BEHIND THE SCENES

SEASON 2

“I WISHED IT WERE YOU”

EIGHTEENTH IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE

 

It was Saturday morning. Catherine woke early and changed her clothes for a day of intense cleaning in her apartment. With her hair tied back in a pony tail and her face scrubbed clean, she poured herself a large cup of coffee and grabbed a piece of toast.

She glanced through the newspaper and quickly put it with the recycling, then grabbed a spray bottle and roll of paper towels. After she cleaned the windows, she opened both sets of sliding doors leading to the balcony to let the fresh air in.

Next, she attacked her bathroom, and as she left it to walk to the kitchen, she stopped in her tracks and smiled as she cocked her head. “I can’t believe I never noticed the balcony got so much sun!” she said to herself.

She spent almost the entire day dusting and scrubbing, polishing and waxing. When her apartment was finally spotless, she glanced out the doors to the balcony. “Better take a look out there...”

She grabbed a broom and a dust pan and moved the small amount of furniture she had to one side. She made faces as she slammed down the broom on top of the several spiders scurrying for shelter. “I’m glad I can’t see these at night, or else I’d never come out here!”

The balcony took very little time to clean, and Catherine soon propped the broom against the wall and sat down in a chair to look out over the city. In the distance, she could see another balcony decorated with plants and flowers. Squinting her eyes, she could make out the stunning colors of red and yellow and purple.  “Why didn’t I think of that?!”

She looked at her own balcony and thought about putting different plants around. With a smile, she shot to her feet. “Why not?!”

She was walking the aisles with a cart full of potting soil and a spade, as well as a couple of huge planters and a few small plants. She walked up and down each row oblivious to the fact that the store was closing.

“Excuse me, ma’am.”

Catherine turned around to see a middle aged man behind her. He had kind eyes and a warm smile. “Yes?”

“Can I help you find something?”

“I was...um...just looking.”

“Okay...um…we’re closing soon, and I thought maybe I could help.”

Catherine looked distressed. “I’m sorry. I hadn’t realized it was so late! I’ve been walking around and getting more confused by the second.”

“I noticed.”

Catherine blushed slightly. “I have to admit I’m kind of overwhelmed.”

The man laughed at her, then narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “Let me guess...you’re...a doctor. You live in a condo with a balcony, but it’s only a few stories high and you want some privacy. You saw someone else’s balcony decorated with plants, and you want to do yours that way, but because of your lack of time you need a low maintenance plant and you don’t know what you want.”

Catherine smiled. “You’re pretty good. How’d you guess?”

“My sister-in-law has the same purse as you, so I know you’re not hurting for money, and your hands are too smooth to be a laborer.”

Catherine wrinkled her nose and smiled as she leaned forward. “Well, I said you’re pretty good. Most of it was right, except I’m a lawyer, and the apartment is on the 18th floor.”

The man looked around at his plants. “18th floor, huh. What kind of sun exposure?”

“I face the east so...the morning sun.”

“Low maintenance?”

“Well, some nights I barely remember to feed myself, but I know the end results will be worth it, so if I have to take on something that needs to be carefully monitored...I’m willing to try.”

“Well, I see you’ve picked out some pretty big planters, so I take it space isn’t a problem?”

“Yeah, they should fit easily without being...overwhelming.”

“Okay...last question. Are you doing this because you love plants, or are you trying to decorate your balcony a little bit...you know, for entertaining. Big parties or some alone time with the boyfriend?”

Catherine looked surprised, then quickly shook her head. “Um...no big parties...just quiet nights with...” She chuckled as she thought of Vincent. “...the boyfriend.”

“Okay! How do you feel about roses?”

“I love roses!”

The guy smiled and nodded. “Come on, follow me, I’ll show you all our choices.”

Catherine was overwhelmed again as he showed her all of the colors that were available. “How will I ever choose? I mean...I know what all of the colors are supposed to signify, but...how can I choose just one?!”

He cocked his head curiously as he assessed her character. “Do you mind spending a little extra money?”

Catherine shrugged. “No. Why?”

“I have a very special rose bush. It’s unique, but I think you’re going to love it. It’s a hybrid... a mixture of red and white roses together.”

“That sounds perfect!”

“All right. I’ll give you a typed sheet of care instructions. I promise you, if you follow all the instructions, this baby will thrive.”

“I promise!”

He looked at her cart and smiled. “You’re going to need more potting soil...”

“Oh.”

“How’d you get here?”

“My car.”

“Your boyfriend at home to help you lug all this stuff up to your apartment?”

Catherine frowned and gave her standard lie. “No...um...he’s working tonight.”

“Tell you what...you can pay for what you need, I’ll load it up and deliver it for you.

Catherine was surprised by his kindness and looked at him uncertainly. “Um…”

The man stuck out his hand. “Look, we live in New York. I can see you’re worried, and that’s probably a good thing. My name’s Rick Barten and I’m the owner of this place. I can dump it at your front door, and your boyfriend can lug it to your apartment for you.”

Catherine shook his hand with a smile. “Thank you!”

“There’s a condition though?”

“What?” Catherine said warily.

“When it blooms, you let my wife and me come see it? She starts the plants from seedlings for me, and they’re almost like our kids.”

Catherine laughed aloud and extended her hand. “Deal!”

She paid, then left, and as promised, Rick delivered the plants about a half an hour later. When he saw how close her balcony was to her front door he smiled. “I don’t do this for everyone, but I’ll help you get this stuff outside.”

Catherine grinned. “I’m not going to turn down help!”

Rick carried the bags of soil out while Catherine carried the planter. He stacked the three bags of potting soil by her door, then went back out for the rose bush, while Catherine carried the pruning shears and small shovel, then went back for the smaller flowers.

Catherine opened up the first bag of soil, then started to fill the bottom of the planter with small shovels of soil.

Rick turned around and rolled his eyes.  “Here,” he said as he grinned and picked up the bag to fill in the lower half of the planter.

Catherine looked at the rose bush and before she could reach for it, Rick had grabbed it and lifted it into the air. “Can you take off the plastic around the roots?” Catherine quickly did as he asked, and Rick slipped the bush into the middle of the planter. “Okay, now you can use your shovel to fill in around the bottom.”

“You’re amazing! Your wife is one lucky girl!”

“Lady, I’m the lucky one!” Rick laughed. “Look, you should be good to go now. Let me know if you have any problems.”

Catherine walked him to the door and quickly reached into her purse, then stepped forward with a tip in her hand. “I can’t thank you enough!”

“It was my pleasure. Now remember your promise.”

Catherine opened the door to let him out. “I will.” After he left, she headed back out and looked at the pile of work he left for her.

She spread the pots around the balcony, then carried over and started replanting the smaller plants. She smiled as she fell into a rhythm and realized she was actually having fun doing it. Satisfied with her work, she turned to the big planter and the rose bush. She quickly filled in around the bottom of the bush with more dirt and was patting down the soil when she noticed a dead stem in the middle of the bush. When she went to prune it, she was pricked by the thorns.

“Owww!!!! Damn it!!”

“Catherine, are you hurt?” Vincent asked worriedly, coming forward.

Catherine was stunned that she hadn’t heard him arrive and she blushed with embarrassment. “How long have you been there?”

“Only a moment. You were so absorbed in your work…I didn’t want to intrude.”

Catherine grinned sheepishly. “I must have appeared pretty ridiculous!”

“You looked...determined...” he said as he hid a smile.

He knelt down next to her as she looked back at the plant. “The terrace gets so much morning sun, I thought a rose bush might do well here.”

“Roses?”

“The man at the nursery said this is a very special bush. If I don’t kill it with my gardening...”

Vincent was listening, but noticed the blood on her hand from the thorn prick. “Catherine! Your hand!”

He impulsively bent his head and kissed the cut on her hand. Catherine’s heart skipped a beat when his soft lips touched her skin, and she clamped down on her emotions.

Vincent quickly realized what he had done and, shocked by his boldness, slowly raised his head and looked at her worriedly to try to gauge her reaction. His face was inches from hers, and he watched as her tongue came out to unconsciously wet her lips. Desire flared in his eyes, and he thought briefly about kissing her until he remembered who he was and what he was and lowered his eyes in shame, then made to move away.

Catherine reached for him and held his chin to stay his retreat. Vincent had no choice but to make eye contact with her. As she looked deeply in his eyes, she tried to let him know without words that she had found what he did acceptable.

A knock sounded at her door and broke the intensity of the moment. They turned from each other, Vincent with relief and Catherine with frustration.

Reminded by the intrusion that he didn’t belong in her world, Vincent briefly closed his eyes and tried to get a hold of his racing heart. His voice was thick with emotion when he spoke. “I...I should go...”

“No! Don’t...please!” Catherine begged.

“You have visitors.”

“Not for long...wait!”

She shot to her feet as Vincent called out and tried to stop her. “Catherine!”

She smiled coyly and shut the balcony doors, then ran to her front door, thinking about how quickly she could get rid of whoever was there.

Two men flashed badges at her, then invited themselves in to her apartment. Catherine was angry at the intrusion and the fact that they seemed to be searching her apartment. Vincent was ready to intervene if necessary until he heard they were agents from the CIA. He quickly scaled the wall and was out of sight instantly.

Catherine was surprised that the CIA was in her apartment and questioning her about Elliot Burch. She explained to them that she hadn’t seen Elliot in over a year and then asked them to leave.

Knowing Vincent had left, but refusing to let the intimacy of the balcony moment pass, she grabbed her coat and headed Below.

Vincent had headed to her threshold and waited, ready to go back to her at the first sign of trouble. When he felt her relief, he pushed off from the wall and started to head home. He had taken only a few steps when he felt she was coming Below, so he turned back and waited.

Catherine was climbing down the ladder a short time later. She dropped down to the dirt floor and turned to him apologetically. “I’m sorry. I had no idea it was...”

“The CIA?” he interrupted.

“Yes! They were questioning me about Elliot Burch.”

“Elliot? What did you tell them?”

Catherine shrugged it off. “I told them the truth, that I haven’t seen him in over a year.”

“He must be in some kind of trouble...”

Catherine rolled her eyes. “What else is new? Drama seems to follow him, but I am sorry for putting you in danger. I never thought...I mean…I just assumed it was one of the kids from the apartment building selling something. Vincent, I would never have put you in that position!”

“I know that, Catherine.”

“I’m glad you got away so quickly,” she said as she took a step towards him.

He knew she had been worried, and he opened his arms as she fell into them. “I am too. I would hate to have been questioned about Elliot.”

The irony was not lost on her, and she looked up at him with her head on his chest and smiled. He looked down at her, and, as earlier, they noticed how close their faces were. Catherine felt herself drawn to him, and she unconsciously moved closer. A noise was heard above them, and Vincent backed away into the shadows. Catherine sighed again as yet another intrusion broke their moment.

Vincent blew out a breath. “I...”

She shook her head in defeat. “I’ll see you soon?”

Vincent nodded, then turned and walked quickly away while Catherine climbed back up the ladder and headed home.

She sat on the edge of her bed and envisioned Vincent’s face after he kissed her hand. She was positive he had been going to kiss her. She reveled in the fact that maybe they had reached the turning point and he was finally willing to move forward. She wondered how to help him over the last hurdle.

As she got ready for bed, her mind conjured up all different scenarios, and ten minutes later she fell into bed totally frustrated.

“Soon,” she murmured, smiling as she rolled over and fell asleep.

***

The next morning, Catherine went to work and told Joe about her encounter with the CIA agents.

Joe issued her a few standard warnings about them, then went on to tell her about an older man who was gunned down in his apartment. He told her the man was in critical condition, but he wanted her to go interview him and see what he could tell them.

Catherine was walking into the hospital when she saw Greg Hughes, a detective they often worked with.

“Greg?!”

“Hey, Cath! How you doing?”

“Good! How about you?”

“I can’t complain.”

“Well, you can, but I don’t think it will do any good! What are you doing here? Got a patient to see?”

Greg smiled. “Yeah! I’m here to interview some old guy that got gunned down. Took three shots into the chest and the old geezer is still kicking!”

Stanley Kazmarek?”

“Yeah! How’d you know?”

“Joe sent me to interview him, too. He wants answers to some of his questions.”

Greg began to walk as Catherine followed him. They showed their credentials to the head nurse on duty who promptly called the doctor. 

The doctor told both of them that Stanley surprised them all and lived through the surgery. He was unable to tell them when or if he would ever wake up.

Greg and Catherine started to walk out together. Greg told Catherine that Kazmarek’s wife and son were both dead, and they believed that Kazmarek’s shooting was the result of an organized hit. Both of them wondered how a man of his age was tied to anything that would warrant an organized hit.

To her surprise, the two CIA agents who had burst into Catherine’s apartment caught up with them at the hospital entrance. They pulled rank and took over the case from both Greg and the police department and from Catherine and the DA’s office.

Catherine went back to the office and stomped into Joe’s office, ranting about the fact that they had no right to do what they were doing.

Joe sat her down and informed her that the agents left him some important information off the record. He told her that a freighter carrying illegal arms had been intercepted two weeks ago. The registry was Liberian, but they had traced the owner to a Hong Kong firm that was controlled by a holding corporation in the Cayman Islands, which in turn was controlled by Elliot Burch. Joe continued, saying the CIA thought Elliot had gotten into arms trafficking and was declaring war against his own country. Stanley Kazmarek was thought to be the link to the arms deal.

Catherine defended Elliot, saying she didn’t believe he would hire out for murder. But Joe countered with the fact that the freighter was called the Annabelle Lee, which was the same name on the card the fake delivery man dropped on Stanley after he shot him.

***

Catherine’s mind was reeling from all the information when she headed home for the night. Walking through the parking garage, she noticed a man hiding behind one of the posts.

Alarmed, she turned back and stepped up her pace. She began to panic when the car in front of her flipped on its lights, temporarily blinding her. She tried to make the stairway, but was confronted by another man. She stepped back, only to find the first man had come up directly behind her. Trapped, she watched as someone stepped out of the car and made his way toward her.

To her surprise, Elliot stood in front of her. He begged her to take a ride with him. Catherine could see his desperation, and, curious, she agreed and climbed into his car.

She confronted him with the information Joe had given her about the arms smuggling, and Elliot explained all the trouble he was having with the president of those islands. He told her he needed a favor, and then reminded her she owed him one.

Catherine was shocked when he revealed his request. He asked her for her help getting the man named Stanley Kazmarek out of the hospital. Catherine accused him of being the one who tried to kill the man in the first place, and Elliot begged her to trust him. Catherine couldn’t bring herself to commit either way, and Elliot was defeated at her lack of trust and had her dropped off at the next corner.

***

Catherine caught a cab back to her apartment and quickly changed clothes. She was troubled by what had happened and wanted to ask Vincent for his advice. She knew he was on sentry duty near the park, so she walked to the entrance and called for him on the pipes, then waited patiently for him to come to her.

Finally, the sliding door opened and he stepped forward. “Catherine?”

“I’m sorry...I know you’re working.”

“Tell me...”

“I need your advice.”

“What is it?”

“I was asked for a huge favor tonight. I don’t know if I should do it…or…if I even can do it...” Vincent cocked his head curiously, and she knew he wanted to hear more about it, so with a sigh she began. “There’s an older man named Stanley Kazmarek in a hospital room at St. Vincent’s. He’s recovering from gunshot wounds. He’s being protected by the CIA for now, but I’ve been asked to find a way to get him out of there, supposedly for his own protection.”

“Protection? How can this man be unsafe in the hands of the authorities?” Catherine shrugged and frowned as she started to pace. Vincent wondered at her indecision as he continued. “Is the person who asked this favor of you trustworthy?”

Catherine chuckled aloud as she threw her hands out to her sides, then turned to face him. “It’s Elliot.”

Vincent frowned. “Elliot Burch.”

“He says this man is important to him...whatever that means.”

“And you wonder whether you should believe him.”

Catherine nodded. “When he was talking about Kazmarek there was something in his voice...in his eyes... I don’t think he means to harm him but...”

“But you’ve been wrong about Elliot Burch before...”

“And if I make the wrong choice?!” She sighed aloud in frustration. “Elliot...the master of half truths...and he’s hiding something from me. I know it!”

Vincent lowered his head. “Earlier tonight...for a moment...I felt your fear.”

“In the garage?”

“I was coming for you...and suddenly...the fear disappeared...when you saw him.”

“Elliot may be...many things, but he would never hurt me,” Catherine answered with certainty.

“Your mind is full of doubts, but your heart still trusts this man...”

“Are you saying I should help him?”

“We must, Catherine. I owe him my life!”

Catherine shook her head angrily again. “Yes, I was gently reminded of that tonight. I owe him a favor, but you don’t owe him anything, Vincent. I was the one who went to him for help. I’m in debt to him.”

“You took on that debt to save my life as well as Father’s life. If we have the power to repay that debt...we will! Can you come with me now?”

Catherine nodded. “Of course. Where?”

Vincent didn’t elaborate, but took her hand and led her to the library. “Father, we need your help,” he announced as they walked in.

“What is it, Vincent?”

Catherine turned angrily to Vincent and grabbed his arm to make him face her. “What are you doing?”

“Helping…”

“Wait! You can’t think… Vincent, I will not allow anyone here to be involved with this!”

“With what?” Father asked curiously.

Vincent ignored him. “Catherine, it’s the only way. You must allow us to help.”

“No!”

“You’re being unreasonable!”

“I came to you for your advice, I never asked you to be involved with the outcome!”

“So I should let you take this on alone?!” Vincent growled.

“Damn it, Vincent, it’s too dangerous!” Catherine spat angrily as she slammed her hand down on Father’s desk.

“That’s why you should accept our help!”

“No!” Catherine said pointedly as she crossed her arms in front of her.

Vincent scowled, then turned away as he controlled his own anger.

Father raised amused eyebrows and smiled. “Would you like me to leave so you two can continue your dispute, or am I to stay and referee?”

Vincent turned to him, then looked back at Catherine. “We have a chance to repay a great debt we owe, and Catherine refuses to listen to reason!”

“Reason?!” Catherine exploded “How reasonable is it to put yourselves in danger! What if we’re caught? Have you thought about that?!”

Vincent scowled back. “You overstate the risks! If we come up with a carefully laid out plan...”

Catherine shook her head. “You can’t be serious?! The risks are too great…”

Father blinked in surprise at her words. He could hear himself saying something very much like that, and he wondered what had Catherine so upset. He held up his hands and stopped their arguing, then pointed to the two chairs in front of him. “Sit!” The two sat and looked away from one another as Father sighed. “Tell me...”

“Elliot Burch has asked Catherine for help.”

“Yes, Catherine! That would be me! He asked me!”

Vincent ignored her and continued. “Someone important to him is in the hospital at St. Vincent’s, and he would like to get the man out of there.”

“So…why not ask to have the man released…” Father frowned.

Vincent shrugged. “It’s not that simple. He is being guarded by the CIA. We would have to slip in and take him without being noticed.”

“That you’re even considering it is insane!” Catherine grumbled as she folded her arms across her chest.

“Elliot asked for a favor…”

Father lowered his head as his mind raced. “Elliot Burch?”

“Father, we owe him our lives!” Vincent reminded him.

“Yes, yes I know but...”

“Father!” Vincent exploded.

Father knew Vincent was right, and he held up his hand again. “Okay, Vincent! Okay...we owe him that much.”

Catherine sat up and looked at Father as if he’d lost his mind. “I thought you would be the one railing against the danger involved!”

Vincent reached over, took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “We’ve done this before...”

“Done what?”

“Removed people from the hospital...” Father admitted shamefully.

“What?!” Catherine gasped.

Father nodded as he looked away. “Mostly children. If one of the children is hurt Above...they’ll be taken to the hospital. Rebecca will go and claim the child as her own, and normally there isn’t a problem, but a few times we’ve run into…well…problems…and had to get them out of there before it was discovered they were orphans and put into the system.”

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this...” Catherine looked at them in horror. “How many times have you done this?”

Father looked away guiltily. Vincent sighed and looked at her. “A few...”

“A few?” Catherine spat. “Yet you said normally Rebecca goes…so exactly how many times is a few?”

“Three.” Father added.

“Three?!” Catherine gasped, then shook her head to clear her thoughts. She sat for several minutes, then finally nodded and took a deep breath, then looked at them curiously. “How did you manage it?”

Vincent leaned forward and took her hand. “We have two helpers who work on the inside. One is a nurse...she gets the person assigned to the room closest to the stairwell. A distraction is created, then someone slips in the room and carries the child down a flight steps...”

Father finished the story. “Where they’re placed on a gurney and Nancy, our helper, pushes them through to the lower levels of the hospital to Rob who works in the morgue. From there we take them to the tunnels.”

Vincent explained again. “Nancy is never implicated because she’s not the nurse on duty for that floor...and Rob is in the lower levels...”

Catherine nodded “So he’s never questioned...”

“Yes,” Vincent said simply.

Catherine closed her eyes then slowly shook her head. “But this is not like taking a child and bringing them back Below. They know you; they know they are going home. This man was attacked in his home and shot three times, and he’s being watched 24/7 by CIA agents. They’re not going to be distracted by some fight in the hallway!”

“Then you’ll need to create a bigger diversion for us.” Vincent said quietly.

“Me?! I can’t be involved with this!”

Father leaned forward. “It would be better for you if you were; you’d have an alibi and couldn’t be accused of the abduction. Now...we’ll have Cullen, Matthew, and Vincent place this man on a stretcher and carry him to the parking garage by Central Park.”

“That’s a long way!” Catherine objected.

Vincent waved his hand dismissively. “Yes, but it’s far enough away to be certain we can deliver him to Elliot without interference.”  

Catherine threw up her hands in frustration. “I cannot believe we’re having this discussion! This was the last thing in the world I expected either of you to say!’ She turned to Father. “Why? Why would you do this?”

“I owe him my life...”

Catherine held her hands over her face for a few seconds, then sighed. “I can’t believe I’m saying this but...all right!”

Vincent went over and tapped a message on the pipes. It was ten minutes before an answer came back. “Tonight! Nancy works tonight.”

“Tonight?!” Catherine gasped.

“Can you get a hold of Elliot that quickly?” Vincent asked.

“I...can try...yes!”

Father nodded. “Let Rob know what we’re planning and have him tell Nancy. Then get Cullen and Matthew to help you.” Vincent tapped out another message while Catherine sat in shock.

Father touched her arm. “Catherine, let’s go over what type of distraction you’ll have to make...”

“The distraction I’ll have to make… What if Kazmarek decides to scream at the top of his lungs? That may trump my small distraction!”

“She’s right, Father...” Vincent acknowledged.

 Nancy can see that a sedative is administered before he’s moved. What do you think?”

Catherine turned to him in disbelief. “I...can’t even think, Father. I...would have bet my life you wouldn’t agree to anything this...this…”

“Crazy?” he finished. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. Now...the distraction?”

Catherine blew out a long breath. “I’ll come up with something...”

“Catherine, it must be big enough to give Vincent the time they need to get this man out of there.”

“It will be, I promise. I won’t let anyone down.”

***

Catherine headed home to change clothes and then returned Below. Vincent, Cullen and Matthew met her at her threshold.

“I can’t believe we’re doing this!” Catherine gasped again for what seemed like the millionth time.

Vincent took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “We’ll talk about the plan as we walk...”

Cullen started first. “You’ll cause a loud distraction in the hall...enough to bring the agent out of Kazmarek’s room. The second he walks out, Vincent will slip in and grab Kazmarek.”

“What?!” Catherine exploded. “Vincent can’t go in there!”

Matthew frowned. “Nancy said this guy’s a pretty decent size. Neither Cullen nor I could lift him and get him out of there in the seconds we’ll have to do this in.”

“Catherine, I’ll be fine. I only have to walk a few feet before I’m on the stairwell.”

Matthew smiled. “I’ll be there to bar the door to the stairwell. They’ll think it’s locked.”

Cullen nodded. “Then its two small flights of steps down to the next landing and Nancy will be there with a gurney. Vincent can get out of there, and I’ll get the guy to the basement level, where there’s only one flight of stairs to the first tunnel.”

“Then onto a stretcher and through the tunnels to the Central Park garage.” Vincent added. “Mouse is going to follow behind us and put up some temporary false walls just in case.

“There’s no other way?” Catherine frowned.

“Not safely,” Vincent said.

Catherine resolved herself to the plan and squared her shoulders. “Then let’s do this.”

Matthew grinned. “Good girl!”

***

Catherine went up to the floor and talked with the doctor about the safety of moving Kazmarek to a different hospital. One of the agents overheard her, and the two started arguing in the hallway. The second agent came rushing out of the room, and Catherine carefully willed her eyes to remain on their faces despite the fact that she could see Vincent sneaking into the room.

Within seconds, Vincent was out of the room and in the stairwell with Kazmarek. Catherine kept up the arguing for another couple minutes and then walked away.

The two agents talked in the hallway for another few minutes, curious about Catherine’s safety considering her past involvement with Elliot. Finally, the agent went back into the room and slowly the shock of Kazmarek’s missing body set in.

He flew into the hallway. “He’s gone!”

“What?!”

“He’s not in there!”

“Damn it!”

The two agents called for help, and within ten minutes the hospital security and police force were searching every inch of the hospital, but Kazmarek was already out of the building.

***

Catherine left the hospital, then went home and called Elliot.

“Burch.” Elliot said abruptly as he answered his personal phone.

“Elliot, its Cathy. That favor you asked me for? It’s done.”

“What? How?”

“It doesn’t matter. You need to come now.”

“Yeah, of course. Where should I meet you?”

She told him where to meet her, then ran Below and headed towards the park entrance. She walked behind Cullen and Matthew as they handed the old man over to Elliot. Elliot’s guards laid the man across the long seat of the limo and made him as comfortable as possible. Elliot cajoled Catherine into coming for a ride with him so he could have a chance to say goodbye to her. Catherine felt that Vincent was nearby and knew he could hear their conversation. Knowing he would understand, she reluctantly agreed to go with Elliot.

Kazmarek woke up in the limo, and Elliot kneeled by his side. They exchanged heated words while Catherine looked on curiously. She was shocked by how familiar they were with one another, and somehow she knew this wasn’t their first argument. Elliot looked sad as he sat back in his seat. Quiet, he looked out the window, but Catherine could still see the pain in his face. Eventually, he turned to her with disgust on his face and muttered something about Stanley being fine once he was good and drunk.

Realization slowly set in. “He’s your father!”

Elliot didn’t confirm or deny it, but Catherine could see the truth in his eyes.

***

They reached the docks, and Elliot was furious that the helicopter he ordered was only big enough for two people. He put his father in first, then ordered the pilot to take the man out to his yacht and come back for him.

As the helicopter started to lift off, Elliot turned to Catherine to say goodbye. The two jumped in shock as the helicopter suddenly exploded. Elliot screamed in despair as Catherine looked on in horror.

Elliot’s bodyguards tried to quickly get him back to the limo, but they were cut off by a trio of gunman. One of Elliot’s guards was gunned down, and bullets rang out around them.

Elliot and Catherine ran for safety, but were trapped out on the dock. As the men closed in, Elliot leaned in and passionately kissed Catherine goodbye, then jumped into the river. Dazed for a moment by the kiss, Catherine soon followed behind him.

The gunmen killed Elliot’s last bodyguard and then spread out along the waterfront to keep an eye out for Elliot and Catherine.

Elliot silently came up from underwater and swam for the protection of the pier. He stayed under it as he slowly made his way upstream. He kept a constant eye on the water in hopes that he would see Catherine surface. When he was unable to spot her, his heart ached with the knowledge that something had happened to her.

Meanwhile, Catherine swam underwater for as long as her lungs could take. She came up alongside a boat and heard the men firing shots into the water. She heard them say they were going downstream as she slipped underwater again and made her way to the next boat.

Catherine continued doing this for the next ten minutes. Finally, she saw a ladder leading up to the dock, and she swam over to it. Looking all around her, she silently headed towards what she hoped was a way off the pier.

Elliot knew the docks well as he headed upstream. He exited the water at an area where he knew there were buildings to hide in. He silently broke into an office where he found a set of clothes and quickly changed out of his wet garments.

He thought of Catherine and a tear trickled from his eye that he quickly swiped away. “If she got hurt, I’ll never forgive myself,” he muttered aloud. “I’ve got to find her...” He left the safety of the office and headed out on the docks.

Catherine was walking cautiously along when she saw a shadow coming towards her. Panicking, she hid behind a crate.

Elliot walked past her and then stopped when he saw movement from behind a crate. He stepped back and the moonlight illuminated her face. The two friends hugged as relief washed through them that the other one was alive.

Elliot led her back to the office where he found her a change of clothes. Catherine quickly changed, and the two headed out again.  

They were walking along when Catherine suddenly heard the telltale sounds of Vincent’s presence and knew the men trying to kill them were close by. She grabbed Elliot’s arm and dragged him along as she began running down a pier. They saw a man coming towards them and doubled back. When yet another man started coming towards them from that direction, they took off in a third direction.

Running blindly, they ran into a dead end. Trapped, Elliot offered to give himself up, but Catherine knew these men weren’t going to leave witnesses and would kill her as well. She found a sewer lid and frantically asked Elliot to help her lift it. She pushed him down in the sewer first, hoping that if Vincent appeared Elliot wouldn’t see him.

Elliot gasped as he heard the ping of bullets hitting off the top of the lid as Catherine lowered it back into place. The sewer was dark inside as Catherine felt for the rungs of the ladder and started to climb down. Elliot grabbed for her impulsively when she reached the bottom.

Above, Vincent’s growls could be heard as he quickly took care of the men trying to harm them. In the tunnel below, Catherine and Elliot could hear the unhuman noises of Vincent and then the screams of the dying men. Suddenly, it was silent, and Catherine knew it had all ended.

Knowing Vincent was above them and the bodies of the men would be scattered around, Catherine grabbed Elliot’s arm and led him into the dark tunnels. He tried to demand answers as Catherine tried to get her bearings in the tunnel way.

Elliot reached for her arm to stop her.  “Look! Whatever got to those guys back there is probably gone by now. I think we should head back, look around where we climbed down for another sewer cap. We can go up on the docks, and I’ll make sure we get back safely...”

“And if you’re wrong and we get shot at again? I’ll take my chances down here!” Catherine said angrily as she began to walk on.

Elliot swore as he followed her deeper into the tunnel ways. “I’ve heard reports that there were tunnels below the city. I never believed them before now.”

“Well, you’re in them right now.”

“How did you know they were here?”

Catherine ignored him as she kept walking.

Elliot reached for her arm again. “How do you know there aren’t gangs or some other kind of derelicts down here?”

“I don’t.” Catherine led him further, but still nothing looked familiar. Each time she came to a choice in tunnels she looked and guessed which way she should walk.

“Back there…” Elliot looked at her worriedly. “What were you thinking?! You should have gone down first!”

Catherine thought quickly and smiled. “I’d rather be shot at than be the first one through spider webs.”

Elliot knew about her fear of spiders, and he smiled as he looked down at his coat. He brushed off the webs, and they both grew silent as she took off walking again.

In an hour, Catherine realized she was completely lost. She looked over at a pipe running along the wall and then back at Elliot, trying to gauge if it was worth letting him see her call for help. Deciding she had no choice but to trust him, she picked up a rock and tapped out a message, then leaned against the wall and waited.

“Cathy, why’d we stop?”

“Shhhh!” Catherine admonished as she cocked her head trying to listen.

Elliot kept quiet and leaned against the wall next to her. He frowned when Catherine got excited as she heard noises in the pipes.

He shook his head in disbelief. “Is that some kind of code?”

Catherine sighed and shrugged. “Don’t ask…”

***

Meanwhile, Vincent sank back against the wall on the docks and looked at the carnage in front of him. He was disgusted with the murders he committed. He was also in pain and looked down at his hand. Watching the blood flow from the gaping wound, he tore a piece of fabric from the bottom of his shirt and tightly wrapped his hand to stop the bleeding. The cloth was quickly soaked with blood, and he knew he needed to get back to the home tunnels. Vincent walked as fast as he could towards his chamber. His long legs ate up the miles of distance, and it wasn’t long before he saw a familiar face.

“Kipper, please tell Father I’ve returned and that all is well,” he said as he walked past the last sentry post and into his chamber.

In his chamber, he poured water into a basin then dipped his hand in it and hissed as the pain seared in his hand.

Father walked into the chamber. “Vincent, I heard you were back...” He saw the blood in the basin and frowned as he walked up and touched Vincent’s shoulder comfortingly. Vincent showed him his hand and Father gasped.  “Dear God! What happened?” Vincent remained silent, and Father walked him over to the basin again and started to treat the wound. “This must be treated; it could become infected.” Vincent winced in pain and sucked in his breath as the pain burned in his hand once again. Father frowned and looked over tentatively. “How...um...is Catherine?”

“Alive...safe...”

“If only there was some way in which I could keep both of you safe and shield you both from harm and pain.”

“From life...”

“Because I love you, Vincent! Both of you!”

“Even love can wound, Father. The grave is a fine safe place, but if we live...we bleed,” Vincent said quietly.

Father watched as Vincent squeezed his hand to wring out the cloth and more blood spurted out. “I think you’re going to need stitches, son.”

Vincent snorted sarcastically. “Yes, I’m not a doctor, but I would say quite a few.”

“Let me grab my kit and call for Mary.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Father,” Vincent sighed.

***

Mary walked in right after Father and gasped when she saw Vincent’s hand. “Oh, you poor dear.” She patted Vincent’s face lovingly.

Father rolled his eyes. “That poor dear will need multiple stitches and soon!”

Mary quickly rolled up Vincent’s sleeve, then cleaned the area while Father prepared the needle and thread.

He frowned as he looked at Vincent. “Are you ready?”

Vincent shrugged and closed his eyes, then nodded.

“I hate the fact that you can’t handle any anesthesia.”

“Not as much as I, Father.”

Father stuck the needle in, and Vincent’s upper body flinched in pain, but his hand remained immobile.

Halfway through the operation, Mouse ran into the room. “Need Vincent’s help...come now...lost in tunnels!”



Mary rushed to answer. “He can’t help you right now! Father is only half way through stitching his hand, and he’s already lost a lot of blood.”

“But it’s...”

“Mouse!” Father barked angrily. “Not now! Find someone else who can help you!”

Mouse blushed when he saw the pain Vincent was in.

Jamie had rushed in behind Mouse. “Sorry, Vincent. We didn’t know...we only came because it’s Catherine.”

Vincent’s face was pale and covered with sweat, but he opened his eyes, “Catherine?”

“Lost...in tunnels...has man with her...” Mouse informed them.

Jamie frowned at Mouse and quickly elaborated. “She’s okay; he’s not hurting her or anything. It looks like she’s trying to lead him through the tunnels.”

“What does this man look like?” Father asked.

“Tall...like Vincent...dark hair...beard...”

Mary looked worried. “We don’t know he’s not hurting her! Catherine could be...protecting us!”

“He won’t hurt her,” Vincent whispered.

Jamie stepped bravely forward. “Mouse and I will keep a close eye on them. If he moves to hurt her in any way, we’ll step in.”

Mary gasped. “What if he has a gun?”

Vincent sighed aloud. “Please! Catherine knows this man; it’s Elliot Burch. She’s in no danger. She’s probably trying to lead him to a safe place to go Above.”

Father frowned, then looked at Mouse. “How do you know they haven’t left by now?”

Jamie held up her hand to silence Mouse. “Catherine tapped out a message on the pipes. It was kind of garbled, but she asked for help to get out. She’s waiting for an answer, I think.”

“I should go...” Vincent sighed.

Mary’s hands flew to his shoulders and held him down. “You will do no such thing, young man! You are going to sit here and let Father finish this!

“I have an idea.” Father said, and he looked directly at Mouse as sternly as he could. “Mouse, you get as close to her as you can and tap on the pipes in the tunnels until she follows the noise. Do not let yourselves be seen under any circumstances! Do you understand?!”

“I’ll go with him, Father,” Jamie offered.

“Go...” Vincent whispered.

Jamie and Mouse took off as Father got back to the task of stitching Vincent’s hand. Father finished after seventeen stitches, and Mary slathered the cut with antibiotic ointment, then tightly dressed it with a clean dry bandage. She also helped Vincent change his bloody shirt.

She looked at him worriedly. “Mouse and Jamie will make sure Catherine is safe.”

“Yes...”

“Try to rest now, Vincent.”

Vincent looked up at Mary and smiled weakly. “Thank you, Mary.”

She kissed his cheek. As she was leaving, Father came in with a bottle of pills and a glass of water. “You can take this for pain if you want...two tablets should be enough...if not, two more in four hours.”

“I’m fine, Father.”

“It doesn’t hurt?”

“It’s not my hand that hurts.”

“Catherine...” Father frowned knowingly. “And Elliot. You’re worried that they’re getting close again.”

“Elliot would be much better choice for her.”

“Than who? You?” Vincent looked down and nodded as Father continued. “What about the fact that Catherine loves you? Has...chosen you?”

Vincent seemed to shrink in size. “She can learn to love another.”

“Just the same way that you could?!”

Vincent looked up to disagree. “I could never love another!”

“And neither can she!” Father cocked his head and smiled. “Vincent, listen to what your heart tells you to do. Trust in it.”

Vincent knew what Catherine had felt earlier when Elliot kissed her, and he shook his head with resignation. “I can’t...”

Father looked away for a second and debated what to say, then sighed and slowly turned back to him. He grabbed Vincent’s shoulders and gently shook them. “Until you do, you and Catherine will never move forward in your relationship.”

Vincent shrugged. “Perhaps it’s for the best...perhaps deep down I always knew there could be no future for us...that because of who I am...what I am... I would be holding her back...perhaps, Father, that’s why we’ve never … Vincent lowered his head and stopped talking.

“Never?!” Father frowned again and took a deep breath before he began. “Well...Vincent, I have to admit that the prospect of you having a...physical relationship with someone is...worrisome? I...worry that while you are...well…that you will lose yourself.” Father shook his head disgustedly. “But I hope to God that this is your choice, Vincent! I hope that you’re not making this choice because of the things that I’ve said in the past; things I made you feel or think!”

“Father...”

“No, Vincent! Hear me out. I don’t like to, but I always admit my mistakes, and, yes, I believe I was wrong about Catherine in the beginning. I shouldn’t have tried to dissuade you from pursuing a...friendship with her. But I have come to love Catherine, like a daughter; her heart is pure and kind. If there was ever someone worthy of your love, it would be her.”

“She once thought she was falling in love with Elliot. Perhaps tonight they will be reminded about how much they once meant to one another. Elliot is a much better choice for her. Compare the two of us side by side, Father. It is I who is unworthy of her love!”

“Vincent...jealousy can cloud your judgment...”

“Father, it’s not just jealousy. They kissed!” Having disclosed more than he intended to, Vincent shook his head. “I’d like to be alone.”

Father blew out a breath and nodded before he bent over and kissed the top of Vincent’s head. “You know where I’ll be if you need me.”

Father left, and Vincent stared at the ground in front of him, clearly lost in his thoughts.

***

Catherine had leaned patiently against the wall, but gave up waiting for help and pushed off again. “Let’s go.”

Elliot followed her as Jamie and Mouse quietly slipped up behind them.

“No good...going wrong way again!” Mouse complained as he thought quickly, then tapped Jamie’s shoulders. “Mouse run ahead...put false wall at the next crossing...turn back, see arrow on ground, go right way.”

“You want me to use one of my arrows?!”

“No. Rocks on ground.”

“Okay!”

The two friends split up and quickly accomplished their tasks.

Catherine frowned when they ran into the wall, but they doubled back and when she saw the arrow of rocks in the dirt, she knew someone was helping her. She kicked the rocks with her feet before Elliot could see them.

Elliot looked down the second tunnel. “That looks as promising as the first,” he said sarcastically.

Catherine shrugged and kept walking, knowing that he would follow her. She came across two more signs left by Jamie and Mouse before she realized where she was. She relaxed as things became more familiar.

She decided to take Elliot out the park entrance and started to head that way. She knew there was a sentry post up ahead, so she got a few steps ahead of Elliot and knelt down and pretended to adjust her boot. “I’m headed to the park,” she whispered into a grate.

Elliot came up behind her and helped her to her feet. “Tired?”

“No, I’m fine. Let’s keep walking.”

Elliot turned her to face him. “We’ve been walking for hours. How do you know we’re not lost?”

“Have we hit any dead ends lately?”

“No, but...”

“Elliot...not now...please.” Catherine sighed aloud. She knew she couldn’t answer the endless questions that were sure to be running though his mind.

Catherine had to lead him through the Abyss and the Whispering Tunnels to get to the park. She hoped the word was out and people weren’t milling around, and luckily she and Elliot made it to the entrance with no incidents.

Elliot saw the grate and thought they’d hit another dead end until Catherine opened it and told him he’d go out and that he’d be up in Central Park. Elliot looked at her curiously, but Catherine begged him to keep everything he’d heard and seen to himself.

Elliot brought up the kiss on the pier and insisted she had felt something too. Catherine explained to him that there was no possibility of them being together, and Elliot guessed correctly there was someone else in her life. He saw the confirmation in her eyes and sadly walked away.

Catherine turned to go back Below to see Vincent.

***

It had taken hours for Elliot and her to walk from the pier to the park, and Catherine grew worried as she made her way to Vincent’s chamber. Vincent hadn’t come to meet her, despite the fact that he must know by now that Elliot was gone. She knew he had killed at least two men, possibly three, and she wondered if he was having a hard time coming to terms with what he’d done.

Mouse and Jamie came around the corner with big smiles on their faces.

Catherine grinned back at them. “I bet I know who to thank for getting me back safely!”

She hugged each of them and Jamie laughed. “We only helped you those three times. You did really well once you got into more familiar territory!”

“Still…nothing looked familiar in the beginning!”

Mouse winked at Catherine. “Jamie needed Mouse’s help too!”

Jamie blushed and rolled her eyes. “Just once,” she admitted reluctantly. “Besides, Catherine, you were really far away!”

Catherine laughed. “I know! And I had to walk it with soaking wet feet!”

“Back now....go see Vincent...sad...”

“Yes, Mouse. I am going to see Vincent, but thank you both again for helping me.”

“Welcome!” Mouse said shyly.

“Any time, Catherine!” Jamie grabbed Mouse’s arm, and they walked towards the Abyss.

Catherine continued on and walked into Vincent’s chamber. He was sitting in a chair staring at the floor, and she wondered at his mood. He glanced briefly at her, then looked away.

“Vincent...” She noticed his bandaged hand and walked over and gently touched it. “You’re hurt...”

“It’s the kind of hurt that heals easily.”

Catherine wondered at his strange comment, then knelt down next to him. “Tell me what you’re feeling...”

“Elliot is a king in your world.”

Expecting him to try to explain the shame he felt about the killings, she wondered why he had brought up Elliot. “Yes, in a way...”

“He can offer you so much. The power to do great good, beauties undreamed of. He can walk beside you in the daylight.” Vincent could feel her confusion. He sighed. “Last night I felt your fear for him, the sorrows you shared, your joy when you knew he was alive, and when death was nearest...” He paused briefly, trying to control his feelings. “When he...”

He was unable to go on, and Catherine knowingly finished his thought. “When he kissed me.”

Vincent closed his eyes against the pain the image caused. “Yes. I felt...that too.”

Catherine sat back guiltily and thought about what words she could use to try to explain all that happened last night. “I’ve never felt closer to Elliot than I did last night. I saw so much of what he’s always kept hidden: the boy he once was, the man he could be.”

Vincent steeled himself, certain she was about to tell him she had fallen in love with Elliot again.

“We almost died together, and when he kissed me...just for an instant some small part of me responded and I wished...” She hesitated, afraid that if she spoke the truth he would pull away again, but more afraid that he thought she was attracted to Elliot. “And I wished it were...” Vincent turned to look at her, unsure if he wanted to hear what she said, but so unwilling and so unable to turn away. “…you.” 

Vincent’s face didn’t register the shock he felt at her words. He knew she loved him. His mind remembered the times in the past: she had kissed his hands, his chest, his cheek several times, and just recently his lips. She had even told him that she welcomed his touch. 

Catherine continued to look at him. In her eyes, he could clearly see the love and desire she felt. He briefly shook his head in denial, and when he looked away again, she decided to leave him alone with his thoughts.

She turned to leave, but desperately wanting her to stay, Vincent grasped her arm and held it gently. “Catherine...” He looked up at her uncertainly, knowing what he wanted, but not quite knowing how to go about taking it. He slowly allowed his insecurities to wash over him, then sighed in resignation and released her arm as he looked away again.

Catherine's heart ached for him as she stepped closer. “Vincent…”

His heart beat wildly as she stood in front of him. She moved to stand between his legs and patiently waited for him to look up at her. He finally looked up at her, his eyes filled with torment. She slowly bent over and placed her forehead against his. She felt his unease and quickly rushed to reassure him. “Shhhh, it’s all right. Don’t you know by now how much I love you?”

Catherine had moved her nose caressingly against his as her hand came up at the same time to cradle his cheek. She slowly lowered her mouth to within inches of his, allowing him a chance to escape. When he didn’t move, she gently placed her lips on his. Her hand fell from his cheek to rest on his chest, and she could feel his heart beating wildly against her palm. She waited a few seconds, then withdrew from him and looked into his eyes. He wore the same expression as earlier, but he was no longer protesting her advances, and she repeated the kiss. Encouraged by the fact that he hadn’t pulled away, she allowed her hand to slip around the back of his neck and under his hair as she held his head in place. She slowly ran her tongue over his lips and explored the cleft of his upper lip. He gasped and drew back from her.

Catherine looked at him pleadingly. “Vincent...please?!”

He stared at her, realizing that not only did he not have the strength to push her away, he didn’t want to stop. He wanted to feel her lips upon his again. Catherine saw the fear in his eyes, but she also saw the desire. He looked at her, a question clearly in his eyes.

Catherine nodded and waited for him. He reached around her waist and drew her close. Catherine sat down on his lap, but leaned slightly away, wanting him to make the move forward again.

Vincent expelled a deep ragged breath before he mirrored her earlier action. He brought his hand to her cheek and gently pulled her forward as she sighed and melted against him.

She waited until he seemed comfortable then gently deepened the kiss. She slowly pushed with her tongue against his lips, prompting him to open his mouth. She caressed him soothingly as he became accustomed to the new sensation. She ran her tongue into the recesses of his mouth. Vincent tentatively reached out and touched her tongue with his own. An explosion of feelings could be felt through the bond. Catherine moaned and continued to lead him through this strange new world. Soon enough, she felt the evidence of his desire underneath her leg.

Vincent gasped and pushed her gently to her feet. Filled with shame, he looked at the floor as he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Catherine.”

Catherine reached for his chin and lifted his face up so she could look him in the eyes. “Sorry for what? Desiring me? I’m not sorry, Vincent. I know exactly how you feel because I feel the same way about you.” Catherine glanced down at her shirt. She could clearly see her nipples protruding through the fabric. She looked at Vincent and watched as he followed her gaze. She looked up and smiled ruefully as he looked at her with eyes darkened by desire. Catherine reached for his hand and lifted it against her chest. “I told you before, I’m not afraid. What we shared just now was beautiful. And....when we decide we’re ready to explore the rest of it...it will be just as beautiful.”

Vincent closed his eyes. He still had a hard time believing that she felt this way about him, but he was trying desperately to believe in their dream.

Catherine noticed his quietness and wanted to give him time to come to terms with all that had happened tonight. “It’s late, Vincent. We’ve both been up more than twenty-four hours. Why don’t you rest, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Vincent’s voice was unusually husky when he answered. “I’ll walk you out.”

Catherine wanted him to rest and shook her head. “Vincent, it’s a long way and you've been hurt. You don’t have to...”

“Please,” he interrupted. “I want to.”

Catherine smiled and nodded. “Of course, I’d love to have your company…”

Vincent stood and led the way into the tunnels. Catherine walked next to him, wondering what he was thinking. She reached out and took his hand as she smiled up at him. He dipped his head shyly as he squeezed her hand gently.

Vincent thought of all that had happened tonight. The one thing that played over and over in his mind was Catherine telling him she was choosing him over Elliot. He tried for a false bravado he wasn’t sure he felt. “You’ll have to try to get a hold of Elliot to see if he’s all right.”

Catherine nodded. “I’m sure Elliot is fine, but I’ll try to talk to him tomorrow.” She paused, thinking about their last conversation. “I know he's bound to be fascinated about how I was able to lead us across the city through underground tunnels...”

“Mouse said you only needed a small amount of help.”

She smiled proudly. “Yes, I guess it was all those long walks Below you and I have taken.”

“I wish it could be Above...in the sunlight. You deserve that.” He turned and took her hands into his and looked down at them. “Catherine, what’s happened between us...I don’t want to go back but...are you sure you don’t want to think about a relationship with Elliot? What happened between you...”

She sighed loudly, then looked up again. “Should never have happened! Vincent, I’ve never been as ashamed as I am right now. Elliot reached for me and it was...so sudden. I never even thought about you feeling him kiss me. If I could take it back I would, but...I told you the truth. It was the kind of kiss I wish you and I had shared.” Vincent nodded slightly as Catherine smiled and squeezed his hands lightly. “Well at least there's one good thing that came out of all of this.”

“What’s that?”

“Elliot knows there is no chance for us to get back together.”

Vincent blinked in surprise. “No?”

Catherine chuckled. “No, he guessed there was someone else in my life. I told him he was right. He knows it’s too late for us. He was...sorry.”

Vincent couldn’t stop from voicing his question. “And are you? Sorry?”

Catherine shook her head. “No! I could never be sorry for choosing you.”

“Your life with Elliot would have taken a much different path.”

“Vincent, my heart chose my path. For me, there is only once choice that I could ever make.”

They stood in front of her threshold. Vincent was still unsure about what happened between them earlier in his chamber. Catherine felt his uncertainty and gave him the usual hug goodnight.

As she began to back away, Vincent squeezed her hand gently. Catherine stopped and looked up at him. Vincent gently lowered his face to hers. Their foreheads touched as he stopped and gathered his courage.

“Goodnight, Catherine.”

“Goodnight, Vincent.”

Catherine turned her head slightly as Vincent slowly lowered his mouth to hers. She sighed and moved her arms around his neck and waited for him to deepen the kiss. When he didn't move as quickly as she would have liked, she became impatient and deepened it herself. She felt a moan rumble through him and inwardly smiled that he was as affected by all of this as she.

She felt the desire starting to build and knew it wouldn't be long before they would be at the point of no return. Wanting so badly to invite him to her bed, but knowing now was not the right time, she backed away slowly.

Her eyes darkened with desire she smiled up at him. “Thank you, Vincent.” She proceeded when a look of confusion settled on his face. “For sharing that part of yourself with me.”

“Catherine...” he whispered. “It is I who should thank you...for giving me the honor of...”

Catherine squeezed his arm gently as she interrupted him. “No! Don't say it, Vincent!” She shook her head in frustration as she grappled with the words to explain how she felt. “I am not some untouchable goddess who needs to be worshiped. There is no honor when you make love to someone. There is only love...our love. When we finally come together, I want it to be on equal terms. I'm not allowing you to make love to me...I'm sharing with you one of the greatest acts a man and woman can have together. Our love will guide us, and as a couple we will be stronger. If it's even possible...we may strengthen our bond even more.”

Vincent smiled uncertainly. “I could wish for nothing more.”

Catherine stepped forward again and kissed him lightly. “And soon...very soon, I think, we can fulfill that wish...together!”

Vincent kissed her then backed away shyly. “Goodnight, Catherine.”

“Goodnight, Vincent,” Catherine said as she turned away.

***

Vincent walked back to his chamber, and Father followed him in worriedly.

“Vincent, the sentries reported you were out walking about.”

“I was...”

Father scowled. “Damn it! I just repaired a huge gash in your hand! Can’t you sit still long enough to let something heal properly?!” Father turned Vincent’s hand palm side up and looked at the bandage. He saw a slight line of pink where the wound was and frowned.

Vincent chuckled. “See, its fine.” At Father’s angry frown, Vincent shrugged indifferently. “I wasn’t walking about...I walked Catherine home.”

“Oh...Catherine...um... Did she say anything about her trip through the tunnels?”

“Mouse and Jamie said they only had to help a few times. Down by the bridge near Clayton Street and again at the five point tunnel on...”

“Loomis?”

“Yes.”

“She did well then, if those were the only places she required help. It must have prompted some curiosity on Burch’s part.”

“Catherine said she swore him to secrecy.”

“She trusts him?”

Vincent didn’t know how, but he knew Elliot wouldn’t repeat what he’d seen that night. “Elliot will not speak of it.”

Father frowned and looked down nervously. “Um...did she...um...discuss anything else.”

“We...cleared the air...” Vincent lowered his head shyly. “She kissed me.”

Father blinked in surprise, then shyly smiled knowingly. “It’s quite enjoyable isn’t it?”

“Wondrous.” Vincent said without looking up.

Father chuckled as he touched Vincent’s shoulder, then walked towards the door. “If you thought that was wondrous, I wonder how you’ll feel about the rest?!” he said mysteriously as he exited.

***

Catherine walked into work to find she was going to be questioned by the CIA agents about Stanley Kazmareck’s disappearance. She was surprised it was Elliot who arranged the meeting and came to help her out of the mess. His threats to expose the death squads in New York persuaded the CIA agents to drop their case against Catherine.

The agents left, but on the way out, one of them related to Elliot the bad news. No bodies were found from the helicopter wreckage.

Elliot sat back on the edge of the table and tried to maintain his composure, but after they left and it was only Catherine and he in the room, he broke down and cried. Catherine came and took him in her arms and comforted him as best as she could.

He finally pulled back from her and swiped at his eyes. “Thank you.”

Catherine looked at him compassionately. “You’re welcome.”

“I haven’t done that in a very, very long time.”

“I know what you’re going through. My father died recently.”

“I heard. I wanted to come to be by your side but...”

Catherine shrugged indifferently as she shook her head. “I wasn’t alone, Elliot. I had support.”

“Yeah...me too...all the support money can buy,” he muttered.

Catherine chewed her lip thoughtfully. “Elliot...I…remember some pretty long nights when I just sat and cried. I know how good it felt to held and loved by someone. If you need to...talk to someone...if you need a friend…I’ll be there for you. I owe you that much.”

“So you’ll be there for me because you want to repay a debt.”

“No!” Catherine looked at him angrily. “I’ll be there for you because inside of you, somewhere, is a really great man, and I’d like to consider that man my friend.”

Elliot shook his head as he stood up. “Thanks, Cath, and you don’t owe me anything.”

Catherine squeezed his hand. “Um...Elliot...about what you saw last night...”

“Last night I watched as a helicopter carrying my sick father blew up in the sky over my head. I don’t remember anything after that...”

Catherine knew he was lying, and it was his way of protecting her. “Thank you.”

“I love you, Cathy. I always will. If it doesn’t work out for you...call me.” Elliot smiled and kissed her cheek.

Catherine smiled and shook her head. “That won’t happen, Elliot. Find someone else.”

“Who can measure up to you?” he chuckled derisively. “Goodbye, Cath.”

“Bye, Elliot. Take care.”

Elliot left and Catherine made her way towards her desk, then sighed when Joe grabbed her arm and pulled her into his office.

“What the hell just happened?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Joe.”

“Where you involved with Kazmarek’s disappearance?”

“I can’t believe you’re asking me. Joe, I had nothing to do with Kazmarek being taken from his hospital bed!”

It was a white lie, but Catherine really hadn’t been involved with his physical removal from the hospital.

Joe frowned as he shook his head. “Sorry, I just...I left some new files on your desk.”

“I’ll get right to them,” Catherine smiled sweetly as she walked out.

***

 Vincent went to see Catherine that night after she got home from work.

“Hi, Vincent!” she said as she walked into his arms.

“Catherine...” Vincent said as they embraced.

“I spoke to Elliot today...” Vincent lowered his head as Catherine continued. “He got word that there was no bodies recovered in the helicopter wreckage.”

“That must be hard for him. There’s is no body to bury...no closure...”

“I told him I’d be there for him if he needed to talk.”

“That will bring him some measure of comfort.”

“He also promised he wouldn’t reveal anything about what he saw last night.”

“Father will be relieved.” Vincent shook his head in disbelief. “Once I thought I could never understand this man...now...I understand him all too well. He has his own kind of nobility.”

“And his own kind of tragedies.”

“So many contradictions...light and darkness, good and evil, pain and joy. How can these things live side by side in one man...one world?”

“How doesn’t matter, Vincent. They do. It’s life.” Catherine glanced at the rose bush behind him and noticed that the buds had bloomed into flowers. “Look!”

Vincent turned around and saw that the bush had in fact bloomed with a mixture of red and white roses. He felt Catherine’s arm go around him, and he hugged her to his chest as they gazed on at the bush.

Catherine smiled up at him. “See...nature says they don’t belong together, but fate stepped in, and now look how beautifully their doing together.”

The double meaning was not lost on Vincent. “Yes.”

Catherine looked into his eyes and turned her head slightly as she opened her mouth. Vincent knew she was offering herself up for a kiss, and he bent his head low and kissed her. They were both breathing heavily when he finally pulled away.

Catherine recovered first. “How...how’s your hand?”

Vincent had to clear his throat to speak. “Um...it’s fine.”

“Good.”

The awkwardness stretched out until Catherine’s stomach rumbled. “I forgot. I brought home some take out. Would you like to share?”

She disappeared inside before he could answer and was back out within a few minutes. They busied themselves bringing the food out she had brought home. Catherine took what she wanted, and Vincent ate the small portions of her leftover salad and lasagna. The garlic bread was oozing with butter, and they each ate several slices as they talked about all that had happened that day.

Catherine cleaned up the dishes and dumped them in her sink, then gasped when she realized how her breath would be after the garlic bread. She rummaged in the freezer and grabbed some chocolate covered mints wrapped in green foil.

She walked out and smiled when she saw Vincent’s back to her. He was cupping his hand over his mouth and smelling his breath.

“I don’t have any dessert but this might do.”

Vincent whirled around guiltily. “I already had too much.”

Catherine handed him the candy, then opened her own. “It’s frozen, but the heat of your tongue will have it melting in no time.”

Vincent’s eyes darkened with passion as he took the chocolate and popped it into his mouth. He turned to face the city as he felt the minty freshness melting in his mouth. “It’s good.”

“Hmmm...” Catherine agreed.

Hers was gone, and she handed him another one. He readily accepted it with a smile. “I love chocolate.”

Catherine wondered why he was making small talk and cocked her head, then impulsively kissed his cheek. “Vincent, I promise...things won’t always be this awkward between us.”

He seemed relieved. “I’m glad...I...feel as if I don’t know quite how to act...what to do...”

“You can do whatever it is you want to do.”

Vincent lowered his head shyly. “I admit I’ve thought about nothing else but kissing you since we stopped.”

Catherine smiled as she stepped into his arms. “Good. Then I can admit the same thing.”

Vincent lowered his head, and the kiss quickly turned into a passionate one that was spiraling out of control.

Vincent backed away and turned from her. “I...should go.”

Catherine nodded. “I understand. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yes,” Vincent said as he disappeared over the wall.

 

THE END