All

Things

Are

Possible  

 

A bridge

 

 

“All Things Are Possible”

 

A Story of “Beauty and the Beast”

 

By Judith Nolan

 

Artwork by Kathy Fidge

 

This story is the sequel to “To Dream a Dream” It was written for all those who love the continuing story of Vincent and Catherine. A love that transcends the laws of time and space. It is truly a love for all seasons.

 

Again, a very warm ‘thank you’ to all those who have joined me on this journey. I couldn’t have done it without you guys. But especial love and ‘Vincent’ hugs to Victoria Rudd, my chief editor and sounding board when I worried I had strayed too far from the path I have set myself. Once again for Jean, my Tunnel sister and good friend. Great to be back Below once more…

 

This story is dedicated to all the cast of  “Beauty and the Beast” – to Ron and Linda, for giving our favourite characters flesh and dreams, and also to Roy, Jay, Ritch, David, Edward, Armin, Ellen, and Jo for adding another wonderful dimension to their story.

 

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

 

“All Things Are Possible” 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.

 

 

 

“But I could have told you, Vincent, this world was never meant for one as

 

beautiful as you…”

 

   

 

   

 


If a picture paints a thousand words
Then why can't I paint you?
The words will never show
The you I've come to know

If a face could launch a thousand ships
Then where am I to go?
There's no one
home but you
You're all that's left me too
And when my love for life is running dry
You come and pour yourself on me

If a man could be two places at one time
I'd be with you
Tomorrow and today
Beside you all the way

If the world should stop revolving
Spinning slowly down to die
I'd spend the end with you
And when the world was through
Then one by one the stars would all go out
Then you and I would simply
fly away

 

 

 

 

 

 


They say that ‘Time assuages’

Time never did assuage

An actual suffering strengths

As sinews do, with age.

 

Time is a test of trouble

But not a remedy.

If such it prove, it prove too

There was no malady.

 

Emily Dickinson

 

 

Elliot moved through the tunnel community slowly, making his farewells and quietly assessing the needs of these people who had given of themselves so unstintingly. He found he was torn between the two worlds, each with their own measure of pain for him, but the pull of the world Above was stronger. He had chosen its path too long ago to change now, no matter how many times he’d wished it to be otherwise.

 

He spent time with Pascal in his pipe chamber, simply talking and gathering strength from the unceasing routine of question and answer, as Pascal and his young assistant, Zach, scurried from pipe to pipe, keeping the lifeblood of the underground world flowing. Elliot could see where improvements could be made, and he mentally added the requirements to his list. When he was re-established again in the world Above, he hoped to be able to make Pascal’s job a little easier.

 

He visited William in his kitchen and found himself partaking of one of the cook’s small breakfasts, as William bustled from stove to the long gallery with his group of willing helpers, serving the community as they rose to face the new day. Elliot smiled wryly as he thought of the many breakfasts he’d eaten in nearly every corner of the world – expensive breakfasts served by haughty waiters  – and he knew that none had tasted as good as William’s repast.

 

The world Below was coming to life around him as he made his way towards the chamber where he had been told he could find Shannon Cole. Or O’Neill, he reminded himself mentally. With the death of her husband, Shannon had reverted to the name the tunnel dwellers had first known her by. For her, the choice of worlds was easy to make. Elliot’s head was bowed in thought as he moved through the pools of shadows between torches that lit the tunnel before him.

 

But he was only halfway to his destination when a tousled-headed figure burst out of a side tunnel and narrowly missed colliding with him. Elliot put out one hand to steady them both as Mouse jumped back in surprise.

 

The boy had been juggling what looked like plastic explosive from one hand to the other, and Elliot sighed in exasperation as Mouse swiftly made the block disappear into one of the many pockets of his patched jacket. His look of guilt at being caught didn’t ease Elliot’s mind.

 

“Elliot, early,” Mouse muttered his usual form of morning greeting.

 

“And you don’t appear to have slept at all.” Elliot knew the boy well enough by now to know that he’d been Above, foraging again.

 

“Not your stuff.” Mouse shuffled his feet as he watched Elliot cautiously. “Vincent said I’m to leave your stuff alone. Said, ‘it’s not polite to take from friends.’ Mouse knows.” He intoned the last few words solemnly, injecting just the right amount of Vincent’s quiet manner.

 

Elliot grinned as he laid a hand on the boy’s hunched shoulder. “Since it isn’t my ‘stuff’ anymore, you have my permission to take whatever you want. But …” He paused as Mouse’s head shot up at this and he looked ready to scurry away immediately. “But, I have a far better suggestion for you.”

 

“What?” Mouse demanded suspiciously.

 

“When I have re-established myself Above, get in touch with me, and I will endeavour to supply you with whatever you need. Within reason,” he answered the widening gleam in Mouse’s eyes. “Catherine knows how to contact me. I don’t want to find that you have been caught ‘taking’ someone else’s stuff and paying the price. I might not be able to help you next time.”

 

It took a long moment for the words to sink into Mouse’s stunned mind. Then his eyes narrowed shrewdly. “Any stuff, whatever I want, you will find?” He couldn’t believe his luck. “Good that I saved you then.” He grinned.

 

“Anything…within reason,” Elliot added hastily, picturing the block of explosive the boy had been playing with. “And yes, it was good that you saved me.”

 

“Okay, good! Okay, fine!” Mouse bounced on the spot. “Better than better, better than great. Better than…than William’s apple pie!” he finished triumphantly, giving Elliot’s offer the greatest of accolades.

 

“On the condition that you give up taking other peoples’ stuff.” Elliot held him down to try and make sure he got his message across. “You worry Catherine, Vincent, and Father with your constant pilfering. You could get caught so easily.”

 

“Not pilfering, taking,” Mouse exclaimed indignantly.

 

“Promise me,” Elliot said sternly. “I can’t help you if you are going to continue as you are. It’s far too dangerous, Mouse.”

 

“Anything I want?” Mouse peered up into Elliot’s face, making sure he was not being deceived.

 

“Anything.” Elliot sighed, hoping against hope that the little engineer wasn’t planning on doing any major bridge construction or nuclear power plant work in the near future.

 

“Okay, deal.” Mouse thrust out a grubby hand and shook Elliot’s vigorously.

 

“Why do I get the feeling that I’m going to regret this decision?” Elliot remarked to himself, shaking his head in despair as he watched Mouse dancing away down the tunnel. Again the boy was tossing the block of explosive from hand to hand, gleefully.

 

“Any such decisions where Mouse is concerned is bound to cause some misgivings,” said a quiet voice behind Elliot. A large hand descended onto his shoulder companionably. “Do not let the boy abuse your generosity.”

 

“Vincent.” Elliot turned his head with a rueful smile, as the larger man leaned back against the tunnel wall, surveying his new friend quizzically.

 

“But whatever you have offered Mouse, it seems to have made him extremely contented,” Vincent continued softly.

 

“I was trying to keep him out of trouble.” Elliot’s smile became wry. “To keep him out of the hands of developers and their construction workers who would dearly love to toss him into prison and throw away the key.”

 

“So you have given him sole right to your ‘stuff.’ And no one else’s,” Vincent guessed shrewdly. “You are too generous.”

 

“Seems only fair, after the boy saved my life,” Elliot offered, as he watched the other man’s reaction. “And if I can save you and Catherine a lot of worry…”

 

“I will admit to a few grey hairs over Mouse’s escapades in the world Up Top.” Vincent straightened away from the wall and placed his hand on Elliot’s shoulder once more. “But you must not allow him to take advantage of you, especially now, when you have a long way to climb to reach the top again.” He smiled ruefully. “Mouse will probably bankrupt you in the first week.”

 

“It’s been done by experts. I don’t think Mouse will make too much of a dent in my balance sheets. I want to do this, Vincent, for Mouse, for you, for…Catherine. For all the people down here who have helped me simply because I was a man in trouble. They couldn’t care if I was a king or a beggar and that’s important to me…to the new me.”

 

“But Elliot Burch still lives…” Vincent probed gently, tightening his grip on the other man’s shoulder sympathetically.

 

“In the world Above the name Elliot Burch had power,” Elliot explained softly, his face set and hard. “But Stosh Kasmarec has to find a place for himself in that world now. I am remembering who I used to be, a long time ago.”

 

“Well, whatever you decide, both Stosh and Elliot will always have a place here as well.” Vincent smiled. “Catherine worried about you after our first meeting. She had never meant to hurt you.”

 

“I know.” Elliot sighed, placing his hand over Vincent’s on his shoulder. “Taking no for an answer was never my style. But I am learning.”

 

The two men turned together and walked side by side down the tunnel, pausing to allow a stream of children to pass and acknowledge their greetings as they vied with each other for attention. It was still a novelty of Elliot to find himself surrounded by a mass of young, eager faces, and he struggled to remember all the names that came so easily to Vincent’s lips.

 

“Are you going to come and teach us again?” An eager young boy tugged at Elliot’s sleeve.

 

“Elliot has to go Above soon, Richard,” Vincent supplied, before Elliot could answer. “But I’m sure he will return to your classroom one day soon.”

 

“Oh, good, because you tell such neat stories.” Richard gazed up at Elliot for a moment before he dashed off, chatting animatedly with his companions as they ran.

 

“You seem to have found a new profession.” Vincent looked after the children as they disappeared around a bend in the tunnel.

 

“A whistle stop tour of the world’s greatest construction sites is hardly the right sort of background for a geography teacher.” Elliot laughed. “Which reminds me…” he paused suddenly.

 

“Shannon will be getting ready for class.” Vincent faced the other man with an understanding look in his sapphire eyes. “I will be waiting for you in Father’s chamber, when you are ready to leave.”

 

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be truly ready,” Elliot admitted brusquely. “But I have to do this. Thanks, Vincent…for everything.”

 

“We owe you more than we can ever repay.” Vincent acknowledged his words, as he shook his head. “Someday we may be able to find a way to repay you.”

 

“You already have, Vincent.” Elliot met his eyes squarely. “You have repaid me with your trust.”

 

Vincent considered him for a long moment, then he nodded slowly in agreement. “Shannon will waiting,” he said finally, a small smile playing over his mouth as he turned away. Elliot stood looking after him, admiring the grace and power of the man and his directness.

 

 


A portrait of Vincent

 

 

 

“When will you leave?” Shannon placed the last of the books on the children’s seats and looked across at Elliot.

 

“I have a meeting scheduled with Joe Maxwell this afternoon. Catherine arranged it. Then, undoubtedly, I will have to face the press and get them off my back. We cannot afford them to have them snooping into my disappearance and magical resurrection. Then I need to attack Gabriel’s hold on my companies and get them back.”

 

“You are looking forward to going…Above again.” Shannon smoothed her skirt nervously, as if voicing that word still worried her.

 

“I have a world up there that I created with my bare hands, Shannon. I can’t stand idly by and just let it all fall apart without making some attempt to rescue what is left after the vultures have picked the carcass.”

 

“I understand.” Shannon looked away from him to the confines of the small chamber.

 

“And I understand more than you think,” Elliot replied softly, quoting Shannon’s own words from their first conversation in this room. “There are good men, as well as bad, up there.”

 

Shannon looked back at him, her eyes dark and troubled. “I know…” she whispered, as the first of the children hurried into the room, contesting noisily for the best seats.

 

“You are worried about Elliot?” Catherine placed her hand against Vincent’s chest as she looked up into his eyes, as they waited for Elliot in Father’s chamber.

 

Vincent sighed deeply, placing his hand over hers and carrying it to his lips to kiss her palm lingeringly. “I worry that the man he has become hasn’t the sheer tenacity of old. Has he still the will to succeed, despite everything?”

 

“He has the courage you gave him, Vincent. But I think the new Elliot Burch will do very well for himself. He will have to, if he hopes to keep up with Mouse’s demands.”

 

“Very true.” Vincent shared Catherine’s quiet laughter as this thought, and the tension of their bond eased slowly.

 

Vincent still held fears, for Catherine, and Elliot, and also for himself. This life of love and commitment was still very new and precious. He still had grave doubts about its ability to survive in the light of the world Above, now that the spectre of Gabriel and his menace had finally been removed.

 

The world up there was once again open to Catherine; she could choose many different paths. But all of them, except the one they could share, were permanently barred to Vincent himself. A chill wind whispered through the deep, hidden corners of his soul as he contemplated this knowledge.

 

Catherine leaned against him, drawing his attention down to her by stroking the curve of his bottom lip with her fingertip. Slowly, deliberately, she reached up to place her lips against his as she whispered, “Though the sound overpowers, sing again, with your dear voice revealing, a tone, of some world far from ours, where music and moonlight and feeling, are one.”

 

The lines she whispered brought a glint of deepening awareness to Vincent’s eyes, and they darkened perceptibly. The words were a part of a Shelley poem he’d taught her after their first night together, when their mutual world of passion was so bright and new, he could deny her nothing.

 

“Woman, you are a temptation beyond all reason,” Vincent growled, as he feasted on her soft mouth.

 

Catherine smiled against his lips and their kiss, which had begun so lightly, full of teasing, deepened into a mutual, aching need. She found herself clinging to handfuls of Vincent’s mane as the world tilted beneath her feet.

 

Vincent could feel her heart beating against his, the many rhythms of their bond blazing into life beneath the sensual assault. His hands slid the length of her back, coming to rest on the curve of her hips as he drew her up and into him and all sense of the world around them dissolved into extinction.

 

“Ahem, I do hope I’m not interrupting too much…” came a somewhat embarrassed voice from behind them. “But this is my chamber.”

 

They fell apart immediately to find Father watching them quizzically from the top of the steps leading down into his chamber. Utterly involved in each other, they had not heard him enter.

 

“Not that I wouldn’t happily give up my chamber at any time,” Father continued, as he descended the steps, his eyes carrying more than a trace of spry amusement as he surveyed his son’s embarrassment. He turned away to make a pot of tea with the jug of hot water he carried in his hand.

 

“The conversation did get a little carried away,” Catherine agreed somewhat shakily, as she moved to kiss the old man’s cheek and hug his arm.

 

“That is what I most enjoy about you, Catherine,” Father murmured, touching his fingertips to her cheek. “Your wonderful gift for understatement.”

 

“We were discussing Elliot, Father.” Vincent joined them as Catherine helped Jacob carry the cups to the table. He avoided the look in his parent’s eyes that questioned their topic of conversation, as the three sat together.

 

“He is ready to leave?” Father asked after a pause, as he poured the tea.

 

“He has a meeting with Joe, and the press, this afternoon.” Catherine took her cup with a nod of thanks. “We thought it best if he simply pleads amnesia from the trauma of being shot, and then he will have a refuge from being pressured into revealing where he has been for the last two months. I have cleared everything with Joe, through Geoffrey.”

 

“Mr. Maxwell will still want to know how you managed to find both Burch and Shannon, and kept them secreted from him.” Father fingered his beard worriedly. “He is far too astute a man to believe that you just happened to come upon them in the park.”

 

“That is a bridge we will have to cross when we come to it.” Catherine sighed. “There are so many things that we will have to clear up. Loose ends that could easily trip us up if we aren’t careful.”

 

“At least we are finally free of Gabriel.” Father reached for her hand. “There was a time when I was convinced we would lose it all and we were powerless to prevent it from happening. But now…”

 

“Now, we have a future, Father…together.” Catherine linked her fingers through the older man’s warmly. “And that is something worth fighting for.”

 

“Yes.” Father looked from Catherine to Vincent, where he sat quietly drinking his tea. His eyes, when they rested on his love, were filled with a mixture of trepidation and hope.

 

A future, Jacob mused to himself, and a small shiver feathered along his spine, I wonder what it will bring…  

 

 

 “The way out.” Elliot glanced towards the drainage tunnel that led up to the park above.

 

His voice held a wealth of memories. A cool breeze found its way to him, bringing with it the scent of wet grass and the muted sounds of the city that Elliot had always considered his own. He could feel its pull strengthening as he moved ever closer.

 

“And the way back.” Vincent affirmed softly at his shoulder, as he closed the barred gate behind Catherine. “You must return to us.”

 

“You know you are always welcome here now, Elliot.” Catherine stepped forward to slide her arms around his neck and hug him closely.

 

Elliot couldn’t resist pulling her against him for a brief moment, needing to feel her slender softness once more. His eyes met Vincent’s, and he saw the answering gleam of understanding in their sapphire depths.

 

Dressed now in an elegantly tailored suit, thanks to the efforts of one of the helpers, an elderly Chinese tailor, with his hair and beard once more neatly trimmed, Elliot looked every inch the rich property developer of old. Only his eyes were different now – they held a warmth, a reflective smile, and the look of a man who had come to terms with himself.

 

“I will miss Stosh Kasmarec,” Catherine chided him with a smile, smoothing the rich fabric of Elliot’s sleeve beneath her fingers.

 

“He’ll be back.” Elliot kissed her temple. “He finally has a home now.”

 

“Please, be careful, all the same.” Catherine touched his lean cheek before stepping back to stand beside Vincent. “The press won’t make it easy for you. They will hate to pass on a juicy story such as yours. They will hound you incessantly.”

 

“A man without a memory won’t be much use to them,” he assured her, tapping his forehead. “I know how fragile your world is here, and how much you have to protect. I will do my best to assist you in any way I can.”

 

His gaze turned to Vincent as he said these last words and again he surveyed that unique face. But Vincent’s appearance had ceased to amaze him. He had come to know and love the man beneath it, and he knew he could never betray the honesty he’d found there. Now his silence was not only for Cathy’s sake.

 

“Remember what I said about building blocks for that boy of yours.” Elliot’s smile was lopsided at best as he watched the two of them. “You need to learn the construction game early in life.”

 

“They will make an excellent Winterfest present,” Vincent assured him, as he embraced Elliot with understanding.

 

Elliot leaned against him for a moment, simply drawing strength from this unique man. A man who gave so unselfishly of himself, asking nothing in return. There was more than a trace of tears in his eyes when he drew back. “I’ll remember that,” he assured him huskily, before he turned to the tunnel and, after a final glance of gratitude made his way back to the remains of his life Above.

 

“I think he will make it.” Catherine moved into Vincent’s arms and laid her cheek against his heart. “I hope he will make it, for his sake.”

 

“He goes with love, Catherine.” Vincent lifted her chin on the back of his fingers. “No man has more.”

 

“Yes…” Catherine agreed softly, as she gazed up into the beauty of her lover’s eyes, before his lips touched hers with a feathered lightness and her world became centred on that one heady sensation…

 

 

 


Sin being gone, oh fill the place,

And keep possession with thy grace;

Lest sin take courage and return,

And all the writings blot and burn.

 

George Herbert

 

 

Joe Maxwell surveyed the two people seated before him, with satisfaction. Greg  Hughs and Diana Bennett acknowledged his thanks for a job well done. The removal of Gabriel had been a major coup for Joe and his whole department. He had felt like David taking on Goliath, without even the benefit of a slingshot, but his team’s sheer tenacity had paid off in the end.

 

Even though Diana’s final removal of the man had caused a few palpitations at City Hall, it was generally agreed that she had acted in the city’s best interests, as well as the interests of her own safety, and the whole affair had been quietly dealt with. There were, of course, far more selfish reasons for a fuss not being made over his demise.

 

There had been an audible intake of breath in many shadowy corners of the private sector worldwide at the thought of what Gabriel could have revealed at his trial for murder and industrial espionage. A messy, costly trial that could have dragged on for years, bogged down in endless appeals and plea bargains. The man would not have gone down without taking many of his shady business associates with him.

 

And since none of Gabriel’s henchmen could be found and taken in for questioning, the case had been closed, with great relief in many quarters. It was to be business as usual now.

 

“You were right about cutting off the head and the rest would fall into place.” Greg nodded now. “All the little men are tripping over themselves to be the first to disavow any knowledge of Gabriel and his dark empire.”

 

“The stock market has taken a nosedive that it will take some time to recover from,” Diana added thoughtfully. “Elliot Burch should be able to buy back his companies for a song and count himself lucky.”

 

“And the man has conveniently forgotten where he’s been for the past two months. So he won’t find the press hindering him for too long.” Joe fiddled with the darts on his desk. He had readily agreed to Catherine’s terms, as they were relayed through Geoffrey, but he still wasn’t happy about letting Burch off so easily.

 

“A small price to pay to be rid of Gabriel, I would say,” Diana agreed, as Joe frowned at her absently.

 

“A prince for a king,” Joe said slowly. “Yes, I suppose you could call that a fair trade.”

 

Greg and Diana exchanged frowning glances as Joe continued to finger the darts. They both wondered what was going on in his mind.

 

Catherine stood at the threshold below her apartment building, looking into the shaft of cool, white light that flowed down from above. So much, so many things had changed since she had last passed through the barrier that separated Vincent’s world from her own. The world above her seemed alien now, something to be faced with trepidation, not unmixed with a little fear.

 

Mouse had been busy, unblocking the entrance. He had been very vocal in his disapproval of Catherine going Above again. She was a part of Vincent’s world now. What did she want with Up Top? But he had completed the work grudgingly.

 

Catherine could feel Vincent’s solid presence behind her, his warmth and love reaching out to her, the currents of their connection pulsing with all the doubts and questions that had no answers that Catherine could find within herself. There could only be an acceptance of what must be and a sense of safety in the sure knowledge of their love for each other.

 

She turned her head to meet the questioning blueness of Vincent’s gaze, as he scanned her face, taking in all the details of her beauty, memorizing them once again, for he needed her reassurance as well. Catherine smiled as she hovered in the opening, undecided about how to continue. Perhaps Mouse was right after all.

 

“I have that same feeling now that I had the last time we stood here, after my father died.”

 

“Only stronger this time,” Vincent supplied on a sigh, his gaze tangling with hers after a tense silence.

 

“I feel like an intruder, as if I don’t truly belong up there anymore.” Catherine turned her back on the shaft of light. “Perhaps Mouse is wiser than we guessed.”

 

“Mouse doesn’t like the rhythms of his world to be disturbed, unless it is he who is causing that disturbance.” Vincent shook his head. “The choices must be yours alone.”

 

He moved forward then, to gather her slim form back against him, and the warmth of his body seeped into Catherine’s, the hard contours of his muscles an exquisite torture as she laid her head back against his shoulder, feeling his breathing stir her hair.

 

“It takes courage to go forward.” Vincent’s hand rose to detail the outline of her jaw line and the slender column of her throat, before coming to rest on her shoulder. “We are both on a journey that can only have its conclusion Above. You have decisions to make, decisions that affect not only us, but all those who love and care for you. But whatever conclusion you finally come to, know that I would not try to influence you, in any way, to change those decisions.”

 

There was a wistful tone in this last statement that caused Catherine to turn in his arms and look up into eyes. She could see there all the love, all the passion that had come to be between them, but also the fear of this greatest of all challenges to their relationship. Above, where Catherine must walk alone, lay a whole world of possibilities that Vincent could only dream about.

 

“I must do this…for us.” She laid her hand against his cheek. “I can sense your doubts, all your fears. Don’t worry, Vincent, we can have a whole lifetime together now. I will never leave you again after this. I could not exist without you to love me and to be with me.”

 

Vincent bent his head to brush his lips gently across her mouth, his body trembling slightly in her loving embrace. A low murmur escaped Catherine then, as she sought to deepen the caress, to reassure Vincent of her warmth, her need for him, and the world became suspended in time, as they became totally absorbed in each other. Vincent growled softly, deep in his throat, as Catherine’s hands moved over the leanness of his hips, skimming the aching warmth of his renewed need for her touch.

 

“The tunnel floor…it’s a little dusty,” Catherine managed. After an eternity of caresses and impassioned murmurs of suppressed desire.

 

Vincent chuckled, resting his forehead against hers, his mane mingling with the honeyed bronze of her hair. “My need for you was once a thing of shame for me. But now…” He drew a deep, steadying breath. “Now I can only wonder at how I lived for so long without the ability to express it.”

 

“I take it that statement is a polite refusal of my offer.” Catherine smiled.

 

“Only a postponement of the inevitable.” Vincent traced the outline of her body, from the base of her throat to the flare of her hip, with one fingertip, making her shiver.

 

“To be apart from you and Jacob, even though I have no choice, is its own special brand of torture.” Catherine swallowed against the tears gathering in her throat, threatening to choke off her words. “I will be back as soon as I can.”

 

Vincent gathered her against him, smoothing every curve, every contour, reaffirming her reality, as he buried his face against her neck and rocked her gently, knowing that he must release her in order that she return to him and their fragile dream of a life together.

 

“I must go,” Catherine whispered brokenly, drawing back resolutely. “While I still have the strength to leave you.” She swallowed the obstruction in her throat and smile tremulously. “You hold all that I am…here.” She took one of his hands and turned it over to trace the curve of his palm, then she closed his fingers over and held them closed on the memory of her touch. “Keep me there until I return.”

 

“Always…” Vincent promised softly, his gaze unwavering. “I love you,” he finished simply, but the words held a wealth of shades and reflections that sent shivers through Catherine’s soul.

 

Her eyes held Vincent’s as she stepped backwards, once, then again, drawing away from him physically, but leaving everything she was and ever could be in his loving care. Then she turned and the white light swallowed her, the echoes of her footsteps fading into nothingness as she ascended the ladder to the basement.

 

How long Vincent remained standing there, he could not afterwards have said. At last, he drew a long shuddering sigh deep into his lungs. He shook his head. Catherine, his great heart cried, before he turned and walked away into the darkness of the tunnels Below...


Elliot stood in the middle of his office, simply staring at all it contained. It all looked the same and yet…it was somehow different. He knew, deep inside, that nothing here had truly changed, the change was within himself, the centre of his being had shifted, altered to include the new perceptions of his life.

 

But it felt good to stand here again, knowing he was once again the master of his own destiny. Even though everything was in disarray after Gabriel’s death, he’d been able to purchase the shares in Burch Properties Group for a quarter of their value six months ago. Elliot knew he could bring it and himself back to the top again, back to his place as a prince of Manhattan.

 

“I need to make it so.” He smiled.

 

He had Mouse to contend with now, and he expected daily lists of demands.

He chuckled, as he pictured the boy’s enthusiasm over his offer of help.

 

The day had been one of frustrations and delays when Elliot simply wished to come to grips with his old life again. His press statement had been brief and noncommittal. He had learned long ago how to handle the awkward questions that were designed to trap the unwary. But he had hidden behind the veil of amnesia and refused to be drawn out on his whereabouts of the last months. The conference had broken up with relief on Elliot’s part and ill-disguised disgust on the part of the media. Elliot had smiled inwardly as he’d watched them depart, knowing that the game was far from over.

 

The interview with Joe Maxwell had been much harder, as the lawyer strove to pry from him any knowledge he had about Catherine’s whereabouts. Diana Bennett had also attended the meeting. and Elliot had been hard pressed to keep his secrets intact under their expert pressure. But all he could say was that the man who had shot him had been sent by Gabriel to eliminate him. The gunman’s last words had testified to that.

 

The ruse of amnesia had been designed, with Joe’s contrivance, to keep the press at bay; consequently he took Elliot’s unwillingness to unburden himself as a personal insult to his intelligence. But short of dragging Elliot into court and forcing him, under oath, to confess all he knew, which Joe was naturally unwilling to do, there was nothing left for him but to dismiss Elliot from his office with the stricture that he keep himself available at all times and not to leave the city.

 

Elliot had breathed a sigh of relief when he found himself on the other side of Joe’s office door. But he was uncomfortably aware that the issue with the D.A. was not going to go away so easily. The man was far too suspicious of Elliot’s motives. And Diana Bennett watched him as if he was a complex puzzle she fully intended to unravel.

 

Elliot turned now to stare at Cleon Manning, lounging very much at his ease on the couch. The investigator’s eyes were filled with wry amusement at Elliot’s triumph. “You know the press will hound you for months until they’re finally convinced you’re telling the truth.”

 

“The truth is what you make it.” Elliot dropped onto the opposite couch and picked up the glass of scotch he had poured himself. “I don’t remember a thing.”

 

“Yes, boss.” Cleon sat back, laying his arms along the back of the couch, his amusement growing as he acknowledged Elliot’s shrewdness. “I take it you found what you went looking for that night.”

 

“That and a great deal more.” Elliot consumed the fiery liquid in his glass in one swallow. “A great deal more.”

 

“I will look forward to meeting your Miss Chandler then,” Cleon mused. “She must be a remarkable woman.”

 

“Remarkable and very beautiful.” Elliot contemplated the emptiness of his glass. “She helped me rediscover who I am.”

 

“And Vincent?” Cleon probed thoughtfully.

 

“Vincent…?” Elliot glanced up at that, his grey eyes narrowing as he surveyed his friend and colleague, a small smile curving his mouth. “I have no memory of such a person,” he stated quietly.

 

“So, it was all a whino’s fantasy, after all.” Cleon returned the smile as he shook his head, acknowledging Elliot’s look of complete understanding.


Catherine stepped out of the lift and stood for a moment, letting the ebb and flow of the D.A.’s office surge around her. The corridor was filled with its usual crowd of people hurrying in both directions, and no one allowed her the slightest attention as they bustled past. It was everything she remembered, but it had a different kind of familiarity to it now.

 

Drawing a deep breath she moved forward to the door that declared itself the office of Joe Maxwell, District Attorney, and pushed it open. Joe’s secretary looked up from her desk and surveyed Catherine politely. Catherine didn’t recognise her.

 

“May I help you?” the woman asked politely.

 

“Catherine Chandler.” Cathy smiled. “I believe Joe is expecting me.”

 

“Oh, of course.” The woman sprang to her feet and headed for the inner door, her face flushed with embarrassment.

 

“Cathy!” Joe exploded through the open door, his relief and delight at seeing her, patent on his face. He gathered her up into a bear hug that threatened to break her ribs. “I can’t tell you how good it is to see you again!” He drew back to hold her at arm’s length.

 

“Hello, Joe.” Catherine smiled, her voice catching. “It’s good to see you too.”

 

“The place hasn’t been the same without you.” Joe shook her gently. He turned her around, to push her into his office before him.

  

“I see you’ve moved up in the world.” Catherine looked around her.

 

Joe pushed her down into a chair and called for his secretary to bring them both coffee. “My reward for finally unmasking Gabriel.” He dismissed it all with a shrug, his eyes devouring every detail of Catherine’s appearance. “Your desk is exactly as you left it, Radcliffe. All primed and ready to go.”

 

He leaned his hips against the desk behind him, watching her with a keen air of expectation.

 

“I wish it were that easy, Joe. I really do.” Catherine accepted the steaming cup of coffee from Joe’s secretary with a word of thanks. She sipped the hot liquid gratefully. “I’m sorry. I won’t be coming back here, not to work.”

 

“Not coming back? What gives?” Joe’s voice filled with alarm as he searched for any clues in her expression. “Is there more you haven’t told me? You have a bad habit of holding out on me, Radcliffe. I thought that by this time you would know that you can trust me.”

 

Catherine’s smile was apologetic as she surveyed him steadily. “It’s more than a matter of trust, Joe, much more. If the secrets were mine alone…but they’re not; they never have been. More than that I cannot say. I’m sorry, Joe.”

 

“Why do I get the feeling that I’m missing something really big here?” Joe set down his mug and slumped into the chair behind his desk. He laid his hands, palms down, on the desktop. “I thought that once Gabriel was caught, you would be free to return. Now you drop this bombshell. I need you, Radcliffe.”

 

“I have another life now, a good life, Joe.” Catherine shook her head. “I can’t leave all that behind, not now.”

 

“Caves and candles, I suppose.” Joe shifted his position uneasily. “You scare me sometimes, you know, Cathy. Why this necessity to shroud yourself in mystery? It isn’t healthy.”

 

“For those I love and I have sworn to protect. There can be no other way,” Catherine told him quietly, not wishing to hurt Joe, of all people. “I…I had a choice to make. and I have made it.”

 

“With no regrets?” Joe questioned on a deep sigh.

 

“No regrets, Joe,” Catherine told him, with a smile. “Never could there be any regrets.”

 

“I should have seen it coming, I guess.” Joe stood to pace the office, reminding Catherine of Vincent. The two men were more alike that they knew. She wished they could meet.

 

Joe waved his hands in frustration. “But I thought that once we had caught Gabriel and the threat to your safety was over, that…”

 

“Everything would be as it was before,” Catherine supplied gently, when he paused.

 

“I can’t help but wish we could go back to the way things were before.” Joe came back to stand before her, his tone wistful, and Catherine could see the pain in his eyes. “Chocolate cheese nuggets.” His lips twisted.

 

“I’m sorry, Joe, but I have met someone, someone who means everything to me. But he can’t live in my world, so I must live with him in his. I…told you about him once.” She stood, setting aside her mug to take Joe’s hands in hers. “I said that you had a heart as big as his, and you…you are as beautiful.”

 

“Geeze, give me a break, Radcliffe.” Joe’s face flushed at that; he’d been called many things in his time, but this was a first.

 

Catherine smiled at his embarrassment before slipping her arms around his neck and hugging him tightly. His arms came around her and he sighed deeply as he kissed her cheek.

 

“Maybe, deep down, I expected something like this, Radcliffe.” He slid his hands down her arms to clasp her fingers in his. “But I managed to convince myself otherwise.” He drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “So, are you going to disappear on me again? Leave me stranded trying to communicate with you through the likes of that ragamuffin, Geoffrey?”

 

“No, not this time, Joe.” Catherine laughed at his expression of distaste. “I have several things that I must clear up before I leave. But I will be available anytime you need me. It won’t be like before, Joe, when we were all in serious danger.”

 

“So, no more subway car meetings.” Joe brushed a hand over his hair. “Thanks goodness for that. One day you must tell where you took me that day; it was truly awesome and scary. But I get it.” He held up both hands in surrender. “I’m not allowed to know where you’re going and who will be protecting you now. You know I hate that, Radcliffe, the not knowing a darn thing!”

 

Catherine nodded. “Where I am going is somewhere that survives only because of its isolation, its ability to hold itself apart from the madness of this world.”

 

“Sounds pretty primitive, if you ask me.” Joe cocked his head in scepticism.

“This better not be some cult you’ve got yourself involved with.”

 

“No, Joe.” Catherine smiled. “Nothing like that, I can assure you. But this place has a magic that touches people and brings out the best in everyone who ventures there.”

 

Her gaze moved to the middle distance, and Joe felt a sharp stab of aloneness and envy as Catherine smiled a secret smile that told him nothing. He felt his heart contract, as he watched her. The expression on her face was one of love and generous acceptance and his sense of isolation deepened. “We did some good work together, Radcliffe.” He raised one of her hands to his lips and kissed the back of it. “Replacing you is going to be impossible.”

 

“Give some struggling young lawyer the same chances you gave me, and the results will be all you could wish for.” Catherine touched the back of her fingers to his cheek. “You have been a good friend, Joe, and a great boss.”

 

“And I intend to remain just that.” Joe smiled crookedly, the pain still evident in his eyes. “You can’t escape that easily, Cathy. I won’t let you.”

 

“When I need someone to bully me and force me to watch him eat those awful cheese nuggets, I’ll give you a call.”

 

“Make sure you do.” Joe took her shoulders in his hands. “Your friend…he isn’t in any kind of trouble, is he? I mean, any kind of legal trouble?”

“No, Joe, nothing like that,” Catherine assured him.

 

“Well, that’s a relief. “Joe returned her smile ruefully. “Can’t have my best investigator consorting with a known criminal. There’s been too much of that lately.”

 

He eyed her for a long moment, as if unsure of his next words. Finally he ventured, “Will I ever get to meet this mystery man of yours? I mean, Elliot Burch must know more than he’s telling. Why keep me on the outer? You know I would never betray you.”

 

Catherine looked into his face, knowing again the honesty and the innate integrity of this man who she had come to love and respect over the years they had spent working together. Of all people, she felt Joe would understand about Vincent. Keep all their secrets. But the decision was not hers alone to make. In the distance, she could feel all of Vincent’s trust in her judgement reaching out to her, giving her comfort and reassurance with the strength of his love.

 

Catherine brought her attention back to Joe’s face. “Perhaps, one day, Joe.” She nodded. “Maybe anything is possible after all…”

 

“I’ll hold you to that promise, Radcliffe.” Joe hugged her tightly. “Until then I guess I’ll have to make do with Geoffrey’s company.” His lips quirked wryly. “At least he’s housebroken.”

 

 

 

 

 


Vincent, Catherine and child are looking a Arthur and smiling

 

 

 

I summon to the winding ancient stair;

Set all your mind upon the steep ascent,

Upon the broken, crumbling battlement,

Upon the breathless starlit air,

Upon the star that marks the hidden pole;

Fix every wandering thought upon

That quarter where all thought is done:

Who can distinguish darkness from the soul?

 

W.B. Yeats

 

 

The world Below was silent in the deep, dreamless night, only the murmuring of the pipes that was its soothing heartbeat underscored the peace. An echo and an answer. Vincent listened and interpreted both as he sat on the side of his bed, rocking his son in his arms. Jacob rested against his father’s powerful chest, his head inclined into Vincent’s shoulder. One small fist was entangled in the silken fall of his mane, grasping the strands of hair with determination as the two communed without words.

 

Sleep for Vincent had been elusive in the depths of the first night he’d been separated from Catherine in the many months since their son had been born. The aching void inside him was matched by Catherine’s absence from the bed behind him, and he’d finally given up the unequal struggle and sat up to find his son awake, the child’s eyes wide and bright as they surveyed him.

 

“You could not sleep either, without her.” Bending into the cradle, Vincent had gathered up his son and cradled him close. He felt his heart swell with love as his son’s tiny fist played over his face, softly patting his cheek before settling for grasping his hair.

 

The murmur of Catherine’s heartbeat, distant, but reassuring, whispered across their shared connection. The understanding in Jacob’s clear, blue eyes as he sought, in his own way, to sooth the disquiet of his father’s mind and heart.

 

Father paused in the doorway of Vincent’s chamber, his tired eyes taking in the scene before him. He had also not been able to sleep, and he knew he would find Vincent awake and watchful. He had no wish to intrude now on such a private moment, but neither could he withdraw, so he hovered in the chamber entrance, feeling an unfamiliar sense of deep loss now that Catherine had gone Above once more.

 

“Come in, Father.” Vincent broke the silence.

 

The old man smiled lopsidedly, he’d forgotten that sixth sense of his son’s that enabled him to divine another’s presence without looking. “I couldn’t sleep.” Father limped forward. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

 

“You could never intrude, Father.” Vincent’s eyes met his parent’s worried look. “We all miss her.”

 

“I never thought, until this moment, how much I would miss seeing her every day,” Father admitted, easing himself into Vincent’s chair before the writing table.

 

Vincent looked down at his son, his voice husky and raw as he replied, “I never knew, until this moment, how much such a parting could bruise the soul.”

 

“She will return, Vincent.” Father felt his throat contract over his son’s agony. “Everything she is now is here, waiting for her to come back.”

 

“Everything…” Vincent echoed the word absently, his attention on the small child in his arms. “She asked me to hold all we are together, here.” He extended one hand, palm uppermost, the fingers curved inwards as if holding some precious, fragile gift beyond all price. “But it is Catherine who holds us all. Without her, there is nothing.” He closed his fist tight.

 

“How long does she expect to be Above?” Father questioned, after a long silence.

 

“There are many duties she must attend to.” Vincent lifted his son to settle him against his shoulder as the baby’s eyes drifted shut and he murmured in his sleep. “She wishes to set up a trust fund for Jacob with her inheritance and such matters take time, Catherine told me. Also her apartment, her work Above…so many ties that need to be severed cleanly.”

 

“But you still worry about whether this is the right path for her to choose, Vincent,” Father probed gently.

 

 “I see our way as always being bounded by barriers, limits. I…I once told Catherine that she deserves a life without limits.”

 

“I think I can guess her response to that.”

 

“Yes.” Vincent smiled briefly at the memory. “She was forthright, to say the least.” His eyes met his father’s. “The worst of it is knowing the life Catherine has Above, that I can never have a part in it.” Vincent glanced down at his son’s sleeping face nestled against his shoulder. “Our son can walk the paths Catherine walks, though his origins must ever be shrouded in mystery. So, in order to hold all the threads of her life together, Catherine must detach herself from all she cares for Above in order to live with me, here.”

 

“But the right of choice is hers, Vincent.” Father studied his son’s down-bent head. “You cannot deny her that. I have shared your misgivings, your doubts over what has come to be, on so many levels. There have been times when I truly have wondered if it was for the best.” He raised his hands, palms uppermost. “But, seeing you two together, seeing the love that you have for each other, for your son.” Father stood and moved to Vincent’s side to place one hand on his shoulder, the other on his grandson’s head. “Sometimes I have felt humbled by the beauty I see in the three of you.”

 

“I have felt that same sense of humbleness from the day Catherine came into my life. The day she chose to share all she is and could ever be, with me,” Vincent admitted, his voice breaking with unshed tears. “I feel it even more keenly now. Now that she is prepared to give up everything…for me.”

 

“I think Catherine would dispute just what it is she is giving up.” Father bent to kiss Vincent’s temple. “I think you will find that what you think she is giving up counts for nothing beside what she now possesses.”

 

Jacob stirred in his sleep and Vincent could sense the trend of his dreams. Distantly the softness that was his Catherine reached out to him, to touch his soul, enfolding it in beauty. Vincent nodded slowly at his father’s words.

 

“Yes,” he agreed, as three heartbeats blended into one steady pattern of contentment. “But I cannot rest until she returns to me. There are such dangers Above.” He sighed. “I shall keep watch, until I know she is safe with us once more.”

   

Catherine! Oh, sweet heaven, I can’t believe it’s really you!” Jenny Aaronson fairly burst into Catherine’s apartment, rushing forward to cling to her friend fiercely, covering her cheek with kisses. “It’s been so long, and Joe point-blank refused to tell me where you were.”

 

“Well, that’s because he didn’t know either.” Catherine hugged her friend tightly. “And even if he could have told you, he wouldn’t have risked your life with such dangerous knowledge.”

 

“So, it was as bad as the papers kept screaming?” Jenny pulled back to look at her friend with troubled concern. “It felt that, as usual, they’d blown things out of proportion.”

 

“No, it was as bad as they said,” Catherine admitted, leading her friend to the couch and sitting beside her. “Gabriel was prepared to kill anyone in order to discover my hiding place.”

 

“Mystery upon mystery.” Jenny shook her head, watching Catherine closely. It had been a long time since Jenny had last seen her friend and the change was remarkable. “You know, girlfriend, you have blossomed out of sight. From that rung-out rag of a woman Joe brought home all those months ago. You’ve been holding out on me, Chandler.”

 

“I just found those missing pieces of the puzzle and finally made them fit.”

Catherine met her friend’s inquiring gaze squarely.

 

“So, tell me.” Jenny sat back, curling her legs beneath her. “Your Vincent, the guy with the note, he must be one heck of a man.” She shrugged. “So, are you gonna tell me about him now?”

 

“Maybe one day, Jen. I think you would like him a lot.” Catherine smiled. “You could discuss prophetic dreams.”

 

“He must be some kind of real hunk, if he can put that sort of dreamy look in your eyes, just by the mention his name.”  Jenny sighed, wistfully. “He doesn’t have a brother, by any chance?”

 

Catherine laughed, taking  Jenny’s hands. “Thanks, Jen, for being a good friend. I know it hasn’t been easy for you, not knowing what was going on. But I couldn’t put your life in danger by contacting you. You’ve been incredibly patient, especially when I gave you such short notice that I needed my apartment back. I can see it’s been well taken care of.”

 

“Ah, Paul and Mandy were no problem.” Jenny shook her head briskly, her eyes overbright. “They’ve been expecting you to return since the word’s got around that it’s safe for you to reappear. They’ve found another place. They’re just happy you’re okay.”

 

“I’m glad it’s finally over.” Catherine turned her head to look across the room at the doors that led from the lounge onto the balcony. She could sense both Vincent and Jacob were safe Below, but so many memories came crowding back, good memories.

 

She could see Vincent standing in front of those same doors, watching the shafts of evening light filling the room. She’d walked to his side, and after all they had shared in those long ago days, he had enfolded her in an embrace filled with such love, with everything he was thinking and feeling. It was a truly beautiful moment of shared connection she would never forget. “Whatever happens, whatever comes, know that I love you…”

 

Her breath caught at the sound of his voice, echoing in her mind. She opened her mouth to reply…

 

“You really are in a different world, aren’t you?” Jenny’s voice cut across her thoughts, making Catherine jump at the words unintentional double meaning.

“I gotta meet this guy.”

 

“Sorry, I was miles away. What did you say?” Catherine swung her attention back to her friend’s rueful expression.

 

“I was asking what are your plans now? Now that Gabriel has been dealt with.”

 

“I have so many things to sort out, so many loose ends to tie up.” Catherine studied her hands. “I will be giving up my job at the D.A.s office.”

 

“Giving it up?” Jenny echoed in stunned disbelief. “You’re really serious about this, aren’t you? That job was your life.”

 

“Now my life is very different.” Catherine nodded, knowing her actions now would cause pain to her friends Above, who could not understand her decision because she could never tell them the truth.

 

“And what does Joe have to say about this?” Jenny studied her closely. “I’ll bet he’s not pleased.”

 

“He wasn’t pleased, but he understands, some of it anyway. Oh, Jen, there is so much I wish I could tell you, but I have sworn to protect Vincent’s world, and the greatest protection is absolute silence.”

 

“Well, I know you well enough to know that you wouldn’t be consorting with any kind of criminal element,” Jenny admitted. “So I won’t have any nightmares about where you are and what is happening to you.” She laughed shakily, the tears in her eyes threatening to spill over. “It’s your life, Cathy. Live it as you choose, and I wish you all the happiness in the world.”

 

Catherine thought of her friend’s words long after Jenny had departed. Standing on the balcony, she gazed down into the depths of Central Park. My life, she drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Yes, it is my life, and I have made my choices long ago.

 

Far below, Catherine could sense Vincent’s disquiet, his deep sense of loss and her son’s attempts to sooth his father’s troubled mind and heart. Catherine sent all her love and longing to be with them again, flowing through their unseen bond that linked her with her family. Her family, she turned the words over in her mind, as three souls made contact and the pain eased slowly. Her family. Her eyes reflected the deep, loving bond. They are my entire existence now…

 

“We have a problem.” Diana Bennett stood before Joe’s desk, her face more than usually serious, her blue eyes troubled.

 

What!” Joe half-rose from his seat, unnerved by the investigator’s manner.

 

“This.” Diana extended a sheet of computer printouts. “I have already contacted Greg  Hughs. He’s on his way.”

 

Joe stared at her as he took the paperwork, and he could see just how worried Diana was. He felt a chill wind blow through his soul as he dropped his eyes to the papers. Anything that scares Bennett…

 

The words on the sheet danced before his eyes, and he had to begin again, before they made any sense. It was a list of names, and his own was at the top of the second page. He looked back at Diana. “I don’t get it.” He shrugged. 

 

“I’ve been digging though Gabriel’s computer system.” Diana took a turn around the room. “It’s taken me days to come up with that.” She came back to Joe’s desk, her fingers beating a nervous tattoo. “Whoever set up that system knew what he was doing. Anyway, I finally found a hidden file, codenamed JUSTICE. This is that file.”

 

She slumped into the chair behind her. “Names, Joe. Yours, judges, politicians, even the mayor of New York City, for Pete’s sake!”

 

“This is madness.” Joe stared at her, his mind galloping from one thought to the next. But he knew that anything that could scare Bennett so deeply was something he didn’t want to think about.

 

“Some of the names have a symbol beside them, see?” Diana got to her feet and, peering over the top of the pages Joe still held in his hand, indicated a name towards the bottom of the list. “Some kind of ring, like a snake eating its tail, of all things. Read the last name, Joe.”

 

Joe dropped his eyes from Diana’s troubled face to the paper in his hand. Quickly he scanned it and Justin Cole’s name suddenly leapt out at him. Beside it was a coiled snake, its tail held between its jaws.

 

“I get the feeling I’m not going to like what you’re about to tell me,” Joe stated grimly, looking up once more.

 

“The names, Joe, the names with the symbol.” Diana took the pages from him and spread them out fully on the desk. “Here, Judge Phillips died in a car accident two months ago. And here, Senator Ryan, drowned at sea, his body never recovered. And then, this name.” Diana’s finger trembled slightly, as she came to another line on the page, another coiled snake symbol. “John Moreno.”

 

“A death list!” Joe shook his head in disbelief, as he read each of the names with the snake symbol. Every one was the name of a dead man.

 

“Yes.” Diana expelled her breath in a rush. “And as far as we know, it’s still active, and your name is on it, Joe. Gabriel must have prepared for every eventuality, even his own death. He wanted to make sure that, whatever happened to him, his inhuman form of justice would be seen to be done.”

 

“Phillips, Ryan, Cole.” Joe ran one finger down the list, looking for one name that wasn’t there. “Catherine?” he questioned, looking up in sudden alarm, fearing the worst as he came to the end of the names once more.

 

“No, Joe, those are all the names I found.” Diana shook her head.

 

“Thank God for that!” Joe dropped back into his chair. “She has been through enough. Who else knows about this list?”

 

“No one, except Greg. I brought it straight here, and I have the disk in my purse. But there’s no way of telling who’s had accessed this file before I found it. Shannon Cole’s name is also on the list. But no one seems to know where she’s hiding.”

 

“John Moreno…” Joe spoke slowly. “The men who attacked us at the carousel in the park that night … they were all finished off in the same manner. Ripped to pieces, and yet Cole was shot once through the heart. Ryan was drowned at sea. If Gabriel is establishing a pattern of revenge, it doesn’t make sense. Why not make the retribution as brutal and blatant Moreno’s murder? Drive home the point that it’s still not over.”

 

“I don’t think the man who killed those men at the carousel has anything to do with this list.” Diana’s tone was slow and considering. “I think they were dealt with by Cathy Chandler’s protector. She knows who he is, but she will never reveal his identity.”

 

“Cathy would never be involved with a killer!” Joe half-started out of his seat again. “It’s just not possible!”

 

“I never said he was a killer, Joe.” Diana held up one hand. “I said he protects her, and in turn, she protects him. If those men had reached us, they would have killed us; that’s the simple truth. They were prevented from doing so, very effectively.”

 

“But, John Moreno…?”

 

“That was a different matter.” Diana rested her chin on her upraised fingertips. “That was made to look like something it never was. For what reason, we can only guess at. Gabriel enjoyed playing deadly games where only he knew the rules.”

 

“So you’re telling me that there’s still a killer out there, a man armed with this list and instructions to execute everyone on it.”

 

“I’m sorry, Joe.” Diana shook her head. “We thought it was all over, and now, it begins again. You will need protection, ‘round the clock. Whoever he is, he is very efficient and through. You can’t even be sure you can trust your own staff with this. Remember, we thought Moreno was safe in prison.” 

 

“I remember,” Joe stated grimly. “And I’m not about to cower in hiding while there is a maniac on the loose.” He struck the pages with the flat of his hand. “We must warn everyone on this list before things get out of hand.”

 

The door to Joe’s office burst open and Greg  Hughs rushed in. His hair and clothing was in disarray and his face was drawn and pale. He barely acknowledged Diana as he leaned on Joe’s desk.

 

“I’ve just come from downtown.” Greg thumped the desk. “Someone planted a car bomb and has managed to blow Judge Shipley all over Central Park.”

 

“So it begins again.” Joe’s eyes met Diana’s shocked gaze, before he dropped his to the printed pages before him. Michael Shipley was the third name on the list.

 

 

 


The hills are shadows, and they flow

From form to form, and nothing stands;

They melt like mist, the solid lands,

Like clouds they shape themselves and go.

 

But in my spirit will I dwell,

And dream my dream and hold it true;

For tho’ my lips may breathe adieu,

I cannot think the thing farewell.

 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

 

The thunder of the explosion rattled Catherine’s windows as she prepared herself for the day ahead. The roiling cloud of smoke stained the bright morning sky as Catherine ran to her balcony to look out over the park. Her hand went to her throat when she saw the flaming wreck so close to the drainage entrance to Vincent’s world. She felt the sudden flare of his awareness of her anguish. Firmly Catherine forced down her terror and tried to convey the dangers apparent now as sirens wailed and people began to gather around the wreckage. Hastily, she finished dressing and hurried out of her apartment, heading for the basement entrance to Vincent’s world.

 

He was waiting for her on the threshold, the strain of the past few hours evident in his face and stance. Silently Catherine flew into his arms and they closed around her.

 

“I felt your fear,” Vincent said, against her hair. “I knew I couldn’t reach you, up there.”

 

“I’m all right.” Catherine drew back to touch his cheek. “It was the shock, some sort of explosion in the park, by the drainage tunnel. I thought, at first…”

 

“We felt it, even Below.” Vincent nodded, his eyes devouring her pale face. The necessity of a day spent apart from her seemed like an eternity already. “We will have to seal up the tunnels around the junction for now. There will be an investigation into the cause. I have sent Mouse and Cullen to begin. I must join them soon. It will need to be done swiftly.”

 

“Yes,” Catherine breathed. “Vincent, I will be back as soon as I can. Every moment away from you…”

 

“I know.” Vincent gathered her against him again, and Catherine slid her hands up into his hair to tangle there as Vincent rocked her gently, soothing her confusion and forcing down his own deep sense of disquiet so she would not detect it.

 

“I must get back.” Catherine sighed at last, regretfully, but she made no move for several more precious minutes.

 

Finally, reluctantly, Vincent placed his hands on her shoulders and held her away from him. “You will be careful, Catherine. Your world is a very violent place.”

 

“I will…” Catherine whispered against his lips as she drew his head down to hers. With a deep groan, he accepted her heart-stopping caress before drawing back and gently pushing her back towards the world Above.

 

“I love you…” Catherine’s parting words floated back to him, as she was swallowed by the shaft of white light once more.

 

“Be well, Catherine,” Vincent whispered, as her footsteps died into silence.

 

 

“You can’t be serious, Joe! You need protection!” Greg’s tone was exasperated. “I don’t want to end up investigating your murder! Tell him, Diana!”

 

“We have to draw this killer out into the open,” Joe repeated his last statement patiently. “We can’t let him get the upper hand.”

 

“There are twenty other names on that list. Why should he pick yours?” Greg tried a different tack.

 

“Because we’re going to make it easy for him.” Joe drew a deep breath. “I’m not going to sit around and wait for the axe to fall. I want to put a final stop to Gabriel’s from-beyond-the-grave, control.”

 

“This sort of game can get you killed.” Greg shook an impotent fist. “I will be with you around the clock, whether you like it or not.”

 

“No,” Joe was emphatic. “He doesn’t know we have found the list. As far as the killer is aware, he can operate with impunity. Let him think that for a while yet.”

 

“But the rest of the names on the list,” Diana spoke then. “It will look too suspicious if they all suddenly leave town for parts unknown. He will have to suspect that we’ve discovered him, and he will go to ground, wait for his next opportunity.”

 

“Bennett’s got a point there.” Greg nodded with grim satisfaction.

 

“Illness, a sudden family bereavement.” Joe tapped the list. “We don’t know why some of these names are on here. But you can bet that more than a few of them know more than they’re telling. Gabriel’s retribution list would include those who should’ve found out any information on our movements when we were closing in on him. But they were too busy looking after their own skins and reputations.” He picked up his darts. “If they were informed of the list’s existence, those in Gabriel’s pay would be just as likely to try and find our killer to confess their sins in the hope of escaping with their lives. So, we need to quietly shuffle them out of the line of fire. Put them out of immediate reach, so that I become a far more tempting target.”

 

“I don’t believe I am hearing this!” Greg stalked from Joe’s desk to the door and back again.

 

“It could work…” Diana nodded slowly.

 

“For Pete’s sake, not you, as well, Bennett!” Greg raised his hands helplessly. “You’re both mad; do you know that?”

 


Catherine looked around her father’s old office wistfully, expecting to see him at any moment in every corner. So many things had happened since his death. Catherine was shocked to remember that it was nearly two years ago. But she knew that wherever he was now, he would be proud of her…and her son. The thought of Jacob brought a smile to her lips and his image rose before her. His sweet baby face and those deep, sapphire blue eyes, so like his father’s…

 

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Cathy.” Alex Morgan bustled into the office, a sheath of papers in his hands. “You know how it is.”

 

“Oh, yes, I know how it is.” Catherine smiled, as her lawyer sat behind her father’s old desk. “Or at least, I used to.”

 

 “I think the carpet at my door has been worn threadbare by all the people who were convinced I knew your whereabouts and demanding I tell them.” Alex returned her smile. “Next time you decide to disappear, please send me a note first, so I can disclaim all knowledge of you.”

 

“I’ll do that,” Catherine promised.

 

“So, what brings you to me today…memories?” Alex probed gently, his face suddenly thoughtful as he considered the picture she made. At sixty-two, he was still capable of wishing he was twenty years younger whenever he encountered the daughter of his old friend and partner.

 

“I carry Dad’s memories with me.” Catherine glanced around the office once more. “But I will admit that it’s good to see his old office once more. It has been a long time.”

 

“Too long.” Alex‘s eyes followed hers. “I needed a bigger office, so, I—”

 

“It’s okay, Alex.” Catherine held up her hand. “Life goes on. Dad would have wanted you to have it anyway.”

 

Alex relaxed back into his seat with a sigh and his eyes fell on the file under his hand. “So, this is more than just a social call?”

 

Catherine considered him for a long moment, sorting out in her mind what and how she would tell him of her plans. She knew that Alex would never betray his oath as a lawyer or her trust in him as a family friend. But she still needed to tread warily. A whole world depended on her for its security now more than ever.

 

“I want to set up a trust fund with my inheritance from Dad and all my other assets,” she said finally.

 

Alex nodded slowly. “A wise decision, but who benefits? You…have no family left now that your father has gone.”

 

Catherine drew a deep breath and held it for a long moment before plunging in. She was placing her complete trust in Alex with the secret she was about to reveal.

 

“What is it, Cathy?” Alex frowned.

 

“I have a son, Alex. He will be the beneficiary.”

 

 
“So that is what you have been doing all this time in hiding, bearing a child?” Alex asked in shocked disbelief, after Catherine had told him the bare facts of her story. “Oh, my, what a story.”

 

“He’s eight months old now. His name is Jacob Chandler Wells.”

 

“Wells…” Alex frowned. “I don’t know any Wells. Are they a New York family?”

 

“My child’s father doesn’t live in New York.” Catherine decided her statement wasn’t really a lie. “Actually, he doesn’t hold an American passport.” That, at least, was completely true.

 

“So, he’s a foreign national.” Alex attempted to come to grips with the bare facts she had given him.

 

“Yes, in a way.” Catherine inclined her head. She could see all sorts of awkward questions buzzing around in Alex’s mind. But he wisely refrained from prying too far.

 

“Has the birth been registered?” he asked finally.

 

“No,” Catherine admitted. “There were obvious reasons why I couldn’t expose myself or my child to the dangers that we faced them. Now that Gabriel is out of our lives forever, I want to put everything right. That is why I’m here.”

 

“It shouldn’t be too difficult, given the circumstances.” Alex nodded, as he watched her. “I…take it, the father couldn’t stay in this country?”

 

“Our worlds can never overlap.” Catherine met his gaze squarely. “He can never have a place in my world, so I must go and live with him in his. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s safe there, and I know I will always be cared for and loved.”

 

“You make it sound so final. As if you’re finally closing some sort of door on the past.”

 

“In a way, I suppose I am,” Catherine agreed slowly. “Yes, I truly am.”

 

 

Elliot sat at his desk, his head bowed over the pile of papers before him. The rays of the dying sun glinted red through the windows of his office, casting long shadows across the plush carpet. In the two weeks since he left the tunnel world he had barely slept, so intent was he on restoring order to his kingdom. His face was hollow and strained, and his bullet wound was beginning to protest over the pace he had set himself. But he was winning the battle, slowly, but surely.

 

Suddenly he had the distinct impression he was not alone. He toyed with the idea of making a dive for the handgun in his desk drawer, as he slowly raised his eyes from his paperwork.

 

Mouse!” He fairly yelled the name, as his eyes encountered the stocky, fair- haired figure before him, hovering uncertainly in the middle of his office.

 

 Elliot!” Mouse bobbed his head in acknowledgment of his greeting. “Brought a list.” He held out a scrap of grubby paper.

 

Elliot frowned. “How did you get in here? The place is locked up.”

 

Mouse dived into his pocket with his free hand, extracting a set of keys. He held them up, jangling them proudly. “Skeleton keys. Mouse made. Good for anything, anywhere, any time.”

 

“Of course, I should have guessed.” Elliot released a long sigh as he raised his eyes upwards momentarily. A reluctant laugh escaped him as he contemplated several fates he would like to see befall the boy. Then his attention dropped back to his little visitor and his eyes softened. “Let’s see it, then.”

 

Mouse’s face lit up. “Okay, good, okay, fine!” He scurried forward to deposit the list into Elliot’s outstretched hand.

 

The paper was covered in something Elliot preferred not to try and name, so he opened it gingerly. It wasn’t as bad as he feared – no nuclear power plants yet, but it was an extensive requirement.

 

“When?” Mouse gazed hopefully from the list to Elliot’s face and back again. “Important work. Need to do now.”

 

“Yes, I gathered that.” Elliot raised his eyes. “Two days,” he promised. “But how will you get all this Below, without being seen?”

 

“Mouse knows a way,” the boy assured him gleefully.

 

“I’ll bet you do,” Elliot spoke under his breath. Then he sighed. “Just tell me when and where. I want to oversee this whole operation, Mouse. For all our sakes.”

 

“Can’t use the drainage tunnel entrance, in park. Big explosion. Lots of policemen. Digging around, not good there now. Mouse sealed it up, Vincent and Cullen helped.”

 

“Yes, I heard about that.” Elliot’s tone was grim. Now that he knew the secrets of the world Below, he was afraid for its safety. He’d gone to the park himself to try and assess the risk of exposure, but the police didn’t appear to be too interested in the tunnel entrance. But it was a close call.

 

“Chun’s Market, here, I wrote it down.” Mouse proffered another grubby piece of paper. “Boxes marked fruit. Mr. Chun knows what to do.”

 

“You know, the more I get to know your world, the more amazing it becomes. This place is miles from the park entrance.”

 

“Best way.” Mouse rubbed his hands. “Mouse is smart.”

 

“Smarter than me, it seems.” Elliot grinned at him and Mouse bobbed his head in solemn acknowledgment.

 


“Hey, Radcliffe, you haven’t abandoned me yet?” Joe greeted Catherine as she was shown into his office once more.

 

“Not yet.” She returned his hug warmly before he hustled her into a chair.

 

Catherine surveyed him closely; the lines of strain and worry were fresh on his face. Instinctively she knew there were more things he was not telling her, things related to Gabriel’s case, and it made her feel cold inside. Was the dead man’s evil still to touch them, even from beyond the grave?

 

“What is it, Joe? What’s happened? Tell me!”

 

“Not much, just a few loose ends we haven’t tied down yet. Don’t worry about it,” Joe lied briskly. “You don’t work here anymore, remember?”

 

“Joe…” Catherine said with a warning frown. “I don’t find that very funny. What’s going on?”

 

Joe surveyed her in frustration. He didn’t want to involve Cathy, of all people, in this new mess. She was far better off out of it, but he knew that she wouldn’t rest until she knew the truth. Still, he wanted desperately for Cathy to go away happy and content, and not to become caught up in all the danger once more. He owed her that much.

 

“I’m waiting, Joe.” Catherine’s eyes were determined, but before Joe could answer, his office door opened and Diana walked in.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry. Your secretary wasn’t there and I just assumed…” Diana began, then stopped as she recognised Joe’s visitor. “I’ll come back—”

 

“No, it’s okay, Diana. Come in and shut the door behind you.”

 

Diana complied readily and stood with her back to the closed door, looking from one to the other. Joe’s mouth was tight, his face closed to her, while Cathy Chandler watched him with ill-concealed impatience.

 

Diana could sense all the undercurrents between the two, and she sighed sharply. “You will have to tell her, Joe. She had a part in it all. She deserves to know.”

 

“If someone doesn’t tell me what is going on soon, I will say something I might regret.” Catherine watched them both.

 

“I didn’t want to involve you in this, Cathy. It’s too dangerous.”

 

“I’m already involved, Joe. Tell me. Maybe I can help.”

 

Joe sighed heavily and then said, “Diana found a list in Gabriel’s computer. A list of names…” he began, much against his better judgement. He told her everything, with visible reluctance. There was a strained silence in the office when he finally stopped speaking. Joe threw a dart at the board to ease his frustration, missing it completely.

 

“And you are intending to invite this killer to try and get to you?” Catherine couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Sheer madness.”

 

“It’s the only way to deal with him – neutralise his potential to kill half the figureheads of this city.” Joe attempted to make her see his reasoning.

 

“But this is crazy. You will get yourself killed!”

 

“That’s why I didn’t want to involve you, Cathy. You’ve been through enough at the hands of that man. This is my fight now.” Joe sank to his haunches beside her chair. “You can’t get involved in this battle. You must go back to your safe place and wait for me to give the all clear. Understand?”

 

“No.” Catherine’s chin rose in defiance. “I was involved the moment you gave me that diary,” she reminded him quietly.

 

“What diary?” Diana demanded to know.

 

“It was a book of dates and names. It was given to me by a friend, a man I thought I knew.” Joe stood up. “He turned out to be one of Gabriel’s creatures.”

 

“So, where’s the diary now?” Diana straightened away from the door, her face intent.

 

“I gave it to Elliot Burch.” Catherine frowned. “Why is it so important now?”

 

“It could be a link; it could be nothing. I won’t know until I see it.” Diana pursed her lips. “I think I’d better pay Burch a visit.”

 

“You won’t learn much,” Joe denied. “Pat said it was about payments, kickbacks. We had no time to try and crack the code.”

 

“And time is the one thing we don’t have.” Catherine stood. “I’ll go with you to see Elliot. He may refuse to give you the dairy. He’s aware of its potential should it fall into the wrong hands.”

 

“And nothing I say is going to change your mind, is it?” Joe demanded gruffly.

 

“You did the same for me, Joe. Remember?” she said, before she followed Diana out of the office.

 

 

 


Catherine is holding her baby and Vincent is behind her with his arms wrapped around her shoulders

 

 

“Well, this is a day for surprises.” Elliot stood behind the bar in his office pouring himself a large whiskey. Both Diana and Catherine had refused a drink.

 

Elliot’s eyes encountered Catherine’s, and she shook her head almost imperceptibly. Elliot nodded in understanding and Diana wondered at the silent communication between the two.

 

“I’ve just gotten rid of rather a large mouse, a short time ago. He had a list.” Elliot came to sit on the couch opposite the two women.

 

“Probably been at your whiskey supply.” Diana interpreted Elliot’s comment differently from Catherine.

 

Elliot smiled over that, but he refrained from elaborating. He’d gotten his message across to Catherine, as he had intended.

 

“I will see to it that the pest control officer is informed.” Catherine nodded. “I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

 

“No problem.” Elliot began to grin, enjoying the game of words. “I think I can handle some small nibbles at my stock.”

 

“Little nibbles can become huge holes if left unchecked,” Catherine countered, sensing Diana’s puzzled frown, and it was all she could do not to smile.

 

 “There is a large debt to pay,” Elliot countered. “I can control the problem. If it gets out of hand, I’ll let you know.”

 

“Good.” Catherine nodded. “You can’t let these rodents plague you night and day.”

 

“Will someone please tell me what is going on here?” Diana demanded.

 

“Pest control,” Elliot informed her solemnly. “The place was overrun by mice, or one large mouse might be more correct.”

 

Diana looked from one to the other without speaking. They both were wearing grins that would have shamed the Cheshire cat.

 

Catherine felt a weight lift off her spirits as she bantered with Elliot. She felt a warm sense of gratitude that he didn’t take Mouse’s sudden appearance too seriously. Still, she would need to inform Vincent, Mouse could easily get carried away with his projects if he wasn’t constantly kept in check.

 

But the heavier problem of Joe remained. To put himself at risk was suicidal, but she knew that in his position, she would have done the same for those she cared about and depended on.

 

“The diary I gave you, before I was kidnapped by Gabriel’s men. Do you still have it?”

 

Elliot surveyed her, not sure of her intention. “Why do you ask?”

 

“Because it could be the key to everything,” Diana put in then, and she proceeded to elaborate on her discoveries. Elliot’s drink and drunken mice were forgotten as she told him the facts as she knew them.

 

“It’s in my desk.” Elliot stood when Diana had finished speaking and circled his desk to open a secret drawer where he kept valuable documents. “I had it hidden away, but I thought, with Gabriel gone, it was a reminder never to over-reach yourself.” He came back to place it on the coffee table. “I’ve tried, but I couldn’t decipher a word if it.”

“I doubt anyone could just by reading it.” Diana picked it up.

 

“”There’s nothing in it that makes any sense.” Elliot glanced at Catherine. “Malloy-Davidson and Hanover-Norton Trust – they are about all I recognised. The initials are pencilled in the margins.”

 

“This may be a clue or it may be nothing.” Diana scanned the pages quickly. “We shall find out.”

 

“Thanks, Elliot, for everything.”

 

Catherine smiled at him, and Elliot felt all his love for her threatening to engulf him. His smile slipped a little, but he maintained it. He saw a flicker of understanding in her green eyes, and he felt humbled by the trust she had placed in him. “Give the rodent control officer my regards,” he said then, casting a sidelong glance at Diana’s puzzled frown.

 

“I will.” Catherine promised him, getting to her feet. “Take care of yourself, Elliot.”

 

“Don’t I always?” he quipped, following them to the door.

 

“He’s in love with you,” Diana observed quietly, as the two women walked to the elevator.

 

“Yes…” Catherine studied her companion’s expression as she pushed the down button.

 

“But…for you, there is someone else.”

 

Catherine dropped her eyes and looked away into the middle distance. “Always…” she sighed wistfully.

 

“He must be one lucky man to have such a love as yours.” Diana shook her head. “I have never known a love like that.”

 

Catherine looked back at her. Diana’s gaze was direct and very open. Suddenly they were both smiling, almost conspiratorially.

 

“We’ll catch this man of Gabriel’s, don’t worry,” Diana said, as they both stepped into the open elevator. “It would be nice to have a happy ending for a change. The cases I usually deal with are bound together with tragedy.”

 

 

Catherine stood on her balcony looking out into the night. She had been Above for three days now…and three nights, she reminded herself with a deep sigh. There were still so many things to sort through. Alex had handled everything very efficiently. Jacob’s birth had been officially noted, though there had been a few hands thrown up in horror at the delay and a few pointed questions asked. Alex had handled it all smoothly and everything had been put right in the end.

 

The father of her child had been registered as unknown and that was the end of the matter. It hurt, but there was no other way. To enable Jacob to one day walk in her world, he needed a birth certificate and a name, and Catherine had supplied him with both. She crossed her arms across her breasts, where she ached to hold her son once more. Soon, very soon now, she promised herself, and they would never be parted again.

 

Then Joe’s face rose before her. Why did he have to be so noble and risk his life? Also the fact that he’d tried to hide it all from her stung her pride. Joe was always playing the big brother to her, trying to shield her from the inherent dangers of her job. True, in the beginning, he’d pushed her to see if she would crack and prove all his theories about rich girls playing at being tough. But, when he had come to know and value her as a friend and colleague, his conscience had been pricked about the danger she took for granted in her line of work. But then, there had been Vincent to protect her, always…

 

“Catherine…” it was as if the wind had spoken her name, so softly did it echo to her from out of the night. Vincent’s voice, speaking in an aching whisper from some faraway place.

 

But she felt he was nearer than that. Suddenly, Catherine turned her attention to the shadows that hung in the corner of the balcony. A darker bulk of shadow stood out against the rest. How many times before had he stood there, simply watching her and aching for what he thought could never be, for what he could never have?

 

“Just when I’m sure I can sense your every mood, your every thought, you go and surprise me.” Catherine swallowed against the tightness in her throat at the beloved sight of him, as she moved to stand before him. “I have never needed to see you so badly.”

 

“I know.” Vincent looked down at her, not touching her, except for the shimmering depths of their bond. There he held her and would never release her. “To be apart from you, even for a few days…” he left the rest unsaid.

 

“I had to be strong to walk in this world again, when first we met. You gave me that strength, Vincent.” Catherine laid her hand over the steady beat of his heart. “But this time it has been like a knife twisting inside me. I felt your pain on that first night.”

 

“As I felt your fear for me after that explosion in the park. There are evil forces still at work here; you must protect yourself before thinking of me. I wish I could walk with you when you face the dangers of your world.”

 

“I know.” Catherine gripped a fold of his vest beneath her fingers. “But you are with me, and you walk with me and watch over me. You pick me up whenever I stumble.”

 

“Then, tell me what is troubling you so deeply that you cannot sleep tonight.”

 

Slowly, infinitely slowly, Catherine dropped her head forward until her cheek was resting against his chest. His arms rose to enfold her, and she released the sigh she seemed to have been holding all day, waiting for him to come to her. To hold her, exactly like this.

 

All her troubles, all her fears and concerns came tumbling out, muffled against Vincent’s chest. He had to strain to hear her words. He listened in silence, though his very stillness was filled with a nameless dread. They had come so far, and yet the road before them seemed to stretch endlessly still, without an ending in sight…

 

 

    

Yeah, I’d fight for you

I’d lie for you

Walk the wire for you

Yeah, I’d die for you

 

You know it’s true

Everything I do

I do for you…

 

Bryan Adams

 

 

The early morning light was tipping the high clouds with liquid gold before Vincent could tear himself away from Catherine to return Below. The hours had sped by silently, as they sat, as they had so many times before, in the shelter of the balcony wall, and Vincent had told her of their son. Every event, no matter how small, that had happened to Jacob over the intervening days since Catherine had last held him.

 

She drank it all in. The apple cake given by William, which the baby had managed to smear everywhere, including through his father’s hair and clothing. Everywhere, except in his mouth. The small contest between Mary and Father over whose turn it was to nurse the boy.

 

Vincent had wisely stayed out of the contest, but had watched them both with considerable amusement. Naturally it was Mary who won the battle in the end and had borne off her small prize triumphantly, leaving Father to his mumblings about interfering women.

 

And, in the depths of the night, when the voice of the wind had dropped to a slumberous murmur, Catherine had leaned her face into Vincent’s neck and whispered raggedly, “Let’s go inside, Vincent, please…”

 

His eyes held hers for a long moment and then he slid his arms around her, one at her shoulders, the other behind her knees, and he lifted her bodily from the tiles as he stood in one fluid movement. All barriers had dissolved since last he had been to her apartment, and he stepped with her across the threshold without further thought, into the softly lit interior of her world.

 

Inside, he let her slip to her feet, her body a sensuous caress as she moved against him. She was standing on the small dais that led to the French doors, while Vincent stood below her, so they were virtually on eye level. Her eyes held a wealth of longing as emerald clashed with sapphire, and Vincent felt his heart contract at the sight of her, softly entrancing in the lamp light.

 

Images and impressions tumbled though his thoughts as he remembered when he’d last come to her apartment, when he had come to remove all traces of himself from her life. When he had attempted to redirect her course, away from him and onto a new life, free from the need to hide their love.

 

“I was bound to you,” Catherine whispered softly, as Vincent’s thought communicated themselves to her. “My fate was inescapable and very desirable.”

 

“And I was bound by the beliefs of a lifetime.” Vincent touched one fingertip to the soft curve of her mouth, following the line from side to side, before drifting down to caress the hollow at the base of her throat.

 

Catherine shivered at the subtle contact. “But you came to me in the night,” she managed. “I remember a nightmare, a dream of demons and pain. But when I thought all was truly lost, you came and held me, told me that I could never lose you, that I was a part of you…always.”

 

Vincent tipped his head to one side, his eyes unfathomably deep and inviting. “Our bond was evolving in ways even I could not have imagined. It transcends all time and space, all the laws of probability and reason.”

 

“All the laws…” Catherine agreed slowly, as Vincent’s hand moved to curve around the column of her throat, rising to cup her chin, his claws a seductive whisper across her skin, invoking shivers of longing.

 

The brush of his lips across hers was fraught with desire and an aching need, while the touch was almost tentative. Back again, the lightness deepening to shimmer there, against the trembling softness of her mouth. Three days that had somehow spun into years, three days that had dissolved into nothingness now that he was with her once again, to cement his own reality once more…

 

 

The lamp beside the bed played over the honeyed bronze of Vincent’s skin. Tones that were so different in the uncertain flicker of a candle flame took on a molten warmth as his muscles moved and flowed beneath their mantle of fine hair.

 

Catherine lay, stretched along his side, cradled against the curve of his shoulder, the afterglow of their lovemaking tingling in every pore of her skin. Lightly, she smoothed the play of muscles beneath the skin of his forearm. They flowed sleekly beneath her touch, quivering at the sensuous pass of her questing hand.

 

How many times had she dreamed of being here, exactly like this, making love with the man she desired more than life itself? Dreams she had been forced to suppress as soon as they arose, often leaving her feeling strung out and distraught. She could never allow those feelings, those needs, to communicate themselves to Vincent. He had been so afraid of mirroring those feelings within himself, so wary of hurting her in what he saw as a terrible desire for the warmth of her, the softness of her inescapable beauty. A beauty that he had convinced himself he could never possess, because in that possession he could see only their mutual destruction.

 

“And now, not to be able to possess all that beauty again and again, would drive me insane.” Vincent’s voice overlayed her thoughts. “I need you, as the sullen earth thirsts for the sunshine and the rain.”

 

“I know.” Catherine rose beside him, a smile curving her lips. “But you have shown me a dimension of beauty that I never thought existed. The beauty of the untarnished soul.”

 

Vincent sighed. “I was bound by darkness, by forces that I felt only stripped me of my humanity, my reason. Then you came to me, gave of yourself, for me. I can never forget the selflessness of that gift. You gave back all that I had lost, and then, infinitely more than I could have hoped for…or dreamed.”

 

Catherine trailed kisses across his naked chest. “If I had simply stood by and allowed you to destroy yourself, I would have ceased to exist as well. You are the best part of who I am, of all I can become. You taught me to love myself, to understand who I am, without limits. I love you.”

 

She rose to her knees beside him. Her heart ached that he would have to leave soon, to return Below and be separated from her once more by daylight and distance. She arched her back, running her fingers up into her hair. She moved slowly, her body swaying to the entrancing notes of Mozart’s clarinet concerto playing softly in the background. She closed her eyes, letting the music move through her, sensing every pure note, as if it were a physical caress.

 

“You are my soul…” Vincent raised himself on one elbow, watching her move sinuously in the lamplight through half closed eyes. He reached to lay one hand on the flatness of her lower body and slowly spread his fingers, fanlike, against her perfumed skin. He watched, fascinated, as her skin shivered and dimpled beneath his touch.

 

The sensation of his caress trembled through Catherine’s senses, bringing her whole body instantly to fever pitch. From her stomach, Vincent trailed a slow, aching path upwards, over her ribcage, to surround the ripe fullness of her breast, running the burgeoning rose tip against the palm of his hand.

 

Catherine’s bones seemed to dissolve then, and her trembling communicated itself to Vincent. His breathing became raw and uneven as sensation built on sensation, reflecting between them, through them, entwining them together in their mutual need.

 

Catherine rose against him as his touch flowed down to the moist silk of her inner thigh. She bent over him, tasting and testing the infinite textures of his skin. Here, warm and soft with a fine covering of silken hair, then down to the muscular planes of his stomach that contracted beneath her sensuous assault, and Vincent’s breath hissed between his clenched teeth.

 

His hand curved over the back of her knee, drawing her leg across him, bringing her most intimate warmth to rest against the powerful thrust of his lower body, blindly seeking her satin depths. She gladly surrendered herself, as he held her easily, lifting her body to draw her intimately against him from breast to hip. She arched even closer, her desperate cry of need lost in his questing mouth.

 

The contact trembled through them as Catherine entwined her leg though his, rolling him backwards until she lay across him, looking down into the flame of his intent gaze.

 

“Wherever you go, you will always take me with you,” Vincent whispered raggedly, as she rose against him, the lamplight playing through her hair and across her skin.

 

“Always…” Catherine lowered her head to caress his lips with the word. Her tongue played across his mouth, probing between to touch on each of his canines in turn, before moving on to run against his tongue and taste the sweetness.

 

Vincent’s hands encompassed her waist, and with a flow of strength that left her breathless, held her up and away from him. She remained there suspended in time and space, simply waiting for Vincent to complete this most intimate of journeys once more. She watched him, seeing all the love and the respect and all the giving of his great soul, shining up at her from his half closed eyes. Then, as his arms began to tremble with the strain of holding her above him, he lowered her down again, slowly, timelessly, bringing her onto him, renewing himself once more within the very heart of her being.

 

Catherine flung her head back as she slid over him, encompassing everything he was and ever could be in the molten satin of her inner body, centering her entire existence on that single intimate contact. That world ‘where music and moonlight and the feeling are one’ beckoned them both onwards, and neither had the power or the will to deny its existence or incredible beauty…

 

Slowly drifting back to reality, still encompassing him, Catherine lay along Vincent’s chest, lazily teasing him with her lips against his throat. Vincent growling, low and warningly, but his hands smoothed along the curve of her back, coming to rest on the flare of her hips.

 

“Hmmm, you taste so good.” Catherine baited him with small nips at his salty skin. “Almost good enough to eat.” She trailed her mouth towards his shoulder, testing and teasing.

 

Vincent raised his hands, encompassing the roundness of her breasts. “Not as sweet as you,” he countered, drawing her nipple into his mouth, catching it between his teeth, effectively stifling her teasing.

 

Beyond the doors, sunlight began to push back the darkness and they both watched the dawning glow with infinite sadness. “I must leave soon,” he whispered against her hair.

 

“I know.” Catherine turned her face into his shoulder. “But not yet, not yet.”

 

Vincent couldn’t deny the appeal in her eyes as she moved against him once more, drawing him up and into her sweetness and the need to lose himself within her once more became unbearable…

 

 

 

 

Eliott is in the foreground and Vincen and Catherine are in the background. Catherine is reaching up and touching Vincent's face.

 

 

Catherine stood on her balcony long after Vincent had disappeared into the gathering daylight. She sensed when he’d reached the safety of the tunnels, and she sent all her love and her aching longing coursing across the distance that now separated them once more. It was reflected back instantly, enriched a thousand times by the strength of his love, and she turned back to her apartment to face yet another day of separation in the sure and certain knowledge that this would be the very last time they would be apart.

 

 

Peter Alcott was delighted to see Catherine again. He had not visited the tunnels for over two months, his workload preventing him from descending Below. He hugged her warmly, with great affection.

 

“You always manage to brighten an old man’s day,” he said sincerely, as he sat on the corner of his desk, holding her hand between both of his. “It’s a relief to know that the terrible darkness that Gabriel brought into both your lives has finally been removed.”

 

“Yes.” Catherine nodded slowly. “But I’m afraid part of that darkness still remains.”

 

Peter sat stunned and frowning as she unfolded the events of the last few days. and his eyes reflected his bitter disquiet as Catherine finished her story. He shook his head as he considered her words. “I know it’s useless to say that you shouldn’t involve yourself in this new mess. I know you too well for that. Does Vincent know of this?”

 

“I told him last night.” Catherine met her doctor’s gaze squarely. “He came Above to be with me. Our need to be together risks everyone’s safety, but I can’t just abandon Joe to his fate. Who knows what this killer is capable of.”

 

“Everything, it would seem.” Peter tightened his grip on her hand. “Your name might not have been on this accursed list, but you would be known to this madman. There is nothing to stop him from trying to remove you if you were perceived to be preventing him from completing his mission.”

 

“Nothing except Vincent,” Catherine spoke honestly. “And that I will not allow to happen. When he fights to protect me, he loses a part of himself. It’s a terrible thing to see. He blames himself for so much that is never his fault.”

 

“Then you must tread very carefully. Go Below again as soon as possible. There is safety there, you know that. If Gabriel couldn’t find you in all the months he searched for you, then this man won’t either.”

 

“No, Peter, that I cannot do, not yet. The nightmare will only begin again.” Catherine’s chin rose. “I won’t, I can’t leave Joe to face this alone when I can help. Now it’s my turn to fight.”

 

Peter sighed, his brow creased with worry. “And when it’s all finally over?”

“Then I will go Below, to live with Vincent and our son. He cannot live in my world, so I have made my choice. I would have it no other way.”

 

“Somehow I knew that from the start.” Peter shook his head. “I can’t think of two people who deserves happiness more than the two of you. I wish you the best of everything.” He bent down to kiss Catherine’s forehead, as he used to do when she was a child.

 

“You will come to Winterfest this year?” Catherine squeezed his hand, grateful for his understanding.

 

“I will be there.” Peter inclined his head. “Why, are you planning something special?”

 

“Perhaps.” Catherine smiled, and Peter regarded her with curiosity mixed with suspicion. He knew that look of old, and he could see the determination in her eyes.


Mr. Chun bowed respectfully when Elliot told him of the mission on which he had come. He’d been expected, the little Chinese man murmured as he led Elliot below to his basement storage area, followed by several of the old man’s sons. They carried the boxes of items that had been detailed in Mouse’s long list.

 

Neat piles of stores lined the walls of the basement, giving no clue to the entrance to the underground world. But when a sink unit that was seemingly bolted to the wall was pushed aside, a large, neat hole was revealed, with flickering shadows beyond and a long, brick lined tunnel leading into the distance.

 

 Almost, as if by some darker magic, a scruffy blond head popped out of the hole and Elliot found himself staring at Mouse. The boy grinned at his startled expression.

 

“See,” he crowed, passing into the basement. “Mouse fixed it up like this. Good, eh?”

 

“Do you need my sons to assist you?” the storeowner asked from behind them.

 

“Thanks, but brought lots of helpers.” Mouse shook his head, as he picked up one of the boxes and disappeared through the hole again.

 

There was a whispered conference beyond, and then Jamie stepped into the cellar. She glanced shyly at Elliot before taking one of the boxes with a nod of thanks, and then she too disappeared again. Elliot felt like Alice looking down the rabbit hole as another tunnel dweller swiftly took her place, and then a third.

 

But he was startled by the last person to step out of the hole. Swinging dark braids contributed to Shannon’s youthful appearance, as she accepted the last box, and then, turning, she pulled up short at the sight of Elliot standing in the shadows.

 

“Elliot!” Balancing the weight of the box, she stared at him in disbelief.

 

“Yes, I’m beginning to wonder what I’m doing here too.” He grinned at her astonished expression.

 

“Must go now,” Mr. Chun urged. “Is not good to leave the way open for too long.”

 

“Gotta go.” Mouse’s head popped back out of the hole again to see what the delay was. He looked from Elliot to Shannon in exasperation. “Need that box, Shannon. Need it for my big experiment.”

 

Elliot toyed with asking what sort of experiment the boy was planning and then decided it wasn’t safe to ask. But he suddenly found himself on the underworld side of the hole as Mr. Chun hustled him through and pulled the trap shut behind him.

 

“It seems that you have a long walk ahead of you,” Shannon murmured, as Elliot looked back in frustration at the now concealed exit.

 

“It would appear that way. No doubt my car will have been towed by the time I make it back up there.”

 

Mouse had moved off at the head of the procession, and Elliot found himself left far behind with only Shannon for company. Quickening their steps, they moved after the rest of the group.

 

“I’ll take that,” he offered, as Shannon shifted the box from one hip to the other. “And before you begin to argue, let me tell you, I don’t take rejection very well.”

 

The words of denial that had risen instantly to her lips changed to laughter at that. She gave up the box with only a token show of reluctance. “It’s good to see you again,” she ventured, after they had walked in silence for some distance down the echoing tunnel. “The children have missed your teaching.”

 

“And I have missed their curiosity,” Elliot replied reflectively. “I have never had an audience quite like them.”

 

“You spoke from the heart and they could sense that. You care about what you do, what you create.”

 

“As you do.” Elliot looked down at her. “You are creating the living future, a legacy that will far outlive my monuments of stone and steel.”

 

“Ah, you are a philosopher as well, Elliot Burch.” Shannon smiled.

 

“The events of the past few months have turned me into one.” Elliot grinned as they followed Mouse’s distant form through the maze of tunnels.

 

“And your wound… It appears to have healed well, with no ill effects.”

 

“Thanks to Father’s skill as a surgeon and all the careful nursing I received down here. The scars are not pretty, but they are a small price to pay for my regaining my life.”

 

“I wish others had your view,” Shannon commented on a sigh, her face clouded with remembered pain. “It’s a sin to be imperfect in that most imperfect of worlds that rushes heedlessly on above us.”

 

They were entering the inhabited areas of the tunnels now, and the soft tapping of the pipes was like a welcome to Elliot’s tired mind. Until this moment, he hadn’t realised how much he missed the peace and unhurried pace of this place below the towers he had erected halfway to the stars.

 

He shifted his burden to one arm and halted Shannon with a hand on her elbow. “He is dead, Shannon. He can’t hurt you any more.”

 

“I know that,” she whispered. “But, sometimes…in my dreams…”

 

“We all have dreams we wish we could escape from.” Elliot watched her with compassion. “But they are still only dreams. Nothing more.”

 

“You sound so sure you’re right.”

 

Shannon raised her eyes to his, and Elliot was struck by how green they were, a deep, translucent sea green with tiny chips of pure gold, gleaming with unshed tears that she refused to shed over her past. A tiny smile trembled for a moment on her lips, and Elliot found he could not look away.

“If I bought tickets to the opera, would you come with me?” were the amazing words he said next.

 

Her eyes flared wide in astonishment, and the tentative smile froze on her lips. Her gaze darted away from his, as if she was looking for a place to hide, somewhere safe to bolt to, away from him and his question.

 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” he began, as she turned and took several steps along the tunnel away from him. “I can be unbelievably crass at times.” He followed her.

 

Shannon turned at bay against the tunnel wall. Elliot was astonished to see she was trembling. “I can understand. I won’t ask again.” Elliot put the box on the floor and took hold of her upper arms turning her to face him.

 

“Some people feel…trapped, down here, below the earth,” Shannon faltered into speech. “But here, I can find only freedom. Up there, I was trapped, caged by a man who said he loved me. He told me he was doing it for my own good, so that my beauty, my rarity would last forever.” She covered her face with her hands. “A bird in a gilded cage.” She exhaled a broken sigh. “Can you understand how that felt?”

 

“No,” Elliot admitted honestly. “But I can understand that feeling of being trapped, of not being in control of your own destiny. I understand that feeling all too well.”

 

“Poor Stosh.” Shannon lowered her hands, reaching to lay one against his bearded cheek, her tears finally overflowing. “We are a sorry match for one another, aren’t we?”

 

“I haven’t noticed,” Elliot quipped wryly. Almost of their own volition, his arms found their way around her slim body and she came slowly into his arms to rest her cheek against his chest. He felt the stiff lines of her stance, not giving too much away, and he wondered who was the more astonished, but he found that he didn’t want to be the first to pull away.

 

“Elliot!” a demanding voice accused from the tunnel behind them. “What’s wrong with Shannon?”

 

Elliot closed his eyes for a long moment and counted to ten. It didn’t help. “Nothing, Mouse, she was just feeling a little faint, and I thought it only polite to prop her up, rather than let her fall in the dust on the floor.”

 

“Didn’t drop my box, then?” Mouse pounced on the forgotten crate at Elliot’s feet. “Not good, if you did.”

 

Shannon’s suppressed giggles echoed through Elliot’s chest as they stood together, and he gave her an admonishing squeeze as he left one arm draped casually around her shoulders. She didn’t immediately move away.

 

“I don’t think Elliot would be so careless with his own ‘stuff’,” said a quiet voice, and Elliot turned to find Vincent regarding them all in wry amusement.

 

“I’m afraid it ceased to be my ‘stuff’ a long time ago.” Elliot smiled as Vincent came forward to grasp his outstretched hand.

 

“So you felt the need to practice first aid instead.” Vincent’s eyes held Elliot’s thoughtfully. “Shannon would seem to have recovered admirably.”

 

“I’m okay, Vincent,” she assured him softly. She stepped away from Elliot’s light clasp, but she didn’t leave.

 

“Need this now,” Mouse said, to no one in particular as he scuttled off down the tunnel, the box cuddled lovingly to his chest.

 

“Just what was in that crate, Elliot?” Vincent asked, in a tone of mild curiosity.

 

“Alarm clocks.” Elliot couldn’t suppress the laughter that threatened to choke him then. “Among all the other things he wanted, I’ve just dragged six dozen alarm clocks for miles underground without a word of thanks or explanation.

And now he runs off before I can even get a chance to ask him.”

 

“Thank you, Elliot.” Vincent smiled. “And I am sure Father will also wish to thank you when seventy two alarm clocks sound all at once and disturb his sleep. I think Mouse deserves a visit in the near future. I have been neglecting his projects for too long now. Incidentally, Catherine informed me of your rodent problem.”

 

“Catherine – you have seen her Above?” Elliot’s face mirrored his concern that his friend would expose himself to the dangers of his world.

 

“Last night.” Vincent nodded, his expression guarded. “I will endeavour to see to it that you are not bothered further by Mouse’s rapacious demands.”

 

Elliot’s mind was still troubled by the revelation that Vincent had risked exposure by going to see Catherine, but he kept his own counsel when he saw Vincent was not prepared to discuss the issue.

 

“I will admit it’s rather like trying to stuff a genie back into its bottle when he doesn’t want to go,” he said, answering Vincent’s observation. “But I asked for this ride, Vincent, and I won’t cry uncle just yet. I am curious to see what he can conceive of next.”

 

“That is what we are all afraid of.” Vincent indicated the tunnel before them. “Mouse can invent the most ingenious plans that have no practical application whatsoever. Then it is up to Father and me to point out the pitfalls.”

 

“I rather imagine that’s like kicking a small puppy, or taking away its favourite toy.”

 

“Worse,” Vincent shook his head.

 

“His heart is in the right place.” Shannon shrugged. “But six dozen alarm clocks are going to take some explaining.”

 

“Before Father finds out and comes looking for you, Elliot. He still hasn’t recovered from Mouse’s last big project.”

 

Shannon left them at the next junction as they turned towards Father’s chamber. She shook her head as Elliot attempted to speak to her about his invitation and slipped away into the shadows, leaving Vincent to consider Elliot speculatively, though he didn’t voice his thoughts.

 

“Elliot, it is good to see you again.” Father put aside the book he was reading.

 

“I didn’t expect to return so soon,” Elliot admitted ruefully. “I was sort of shanghaied.”

 

“By Mouse,” Vincent replied to Father’s puzzled look.

 

“You mustn’t allow that boy to trouble you too much, Elliot.” Father indicated the chairs around his table and the two men sat down. “He may be a genius, but I’m afraid he’s inclined to forget the small things that make our life down here tolerable, such as good manners and respecting other’s personal space.”

 

Elliot shook his head. “I think I can handle him, for the moment.”

 

“Good.” Father looked at him with concern. “And your wound? Have you seen a surgeon Above?”

 

“Yes and I was told I have healed remarkably well, considering the massive damage I apparently suffered. They were curious as to how I managed to survive such trauma and the quality of care I had received to enable me to heal so fast. I told them I was sorry, but I couldn’t remember a thing about it. Too far out of my head with delirium most of the time.”

 

Father nodded his thanks and then he asked, “You have considered the possibility of plastic surgery for the scarring?”

 

“Considered it and rejected it at the same time.” Elliot stated simply. “The surgeon couldn’t fault your workmanship, and I think I will keep the scar…as a reminder.”

 

Before Father could reply, hurried footsteps were heard outside just before two figures clattered down the small flight of steps into Father’s chamber.

 

“Oh, we’re sorry. I didn’t know you had company.” Lena pulled back when she saw Elliot.

 

“No, come in, child.” Father invited, as Lena pushed her companion back up the steps. “Bring Simon with you.”

 

“We have something to tell you.” Lena retraced her steps, dragging the reluctant Simon after her. “Simon has just asked me to marry him.”

 

“That’s wonderful.” Father smiled at them both, as the boy shuffled his feet and tried not to look too pleased. But the glance he stole at Lena showed clearly how much he adored her.

 

“I said we should wait until Winterfest, but Simon wants to get married straight away.” Lena smiled at her companion, who nodded vigourously.

 

“For the best,” he murmured, his dark head coming up and he straightened to his full height. “Catherine needs a father.”

 

“Then we will have to send a message to Father Morton straight away.” Vincent nodded. “You are both very sure about this?”

 

“Very sure, Vincent.” Lena smiled at him, taking Simon’s arm. “I love him with all my heart and he loves me.”

 

“I always have.” Simon slipped his arm around her waist and hugged her tightly.

 

Vincent stood and came forward to take the boy’s hand before kissing Lena on the cheek. “I wish you all the happiness in the world,” he said softly, and Lena threw her arms impulsively around his neck and hugged him.

 

“You are the best friend in all the world,” she smiled mistily before she turned to accept Elliot’s congratulations.

 

“Well, I think that has turned out rather well.” Father rubbed his hands together after the young couple had departed to inform the rest of the community of their good news.

 

“Lena has adapted well to life down here,” Vincent observed, looking after the pair, his face thoughtful and more than a little troubled. “Simon will make her a fine husband.”

 

“Yes,” Father agreed, wondering what was on Vincent’s mind that suddenly distracted him so. “You don’t disapprove of the match, do you, Vincent?”

 

“No.” Vincent brought his attention back to the present. “Lena has found true love at last.”

 

“Just as you and Catherine have,” Elliot murmured, watching his friend’s expression closely.

 

“Yes, just as Catherine and I have,” Vincent agreed softly, as he stared into the middle distance, his face remote and brooding.

 

 

 

It was late when Vincent finally escorted Elliot through the tunnels to guide him out. The drainage tunnel entrance was still unable to be used. The police had cordoned off the area, and it was far too dangerous to exit by that route at the present time. So Vincent took Elliot up through the underground to the entrance nearest to Elliot’s offices.

 

“I have too much to catch up on to waste time sleeping,” was his reply to Vincent’s query as to why Elliot had no desire to go home.

 

“I asked Shannon if she would come to the opera with me,” Elliot spoke now, as they approached the lower reaches of the subway system. Trains rattle past in the distance, their sound muffled by the intervening concrete walls. “She managed to slip away without giving me an answer.”

 

“Father has asked her to coach some of the more gifted children in their singing lessons,” Vincent added. “She told him she would consider it. Fear can become so much a part of someone’s life that they cannot see around it or any way through to the freedom on the other side. Fear is not a rational emotion; you cannot explain it away with logic.”

 

“Are you telling me that I should persist in trying to draw her out?”

 

“I was alone for all my life…until that night I found Catherine.” Vincent paused to lean one shoulder against the tunnel wall as he turned to look at his companion. “Without her, everything I am, everything I could ever hope to be…or have, would cease to exist.” He shook his head. “Yet fear, my fear of the unknown, kept me from loving her as she deserved to be loved for so long. I look back on that time now, and I realise that I had been trapped, by my fear, by my upbringing, by my very appearance.”

 

Vincent dropped his eyes to his hands, as he held them out and open before him. “She broke through that wall, through all the barriers that I had erected to contain the beast that I felt could so easily rise up and destroy us both. Catherine drew me into the light, out of the darkness of fear, out of myself. She has given me a son and shown me beauties beyond price…or imagining.”

 

Vincent raised his eyes once more to Elliot’s. “Shannon is trapped by fears that are just as large and overwhelming. She has been taught that to love is to fear the man who said he adored her. If you leave her there, trapped in that belief that she is unlovable, then she will never believe in herself again.”

 

Elliot placed a hand on Vincent’s shoulder. “I have never truly appreciated how much Catherine means to you…until now. I am glad I was too stubborn to put her before everything else in my life, to do for her what you have done.”

 

“But you have paid a high price for that stubbornness,” Vincent reminded him, his gaze compassionate.

 

“And I would pay it again.” Elliot’s lips twisted. “Catherine deserves nothing less.”

 

“She deserves everything.” Vincent straightened away from the wall, and they continued on their way.

 

“You have something in mind, don’t you?” Elliot surveyed him curiously.

 

“Something I should have thought of by now.” Vincent nodded. “But, until a few hours ago, I was blind.”

 

“Let me know if I can help, with whatever it is.” Elliot’s curiosity was aroused, after waiting for some time for Vincent to elaborate on his statement. But he remained curiously silent and thoughtful.

 

Then, after a long silence, he turned to look at Elliot. “To involve you in another matter again would be risking your life. I don’t have that right.”

 

“Whatever it is, Vincent, I will help. You know that.” Elliot took his arm and halted him. “Is Catherine in some kind of new danger?” he asked quickly.

 

“Not Catherine directly.” Vincent shook his head. “But Joe Maxwell is involved in a legacy of Gabriel’s evil, and she cannot leave him until it is finally resolved.”

 

“So you go Above each night to be with her, to try and protect her?” Elliot frowned in an effort to understand all that Vincent was trying to tell him.

 

“Yes. But I cannot protect her when she walks in your dangerous city in the daylight.” Vincent pushed one fist into the other in frustration. “I cannot protect her when she is most vulnerable.”

 

“I can protect her, Vincent, with a whole army if necessary.” Elliot tightened his grip. “Money can buy a lot of things, even if it cannot buy happiness.”

 

“But you know the dangers, the risks.” Vincent heaved a deep sigh. “You were lucky to escape with your life the last time, and this time we are dealing with a trained killer. Joe is convinced this is the man who eliminated John Moreno.”

 

“So we finally come to the heart of Gabriel’s empire of fear.” Elliot shook Vincent’s arm in his agitation. “Tell me, Vincent. Tell me everything you know, everything Catherine told you. This is my battle too. That man took everything from me. So, if there is yet another round to be fought, I’m not running away. I have a considerable stake in your ultimate happiness together.”

 

Vincent considered him for a long moment before he nodded. He related all that Catherine had told him the night before.

 

“We need Cleon Manning on this, right away.” Elliot’s tone was decisive. “He’s still annoyed he wasn’t in on the kill last time. And Maxwell thought he could tackle this alone…”

 

“He felt he had no other choice. No one knows who this killer could be. The police still have no leads, no suspects.” Vincent shook his head. “And Catherine refuses to abandon Joe to his fate. She says he would do the same for her.”

 

“I’ll do all I can,” Elliot assured him. “This is my world we’re dealing with, and my connections stretch further than those of the D.A.’s office. We’ll find him, if he’s still out there.”

 

“Be careful, Elliot. The way is extremely dangerous.”

 

“I have the scars to prove it.” Elliot lifted a shoulder. “But, like Catherine, I have no choice, and neither do you. Together we will keep her safe from harm.”

 

Vincent nodded slowly, before placing his hand over Elliot’s where it rested on his arm. “Together then,” he affirmed.

 

They turned and continued their journey. The tunnel up which they were travelling ended abruptly in a blank wall. Elliot, thinking that Vincent had somehow managed to get lost, turned his head to look back in the direction they had come.

 

“Perhaps we missed a turning…” he began, only to hear the sound of the wall sliding open behind him.

 

“One of Mouse’s ideas that work.” Vincent smiled at Elliot’s astonished expression, as he looked out into the basement of his own office building.

“But it operates from this side only. We felt it was far too dangerous to have a two way system here.”

 

“I understand.” Elliot nodded. “But that boy is amazing,” he continued, as he ran his hands over the hidden door. “He can have a job with me anytime.” He looked back at Vincent standing in the shadows, the hood of his cloak now drawn over his hair.

 

“I will do all that I can for Catherine, and I won’t forget about Shannon,” he said, before stepping through the open door. “I have a large debt to repay.”

 

“You have repaid that debt in full with your friendship.” Vincent inclined his head. “Goodbye, Elliot… and take care, for Catherine’s sake.”

 

“Goodbye…” Elliot stood there as the door slid silently shut again, his mind turning over the many new problems that now faced him. Then he shook his head as he turned back to his own world with its frightening realities…

 

 

 


Be near me when my light is low,

When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick

And tingle; and the heart is sick,

And all the wheels of Being slow.


Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is rack'd with pangs that conquer trust;
And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
And Life, a fury slinging flame.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

 

 

Joe stood in the window of his apartment, looking out into the night. The five days since Diana had uncovered the list, since Shipley’s car had been blown up in the park, had passed slowly, the tense pace almost seeming to stop at times.Joe pushed his hands deeply into the pockets of his robe and surveyed the darkness of the night beyond the window. Everything had been arranged, all the men on Gabriel’s list had been quietly shepherded away to safety, without ever knowing that they were under protection until it was too late for objections. Now there was only he remaining in the city, an obvious target for Gabriel’s hired killer.

 

The wind sighed around the building, seeming to carry the whispers of some lost soul. Joe shivered despite the warmth of his apartment and turned away from the window in frustration.

 

Below, in the darkness of a doorway opposite Joe’s apartment building, a shadowy figure dropped his gaze from his observation and scanned the darkness closely on either side. A nearby streetlight glinted on the fall of tawny hair and the metalwork of Vincent’s belt. The familiar sounds of the night rode the rising wind, but there was nothing that Vincent could detect as a threat or identify as not belonging there. With a final glance up at Joe’s window, he turned and melted into the depths of the pool of darkness beyond the glow of the lights…

 


“I swear this man just doesn’t want to roll over and play dead.” Cleon Manning paced Elliot’s office impatiently. “So now we have some creep running around blowing up half the city officials and no one can do a damn thing about it!”

 

“There has to be a connection.” Elliot slammed his desktop with the flat of his hand. “Gabriel used this man to kill Moreno. He has to be linked in some way to Gabriel’s operation.”

 

“What about Cole’s wife?” Cleon paused in his pacing. “You knew her, hid out with her. Could she provide any leads?”

 

Elliot shook his head. “I don’t want to involve her in this. She wants to forget the whole sordid affair. She had a really bad time with Cole. If I push it, she could slip over the edge. There has to be another way.”

 

“Whatever you say.” Cleon waved his hands in agitation. “Are you okay with this, Elliot? I mean, you have only just recovered from the last time Gabriel tried to put you six feet under.”

 

Elliot’s lips twisted at the unconscious accuracy of his investigator’s statement. “I’ll be fine. But we have to move on this. Maxwell has made himself a very tempting target, and I don’t want to hear this guy has got to him. Gabriel is not going to win this final round.”

 

“For Cathy Chandler’s sake?” Cleon watched him closely.

 

“For her and a whole lot of other reasons that matter just as much,” Elliot ground out in a hard tone.

 


“What we have to go on, you could fit on a postage stamp.” Greg Hughs pushed the file on his desk across to Catherine. “It’s all here, though Joe is going to hang me for showing it to you.”

 

“Then we won’t tell him.” Catherine opened the file and quickly scanned all it contained. “Joe is my friend too.” But he was right; it was pitifully scant on facts.

 

“Bennett thinks there may be a line or two in that diary of yours. I think it will take too long to crack the code, but we managed to pull out a name.” Greg sat back in his chair. “This guy strikes hard and fast and he’s as cold blooded as they come. He lives up to his name. He’s apparently called Steven Striker. He’s been on Interpol’s list for so long, they don’t even know what he looks like now.”

 

“But he killed John Moreno. Surely he was not alone in that.” Catherine looked up from the file. “There must be someone who knows what he looks like, where he hides.”

 

“If so, they’re wise enough not to talk. Moreno is just one of many murders we’ve uncovered.” Greg tossed Catherine a stack of files. “Gabriel obviously liked to keep him in full employment. So now, he’ll be looking for a new backer. No doubt someone who will make good use of his unique skills.”

 

“This is crazy.” Catherine skimmed through the files, her heart chilled by the wanton destruction they disclosed. “Joe cannot take on this man alone. He will kill him for sure.”

 

“You have told him; I have been beating my head against his stubbornness since Diana found the list. Joe has turned this into a one-man crusade. In a way, I think he still feels responsible for Moreno, like he should have foreseen what would happen and got the man some protection. He feels he owes him.”

 

“No-one could have foreseen that.” Catherine shook her head. “Surely Joe cannot blame himself.”

 

“When you disappeared, he nearly went crazy.” Greg spread his hands. “He pushed the investigation until he came within an inch of forcing Gabriel to remove him, permanently, then.”

 

“So that’s why his name was added to this abominable list.”

 

“And we don’t have a lot of time to catch our killer before he strikes again.”  

 

 

 

 For I am your lady

And you are my man

Whenever you reach for me

I’ll do all that I can.

 

We’re heading for something

Somewhere I’ve never been

Sometimes I am frightened

But I’m ready to learn

Of the power of love…

 

Jennifer Rush

 

 

Calmly, the crouching figure assembled the high-powered rifle. The slenderness of the man’s body was belied by the sense of leashed power that seemed to surround him. He appeared to be like a coiled spring, one touch, the slightest vibration, and he would explode into action.

 

“So, they think they can outwit me.” The gunman passed his hand lovingly over his weapon as he glanced up at his nervous companion. “They have yet to learn who they are dealing with.”

 

Detective Jim Folley shifted uncomfortably under the menace of the rifle’s aim and cleared his throat abruptly. “Greg  Hughs had a meeting with that D.A. investigator, Catherine Chandler today. The one Gabriel kidnapped months ago to get her kid for himself.”

 

“I still don’t get what Gabriel wanted with some brat,” the gunman growled. “It wasn’t like him to care so much about another human being. But whatever it was, it destroyed him. Stupid fool, stupid waste.”

 

“I don’t know why.” The detective shrugged. “But it seems Maxwell is on to you. They’ve found Gabriel’s list in his computer.”

 

“Justice.” The other man smiled thinly, without a trace of humour. “An appropriate title, don’t you think?”

 

“Look, Striker, I only came to deliver the message, like you paid me to do. I don’t want to get involved in this any more than I am. It’s too risky. I’ve got a wife and kids.”

 

Striker shrugged. “So, Miss Chandler wants to involve herself in our little game, does she?” Striker’s lean smile grew. “I knew I should have finished her off the last time, but Gabriel insisted on getting her brat first. And now, what does he have to show for it?” he sneered in satisfaction. “Nothing, but a six foot hole full of dirt. Are you happy in hell, Gabriel?”

 

“Watch yourself, Striker. That Chandler woman, seems she has some powerful friends who look after her. Some guy called Vincent. He really don’t like anyone messing with her.” Folley edged away from the other man’s obvious madness.

 

“They say he’s some kind of great beast.” The detective wiped a hand over his forehead. “Those three men you told me to send to the park that night, to the carousel looking for Maxwell? They never came back. Never used their code for mission accomplished. And they haven’t been seen since.”

 

He shivered. He’d never trusted the gunman, and he cursed the day when his greed had led him into Striker’s evil web. “I have to go, get back before I’m missed. I’ll see what else I can find out.”

 

“What else is there to find out?” Striker stood up. “It will be on the six o’clock news tomorrow night. All about the accidental death of the D.A. of Manhattan. As for Chandler, I’ll put down anyone who gets in my way. Even this Vincent you’re all so scared of. He’s still just a man, and a bullet will soon stop him.”

 

“You’re not serious!” Folley blurted out then. “You can’t go after Maxwell now. They know all about you.”

 

“All the better. Make a bit of sport for me. I’m tried of killing fools.” Light gleamed on the ring Striker wore on his right hand, a ring of gold and black stones. “I have a few debts to settle with Maxwell. But first, I think our Miss Chandler could be well worth a visit…”

 

“You’re crazy!” Folley jumped back as though stung. “You’re risking everything we’ve worked for because of your pride. We need to get out now!”

 

“A man should always take pride in his work, and I never leave any loose ends. They are so inconvenient…” Striker remarked with a sneer, as the weapon in his hands spoke once and Folley slid to the ground with a look of complete surprise on his face.


Catherine held Vincent close, his solid presence both a joy and a sadness that touched his senses with pain. He buried his face in the softness of her hair, his whole being trying to shield her from harm. The lamp-lit quiet of her apartment surrounded them both as they held each other fiercely.

 

“I have missed you so much,” Catherine whispered against his chest, the steady beat of his great heart a reassurance she craved desperately.

 

“I have wanted to come to you so many times.” Vincent brought his hand up to stroke the brightness of her hair. “But the risks to you were too great…”

 

“I know.” Catherine pulled back to look up into Vincent’s eyes. “I wish I could tell you that all this will be over soon, but I can’t.”

 

“And you cannot leave until it is, I know.” Vincent caressed the nape of her neck reassuringly. “But the dangers…”

 

“I can handle the danger, Vincent. But if anything should happen to you, because of me, if you were discovered because you risked your life to come Above to me, I could not bear it. Father was right to be afraid of our relationship when we have to be apart like this.”

 

“Catherine, I—” Vincent’s words were interrupted by a knocking on the front door.

 

Instantly he froze, feeling trapped in a world where he could never belong. Only Catherine’s insistent hands, pushing him towards the open door to the balcony finally galvanised him. Leaping back, Vincent vanished into the darkness beyond. Catherine closed the doors and drew the drapes, before crossing the room again.

 

“Who is it?” she queried, opening the door on the chain.

 

“Special delivery.” A uniformed man stood outside, holding a package, his face open and friendly. “Gotta sign for it, lady.”

 

“All right.” Catherine slipped the chain, as he thrust out the package towards her, his manner growing impatient.

 

He grinned as she reached for the pen and the package slipped from his grasp to reveal the gun he held beneath. “Don’t scream,” he commanded. “Come with me and you won’t be hurt.”

 

Outside on the balcony, Vincent felt the shaft of fear that tore through Catherine, as Striker seized her arm and hustled her away towards the stairwell. Vincent whirled about, intent on crashing through the doors into her apartment, through the whole building until he found her, until he assured her safety, even at the expense of his own life. But Catherine’s warning flashed to him through his rage, their bond pulsing with desperate reassurance as Catherine strove to overcome her own fear, to stop Vincent from committing himself to a course of self-destruction.

 

Drawing great gasps of cold night air into his lungs, Vincent obeyed her silent plea of instructions as she was dragged along behind her assailant. Swinging back again, Vincent leaped over the low balcony wall and dropped into the night beyond…

 

 

“Oh, God, no, Catherine…” Joe read the note in his hands for the tenth time. It was brief and very brutal. Unless he came alone to the address given, Catherine Chandler would become another statistic of the rising crime rate of New York City.

 

“This has to end!” He crumpled the note into a ball and held it tightly between his hands. He closed his eyes and drew a deep, steadying breath before getting slowly to his feet.

 


The ride by car across the city had been fast and uncaring of Catherine’s comfort. She bit her lower lip in an attempt to stop herself from crying out as the vehicle slewed across another corner and into the depths of an underground car park. In the distance she could feel Vincent, she could sense all his rage and terrible anger as he raced to save her once more. But this time, the rage and pain was echoed within her, and she was frightened by its savage intensity.

 

Striker dragged her from the car and swiftly tied her to one of the uprights that supported the car-park ceiling. Catherine tried to lash out with her fists and kicked at him viciously, but he avoided her neatly and laughed at her attempts.

 

“I like a woman with spirit, makes the game a little more interesting,” he purred against Catherine’s cheek as he traced the line of her jaw in a parody of a loving caress.

 

“Get away from me!” Catherine pulled back from his touch and glared at him.

 

“You just haven’t met the man who can master that temper of yours.” Striker trailed his hand down her throat to her shoulder. “But we’ll have some time later to get better acquainted.”

 

Violently Catherine twisted away from him and lashed out with her heel. Striker barely had time to leap aside before his instep was crushed beneath the spike of her shoe.

 

“I should’ve killed you when I had the chance.” He stood out of reach and taunted her. “But Gabriel wanted you alive, so that he could have that baby you were carrying.” His eyes fell to her slim waist. “Should be about eight months old by now. I’ve killed a few children, Miss Chandler. They make such easy prey.” He laughed at Catherine’s sickened expression. “Very easy prey. But you don’t remember me, do you? Take a closer look. I’m sure I must haunt your dreams.”

 

“You’re crazy!” Catherine frowned, studying his face almost in fascination. Now that he had dropped the mask of the genial deliveryman, his expression had taken on a far more sinister cast.

 

“Yes, that’s right, look at me,” Striker gloated. “You will tell us, Miss Chandler, you will tell us what we want to know…in the end.”

 

No!” Catherine jerked her head back as if she had been struck in the face. It was the voice, that voice out of all her nightmares, all her terrifying dreams.

 

“I had you right here.” Striker extended his hand, palm uppermost. “I had you here and I could have crushed you so easily.” He closed his fist. “Perhaps when I’m done with your Joe Maxwell and you, I’ll go looking for that brat of yours. Shouldn’t be too hard to find.”

 

Vincent was gaining ground now, but he was still too distant to help her yet. Catherine forced down her sense of pain and glared disdainfully at her captor. “You will never find my baby.”

 

“Oh, you will tell me in the end. You see, you won’t have a lot of choice.” He thrust one hand into his pocket and it emerged holding a syringe and a small vial of pale liquid. “It will be just like old times…Catherine. And you’re going to tell me how you got away, who helped you and where your kid is now. I’m thinking of starting a whole new list of targets.”

 

Catherine struggled against her bonds in desperation. “I will never tell you!”

 

“Oh, but you will. They always do.” Striker assured her calmly, the humourless smile again curving his thin mouth. “And then I’ll kill them all.”

 

“You’re insane…” Catherine couldn’t prevent the shudder that ran through her body then. Suddenly Striker whirled, as the sound of a stealthy footfall came to both of them.

 

Catherine twisted desperately in her bonds, turning to the direction of the sound, trying to see who it was. Vincent was still some distance away, but he was covering the ground fast.

 

Striker ran his hand around her throat and up to grip her chin painfully. “Scream and you die.” The cold metal of his gun barrel pushed against her cheekbone, bruising it hardly. “One sound and your kid will need a new Mummy, a lot sooner than I planned,” he continued mockingly, kissing her lips.

 

Catherine jerked her face back from the repulsive contact and glared at him. Striker nodded with satisfaction as she obeyed him. Beyond his shoulder, Joe stepped into the light from between two parked cars.

 

“Joe!” Catherine gasped, appalled that he had come alone, without back up.

 

“Our guest has been wise enough to show up, my dear. A shame he won’t be around for the main event.”

 

“Let her go, Striker.” Joe moved forward. “She can’t harm you. It’s me you wanted.”

 

“So noble,” Striker sneered. “You would almost think he cared about you.”

 

“He cared about John Moreno.” Catherine frowned at him. “I wonder what you care about.”

 

“Emotions can get you killed in my line of work.” Striker moved to one side to cover them both. “So, you soon learn nothing matters, nothing and no-one. Then you stay alive. That’s the name of the game.”

 

“A shame you didn’t teach that to your boss.” Joe advanced another step.

 

“Gabriel was a fool. He let passion carry him away.” Striker shrugged. He turned to stare at Catherine. “He got so caught up with you and your baby that he couldn’t see the truth. He paid very well for my services. Now I will need to find a new backer. I’m not a greedy man.”

 

Joe advanced another step and Striker admonished him. “That is far enough, Mr. Maxwell. You know, you really did make my choice so easy for me this time. I almost had to draw lots to decide who was going to be next to experience Gabriel’s idea of justice. But then detective Folley came to me with a story that really made me admire you.”

 

Folley!” Joe clenched his fists. “He was your informant all along?”

 

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ve already dealt with him. He was beginning to develop a conscience. He was a weak tool, but a useful one in the beginning.”

 

A sound from Catherine attracted his attention. “Does the thought of betrayal by a colleague upset you, Miss Chandler? You should know that every man, no matter how noble, has his price. I wonder what Joe’s price will be for your life?”

 

“It doesn’t upset me. But you, you sicken me.” Catherine stared at him levelly.

 

“Yes, I think you and I are going to have some fun together.” Striker laughed.

 

Joe, thinking the killer’s attention was all on Catherine, threw himself forward, in a desperate dive.

 

Joe!” Catherine strained against her bonds as Striker whipped around, lashing out with his gun butt and catching Joe a stunning blow on the temple. He crumpled into a heap on the ground.

 

“Nobility will only get you killed faster!” Striker bent over him, pulling him into a sitting position by his hair. “Say goodbye to your pretty little friend.”

 

He thrust the gun into his face, obviously expecting Joe to flinch in fear. But he simply stared at him, prepared to die, but inwardly cursing himself for his impetuous folly that left Catherine alone with the madman. “Go to hell,” Joe snarled.

 

“Your choice.” Striker tightened his finger on the trigger. “Pity you won’t be around to find out all Cathy’s secrets. I bet they’ve been really bugging you for months. Where she’s been hiding, who she’s been with and who’s the father of her baby. Bet, you’d really like to know that one. Give my regards to Gabriel.”

 

Suddenly, the very air around them both seemed to explode. The paralysing sound of some great, terrible beast, in unholy pain, beat against the gunman’s ears, as he felt his gun arm being slashed and broken, his weapon spinning uselessly from his numbed fingers. Great hairy hands fastened on his clothing and he was lifted bodily off the ground and slammed into the nearby cars. His stunned mind refused to function properly, to understand what he was seeing and feeling.

 

A snarling, muzzled face and gleaming canines raged within inches of his terrified face, the roaring of blind, irrational fury battering at him, torturing and breaking his body. He tried to scream, but nothing issued from his straining throat beyond ragged moaning, unvoiced pleas for someone, anyone to save him…

 

His last conscious thought…surely no lion walks on its hind legs and wears ragged clothing like some primeval warrior.  No one could be powerful enough to take him down, unarmed as this creature is…no, it has to be a dream, a ghastly waking dream…

 

Vincent, stop!” Catherine strained against her bonds, trying desperately to reach him.

 

Vincent staggered back from Striker’s crumpled body, shaking his head, trying to clear it of the red fog of rage. On the ground, Joe sat and stared in disbelief, incapable of making any sudden movement that might turn the monster’s horrifying rage in his direction. His churning mind tried to assimilate the facts and the obvious threat this crazed man might pose to himself and Catherine, if they made any kind of move that could set his rage off again and—then his shocked brain seized on one horrifying fact, Catherine knew him! She’d just called this raging killer by a name…Vincent

 

“Catherine…” Vincent turned abruptly, and Catherine let out her pent-up breath thankfully. “Catherine…” he was at her side in an instant, working on the ropes until they fell at her feet. “I thought I had lost you…forever, this time.” He gathered her against him, and it took all his willpower not to crush her with his overwhelming need to have her close and safe.

 

“I’m all right. It’s over now.” Catherine soothed him, running her hands over his mane, calming the terrifying agony that passed from Vincent through their connection. But there were no shades of the bitter self-castigation that had coloured their bond in the aftermath of the fight at the carousel. Vincent has come to terms with the fact that in order for their love to live, he needed to defend her. He found he had no choice but to deal with Striker in the only effective way he knew.

 

“Catherine…? Joe’s low-voiced plea reminded Catherine of his watching presence and the inescapable fact he’d witnessed Vincent’s attack on Striker.

 

“For Pete’s sake, Radcliffe.” He was sitting, holding his head in one hand, staring at them both in stupefied amazement. “You actually know this guy? What the hell is going on here?”

 

“I’m not sure I can explain it all right now, Joe.” Catherine shook her head.

 

How many times had she pictured a meeting between her old boss and her mysterious lover? To have Vincent looming over Joe as he sat at his desk, wearing exactly the same expression of frozen surprise on his face as he was now, had tantalised her more than once. But now the situation had finally arisen, and she was at a loss to know how to handle the introduction.

 

“Joe…?” She dropped to her knees beside him. “Are you okay?”

 

“Apart from a headache that’ll keep me awake for a week, I don’t think anything is broken. Come on, Radcliffe, what is this? I mean, I know you had some kind of close protection, but this is beyond anything I thought possible.” He waved a hand at Striker’s body and then stared at Vincent, standing quietly, just watching the pair of them with wary eyes.

 

“Look at him…” He pointed a disbelieving finger at Vincent, many different emotions chasing each other across his face. “Come on, Radcliffe, this is crazy stuff. Is he even safe for you to be around?”

 

Catherine gripped his shoulder. “His name is Vincent, Joe. And he just saved your life and mine. Remember that.”

 

“I must have been hit harder than I thought…” Joe passed a trembling hand over his eyes, but when he looked again, nothing had changed. The strange looking, leonine-faced man was still there, watching him with calm blue eyes that belied the raging, powerful demon he’d just witnessed.

 

“The carousel…that was you…” he stammered. “You took out those three guys. You were the man in the shadows that Cathy didn’t want me to know about. Geeze, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do, Radcliffe.”

 

“There’s nothing to fear, Joe.” Catherine rose to her feet, moved to Vincent’s side, laying a hand on his arm. “I told you once you had a heart as big as the man I loved. This is that man, Joe. He is everything to me, everything I am and could ever be.”

 

“I’m going to need a few more facts than that.” Joe closed one eye, but it didn’t help. His head ached cruelly. “You and your secrets drove me mad, Cathy, but this…” He waved a hand ineffectually. “This is beyond anything I ever imagined.” With one eye still closed, he measured Vincent, who stood calmly regarding him.

 

Vincent waited, not making any move that could provoke the other man into rash action. He sensed, that like Elliot, Joe could never harm Catherine with carelessness. In his own way, Joe loved her too. But his expression spoke of his inability to process the information immediately.

 

“I couldn’t tell you of our relationship,” Catherine continued, shaking her head. “It was never my secret to reveal. There are many others in Vincent’s world who would suffer if their presence was ever suspected.”

 

“And this mysterious place, that’s where you’ve been for the past months, with Vincent?” Joe struggled to his feet and swayed momentarily. Vincent stepped forward to take his arm to steady him and the two men stared at each other.

 

“My world was Catherine’s best protection,” Vincent said then, his hand still supporting the other man. “Those who know its secrets are sworn never to reveal them to anyone outside.”

 

“Burch and Shannon Cole…” Joe blinked. “They were there, all the time, with you?” His mind was obviously taking massive leaps forward to try and grasp some of the answers that had, until now, eluded him. “Where is this place?”

 

“It is a secret place,” Vincent replied. “And yes, both Elliot and Shannon are a part of us. Elliot returned Above, but Shannon is still with us.”

 

Joe leaned back against a nearby car. “I knew you had secrets, Radcliffe, but this takes the cake.” He laughed shakily, continuing to stare at Vincent, noting the uniqueness of his appearance and the obvious strength in his powerful frame. “This is going to take some getting used to. And Burch knows about you. Okay, Radcliffe, I get the need for secrecy, but Burch, of all people, I never would’ve thought that man could keep any secret, unless it was to his own advantage.”

 

“Elliot is a good man, Joe. Like you.” Catherine stepped close to kiss his cheek. “I know you will keep our secrets.”

 

Suddenly, in the distance, sirens began to wail, rapidly drawing nearer. Catherine’s heart jumped as they all listened to the sound.

 

“I left an urgent message for Greg  Hughs.” Joe straightened from the car. “If he hadn’t heard from me within the hour, then I left the rest to his discretion. We had the trap all neatly baited and set, waiting for its prey, and then Striker goes and kidnaps you, Cathy. I had to come alone tonight. I couldn’t let the nightmare start all over again. But what am I going to say now? I mean…” His frowning gaze strayed to Vincent. “How on earth are we going to explain you, my friend?”

 

The sound of the sirens swelled as they raced towards them. Catherine took Vincent’s arm and shook it urgently. “Go, Vincent. Get out of here now. Joe and I can take care of this. Go, while you still can.”

 

“I’ll look after her.” Joe nodded. “Get out of here, before it’s too late. And Vincent…” he called as Vincent hugged Catherine before turning away. “Thanks…for everything. This is the craziest night of my life, but your secret is safe with me. Now and forever.”

 

“I know.” Vincent acknowledged his gratitude with a quick nod, and then he simply melted into the darkness of the car park’s shadows.

 

The sirens filled the space with their screaming almost in the same moment. Joe passed a hand over his face. The whole thing was going to take some explaining and his headache pounded cruelly. He slung an arm around Catherine’s shoulders.

 

“Come on, Radcliffe, let’s get our story straight, before Greg starts asking questions we can’t answer. But once we’re done here, I want the truth. I must have been hit harder than I thought. That man said you had a baby. What gives? Why am I always the last to know the truth? You should know, by now, you can trust me, woman.”

 

He shook his head. “And even Elliot Burch knows your secrets. That hurts the most, you know. I thought I was your friend. So, now it’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing, but the truth, understand?”

 

“Yes, Boss.” Catherine squeezed his hand, where it clasped her shoulder. “I’ve wanted to tell you everything for a very long time.”  

 

   

 

Past the point of no return,

The final threshold –

The bridge is crossed, so stand and watch it burn…

We’ve passed the point of no return…

 

Say you’ll share with me

one love, one lifetime…

Lead me, save me from my solitude…

 

Say you want me with you,

Here beside you…

Anywhere you go, let me go too –

Christine, that’s all I ask of (you)…

 

Erik, Phantom of the Opera

 

 

“So it was Vincent that saved us at the carousel that night?” Joe flopped on the couch opposite Catherine’s in her apartment. His mind and body were totally exhausted, but he had so many questions that chased each other around his brain, and they wouldn’t allow him to rest until he had all the facts.

 

Greg had taken some convincing that Striker had met his demise at the hands of an unknown assailant, but he had no choice, except to believe Joe when he told him that someone, or something, had dragged the gunman away and they had not seen the attack. But relief that Greg wasn’t called upon to report the murders of the D.A. of Manhattan and one of his best investigators went a long way towards helping convince him to close the case with minimal questioning.

 

“Vincent found me in the park that night I was mugged and slashed. He took me down to his world, and his father tended to my injuries. He’s a doctor. They saved my life,” Catherine told Joe now, as she handed him a mug of steaming black coffee.

 

Joe shook his head again in disbelief. “So all those times you somehow managed to escape from certain death, all those unexplained cases that only had you as their link…”

 

“Vincent and I share a connection, a bond that allows him to sense when I’m in danger, when I am afraid or sad.”

 

“Then as soon as Striker kidnapped you, he knew about it?”

 

“Vincent was here, with me, when Striker came,” Catherine told him quietly. “He has been here several times, since I returned Above.”

 

Joe nodded in silent understanding as he cast his eyes over the apartment, assessing, wondering. Then something in what Catherine has just told him, brought his attention back to her abruptly.

 

“This ‘Above’ you spoke of, where’s that?” He cradled the coffee between his palms. “Vincent said you were in a safe place.”

 

Catherine considered him for a long moment of indecision. Trust Joe to pick up on the small details. His lawyer’s mind obviously wasn’t affected by the blow he’d received.

 

“Where Vincent lives is as far removed from here…as the moon,” she began cautiously. “This is the world Above, our world, Joe.”

 

“Hang on, no that can’t be right.” Joe froze, blinking in disbelief. “You mean…are you trying to tell me that Vincent’s world is…below the ground?” He nearly spilt his coffee and he had trouble uttering his next question. His mouth opened and closed several times before he finally asked, “So he lives somewhere in the subways? That’s where you took me when you wanted to meet in secret? That crazy place with the spiral staircase?”

 

“Actually, it’s below the subways.” Catherine spread her hands. “Once I went almost a mile down, with Vincent.”

 

“Good Lord…” Joe sat back, totally dumbfounded, and he whistled incredulously. “I must be dreaming.” He scratched his head.

 

“But those who carry this secret, Vincent’s secret, must swear never to reveal it to anyone. Not a single soul, Joe.” Catherine sat forward, her whole will fixed on impressing this truth on her old boss. “To do so would bring destruction down on all of us.”

 

Joe shook his head. “If it’s that important to you, Cathy, then no-one will get anything out of me. I could never knowingly hurt you or endanger those you love. But I gotta see this place.”

 

“Thanks, Joe.” Catherine sighed. “Sometimes the whole thing seems like an incredible dream, maybe even an impossible one. I will take you there, one day.”

 

“I’ll keep you to that promise. And Burch knows all about this?” Joe’s tone implied that Elliot couldn’t be trusted.

 

“Elliot is a good friend, Joe. He knows and understands everything about Vincent’s world. He’s been through a terrible ordeal. He’s only now discovered who he is and his place in the world.”

 

Joe shook his head slowly. “I almost hesitate to ask who else knows about this other world of yours.”

 

“Peter Alcott has known all about it from the beginning.” Catherine smiled as Joe grimaced in surprise. “There are others who contribute to our life down there.”

 

“And what do they get in return?”

“A sense of peace and safety. They know that there is always a place for them there, when this world starts to fall in on them. Many go there simply to regain something they may have lost along the way, perhaps their humanity.”

 

“And Vincent?” Joe queried softly, his tired mind still trying to assimilate the unique and incredible man that Cathy obviously loved without reservation.

 

“Vincent cannot live in this world, Joe. People here would never accept him for what he is, who he is. He is the most noble, the most honourable man I have ever known. But, to live with him, be with him, as we were always destined to be, I must go to live with him in his world. There can be no other way for us.”

 

“You are an amazing woman, Cathy Chandler.” Joe set aside his empty coffee mug and rose from his seat to move to her side. “One of a kind.” He kissed her cheek warmly and gave her a rib-cracking hug. “Your Vincent is one very lucky guy.”

 

Catherine sat back within the circle of his embrace and looked at him directly. “There is something more I should tell you. You asked about my baby.” She smiled with incredible tenderness and Joe caught his breath. “We have a son, Joe. His name is Jacob and he’s eight months old.”

 

 Eight months?” Joe sat back with an incredulous frown. “Eight months…” he whispered again. “But, that means, but you…then you were…that was—”

 

“The reason I had to return Below after Vincent rescued me from Gabriel,” Catherine supplied for him, as Joe groped for the right words. “My son is beautiful, Joe. I hope you’ll be able to meet him one day soon. But his presence in this world would have caused too many questions to which I had no answers.”

 

“A son…” Joe stood and took a turn around the room. “Just when I was getting used to knowing some of your secrets, Radcliffe, you go and surprise me all over again. And the father?”

 

Catherine watched his agitation calmly. “Vincent is Jacob’s father, Joe. There never could be anyone else. Not for me.”

 

“Okay, but, when did you—?” A large shadow passed over the french doors behind Catherine and Joe stiffened instinctively. He raised one hand as Catherine rose from the couch, but she took it and held it between her own. “It’s all right. It’s only Vincent.”

 

The door opened and Vincent was framed in the opening, his mane and cloak flowing around him in the night wind. Joe was struck once again by the sheer presence of the man and the love that shone in his eyes when they rested on Catherine. It would take some getting used to, but Joe silently wished them both well in this most unique of relationships.

 

“I guess it’s late.” He cleared his throat abruptly, feeling suddenly very superfluous, and grabbed up his overcoat. “I think I’m decidedly in the way here.” He shrugged his arms into his coat. “Thanks for the coffee, Radcliffe, and the answers. But I still think there’s more you’re not telling me.”

 

“Thanks for your understanding, Joe. And thanks for all you have done for us tonight. I know what it has cost you.” Catherine touched his cheek with her fingertips.

 

“Hey, what are friends for?” Joe’s smile was slightly crooked as his eyes went from hers to where Vincent stood silently, just inside the balcony doors. He was still trying to relate this quiet man with the raging fury who had dealt so decisively with a maddened killer. “Take good care of my girl, Vincent.”

 

Vincent came forward to slide an arm around Catherine’s waist. “Always…” he affirmed softly.

 

“And I want to meet that boy of yours.” Joe swallowed the lump in his throat. “I have a few things I want to discuss with him.”

 

“I’ll let you know, Joe.” Catherine smiled. She glanced up at Vincent. “I think you can expect an invitation to a party in the not too distant future.”

 

“As long as there are no more subway kidnappings, please.” Joe held up his hands. “Just tell me when and where. I’ll be there.”

 

“He is a good man.” Vincent gathered Catherine into his close embrace, as the door shut quietly behind Joe.

 

“Yes…” she breathed against his mane. “He will keep our secret.”

 

“I know…” Vincent lifted her chin with the backs of his fingers and trailed one fingertip down the slender column of her throat. “Always…” he reaffirmed, as his lips found hers and the world around them spun away into infinity once more…

 

 

“Lena looked radiant.” Mary wiped a tear from her eyes as she sat with Father in his chamber.

 

Catherine smiled as she helped Jacob with his toys. “They will be very happy together. I’m glad Lena has found someone who loves her.”

 

Her eyes went to Vincent where he sat across from her, looking magnificent in a white ruffled shirt over black leather trousers. His booted feet were thrust out before him, crossed at the ankle, as he listened intently to something Elliot was describing to him. Catherine watched as Elliot waved his hands eloquently in the air before him.

 

“And now you are safely back with us, Catherine…” Mary reached for her hand and squeezed it tightly. “Our world is complete once more.”

 

“It is wonderful to be finally home.” Catherine nodded.

 

The last few days had been hectic. But her life Above had finally come to an end. Her apartment had been sold and she’d brought Below her favourite pieces. Memories of her parents and her earlier, happier life. The rest had been sold off and the money raised had been placed in a newly formed trust for her son.

 

Alex Morgan was an able administrator and there would be ample funds ready and waiting for Jacob if he decided to venture into that world. Catherine smiled secretly as she watched Vincent. Their future held so many wonders as yet unexplored, many gifts her lover was yet to experience.

 

Jacob threw himself back against her chest and patted her cheek with his small hand. “Mama.” He smiled before turning his eyes to Vincent. “Dad, Dad.” He bounced with joy.

 

“He learnt those words all by himself,” Father put in proudly, as the room dissolved into laughter and Jacob practiced his new words over and over again, bouncing energetically on his mother’s knee.

 

Over his head Catherine and Vincent exchanged glances, and Catherine could feel the glow of their love spreading through her like wildfire. Just one glance and she felt her need for him bloom once more.

 

The smile in Vincent’s eyes acknowledged that need and there was also the promise of wonders yet to come later that night. Catherine hugged the knowledge to her and dropped her eyes before the whole room became aware of her heightened colour.

 

Vincent turned his attention back to Elliot, his smile widening as his effect on Catherine became apparent. It was a heady intoxication that still took some getting used to.

 

“So Mouse planned to set up an early warning system with those alarms clocks.” Elliot’s voice cut across Vincent’s musing.

 

“Yes.” Vincent glanced across the room to where Mouse was talking with the newly married couple. His hands were waving animatedly in the air, and Vincent wondered what advice he was giving to Lena and Simon. “He had the wondrous idea of linking all the clocks together and having them ring at intervals along the chain until the final alarm sounded in Father’s chamber.” Vincent shook his head.

 

Elliot chuckled. “And what did Jacob say about the possibility of receiving such a rude awakening?”

 

“I have not enlightened him about that particular idea.” Vincent’s eyes met Elliot’s in a look of complete understanding. “I feel he has had enough of Mouse’s schemes. This one will be buried and quietly forgotten about.”

 

“And the alarm clocks?” Elliot had to know.

 

Mouse assures me they will be useful for parts for another idea he’s formulating.”

 

“Oh, no…” Elliot dropped his head into his hands and his whole body shook with suppressed laughter.

 

 

The glow of the candlelight flickered and danced on the walls of Vincent’s chamber as Catherine tumbled back into its quiet warmth, held in the strength of Vincent’s embrace. Her heart rate slowed, as she drew deep gasps of air and Vincent’s ragged breathing fanned her cheek.

 

Turning to him, she enclosed him with her arms and legs as she planted soft kisses along his jaw-line. “A penny for them…” she whispered, as Vincent returned her kisses almost absently.

 

“I was thinking…of Lena and Simon.” Vincent traced the curve of her bottom lip with one fingertip. “I was thinking of the joy they have found in each other.”

 

Catherine ran her tongue against his touch and then bit down gently on one clawed finger that intruded into her mouth. “I am glad they found each other.”

 

“So am I.” Vincent raised himself on one elbow and looked down at her, lying beside him, warm and soft in the candlelight. Beauty and strength, he marvelled then, fire and steel enclosed in such a fragile seeming body. He shook his head in wonder once again, as he smoothed the fall of Catherine’s hair off her forehead.

 

“Keep thinking thoughts like that and you will have to take the consequences.” Catherine groaned, as Vincent’s eyes trailed down over her body and his senses flamed anew.

 

With a deep, steadying breath Vincent brought his gaze back to Catherine’s smiling face. “I looked at Lena tonight and I knew she had finally found something she’d been seeking for a long time.”

 

“She found love, Vincent.” Catherine raised her hand to cup his cheek.

 

“Yes…” he agreed slowly, taking her hand and bringing it to his lips. “There have been moments between us when I thought all we had would simply slip away…because of my carelessness.”

 

“No, Vincent, never think that!” Catherine sat up to grasp his shoulder, shaking it fiercely. “Never, ever, think that again!”

 

Vincent rose, glorious and naked in the candlelight, to kneel before her in the tumbled covers of the bed. He reached to hold her troubled face between his hands. “I love you more than my life,” he affirmed simply. Then, after a pause that lay between them, fraught with unshared beliefs and complex emotional turmoil, he finally asked in such a low voice, she leaned closer to hear the words. “Will you marry me, Catherine?”

 

Catherine opened her mouth to reply, but nothing came forth. Everything she wanted, everything she had ever dreamed since their divergent paths had crossed all those years ago, when she had been seeking something she could not define or understand, were all encapsulated in this one simple sentence she never expected or hoped to hear spoken. She was supremely happy with her life as it was now, but this, this was Vincent’s final commitment to their life together.

 

He had ceased to be afraid, finally he’d set himself free from all the doubts, from all the fears that had loomed so large in his life for so long, it had been impossible for him to see beyond them to the fragile, gloriously unique world they had created together with their love.

 

“Will you?” Vincent sat back on his haunches, taken aback by Catherine’s lack of response.

 

He could sense her emotional turmoil. Their mutual bond hummed with colours and emotions he could not pin down or define. They were jumbled and chaotic, dancing and shimmering like mayflies. All the poetry in his life, all the complex words and phrases he knew and understood so well, had mysteriously deserted him now, when he needed them most. He could only whisper that one simple phrase that held everything he could ever feel or touch, and sit and wait for some sign Catherine had heard his question. His heart thundered in his chest.

Catherine threw her arms wide. Alternatively crying and laughing, she tumbled into his embrace, throwing her arms around his neck to hug him with abandon. “Yes, oh, yes!” she cried, her tears dampening the glory of his mane. “Oh, I love you, Vincent Wells, my impossible man…”

 

Falling backwards, they became entangled in each other, as Catherine rained kisses over his head and neck. She was like quicksilver in his hands and Vincent was not proof against her tantalizing warmth as she danced beneath his touch, her body singing for him alone…forever and always…

 

 

     


How can I call the lone night good,

Though they sweet wishes wing its flight?

Be it said, thought, understood

Then it will be – good night.

 

To hearts which near each other move

From evening close to morning light,

The night is good; because, my love,

They never say goodnight.

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

 

Winterfest had come once more. Elliot stood with Shannon and Peter watching the throngs of people who filled the great hall. A very bemused Joe found his way to their side, shaking his head in bewilderment.

 

“I have just spent the last hour with someone called Mouse who showed me a great many things, not one of which I understood anything about.”

 

“That happens to everyone who meets Mouse for the first time, Joe.” Elliot laughed as he handed him a glass of William’s best brew. “Here, this may help to make things a little clearer.”

 

Joe took an experimental sip. “Jeeze, put me on my ear would be more correct,” he gasped, as the fiery liquid slid down his throat. “But I could get used to it.” He took another mouthful and smiled. “You know, I have travelled on the subways all my life.” He looked around him in wonder. “And all that time this world has existed down here and I never knew. It is truly amazing.”

 

“Where anything is possible and nothing is quite as it seems,” Shannon murmured, her eyes on Elliot.

 

“Oh, anything is possible tonight. Just go ask Mouse.” Elliot returned her look speculatively.

 

“No! Please, don’t ask Mouse anything!” Joe groaned, and they all laughed together.

 

Across the room Father leaned his shoulder against one of William’s great barrels. The cook stood beside him, a mug of his secret concoction in one hand.

 

“Sometimes I wonder if I should ever see such a night as this again.” Father shook his head.

 

“Vincent and Catherine getting married, do you mean?” William asked, as he watched the dancers in the middle of the room.

 

“Yes.” Father smiled suddenly. “Peter was convinced of it all along, but I thought…”

 

“They deserve every happiness.” William gripped Father’s shoulder. “Heaven knows, they have been through enough to last a thousand lifetimes.”

 

“A life together…” Father mused softly. “A simple enough dream, but one fraught with so much difficulty, so much heartache.”

 

“And yet, here we are, celebrating another wedding, another beginning.” William raised his mug in the air. “To all the rivers we have crossed, the long paths we have travelled, and the wonderful friends we have found along the way. To life, love, and happiness. And apple cider!”

 

“Yes, to life.” Father laughed as he raised his own glass. “And to the happiness of two people who deserve it more than anyone else I know.”

 

In Vincent’s chamber, Mary was putting the final touches to Catherine’s gown. Standing before a newly installed full-length mirror, Catherine turned slowly around, watching her reflection. Her mother’s wedding gown whispered around her softly, its creamy silk and antique lace a perfect foil for her complexion.

 

“Oh, you look so beautiful.” Mary reached for her hanky again, as she smiled mistily at the picture Catherine made. “I am so glad for you and Vincent. How I have longed for this very day, for both of you.”

 

“Thank you, Mary.” Catherine slid her arms around the older woman to hug her tightly. “I love you so much.”

 

“Now you go on, before you have me crying all down your lovely gown.” Mary chuckled, as she blotted her face determinedly before she stepped back and took Catherine’s hands in hers. “May every one of your dreams come true.”

“They already have.” Catherine smiled.

 

In another chamber, Pascal, who was to be the best man, was attending Vincent. Mouse popped his head in the door and nodded briskly. “Took care of Joe.”

 

“What did you do to him?” Pascal looked worried.

 

“Showed him my workshop.” Mouse sidled into the room. “My new experiment.”

 

“No more alarm clocks.” Vincent smoothed the lace at his wrists into place as he looked up. “Our old system works perfectly well.”

 

“Oh, finished with that.” Mouse waved a dismissive hand. “New project, very big, very good. Fast too.”

 

Vincent and Pascal exchanged glances. Pascal nodded at Vincent’s unspoken message.

 

“Perhaps we can discuss your new project after the wedding.” Pascal took Mouse’s arm and escorted him from the chamber, leaving Vincent to his reflections on whether, after their honeymoon, he and Catherine would have a home to return to.

 

 

The music floated up from the children’s orchestra, spiralling into the air to hang in the breathless hush as Catherine moved along the staircase and down into the great hall, attended by Mary and Lena with Samantha carrying her train. Peter took the place of her father, his face beaming with joy.

 

Below, Vincent stood looking up, his heart filled with a joy he never thought to know and a love that knew no boundaries, no inhibitions or fears. Catherine glided up to his side, her eyes shining in the candlelight, and Vincent thought he had never seen anyone more beautiful than his love on this night of nights.

 

“She’s all yours, Vincent.” Peter smiled, as he stepped back. “I know you’ll be good to her.”

 

“He will.” Catherine slipped her hand into the crook of Vincent’s arm and she smiled up at him, her green eyes alive with all the love, all the passion that had come to define and enrich their shared existence. Vincent laid his hand over hers and together they turned to where Father stood before them with Father Morton at his side.

 

Father cleared his throat, and there were few dry eyes in the great room behind the pair who had come to be wed. Shannon touched Elliot’s arm tentatively, and he smiled down at her. They both looked back at Father as he began to speak.

 

“We have all come here tonight to celebrate Winterfest. But far more importantly on this night, we have come to celebrate the love and happiness of two people who truly do symbolise our world, our very existence here in these tunnels. Without them our world would be very grey indeed. Their love will always light our way home. For they are both truly now home.”

 

Joe cleared his throat as Father continued to speak. Catherine glanced at him and smiled warmly. Life up Above wouldn’t be the same without her, Joe decided, as Vincent turned to Catherine and lifted her hand to his lips, but Joe knew that she had found all she had ever wanted in life. He was proud of her, proud of the commitment she was about to make with this most unusual and incredible man.

 

“Catherine, you have showed me the light,” Vincent began softly, his words truly for her alone. “You came to me in the darkness and gave yourself to me, freely and willingly, asking for only a small token in return. That token was my acceptance of your right to love me, as I was, as I am. All that I am, all that I can ever hope to be is because of you, because of the love you have given me, shared with me. From this moment and for all eternity, I pledge myself to you.”

 

Catherine looked deep into his eyes, those incredible sapphire eyes that touched her very soul with their tenderness. She smiled as she raised Vincent’s hand between them and turned it palm upwards.

 

“I once asked you to hold all we are together, here, in your palm.” As she spoke, Catherine gently closed her fingers over his and laid her other hand on top. “You are my life, you are the reason I exist at all after that first night. For, without you, there could be nothing for me. You showed me my true self, you found a strength in me that I never knew existed. Your acceptance of my love is a gift beyond price; the beauty of your love is a wonder beyond all imagining. From this moment and for all eternity, I pledge myself to you.”

 

Lena slipped her arm around Mary’s shoulders and hugged her, as the tears flowed unheeded down both their faces. Elliot swallowed an unaccustomed lump in his throat, as Shannon leaned her cheek against his arm and gripped his hand tightly in hers. Mouse shuffled his feet and bobbed his head gleefully as he saw the happiness shining from the faces of the two people he loved best in the whole world as Father Morton stepped forward to conduct the rest of the service.

 

The rings, carried proudly by little four year old Andrew on a cushion of crimson velvet, were matching gold circles, a tribute to Mouse’s gold-working expertise. Vincent’s ring was a broad, handsome circlet of plaited gold, while Catherine’s was a more slender version of the same antique style. The gold gleamed in the candlelight as Catherine slid Vincent’s over his long, tapered finger and it nestled in the tawny fur as if it had always belonged there.

 

As she lifted her eyes to Vincent’s, away in the shadows in one corner of the hall, Catherine was almost sure she caught a hint of movement as Vincent clasped her hands between his. Two figures standing hand in hand, simply watching and approving of their daughter’s supreme happiness. Catherine nodded as her parents gave their silent blessing.

 

“You may kiss the bride.” Father Morton beamed at them both as Vincent raised Catherine’s veil and let his hands trial down to back of her head to cup her face.

 

“Always…” he whispered against her lips, as he bent to salute his wife for the first time, before everyone, and the cheers that broke out must have surely risen to the very stars.

 

Jacob bounced in Rebecca’s sure hold and he added his voice to the general chatter as everyone crowded forward to be the first to congratulate the happy couple. Elliot kissed Catherine soundly, as Joe shook Vincent’s hand with enthusiasm.

 

“I told Catherine once that she needed to find a more solid type of boyfriend, someone more down to earth.” He laughed. “And all the time she was laughing at me. I can’t think of a more apt description of you, Vincent. I wish you both the best of everything.”

 

“Thank you, Joe.” Vincent smiled. “I hope that, one day, you will find the same kind of happiness that we share.”

 

“I’m just glad you found each other.” Joe nodded. “Against all the odds you found each other, and that gives the rest of us some hope.”

 

“A lot of hope, I would say.” Peter came to shake Vincent’s hand and kiss Catherine’s cheek. “Your father would have been so very proud of you. Your mother would just love Vincent as much as you do.”

 

“Yes, they both would.” Catherine glanced across to the shadows that still hung beyond the candlelight, but they were empty. “Very proud and very happy for me,” she whispered, taking Vincent’s arm and laying her cheek against it, as the music began again.

 

Vincent looked down at her. “Happy, Mrs. Wells?”

 

“Very happy.” Catherine stroked his arm. “Mr. Wells.” She smiled.

 

“So, do we join the dancing?” Vincent turned and bowed, flourishing one hand and bowing before her like an old world courtier. “Shall we give them all something to see?”

 

“Try and stop me.” Catherine curtsied, gathering her train over her arm and accepting his hand. Together they joined the throng of people swirling around the middle of the room to the music of a waltz.

 

“You see, if you put this here and pull that bit.” Mouse’s hands fairly danced through the air, much to Joe’s confusion.

 

“Mouse.” Father took his arm firmly. “Joe is new to our world. He is not accustomed to all its intricacies. I think Elliot was looking for you a moment ago. Why don’t you go and find him.”

 

“Okay good, okay fine.” Mouse bobbed his head.

 

“Thanks.” Joe sighed, as Mouse scurried away. “It must be this cider of yours, but I think I was actually beginning to understand him.”

 

“I wanted to thank you for accepting all that Catherine has told you and all you have seen down here. I must admit that I never expected to be entertaining the District Attorney of Manhattan in my world. But I am very grateful that you can reconcile all you have discovered here with your work Above.”

 

“No thanks necessary. Down here I am just plain Joe Maxwell. I would cut off my right arm before I would do anything to hurt Cathy. She means the world to me, and you can be assured of my silence on all I have seen down here.”

 

Father nodded his gratitude and then an errant thought struck him. “You don’t, by any chance, happen to play chess, do you?”

 

Elliot came up to Shannon where she stood against the wall, watching the crowd of people as they swirled and eddied through the hall. Here the shadows hung a little thicker, the candlelight casting dancing figures across the rock face behind them.

 

“You look a little tired.” Shannon gazed up into Elliot’s face with concern.

 

“Keeping up with Mouse will make anyone feel rung out.” Elliot leaned one shoulder against the wall and surveyed her thoughtfully. “Have you given any more thought to the invitation I made the last time we met?” he asked presently.

 

“Yes,” Shannon murmured, her eyes following the dancers.

 

“And…?” Elliot prompted, when she didn’t continue.

 

“Yes, Stosh Kasmarec, I will go the opera with you.” Shannon looked back to him with more than a little trepidation in her eyes.

 

“Now, was that so hard?” Elliot took her chin in his hand and held her gaze. “There is good as well as evil Above and a great deal of beauty besides.”

 

Elliot tumbled into the depths of her green eyes as she stared up at him and almost without thought he leaned down to kiss her lightly, a soft caress that caught them both off guard.

 

Shannon’s hand flew to touch his cheek before darting away again as if afraid, and Elliot felt his heart contract with tangled emotion. Gathering her against him, he drew her head down onto his shoulder as he entwined his fingers through the tumbled length of her raven hair.

 

Shannon stiffened perceptibly and then slowly relaxed, letting the warmth of the embrace sooth her tumbled thoughts. In that moment, Elliot realised the road before them could be as torturous and filled with as much heartache as Vincent and Catherine had suffered, but he knew he could face the challenge for her sake. With his help she would come to believe in herself again and perhaps Elliot would find something that he’s been seeking all his life – a love of his own.

 

“Is Shannon feeling faint again?” A voice at Elliot’s elbow brought him back to the present with a rush.

 

Mouse stood before them, his face enquiring and concerned. Elliot shook his head, marvelling at the boy’s ability to pop up at all the wrong moments.

 

“It’s okay, Mouse. I was just resting on Elliot for a moment.” Shannon smiled as she took the boy’s hand. “Will you dance with me?”

 

Dance!” Mouse jumped back, startled. “Okay good, okay fine. I can dance, Catherine showed me how. Come on!”

 

“Oh, good.” Shannon allowed Mouse to drag her away, leaving Elliot standing in the shadows, his face thoughtful and wondering.

 

“Enjoying yourself, Mrs. Wells?” Vincent came up behind Catherine, to slide his arms around her waist and draw her back against him.

 

Catherine laid her head back against his shoulder and clasped her hands over his. “It is a perfect and magical night.”

 

“Your beauty makes it perfect,” Vincent murmured against her nape, beneath her upswept hair.

 

“How soon can we slip away?” Catherine voice trembled as Vincent’s lips continued their journey to the lobe of her ear.

 

“Mrs. Wells, are you making an improper suggestion, by any chance?” Vincent teased, as Catherine leaned closer to him.

 

“If I don’t get you alone soon, I think I will explode with sheer desire.” Catherine struggled to maintain her composure as he continued to plant soft kisses across the smooth rise of her bare shoulder, testing and teasing.

 

“That would never do.” Vincent’s hand moved to caress the soft curves of her lower body. “I’ll go and find Father.”

 

“Be quick,” Catherine called after him, as Vincent threaded his way through the crowd, before her attention was claimed once more.

 

Joe left Father’s side as Vincent came up, and he went to find Elliot. He was still standing by the wall where Shannon had left him, and Joe rested his shoulders back against the wall beside him.

 

“Thought you would want to know. Diana Bennett has managed to crack the code in the diary Catherine gave you. Pat was right when he said I wouldn’t believe the scope of it.”

 

“That’s great news.” Elliot straightened away from the wall. “How damaging is the information?”

 

“It should wipe out a few of your competitors,” Joe replied flatly. “And more than a few people will wish they’d never gotten into bed with Gabriel.”

 

“The lawyers for Justin Cole’s estate contacted me a couple of days ago.” Elliot watched Shannon circling the floor with Peter. “They are winding everything up and wanted direct contact with his widow.”

 

“What did you tell them?” Joe asked.

 

“That I would deal with them for now. I have put my lawyers onto the case. I don’t want Shannon to be involved until she has to be. She is still too fragile.” Elliot passed a hand around the back of his neck. “Despite everything, she is going to be a very wealthy woman. I wish I knew how she’s going to react to the news when I tell her.”

 

“Good luck with that.” Joe grimaced. “I don’t envy you the task of untangling that particular mess. I know you’ll do what is best, for both of you.”

 

“But the shadow of Gabriel and all his scheming is finally over.” Elliot watched Shannon being cajoled into singing by Mouse. “And for every ending, there is a new beginning,” he concluded softly, as Shannon’s clear tones touched his heart with renewed warmth.

 

 

“Where does this lead?” Catherine followed Vincent along the winding passage, her hand clasped within his.

 

They had made their escape an hour ago, leaving their son in Mary’s tender charge, and now they were nearing the end of their journey. Catherine was dressed once more in tunnel costume, a softly swinging gown of velvet and leather. Its many tawny shades added a glow to the warm tones of her skin beneath the flame of the torch Vincent was using to light their way.

 

He was sure he had never seen her look so beautiful. There was a glow about her, a quiet air of expectation that teased at him, touching along the edges of their bond with a feather-light caress. It both puzzled and intrigued him.

 

Catherine’s fingers tightened on Vincent’s as the tunnel suddenly angled downwards, turned sharply left, and disappeared into a seemingly solid wall. There was no visible opening.

 

“I sent Mouse out last week, to find us a special place…for our honeymoon,” Vincent explained, as they turned sideways to slip through the gap in the rock wall. “He brought me here, to this,” he concluded softly, Catherine’s hand still held within his. Her gasp of pleasure brought a smile to his lips.

 

The large chamber beyond was lit with candles set at intervals around the walls, and their light danced on the surface of the small pool that graced the centre of the floor. A sandy shore led down to its limpid depths, while away to one side lay an inviting pile of comforters and pillows spread over a low, wrought iron bedstead.

 

“Actually Mouse came back with several suggestions,” Vincent remarked, as Catherine turned full circle, gazing at their new surroundings with breathless wonder. “Somewhere below us here, is a whole series of chambers fitted out with all manner of comforts. I believe Mouse even managed to get a four-poster bed into one chamber, after dismantling it into several pieces. He assured me, most solemnly, that it would not break under the weight.”

 

“What weight?” Catherine turned back to her husband, her eyes dancing with merriment.

 

“Honestly, I did not have the courage to ask him,” Vincent admitted.

 

“Have I ever told you how wise you are?” Catherine came back to him and threaded her fingers through his mane. “Or how beautiful?”

 

“My wife is beautiful.” Vincent kissed her with aching tenderness, and it was only his arm around her waist that prevented her from falling as the kiss deepened and she began to drown in renewed desire.

 

“This bed will do,” she whispered, as Vincent rested his forehead against hers, his breathing laboured and unsteady.

 

“I’m afraid it will have to, I don’t think I have the strength to go searching for Mouse’s other hideaways.”

 

“As long as I am with you, I don’t mind where we are.” Catherine drew a steadying breath. “But you couldn’t have chosen a more perfect spot. I love it all, Vincent…and I love you…”

 

“You are my life, now and forever,” he replied, and the world turned and fell away into oblivion beneath their feet as he outlined the neck of her gown, probing beneath with a sure touch to unlace the opening, and the soft material slipped from her shoulders to pool at her feet. “All the treasures, all the beauties, now and for always, my love…”

 

An errant breeze, stealing across the surface of the pool carried the sound of Catherine, voicing Vincent’s name as an invocation, away through the rock walls, slipping through the fissures and cracks to bear the sound upwards and out into the starlit night far above. Dancing and twisting, the breeze became one with the night, blending the sound it carried with the many voices of the city that hung in the cool night air.

 

Later, much later, Catherine nuzzled her way along Vincent’s jaw line, enjoying the sensation of his cheek moving along hers. She ran her tongue against the strong column of his throat and was rewarded by a soft growl that reverberated through her where she lay against his chest.

 

Buried in the mound of quilts, she stretched lazily along his warm length and entwined her legs through his. The breeze that had touched on them before had died away, leaving a slumberous calm in its wake. Catherine snuggled closer, her thoughts drowsy and content.

 

They drifted together, Catherine’s mind touching lightly on several things, chief among them their son, and Vincent followed her silently, enjoying the novelty of their unique style of communication. In the distance the steady patter of Jacob’s heartbeat warmed them both as he slept in his cradle in Mary’s chamber.

 

“Vincent…” Catherine raised her upper body onto one elbow, and it took Vincent a moment to realise she had actually spoken.

 

He looked up at her, poised above him in the soft light, her green eyes warm and loving. Lightly, he traced the shape of her nose with one fingertip, falling off the tip to rest against her soft mouth. A smile curved beneath his touch as they gazed at each other, and Vincent felt a stirring, a slight ripple through the depths of their connection to each other. Catherine’s smile widened as Vincent’s forehead creased in puzzlement.

 

Softly Catherine lowered herself back until her eyes were only inches from her husband’s, only a short breath away from falling into their sapphire depths.

Vincent’s hand moved to cup her cheek and she nestled into it.

 

“Tell me,” he asked. “What is your secret?”

 

“I wasn’t sure before…” Catherine began, as she gathered a length of tawny mane and let it slide back through her fingers. “But I saw Peter yesterday, and my suspicions were confirmed.”

 

Again their bond stirred lazily, an undercurrent pricking at Vincent’s senses. It flowed from her, a warm confidence that carried its own special secret into the heart of his being.

 

“Catherine…” Vincent sat up abruptly, moving her down into his lap, and he stared at her in bemused wonder. The time-honoured, obvious questions of when and how, crossed his face in swift succession, but he didn’t voice them. These were soon replaced by an understanding look that sent Catherine’s blood racing to keep pace with her heartbeat.

 

“In the summer,” she told him softly, as his eyes dropped to the slenderness of her waistline. “Our baby will be born in the summertime.”

 

Vincent’s eyes rose back to hers, and he gathered her into his arms, a sense of wonder colouring their bond with a thousand shades of meaning. With one hand he explored the curve of her abdomen, the life within so small and yet already so powerful.

 

“You don’t mind?” Catherine lay her hand over his where it rested against her.

 

“Mind…?” Vincent questioned, almost absently, as Catherine moved to kneel between his upraised knees. “Oh, Catherine, you have given me gifts beyond everything I could have hoped to possess. How could I object to this most precious gift of all?”

“When I knew about Jacob, I was tortured by fears that you wouldn’t understand about how he came to be.” Catherine leaned forward to nestle into the broad curve of Vincent’s shoulder. “Jacob was conceived in a moment of complete desperation, of an overwhelming need, but also with unswerving love.”

 

“I know…” Vincent whispered, the ghost of an old pain briefly touching them both. “But this child was also conceived in a moment of overwhelming need.” He smiled with incredible tenderness. “The need that we have for each other, a need that cannot be assuaged. No matter how hard we try.”

 

“Very true.” Catherine’s laughter echoed his, as they tumbled backwards together into the warmth of the bed.

 

“Do you think Father can stand the shock?” she questioned, when she finally caught her breath.

 

“He will be delighted,” Vincent assured her. “This way he and Mary will have a child each to fuss over.”

 

“I hadn’t thought of that.” She chuckled.

 

“Catherine, you are a never ending source of complete wonder to me.” Vincent turned to her to look deep into her loving eyes. “How did I ever manage to exist without you?”

 

“I have wondered the same thing many times, Vincent. How I managed to get through life without you. But I do know that we were meant to be. Our first meeting was inevitable.”

 

“Yes…” Vincent agreed slowly. “I know that our fates were inextricably linked from the beginning. There was no escape from what was meant to be…”

 

Catherine nodded her agreement, her face buried in the warmth of his neck, and there was a long silence as they drifted together in quiet communion. Vincent’s hand strayed again to the softness of her lower body, to trace the outline of her from hip to breast in reverent wonder.

 

Catherine smiled as his touch feathered across her soft skin. Vincent had shared much of her pregnancy with Jacob, but this time there was so much more to be shared and enjoyed, a new dimension to be added to their mutual bond.

 

The breeze returned, lightly kissing its way across the surface of the pool. The current of air created tiny waves that lapped the shore.

 

“We should bring Jacob here,” Catherine murmured, as she floated in that wondrous place between waking and sleeping. “The pool is ideal.”

 

“We will bring all our children here.” Vincent kissed the top of her head. “It shall be the Wells family retreat,” he teased lightly.

 

“All our children…?” Catherine echoed, drawing herself up to look into his eyes, unsure if she had heard him correctly.

 

There was a light in those sapphire depths, a flame that danced and flickered, teasing and completely serious at the same time. Catherine took his chin in her hand, as she tilted her head to one side in suspicion. “Just how many do you have in mind, Mr. Wells?”

 

“Well, there is Mouse and Pascal to consider. And then, William…” His hand stroked her skin lazily, his fingertips making their own special music. “Now that Father and Mary have been satisfied.”

 

For a moment Catherine froze in total disbelief as she tried to assimilate this sweeping statement. Vincent all the while was gazing at her most solemnly. But the light in his eyes betrayed him, as it grew and danced mischievously.

 

“We will need to build a bigger chamber.” Catherine joined in the game then, her mock solemn face masking the pure joy she felt deep inside.

 

“Perhaps Father’s,” Vincent returned, in a voice that was not quite steady.

 

“But can we separate him from his books? They won’t all fit in your chamber.”

Vincent frowned over the thorny problem, his hand describing lazy circles across Catherine’s stomach before rising to curve over the swell of her breasts. Fire licked through her senses, inflaming them instantly.

 

“This will require a lot of thought…and a great deal of practice,” she whispered unsteadily, as Vincent continued his intimate exploration.

 

“Years of practice…” A tremor ran through Vincent then, as Catherine began her own intimate tour of his body, touching lightly along his thighs to finally encircle him with her questing touch.

 

“I doubt that we will ever get it completely right…” Catherine’s breathing grew ragged, as Vincent trailed a fiery path with his lips, from the lobe of her ear to the scented hollow between her breasts.

 

He shook his head mutely, the light in his eyes, when he raised them to hers, becoming an aching need, an invitation, a breathless question of burning intensity.

 

Poised above him, Catherine was snared in the light, drawn into its warmth, caught by the tumultuous sensations that rampaged through her. Totally lost to herself and her surroundings, she tumbled down into Vincent’s embrace, and his arms closed around her, as she moved down over him to seal their bond intimately once more.

 

“My wife…my heart.” Vincent took her lips as they merged, one into the other. “You are everything I am, everything…”

 

“Together we can make all things possible…” Catherine gasped as they rode the waves, spiralling upwards. “Now and always…”

 

“Yes…” Vincent lifted her into the light, before bringing her back to wrap her legs around his waist, as her body sang again that sweet song that was for him alone. “Together…”

 

Beyond their hidden chamber, the world Below began to stir, rising to face the new day and a new beginning. But for the honeymoon couple, there was only each other and the sure knowledge they would never be parted again. Whatever happens, whatever comes, Catherine had led Vincent home to the security of their love…

 

     

 


I am as a spirit who has dwelt

Within his heart of hearts, and I have felt

His feelings, and have thought his thoughts, and known

The inmost converse of his soul, the tone

Unheard but in the silence of his blood,

When all the pulses in their multitude

Image the trembling calm of summer seas.

I have unlocked the golden melodies

Of his deep soul, as with a master-key,

And loosened them and bathed myself therein-

Even as an eagle in a thunder-mist

Clothing his wings with lightning.

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

 

 

   

 


LITERARY REFERENCES

 

If    Bread

 

Vincent   Don McLean

 

They Say That “Time assuages  Part 4 Time and Eternity Emily Dickinson

 

To Jane: Though the sound overpowers, sing again  Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

 Good Friday   George Herbert

 

A dialogue of Self and Soul   W.B. Yeats

 

There roll the deep where grew the tree   Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In Memoriam, Section 123

 

I Do It For You   Bryan Adams

 

Be near me when my light is low   Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In Memoriam Section L

 

The Power Of Love   Jennifer Rush

 

Don Juan Triumphant    Phantom of the Opera

 

Goodnight   Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

Wedded Souls  1819  Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

Judith Nolan Zines Index

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