The Only Gift
A continuing classic story set after Catherine rescues Vincent in the cave.
By Catherine Scotton
"Push now Cathy," instructed Peter Alcott, friend and doctor.
Catherine bent forward, supported by Jamie, who had been her steadfast ally during the past six months. Sweat streamed down Catherine’s face, testament to the effort required to bring this life into the world. Indeed, from the moment of conception this baby had brought many changes in Catherine’s life.
"That’s it," encouraged Peter, "I can see the head."
"You’re doing great," Jamie encouraged, wiping the perspiration from Catherine’s brow.
"Just a little more," said Peter.
All the tension that had been building over the preceding months culminated inside her now, rising like a growing wave, and like a wave it came crashing down as Catherine pushed one last time ...
"Vin … cent!" she screamed.
Far underground a candle flickered and flared erratically behind a stained glass window, projecting jerky distorted colored patterns around the chamber.
Vincent, oblivious to events far Above sat up in a panic, gasped for breath and clutched at his chest.
What is it? What’s happened?
Thoughts flew through his mind as he tried to calm his ragged breathing.
Crying! A baby crying … Where is the danger? … What does this mean?
Wild eyed he searched his chamber for anything amiss. There it was again, the sound of crying in his head. He squeezed his eyes shut and covered his ears with his hands, but still there was no escape.
I’m going mad!
During the illness that had taken the Bond he had shared with Catherine he knew he had suffered a form of insanity. His balance had since returned, so this crying in his head terrified him afresh.
"He’s beautiful, Catherine," said Jamie, looking down at the small bundle held close and safe in his mother’s arms.
"He is," confirmed Catherine gently stroking the newborn’s cheek, "he looks like Vincent."
"He looks like both of you," responded Jamie, "see, he has your hair color and facial features."
"Yes, and Vincent’s brow and little clawed nails," she said.
Peter Alcott put forward his observations at that point. "Like all babies, he’s a combination of both parents, and only time will tell how he’ll grow into his features. Just relax Cathy, enjoy your baby, the hard work is behind you." He patted her leg through the blankets covering her.
"Thank you for everything Peter," said Catherine with sincerity, "particularly your discretion."
"Cathy, I’ve known you all your life, you know you can count on me," he said. "But, I really think it’s time you told Vincent."
"You know I can’t, not yet. I’m still heading up to Connecticut. I think it’ll be safer than staying here until Elliot’s murderers are brought to justice. I gave him that black book that cost him his life, and I have to live with that. I will not put anyone else in danger, particularly Vincent."
"But Cathy …," started Peter.
"He’s been through enough Peter," she interrupted, "he nearly died in that cave. I need to know he’s safe and I’m not safe to be around until this is over."
"But, you’re so alone," commented Jamie, "and it’ll be worse if you leave New York. Surely you’re not in danger in this house; no-one knows you’re here."
"I’ll be fine at the summer house too," she said. "And besides, I’ll be busy learning to be a mother. Jenny Aronson has promised to visit as soon as we’re settled in."
It had been Jenny’s frantic phone call months before that had made up Catherine’s mind. Jenny’s prophetic dreams had proved too accurate in the past for her to ignore. In the aftermath of the explosion that nearly killed Joe and Elliot Burch’s murder, after she’d asked Elliot to look at Pat Hanlon’s black book, she felt she had no choice. Jenny’s dream had galvanized her actions.
This wasn’t just about her anymore.
She had been stunned by the news of her pregnancy, and finding out the way she had, had rocked her world. She’d given blood for Joe at the hospital and the nurse had remarked that she shouldn’t have done so while being pregnant.
Vincent had been so unwell after Paracelsus’ psychological brainwashing and, as the sickness progressed, his fear and irrationality had grown. He was in such agony when she had gone to him in that cave far below, to the very gates of his personal hell. He’d collapsed as though lifeless into her arms and she’d fought with every ounce of strength and love to bring him back.
Miraculously, what had begun as Catherine giving life to Vincent had ended with Vincent giving life to Catherine. In an act so primal, so spontaneous and necessary, they had joined, a life affirming union which Vincent had no memory of. If it wasn’t for the warm bundle in her arms, even now she could convince herself it had never happened.
"Cathy," Peter spoke, bringing Catherine back to reality. "I’ll be back to check on you both tomorrow, so don’t you go disappearing before then."
He leaned forward and gave her a paternal kiss on the cheek. "It’ll all work out," he said quietly in her ear.
"Have you thought about names?" asked Jamie, who was gently stroking a tiny hand that had escaped from the soft blanket.
"I have," she announced, "I would like you both to meet James Vincent Chandler. I owe you so much Jamie, you’ve been my lifeline and I’ve named him after you."
Jamie stood there, open-mouthed and speechless, a most uncommon state for this outspoken young woman. She had been with Catherine and Father all those months before to witness the end of Paracelsus and Vincent’s final descent into madness.
"Well, I for one think that’s a wonderful name," said Peter. "He’ll need a strong name to take him through life."
"For now I think baby James and I are going to snuggle up in this bed and sleep. You two should go home and sleep as well, it’s nearly dawn."
Shortly after, Peter took his leave, promising to return later in the day.
Catherine could hear Jamie rattling around in the kitchen downstairs and it wasn’t long before she returned carrying a tray. "I’ll go now, here’s a flask of hot water, some tea bags and a slice William’s banana bread I brought for you."
"Thanks again Jamie, you’ve a wonderful friend," Catherine said with sincerity. "I know this has been hard for you, with all the secrecy. I’ll write via Peter once I’m settled in Connecticut."
After Jamie left Catherine was finally alone with her son for the first time. She held James close and gave in to the hot tears of sorrow which sprang unbidden from the well she was carrying deep inside.
Oh, Vincent, I love you so much. I’m so sorry I had to leave.
Words circled through her head, had been doing so for months …
"…like a stranger … you’re the woman that I love … reach for words for things but they’re not there … names … your name? …"
The recovery from his illness was slow, he’d been so drained. Physically, improvement had begun, but mentally …
" … Vincent, don’t worry, I won’t let you forget …," she had reassured him.
But she’d walked away from that promise in order to keep him from further harm. He was in no fit state to be told of her pregnancy, particularly when he had no memory of the events in the cave. Even much of their previous time together remained a mystery to him. Their Bond was broken and she had gone away to save him from becoming embroiled in the game of life and death taking place Above. Vincent knew she was safe but that was all. Her information to him had been by necessity vague, lest he try too hard to find her. She periodically sent word Below that all was well.
Vincent was in effect reborn; she would fade into a best forgotten myth.
"We have a beautiful son, Vincent," she sobbed, looking at James with tears streaming down her cheeks.
Vincent’s life was intolerable to him. He had so much to be grateful for in the aftermath of his illness. What Paracelsus had done to provoke him had been inhuman. Vincent’s psyche could only take so much before it snapped and sent him tumbling over a precipice without a rope.
But Catherine had willingly gone over the precipice too, anchored herself to him and pulled him back. He owed her—everything. But where was she? He had known she wanted to tell him something important, yet in the end she had disappeared. He understood. He wasn’t the man he had once been. The man who knew her innermost feelings and kept her from harm was gone. Too much had changed; she’d seen him once again in the throes of animal behavior, killing Paracelsus, as he’d ripped open his abdomen, covered in blood and reveling in it, his sanity temporarily gone. It was right that she’d walked away – she should have run.
"Vincent," Father snapped his fingers in front of Vincent’s face, "you’re brooding again."
"Sorry Father, what were you saying?"
"I was talking about Pascal, his twisted ankle. Can you take some shifts to help him in the pipe chamber?"
"Of course," Vincent assented, inclining his head, "I’ll go now and schedule times with him."
Vincent started up the stairs exiting Father’s library.
"I know you’re busy with all your other tasks—," continued Father, speaking to his retreating back.
"—It’s fine, Father," Vincent looked around. "I’m not sleeping so I may as well make use of my time."
"Not sleeping? I thought you were improved. How long has this been going on?"
"Since I lost Catherine," Vincent admitted and forestalled further conversation by disappearing into the tunnel.
"Thanks Vincent, I really appreciate the help." The diminutive pipe master sat with his left foot propped on a pillow.
"I’m pleased to help. What happened?"
"Can you believe I tripped over my own sticks?" Pascal informed him. "I was trying to handle multiple pipes and got in a tangle."
Vincent chuckled, imagining the scene and wishing he’d seen it firsthand. Not that he wished his friend harm. They’d grown up together and had many adventures as children. They still shared secrets from their childhood, and enjoyed a relaxed relationship.
"Now, do you remember all the codes?" inquired Pascal.
Vincent picked up two metal tapping sticks and moved to the wall of pipes. "Yes, Pascal, I remember. Why don’t you go and rest?"
"I know I should, but I just can’t leave the pipes for too long."
"Are you worried I’ll miss something?" Vincent asked.
"No, I’m worried I will." They both laughed.
For several hours Vincent directed traffic on the pipes. He wrote down messages to be sent to their recipients via the younger tunnel members on the schedule for this week.
The traffic was slow and general. Vincent chatted amiably with Pascal in between. Groceries ready for collection at Columbus Grocers, fruit pick up at Mr Lu’s, Mrs Blackwell sick, no music lessons, inform Father … and so it went … until … ‘Jamie, leaving, thanks for everything, C’.
Vincent went cold. His blood drained to his feet and a shudder shook his body. He fell to his knees, gasping.
Crying … Why is a baby crying? Oh God, oh God, please where is she?
"Vincent!" a concerned Pascal had struggled upright and hobbled nearer. "Are you all right?"
"Where does this pipe go?" he banged on the pipe with a stick in emphasis.
"Far side of the park; row of brownstones, and on past there all the way to Chinatown," answered Pascal. "Why?"
"I have to go."
Without a backward glance, Vincent left a surprised Pascal clinging to a pipe for support and headed through the tunnels, following the pipe.
Catherine. It has to be her. If I can just see her, talk with her.
There had been emptiness inside him since the loss of their connection. He thought it was the price he had to pay for the new peace he had been granted. But peace and contentment were only conditional, knowing Catherine was still involved in his life and safe were the unwavering certainties that gave him true peace. And those had been taken from him months ago.
Catherine had said there were so many other gifts awaiting him, all he had to do was open his arms and receive them. He raced now, through a tunnel under Central Park, chasing the only gift he’d ever wanted.
Moving swiftly he climbed an access ladder and pushed the manhole cover aside. He peeked out carefully and seeing that the alleyway was empty he wasted no time in pulling himself through and replacing the cover. He moved to the corner of the street and glanced along the row of brownstones as a car pulled away from the curb. He felt his eyes being drawn to the car—a connection? It passed him in a blur, but not so fast that he didn’t see a very familiar, a very dear profile behind the wheel.
No, Catherine … don’t leave!
Jenny picked up the phone. "Jenny Aronson speaking."
"Hi Jenny, it’s Cathy."
"How are you? Where are you?"
"I’m at the summer house in Connecticut. I’ve been here for a few weeks now." Catherine glanced lovingly at her son sleeping in the crib beside her.
"How are things going? How’s the baby?"
"James is fine, wonderful in fact."
"James, you’ve chosen a name, that’s wonderful. And his father?"
"It’s still complicated Jenny."
"It’s always complicated with you Cathy."
"I don’t mean to be one of those friends that always have a crisis in their lives. I actually want a simple, quiet life. Have you had any word from Joe?" Catherine asked, changing the subject.
"He said to let you know they’ve followed a lead from the photocopy of Patrick Hanlon’s black book that has led them to a firm called Molloy Davidson, something, something trust. They’re investigating some kingpin connected to all sorts of organized crime, involving major industry and even the government. Joe said there may even be a leak in the DA’s office."
"Is Joe okay?" Catherine asked alarmed.
"He sounded okay, tired; he was calling from a payphone. He said you should keep laying low until this ‘shit’ is over. His word, not mine."
"Thanks Jenny, you’ve been great."
"I’m just glad that you listened to me this time. It’s so sad about Elliot Burch, but Cathy, that could have been you and James." The concern was obvious in Jenny’s voice.
"I know. Poor Elliot, he had such dreams for his life, for this city, and all I was in the end was a harbinger of death to him."
"Now, stop right there," Jenny cut in. "You didn’t kill Elliot Burch; he played hardball in this city. He knew the risks."
"But still …" Catherine said sadly.
Sensing her friend’s despair Jenny quickly changed the subject. "I’ll be up to see you this weekend, Cathy."
"I’ll look forward to it. You’ll meet James and I have things to tell you."
On that cryptic note the friends ended their conversation. Jenny’s interest was thoroughly piqued and she couldn’t wait until the weekend.
Vincent found Jamie alone in the dining area several weeks after his near encounter with Catherine. He knew she had been seeing Catherine and admired her strength and loyalty, but her close-lipped refusal to tell him anything had to end.
"Vincent," Jamie answered.
Vincent seated himself across the table from her. "We have to talk."
Gathering her plate and cup she started to rise. "There’s nothing to talk about."
Vincent reached across the gap between them and grabbed her arm, stopping her from retreating. Tears started to well in his eyes. "Please, Jamie, please sit."
"Okay," she relented. She couldn’t stand seeing him in such distress and didn’t agree with Catherine keeping him in the dark about everything. She sat down again but only perched on the edge of the seat, ready to flee if the conversation got out of hand.
Vincent said nothing for a moment as he tried desperately to regain his composure, his face working through emotions as he attempted to choose the best words.
"I—know you made a promise to Catherine," he started slowly, "and you won’t tell me where she is, but can you tell me … why?"
Jamie thought hard about all the ‘whys’. Elliot Burch’s murder, Joe’s near death in the car explosion, Jenny’s dream, baby James, Catherine wanting the tunnel world’s safety, her wanting to give Vincent space and time to recover from his illness in peace and quiet.
"I can’t tell you specifics. I can only say she has good reasons, and there’s been stuff happening up top that she wants to protect you from."
"Elliot Burch’s murder?" asked Vincent.
Jamie looked up stunned. "How…?"
"I do read the papers, Jamie," Vincent replied, giving her an ironic look. "I know what goes on in this city."
"Then don’t you realize Catherine just wants to keep a low profile until this is over?"
What Jamie said held a very thin thread of truth. He felt like he was being fed crumbs.
"She hasn’t been staying at her apartment, she could have come Below," Vincent stated flatly.
"No, she thought it wiser to drop right out of sight, isolate herself."
"Where?" He demanded.
"Vincent, you know I can’t tell you."
"But she’s gone, I saw her leave."
Jamie thought about it for a moment. With Catherine in Connecticut would it really hurt to reveal where she had been?
"She was staying at a house she’d rented under an assumed name by the park."
"Not all the time?" Vincent asked.
"You’d better believe it. I’ve been taking her supplies for months." Jamie admitted.
"But where is she now?"
"No Vincent, that’s it, no more. She’s too far away for you to reach; you’ll just have to wait until she’s ready to come back home."
"How can I wait?" He put his head in his hands in frustration.
"Vincent, it’ll all work out in the end," Jamie unknowingly echoed Peter’s words to Catherine.
"You think so?" He let sarcasm tinge his sharp reply.
"Just have patience," Jamie said gently. "Patience and faith, it’s all you can do."
"Then all I can do is not enough," Vincent snapped in frustration.
He stood suddenly and left, tipping his chair in the process and leaving Jamie feeling drained in his wake.
"Jenny, welcome," called Catherine.
She crossed the verandah and skipped down the front steps of the summer house. It was early evening; the clouds were a soft rosebud pink against the pale blue of the sky; it had been a balmy, gentle day. The two friends embraced, holding tightly. Apart from visits from Peter and Jamie back in the city, Jenny was the only outside contact Catherine had had since her self-imposed confinement.
"It’s so good to see you," Catherine exclaimed as she moved back to look at her friend.
"You look amazing," replied Jenny. "Last time I saw you, you were waddling like a duck."
"Well my duck days are behind me now," she suddenly felt nervous, and continued, "come inside, I’ve got so much to tell you."
Retrieving Jenny’s suitcase and a wrapped parcel from the car they chatted about incidentals as they entered the house.
"Gosh, it’s been years since I’ve been here. Remember those parties we had?" Jenny reminisced as she entered the house.
"Do I remember those parties, we had some crazy times." Catherine agreed.
"We sure did. Remember that moonlight race out to the pontoon in the lake?" Jenny prompted.
"What I remember is that everyone was naked at the time. Arrr … I don’t even want to go there," she admitted, laughing.
"Now, where’s this baby of yours?" Jenny demanded.
"Asleep right now," Catherine said, sobering to the task ahead. "Let’s make a cup of tea and sit in here for a bit."
"Sure," she agreed. "I need a drink after that drive. The roads sure twist and turn getting in here, I’d forgotten how isolated it is."
"That’s what I like about it. It’s so different from New York. Up here is just so …"
"Quiet?" suggested Jenny.
"Uncomplicated," finished Catherine.
They went about the kitchen making a pot of tea, setting mugs and milk on a tray. Catherine put out some sugar cookies she’d baked.
"It turns out that I actually enjoy cooking," she commented. "Who’d have guessed?"
"Nobody has time to cook in New York," remarked her friend. "Everyone’s so busy these days."
Gathering the tray they made their way into the living room and settled themselves on the sofa, the tea on the low table in front of them. Moving forward, Catherine filled their cups and added a dash of milk. She handed Jenny her mug, sat back into the cushions and tried to center herself as she collected her thoughts.
How much could she tell Jenny? Was this a betrayal? Could she trust Jenny? Of, course she could, Jenny loved her and wanted the best for her.
"Okay, Cathy," Jenny prodded her friend. "Enough secrets, you need to talk. I need to know about this mystery man who’s made you look so sad for all these months."
"No, it’s true Cathy. When you don’t know I’m watching, I see it—this burden you carry."
"It’s not a burden Jenny—I love him."
"Who?" Jenny urged.
The moment of truth, Catherine thought. "His name is Vincent."
"Remember when I went missing after I was attacked, well it was Vincent who found me and cared for me those ten days. Since then our relationship has … progressed, well obviously, James is proof of that. Even that’s not straight forward. Vincent has been … unwell, and he knows nothing of James."
"Nothing?" Jenny was astonished.
"He doesn’t remember what happened when he was at the height of his illness and I just can’t worry him with what’s been going on in my life. He’s found peace now, and my pregnancy, along with all the madness that’s been happening at work—I just couldn’t tell him."
"Don’t you think he has the right to know he’s a father?" Jenny sounded disapproving.
"Of course I do. I want him with me every second of every day. I miss him so much I ache." Tears ran down Catherine’s face following this admission and she wiped them away on the sleeve of her blouse.
"Oh, Cathy, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. You know what’s best for you," consoled Jenny. "Here, come on, open the present I brought for James."
She retrieved the parcel and handed it to her friend. Catherine started to open it while Jenny prattled on, trying to lighten her mood.
"I was in the toy store and this just called to me. Actually, it fell off the shelf and landed in my arms and when I looked at it I just knew I had to buy it."
Removing the last of the wrapping Catherine gasped. It was a stuffed lion. She looked into its face and the tears started again, she hugged the toy to her chest.
"Well, that wasn’t the reaction I expected," commented Jenny, perplexed.
"Oh Jenny, you are amazing. You have no idea what you’ve done."
"Well, I need to, before you see James."
"What do mean?"
"Well, Vincent, is … different in many ways and because of these differences he lives in a community where he is safe, protected from a world that would never understand him," Catherine paused still hugging the toy lion. "Vincent resembles this lion."
Bewildered by her friend’s explanation, it took Jenny a moment to reply. "And James looks like him?"
"Come on, come and meet him."
Catherine jumped up from the couch and grabbed her friend by the hand as she lead the way upstairs and into the nursery. Catherine bent over the crib and seeing James was awake picked him up with loving, gentle hands.
"Good evening Mr James, come and meet your Aunt Jenny," cooed Catherine as she leaned toward her friend and placed James into her arms.
"Oh, Cathy, he’s beautiful," said Jenny. "He has such stunning blue eyes."
"Come and help me change him, he’ll be all wet after his nap."
Jenny placed James on the baby table and watched as Catherine expertly changed his diaper. As she did so Jenny examined the baby. He had deep set eyes and prominent brows, a straight nose and a strong jaw for one so young. Taking one of his tiny hands in hers the mitten he wore slipped off and revealed pointed sharp little nails.
Catherine glanced sideways at her friend and noted the surprised look on her face.
"He is a little different, but he’s still beautiful Cathy," insisted Jenny. "Does he have his father’s eyes?"
"I would say that’s a definite yes," Catherine replied with obvious pride in her voice.
"He’s going to be a knock out with the ladies," Jenny predicted.
"I can’t wait for Vincent to see him," admitted Catherine, "but it’s almost like I’ve left it too long. I’m terrified of telling him. Vincent never imagined he could be a father."
"You have to tell him," Jenny exclaimed.
"I know," she replied wistfully, picking up the baby. "Well, come on darling, time for your feed."
Once back in the living room, Catherine made herself comfortable on the sofa. James was starting to whimper and fuss but calmed the moment he was attached to his mother’s breast. His hand reached up and rested comfortably against the white roundness, claiming it, kneading the flesh for comfort with his tiny fingers. Catherine could feel the tiny pinpricks from James’ nails.
"You see Jenny," said Catherine, "there was too much at stake, I had to get away from all the craziness going on at work. After your dream I knew I only had one choice—life—Vincent’s, James’ and mine."
"I’m so glad you listened to me," said Jenny. "I spoke with Joe again the other day after your call. A woman investigator working on the case is being held hostage, Joe seemed really upset about it."
"Come on, let’s not talk about it right now, I just can’t cope with thinking about things I can’t change. My moods have been all over the place since this little one came along. Let’s talk about you. What’s been happening in your life Jen?"
Jenny had given herself a long weekend to visit Cathy and returned to New York late on Monday afternoon. She had so much to think about. She definitely didn’t want to do the wrong thing, there was so much to weigh up, however, Catherine’s current situation was untenable.
She would take a few days, review all options, but she was determined as never before to help her friend.
Then, one morning the following week the phone rang.
"Hi Joe," Jenny replied recognizing his voice.
"It’s over. It’s all over. Let Cathy know we got him, the madman who had Elliot killed, who killed Pat Hanlon, and who held our investigator, Diana Bennett, hostage. An insane megalomaniac who called himself ‘Gabriel’."
"How’d you get him?"
"I can’t say too much, police protocol and all, but we shot his sorry carcass dead and all his cronies are falling over themselves trying to cut deals. It’s better than Christmas."
Jenny could hear the satisfaction in Joe’s voice. "That’s fantastic Joe, I’ll let Cathy know, she’ll be so relieved it’s over."
"This’ll be all over the papers tomorrow, but I’m telling you now. They’ve arrested John Moreno, he was the leak."
"Oh, Joe, that must be a shock. Are you all right?"
"I sure am. This office means too much to me, its integrity, I’m glad it’s over."
"Cathy’s in for a surprise," said Jenny with relief.
"Take care now Jenny, I’ll see you soon," Joe said in farewell.
Jenny hung up. She’d made her decision. If Mohammed wouldn’t go to the mountain she was determined that the mountain would go to Mohammed. There was no reason now that Catherine shouldn’t be with Vincent.
Decision made she wrote a short letter to Vincent, grabbed her jacket and headed out the door.
"Dr Alcott, I have a Jenny Aronson here requesting to speak with you," an irritated secretary spoke to Peter. "She doesn’t have an appointment."
"That’s all right Ellen," replied Peter. "I’ll see her. Please send her in."
On replacing the phone Peter’s secretary looked up at Jenny.
"Go on through, Dr Alcott can squeeze you in."
Without responding to the officious woman Jenny headed through the door.
"Jenny—is everything okay with Cathy and James?" he asked with concern while indicating a chair for her to sit in.
"As far as I know Peter, at least physically," she replied, and then to see his reaction continued, "I’m here about Vincent."
His head snapped up, confirming her suspicion. "Vincent?"
"So you do know him?" she said in triumph.
"What’s this about Jenny?" he demanded, clamping down on his reactions, guarding against another slip.
"Can you get a message to him?"
Peter sat quietly for a moment, leaning back in his chair and holding his hands before him.
"Does Catherine know about this?" he inquired.
"No, and I think we both know their situation won’t resolve unless someone else gets involved."
He continued to sit and contemplate her words, tapping the tips of his fingers together rhythmically.
"How much do you know?" he finally asked.
"She told me about Vincent—enough to know that they belong together and that she needs him desperately."
Reaching a decision Peter said, "Give me the message, I’ll see he gets it."
Handing over her letter she left Peter’s office satisfied. For the hundredth time she hoped she was doing the right thing.
Father heard over the pipes that his old friend Peter Alcott was on his way down. It had been a while since he’d seen Peter; it had been back in March when they’d vaccinated the children. Without Peter’s help with medical supplies the tunnel world would be a much harder, less healthy place to live. He hoped this was just a social call; maybe he should set out the chess set.
"Ah, Peter," said Father, "it’s so good to see you old friend."
Peter made his way into the library. "You’re looking well Jacob."
"Come, have a seat," invited Father. "Will you share some tea?"
"I’ve actually come to see Vincent; I’ve sent word for him to join us."
He had decided that he would give Vincent the message, but in all good conscience could not do so behind Jacob’s back. He was already keeping Catherine’s secret which he would not divulge, but there had been more than enough subterfuge of late.
Vincent arrived at that point, descending the staircase and welcoming Peter warmly.
"You’re looking well, Vincent," commented Peter, casting a professional eye over him.
"Yes, I am well," replied Vincent. "You wished to see me, Peter?"
"I have a letter for you from Jenny Aronson," Peter announced and watched Vincent closely, gauging his reaction.
"Jenny, but how …?"
"It seems Catherine has confided some things to Jenny, she certainly knows of you, but not where you live, that’s why she came to me."
"The letter, may I have it?" asked Vincent reaching out his hand.
"Vincent, are you sure …?" Father started to speak.
"The letter please, Peter," demanded Vincent, cutting across Father’s words.
Peter handed the envelope to him then and watched as Vincent slit the envelope open with a clawed finger, withdrawing its contents. He moved to the far side of the room to gain what privacy he could while he read the message.
My name is Jenny Aronson. I’m Cathy Chandler’s friend. I’m probably overstepping the line in writing to you but there is so much at stake, not the least being Cathy’s happiness, which is very important to me.
Some of the reasons why Cathy went into hiding have been resolved. The murderer of her friend Elliot Burch has been caught and her boss at the District Attorney’s Office, John Moreno, has been arrested on charges of treason.
These were some of the reasons for Cathy’s disappearance. The others you need to discover for yourself.
She is staying at her family summer house in Connecticut:
Meadow House, Waterstone Lake Road, Litchfield.
What happens now is between you and Cathy.
I wish you luck!
During the course of reading the letter, Vincent had sat on the edge of a chair, all strength gone from his legs. He re-read the letter twice, committing the address to memory—engraving it on his heart.
"Well?" demanded Father.
"It’s Catherine, she’s in Connecticut—I must go to her."
"But Vincent, that’s insane talk, totally foolhardy," protested Father.
"Nevertheless, I will go," Vincent replied calmly.
"But without your—Bond—how can you find her?"
"The normal way, Father, I have an address." He held the letter aloft.
"You can’t Vincent. You have responsibilities here. What if someone caught you Above? They’d kill you."
"I could take you Vincent," offered Peter.
"No. Thank you Peter, I have to do this myself. I have to go on my own."
"But why, Vincent? Why the unnecessary risks?" Father pleaded.
"Because, Father, ‘sometimes we have to leave our safe places and walk empty-handed among our enemies’," Vincent recited a line burned deep in his soul, a memory that remained when so many had fled.
"Those are Bridget O’Donnell’s words Vincent." Father, thoroughly irritated, remembered the Irish peace activist who Vincent befriended.
"They are still true words."
"They are words to die by," insisted Father, worried and frustrated by this turn of event.
"They are words to live by," retorted Vincent, spinning to face Father. "If I cannot do this, if I cannot find my way to her, where is my worth, where is redemption? What kind of man would I be not to take this risk? We have lost so much already, this is my one chance and I will go."
His mind made up, Vincent nodded farewell to the two men and grasping Jenny’s letter swept up the staircase, striding with purpose into the tunnel.
"Vincent—reconsider—please …" called Father.
"Jacob, let him go." Peter grabbed his arm when Jacob tried to follow. "You have to let him go."
"I don’t know what I’d do if I lost him," confessed Father, suddenly feeling old beyond his years.
"You have to let him go, or you’ll lose him anyway."
Father dropped his head, nodding slightly; he knew the truth in Peter’s words. Vincent had been like a walking shadow since Catherine had gone. Peter put his arm around Jacob’s shoulder and led him to his chair.
"Come on, let’s have that tea," said Peter, comforting Jacob. "Have you got your chess set handy?"
Vincent ducked his head and held firmly to the top of the north bound Amtrak train. After leaving Father and Peter he had gone immediately to the school room and pulled the Geography section apart until he’d located what he needed. He took a travel map of the northern states and an outdated, but hopefully useful, Amtrak timetable.
In his chamber he spread the map on his bed and studied it, located Litchfield and determined a course of action. He felt energized. Just doing ‘something’ to find Catherine after all this time he could feel adrenaline pumping through him. He filled a satchel with a few supplies, a change of clothes, his maps, a canteen of water and unsure why, the journal Catherine had given him after his illness.
Once he had everything he stood in his chamber, centering himself with eyes closed and holding the little pouch with Catherine’s rose inside, firmly in his fist.
I will find you Catherine.
He felt like an explorer about to embark on a big adventure to discover new worlds, or maybe lost ones. Trepidation, excitement, fear and determination rallied in his breast. The future was uncertain and his journey fraught with danger, but to not proceed was the biggest danger of all.
He made his way up to the subway level and dropped atop a train headed for Penn Station. Using service tunnels, and every ounce of his heightened senses he avoided trouble as he made his way to where the intercity trains departed. Peeking from inside a rail tunnel he could just make out the board displaying destinations and track numbers. Once he had the information he needed he secreted himself among the air-conditioning units and electrical boxes on the top of the train bound for Hartford.
He lay for what seemed an eternity waiting for the train to leave. Plenty of time to replay in his head the last time he had seen Catherine. She’d wanted to tell him something, she had tried, but he was so full of self-pity after the loss of their Bond that she had left without telling him. He’d felt at the time that she was trying to protect him from something, but what? Then she had taken her secret and gone into hiding, but why?
The train departed in the early evening. Vincent’s stomach lurched with the first pull of the engines and the corresponding jerk of the bogies; they shuffled and swayed, gathering speed as they went. Vincent’s anticipation grew as they approached each scheduled stop, he dare not move, lest he be spotted. On through the night the train sped, stops became less frequent the further north they traveled. The early autumn air was thin and mean and Vincent tucked his flapping cloak around himself for protection.
Finally, rounding a slow bend just out of Hartford, he saw an opportunity and launched himself off the roof of the carriage. He landed heavily on stiff legs, cramped from hours holding his position on the train roof, and rolled to a stop. He lifted his head and watched the train disappear around the corner and on into more populated environs; areas he had to avoid.
He spent the duration of the night negotiating back roads, avoiding traffic, headed ever westward in search of the right road. As dawn approached he found a sign indicating the way to Litchfield, but with sunrise imminent he would have to wait till nightfall to proceed. He found a dense wooded area and settled down to spend the day out of sight.
He tried to rest leaning against a tree with his knees drawn up to his chest, but the crying had started again in his head like white noise. It was a backdrop to his every thought and no amount of head shaking or covering of ears could make it cease.
Eventually he drifted into a light sleep, only to be woken by rain, falling in merciless sheets, offering nothing but wet misery.
At dusk he left the wooded area and commenced a slow trot along the edge of the road. He moved out of sight behind trees whenever a car approached. He found Farmington Avenue and continued his jog along it, ever closer, each step and every breath bringing him nearer to his destination. He blocked out everything except the journey, could not conceive of what would happen at its end.
In the early hours of the morning he had worked himself into a hypnotic state, where nothing intruded except the crying in his brain and the rhythmic pounding of his feet. In this state he failed to sense a vehicle approaching from behind. It slowed beside him and almost too late he pulled his hood low to cover his face.
"Foul night to be out," shouted the driver, stopping his small truck beside Vincent.
"Yes," Vincent was too stunned to do anything but answer.
"Where ya headed?"
"Litchfield," said Vincent not looking at the man.
"I’m off to the markets there myself," the man continued, "want a lift?"
"A lift?" Vincent asked, not comprehending.
"I’ve been in trouble myself a time or two. Hop in the back; you’ll be out of the rain at least."
Realizing the man was only trying to help him, a drenched stranger, Vincent pulled himself into the back of truck and settled amongst the crates of produce. The man jerked through the truck’s gears until it was up to speed, chugging along the country road. Vincent, soothed by the motion of the truck couldn’t help it—he fell asleep.
"Hey, buddy." A hand slapped the side of his boot.
Vincent was awake in an instant and on alert.
"We’re here," the man informed him.
Dawn was breaking and he needed to find somewhere to spend the day. But first he had to get out of this truck. He turned in the darkness of the interior and backed out, keeping his hands inside his cloak and his features hidden in his hood.
"Thank you," he said quietly, his voice full of appreciation, "for the lift."
"Will you be all right now?" enquired the good Samaritan.
"Yes," replied Vincent then he asked. "Do you know Waterstone Lake Road?"
"Sure, far side of town. Follow this road to Maple, Waterstone Lake is off there. You sure ya don’t need anything else?"
"No, and thank you for your kindness," Vincent said with gratitude.
"Be seein’ ya then," the man said. "And get dried off or you’ll be catchin’ ya death."
The man wasn’t far wrong. He’d been in wet clothes for the best part of 24 hrs and uncontrollable shivers kept shooting down his spine.
He skirted the town center until on the outskirts he located a church bordered by a low stone wall. The back of the plot was secluded and, feeling weary and somewhat depressed, he sought sanctuary behind an old oak tree, ready to spend another day away from Catherine.
Catherine woke with a lightness of spirit such as she had not felt in a long time. James was a wonderful baby; he slept well, fed enthusiastically and was putting on weight.
She’d just have time for a quick cup of tea before he woke up. As she waited for the kettle to boil she dropped bread in the toaster and planned out her day. She’d give James a bath, and then she wanted to drive into town. Each Saturday there was a farmer’s market held at the community center and she needed to restock her supplies.
It must be the thought of getting out of the house for a few hours that’s making me feel so happy.
With perfect timing she had just finished her breakfast when she heard James start to cry. She jogged up the stairs and into the nursery.
"Hello, my beautiful little man," she crooned to him, as she lifted him onto her shoulder.
He gurgled happily as she placed him on the change table to replace his diaper, his tiny fist rubbing at his gums.
"What are you doing in there?" she asked him. She pushed his little fist away to see his gums more clearly. Two little white teeth were starting to work their way through. Not just any teeth Catherine suspected; these were in the position where Vincent had long canines.
"Well, look at that, you’re more and more like your Daddy every day." She rubbed his tummy and smiled down at him.
He kicked out his feet and attempted a gummy smile in response, picking up on her good mood.
Catherine moved to the rocking chair in the corner of the room. It was situated so she could look outside while she fed James; she had a view right down to the lake. Not that she looked out that often, mostly she was transfixed by this small miracle, her beautiful son.
What are we going to do James?
This thought constantly slipped into her mind. Till now she’d kept pushing it away, but the day was coming when she would have to make some decisions about their future.
Fed and bathed she dressed James warmly and strapped his baby carrier into the car.
"Off we go little one, let’s go shopping."
She found a parking spot easily enough, close to the community center and with James ensconced deep in his pram she headed into the market.
Catherine spent the next hour caught up in the festive atmosphere. Musicians played, children ran underfoot, hawkers called out their wares and fresh food abounded. She bought bread, fresh yeasty mounds still warm from the oven, free-range eggs, cheese, meat and local fruit and vegetables, all seasonal and so fresh.
William would love it here.
The thought struck her unasked and brought back all she was trying to ignore for a few short hours. She had started the day feeling so happy, an emotion that was deserting her swiftly. James had been sleeping during their time at the market. Catherine knew he’d be awake again soon wanting another feed, so she headed back to Meadow House pleased with all her purchases.
After they’d had their respective lunches Catherine placed a blanket on the floor. There was a break in the weather and sun was shining in through the living room window. She undid his little jumpsuit and released his arms and legs and removed his diaper. She thought it would be good for him to have a kick on the floor in the warm sun. Catherine smiled down at James and tickled his toes, running her thumb across the sharp nails. She elicited cherubic smiles from him for her efforts.
She could hardly believe James was already six weeks old. She had to tell Vincent soon. She hoped he was well enough to handle the news. Jamie had kept her apprised of Vincent’s health during the months of her pregnancy. She’d said Vincent was working harder than ever, but was fairly quiet and didn’t seek out the company of others. It broke her heart to hear that, but he was alive and safe in the tunnels, however, she would have to return to New York soon. With the man called ‘Gabriel’ dead and Moreno arrested all that was stopping her now were her own fears, which were many.
Catherine couldn’t settle that evening once James was in bed for the night. She wandered out onto the verandah and watched the moon as it disappeared behind the clouds. She rested her arms on the railing, and felt sadness descending on her once more. The nights were worst. During the day she was busy with James and could convince herself that was all she needed to think about. The nights were relentless. They brought bitter regret, irrational fears and lost dreams. The nights were not her friend.
The rain started again as if in response to her mood. It knocked leaves off the trees and the accompanying wind picked them up and swirled them heedless through the air. Catherine shivered and returned to the house.
Catherine turned off the television as it was late and time to think about preparing for bed. She’d finally settled on re-runs of ‘I Love Lucy’ to pass the evening. Mind numbing slapstick and canned laughter were all she could handle.
"Who is it? Who’s there?" She was worried; the house really was quite secluded.
"Vincent." That one word struck her to the heart.
"No," she cried, flinging wide the door, "Vincent, oh Vincent."
She was in his arms in an instant; strong arms that encircled her and held her close—would never let her go. How she had missed having his arms around her, protecting her, making her feel safe and loved. Wet arms, smelling of leather and smoke. Very wet arms. She pulled back, eyes wide and mouth agape.
"You’re drenched, come inside." She reached for his hands and pulled him inside, never taking her eyes from his face, not believing this was reality. It must be a dream; at least it was a change from her recent nightmares.
"This isn’t real, you’re not here." She reached up and touched his cold cheek.
"I’m here Catherine." His fevered eyes burned with the sight of her, so close, so perfect.
Sit here, I’ll light the fire, take your cloak off. She knelt on the hearth, struck a match and held it in her trembling hand to the tinder under the logs.
"How did you get here?" she asked as she worked.
"I hardly remember; train, truck, on foot." His explanation was brief. The tiredness in his features told more about his efforts than his words revealed.
"How did you know I was here?" She moved closer, kneeling before him, feasting her eyes on him, her Vincent, here, so close.
"Jenny." He said simply.
"Of course, Jenny," Catherine mused. "It must have been in one of her dreams."
"You’re asking the wrong questions Catherine." Vincent shook his head slightly and looked down into her eyes.
"I think the ‘whys’ are more important."
"The whys terrify me, Vincent."
"We have to talk; we need to talk," he declared.
"I know," she replied. "Let me put on coffee. I think it’s going to be a long night."
She returned to find him drying himself by the fire. She couldn’t pull her eyes away; he looked so beautiful in the glow from the flames. His heavenly face restored—and after so long—he had been through so much.
"Coffee," she announced moving to sit beside him on the sofa. "I think we need it strong and black tonight." She’d also hurriedly made sandwiches thinking he’d be hungry after such an arduous journey.
"Thank you," he said as he drank deeply, gratefully of the black brew, savoring the flavor and the warmth filling his stomach.
"Catherine, I had to come. I had to know—for myself—if there is anything left for us." The admission was excruciating for Vincent.
"Oh Vincent, surely you know how I feel about you?" She reached out and placed a hand on his sleeve.
"I did—before—but after my illness, when our Bond was … lost …so much was lost. I couldn’t remember so many things." He spoke slowly, trying to explain his uncertainty.
"And now—can you remember now?" She desperately hoped he could remember everything, most importantly what had occurred between them in the cave.
"Mostly, there are still some gaps, but I remember what we meant to each other—I remember our dream." He closed his eyes as if seeing it all again as he spoke the words.
"It’s still our dream Vincent. The Bond was wonderful but it was not everything."
"You left, Catherine." He reached inside his satchel, lying near his cloak, and pulled out a book. He handed her the book.
"It’s the journal I gave you after …why …?" She asked.
She opened the journal and read the inscription she’d written there: ‘With love all things are possible – forever, Catherine’. She turned another page, and another, then flicked all the pages.
"Yes, it’s empty, I’m empty," he admitted. "My life started when I met you and when you went away it …" He hung his head. "Catherine, I know I’m not the same man you fell in love with."
"Oh, Vincent, never think that," she pleaded. "I do love you, but so much was happening—at work—the danger was too great—and there were things I wanted to tell you but you seemed so … fragile."
"So you left," he stated again for a second time.
"Vincent, look at me," she grabbed his chin and forced him to raise his head. "I did not want to leave, but I had to believe Jenny’s premonitions after what happened with that watcher, and … there were other considerations."
"Vincent, I never meant to be anything less than truthful with you." She looked deeply into his eyes, took a slow breath and continued. "But I have been—less than forthcoming." She paused, unsure how to continue, how best to explain—everything.
Weakly at first in the distance James started to cry. Catherine watched Vincent closely as he shook his head and covered his ears.
"I’m sorry, Catherine," he looked distressed and confused. "For weeks I’ve been suffering—I’ve heard a baby crying when there is no baby, it comes and goes, it’s driving me mad."
"Vincent, uncover your ears." She pulled his hands down as James’ cries increased in volume.
"I don’t understand." He looked questioningly at Catherine.
"Come with me." She stood; he took her offered hand and in a daze allowed himself to be drawn across the living room, through the dining room, into the entrance hall and up the stairs. The cries were louder, more insistent now; cries of distress that only a mother could …
She led him through a doorway into a bedroom, a nursery, and to the side of a crib. He looked down in disbelief at the red-faced infant lying there.
She reached in and lifted the baby onto her shoulder and instantly the crying changed to heart-wrenching sobs as she soothingly rubbed her hand in circles on the baby’s back.
"You have a baby?" he asked in agonized disbelief. No wonder she left me, but whose?
"We have a baby, Vincent. He’s our son."
"No, how, we never …" He spread his hands before himself then backed away to the edge of the room. He turned and leaned against the wall for support, to touch something solid, real and undeniable. No, this cannot be, I am dreaming.
"Vincent, look at me." This was not the way she’d wanted it to go. "In the cave, when you nearly died, something happened."
He rounded on her, aghast, emotions rising, "Catherine, no!"
"Yes, Vincent, and it was beautiful."
"In that cave—on the ground, in the dirt—NO!" Tears were running down his face unhindered. "How can you bear to look at me?"
"You almost died in my arms." She was crying now too, remembering her anguish at the thought of losing him. "When I brought you back, we were so close, I was breathing for you and gradually it all changed and we were kissing and—all the barriers we’d built were gone—it was just us, our souls came together, our bodies taking what they needed—giving life."
The initial shock was subsiding. Vincent moved closer.
"A baby. A son?" He’d never thought to hear those words in connection with himself, had wondered if it was even possible.
"Yes, Vincent, your son. You’re a father."
She passed the baby into his arms and he held him at arm’s length, looking down on this small miracle.
"And he is beautiful, Vincent, just like his father." Vincent looked even closer then.
"He is ..?"
"He is himself, he is us and one day he’ll be a man."
Vincent studied the baby’s hands, noted the clawed tips. "It won’t be easy for him."
"But he’ll have us; he’ll have you to show him the way."
"His name—have you named him?"
"James," she proudly told him, "James Vincent."
"James Vincent," he repeated it slowly, sealing the name in his heart.
"Let’s go downstairs, I think he’ll need another feed before he settles for the night."
Ever so carefully, as if carrying a fragile piece of fine porcelain, Vincent carried James downstairs. He held the baby close and kissed the top of his head. Once Catherine was seated on the sofa she reached out her arms for James and he passed the baby to her. She started to release her clothes and bare her breast, Vincent looked away, blushing.
"Please, don’t be embarrassed," she begged. "Maybe you can eat some sandwiches now and the coffee will still be warm."
He sat at the end of the sofa and helped himself to food, marveling at the changes taking place in his life. He glanced shyly at Catherine feeding James—it was the most wonderful sight he had ever seen. A question hammered in the back of his mind.
"In the cave—when we—did I hurt you?" He had to know the truth. It had always been his fear that he would lose control.
"No, Vincent," she spoke with loving reassurance, "you could never hurt me."
Relief flooded through him.
They sat companionably and when Catherine burped James and shifted him to feed from her other breast Vincent moved closer to sit beside them. They leaned near to each other, their heads rested on the back of the sofa and touched, ever so slightly.
"Vincent, do you remember me telling you about this place? She asked.
"Yes, there is a glen where you used to lie in the grass as a child and watch the clouds."
"It was one of our dreams for you to come here and see it," she reminded him. "I can’t believe it has come true; just wait till you see it in the daylight."
"This is all a dream to me, Catherine."
"Don’t be afraid to have it."
"I don’t deserve you." He slowly shook his head, eyes downcast.
"You deserve it all," she emphasized. "I want to give you everything."
"How can we make this work?"
"Just believe, with your whole heart, that it is possible."
James had fallen asleep and released her nipple. Vincent stared, entranced by the drop of milk sitting on its tip. She gently passed their sleeping son to him, adjusted her attire, drew her legs under her and snuggled in against his side. At this moment her contentment was complete.
Come morning, Catherine phoned Peter Alcott so he could put Father’s mind to rest about Vincent’s whereabouts. Then she rang Jenny.
"Hi, Jenny," she said.
"Cathy. Is everything all right?" asked Jenny worriedly.
"What do you think Jenny?"
"Is he there? Are you still talking to me?"
"My baby has his father; I might just talk to you."
"And you Cathy, what do you have?"
"Everything, Jenny, truly everything."
"I’m so glad. I insist on meeting this man of yours very soon."
"I really think that just may be possible."
"Ah… I’m a sucker for a happy ending."
"Bye, Jenny and thank you."
Catherine peeked inside the guest room and found an empty bed. Panic. Instant fear.
Has he left … Oh, Vincent, don’t be gone, I couldn’t stand it.
Moving along the landing she stopped outside the nursery and breathed a soundless sigh of relief. He was there, standing silently by the crib. He just stood there in his dried pants with his woolen undershirt hanging loose and feet in nothing but socks. His hair was mussed from sleep and Catherine could not recall a sight more heart-warming. A father watching over his child as it slept. Unwilling to intrude, she tip-toed back along the landing and down the stairs to start breakfast.
They had talked for hours last night, once James was returned to his crib. Everything seemed so simple by firelight and under cover of darkness. It had almost felt like they were back in the tunnels. Whereas before Catherine had dreaded the nights she’d spent all alone, now, conversely the daylight was bringing new fears for her. Now the sun was up would Vincent retreat from her as he had so often in the past?
She would have loved nothing more last night than for Vincent to share her bed, but did not suggest it. She did not think she could handle his rejection so soon after his arrival so she’d made up the guest room for him. Baby steps—they needed to get to know each other again, move past their fears and find themselves.
"Good morning, Catherine," said Vincent from the doorway. He’d dressed more fully since she’d spied him in James’ room. He now had his boots on and his over shirt. His hair was still in disarray and watching him she felt like she was eating him with her eyes.
"Good morning, did you sleep well?" she asked, smiling sweetly.
"Better than well," he replied, filling himself with the sight and scent of her. "I have not had such a sleep in months."
"Oh …" Her guilt over leaving him once again resurfaced thanks to this revelation, it was not buried very deeply or very well.
"Please," he begged, a haunted expression entering his eyes, "I didn’t mean to upset you."
Taking a steadying breath, Catherine calmed herself. "I usually have breakfast in the kitchen if that’s all right. I love the way the sun shines in."
"That would be lovely." He followed her lead and let the unintended hurt go. "I’ve never had a meal in such a wondrous setting before."
"We’ve got fresh squeezed orange juice, organic muesli, bacon and eggs, fresh bread we can toast and of course coffee, or tea if you’d prefer," she rambled on in nervousness when unexpectedly Vincent moved toward her and took her in his arms, kissing the top of her head.
"It’s all right, Catherine," he whispered, "we can do this."
She loved him all over again in that moment.
"We can, can’t we?" She hoped against hope that it was true.
It was easier after that. They settled into the breakfast nook and enjoyed a most marvelous meal, together in the sunshine.
She couldn’t get over how different Vincent looked with the sunlight on him. He was spectacular. His mane of hair positively glowed with titian highlights and his face was open and bright, his eyes were even bluer than usual, reflecting the blue of the sky.
As the meal progressed they relaxed even further and silently vowed each to the other, to continue this easy companionship, take things slowly and try to become a family.
They knew that eventually they would have to return to New York but for now that knowledge was ignored, relegated to some distant future. They had missed so much that normal couples take for granted and the chance to taste even a fraction of that was worth the risks.
Time was passing swiftly. Autumn was progressing and the evenings were starting to close in much earlier.
Vincent and Catherine had spent weeks together now, building, ever building their relationship as never before. They continued to deepen their connection away from the trials and tribulations of their previous existence. Vincent’s Bond with Catherine had not returned but his connection to James was strengthening; through their confirmed inner Bond as well as in the more typical way between parent and child.
And James was a true delight. He continued to grow at a healthy rate and was developing a fine layer of fur on the top of his hands and feet. His hair was coming in thick and full and his awareness of his parents and his surroundings was increasing. He was a truly happy baby who loved his bath time, his feeds and falling asleep resting on his father’s chest as Vincent relaxed on the sofa.
Catherine would wander past at such times and drop a kiss on James’ head and then one on Vincent’s. They were becoming comfortable with giving affection but never past an unspoken point.
Once a week, Catherine left her two men at home to bond while she went into town to buy food and supplies. Other than that they were never separated. Together, with James in a sling in front of Vincent, they would wander the grounds, even lying one unseasonably warm day in the field Catherine had once told Vincent about. They had lain for an hour with James asleep and watched the clouds sliding across the sky, finding shapes of animals and faces, and telling silly stories from their childhoods.
Vincent explored everything with such excitement and reveled in the joy radiating from Catherine as she showed him around. Only once did they have to return to the house for fear of encountering someone. With Vincent’s hearing being so acute he had heard the sound of a car approaching and they were well inside before its arrival. As the car drew nearer, Catherine, who had been looking out from behind the curtain, whooped in surprised glee.
"Brace yourself Vincent," Catherine called as she flew out the front door, "you’re about to meet Jenny."
"Jenny Aronson, I do declare," called Catherine, bounding down the front stairs. "You are full of surprises these days."
Catherine threw herself into Jenny’s arms, squeezing tightly. "Thank you, thank you," she whispered in her friend’s ear.
"You’re welcome," replied Jenny thrilled to see the obvious change in Cathy. "That’s what friends are for."
"How long can you stay," asked Catherine.
"Just for tonight," replied Jenny. "I wanted to assure myself that all was well."
"Come on in and meet Vincent. He’ll be full of nerves by now just from waiting. And James, he’s grown so much."
Seeing Cathy so obviously happy, Jenny could have turned right around and headed back to New York. She felt nervous too about meeting her mystery man.
"Will he mind? I should have called," she said, suddenly feeling ambivalent about the imminent meeting. "You know I just go with it sometimes. I woke up this morning and thought ‘I’m going to Litchfield today’, and here I am."
"No, Jenny," Catherine comforted her friend, "He will be delighted to finally meet you. I promise."
And it was true. There was the inevitable moment of shock when they were finally face to face. The situation was defused when Jenny burst out with, "I’ve seen you in my dreams, but I thought you were a metaphor for something." She covered her mouth, embarrassed by her frank statement. When Catherine and Vincent started laughing so did she and it wasn’t long before all three were talking none stop.
James had picked up on everyone’s high spirits and bounced happily on each knee in turn, dribbling over his teething ring as he was passed around the adults, each vying for his attention. Catherine gave James a feed and took him upstairs to his crib, leaving Vincent and Jenny to chat.
"I sincerely thank you for sending me that letter," said Vincent, welling with emotion.
"I just had to," responded Jenny. "She was putting on a brave face last time I saw her. I just couldn’t stand by and watch her fading away."
"You took a big risk," said Vincent.
"Not really. I’d dreamt of you both and this is what I saw." She spread her arms wide indicating their life in this house. "Catherine had told me about you but I didn’t realize how accurate my visuals were."
"You have an amazing gift Jenny."
"Perhaps I’m in the wrong line of work. Wonder if psychic dreaming pays more than publishing? At least I’d get plenty of sleep." She giggled.
That evening was one of the happiest Catherine could remember. They all helped to prepare the meal, chatting and laughing as they went. There was never a strained moment, particularly after Catherine produced a bottle of red wine to accompany the steak and baked vegetables.
The evening went late. Eventually all the dishes were washed and dried and re-stacked and it was time to retire. When Catherine told Jenny that she would be sharing with her, Jenny looked up in surprise. Vincent suddenly mumbled a hasty good night and disappeared up the stairs.
"I’m sorry Cathy," whispered Jenny. "I just naturally assumed that you and Vincent …"
"No," she replied wistfully. "Not yet."
"Don’t worry. So much is ‘right’ with us now, that wasn’t ‘right’ before, and I refuse to stress about it." She put her arm around Jenny’s shoulder and gave her a comforting hug. "He loves me, he just needs time."
More time. That’s all Catherine hoped it was. She was trying not to push Vincent, just encourage him with her passing touches and quick, almost chaste kisses, and never on the lips. It was driving her crazy, always holding back her need for him, suppressing passion in favor of friendship. Without their Bond it was easier to ignore their true feelings and direct all their love toward James who lapped it up. As with all babies; he was the most important person in his own little baby world and put constant demands on his parents.
The following day, after a breakfast Jenny was ready to leave.
"Thanks again Jen," said Catherine during their final hug goodbye.
"Come home soon," replied Jenny.
Turning to Vincent she held out her hand, unsure of the etiquette of taking one’s leave from so enigmatic a person.
Vincent moved closer and hugged Jenny, her admittance to his inner circle complete, physically and metaphorically.
"I’ll bring them both home, very soon," he promised.
With that she slid in behind the wheel and started up the road, waving out the window as she disappeared around the bend.
With Vincent’s arm around Catherine’s shoulder they wandered back into the house.
The days settled back into a routine revolving around the needs of James. Feed, sleep, bath, change diaper, play, feed, sleep and so it went. Vincent was as adept as Catherine in his care and stored every day away as a precious memory that he could take out and polish on some dark future day.
Since Jenny’s visit things were not so comfortable or simple between them anymore for some reason. Vincent made excuses to leave the room while she was breast feeding. James’ other needs were usually handled individually now, where previously they’d worked happily shoulder to shoulder. Using the bathroom was well-timed to avoid any embarrassing encounters, had been since his arrival. Hearing Catherine in the shower was an utter torment, the desire he felt for her crucified him with its presence and leaving the house to stand outside in the cold air was often the only solution.
Vincent knew why it was happening, but felt powerless to stop it. Jenny’s assumption that they were sharing a bed had highlighted the ubiquitous elephant in the room. He could no longer sense Catherine’s feeling through their Bond but her body language and those smoky looks she directed at him spoke volumes. If they were any ‘hotter’ he thought he would self-combust. She wanted him, of that he had no doubt. He wanted her too, desperately, but he was terrified. Finally, a week after Jenny’s visit the elephant exploded.
As usual he had taken the opportunity to shower while Catherine was feeding James. He enjoyed the shower, it was so different and modern compared to the bathing pools Below. He loved being surrounded by Catherine’s shampoos and soaps, perfumes and lotions. He felt her keenly in this room but also imagined himself an imposter, an intruder in her life. He feared that shortly the proverbial bubble would burst and he would be alone again. How could he protect his heart from breaking? How could he be what she wanted him to be? Even with James, how could they have a future?
He opened the bathroom door.
"Catherine." He was surprised to see her there, blocking his exit and had to stop quickly so as not to run into her.
"We have to talk."
"James is in bed, he should sleep through."
"I’ll just go and put more clothes on." His undershirt hung outside his pants, his feet were bare.
"There’s no need." She was looking at him in that hungry way again.
"Very well. Where do you wish to do this?" he asked innocently.
Her eyes widened appreciatively at his unintended suggestion. "Perhaps the living room might be safest for now," she replied glancing provocatively at him.
He followed her downstairs, trying in vain to find a reason not to, but fully realizing the inevitability of this conversation. He was secretly glad that it had come, he knew this dream he was living could not continue.
Catherine had lit the fire in his absence and also several candles around the room. He sat anxiously on the edge of the sofa while she busied herself closing the curtains. He rested his elbows on his knees and put his head in his hands. He had tried and sentenced himself in the space of ten seconds. It was over. She wanted to return to New York and take up her life, without him. He would return to the tunnels and hopefully see James occasionally.
His eyes were closed but he was aware of her moving closer. When he opened them he found her kneeling before him. She reached up and pulled his hands away from his head and held them to her.
"I don’t want to cause you any pain," she began.
"Don’t struggle Catherine, there’s no need," he replied with aching humility. "This has been a beautiful dream, being a family, I will treasure it always."
"What are you saying Vincent? I don’t want this to end."
"But how can it continue?" He shook his head slightly.
"By moving forward, Vincent." She took his hands and placed them on her breasts.
He pulled them back as if he’d been burned. "Catherine, no..."
"It’s what I want." She wriggled closer between his feet and rested her hands on his knees.
"But you belong to James now."
"James is willing to share," she teased, "if it makes his mother happy."
"But Catherine, I can’t."
"I already belong to you. We already have."
"But I don’t remember." He shook he head in frustration and looked at her with tender sadness.
"Well I do. It was wonderful and I’ll remember for both of us."
She moved closer, pressing a kiss to Vincent’s lips. He opened his mouth slightly in surprise and she took quick advantage by breaching his defenses and exploring his mouth thoroughly. He started to respond, slowly, pulling her fully against him as she knelt there between his legs. She felt superb and to be able to hold her so close was heavenly. What she was doing in his mouth was magic and he tentatively engaged her tongue, feeling tingles of anticipation run down his spine. What they were doing was incredible but suddenly he wanted more, could feel the floodgates of his blocked emotions being broken open by a mere kiss.
She really wants me.
Breaking away momentarily he confessed, "Catherine, I love you, don’t let me hurt you."
"You couldn’t," she murmured.
"You must stop me if I do. I may not be able to stop myself."
"I won’t want to stop you, my love."
"You must promise." His breathing had become erratic, his chest heaving as he pulled Catherine off the floor until she was lying on top of him on the sofa.
"I promise. But you must promise not to hold back, take it all for yourself, for us."
In answer he wrapped a leg around one of hers and pulled it close between his legs, to press against his need. With his free hand he pushed back her tumbled hair and ran a clawed finger across her lips. She surprised him again, this time by capturing his finger in her mouth and sucking on it, running her soft tongue along its length. He could feel his response deep in his stomach and closed his eyes to enjoy this new sensation. She then grabbed the tip of his claw in her teeth and refused to let go, smiling wickedly around his trapped finger, her eyes full of promise.
Once she’d released his finger he ran his hands along her sides, gently brushing the sides of her breasts during his travels. She was so beautiful. He could feel her hands; she had found a way in under his shirt and was doing some exploring of her own. He could feel her quivering and hot against him.
"Catherine, please wait," he implored.
"What’s wrong my love?"
"Not here, please. If this means forever, I want it to be in our bed." A small request but suddenly very important to him. It had to be right.
In response Catherine climbed to her feet and tugged him up off the sofa. She looked lush and ripe to Vincent. They moved together, holding hands as they walked through the house and made their way with newfound hope for the future, up the staircase to their waiting heaven.
Vincent woke with Catherine spooned against him. The sun was just sneaking into the room around the edges of the curtains. He was content. What had come to pass last night had truly given him back his life. He’d remembered. The instant he had finally toppled over the edge and landed safely on Catherine’s shores a veil had lifted and every last detail of their lives had returned to him. He’d even remembered, with some shame and much gratitude what had happened in the cave; waking to find Catherine in his arms, their mouths joined and shortly after, their bodies followed – they’d become one.
He continued to lie quietly beside his Catherine, feeling a wonderful sense of peace suffusing him. He kissed the top of her head and felt her stir in his arms. Suddenly, a sense of relief filled him, followed by sheer happiness, joy radiating incrementally. Her joy. Catherine’s happiness.
"Catherine," he whispered. "Are you awake?"
"Um," she mumbled. "I’m just enjoying this."
"Catherine," he continued. "I can feel you."
"I know. I can feel you too," she replied. "You feel wonderful."
"No, I mean our Bond, it’s returned."
She rolled over and pushed herself up on her elbows to look down into Vincent’s stunned blue eyes.
"Really…? That’s amazing."
"It was always such an enormous joy to me, to know your feelings, sense your nearness. When I lost that I was devastated, as if I’d lost you, or didn’t deserve you anymore."
"You deserve everything Vincent. I’m glad the Bond is back but it doesn’t define us, it never could. It’s our souls that call out to each other, they recognize kindred spirits. That’s our true bond."
She snuggled in close, trying to make all the gaps disappear. He put his arms around her and held her close. He would never let her go.
"It has been said that the child is the meaning of this life. Today, we celebrate the child, this new life that has been brought into our world. We welcome the child with love, that he may be able to love. We welcome the child with gifts, that he may learn generosity. And we welcome the child with a name. Vincent, Catherine," Father asked, "what name do you give this child?"
They looked with love at each other, then at their baby held firmly in Vincent’s arms and out toward the gathering. All their friends were here, the people who had wished them well in their journey and those who had been part of that journey, including an amazed Jenny Aronson, the tunnel’s newest helper.
"We name our child, James Vincent Wells." They spoke in unison and harmony, as they would endeavor to do everything in their life from this day forth.
Jamie stood beside Vincent and Catherine, beaming up at her namesake, pride written all over her face.
The gathering erupted and applause ensued as everyone moved in to give their good wishes. Because of the sheer number of people attending the event it had been decided to open the great hall. William had been busy for days preparing a feast to rival Winterfest and he’d thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.
Vincent handed James into Jamie’s capable arms and she took him into the crowd to parade him around his awaiting audience. Father engaged Peter and Vincent in conversation; however, Vincent’s eye was always searching to find Catherine, wherever she was in the room. Their Bond was restored but he only fully trusted his eyes at present to keep her safe. They were living as husband and wife now and sharing his chamber. Work was planned for the near future to join his chamber with others nearby to give them more space.
Jenny and Catherine were chatting near the staircase, next to the tapestries.
"This place is astounding." Jenny cast her eyes around the room, taking in the whole setting and the way tunnel dwellers and topsiders were mingling so easily. "There are lessons here about being a family that the whole world could stand to learn."
"Oh, it’s not perfect," Catherine responded looking happily around the room, "but it’s not far from it either."
"Will you be happy living down here?"
"In the short term I will. In the longer term, I’ve made an offer on the brownstone I was renting by the park. There’s a basement and Vincent’s confident that we can push an entrance through. It’ll be the perfect compromise; I can live in both worlds. I’m hoping James can truly be a child of both worlds too, eventually. He may even be the one to bridge the gap for Vincent and finally bring his father into the daylight. That’s my dream. Maybe one day the world will be more tolerant of his differences."
"Well I know a good lawyer if you need one to fight an equality case," joked Jenny.
"Don’t joke. Who knows, in the future it just may be possible." Catherine sincerely hoped it would be so.
"Have you spoken with Joe since you’ve been back?"
"Joe," she sighed guiltily, "you know he never even knew about my pregnancy and certainly knows nothing about Vincent. He thought it was only for my own safety that I went into hiding. Dear Joe, if he only knew the truth. He’s been nagging me about going back to work, but I’ve been away so long there’s someone else doing my job anyway. He doesn’t really need me there and he’s so busy now he’s the acting District Attorney that he has no time to be suspicious of my life. I’m afraid Joe is just going to have to stay in the dark for now."
Later that evening Vincent and Catherine stood together looking down at their son.
"He really is a miracle," said Vincent as he shook his head in wonder at this small being that had captured everyone’s hearts, not least his parents.
"He was certainly a hit today," replied Catherine her arm around Vincent’s waist. "He’s exhausted now."
They each bent low and kissed James’ brow. Vincent blew out the candle near the new cradle that Cullen had made for James.
They moved over to the other side of the room. Vincent sat in his ornately decorated chair and pulled Catherine into his lap, hugging her around the middle. He breathed deeply, pressing his face into her sweetly scented hair.
"How are you feeling?" she asked, twisting around to look lovingly into his eyes.
"I have no words," he confessed.
"Try one," she suggested and waited for his response.
"Blessed," came his heartfelt reply.
"That’s a good word," she affirmed.
"Catherine, there is only one thing that could make me happier," Vincent said gently.
"What’s that my love?"
"Would you consent to marry me during Winterfest?" He held his breath and waited.
"Oh, Vincent, yes, yes, yes, a thousand times, yes," Catherine accepted excitedly.
"Most truly, Vincent!"
He heard her words aloud and felt her elation through their Bond. Vincent was filled with wonder anew at the peace and contentment that only Catherine could bestow.