent could do to stop himself returning to the bed and gathering her into his arms. He wanted so badly to comfort her. He sighed in deep anguish.

 

“It is just better this way,” he managed at last. “The less you know, the less you can tell anyone about us.”

 

“Better for who? You or me?” Catherine’s tone was bitter.

 

“For both of us.” He shook his great head.

 

He turned to leave, to abandon her all over again. Catherine surveyed his broad back view in frustration. Suddenly the lines of the poem she had read flashed into her mind. “How shall I hold my soul? That it may not be touching yours…?” She whispered the words, waiting for a reaction, any reaction to show that he had heard her.

 

Vincent jerked as if he had been stabbed through the heart. He turned back to look at her. Catherine could see the candlelight reflected in his eyes, deep inside his hood.

 

“She must have meant a lot to you,” Catherine observed quietly, opening the book to allow the two roses to fall onto the quilt.

 

“All that I am, all that I could ever be…I owe to her,” Vincent replied with deep conviction.

 

Pain clutched at Catherine’s heart, but she had to know. “Does she live here with you?”

 

“She lives only in my heart,” Vincent replied, not knowing if he could continue this conversation for one more heartbeat.

 

“And you can’t tell me…about here…about any of this?” Catherine indicated the rock walls, the collection of unlit candles around the room. “Or you.”

 

“You will leave soon, when you have healed enough to travel. Then this, all of this…and me…will only be a distant memory.”

 

“Why?” She sighed. “Why won’t you allow me to stay here, to help you?”

 

“No,” came the bald reply. “This is not the life…for you.”

 

“Then where will I go?” She drew a shaky breath. “I cannot remember what I was before.”

 

“Those men, the ones who…took you.” Vincent forced the words. “They hurt you. They will try again, given the opportunity. I think I can find someone you knew before. He will be able to protect you, keep you safe from harm.”

 

“But what of you?” Catherine bit her lower lip. Her chest had tightened, making it difficult to breathe.

 

“Me?” Vincent withdrew into the doorway. “You will forget me in time.”

 

“I don’t think I will ever forget you,” Catherine replied with deep conviction. “You saved my life.”

 

“You must.” Vincent stepped backwards out of the room. “You will forget me in time. It heals every wound.” He would not come here again. He could not take the pain of seeing her again, so lost and alone.

 

Catherine puzzled over his parting words. New life? What was wrong with her old one? She frowned, trying to force her stubborn mind to reveal the truth. They were there, snatches of conversation, moments when she almost grasped the reality of before. And so many faces and images of people she was sure she once knew.

 

One face above all others stood out, but when she tried to focus on it, it vanished back into the blankness, leaving her frustrated and very much alone once more. That face was the one thing she wanted to remember above all else.

 

“It’s not fair!” She turned to rearrange her pillows with unnecessary force, but it didn’t help. Nothing seemed to help. Carefully she gathered the fallen roses back into the book. Holding it as before, close against her breasts, she lay back and closed her eyes.


“Joe Maxwell?” Father’s face was a study of concern and perplexity as he absorbed Vincent’s words.

 

“He can protect her,” Vincent countered evenly, his eyes bleak and despairing. “And he has no knowledge of our world, therefore Catherine will never learn the truth about us. I have been up to her apartment and removed all traces of this world…and myself.” He placed a leather bag on the table between them.

 

Father stared at it. “Everything?”

 

“Everything,” Vincent returned heavily. “It will be as if we never existed. Therefore, she will not remember. As long as she is alive, I can be content with that.”

 

“I wish I knew what to say, Vincent. How to comfort you.”

 

“There is nothing to say, Father.” Vincent reached to grip the older man’s hand strongly, his voice blank now, devoid of the feelings that churned through him. “It has already been decided. Pascal and Jamie will escort her out by a route seldom used. I have sent Mouse to seal up the threshold beneath her building.”

 

“I once desired this parting with all my heart.” Father returned Vincent’s grip. “I could not bear to see you suffering such pain, such agony. But now…” He shrugged helplessly.

 

“I will hold her here.” Vincent laid the flat of his hand against his chest. “In here, she will live forever.”

 

Father brushed a hand over his cheeks. “And we will all be here for you, Vincent. Always.”

 

“I know.” Vincent sighed then, his body slumping into a chair. “I will send Geoffrey with a message for Maxwell. To warn him of the dangers and his need to be most careful with Catherine’s safety. He will wait for Maxwell’s reply.”

 

“And if Catherine’s assailants try again?”

 

“I will inform Maxwell of all I know. He will know what to do.” Vincent turned his gaze to Father’s, his eyes haunted. “She cannot stay here; we both know that. Joe Maxwell is our only option.”

 

“Yes, I know. I will alert Peter. He should know all about this. Catherine will need his care Above. He, at least, knew her before. He will be careful. I will make sure he understands he cannot tell her anything.”

 

“It is for the best, Father. Catherine now has a chance for a new life, a life without limits, or risks and complications of knowing about me or us.”

 

“All life is a risk, Vincent,” Father countered gruffly.

 

Vincent shook his shaggy head. “There can be no other way…for us.”

 


Catherine stood unsteadily, clutching the edge of the table for support. Her legs felt as if they didn’t belong to her; they were rubbery and untrustworthy. But it felt good to be standing again after weeks of inactivity. She had seen nothing of her man in the shadows for more than five days now. Mary and Father were her only companions in this strange half-world of neither day nor night. She sensed there were others, but she saw no one else.

 

Mary had been in to inform her she would be leaving tomorrow. Their contact from her old life was waiting for her, somewhere. Mary had been deliberately vague, when pressed, and had become completely uncommunicative when Catherine had probed her further. Now she was alone, had been so for hours. The silence was stretching her nerves to screaming point. But the thought of leaving this place, this haven of safety, plainly scared Catherine. Mary had tried to calm her fears, but she would not be comforted. She withdrew into herself, searching for her own answers. This man she was being taken to…he had known her before, Mary had told her this morning.

 

The thought of meeting some stranger, someone she had no memory of, was intimidating. This chamber, with its strange collection of books and unusual things, had become a home to her. The distant tappings that Mary had explained as messages on the pipes, soothed her and comforted her inexplicably. Her memory teased at her, tantalizing her with glimpses, images that had no cohesion, no form that she could hold onto.

 

Walking carefully from table to mantelpiece, Catherine examined all that it held. A winged statuette took her attention, its form slender and graceful. She picked it up, gently smoothing the fine grain of its wood. It had been crafted with care and great attention to detail. Everything in this chamber had been chosen for its beauty or its difference. There were books to tempt even the most jaded of minds. Shakespeare, Rilke and other, more contemporary, novels stacked to one side of the mantle.

 

Catherine looked back towards the bed with its odd collection of cushions and pillows, then beyond to the beautiful stained glass window with its soft apricot glow reflected from without. Why did she feel so at peace here? By rights her confinement should irk her, force her to find some answers beyond its stark walls. A whisper of sound behind her made her turn hastily, nearly losing her balance.

 

Mary stood in the doorway holding a collection of clothing in her arms. “Oh, you’re up,” she remarked, stepping into the room. “I think these might fit you. That gown is not very suitable for going out in.”

 

“No, I suppose not.” Catherine glanced down at her simple cotton garment. It was all she had. Mary had loaned her one of her own nightgowns when she needed to change, but everything else had been taken from her.

 

Mary held up an elegant woollen dress and a simple black coat. “A helper brought these for you,” she explained, laying them across the foot of the bed. There was underwear and matching shoes.

 

“A helper?” Catherine lifted a fold of the dress, admiring its deep blue colour. She discovered she liked blue.

 

“One of our people who help us with our work.”

 

Catherine sat down on the bed. “Is this man I am to meet tomorrow a helper too?”

 

“No.” Mary fussed about the room. “But he will do all he can to help you regain your memory.”

 

“Then I must meet him.” Catherine lifted her shoulders. “Will…will I see you again, Mary?”

 

“It’s better if you don’t, Catherine.” Mary sat down beside her, touching her fingertips to the younger woman’s cheek. “It will be better if you forget all about this place.”

 

“But I would like to help. You have done so much for me, and I—”

 

“You have another life to live, in another place.” Mary’s eyes were troubled. “You must forget us.”

 

“I won’t forget you.” Catherine took her hand. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

 

“Seeing you get well again is thanks enough,” Mary countered with a glimmer of tears in her eyes. “I…will miss you.”

 

Catherine slipped her arms around the other woman’s shoulders and hugged her. “I will miss you all, very much.”

 


‘Her voice did quiver as we parted

You knew I not that heart was broken

From which it came, and I departed

Heeding not the words then spoken’

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

 

In the end Catherine’s reunion with Joe was simply accomplished. Pascal and Jamie guided her unsteady steps Above by little used routes, ones Catherine couldn’t know. Vincent had planned it this way, giving her nothing to remember to perhaps find her way back. They took her out through the park to a path that skirted a stand of great, branching trees. A man paced impatiently up and down, now and then pausing to survey the darkness around him.

 

Once they could see the lonely figure, Pascal placed Catherine on a park bench, and stepping back, he melted out of sight. The shadows beneath the trees created pools of darkness where anything could hide and not be seen.

Vincent stood in the deepest shadows, watching. Pascal and Jamie touched his sleeve briefly in passing as they left him there, guarding his lost love one final time.

 

“Joe?” Catherine called, as she’d been instructed.

 

The man spun around instantly. “Catherine! Oh, God!” He was beside her in four great strides, dragging her up into a bear-hug that threatened to smother her. “Where did you spring from? And where the hell have you been?” Joe was angry and incredibly relieved at the same time. He blamed himself over and over for involving her with that damn book. “I’ve been tearing the entire city apart searching for you.”

 

“Have you?” Catherine pushed him away to look up into his face. Memories, painful, tragic memories came flooding back. Her head throbbed with their sudden release. “Oh, Joe,” she sobbed, burying her face in his coat. “It’s so good to see you again.”

 

“Welcome back, Radcliffe.” Joe sniffed, swiping at his eyes. “You gave us all a damn big fright. Don’t ever do that to me again. I think I’ve lost ten years in the last few weeks.”

 

He pulled her back into his arms, wrapping her tightly against him. Catherine submitted willingly, not noticing the shadows moving with unseen life.

 

In those shadows, Vincent voiced a final, silent goodbye and melted back into the darkness.  

 

“It’s too dangerous for you here. There’s every chance they could come back,” Joe protested in exasperation, pacing the carpet of Catherine’s lounge.

 

“This is home, Joe,” Catherine replied, sitting on the couch with her legs curled beneath her. “This is what I know. There are still too many gaps I’m trying to fill in.”

 

“Yeah, gaps like where the heck have you been for the last two months,” Joe bit back angrily. “And who are those people that took care of you?”

 

“Friends, Joe,” Catherine said simply. “Very good friends.”

 

“Funny friends, they don’t come to visit.” Joe snorted. “Caves and candles, some weird friends you have.” He shrugged at Catherine’s set expression. “All right, have it your way. But there will two armed men at your door, twenty-four seven. They don’t move until we sort this thing out. Okay?”

 

“Okay, Joe.”

 

“And you don’t move a step outside this apartment without an escort and informing me. I won’t have you hurt again.”

 

“I promise,” Catherine avowed solemnly. “Do you think they will try again?”

 

“Until we get our hands on the guys behind Pat’s death and your kidnapping, no one is safe. These are desperate people, Cathy, and they want something from you. What that is, I have no idea. But they’ve tried it once, and my guess they don’t like being told no.”

 

Catherine passed a hand over the bruises still marking her arms. “So I discovered.”

 

“Moreno still won’t talk.” Joe took another turn around the room. “Claims he was set up.” He snorted derisively. “That he’s innocent.”

 

“I still cannot believe that he was capable of such a betrayal.” Catherine shook her head.

 

“The man taught me everything I know, for Pete’s sake! I idolised him.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Joe.” Catherine eyes dropped to her hands. The renewed memory of John Moreno’s betrayal was still very painful. It hurt to know a man she trusted so completely could betray her so utterly.

 

Glimpses of her capture and torture disturbed her composure and her sleep. But there were still pieces of the jigsaw that didn’t fit. There were still huge gaps that stubbornly refused to be filled in. She laid a hand over her abdomen. She hadn’t been feeling well all morning. The after effects of the drugs still played havoc with her system.

 

A knock at the door diverted her attention. Joe raised a hand as Catherine moved to rise. He crossed the room quickly.

 

“Who is it?”

 

“Joe? It’s Jenny.”

 

Joe nodded, slipped all the locks and opened the door a crack to peer out.

 

Jenny stood in the hallway, the bulky figures of Catherine’s watchful guards looming behind her. “May I come in?”

 

“It’s okay.” Joe nodded to the guards, opening the door enough to allow Jenny to slip through.

 

Jenny hurried to hug Catherine tightly. “I didn’t think we would ever find you again.” She kissed her cheek soundly. “I was lost without you.”

 

Catherine returned the kiss with a brittle smile. “Me, too.”

 

“Jenny has agreed to stay for a few days.” Joe put in.

 

“Oh, no, I—”

 

“No buts, no maybes.” Jenny sniffed with decision. “I’m staying. You need someone to look after you, and if you think I’m letting you out of my sight again…” She shook her head.

 

“You gave us too great a scare,” Joe told her. “I’m not about to let it happen again. We will catch those guys if it takes the rest of eternity. Until then you’re not safe.”

 

“And in the meantime you need some fattening up.” Jenny took her arm. “I’ll get the boys outside to bring up my bags and then we’ll grab some lunch. I’m starving.”

 

“All right.” The thought of food made Catherine’s stomach churn, but she smiled through the discomfort. Jenny meant well. “It is good to be home.”


“You are going to have to take it easy, young lady. You need to build up your strength.” Peter Alcott straightened from his examination. He placed vials of Catherine’s blood in a container.

 

“She still doesn’t eat enough to keep a bird alive,” Jenny commented from the bedroom doorway. “She’s feeling unwell all the time.”

 

“Eat, or I will have Joe demanding my head on a plate.” Peter surveyed Catherine closely, noting the dark smudges under her eyes. He sighed sharply, thinking of Father’s detailed note and all it implied. Perhaps it was for the best, but deep down he nurtured a faint hope Catherine would remember.

 

But why should she, he thought now. He repacked his bag. There was nothing to remind her of that other life, of Vincent and all that was Below. “I’ll come and see you again in a couple of days.”

 

“Thanks, Peter…for being a good friend.” Catherine kissed his cheek.

 

The doctor smiled and hugged her. He frowned. She was slimmer than he remembered. He could feel the angles of her bones. “Did I ever tell you about the first time I met this woman?” He turned to Jenny, trying to mask his concerns with humour. “She was stark naked at the time and…” The two of them left the bedroom, Peter going in to great detail in his embarrassing story.

 

A sudden sound from beyond the balcony doors attracted Catherine’s attention. She waited, breathlessly anticipating…she didn’t know what. Her heartbeat thundered in her ears as she strained to hear anything further.

 

“That story would be a real party stopper,” Jenny commented, coming back into the room. “What is it?” she questioned, alerted by Catherine’s listening stillness.

 

“I thought I heard something…out there.” Catherine pointed to the closed doors.

 

“Stay here. Don’t move.” Jenny hurried out of the room. She was back in a moment, brandishing a very large carving knife. “He’ll be minus a few parts if I get hold of him.” She moved noiselessly towards the doors.

 

Catherine opened the drawer of her nightstand. “My gun,” she whispered. “It’s gone. But I had it, I know I did.”

 

“Well, there’s no one out there that I can see.” Jenny surveyed the balcony carefully, before opening one door and stepping through. “Must have been a cat or the wind.”

 

“But who took my gun?’ Catherine shuffled through the contents of the drawer.

 

“Could have been anyone, I guess.” Jenny closed the door behind her, rattling it to check it was locked. “They went over this place pretty thoroughly. There must have been a hundred people through here after you disappeared. It was awful.”

 

Catherine dropped onto the side of the bed, feeling suddenly worn out.

 

“You okay, kid?” Jenny moved to sit beside her.

 

“I…yes, no, I’m not sure. I’ve been feeling so tired lately.”

 

“All the excitement of the last couple of days is catching up with you, I guess.” Jenny pushed her back gently, and Catherine stretched full-length on the bed.

 

Jenny stood. “Rest a while. I’ll go and do some shopping and then I’ll fix us something tasty for dinner. That’s if those two gorillas at the door will let me back in again.”

 

“Be careful, Jen. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

 

“Hey, I have this.” She waved the huge knife. “And I know how to use it.”

 


It was dark. Catherine shivered in her thin, white gown as she cowered in the blackness. Something was stalking her…something evil and malignant. She could feel its hot, fetid breath as it moved closer…ever closer to her hiding place.

 

She wanted to scream, but she couldn’t find her voice…she didn’t have a voice! She opened her mouth, but nothing issued from it. The thing in the darkness snarled at her. She scrambled backwards, coming up hard against a rock wall that scraped her skin and bruised her palms.

 

“You will tell us what we want to know. You will tell us…in the end.”

 

The voice was disembodied, seeming to float in the air before her. Catherine ducked instinctively as a fist hurtled at her out of the void. Then there was a blinding light and the impression of shapes moving beyond its shield. A syringe was thrust into the light, held by a gaunt hand, and someone laughed as she flinched.

 

“You can make it so easy for yourself, Miss Chandler. Tell us what we want to know and then you can go home.”

 

“No…no!” Catherine fought the bonds that held her to a chair.

 

“You will tell us in the end,” the voice stated grimly.

 

 “No!” Catherine fought for freedom as the needle advanced towards her outstretched arm. “Let me go!”

 

“You’re safe. You’re safe now.”

 

The light faded, leaving only one flickering candle. A sense of incredible peace stole over her then.

 

“You came,” she whispered against the solid warmth of his chest. “I thought I would never see you again.”

 

“You could never lose me, Catherine. I am a part of you, just as you are a part of me.”

 

“But I couldn’t find you…”

 

“I’m here. I’ll be here…always.”

 

“Always…” Catherine sighed, nestling closer, turning her face into the hollow of his neck where a pulse beat strongly. “Always…”

 

She felt a feather-light kiss on her hair. Her relaxing body took her over the precipice into a peaceful sleep. Always…  

 

“You’re sure about this?” Father sat in stunned disbelief.

 

“It’s all here in my report.” Peter pushed the documents across the table.

 

The tappings of the pipes were the only sound in the room as Father read and then reread the document.

 

“But how did this happen? When did it happen?”

 

Peter shrugged. “You remember your biology? I was so wrapped up in Cathy’s disappearance, I didn’t give this a second glance. The hospital sent it over, after she gave blood for Joe. But once I got the results of her blood tests back…”

 

“But if Catherine is three months pregnant…” Father’s face was drawn and pale.

 

“Then this all happened before she was kidnapped.” Peter finished the other man’s unspoken thought.

 

Father sat back in his chair. “Have you told her yet?”

 

“No. Against my better judgement, I thought I’d better come to you with it first. I think the ramifications of all this are quite staggering.”

 

“You think Vincent is responsible for this.” Father thumped the report with an impatient hand. “How can he be?”

 

“Well, who else could it be?” Peter shook his head. “They were so completely in love. Cathy never looked at anyone else. Why is that such a hard thing to accept?”

 

“Impossible!” Father held up a denying hand. “ Vincent would never—”

 

“Vincent is a man, Jacob, however you try to get around that fact. He is a man, before anything else. With a man’s natural drives and urges. It seems quite simple to me. It’s the finest expression of what it means to be human, to love and be loved.”

 

“But…Good God.” Father clasped his hands. “I’m afraid this is beyond me. I can’t accept it. It’s impossible.”

 

“Well, you will just have to accept it. It is a fact, a very inescapable one. In six months or so, you’re going to be a grandfather.”

 

Father frowned at his friend’s flippancy. “You make it sound all so easy.”

 

“Well, we have to tell him. He has a right to know.”

 

“But can we be sure?” Father opened the report again. “I mean, this is something…something…” His shoulders sagged.

 

“Unique,” Peter supplied, as he sat forward. “I agree with you there. Also special and quite wonderful.”

 

“After all that has happened. After all they have been through.” Father shook his head. “Why now?”

 

“That which does not kill us only serves to make us stronger.” Peter shuffled the report into order. “It’s Cathy who worries me. She isn’t well. I thought, as you did, that it was best if she forget all this. Now I’m not so sure.” He indicated the room. “There is always something at the back of her eyes, a haunted look. As if she’s constantly searching for something that is lost and she cannot find. She is struggling to find herself again, make all the pieces fit. But we both know there are some very large pieces still missing. One very large piece, indeed. I think, perhaps, we were wrong, Jacob. Now, perhaps, this child is our redemption.”

 

“But the child?” Father shook his head. “It is…I mean, will it be normal, after all that has happened?”

 

“All the tests seem to indicate so. This baby is strong, incredibly so. It’s a survivor.”

 

“Just like it’s apparent father. If we could only be sure.”  

 

“I still have to tell Catherine.” Peter’s brow furrowed with concern. “I truly do not know how she will react. Or what I am going to tell her. She will have to know the truth, Jacob.”

 

“It was all so simple,” Father opined bleakly. “Such are the plans of mice and men. She left and we got on with our lives.”

 

“Noble causes.” Peter grimaced. “Good intentions are never easy.”

 

Father nodded. “Vincent was not himself in those last days.”

 

“He remembers nothing of that time?”

 

“Nothing,” Father stated simply. “His mind is as blank of it all, as Catherine’s is of her kidnapping.”

 

“I don’t envy you your task then.” Peter pushed the report across the table. “This is going to take some explaining.”

 

“But a child?” Father pushed his fingers through his hair. “What kind of child will this be?”

 

“A child of infinite possibilities, Jacob. A true miracle.”

 

“I wish I had your certainties. Where will it all end?”

 

“In the happiness of two people who truly love each other. They belong together. If you could see how unhappy Cathy is right now, you would agree with me.”

 

“But the ending, Peter? How can there be a happy ending to all of this?”

 

“Only God can see the future, Jacob. And I’m afraid he hasn’t spoken to me in quite a few years.”

 

Father snorted at this piece of wry wit. “I can only hope their happiness will be enough. I truly do. I’m not sure Vincent is ready for this. I don’t think any of us are.”

 

“This child was conceived in love. There can be no greater truth than that.”

 

Father stood. “I’ll try to keep that in mind, when I go and tell Vincent he’s about to become a father. I doubt he will be any more ready for the news than I am.”  

 

Catherine slipped through the balcony doors into the cool darkness of the night beyond. Jenny slept on as Catherine closed the door behind her with care. The lights of the city gleamed against the dark velvet of the sky.

 

Catherine felt a restlessness, an anxiety that wouldn’t allow her to eat or sleep. The past week had been a tumultuous time ever since she had come home. The slightest thing made her jumpy. Joe and Jenny were great friends and excellent jailors, but they couldn’t help with her sense of displacement.

Almost as if she didn’t belong in this life.

 

Joe had stayed for several hours this afternoon, making her aware of the dangers she still faced and his department’s inability to find any clues about her attackers. They had covered their tracks well.  He had been frustrated and forthright in his determination to leave no stone unturned. But Catherine knew her safety and security played on his mind, making him quick to flatly deny her request for some limited freedom. But he knew time was against them all. How long could Catherine remain a prisoner in her own apartment?

 

She inhaled the cool night air, flavoured with the scents of the city. The broad expanse of Central Park stretched before her wandering gaze. She leaned on the balcony wall, trying to pierce the depths of the shadowed places among the trees. Something out there was calling to her, asking her to simply believe in nights and their hidden magic.

 

“What, or who, are you, out there?” Voicing the thought made her start badly. Was she truly beginning to lose her grip on reality?

 

Above her, on the roof of her building, Vincent sat alone in the darkness. He had seen Catherine come out into the darkness, and it was all he could do not to go down to her, reveal himself once more. He kept watch. He had kept watch ever since she’d left the tunnels. He would stay until the breaking dawn drove him Below. But he would return with the night, every night.

 

The night wind tugged at his mane, teasing it out into a tawny cloud about his head. It whispered to him, all the sounds, all the scents of the night. His loneliness engulfed him, his heart like a stone in his chest. But for Catherine’s sake, he would not seek her out. He had made a promise. He would keep it, no matter what it cost him. But it hurt, just the same.

 

“I will remember,” he vowed softly. “I will remember for both of us.”

 

As he watched, Catherine turned away from the view. She stopped, frowning at the rose bush looking neglected and forgotten. Its leaves had withered; the shrivelled remains of red and white blooms scattered petals across the patio. She reached to finger one of the thorns.

 

 Vincent heard her groan. Saw her put one hand to her head. He almost went down to her then. Barely managing to hold himself in check, he crouched in the shadows, his thighs trembling with need, everything passionate and caged within him, screaming for the release of action.

 

Catherine moaned, her head suddenly full of pain, lights and sounds that clamoured to be noticed. The pain was so sharp she closed her eyes against it, fighting against a rising wave of nausea.

 

The rose bush; it had something to do with the rose bush. Suddenly pain shot up her arm as she snagged a fingertip on a thorn. “Ouch!” she exclaimed, snatching her hand away. A bright bead of blood bloomed on her torn flesh.

 

Suddenly her hand began to shake. Her whole body began to tremble as an image imposed itself upon her vision, the image of a beautiful, tawny head bent over her hand and the feathering touch of warm lips against her damaged skin. Her whole body suddenly went icy cold, but her hand throbbed with sensual longing. She turned suddenly, as if expecting to discover someone standing in the shadows at the end of the balcony. But she was alone.

 

Memories of the candlelit stone chamber, the vision of the clawed hand over  Mary’s, rose once more in her mind. Somehow her two visions meshed together, becoming one.

 

“Catherine…” The wind whispered to her inner ear, teasing at the door of her closed mind.  She looked back at the rose bush. Two blooms had been cut from it. The stems had been neatly severed. Two roses, one white…one blood red… There had been two roses there once…

 

Catherine fought with her memory, trying to pierce its blank curtain. The book of poetry had contained two roses. The lines of the poem began to repeat themselves endlessly in her head. Somehow they held the answer, the key. If she could only—

 

“Catherine! What on earth are you doing out here? You’ll catch your death!” Jenny voice cut sharply across her reverie.

 

 “I couldn’t sleep. I needed some fresh air.”

 

Jenny put one arm around Catherine’s shoulders. “You haven’t slept in days, girlfriend. You will kill yourself if you go on like this much longer.”

 

“Oh, Jen, what am I going to do?”

 

“Is it that bad?” Jenny peered into her friend’s troubled face.

 

“Every time I reach for answers, they slide away again. I know there is more I should remember, but when I try to remember, it just won’t come. It’s making me crazy.”

 

“So you make yourself sick with worry.” Jen shook her gently. “What are we going to do with you?”

 

“Put up with me and my craziness.” Catherine shrugged.

 

“Come inside.” Jenny turned her towards the doors. “We’ll grab a cup of coffee and talk about it. Someone needs to sort you out.”

 

“A cup of coffee,” Catherine chided her. “Your universal cure-all.” She allowed herself to be hustled back inside, but not before taking one final look back at the shadows that hung empty in the corners of the balcony. They remained silent, mocking her attempts to pierce their secrets.

 

Seated in the lounge, the coffee warmed the chill from her spirits. She huddled over it, staring into the dark depths.

 

“So, feel like talking?” Jenny prompted, after a long silence.

 

“I don’t know, Jen.” Catherine raised her eyes. “My life just seems so incomplete. It’s as if I have lost a part of myself and it’s waiting out there, somewhere. Just waiting and hoping I will remember it.”

 

“Maybe there is not an it. Maybe it’s just a who.” Jenny’s mouth turned down at the corners. “What about Elliot Burch? He couldn’t keep his hands off you, not so long ago.”

 

 “Elliot?” Catherine frowned. “No, I don’t think it’s him.”

 

“Well, you can’t go on like this,” Jenny told her roundly. “You will be a cot-case inside another week, and then Joe and Peter will want to know what I’ve been doing to you.”

 

“You are good for me.” Catherine sighed. “If only it was—” She stopped, staring at the bookcase behind her friend.

 

“What…?” Jenny swung around to look.

 

“I don’t know…” Catherine felt as if she were moving in slow motion as she got to her feet, reaching to touch the books in the middle row. Jenny watched, her face alive with alarm and concern.

 

Catherine’s wandering finger stopped, trembled, then stroked along the spine of a book of poetry. Carefully, she removed it, turning it over in her hands. Her breath jammed in her throat, her heart pounding against the cage of her ribs. It was a plain blue book, nothing remarkable about it at all. The collected works of Dylan Thomas.

 

She could even remember where she had bought it. Her hands trembled as she opened it slowly. She felt like Pandora as the pages fell apart easily. There was a folded page of notepaper tucked into the spine. Catherine removed it carefully.

 

“What is that?”

 

Jenny puzzled question made Catherine start violently.

 

“Something precious that I’ve misplaced…” Her hand shook as she unfolded the note. Her vision began to sparkle and swim with tears. She already knew what was written there. One line and a signature in a beautiful, flowing script.

 

‘Love is the truth beyond all knowledge…’  

Vincent

“Vincent…” Catherine felt the room sway about her, the pain in her head a brilliance that threatened to take her sanity and her vision. She clutched at the table for support.

 

“Catherine!” Jenny sprang to her feet, just managing to catch her friend’s falling body before she slid to the floor, her tortured mind finally surrendering to the inexorable flood of shattered memories.


The loneliest place we have among the clouds

And she who dwells with me, whom I have loved

With such communion, that no place on earth

Can be a solitude to me

 

William Wordsworth

 

 

The sound of voices intruded into Catherine’s unconscious mind. Angry voices, discussing her. She held her breath, listening, hunting for any clues to why everyone had deceived her so terribly. Peering cautiously through her lashes, she could see Peter and Jenny standing at the foot of her bed.

 

“If she goes on like this she will kill herself.” Peter’s tone was low and angry. “This has to stop.”

 

“It was this note.” Jenny unfolded it. “It’s from someone named Vincent. She took one look at it and just collapsed. Do you have any idea who this guy is? It’s only one line. Why’d she get so upset?”

 

“I…don’t know.” Peter took the note and read it. He tucked it away in his shirt pocket. “Perhaps it’s better if we don’t mention it until she brings it up herself.”

 

Catherine frowned, watching Peter pass a distracted hand over his hair. She guessed he was part of the plot to keep her in ignorance. She wanted to shout and scream her despair and disappointment that even Vincent didn’t feel he could trust her with their secret any more.

 

Her heart contracted sharply. Vincent had been the man of the shadows. Back in the chamber, in the tunnels. How could she not have known? Not guessed his identity? She searched vainly for any sense of their shared connection. Any clue to his whereabouts, but nothing came to her, beyond the pain of her headache and the aching of her dry throat. Perhaps the fault lay with her, perhaps she had told her abductors more than she had been aware, after all. Had she, in fact, jeopardised everything and everyone she loved? Tears forced their way through her meshed lashes. When first we practice to deceive…

 

“Peter…” She sighed, her throat tight with unshed tears.

 

“Catherine!” Peter was beside her in an instant, taking her wrist, checking her pulse, his gaze wary and warning. “You gave us quite a scare.”

 

“Why, Peter?” Catherine whispered, ever mindful of Jenny’s watching presence.

 

Peter sat on the edge of the bed, leaning down to her. “Out of some sense of misguided loyalty and honour.” He stroked her pale cheek. “Out of a great love.”

 

“So…I didn’t betray anyone?” Catherine stirred uneasily. “I worried that perhaps I had–”

 

“No, no, never that. Everyone is safe,” Peter whispered a swift assurance. “I guess the idea was that you could live your life. A life without limits.” His throat worked. “You could never betray anyone.”

 

 “Oh, Peter. What are we going to do…?”

 

“I don’t know.” Peter glanced at Jenny, who had been watching their whispered exchange with intense curiosity.

 

She held up both hands defensively. “Hey, I can tell when three’s a crowd.” She lifted a denying shoulder. “I think I can hear some dishes calling me.”

 

“Thanks, Jenny.” Catherine grimaced. “It’s better this way.”

 

“Hey, I can take a hint.” Jenny looked back as she left the bedroom. “But maybe one day I’ll get to meet this mystery man of yours, this Vincent. He sure can write a great pick-up line.”

 

Peter closed the door behind her, before returning to sit on the side of Catherine’s bed. He took her hand. “How much do you remember?”

 

“Everything. I…I am pregnant, Peter.”

 

“I know. The blood tests I took the other day were positive.” Peter squeezed her hand.

 

“They…were keeping me alive for the baby.” Tears flowed freely down her cheeks. “They wanted to steal my child.”

 

“Vincent’s child?” Peter prompted carefully, his face stricken.

 

“Yes.” Catherine inhaled shakily, releasing a gusty sigh. “He would have died, Peter. He was dead. I…had no other way of bringing him back to me. I couldn’t lose him. He is everything I am.”

 

“But what about Vincent?’ Peter’s brow creased. “He remembers nothing, nothing at all about that time?”

 

“I wanted to tell him. I was going to tell him, but…” Catherine scrubbed at her tears.

 

“I’m afraid Jacob knows,” Peter confessed on a sigh. “I really didn’t know what else to do. How to even tell you. You would want to know who the father was and what could I say?”

 

“I’m sorry, Peter.” Catherine squeezed his hand. “And Vincent? What does he know?”

 

Peter covered her hand with his. “So far, he knows nothing. Working out how to tell him was going to be the hardest thing Jacob and I would ever have to do. It was all so neat, so tidy. I suppose when you look back now, we were all trying to do the right thing. Especially for you.” Peter shook his head. “Noble causes. We have all been such fools.”

 

“No, Peter. Just misguided.” Catherine pushed herself up against her pillows. “The life was my choice. I would have it no other way.”

 

“I think there is someone else you should be convincing of that. I’m just an old fool.” He shrugged. “He was doing this for all the right reasons, you know.”

 

Catherine nodded. “Even if it broke his heart.”

 

“Even then he would do it again. He loves you that much.”

 

“Noble causes,” Catherine whispered. “ I know.”

 

Peter heaved a deep sigh. “Jacob is going to take some convincing. The poor old boy is totally shattered. All his plans just evaporated before his eyes and he has no idea what to do for the best.”

 

“This child…” Catherine laid a protecting hand over her abdomen.

 

“Is a gift created out of pure love,” Peter finished for her. “Make sure you tell Vincent that before anything else.”

 

“I will.” Catherine reached to hug him tightly.

 

“I wish that things could be different…for the two of you.” Peter kissed her cheek.

 

“He is the man I love,” Catherine replied simply. “There could never be anyone else. He is beautiful.”

 

“And so are you.” Peter stood. “You will go Below?”

 

“This child will cause too many questions. Questions for which I do not have any answers. And if my kidnappers try again…” She left the rest unsaid, her horror at this thought, plain in her eyes. “Joe cannot protect me forever. But he’s going to be upset. I hate to do this to him, but it’s the only thing we can do.”

 

“Then go, Catherine. You will be safe Below. Vincent can protect you there. Joe will naturally be against the idea. But it is your life and your decision.”   

 

The door opened slowly, Jenny peered around its edge. “Sorry,
but the dishes are all done. Is there anything I can do?”

 

“Thanks, Jen.” Catherine pushed her legs over the edge of the bed. “But there is something I need to do. Alone.”

 

“You’re leaving. I knew it. Joe isn’t going to like this,” Jen warned, as Catherine crossed the room to her wardrobe. “I’m going to catch the blame for letting you go. I just hope this Vincent of yours is worth it.”

 

“He is. But we will just have to try and make Joe understand.” Catherine shrugged.

 

“Okay, Peter...” Jenny rounded on the doctor. “Help me out here. Tell her this isn’t a good idea. Those guys outside will never let her through.”

 

“Once I have spoken with Joe, Peter will take me where I need to go.” Catherine gathered an armful of clothes. “Please don’t worry. I am going to be fine.”

 

“I know you will.” Peter took Jenny’s arm to restrain her from interfering. “You are the bravest woman I know.”

 

“It took courage for him to walk away.” Catherine’s voice was husky with emotion. “He gave everything up for me.”

 

“Come on, let me in, guys,” Jenny huffed angrily. “I know you’re talking about this Vincent of yours.” She balled her fists on her hips. “What exactly is going on here? Where do you think you’re going? To him?”

 

Catherine smiled mistily. “I’m going home, Jenny. Where I’ve always belonged.”

 

“‘Love is the truth beyond all knowledge,’” Peter quoted softly, as he bent to kiss her cheek. “Let me know how he takes the news. I wish I could be there to see his face.”

 


“You can’t be serious about this!” Joe’s tone was low and angry, as he faced Catherine in the early morning light.

 

He looked tired and careworn and decidedly unhappy. He rubbed at his stubbled cheeks. He hadn’t bothered to shave, but had hurried to Catherine’s apartment the moment she telephoned him with her news.

 

“I have never been more serious, Joe.” Catherine faced him calmly.

 

“Just when I think we’re getting somewhere, you want to up and leave. And you won’t even tell me where you’re going.”

 

“Not won’t, Joe. I’m sorry. I can’t tell you anything. I made a promise years ago never to tell.” Catherine spread her hands helplessly.

 

“It’s something to do with this Vincent guy Jenny’s been talking about. She says you’re crazy, too. Who’s he then? Why don’t I know him?”

 

“As I said, I can’t tell you, Joe.”

 

“Secrets!” Joe snorted his derision. “I don’t believe this!” He took an agitated turn about the room. “What if those guys still get to you? What then? I won’t be able to help you if I don’t know where the heck you’re disappearing to this time!” He thrust his fingers through his already disordered hair.

 

“They won’t find me, Joe.” Catherine tried to calm his agitation. “I still need you, Joe. I will keep in contact with you. As often as I can.”

 

“What, more grubby notes like the last one?” Joe turned back to her angrily. “A note with some scruffy, half-starved kid attached to it. He looked like an escapee from some medieval pantomime.”

 

“Yes.” Catherine smiled at the accurate description. “But I will be safe.”

 

“Oh, I’m glad you find this situation funny,” Joe snapped, coming to stand before her. “You aren’t in any sort of new trouble are you?”

 

“No, no more trouble than the problems we already have. I will be all right, Joe. You just have to believe me.”

 

“Believe you…” he snorted. “Trouble always seemed to have a way of finding you, Radcliffe. You worry me and you scare me.” He took another turn around the room. “If anything was to happen to you again…” He left the rest unsaid, his face tired and drawn. “You’ll be the death of me one day.”

 

“Please don’t worry about me, Joe.” Catherine stood and went to him. “I am going to a place where no one will find me, not if I don’t want them to do so. A safe place, among good friends who care about me.” She reached to slide her arms around his neck, hugging him close.

 

“Caves and candles?” Joe returned the embrace, squeezing her tightly. “I wonder which of us is the bigger fool.” He heaved a deep sigh and kissed her cheek. “Don’t go too far away, Radcliffe. I don’t know what I would do without you to keep me grounded.”

 

“I won’t, I promise. I know my return has been a closely guarded secret.” Catherine pulled away and picked up a folded note from the table beside the couch. “But I want you to give this to Elliot Burch for me. Please, Joe.” She held the note out.

 

Joe stared at it with deep suspicion clear on his face. “You’re suddenly very sure of the man.”

 

“He would never hurt me, Joe, despite what you might think.” She took his hand and closed his fingers around the note. “Elliot is a good man. He deserves to know I’m all right.”

 

“I wish you would tell me what you are up to. Where you are going.” He crushed the note, shaking it in his closed fist. “It’s gonna drive me crazy not knowing where you are and how you are. That I can’t help you.”

 

“You could say I’m at last finding the missing pieces of the jigsaw and finally making them fit.” Catherine laid a comforting hand against his lean cheek.

 

“You had better keep in touch, Radcliffe.” Joe grabbed her hand and held it tightly. “Or I won’t be responsible for what I might do. I would tear this whole city apart brick by brick if I needed to, just to find you.”

 

Catherine smiled. “I will keep in touch, Joe. As often as I can.”

 

“And how long will this new mystery of yours last? When will I see you again?”

 

“I don’t honestly know.” Catherine dropped her eyes. “Perhaps it may never end. Perhaps this place is where I was always meant to be.”


Jenny had been harder to convince, but once she’d accepted the inevitable, she helped Catherine pack what she needed to take Below. Peter had promised to deliver her things, sight unseen, as soon as the coast was clear.

 

Catherine would travel alone to see Vincent. The prospect sent shivers racing up and down her spine, but in turn, also an incredible sense of peace.

 

“This Vincent of yours,” Jenny asked as the two friends parted the next day. “Do you love him? Does he love you?”

 

“With all my heart. There never could be anyone else now.”

 

“Then I wish you all the happiness in the world, kiddo. You owe it to yourself.”

 

“Thanks, Jen.” Catherine hugged her tightly.

 

“Now don’t you disappear completely on me, woman.” Jenny pulled a tissue from her purse and blew her nose. “I want regular reports from you. And an invitation to the wedding.”

 

“I am truly going to miss you. I can’t thank you enough for all you have done.”

 

“Just give this Vincent of yours a hug from me and tell him he better be good to you. He must be quite something.”

 

“He is everything to me.” Catherine sighed. “Without him I am nothing.”

 

“You really are a case, do you know that?” Jenny wiped her eyes. “Now look what you made me do,” she chided mistily. “I will have to get myself all made up again.”

 

“Oh, don’t change, Jen.” Catherine laughed freely for the first time in a very long time. “Don’t ever change.”

 

 

Catherine took the drainage tunnel route down into the secret world below Manhattan. She waited impatiently for full darkness, before daring to leave her apartment building. She took extreme care not to be seen leaving. Apart from the ever-present danger of being discovered by her recent assailants, she knew Joe was quite capable of trailing her to discover her destination. 

 

He was extremely unhappy about the turn of events, that he was no longer in control of her whereabouts. If someone could be kidnapped out of the car park of the Justice Building, then Central Park would be a far easier hunting ground.

 

But Catherine couldn’t have been in safer hands now. Peter had warned Father, and Catherine knew her underworld guardians had been sent Above to closely shadow her progress. She could feel unseen eyes watching her every move. Guarding her safety on her way Below.

 

The night air was chilly, but Catherine moved along the moonlit paths oblivious to the cold. Those moments in the darkness of the cavern deep beneath her feet where she brought Vincent back to her, back to the reality of their love, in the only way she knew how, warmed her blood now.

 

She knew Vincent retained no memory of the intense passion that had flared between them. His conscious mind had locked the memory away as surely as hers had done with the most important part of her life.

 

But now that fact had to be faced and the results discussed. Catherine’s heart whispered with the precious memories as she walked on through the night, her whole being singing a lullaby to the new life she carried within her. They were going home together.

 

“She remembers…everything?” Vincent sat in the leather-backed chair in his chamber. He had recently returned from his nightly vigil above Catherine’s apartment. Alarmed to find her apartment dark and empty, he had searched for clues to her whereabouts, but found nothing. He had climbed down and peered through the balcony windows. No longer being able to sense her every thought, every feeling, was tearing out his great heart.

 

Now he didn’t know what to feel. Elation and confusion warred with his desperate need to see her once more. To hold her, make sure she was safe from harm. To never let her go again.

 

Father limped across the floor. “Peter said she found a note in a book of poetry. A note from you.” He eased himself into the other chair. “Love is the truth beyond all knowledge.”

 

“Dylan Thomas.” Vincent grimaced. “I missed that one.” He sighed. “And now she is coming Below?”

 

“She is coming to see you, Vincent.”

 

His great chest heaved. “She had a chance, Father. A chance at a new life. A life without limits.” He raised a clenched fist. “And now, what do we do?”

 

“She loves you, Vincent.” Father leaned forward to grasp his hand. “What you tried to do for her, what we all tried to do…it was noble and selfless, more than anyone could have done for her. But circumstances have changed.”

 

“I blame myself—”

 

“No, Vincent. There is no blame here. You could only do what your heart thought was right. Now you must let it guide you again. You must allow yourself to love her, to be there for her. It’s all she wants now.”

 

“To have a life together.” Vincent’s eyes filled with pain. “But what do I have to offer her, Father?”

 

“Only yourself and your love,” Father told him quietly. “It is everything.” He sat back to watch his son. He would not speak of the baby; that was for Catherine alone to do. But his old heart wept for these two lovers whom fate had decreed must live apart. What would become of them; what would become of them all in this secret place? How much danger did Catherine’s presence Below pose to their fragile world?

 

The thought of the child had been a difficult thing for him to accept. The frightening possibilities raised by the presence of the baby caused him many sleepless nights. Vincent’s own life had been a difficult, painful struggle for him to come to terms with what and who he was. To wish such a struggle on his child in its turn…

 

Father’s blood ran cold at the thought. What had Catherine been thinking?  

 

 

The heavy metal door closed behind Catherine with a dull thud. She breathed a sigh of relief. This was where she belonged. The soft tapping of the pipes soothed her strained nerves. Already the pace and the harmony of the place began to seep into her consciousness. Catherine closed her eyes, just listening to the quiet. It was all so different from her frantic world.

 

A staccato message suddenly clattered along the pipes beside her. Catherine recognised her personal alert code, an urgent summons for the man she loved. Vincent was now aware of her return to his world. But would he accept her decision? He could remove himself from her reach, retreat far below to the deepest tunnels that only he knew well. She laid a hand over her abdomen, her heartbeat quickening. Father had given his word Vincent would wait for her.

 

 

Vincent raised his great head as the pipes echoed their message. Catherine had returned. He felt an unaccustomed flare of panic. Why was he suddenly so afraid? This was his Catherine, the other half of his soul. She could never willingly harm him. She had almost died for him. He pressed a hand to the pain deep in his chest. But sometimes love can hurt more than any other emotion. He turned his head, listening for the sound of her footsteps.

 

Father got to his feet. Leaning on his stick he reached to grip his son’s broad shoulder. “I’ll be close by if you need me. It will be all right, Vincent. She will understand why you sent her away.”

 

Vincent gripped his hand without answering. His eyes remained fixed on the chamber entrance. 



Catherine knew that Vincent would not come to meet her. As hard as it was for her to accept, she knew he would wait for her, meet her on his own terms. He had tried to redirect the course of her life, tried to place himself beyond her reach forever. But he’d reckoned without the sheer strength of her love for him, and she had found her way back. Now she would have to fight for that love with everything at her command. There was a tiny fluttering in the pit of her stomach, and Catherine smiled as she moved along the tunnel. This undeniable new life was the most powerful weapon of all.  

 

Vincent sat staring at his hands. He surveyed them critically. The long, curving nails that could tear a man apart in an instant, the soft covering of fine, tawny fur that extended up his wrists to vanish beneath the cuffs of his shirt. The pain in his chest was making it difficult to breathe. How could she love him, even bear to be near him with all his black rages and killing strength?

 

He folded his nails into the softness of his palms and tightened his grip, letting the pain bite into his senses without flinching. She was coming to him. This beautiful woman whom other, more deserving men desired…she was coming for him. To be with him in this dark, deep place far below the world of sunlight and happiness she deserved. The thought deepened his sense of depression. He had given Father his word he would see her. But he knew he had no right to ask anything of her…

 


Catherine halted a few steps from Vincent’s chamber. A deep sense of despair suddenly overwhelmed her. An intense sadness pervaded her very soul. But the despair, the sadness, was not hers. Her heart had been buoyed up by the knowledge that Vincent could not reject her once he knew the truth, once he understood.

 

The child within her moved again, a tiny flutter of comfort. It was so small, so fragile, and yet she felt somehow that its spirit understood everything. The thought stole her breath.

 

The deep sadness, the disquiet, returned, weighting her down, dragging at her footsteps. Suddenly she knew the feelings were not hers, but Vincent’s. Somehow, in some way she did not begin to understand, their bond had been reversed. Now she could feel what he was feeling. Only in a rudimentary way – it was not the depth of connection that Vincent had shared with her – but it was there, tightening her senses, rippling across her skin. She could sense he wanted to run, to escape her return. But by the sheer force of his iron will, he stayed…to face her, to try and convince her of his unworthiness to love her.

 

“Oh, Vincent…” she whispered. “I love you…”

 

She moved nearer. She could feel his heartbeat, strong and rapid above her own. And another tiny murmur of sound that was their child. Catherine pressed a hand to her chest and stepped into the doorway of Vincent’s chamber.

 


I gave myself to him,

And took himself in pay.

The solemn contract of a life

Was ratified this way.

 

Emily Dickinson

 

 

Vincent knew she was there the moment she entered. The sound of her breathing, the subtle perfume that was hers alone, the clean, fresh scent of her hair. All these things flowed through his heightened senses. He could not look at her; he looked instead at his clenched fists, the pain of his grip a numbness that seeped into his very soul. He could sense everything about her, everything vital and true. But he could no longer find the inner woman he had come to know so well.

 

“Hello, Vincent.” Catherine moved to his side, looking down at his bent head.

 

The candlelight struck golden lights in the thickness of his mane. Reaching out, she ran her hand down its silken length. Slumped in his chair, he didn’t move. But his breathing changed pace, becoming rapid and uneven. She easily sensed all the great muscles within him screaming for the release of explosive action. But she was not afraid.

 

Vincent fought to remain seated. To feel her touch once more, to have her so near, so close. He fought to prevent himself from jumping to his feet, taking her into his arms and loving her as she deserved to be loved. Instead, he sat beneath her questing hand, allowing her to sooth him, comfort him with her softness and love.

 

“Why, Vincent?” Catherine placed a hand over one of his closed fists. The knuckles were white, starkly outlined beneath their mantle of soft fur. Gently, firmly, she gripped his hand, raising it slowly to her lips to kiss each knuckle in turn, feeling the growing tension ripple through Vincent’s entire body.

 

Vincent shuddered then. A great wave of emotion roared through him, demanding, howling for release. He would have died for her. But could he live for her? Catherine’s soft lips brushed his skin, evoking sensations that threatened to unman him. All the poetry of his life had never prepared him for such a naked and untrammelled emotional flood scorching through him.

 

Catherine’s soft lips brushed his skin. He sensed his emotional armour beginning to shatter. He dragged air deep into his starving lungs, the pain hot and searing.

 

He watched, fascinated, as she kissed each of his fingers in turn, unfurling one at a time like some precious gift. She smoothed her fingertips over the red crescents marking his palm where his nails had taken their toll of his flesh.

His trembling became more violent when Catherine finally raised her eyes to his. She looked deep, showing nothing but love and concern.

 

“‘For thy sweet love remembered…’” she quoted softly.

 

Leaning forward as she spoke, she placed her mouth softly over his, letting the sensations she evoked within him sweep through her as she parted her lips, drawing his whole body upright, pulling him towards her by this most intimate and fragile of contacts.

 

Vincent held himself there, poised and utterly still as she raised her head slowly to smile at him. The touch of her lips against his was both a pain and a joy. But he was still afraid. For himself and Catherine, if he let himself feel again, allowed himself to believe in the possibility of hope.

 

But those same needs were no longer listening to his rational mind. They clamoured to be break free, forcing their way through all the barriers he had erected to seal himself off from the realities of their love. The hands he had so recently despised reached for her. They closed on her shoulders, sliding up her neck to thread their way through her hair. He needed to hold her, to feel her body against his once more, more than anything now. To know that she was his, alone. For all time.

 

“‘That then I scorn to change my state with kings,’” he whispered on a tortured moan.

 

He finally surrendered, caressing her slender body, sliding his arms around Catherine’s waist and burying his face against her hair. Whatever happens, whatever comes, she was his once more. That was all that mattered now…

 

Catherine rested her cheek against his hair as she held him, rocking Vincent gently, letting him begin to heal beneath the sureness of her touch. Together they had a long road to travel and this was only the beginning. She could only pray for his acceptance of all she had to tell him now.

 


A long time later Catherine curled her legs beneath her. She rested her head on Vincent’s shoulder as they sat together on his bed.

 

“It was an opportunity for you to return to the life you had before.” Vincent shook his head. “A life uncomplicated by so many secrets and dangers.”

 

“All I love, all I could possibly ever need, is right here, Vincent. You must believe that now.”

 

He kissed her forehead gently. “But I cannot give you—”

 

“There is nothing you cannot give me. Nothing,” Catherine interrupted, sitting up to take his face between her hands. “You need to believe that, above all things.”

 

“I want nothing more than to believe you,” he replied simply.

 

“You are the one who deserves so much more, Vincent.” She traced the lines of his forehead with her fingertips. “You believe that of me, but you do not realise how much you give of yourself. I could ask for nothing else.”

 

Vincent sighed sharply. The candlelight reflected the sapphire gleam of his eyes as he bent to kiss her gently. “You are everything that I am.”

 

“And I love you. I will always love you.” Catherine held him close. She could feel his heartbeat, beneath her hand and within her, tuned so finely to hers they beat as one. This new knowledge gave her the strength to continue.

 

“Vincent…” She sat up again, taking his strong hand in hers.

 

“What is it that you find so hard to say?” He watched her, nothing the bruises beneath her eyes, the thinness of her face. Her steady gaze was unfaltering, but he could sense her unease. He returned the warmth of her grasp, giving her the courage to tell him what it was she found so difficult to say.

 

“When you went down to that cavern, beneath the catacombs, you went there because you could not bear to hurt those you love. The ones who loved you.”

 

“I felt I could no longer protect them…from myself.” Vincent’s voice was filled with raw pain and anguish.

 

“And I went in to you because…because life without you, Vincent, would have been more than I could bear. You were my everything.” Catherine battled to speak through the wave of raw pain and emotion she was sensing from her love. She took his chin in her hand, forcing him to look at her. “There are dark places in us all, Vincent. In every one of us. You were no different.”

 

“But I could have killed you,” he whispered. “I was so afraid.”

 

Catherine drew him close, nestling her face into the warmth of his neck.

 

Vincent caressed the length of her slim frame, as if trying to reassure himself of her reality. He felt her shudder against him.

 

“You were in such pain, such agony...”

 

“I was losing the struggle, just when I had so much to fight for. I didn’t think I could survive.”

 

“But you did win the struggle, Vincent. Despite everything, you came back to us.”

 

Vincent took her face between his hands, looking down into the beauty of her eyes. “You won it for me, Catherine,” he said then, with complete honesty. “You found where I was hiding and brought me back.”

 

“When you collapsed…when you…” Catherine fought for the words to tell him. “When I kissed you, I sensed you were leaving me. You were dying. Vincent. I didn’t know what to do to save you. How to keep you with me.”

 

Vincent rested his forehead against hers, their shared breath mingling in the heated space between them. He drew a long shuddering sigh, releasing it slowly. “I have no memory of that dark time,” he replied simply, his eyes deeply troubled.

 

“You opened your eyes and saw me,” Catherine said carefully. “There was such need in the look you gave me, such longing. You clung to me, as if you were afraid that if you let me go…”

 

“I would have truly lost the best part of myself.” Vincent bowed his head and Catherine had to strain to hear his words. “I couldn’t let you leave me. But I couldn’t let you stay, to see me like that.”

 

“I know.” She laid a hand against his cheek. “You needed to be healed. To be released from all that pain. To find a new way of assuaging all the agonies that gripped you. There was only one way I knew to do that. One last precious gift I could share with you in that dark place, Vincent.”

 

He stared at her. There was no disgust, only a deepening look of despair. Catherine could sense he understood all the implications of her words.

 

“You sacrificed yourself, to save me.”

 

“There was no sacrifice,” she denied swiftly. “Only love and a need to understand your pain. It became my pain too. Together we found a way.”

 

“Together…” Vincent stood, walking away from her, his shame a palpable thing. He turned back with the safety of distance between them and held out his hands. “How could I love you honestly, in all truth…with these!” 

 

“Oh, Vincent…” Catherine stood and would have gone to him, but he evaded her. She stopped in the middle of the room and watched him helplessly as he paced back and forth. “There is no shame in our having loved, Vincent.”

 

He halted his pacing to stare at her. “You sound so sure.”

 

“I would do it all again…if you needed me, as you did then.” She faced him squarely, ready to battle his uncertainties, his deep, crippling fears.

 

“Love is akin to hate, Catherine.” His voice was low, strained. “So rage is akin to passion. In my need for you, in my desire, I saw only the darkest kind of hell. If I hurt you in that desire, that need, I would…surely have destroyed our love and myself.”

 

Catherine went to him then, before he could deny her a second time. She wrapped her arms around his waist, holding him tightly against her until his struggles ceased and he accepted her touch.

 

“We loved, Vincent.” She lifted her head to look up into his eyes. “And all that you are, you gave to me. There can be no more precious gift than that.”

 

Vincent looked down at her, at the soft trembling of her lips and the tears drowning her green eyes and he felt humbled. That Catherine, his Catherine, could love him was beyond all rational thought or logic.

 

“All that I am, all that I could ever become, I owe to you,” he said then, as, carefully, he lowered his lips to hers and kissed her with incredible tenderness. He could taste the salt of her tears on her mouth.

 

Catherine pulled back gently. She reached up to trace the shape of his lips with her fingertip, probing between to touch one of his long canine teeth.

 

Vincent gasped, startled by the intimate invasion.

 

Catherine smiled. “All that you are, you gave to me,” she repeated softly, the words, her confession, suddenly so easy to say. “I carry our child, Vincent. You are going to be a father.”

 


Let me confess that we two must be twain,

Although our undivided loves are one:

So shall those blots that do with me remain,

Without thy help, by me be borne alone.

 

William Shakespeare

 

 

Vincent stood in the entrance to the drainage tunnel, watching the night dissolve into the dawn. He’d stood there for hours now, trying to come to terms with the truth that Catherine had told him. She slept Below, curled up among the cushions and pillows of his bed, exhausted by all that had passed between them.

 

Vincent watched the stars wink out one by one. Soon it would be time for him to retreat Below, but not just yet…

 

Oh, Catherine…what kind of a child did we create in the blackness of that cavern?

 

He knew all the blame for the child’s conception lay with him. What she’d done had been out of desperation and love. But his child…?

 

He shook his head, a sigh echoing from the very depths of his soul. Slowly he turned his back on the lightening world. Whatever else happened now, he would be there for Catherine.

 


Going Below, Vincent sought Father out in his chamber. He found him, pushing his breakfast around his plate without any real interest. He looked up as Vincent came in.

 

“You have spoken with Catherine?” It was more a statement than a question.

 

“I have.” Vincent nodded as he sat down opposite him.

 

“How is she now?” Father watched his son’s expression closely, not sure how much he knew.

 

“She is sleeping. The journey has sapped her strength.” Vincent looked deep into his father’s eyes. “She has told me of the child.”

 

“Thank heavens.” Father exhaled slowly. “I don’t think I could have kept quiet for much longer.”

 

“So you knew already?” Vincent questioned, without rancour. “I should have guessed. You have been talking to Peter, I gather.”

 

“I’m sorry, Vincent.” Father spread his hands wide. “Peter brought me the news after he checked Catherine’s blood results. But it was not my secret to tell, and with Catherine’s memory loss, we didn’t know how to proceed.” He pushed his plate aside. “I was afraid you would be unable to accept such a truth.”

 

“The child is mine, Father,” Vincent growled. “How could I not accept responsibility?”

 

“Of course. I’m sorry, Vincent. I should have known better.” Father studied his hands. “And now?”

 

“Now, we take care of Catherine. She will never be alone again.”

 

“She…” Father pursed his lips. “She will stay here?”

 

“She will stay,” Vincent acknowledged. “Until the baby is born. I have promised her that. There would be too much interest, too many questions. I cannot protect her in the world Above. Here she will be safe. I would gladly give my life for her.”

 

Father nodded. “But what of Maxwell and Elliot Burch? They are not men who will be denied easily.”

 

“Catherine has promised to keep in touch with Joe Maxwell. He has promised not to search for her; we must take his word on that. As for Elliot Burch…I don’t know.”

 

“He can be a dangerous man, Vincent. A ruthless one, if he cannot get his own way.” Father frowned in concentration at all the difficulties he could see on their shared road ahead. “He is a powerful man with great resources. He will not give up the search so easily.”

 

“I know.” Vincent spread his hands. “Catherine has sent him a note. We must hope he takes it at face value.”

 

“I will place extra sentries, just in case,” Father replied. “We cannot be too careful in a situation like this. I honestly didn’t think that it would ever come to this.”

 

“Catherine brought me back from the edge of death, Father. She gave of herself, willingly and freely. What else would you have me do?”

 

“I wish you both well with all my heart, truly.” Father sighed heavily. “But this child…”

 

“Will be loved, Father. As all children deserve to be loved. No matter what comes to them.”

 

Father sat for a long time after Vincent had left, praying that his son would be proved right.

 


Catherine stirred sleepily. The sound of the pipes had lulled her to sleep; now they teased her awake with their gentle rhythms. She opened her eyes to find Vincent watching her from his chair beside the table. He sat relaxed, but his eyes were watchful. Catherine became aware of the slow, steady beat of his heart above her own. She smiled at him tenderly. “Did you sleep at all last night?” she asked, as he continued to watch her.

 

“No,” he confessed slowly. “I needed to think…about all you have told me.”

 

Catherine slid her feet to the floor and went to him, to kneel beside his chair. “Tell me,” she invited softly, laying a hand on his forearm.

 

“I was thinking that, until I found you in the park that first night, I didn’t even know I was merely existing,” Vincent began, his beautiful voice low and hoarse. “I watched others live, love…create the laughter of children, and I knew that for always I must be apart from that. I gave and received love from all who came here, from all those who accepted me for what I was, for who I am. But I was still apart from them. I was too different.”

 

Catherine watched him steadily, feeling with him all the pain of those long years of self-denial.

 

“I dreamed the dreams other boys turned into realities. They could stay or go; the choice was theirs. But for me there could be no other choice. I had no place to go; this is my home and my prison.”

 

Vincent dropped his eyes to Catherine, nestled beside him, openly sharing his own particular tragedy, flooding the deepest, darkest recesses of his soul with the light of her unconditional love. “I was never truly alive until the night I found you, Catherine. You looked at me and you were not afraid. In that moment I believe I truly began to live.”

 

“You shared your strength with me, Vincent.” Catherine placed her hand against his cheek. “Without it, I don’t think I would have survived what those men did to me.”

 

Vincent turned his lips into her palm, caressing the warmth of her soft skin. “And you gave of yourself…for me.” He took her hand and pressed it over his heart. “I will never forget. But a child, Catherine…?”

 

“Our child will be beautiful, Vincent. Please believe that.” Catherine moved her hand across his chest to grasp his broad shoulder. “Because you are beautiful.”

 

Vincent got to his feet and moved away a few steps, his voice strained when he finally spoke. Catherine remained kneeling beside his chair, watching his inner struggle.

 

“I…went down to the cavern last night.” He glanced back at her. “I tried to remember, to find some scrap of reality…that…” He couldn’t finish, only shook his head in despair. Vincent lifted the pouch that held Catherine’s rose from his chest and opened it. “I found this in the dust on the cavern floor.” He drew out her crystal.

 

It hung from his fingers, turning slowly, winking colours in the reflection of the candles. They both stared at it. “The clasp was broken.” He turned to her. “I had Mouse repair it for you.” He moved to her side, looping the gold chain through his fingers and placing the crystal where it belonged, around her neck.

 

“You didn’t hurt me, Vincent,” she told him then, taking his hand and pressing a kiss to his clawed fingertips. “You could never hurt me. Don’t you know that?”

 

“You make it so easy to love you.” Vincent lifted her to her feet, turning to sit in the chair, her slim body draped across his thighs.

 

“Vincent,” Catherine spoke against the steady beat of his heart. “I knew about the baby…before I was kidnapped. I went to see Joe in hospital. I gave blood for him, and that was when I knew.”

 

“And you came to tell me that night,” he continued for her.

 

“You blamed yourself for our lack of connection. You still blame yourself for what happened afterwards. You couldn’t come to terms with that loss. I could not add to your pain.”

 

“You spoke of gifts, of our love being our connection,” Vincent remembered. “All I had to do was open my arms and they were mine.”

 

“There are so many gifts, Vincent. But our love is the greatest gift of all. The most precious.” She looked into the sapphire beauty of his eyes, seeing herself reflected there, poised and ready to fight for what she knew to be true.

 

“I don’t know how to explain it, but our connection isn’t lost, it’s only changed somehow, rearranged. When I came Below, when I came near to you, I could feel all your doubts and fears. I could feel them, Vincent. Right here.” She laid a hand over her heart. “I can feel all your doubts now, your fears and uncertainties. All of them.”

 

“As I could once feel yours.” Vincent frowned. “Your joys and worries. When you were coming to me, I could feel such beauty radiating from you that I felt, sometimes, perhaps I was only dreaming. But I had no wish to ever wake from such a dream.”

 

Catherine traced the line of her body, finally coming to rest on her abdomen. “Now the connection is here, Vincent. This baby is our strongest bond of all.”

 

“I would not have believed it to be possible.” Vincent’s eyes followed her hand, resting now against the slight swell of her lower body, cradling this new life that filled him with equal measures of awe and fear.

 

“Believe it, Vincent. As this child grows, so will our bond. I know that now. I can feel its spirit.” She took his hand, pressing it against her. “Our child is a very wise, very old soul. And it has such a capacity for loving and giving.”

 

“That is your gift, Catherine,” Vincent whispered against her hair, with a profound sense of wonder.

 

Catherine turned her face into his neck. “You only have to believe, Vincent. This baby and I will do the rest.”

 

 

“I got this note today, Cleon. From Catherine Chandler.” Elliot Burch stood looking out over the city, the scrap of paper held tightly in his clenched hand.

Cleon Manning sat back on the couch, watching his employer. “Then the mystery is solved. She is safe, I take it?”

 

“Alive and well, she says.” Elliot held the note aloof. “And I am not to worry about her. It came through Joe Maxwell. The man gives nothing away, but we seem to share an equal measure of frustration.”

 

“So then, the note is genuine.”

 

“Oh, it’s genuine, all right. I know her hand writing.” Elliot came to drop onto the couch next to his investigator. “But I try and telephone her and I get some woman who’s renting her apartment for an indefinite period. She said Catherine’s out of town. Can’t be contacted.”

 

“Then I would say then that the lady doesn’t want you to know.” Cleon watched Elliot’s expression closely for a few moments. “But you just can’t accept that, can you?”

 

Elliot shook his head. “Someone out there tried to kill her. Someone is putting the squeeze on me and I want to know why. And I want to know why Catherine Chandler has to be so damn secretive. I don’t like mysteries, Cleon.”

 

“You just hate not being in the know,” Cleon told him roundly. “Anyway, are you sure that’s all it is? Or is it that you just can’t stand the thought of her being in love with someone else.”

 

Elliot shrugged. “I like to feel things, see things, hold them in my hands and know that they are real. How much they cost and what they’re worth.” He sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees, his hands dangling between. “But around Cathy Chandler there were always shadows, hidden things that seemed to somehow flit away when I tried to reach for them. I always had the idea we were being watched. It drove me nuts!” He grinned, suddenly self-conscious. “I’m not making any sense, am I?”

 

“Oh, great sense, for a man who really wants something he can’t have.” Cleon grimaced. “Since I’ve been investigating her disappearance, I’ve had those same feelings,” he conceded. “Miss Chandler’s life is so full of holes and discrepancies you could drive a truck through. All I could ever pin down is some guy’s name…Vincent. It ain’t much.” He scratched his head. “And nobody has even seen the guy or heard her speak of him. He exists in those shadows of yours. Like the guy is some sort of ghost.”

 

“Oh, he’s real enough.” Elliot rolled his shoulders. “But I want answers, Cleon, not ghost stories. I want some cold, hard facts. And soon. Joe Maxwell is keeping all his cards close to his chest. He won’t take my calls.”

 

Cleon sighed. “But boss, if we couldn’t find the woman last time, how to do think we can do it now? She’s up and gone away of her own free will this time. And I don’t think she has any intention of being found.”

 

Elliot returned to the window to stare out over the city. His city. “Put your best men onto it. I’ve already doubled your retainer. Don’t make me think I’m wasting my money.”

 

“You’re the boss.” Cleon threw his hands wide. “But I still say you’re crazy.  


The weeks passed in gentle rhythms, slowly turning into months, and Catherine blossomed under all the loving care she received. The whole underground community welcomed her, made her feel at home as she and Vincent wandered the tunnels and chambers. Peter came regularly, to keep an eye on her progress, as well as bring down her possessions.

 

Catherine had moved into the guest chamber, though she spent nearly all her time with Vincent, truly sharing in his life for the first time. It was a magical time for them both.

 

Father watched them closely, his doubts and fears still troubling him, but he had pushed them firmly to the back of his mind. He loved them both, for they truly were his children, but he hoped fervently it wouldn’t all end in tragedy.

 


Or what is that, that makes us seem

To patch up fragments of a dream,

Part of which comes true, and part

Beats and trembles in the heart?

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

 

It had been a wonderful night. Winterfest had come again. Catherine had danced with Vincent, laughed at Peter’s worst medical jokes, but most of all she had enjoyed watching the children’s simple pleasure in all the festivities.

She was dressed now in tunnel costume. Her own clothes seemed out of place in this secret world, apart from the fact that nothing fitted her now. Her pregnancy was well advanced.

 

Tonight she wore a collection of white silk and cream velvet that whispered softly around her as she moved. Peter had offered to buy her what she needed in the world Above, but she had gently refused his kindness. Now she was here Below, she was a part of it. Also, apart from her regular updates from Joe, it was as if that world no longer existed. It was another place and time.

 

Now she leaned back into the warm shelter of Vincent’s arms, with his chin resting on her hair. His nearness and warmth surrounded her as they watched Father attempting to best one of his star pupils at chess.

 

“Happy?” Vincent whispered in her ear.

 

“Very.” Catherine pressed a kiss to his wrist.

 

“Checkmate!” James yelled, pouncing on Father’s king.

 

“I’m getting too old for this,” Father complained, morosely watching the boy reset the board. “I didn’t even see that move.”

 

“Or is it more that those who now beat you are getting younger?” Vincent smiled.

 

“That is a truly terrifying thought.” Father frowned over his opening move.

 

All around them swirled music and happy faces in the bright candlelight. No one spoke of Paracelcus; he had no place at this gathering. His memory had been left in the dark shadows of the great hall.

 

Catherine marvelled at how many faces she knew and how many had changed in the year since the last gathering. But everyone was happy, having left their cares behind them in a much harsher world.

 

Much later, Catherine caught herself drooping suddenly as she sat talking to Father and Peter. A tiredness stole over her, and she found it increasingly hard to concentrate on the conversation.

 

“You should be in bed, young lady,” Peter told her severely, noticing her sudden pallor.

 

“I must be getting old, like Jacob.” Catherine smiled wearily.

 

“Jacob is not pregnant. You are.” Peter took her arm.

 

Suddenly Vincent was beside her, his strong arm a safe harbour around her shoulders. He lifted her to her feet.

 

“Put her to bed, Vincent,” Peter instructed, seeing Catherine’s head sink onto Vincent’s shoulder.

 

“I’m all right,” she protested. “I only need to rest for a moment.”

 

“You can rest in your chamber,” Vincent told her, gathering her up in his arms.

She was still light and Vincent could carry her easily. He turned to the door, followed by some good-natured advice from several of the helpers on what to do with women who don’t obey. Then the music started again and they were forgotten as everyone returned to the evening’s entertainment.  

 

 

Carried high in his arms, Catherine settled her face into Vincent’s neck, content to let him carry her. She hadn’t realised just how tired she really was until now. Once in her chamber Vincent laid her gently on the bed. Catherine could sense his own fatigue as he drew back.

 

“I will be near, if you need me tonight,” he said softly, drawing the covers over her. “Sleep well, Catherine.”

 

He drew back, but Catherine caught his hand. Entwining her fingers through his, she raised them to her lips. Vincent’s breath caught in his throat as she drew him to sit beside her on the bed. She could sense the rapid acceleration of his heartbeat. “You don’t always have to leave, you know.”

 

“Catherine, I—” He tried to stand, but Catherine put her free hand on his shoulder and he found he couldn’t pull away. He lifted his eyes to hers, silently begging her to release him. To understand his fears.

 

“It is all right, Vincent.” Catherine sensed his need. “Just hold me.”

 

For a long moment their gazes locked, and Catherine could feel the battle raging within him. She took his face between her hands and pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth. Vincent sat passive beneath her touch, but his breathing sounded ragged as she drew back.

 

“I love you,” she whispered, as she let her fingers trail from his face, down over his neck and across his shoulders. With a wrenching sigh Vincent leaned down to her, scooping her into his arms, letting the vitality of her warmth seep into him.

 

Gently Catherine drew back the covers and held them up in blind invitation.

 

For a long moment Vincent hesitated, then he slipped off his boots and moved beneath the covers.

 

Catherine drew his great head down onto her breast and waited until his heartbeat slowed to match hers. A secret smile curved her mouth. She had won a small victory; there would be many others in her long journey to Vincent’s full acceptance of the depth of their love.

 

Suddenly she felt a movement within her. A fluttering kick as her baby moved, turning over to settle itself into a more comfortable position. It nestled between them, now lying against Vincent’s lower chest. Catherine lifted his hand and laid it gently over her swollen belly.

 

“Your son wants to say hello,” she told him with a tender smile.

 

Vincent’s hand trembled as he spread his fingers wide against her and almost immediately felt a strong kick against his palm.

 

“See.” Catherine laughed softly. “He wants to play.”

 

The wonder in Vincent’s face then stole Catherine’s breath. Joy, fear, puzzlement, all these emotions Catherine could sense vividly as Vincent moved his hand slowly, carefully, as if she was made of the finest porcelain. The baby followed him, striking out against his questing touch.

 

Vincent looked up at her then, and for once she could see in his eyes that he had lowered all the barriers, all the walls he had so patiently erected to protect his innermost feelings and thoughts. His eyes dropped to the softness of her mouth, and Catherine caught her breath at the feelings Vincent allowed to surge through their bond.

 

He raised himself on one elbow, bringing his hand up over her body as he did so. But as he moved it to cup her face, it brushed lightly over the tip of her breast. Catherine couldn’t suppress the groan of pleasure that escaped her then, and Vincent found himself unable to deny the urging of that one tiny sound.

 

His long fingers, with their curving claws, trailed fire across the tender skin of Catherine’s throat then up into her hair to tangle there as he moved to plant tentative kisses to each of her closed eyes, gently kissing away the tears that gathered there. He found they were both trembling as he moved lower to caress the planes of her cheeks, then the fine skin of her temples.

 

Catherine’s hands moved restlessly over him, smoothing the knotted muscles of his shoulders where they tensed against her touch. She slid her fingers up into his mane to pull his mouth down to hers. Her lips parted beneath his, and Vincent found himself drowning in heightened sensation.

 

Desire licked through him like an unquenchable flame, and he could feel his iron control slipping from him. Catherine moaned deep in her throat as she urged his body closer, deepening their kiss, drawing him after her into a hidden world of undeniable pleasures.

 

By the sheer strength of his will, Vincent dragged himself back from the brink. He drew away from her, going up onto his elbows, Catherine held between. She lay there smiling up at him, as if she had just unearthed some great secret and was very pleased with her discovery.

 

“You are my everything,” he murmured, when he could finally catch his breath. “I would die for you.”

 

He closed his eyes, his great chest shuddering as he inhaled deeply. Catherine lay still, content to just watch him, sensing his drive to regain some measure of self-control. His heartbeat thundered against hers.

 

Finally he looked down at her, with shadows in the depths of his sapphire eyes. But when he saw her complete acceptance of him, in the tender light in her eyes and the sureness of her touch, his pain melted away, and he drew her close again, cradling her against his heart.

 

Catherine smiled into the warmth of his throat as she lightly kissed Vincent’s moist skin. He had accepted he could be close to her without hurting her in his need for her.

 

Another barrier down. Another small victory won.

 

Their child moved, settling itself comfortably between them, and Catherine took Vincent’s unresisting hand and laid it there. Holding it beneath hers, she drifted off to sleep, and Vincent kept watch over them both as the world Above turned slowly towards the light of a new day.

 

Catherine woke alone. She had not felt Vincent leave; she had slept too deeply. She smiled at the memory of the previous night and murmured his name softly. The pipes chattered in the distance, the sound like a heartbeat of this hidden world. Catherine stretched and settled deeper into the covers…but the echo of the tapping intruded into her half conscious mind, and she sat up suddenly, hearing the intruder alert signal.

 

Then came two words: “Danger! Fire!”

 

Catherine slid hurriedly to her feet. Still dressed in her Winterfest outfit she ran to the door, searching for Vincent in the hallways beyond.

 

People were running, not in panic, but orderly chaos, as they battled the threat to their very existence. But still there was no sign of Vincent. Turning a corner, Catherine nearly fell over Mouse as he hurried along, his face working with deep concern.

 

“Mouse!” Catherine caught his arm. “What’s happening?”

 

“Intruders.” Mouse jumped with impatience to be gone. “Set fire, burning old, wooden tunnels. Smoke gets down here, kills us all.”

 

He tried to pull away from her, but Catherine held on. “Vincent! Mouse, where is Vincent?”

 

“Down there.” Mouse waved vaguely behind him as he escaped her grip. “Down at the fire. Got to go, get help.”

 

He was gone in a muttering swirl of rags, leaving Catherine in a turmoil. Should she go on and risk getting in the way, or stay and not know what was happening? The thought of Vincent in danger pushed her forward.

 

Moving further along the tunnel, the smell of smoke intensified. It was acrid and stung her eyes. There were more people, tunnel dwellers, moving across her path now with wet rags tied to their lower faces. They were carrying buckets and any old clothing and sheets they could grab in passing. Most were covered in soot, and some had burns.

 

“How bad is it?” Catherine caught at one of the older men as he hurried past.

 

“Bad enough.” He coughed. “It’ll get worse if we don’t manage to contain it.”

 

“Where is Vincent?” Catherine was truly frightened now.

 

“He’s down at the fire. Some damn fools came Below and tore up some of the old tunnels to make themselves a fire.”

 

“Is he all right? Is Vincent all right?” Catherine shook his arm.

 

“Last time I saw him.” The man pulled himself free of her grasp. “Gotta go and get this water down to it. Best you can do is keep out of the way.”

 

He hurried away into the smoke. It swirled up, catching Catherine unawares and making her cough. Pushing through the press of people, she found a pocket of untainted air in a small alcove.

 

“Catherine, for pity’s sake, what are you doing here! This is no place for you.” Father loomed up out of the smoke.

 

“How could I stay back there? We’re all in danger. Vincent—”

 

“Is safe…for now.” Father sighed, combing cinders from his beard. “He has enough to worry about, without having to make sure you’re safe. I’ll take you to my chamber; you’ll be safe there. We’re trying to contain the fire to the upper levels.”

 

“Father, please…” Catherine pulled back as he attempted to lead her away.

 

Father looked at her in exasperation. “We still don’t know if we can contain it.”

He shook his head. “It has a hold on timbers that have been down here for more than a hundred years.”

 

“But where can we go if it reaches the living areas?” Catherine forced herself to remain calm.

 

“Even if it reaches here, it will burn out.” Father waved a hand at the rock walls surrounding them. “But everything else – our food stores, our winter supplies – could be lost. We would have to retreat deep underground. And how long we could remain down there, I don’t know. Only Vincent and a handful of others have ever gone that far down.”

 

“Then we cannot allow that to happen.” Catherine shook her head. This world, her new world, was suddenly so fragile, when it had appeared to be so secure. “I can help—” She moved forward, but Father held her back.

 

“No, Catherine. Vincent asked me to come back for you. To make sure you were safe. You cannot go up there; it’s far too dangerous. Come away with me now.” He drew her after him, down the tunnel. The smoke eddied and rose like a ghost, smothering the light of the candles and lanterns that lined the walls.

 

They moved through a strange half world that glowed a rusty orange. Like the pits of hell, Catherine thought, smothering the sob that rose in her throat.

 

The pipes began to clatter a message. Father paused to listen intently, his face suddenly contorting with anguish. “What is it?” Catherine shook his arm as they emerged into the clearer air of the lower tunnels. “Tell me!”

 

“The fire…they’ve managed to turn it back.” Father avoided her eyes as the pipes clattered on. “It’s contained in one of the more inaccessible sections. Mouse thinks we can block it off, choke off its air supply.”

 

“Then we are safe.” Catherine held the older man’s eyes. “But you’re not telling me the whole story, are you?”

 

“No.” Father’s shoulders slumped. “It’s Vincent.” He swiped a hand across his eyes. “He and another man are trapped by the fire. It turned so fast, they didn’t have time to get clear. Now, there’s no way out.”

 

No!” Catherine pulled back from him in horror, her face deadly pale. For a moment the walls swayed around her, then she turned and dived back into the smoke before Father could prevent her.

 

“Catherine, don’t go there. Please!” But he was too late.

 

Catherine caught up an old blanket as she ran, wrapping it around her head and neck. It filtered out the worst of the smoke and allowed her to breathe.

 

The tunnel snaked and curved away into the gloom, but there was the sound of raised voices to guide her. She had no sense of Vincent apart from the feel of his heartbeat above hers. It gave her some small comfort as she fought her way forward through the murk. At least he was still alive.

 

There was also no fear on Vincent’s part. She remembered back to the time when Paracelcus had kidnapped her and taken her far below. She had not allowed herself to feel fear, for she knew that would imperil Vincent’s life and ability to think clearly. She realised now he was doing the same for her.

 

He could not allow himself to fear his own death, for he knew this would surely draw her to his side. He wouldn’t draw her near to share his fate. Catherine pressed a hand to her face and sent her unconditional love back across the bond, praying Vincent would use her strength and resolve to escape.

 

A crowd had gathered in the mouth of the tunnel as she fought her way to the front. Beyond, flames painted a lurid picture on the walls.

 

Mouse was crouched on the floor, bent over a map with several other men. Catherine fell to her knees beside him. “Tell me what’s happening.”

 

“No air, fire dies.” Mouse rolled up his maps, jumping to his feet.

 

“Where is Vincent?” Catherine shouted over the confusion of shouted commands and questions.

 

“Down there.” Mouse indicated the tunnel. His face was covered in soot, his hair matted and filthy. “Can’t reach him from here. Have to go round. Don’t know if we can.” He wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Vincent said, we must leave him. If it’s too dangerous.”

 

“That is not an option.” Catherine fought back her sense of panic. “There must be another way in. Think, Mouse. How can we do this?”

 

“Cavern above. Air shafts. Could lower ropes.” Mouse unrolled his maps to show her. “But don’t know where Vincent and Richard are. Don’t know, can’t find.”

 

“But I know.” Catherine shook his arm fiercely. “I know, Mouse. I can feel him here.” She laid a hand over her heart. “Just like Vincent could sense me. Take me there. Now!”

 

Mouse gaped at her. “Vincent not like this.”

 

“Then we won’t tell him.” Catherine urged the boy down the tunnel.

 

“Okay, good. Okay, fine!” Mouse shouted. “Come on, bring ropes,” he called back to the others. “We’re gonna save Vincent!”

 

They climbed quickly upwards, a stream of people trailing after them laden with equipment. The upper chamber was clear of smoke, and they all gasped in great drafts of clean air as Mouse hurried back and forth across the floor like a hunting dog on a scent.

 

“Here.” He fell to his knees over a long shaft that snaked down into the rock.

“Air shaft, good. Must be blocked to kill the fire.” He looked up at Catherine. “Okay, where Vincent?”

 

Catherine closed her eyes, concentrating on the steady heartbeat beside her own. Vincent, where are you?  She opened her mind, letting go of all conscious thought, probing forward into the darkness beyond. She took a faltering step forward and then another. The sound of Vincent’s heartbeat increased in tempo, and she felt a fluttering of awareness.

 

He sensed her! Catherine gasped as she heard Vincent’s voice in her mind, calling her forward. “This way!”

 

With Mouse and the others trailing after her, Catherine ran to a shaft about halfway down the chamber. Smoke wafted lazily out of its depths like a questing finger. “Down there.” Catherine leaned over the hole, but Mouse took her arm and pulled her back. “Not you,” he told her.

 

Father appeared at her side. “Leave the men to do their work.” He threw a restraining arm around her shoulders. “You have given us all hope.”

 

“He knows I’m here, Jacob,” Catherine whispered. “He knows we’re all here to save him.”

 

Father kissed her cheek. “Thanks to you.”

 

The other men gathered above the hole, unslinging ropes from their shoulders. Mouse grabbed one end and tied it around his waist. Taking up the slack, the others lowered him down into the depths.

 

Catherine held Father’s hand. Vincent’s heart beat comfortingly above hers, and the tiny pattering that was their child lulled her fears. Putting a hand to her lower body, Catherine closed her eyes and let the three pulses blend together through her. Again the flicker of Vincent’s awareness feathered along her senses.

 

The ropes jerked and an unconscious body was dragged forth from the smoking hole. It was Richard and he’d been burnt. Immediately two of the men picked him up and carried him away. Breathlessly they all turned back to the hole. The rope lay still and a feeling of impending doom crept into Catherine’s soul.

 

Vincent, her heart cried. Don’t leave me now…not now, when we have so much…

 

The rope moved again and Mouse’s head appeared. He was hauled bodily away from the hole by the other men.

 

“Vincent…?” Catherine fell to her knees beside him.

 

“Behind me,” Mouse wheezed through blistered lips.

 

Catherine turned back to stare at the hole. The fire was taking hold; they only had moments now, before the hole had to be sealed to snuff out the flames.

Suddenly the rope jerked, and Catherine held her breath as the men strained back, taking the weight and dragging Vincent clear of the hole. A lick of flame followed him, before falling back into the pit.

 

Vincent lay on the floor dragging in great lungfuls of air, his entire body covered in grime and soot. His mane was blackened and singed, his hands bleeding from where he had torn at the wooden walls, trying to force the fire back. Men scrambled forward, blocking off the fire’s access to fuel and air with anything that came to hand. A chain of water carriers sloshed their burden across the floor, pouring the dousing liquid into the hole.

 

Catherine sank to her knees at Vincent’s side, shocked and saddened to see his face was burned and filthy. “Oh, Vincent,” she whispered.

 

He opened his eyes and looked at her. They were bloodshot and red-rimmed from the smoke and flames, but it was the most wonderful sight she had ever seen. He was alive. Nothing else mattered now.

 

“Catherine…” Vincent struggled to sit up. “I felt you. I sensed you calling to me.”

 

“I know.” Catherine helped him struggle to his feet. He swayed, putting one hand to his head, and Catherine supported him with an arm around his waist.

Father watched them closely as he and Mouse directed the men throwing buckets of sand into the hole. Catherine couldn’t watch, knowing that the tunnel could have easily become Vincent’s tomb. His fingers under her chin brought her attention back to him.

 

“I could not allow myself to acknowledge my fears for my safety,” he said softly, his hand moving to cradle her cheek.

 

“I know,” Catherine whispered, nestling her face into his burned palm.

 

“I wanted to cry out. I wanted to say so much…so many things that until that moment, I couldn’t say. I couldn’t even think them for fear you might hear me and risk yourself once more for me.”

 

Catherine turned into him, sliding her arms up around his neck. “You saved me so many times with your remarkable powers, Vincent. I couldn’t leave you down there and not try to save you.” She reached up to gently kiss the damage to his face. “I think I would have died then as well.”

 

Vincent rested his forehead against hers. “Then I would have died too.”

 

Mouse appeared beside them, clearing his throat noisily. “You okay, Vincent?”

 

“I am now.” Vincent laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Thanks, Mouse.”

 

“Hey, I’m your friend. It’s what friends do.” He began to dance from foot to foot. “Fire hoses, we need fire hoses. Own fire department. Just like Up Top. Could fix it?” He looked up at Vincent hopefully.

 

“Father is over there. Go and tell him your plans.” Vincent gripped his shoulder. “I’m sure he’ll listen.”

 

“Okay, good! Okay, fine!” Mouse bounced happily. Several of the men coiling the ropes exchanged doubting glances. They had been on the receiving end of more than one of Mouse’s plans, and not all of them worked.  

 

Vincent moved with difficulty along the tunnel towards home. His body had been bruised and battered, his back scraped when he was dragged free of the flames. But he refused to rest until he knew all was secure.

 

He had sent Catherine back to her chamber with one of the tunnel women, with assurances he would join her as soon as he could. She had gone very reluctantly, her disgust evident in every beautiful line of her body. She never liked being told what to do.

 

Vincent eased his shoulder muscles. He reeked of smoke and was streaked with soot and grime. Father had wanted to confine him to the sick room, concerned he was pushing even his great reserves of strength too far. But Vincent was determined not to give in until he knew there was no longer any danger.

 

The tunnel angled away out of sight ,and Vincent was almost to the corner when a scream rent the air. Then the sound of voices raised in anger.

 

Vincent accelerated instantly, taking the corner at a full run. He saw Catherine and her companion struggling in the arms of strangers. They were filthy, unkempt men, and Vincent recognised one of them as the intruder who’d started the fire.

 

He roared, the black, killing rage consuming him utterly in an instant. The men fell back in horror before this great demon streaked with blood and grime, dragging the two women with them.

 

“Vincent!” Catherine fought against her attackers.

 

“Let’s get out of here!” one man screamed as he turned to run, but Vincent was upon him before he’d gone two steps, and he dragged him down.

 

There were five others, but they were no match for Vincent as he plunged among them, striking with blinding speed and deadly accuracy. All but one were dragged down, screaming in fear as Vincent fought on, terrible in his rage.

 

Catherine kicked out at the last man as he held her slackly, frozen to the spot with fear. He fell away from her to scramble away into the safety of a side tunnel, and the sounds of his flight became muffled in the distance.

 

Tunnel men came running from all directions. The intruders were soon secured, too traumatised to put up any fight as they were hustled away. Vincent leaned back against the tunnel wall, his chest heaving with exertion. Slowly the red light faded from his vision and he could see Catherine’s face before him.

 

“They were waiting.” Catherine inhaled deeply. “They said they were looking for some hidden treasure. Someone told them there was gold in the tunnels; they just had to go deep enough to find it.”

 

“There is treasure here, more precious than gold.” Vincent gathered into his arms, allowing her beauty to soothe his fractured composure. “They will be taken far from here. I doubt they will ever find their way back. We must increase our patrols.”

 

“Let’s go home, Vincent,” Catherine whispered, taking his bloodied hand. “I don’t need anyone but you.”  

 

 

“I have something that just might interest you.” Cleon Manning eased himself down onto Elliot’s couch and opened the file he held in his hand.

 

“About Catherine Chandler?” Elliot got to his feet behind his desk.

 

“Could be.”

 

“Well, it is or it isn’t,” Elliot snapped. “Tell me, man!”

 

“Seems one of my informants came across a drunk a few nights ago. My guy was showing Miss Chandler’s picture around downtown.”

 

“Somebody recognised it?” Elliot crossed the office eagerly.

 

“This drunk said he’d seen her no more than three weeks ago.” Cleon sat back with a satisfied look.

 

Where?” Elliot shouted. “Tell me!”

 

“He was down in some old steam tunnels way under Central Park looking for some lost treasure. He was too drunk to remember exactly where. But he saw her all right, all dressed in white rags.”

 

Cleon shrugged when Elliot shot him a look of disbelief. “That’s what I said. But the guy swears it was her. He said they caught her, but before they could question her, they were attacked by some ten-foot monster with fangs and claws. Said he had blood and flames coming out of him.”

 

“Do you expect me to take this seriously, Cleon?” Elliot strode back to his desk. “Come back when you have some real proof, not some wino’s bottle fantasy.”

 

“The drunk said Miss Chandler attacked him and fought him off.” Cleon looked smug. “Here’s the thing.” He tapped the folder. “Seems the guy who attacked our drunk had a name. Catherine called him Vincent.”

 

Elliot’s head shot up. “Vincent…” he whispered.

 

“Yeah, thought that might grab your attention.” Cleon smirked. “Still think it’s some drunk’s fantasy?”

 

“You said the tunnels were below the city?” Elliot mused slowly.

 

“Yeah, apparently the whole place is riddled with them. Man-made and natural. Though what your Catherine is doing down there, dressed in rags, is beyond me.”

 

“A good place to hole up, out of danger. I know what’s below the city; you have to in my line of work.” He remembered his aborted tower. And Catherine pleading with him not to build it. The clinical nature of his mind tried to make some sense of it all. There was a pattern emerging here; he just had to analyse it.

 

Cleon nodded. “Yeah, but the guys hunting for her could get hold of this information too. They’d pay a great deal to get their hands on Miss Chandler again.”

 

“Then we must make sure that doesn’t happen.” Elliot stood. “Thanks, Cleon. You’ve earned the large bonus I’m going to pay you. And I’ll pay a great deal more to keep our drunk quiet. See to that for me.” He handed over a large envelope. “Make sure he leaves town tonight and never comes back. But I’ll take it from here.”

 

“Of course.” Cleon considered him for a long moment. “If you say so, but I’d be watching out for ten-foot monsters with flames and blood,” he replied. “Sounds like your Miss Chandler can take care of herself. And whoever is looking out for her obviously doesn’t like intruders.” He got to his feet. “Be careful you don’t find more than you expect. The lady went to great lengths not to be found. I don’t think she will take too kindly to you disturbing her secrets.”

 

“You said there were others with this man in those tunnels,” Elliot questioned. “What happened to them?”

 

“According to my drunk, the monster nearly tore them apart. They were lucky to escape alive. They haven’t been seen since. Watch yourself, Mr Burch. This Vincent guy sure likes to protect what’s his.”

 

Elliot’s mouth thinned. “So do I, Cleon. So do I.”

   

Elliot stood looking down at the manhole down which he and Catherine had escaped from the death squad sent to kill him. The waters of the harbour lapped sullenly against the wharf. Elliot huddled deeper onto his heavy woollen jacket, wondering if he was indeed going mad. Mad for a woman he couldn’t have. The cold bit at his cheeks, and he shivered violently.

 

More likely I am just a damn fool, he thought as he crouched and pulled the cover to one side. The shaft beneath yawned black and uninviting. Elliot eased himself down onto the ladder inside and descended slowly, pulling the cover across to rest above him, plunging him into darkness.

 

Groping his way down he found the floor at last and pulled his flashlight from his pocket. The small circle of light it cast did nothing to banish his feeling of utter aloneness.

 

“A damn lovesick fool,” he muttered, as he groped his way further into the black depths…  

 

 

In the weeks that followed the fire, Vincent had healed well. With Mary’s help, Catherine had attended to his wounds lovingly, and, for once, Vincent didn’t refuse her touch. He sat passive on the edge of his bed as she cleaned the burns on his face. His eyes followed her every movement as if he was afraid to look away, afraid she might disappear.

 

“Catherine…” Vincent spoke finally, after Mary had left the chamber. “Last night, when we—”

 

Catherine laid her fingers over his lips, silencing his words. “Last night was very beautiful, Vincent,” she told him softly, putting aside the cloth she had used to clean his wounds. “This child is yours, Vincent, as much as mine. It’s just so sad that you don’t remember anything of his conception.”

 

She was kneeling at his feet, now she rose to her knees, nudging her way in between his thighs, taking his hand to place it against her lower body. Of its own will, his hand spread wide, encompassing the soft mound, his other hand joining in the delicate exploration. Wonder and awe stood out clearly in his expression. The baby wriggled around as before, poking at his fingers. 

 

Catherine slid her arms around Vincent’s waist and held him close. He buried his face in the softness of her hair, his hands sliding around to her lower back, drawing her in close to him. A stickiness against her palms made Catherine pull back in alarm. “Vincent, your back! You’re hurt! Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“It’s nothing,” he denied swiftly. “Father will—”

 

“Father is busy and I am here.” She took his chin in her hand. “Don’t you trust me enough yet?”

 

He stared at her, his breathing uneven.

 

“I love you,” she whispered, letting her hand travel down to caress his throat. “There can be no greater truth than that.”

 

For the space of a heartbeat Vincent hesitated, and then, in one fluid movement, he stripped off his shirt and dropped it to the floor. Catherine sat back on her heels, letting her eyes travel slowly over all he had revealed.

 

Soft, fine golden hair clothed his chest, narrowing down over the hard flatness of his abdomen to the waistband of his pants. This was echoed on his forearms, but his upper arms had only a fine covering and Catherine could see the powerful muscles outlined clearly beneath his skin. They were moving, flexing with nervous tension as Vincent sat gripping the edge of the bed. He remained quiet under her gaze, but Catherine could feel his anxieties reaching out to her.

 

But she had no intention of allowing him to escape. She took her time, closely studying every part of him, before following the path of her eyes with her fingers, gently defining each quivering muscle.

 

“Vincent,” she said finally, rising to her knees again and placing her hands flat against the great wall of his chest. “You really are beautiful.”

 

He looked down into her eyes then, releasing a long pent up breath in a gusting sigh. Catherine felt the tremor that ran through him, his heart thudding against her palms. She leaned forward with infinite slowness to plant a trail of kisses from his chest, up the long column of his throat to the corner of his mouth. Vincent didn’t move, didn’t even seem to breathe, as she brought her hands up to cup his face.

 

She leaned into him, gently teasing his mouth with hers. For all his tight control, Vincent was not proof against this exquisite torture, and he returned her kisses with a groan torn from his very soul.

 

He lifted his hands, enclosing her neck, his thumbs massaging little paths of torture across the base of her throat. He smiled against her mouth as he felt her shudder under his touch. “You make me beautiful,” he murmured against her mouth. He pulled back to trace the curve of her mouth with one fingertip. “I love you. There truly is no greater truth than that.”

 

Catherine took his hand to kiss his palm, her tongue flicking a sensuous path across his skin, before resting her cheek there. Vincent gasped at the sensations this simple gesture caused within him.

 

“Yes, Vincent,” she agreed softly. “Our love is everything. Now, Father is still busy, so I want to look at your back. Roll over and lie down on the bed.”

 

He slanted her a questioning look before slowly doing as she asked.  Stretching full length on the covers, Vincent laid his forehead on his upraised arms crossed at the wrists, accepting this new level of intimate closeness without comment. But his body still betrayed him, his skin quivering against her fingers.

 

“It is all right.” Catherine smiled as she took her time cleaning and dressing all the cuts and scrapes with great care. And, if her hands lingered on the long muscles of his back and flanks, soothing and defining them with her fingertips, watching them flex and move beneath her questing touch, she wasn’t about to apologise…

 

 

   

To the desert of my soul

Your beauty brought life.

To the constant toil of my world

Your voice brought peace.

To the tears in my heart

Your love brought reprieve.

And to the sadness of parting

Your wonder brought hope…

 

Judith Nolan

 

 

Elliot moved cautiously forward into the darkness of the tunnel. He’d been walking for hours now, and he was hopelessly lost. He was so sure he had remembered the route Catherine had taken that night. She acted as if she had been walking down some of the familiar streets far above him. She had known when to turn, which tunnels to take, while always ignoring his suggestions.

 

“Give me a break!” Elliot snapped in frustration, his temper wearing very thin.

Ten-foot monsters of blood and fire, he thought hardly, shaking his head. He was convinced now he had been lied to. But the one haunting fact remained. Catherine had called the monster Vincent. Elliot’s skin crawled at the implications.

 

What exactly was Catherine doing down here in this dark and awful place? Living with a man like that?

 

He pulled his backpack off his shoulders and took several long sips from a water bottle before consuming an energy bar. He cast a frustrated glare – right, then left – at the silent rock walls dripping with moisture. Somewhere down here, for whatever crazy reasons, Catherine had chosen to hide herself away. Well, he was going to find her, finally pierce the veil of all her secrets. Even if he died in the attempt.

 

This last thought brought a wry twist to his lips. That, at this moment, seemed to be a very real possibility.

 

“I should’ve updated my will.” He shrugged, laughing at his own foolishness in coming down here at all. He hefted the pack onto his back and started forward again with grim determination.

 


Catherine and Vincent were sitting before the waterfall, talking, when Mouse came hurrying in, waving his arms. They both looked up, startled by the sudden intrusion.

 

“Matthew saw a man,” Mouse shouted over the noise of the water. “Up in Bishop’s Gallery! He’s moving down. Down here!”

 

“Show me.” Vincent was on his feet and moving before Mouse had finished speaking.

 

Catherine jumped to her feet to run and tell Father the news. Messages rang out along the pipes, alerts and instructions. Then they fell silent as Father ordered the all quiet on the pipes. Now the hunt for the intruder would continue in silence.

Elliot tapped on one of the pipes with his flashlight, listening to the echoes as they rang along the metal into the distance. He remembered these strange tappings from before, but now the complete silence grated on his nerves. He tapped again and waited for a response, but the pipes remained stubbornly silent. He could feel eyes on him, boring into his back, but when he turned, there was no-one there. “Ghosts,” he muttered to himself, his skin crawling. “I’m chasing damn ghosts and spooks.”

 

Vincent watched him as he passed his position beside Matthew. A chill crept up his spine as he recognised the intruder. “Elliot Burch,” he breathed, straightening out of sight when Elliot turned to look in his direction. “What is he doing here?”

 

The look-out was cunningly constructed, but Vincent was taking no chances of being seen. Mouse tried to peer around him. “Could trap him,” the boy said eagerly. “Got something new. Real fast trip. Catch him. Tie him up. Take him out.” He looked up at Vincent for encouragement.

 

“I don’t know if this one is going to be so easy to throw back,” Vincent growled. “And he’s come this far. He’s no rat for our trapping. He’s far too dangerous. How did he get in?”

 

“Don’t know.” Mouse frowned his disappointment. He tried again. “Knock him on the head, drag him out.”

 

“We need to draw him away, divert him from the lower chambers.” Vincent clasped the boy’s shoulder. “Last time Catherine led him out by the junction door. So we will do the same. He cannot be allowed to find out anything more about our world than he already knows. Do you think you can do it, Mouse?”

 

“False walls, rock falls.” Mouse bounced with glee. “Push him where we want him to go. Easy.”

 

“Just do not kill him,” Vincent warned, as Mouse scurried away happily. “Catherine would not want him hurt.”

 

“Okay, will be fine.” Mouse nodded. “For Catherine.”

 

Vincent turned to look out the spy-hole again, but Elliot had disappeared by this time. His footfalls rang hollowly back to Vincent’s ears. They echoed into the fear in his heart.

 

Elliot had come for Catherine. To take her back Above. Vincent could not allow that to happen. Not now, after all they had shared together.  

 

“Elliot?” Catherine was sitting with Father, waiting for Vincent’s return. “How did he find his way down here?”

 

Vincent shook his head. “We have no idea.”

 

“He’s still looking for you,” Father said heavily, looking from one to the other. “What are you going to do now?”

 

“Mouse is leading him away, taking him back up to the junction door. We felt that was the safest way.” Vincent looked at Catherine. “He cannot know you are here. It would be too dangerous.”

 

“I know that, Vincent. But Elliot was a good friend to me. I don’t wish to see him hurt.”

 

Vincent folded his arms. “Mouse has his orders not to do him any harm.”

 

“But how do we know he won’t decide to come back looking for Catherine?” Father voiced the fear in all their minds. “If he has come Below, he could bring others.”

 

“Then I must talk to him.” Catherine got to her feet. “Please take me to him, Vincent.”

 

“No! You can’t, Catherine.” Father jumped to his feet. “Talk to her, Vincent. Tell her it’s much too dangerous. He will be even more suspicious if he sees you in your condition.”

 

Catherine placed a protective hand over her abdomen. “Elliot trusts me. I must see him. He will not betray me.”

 

Vincent grasped her upper arms. “Can he be trusted enough to be allowed to leave this place?”

 

Catherine nodded. “He came alone this time. He is not a man who gives up easily. Somehow he has discovered I am down here. If he doesn’t get some answers, he is likely to come back with more men and make a more detailed search. What will happen then?”

 

“Then we must trust your instincts.” Vincent looked across at Father. “We cannot risk any more exposure.”

 

Catherine placed a hand on his arm. “I must do this. There is no other way.”

 

Vincent clasped her hand. “Then so be it. I will take you to him. But if he will not co-operate, then he cannot be allowed to return to the world Above. I hope he will listen to you, for all our sakes.”  

 

 

Elliot stumbled back as rocks crashed down from above, narrowly missing him again. He cursed as a splinter of stone cut a shallow slash in his cheek. From somewhere above came mocking childish laughter. He swept his flashlight beam upwards, but the gloom defied its light. The laughter faded into distant echoes.

 

An edge of fear tempered his anger now, as he moved forward once more. He remembered the fight on the waterfront when he and Catherine had crouched below, listening to the raging battle and the screams of dying men.

 

Ten-foot monsters took on a more horrible aspect as Elliot probed cautiously forward down the tunnel, his flashlight beam erratic as he searched for more hazards and hidden dangers both above and below. The whole place could be a death trap and he was very likely to be its next victim, he though grimly.

 

Mouse watched him from his vantage point. The rock fall had badly shaken the intruder, but Mouse was determined to unhinge him even more. He would make certain that Elliot Burch never came this way again to endanger his friends and family.  

 

 

Vincent took Catherine up through the tunnels towards the junction door. She would confront Elliot there on neutral ground that would give away nothing but Catherine’s presence. Vincent would be nearby. He would not let Elliot see him, but he would be close enough to protect Catherine if she needed him.

 

Catherine didn’t argue when she saw his set expression. She knew he hated the whole idea of her meeting a man who wanted her for himself.  

Mouse dodged into the tunnel before Elliot’s startled gaze. He capered, gibbering and shrieking, as he danced backwards, beckoning his prey onwards. He was now dressed in a bizarre arrangement of cast off clothing that defied the eye and confused the mind.

 

Some ten-foot monster. Elliot shook his head as he followed the fool. He wished he’d brought his gun now – maybe shooting something would ease his frayed temper. Or someone!

 

He was being harassed by some poor lunatic that hadn’t been locked up for his own protection. Mouse turned at bay as he and Elliot entered a crossroads where four tunnels converged. Elliot ignored the fool, as he stood in the centre of the intersection trying to decide which tunnel to take. Mouse capered and hooted, beckoning him to follow.

 

“Oh, no, my friend.” Elliot shook his head. “Whatever your game is, I’m not playing it.” He tried to ignore the idiot as he struggled to get his bearings.

He was sure now he had come through here that night with Catherine. He turned slowly, full circle, trying to make some sense of it. It looked familiar.

 

“Come on, follow me!” Mouse postured and poked out his tongue.

 

“No deal.” Elliot ignored his invitation. He made to start down a tunnel, but it was a bad choice.

 

Mouse had no intention of allowing him to go anywhere other than the way he wanted. He slipped his hand inside his sleeve and grinned with delight.

 

Elliot was nearly blinded by the fireball Mouse threw at his feet. The boy chuckled with glee. He had seen the act at a carnival and had designed his own, more volatile fire bombs.

 

“Why, you—” Elliot crushed out the flames flaring on his trouser legs. Mouse threw another one for good measure, narrowly missing Elliot’s left ear. “Come here, you little demon!” Elliot lunged for the boy, but he scuttled away, crowing gleefully.

 

Mouse capered in comical dismay just out of reach. He was swift and could easily outdistance Elliot, who was nowhere near as fit. But Elliot’s rage spurred him on, long before his legs began to ache. He would kill the little runt if he could just get his hands on him.

 

It gave an outlet for his exacerbated temper and battered ego. “I’m a billionaire, for Pete’s sake! And I’m being chased down and damn near killed by a half-wit!” he yelled in his disgust. “He’s going to be sorry!”

 

Catherine stood on the threshold of the junction. The steel door had been rolled back, so that when Elliot came around the corner he would see her.

 

Vincent melted back into the shadows of one of the other tunnels and stood watchful, his eyes gleaming in the darkness.

 

Elliot leaned against the tunnel wall, his lungs burning as he gasped for breath. Mouse disappeared into the distance, still laughing and taunting his prey with spiteful glee. Elliot didn’t have the strength to chase him anymore.

He pushed himself away from the wall and stumbled on, his legs aching and his chest feeling as if it was being squeezed in a vice. “So much for the gym.” He laughed. If Cleon could see him now, he thought, as he turned the corner and came to a dead halt, staring in disbelief.

 

Catherine saw him coming, looking beat up and exhausted. He looked nothing like the usually immaculate business tycoon. Mouse had run the legs off him.

She wanted to go and help him, but she forced herself to remain where she was, letting Elliot come to her. She watched him advance slowly, staring in amazement.

 

“Now I am seeing ghosts.” Elliot brushed a tired hand over his eyes. He reached the threshold and leaned on the wall beside her. “Are you going to disappear in a puff of smoke as well?”

 

“Why did you come here, Elliot?” Catherine asked coolly, trying to keep her concern from showing.

 

“To find you.” Elliot frowned at her tone.

 

“And if I don’t wish to be found?”

 

“Why all the hiding, the secrecy?” His eyes moved over her. “You aren’t some kind of prisoner down here?”

 

“I am here of my own free will, Elliot. No one forced me to come.”

 

Catherine had been standing with her hands held protectively in front of her, the loosely fitting tunnel costume she was wearing concealing her swollen belly. Elliot’s eyes narrowed as he surveyed her. She looked well cared for and very beautiful. But why she had chosen such a dank, dark place to hole up in was beyond him. He tried a different approach.

 

“Is that lunatic boy who tried to bury me and then burn me part of the reason you’re down here? Are you on some kind of crusade to save the demented and poor?”

 

“I told you once before that I can’t answer your questions, Elliot. You are to forget all you have seen down here.”

 

“What have I seen but near-death and gibbering fools?” Elliot tried to take her hand, but she eluded him. “You’re not making any sense. I can protect you, keep you safe. If you will only listen to me. Come back here!”

 

He tried to grab her arm, but she swung away from him. But in that movement she revealed her secret to Elliot’s stunned gaze. “You’re pregnant!” There was mingled pain and disbelief in his voice as he stared at her. “How? I mean, who—?”

 

Catherine backed away out of reach. “I cannot tell you, Elliot.” She stood proudly, meeting his gaze calmly and with pride.

 

“More secrets!” He darted forward, grabbing her arm in a hard grip, startling a gasp of pain from her. He felt like shaking the truth from her, wanting to make her pay somehow for the hours of torment he had been through. But he never got the chance to put the thought into action.

 

Vincent came at him in a tawny blur, his roar of anger reverberating off the walls. Elliot dropped Catherine’s arm, his face blank with shock and disbelief. Vincent swatted him aside, claws extended, catching the sleeve of Elliot’s heavy jacket and ripping it to shreds. Elliot scrambled back, his stunned mind trying to assimilate the raging fury battering at him as Vincent came after him, obviously intent on destroying him.

 

“No, Vincent, please!” Catherine stepped in between the two men, facing down Vincent’s anger and begging him to stop. “Don’t do this. He didn’t hurt me.”

 

Vincent growled deep in his throat. His hands flexed as if he already had the other man’s neck in his grasp.

 

Vincent?” Elliot dragged himself to his feet, pressing back against the tunnel wall. He watched Catherine soothe his attacker. This ravening monster was the mysterious man he had sought to find for so long? He felt his grip on reality slipping away. His mind plunged back and forth like a runaway horse. Had he died somewhere back there and sunk to some new level of hell?

 

Vincent threw back his head, fighting for control. Catherine held him lovingly until the rage faded from his eyes and he calmed enough for Catherine to release him without fear for Elliot’s safety. Vincent’s eyes fell on the other man who stood rigid with shock, and he growled in warning, his canines gleaming.

 

“Okay, I’m not gonna move. If you stay right there.” Elliot drew a shaky breath and released it in a rush. “I don’t believe any of this.”

 

“Vincent won’t hurt you.” Catherine faced him, Vincent behind her with one hand resting possessively on her shoulder.

 

This proprietorial gesture was not lost on Elliot as he pushed away from the wall on legs that were decidedly shaky. “So I finally get to meet your mystery man.” Elliot watched them both. He fingered the tatters of his sleeve. “I can’t say the meeting has gone very well…so far.”

 

“You shouldn’t have come here, Elliot,” Catherine told him quietly. “You have no right to interfere.”

 

“I needed to see you, Cathy. Just once more.” Elliot’s smile was crooked and painful. “I needed to know you’re okay.” He rubbed his head where Vincent had hit him. “I guess I needed to be hit over the head to finally understand there is no hope for us…”His eyes dropped to her abdomen and then skimmed aside hurriedly.

 

Catherine’s chin lifted, and she raised her hand to draw Vincent’s arm down across her breasts. He drew her back, dropping a kiss into her hair. He could understand her pain at Elliot’s embarrassment.

 

“I can see now I was only living a dream,” Elliot finished in a bitter tone.

 

“You chose to hope, Elliot,” Catherine replied. “I told you there could never be anything between us.”

 

“Because of this guy?” Elliot glared at the silent man who watched his every move like a great cat waiting to pounce on its prey.

 

“I would not have stood in your way,” Vincent growled, “if Catherine had chosen to go with you.”

 

“I’m sorry I can’t say the same.” Elliot stared at him, unable to relate this soft-spoken man with the raging fury that had nearly torn him in half. He shook his head. “I wish it could have been different.” He smiled then, with a great deal of sadness. “I have gained so much, to lose everything I held dear.”

 

“We can offer our friendship…if you will accept it,” Vincent said, watching the other man with compassion.

 

Elliot laughed as he shook his head. “Maybe I’ve had enough of your kind of friendship with that maniac back in the tunnels.”

 

Vincent laughed appreciatively. “I’m afraid Mouse is inclined to overstep his orders,” he admitted ruefully. “But we had to make sure you found your way out.”

 

“The way out?” Elliot looked up the tunnel that led to the drainage entrance to Central Park.

 

“The way out,” Vincent agreed.

 

“But you cannot tell anyone of what you have seen here, Elliot.” Catherine moved forward to take his hand. “You must keep our secret, always. I must ask you to do this for my sake.”

 

“You are remarkable,” he said, softly. “I would have bought the world for you…everything. If only you’d chosen me.”

 

“Then we would have been unhappy together, Elliot. What I wanted, what I needed, you could never buy.”

 

“Oh, Catherine, are you so sure?”

 

“I’m sure,” she said simply, looking back at Vincent with such love in her face that Elliot felt cold and alone. “I’m very sure.”

 

“Then I wish you every happiness.” Elliot leaned forward and kissed her cheek.

 

Catherine lifted a hand to his face. “I never meant to hurt you, Elliot.”

 

“I haven’t exactly made things easy for you, have I?” He laughed. “I will keep your secrets.” His eyes dropped to her belly. “All of them.”  He looked back at Vincent standing quietly watching them together. “Though I doubt anyone would believe me if I did tell them.”

 

Catherine gripped his arm. “Many people depend on this place, as a refuge, a safe place to rest and heal. No one, Elliot, no one must ever know.”

 

“My tower.” Elliot blinked. “That’s why you came to me and asked me to halt the construction. I always wondered why.”

 

“You would have broken through.” Vincent nodded. “You would have exposed our world with your excavations.”

 

“You were prepared to come to me.” Elliot looked down at Catherine. “To marry me, to save all this?”

 

“To save Vincent, yes.” Catherine stepped back to his side. “He is my life. There is nowhere else for him to go.”

 

“Could I exist in your world, Elliot Burch?” Vincent snarled, showing his teeth. “Would I be allowed to live the life I chose without let or hindrance?”

 

Elliot considered the other man’s face with its lion’s nose and muzzle and the gleaming teeth that were at such odds with the very human expression in his sapphire eyes. Pleading to be understood and accepted as Catherine had already accepted him. And obviously loved him without conditions.

 

“No,” he admitted at last, ashamed for his fellow man. “There would be no place for you…out there. But we are diminished by our ignorance.”

 

“So here is where I must live. This is my home. I have no other. Catherine is safe here with me. Safer than with you Above where men who hunt us both want to destroy everything we have built down here.”

 

“And Catherine?” Elliot had to know.

 

“Is free to come and go as she chooses. I have never put any conditions on our love, Elliot.”

 

“Meaning that I have.” Elliot shook his head, knowing it to be the truth.

 

“You are what your world made you; I am a product of mine. They cannot exist together; they must always be apart. There is no other way to survive. Your world is diseased. We cannot allow it to contaminate ours.”

 

Elliot looked around him at the rock walls and the twisting tunnels. The pipes echoed their messages in the distance, restored now that Elliot was no longer seen as a threat. “You have chosen well, Vincent,” he said, turning back to them. “I wish you both every happiness.”

 

“You are welcome to return, any time you wish to do so.” Catherine told him, as he considered her with regret, as if he was saying a final goodbye to a cherished dream.

 

“Maybe one day, but not yet.” He smiled painfully. “Some wounds take more time to heal than others.” He grimaced at the tatters of his jacket and gave a short laugh. He glanced up the drainage tunnel. “I think I can find my way from here, as long as Mouse doesn’t decide to throw any more of his fireballs. I guess I’ll be seeing you.”

 

Vincent reached out a hand, gripping the other man’s shoulder. “Find someone to love, Elliot. For your own sake.”

 

“I thought I had.” Elliot looked back at Catherine, Mouse now at her side watching him with distrust. “But I was too blind, and I let her slip away. So I will keep your secrets. Trust me on that, at least. And I will try to get word to you, if there are any developments on your kidnappers. I’ll put my best people on to finding out the truth.”

 

Without a backward glance he turned and walked away out of sight. Going back to his world, alone.

 

“Make sure he’s all gone.” Mouse slipped into the tunnel after him. “Follow him to Up Top.”

 

“Don’t hurt him, Mouse,” Catherine called after the boy.

 

“He truly loves you, Catherine.” Vincent shook his head, taking her by the shoulders and drawing her back to rest against his chest.

 

“I know.” Catherine sighed. “That’s what makes it all so tragic.”

 

 

 

 “I don’t know what it is about you

that opens and closes,

Only something in me understands.

The voice of your eyes

Is deeper than all roses.

Nobody, not even the rain,

Has such small hands…”

 

e.e. cummings

 

 

Catherine settled comfortably into Vincent’s arms, her head resting in the curve of his shoulder. She had been unable to sleep, and she had come to him, sensing that he too was awake.

 

They settled in among the cushions and pillows of Vincent’s bed, and Catherine drowsed as he read to her from his book of e.e.cummings poetry. Catherine sighed with deep contentment. Their child kicked and wriggled and Catherine laughed softly. Her time was near.

 

“He’s getting impatient,” she said, taking Vincent’s hand and kissing it before placing it against her. “He wants to meet you.”

 

“A gift of love,” Vincent murmured, tracing the outline of her face with one fingertip. “All that I am, I give to you.” There was a catch in his voice as he lowered his lips to hers, kissing her with such tenderness that Catherine couldn’t check the tears that ran down her cheeks. Vincent kissed them away gently.

 

“All you have to do it let me in, Vincent. Let me love you as you deserve to be loved. My soul is your soul; it always has been.”

 

“And you knew that long before I did.” Vincent teased her lips with his touch and Catherine bit his fingertip gently.

 

“Love is truly the truth beyond all knowledge,” she whispered as she took his hand to lay it against their child. “Your words were so true. They brought me back to you.”

 

“I wanted so badly to reach out, to hold you, to love you.” Vincent sighed, shaking his head. “But how could I bring you back from the chance to live the life you were always meant to live?”

 

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings, that then I scorn to change my state with kings.” Catherine quoted the sonnet softly, holding Vincent’s gaze with her own. “I was never truly lost to you. I felt an emptiness; a void that no one in my world could fill. I would have found my way back here in the end.”

 

“I know that now.” Vincent kissed her. “But then—”

 

“This is the reality of our love,” Catherine pressed his hand to her body. “This is the greatest truth of all.”

 

“Yes…” Vincent agreed on a sigh, gathering her in his arms, and they lay together, listening to their baby’s heartbeat and making plans for the future.

 

 

 The pain caught Catherine unawares. She sat up with a startled cry.

 

“What is it?” Vincent held her close.

 

“The baby,” she gasped. “I think he’s finally decided it’s time to meet you.” She doubled into the pain on a soft moan.

 

Vincent didn’t hesitate. Gathering her in his arms, he carried Catherine to her chamber before running to find Father and Mary.

 

 

Catherine lay on her side, breathing as Peter had taught her over the months. Rising with the pain, conquering it, and then sliding back down to smile at Vincent as he crouched beside the bed, holding her hand tightly. “It’s okay, Vincent.” She smiled. “Everything is going to be all right.”

 

Vincent smoothed the hair from her face without answering her, but his look said he didn’t believe her. Father and Mary stood at the bottom of the bed talking in low tones.

 

The pain built again and Catherine concentrated on it, her breathing fast and shallow. Suddenly it came pounding through Vincent’s conscious mind, blurring his vision as it roared through his mind. He shook his head, trying to clear it. His whole body clenched in vital pain.

 

“Are you all right, Vincent?” Father’s question swam to his hearing on a wave of sound.

 

“Yes…I…” He shook his head again, and his vision cleared.

 

Catherine’s breathing had returned to normal, her hand still gripped in Vincent’s as she lay with closed eyes. Her heartbeat, slow and regular,– Vincent could sense it there once more above his own. But there was another also beating there now. A swift pattering that whispered to him, welcoming him into the child’s world. The bond was reopening into a three-way connection that linked them all.

 

The pains began to come more swiftly now, closer together. Vincent knelt beside the bed, silently encouraging Catherine as they moved together upwards, to crest the peak and slide down the other side into the brief oasis of peace before the pain built again. Vincent gave his strength to his love, letting her draw on his deep reserves as time spun away.

 

“Now, push now,” Mary encouraged her. “You can do it…”

 

Catherine leaned into the pain, bearing down with all her strength, forcing the child along its path into her world. Vincent came behind her, supporting her as she strained forward.

 

“One more, just one more,” Father encouraged, as the child dark head slid into his waiting hands.

 

The cry that suddenly filled the chamber was loud and indignant. Tiny fists flailed at the world, as Father gathered the child into the blanket Mary held out. They stood together, just looking down at the child, so perfectly formed and very beautiful. Mary began to cry, and Father felt his eyes filling with tears of joy.

 

“You have a son.” He turned to the baby’s watching parents. He walked slowly to where Vincent stood, his eyes reflecting a mixture of joy and trepidation. “Take him, Vincent. It’s going to be all right.”

 

Vincent sighed as he held out his hands, Catherine watching him calmly.

 

Father gently placed the tiny bundle within those powerful hands, watching his son’s expression as he looked down at his newborn child. It was a tableau he would never forget. A fearsome looking man, whose only failing was he feared he could never be loved for the man he truly was, holding this tiny baby who was proof that love does truly conquer everything. With love, anything was possible. Father wiped fresh tears from his eyes and hugged Mary who was laughing and crying in turn.

 

Dark sapphire eyes blinked back at Vincent, considering him solemnly, as he stared in awed wonder at the beauty he had unknowingly helped to create. The child yawned, waving a tiny fist in the air as he made loud sucking noises with his lips.

 

“He’s hungry already.” Father laughed, as he watched the two, just staring at each other. “What he wants, I afraid you can’t give him, Vincent.”

 

“He has your nose.” Vincent turned to the bed where Catherine lay exhausted, watching him lovingly. Going down on his knees, Vincent placed the baby in the shelter of her arms.

 

“Is he beautiful?” she asked, knowing the answer already. It was there in Vincent’s eyes.

 

“Yes, Catherine. He is beautiful,” Vincent whispered, leaning forward to kiss her with deep tenderness and care.

 

 

       

‘And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned head of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.’

T.S. Elliot

 

 

Catherine arranged the candles carefully, giving Vincent’s chamber a soft, intimate glow. She moved about the room, humming softly to herself. In the eight weeks since their son had been born, she had regained her trim figure, and she glowed with happiness and health. They had named the baby Jacob in Father’s honour, and he’d been overcome with joy when they had given it in the naming ceremony.

 

But tonight Jacob would be sleeping in Mary’s chamber. Tonight Catherine had made certain plans that did not include her baby son.

 

She sensed Vincent’s arrival long before he appeared in the doorway. She had become used to the two heartbeats above her own. One deep and regular, the other light and pattering. She had never understood the depth of Vincent’s connection to her until now. She smiled secretly as she waited for him to come to her.

 

Tonight, all the barriers would finally come down.

 

Tonight there would be no escape.

 

Tonight Vincent would finally be hers, in body as well as soul.

 

Vincent stepped into the chamber, aware Catherine was there. He was also aware his son was not in the cradle at the foot of his bed.

 

Catherine turned to him as he halted just inside the door. She was wearing one of her own dresses, a gown of deep peacock blue that was cut low across her breasts. She looked beautiful and very desirable.

 

Catherine was well aware of the stirrings of longing that rippled through Vincent at the sight of her. She had been well aware of them for days now, even though he did his best to hide them from her, even when he knew it was no longer possible to keep anything from her. She had chosen this gown with great care.

 

“Do you like it?” She turned before him, letting the velvet whisper about her slender limbs.

 

“Very nice.” Vincent watched her, his need to touch her threatening to overwhelm him. He fought to control it, suppress the steadily building desire that struggled to be set free.

 

Catherine took his hand as he came slowly up to her, linking her fingers through his. Carrying them to her lips, she pressed a soft kiss against each lethal fingertip. “I thought we could be alone tonight.” She smiled. “Mary is looking after Jacob.”

 

She moved to the doorway, untying the leather privacy curtain and letting it fall. No one would intrude on them until the morning. She turned to watch Vincent’s reaction.

 

“Catherine, I—”

 

He tried to deny the appeal in her eyes, but she came forward and reached out to silence his words with her lips. He stood passive beneath her touch, but didn’t respond. He clenched his fists.

 

“Oh, Vincent.” Catherine breathed, threading her fingers through his hair, glorying in the feel of the silken strands. “If only you could know how easy you are to love.”

 

He looked down into her eyes, drowning in their green depths as they beckoned to his soul. Feeling the hoarseness of his breathing beneath her fingers as she traced the line of his parted lips. With a groan torn from the depths of his being, he slid his arms around her, drawing her in against him, absorbing the sensation of her soft body against his.

 

Catherine pressed soft kisses to the base of his throat, feeling the raggedness of his breathing beneath her mouth. Vincent dropped his head back, closing his eyes to allow the sensations her touch was invoking in him pound through his senses.

 

This is madness

 

“This was always meant to be,” Catherine answered his unspoken thought, as she moved slowly down, loosening the laces of his shirt, caressing the angles of his collarbones, then moving lower still.

 

Vincent growled low in his throat, grasping her shoulders, holding her back from him, from what she was doing to him. His breathing was shallow and rapid, his chest heaving with his efforts to keep himself in check.

 

Catherine watched him struggle, feeling his heart racing with hers. She was not afraid, and she so desperately wanted to show him he could love her, without limits. Her body ached to be close to him once more, as completely as they were when Jacob had been conceived.

 

She raised a hand to his cheek, forcing him to look at her. “I love you, Vincent. There can be no shame in that.”

 

“I know.” Vincent swallowed convulsively, fighting a losing battle with himself. Fighting against giving in to the path that led to beauties beyond his imaginings. If only he had the courage to do as Catherine asked.

 

But what of the consequences?

 

Catherine took his hand. “Come here.” She led him, unresisting to the bed. She sat on the edge, drawing him down beside her.

 

“We created a child, Vincent, a very beautiful child.” Catherine moved within the circle of his arms. “But the act of creation is also a very beautiful thing. I would like to share that with you also,” she said, honestly.

 

“There are moments when I would wish nothing more.” Vincent held her. “But in that desire, I can see only pain.”

 

Catherine slipped to the floor to kneel in front of him. She slid her hands beneath the hem of his shirt, moving up to mould the warmth of his chest, pushing the shirt up with her arms. Vincent shuddered in her loving hold as she pushed forward into him, letting her hands slide down his body again to clasp his thighs. She turned her lips against his neck as she caressed the taut muscles beneath her hands, moving steadying upwards.

 

His heartbeat pounding through his head, Vincent brought his hands up to hold her away, to gain some advantage against this erotic teasing, but he found he didn’t have the strength as Catherine moved against him, probing his flesh with her tongue as her seeking hands encountered the heat of his arousal.

 

Vincent moaned, losing the battle with himself and his ability to fight in her beauty. Lifting her easily from the floor, he turned to move onto the bed with her. He leaned over her, to trace the line of her jaw, down into the valley between her breasts.

 

“Don’t stop now,” Catherine whispered urgently deep in her throat, rising against his hand, encouraging his questing exploration. She was his rose, his creation and as such, undeniable…

 

The soft velvet of her dress was no barrier as he pushed it gently aside to expose the creamy, rose-tipped swell of one perfect breast. Though Catherine fed their child herself, Vincent had always avoided these times, disturbed by the feelings that rose within him at the thought he could be jealous of his own child.

 

“It’s all right, Vincent.” Catherine could sense his pain. She rose against him, gently caressing his throat with her lips, teasing a low, warning growl from him.

 

He watched, fascinated, as his hand rose of its own volition to cup her soft flesh, smoothing across the swollen tip with his thumb and then back again, glorying in the shudder his touch invoked in her.

 

The gentle rake of his claws against her skin jammed the breath in his throat. But her skin was so soft, velvet smooth against his palm. He looked down into her eyes as she lay there, open and loving. Her warmth surrounded him, making him bold beyond anything he had ever dreamed possible, until this precious moment of suspended time.

 

Catherine sat up, allowing her dress to slip to her waist. Her skin glowed pale cream in the candlelight.

 

“Love me, Vincent…please…”

 

She lifted her arms to him and Vincent no longer had the strength to deny her. She was his, for now and all eternity. He lowered his mouth to hers, taking her lips in a deep, drugging kiss that sent his senses reeling into uncharted lands. He probed deeper, tasting the moist sweetness within, and Catherine welcomed his invasion. Her tongue licked softly across his teeth, touching gently on the long canines.

 

Her hands moved to pull up his shirt, to roam freely over the warmth of his naked back. Insistent, now she had him right where she wanted him, she pulled his shirt upwards, murmuring soft encouragement deep in her throat as she leaned forward, the tips of her breasts now brushing against the soft fur that clothed his chest.

 

Without hesitation Vincent reared up to strip off his shirt, tossing it aside as Catherine moved into his arms again, running her hands over him, teasing, tempting him, tasting his moist skin with her lips and tongue.

 

With a soft growl, Vincent suppressed her subtle torture. Capturing her hands he drew her backwards on the bed, his hands at her waist, drawing down her gown. Catherine raised her hips, allowing him to strip her dress away. Her only remaining clothing was a pair of silk panties, and the soft shadows of her body beneath made Vincent’s breath jam in his throat.

 

Catherine smiled at the sensations rocketing back and forth along their heightened connection. Vincent was deeply affected by the beauty of her body, and his desire to touch her intimately a tangible thing in the heated air between them. She traced the line of his ribs, moving lower to caress the taut skin of his hips. Leaning down she trailed kisses across his flat stomach. She could feel his trembling as she loosened the buckle of his belt.

 

Vincent caught her then, lifting her in his arms to roll over and pin her to the bed beneath him, as he tested the warm moistness of her skin with his tongue. His hands sought the curves of her body with growing boldness.

 

“Vincent…” Catherine writhed beneath his tormenting touch, knowing that he was punishing her for her teasing, and she gloried in the feel of him. Vincent threaded his fingers through her hair, planting kisses on the skin of her neck and shoulders before moving down to the ripe thrust of her breast.

 

The sensations were so different, Catherine marvelled then, as Vincent tugged gently at her nipple, running it against the roughness of his tongue. Jacob invoked a soft tenderness when he suckled her, but this…oh, this was a different kind of torture beyond all rapture…

 

Her hands moved again, to tug urgently at his belt, needing to feel him, needing to know all of him as she once had…so long ago…and Vincent could no longer deny her. He reared back to strip off his boots and the last of his clothing, before turning back to Catherine who was watching him with such love and acceptance in her eyes that he wanted to weep then…

 

Catherine lifted her hips mutely, watching his every move, and Vincent tugged off the tiny scrap of silk that clothed her beauty. The sigh that escaped him then came from the very depths of his being.

 

“Catherine…” he breathed, moving into her as her hands slipped below the level of his hips to gently enclose the hot, satiny strength of him. His body surged powerfully against her palm, overtaking his control.

 

A primeval growl was torn from the depths of his soul. He felt as if his heart would stop, the incredible sensation of his Catherine, touching him so intimately after all they had been together, was beyond description. In that moment, he was finally set free to explore to fully explore and understand this incredible bond between them.

 

Beneath him, Catherine smiled. A secret woman’s smile older than time. He was finally, irrevocably, hers.

 

Vincent’s claws dug deeply into the fabric of the quilt beneath them as she continued to explore him, moulding and teasing, knowing once more the sheer power of his beautiful body. And he was beautiful. Vincent had refused to believe her, until the moment he had held their child in his hands.

 

Vincent groaned now, his head thrown back, the pulse in his throat a living thing as it kept pace with his thundering heartbeat. Sensation crowded into sensation, reflecting from one to the other until their minds were drowning in the headiness of it all.

 

His questing hand found its way to the softness of Catherine’s inner thigh. With unsteady fingers, his touch travelled upwards to finally touch against the heat of her, against the moistness that welcomed his questing exploration. His claws whispered their own unique music along her skin as he moved to explore the very heart of her, to bring Catherine to trembling submission as she arched back to press up against his hand.

 

“Vincent…”

 

Her moan was an aching invocation as he found the silkiness within, his heart almost stopping as he caressed her. “I’m here.” This time he would remember. He closed his eyes, revelling in the sensations crashing through his consciousness. 

 

She was the light to his darkness. She surrounded him, filling his soul with the beauty of her being. He would die now if she ever left him; he could not survive without her. They truly were the two halves of one incredible soul.

He turned his mouth against her skin, moulding her body to his, bringing her warmth against him…all of him.

 

All barriers had crumbled before her sensuous assault. Catherine had won her battle. Vincent allowed her into his innermost feelings, his darkest places where he had lived alone. She moved against him now, pushing him forward into the light that was their love…

 

Catherine raised her hips to encounter the scorching heat of his lower body. Vincent sucked air deep into his starving lungs as he watched her, letting the erotic feel of her move through him.

 

“Vincent, please…” Catherine voiced their mutual agony. Her legs closed around his waist, holding him intimately. “End it; end it now.”

 

Vincent looked down into her eyes swimming with unshed tears. They were dark and unfocussed with passion and desire.

 

“All that I am, Catherine…always,” he whispered against her mouth as he moved into her, burying himself deep within the burning, satin glory that was his Catherine…

 

Her hips rose to meet him, moving with him as his body took over from his conscious mind and he was driven onwards by a need so far beyond his control he had no power to stop. They blended together, rising into the light, becoming one being in their mutual desire to understand this union that bound them together.

 

Vincent’s heart nearly stopped. This was a pleasure for which he had not been prepared. His rhythms increased as Catherine drew him on with her voice and hands, breathy cries of encouragement that drove him beyond the limits of all control, taking him into a world where nothing but pure sensation existed, a world where he could feel his souls being finally set free from all fears and doubts.

 

His release, when it finally came, was a shuddering explosion that rocked him to the very core of his being. Catherine travelled before him, her muffled cries blending with his as Vincent arched forward one final time, deep within her, their connection a free-flowing thing of dancing light and colours beyond description.

 

“I love you!” was the cry torn from him, as the world turned and fell away beneath him and he floated free of all earthly chains, Catherine cradled safely in his strong arms…

   


“I never knew…I never dreamed…” Vincent whispered against Catherine’s mouth an eternity later as they floated back down into the candlelit quiet of his chamber. The pipes murmured softly in the distance and a train rattled overhead.

 

Catherine took his face between her hands and smiled into his bemused eyes. “It can be like that every time…for us,” she murmured, planting a soft kiss on the frenetic pulse that beat in his throat.

 

“The poets didn’t tell me about any of this.” He smiled, closing his eyes to allow the sensation of her touch to drift through him.

 

Catherine gasped as his feelings were reflected back to her. She moved her lips across his moist skin, travelling down onto his chest as her hands began to play over the corded muscles of his back.

 

“Woman, you are insatiable…” Vincent growled without heat.

 

The tempo of their bond quickened once more as raw awareness flared, and Vincent had no will to resist this time as he reached for her, needing to lose himself once more in the beauty and sheer wonder of their love…  

 

Catherine leaned back in the warmth of Vincent’s embrace. They stood together in the drainage tunnel entrance watching the stars overhead as they wheeled down towards the dawn.

 

“You have given me so much,” Vincent whispered into her hair. “I cannot ask for anything more.”

 

The shared intensity of their loving had left them both exhausted, but content with a deep feeling of mutual peace. Catherine turned within his arms to look up at him. “We will find a way, Vincent. We will,” she told him. “My life is in both worlds; you yourself said that. I could not bear to lose you again.”

 

“To lose you would be to lose everything I could ever become…now,” he said simply, placing a kiss into her hair.

 

“Then we will find the path together, Vincent. Together we can conquer anything.” She raised a hand to place it against his cheek, studying the uniqueness of his face with deep love. “Our dream will endure, Vincent…for all eternity…and beyond.”

 

“Always,” Vincent agreed softly, his heart echoing her love as he took her lips in a kiss that promised her everything, everything her heart could ever desire…

 

 

Oh, this is the animal that never was.

They hadn’t seen one; but just the same, they loved

It’s graceful movements and the way it stood

Looking at them calmly, with clear eyes.

It had not been. But for them, it appeared

in all its purity. They left space enough.

And in that place hollowed out by their love

It stood up all at once and didn’t need

existence. They nourished it, not with grain,

but with the mere possibility of being.

And finally this gave so much power

That from its forehead a horn grew.

One horn. It drew near to a virgin, white, gleaming—

And was, inside the mirror, and in her…



“With love all things are possible…”

 

Forever, Catherine…

 

 


LITERARY REFERENCES

 

 

Rainer Maria Rilke   “Love Song”  “Possibility of Being”

 

Neil Diamond  “The Story Of My Life”

 

William Shakespeare  Sonnet No. 75

 

Christina Georgina Rossetti  “Mirage”

 

John Donne  “The Ecstasy”

 

Dylan Thomas  “And Death Shall Have No Dominion”

 

Rainer Maria Rilke   “Love Song”

 

John Donne  “The Good Morrow”

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley  “On Fanny Godwin”

 

William Wordsworth  “There is an Eminence of These Our Hills.”

 

Emily Dickinson  Poem 22  “I Gave Myself To Him”

 

William Shakespeare   Sonnet No. 36

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley  “Is It That In Some Brighter Sphere”

 

Judith Nolan   “Vincent”

 

e.e.cummings   “Somewhere I Have Never Travelled”

 

William Shakespeare  Sonnet No. 29

 

T. S. Elliot   “Little Gidding.”

 

Rainer Maria Rilke  “Oh, This Is The Animal”

 

“With Love All Things Are Possible…forever, Catherine”

 

Taken from “Though Lovers Be Lost”  written by Ron Koslow

 

 


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