BEHIND THE SCENES
SEASON 2

 

SHE WALKS ALONE
TWELFTH IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE

 

For the past few weeks, Vincent had been helping Catherine sort through her father’s things. It had been hard on her but with his help she found the strength she needed to sort through the memories and pack up his personal belongings.

They had spent endless nights together pouring through old photo albums. Vincent chuckled happily as Catherine reddened with embarrassment when he saw photos of her in her awkward teenage years.

“You were destined to be beautiful even back then.”

Catherine rolled her eyes as she flipped around the picture of herself at thirteen and showed it to him. “This is hardly beauty queen material!”

Vincent took it from her and rubbed his finger over it gently. “Flawless skin, sparkling green eyes ... ”

“ ... Skinny legs, knobby knees ... hair that needed to be trimmed by someone in a professional salon ... Daddy took me to his barber one day because he was in a hurry to go to a meeting. I cried for three days! Later, we chuckled about it but I sure put him through the ringer until we got it fixed ... ”

Catherine was saddened by the memory and Vincent searched for a way to distract her. “Catherine, we’ve packed up almost everything. Do you have any idea what you’re planning on doing with his things?”

Catherine cocked her head in surprise. “What do you mean?”

He nodded over at the stacks of boxes in the room. “I would imagine that you don’t intend to keep them where they are now.”

Catherine smiled at his unexpected sarcasm then shook her head. “No I ... well ... I’d planned on sending everything Below.”

“Below?”

“Yes, couldn’t his clothing be put to good use? I mean, I know the suits aren’t exactly tunnel wear but perhaps some of the helpers need ... ” She stopped herself short when she saw his unusual reaction. “Vincent? If the items can’t be used ... ”

Vincent realized she had mistaken his reaction and immediately tried to make amends. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you think ... I ... ” He sighed and gave up. “Catherine ... your generosity is always appreciated.”

Catherine waved her hand dismissingly. “Everyone I love is in that world. I’ll never stop doing everything I can to help it survive.”

Vincent blushed and looked away and then back at her tentatively. Catherine stood and walked over to the boxes. “I thought that maybe on a Saturday or Sunday I could rent a van. Do you think we could use the elevator in the warehouse again?”

Vincent nodded. “I’m sure we can. I’ll clear it with the helper who owns the warehouse. Then I’ll send all of the boys here to help load these boxes ... ”

“Boys?” Catherine interrupted.

“Yes, Zac, Eric, Kipper, Tommy, Riley, Jason ... I think Samantha, Heather and Jillian can help as well.”

Catherine gave him a queer look as she walked over to his side. “Vincent, they’ll never be able to help with the heavy stuff.”

He shrugged and looked around at the various sized boxes. “We’ve packed the boxes ourselves, Catherine. Most of them aren’t that heavy.”

“But what about the furniture?”

His eyes widened in surprise. “Furniture?”

“Yes, I thought it could be put to use Below as well.”

Vincent sat down heavily. “Catherine, I’ve spent the better part of each evening with you in almost every room of this house ... ”

“Yes?”

Vincent looked up at her from where he sat. “Perhaps you’d like to rethink the idea.”

“Why?”

“The furniture you have is beautiful. I can’t believe you couldn’t sell it for a large sum of money.”

Catherine shook her head as she smiled. “I don’t care about the money and neither would my father. He’d be so happy to know that some needy family made use of his stuff.”

Vincent relented with a sigh of gratitude. “Then ... I’ll arrange to have most of the men accompany the children as well.”

Impulsively, Catherine leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Thank you,” she said as she walked out of the room and headed to the kitchen. “I’ll get us some tea ... maybe a sandwich.”

Vincent sat in shock and thought about her soft lips touching his cheek. He sighed and got up and followed her to the kitchen.

She stood in front of the refrigerator looking decidedly lost. “I forgot how often we ate meals out. He does have some eggs ... I could scramble them ... ”

Vincent stood behind her and looked at the almost empty shelves. “Perhaps some cheese as well ... and I see you have bacon ... we could make omelets ... ”

Catherine groaned but nodded. She had suggested scrambled because more often than not her omelets ended up as a blob in the center of her plate. “I’m afraid… no ... I’m embarrassed to tell you that I’ve never quite mastered the flip of the eggs but if you want me to try ... ”

Vincent smiled as he took the items from her hands. “I’ll help. I’ll show you the secrets William showed me.”

Catherine soon had everything ready and was standing at the stove when she looked up at Vincent. “Here we go ... time to flip.”

Vincent stood behind her and put his arms around her. He reached forward with steadying hands. Catherine almost dropped the spatula but Vincent quickly showed her William’s trick.

“That was easy!” she exclaimed as she leaned against him and felt the solidness of his chest behind her. With a smile, she tilted her head back and looked at him. “Thank you.”

Their eyes locked and Vincent looked down and saw the desire spring up within her. He watched as her tongue gently wet her lips in anticipation of his kiss.

The phone rang and he jumped guiltily away from her. “I should ... ”

Catherine knew what he was going to say so she rushed to interrupt him. “Can you put the omelet on a plate and take it to the table?”

Vincent wondered how she could act so normally as he watched her buttering the toast. “Um ... yes. But what about the phone?”

“The machine will get it.” Catherine could hear the machine and heard the voice of her father’s stock broker on the line as she made her way to the table. “It smells wonderful!”

Vincent had split the omelet in half and Catherine frowned as she looked at her plate. “I can’t eat all of that!”

Vincent had a mouthful of egg and frowned at her as he swallowed. “Too much?”

“Too much?! Vincent, there must be 4 eggs here!”

“Catherine, you should try ... ”

“I’ll never be able to eat all of that, please, you can have some of mine.”

He shrugged as she pushed some off on his plate and looked at her shyly. “I normally eat six.”

“Six! With meat and cheese?” Vincent blushed and Catherine realized she had embarrassed him. “Well ... I would eat like that too if I knew that I was going to spend my day carving chambers out of bedrock! As it is, the only thing physical I do is push a pencil.”

Vincent chuckled and they ate the rest of their meal talking about the various tunnel residents and how the new quarters were going to be put to use.

*****************************

Two weeks later, it had been decided that all of the clothing from Charles would go to Mary and Sara. They would sort through it and send it to whoever could use it the most.

Catherine was going to wait until the world Below could store all of her father’s furniture. Vincent, Mouse, and Cullen were working on a new storage chamber right now and as soon as it was complete, she would have them come and haul it all Below.  

Later that night, Vincent stood on Catherine’s balcony waiting for her to come home. They had left her father’s house together and he had promised to meet her here for a late dinner.

Catherine let herself in to the apartment and headed to the balcony. With a smile she handed Vincent bags of take out food. She turned to go get plates and something to drink while Vincent sat on the blanket he had laid out earlier.

Catherine returned with bottles of water and chopsticks. She sat down next to him and watched as he unpacked the cartons of Chinese food.

“I should have asked, I hope you like Chinese, Vincent. It’s one of my favorites.”

“Mine too. William tries to make it but our sources are usually limited.”

Catherine made a mental note to try to find out from William more about where the world Below got most of their food. She pushed it to the back of her mind as she handed Vincent a set of chopsticks.

He took them from her but smiled nervously. “I used to have dinner with Dr. Wong and Lin quite often when Lin was younger. I haven’t used these in quite awhile. I’m afraid I’m out of practice.”

Catherine was about to make a comment about it being like riding a bike but stopped herself just in time. “Would you like me to get you a fork?”

Vincent practiced a few times and shook his head. “I’ll manage.”

Vincent remembered quickly enough how to use the chopsticks and he and Catherine enjoyed a leisurely dinner on her balcony. There were only small amounts of leftovers in the white containers and Catherine stacked them up and took them inside.

She walked back out and grinned as she showed Vincent a small package. “The best part!”

Vincent cocked his head curiously. “The fortune or the cookie?”

“Ooh, the fortune of course.” Catherine ripped into her package, broke her cookie in half and opened up the little slip of paper. “Wait patiently and you will be rewarded with good things. What does yours say?”

Vincent looked down and opened his slip of paper while he chewed his cookie. He blushed suddenly and looked away.

“What’s it say, Vincent?”

“It ... um ... ”

“No fair, you have to share ... ” Catherine sang childishly as she grabbed it from his hand and began to read. “No risk is too great when love is the reward ... ” she read aloud before she blushed as well. “Well, at least we know that’s true.”

Vincent looked at her shyly. “Yes.”

Catherine knew he was uncomfortable and quickly changed the subject. “Did you have enough to eat?”

“Yes, plenty ... thank you.” Vincent got to his feet and helped her stand as well. “And now I should probably leave. I have to work sentry duty tonight.”

Catherine frowned. “Tonight? This isn’t your usual day.”

“No, I’ve had people covering for me so that I could help you at your father’s.”

“Vincent, you should have said something. I could have done it alone.”

Over the past few weeks, there were several times when Catherine was overcome with sorrow. He was glad he had been there to comfort her and help her through the difficult time. “I wanted to help, Catherine. To be there for you ... ”

Catherine smiled and moved into his arms. “I can’t thank you enough for staying so close. I’m not sure I could have faced it on my own. Knowing you were near helped me get through all of those memories ... ”

Vincent held her tightly and Catherine burrowed into the safety of his arms. She turned her head and reached up and kissed the side of his neck. Vincent’s body tensed but he didn’t back away.

That’s progress, Catherine thought as she stepped away slowly. “Good night, Vincent.”

“Good night,” he said as he walked over to the side. Suddenly he turned around. “Catherine ... ”

Catherine wondered why he looked at her uncertainly.  “What is it?” she asked with concern.

“I know you have to work but it’s early in the morning and it shouldn’t take very long, perhaps an hour … you must know I wouldn’t normally ask but with Kanin gone and Jeff with his broken ankle …”

Catherine reached out and touched his arm. “Whatever it is, Vincent, just ask.”

“On Friday, Mr. Long is sending some of his surplus vegetables down. His son Eddie will load the cart but I was wondering if you could perhaps push it and meet me and some of the children. We’ll carry it Below from there but then the cart will have to be returned.”

“Of course, Vincent. What time?”

“Is 7:00 am too early?”

Catherine shook her head. “Not at all, I’m usually up by then.”

“Thank you. I know how valuable your time is ... ”

Catherine stepped forward and gave him another hug. “You’re welcome. With my work schedule there is so little I can contribute, but I want you to know that I’m happy to help in any way I can.”

His arms automatically came around her and tightened as he sighed.

She pulled back gently and looked up at him. “And the only time I value is the time I spend with you. Good night, Vincent.”

She leaned forward and kissed his cheek then smiled as she turned away and went inside.

Vincent stood for a second as he reminisced about her recent kisses. He shook his head with disbelief as he turned and headed over the side of the wall.

********************************

Vincent walked into the library and Father looked up with a smile. “Ah, you’re back.”

“So it would appear.”

“Did you speak to Catherine about meeting Mr. Long?”

“Yes, she readily agreed to help us out.”

“That’s wonderful. I was so worried about how to get all that produce here.”

“Well … the problem has been solved.”

Father frowned at Vincent’s odd mood. “Is everything all right, Vincent? You seem …”

Vincent was still in a daze from Catherine’s kisses and the impact it was starting to have on their relationship. He looked at Father and then shook his head. “I’m fine. I’m going to write in my journal if anyone needs me.”

Father frowned as Vincent left. He knew Vincent always wrote in his journal when his thoughts were overwhelming him. It seemed to help clear his mind when he got the thoughts out on paper.

He sighed as he looked back down at the tunnel chore list and wrote Catherine’s initials next to the delivery task.

Vincent walked into his chamber and sat down on the side of his bed.

For years he had gone through life and for the most part, had been able to find a measure of happiness with his family Below.  But a hidden part of him had always felt like there was a missing piece. When he was young, he attributed it to the loss of Devin and what that meant in his life. As he grew older and he was able to see his friends either leave the tunnels or find a partner to share their life with, he knew it was more than that.  

His memories took him back to the first time Catherine came into his life. Over the next two hours, he relived every conversation and every moment they spent together.

For the first time since he was a young boy, he was truly content with his life. A quiet peace settled over him as he allowed himself the dream of being with Catherine. He reminisced about the moments Catherine kissed him and he wondered about being not only a friend to her but a husband and a lover as well. In his heart, he believed that she would join with him willingly and he shook his head with disbelief that he may have finally found someone who would share his life with him.

As the excitement of those possibilities formed in his mind, he looked at his desk and saw his journal sitting there, waiting for him to record his thoughts. He quickly crossed the room and started to write as the thoughts poured from his pen.     

******************************

Two days later, Catherine marveled over the quantity of food Long’s son, Edward, had said he loaded on the cart.

“Edward! That sounds like too much.”

Edward shrugged. “Not really. Dad said he had a really good year this year. Besides, he figures he got off easy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nineth grade English. We were studying Shakespeare.  Dad would’ve had to pay for a private tutor for me if it wasn’t for Vincent. He spent hours here helping me to understand the stuff.”

Catherine chuckled. “Did it help?”

“I got a B+ in the class.”

“B+? Good for you.”

“Yeah, that was up from a low D-. He’s a miracle worker.” Edward glanced at the door and pointed. “Ask Dad.”

Mr. Long came in and opened up the secret door leading to the tunnels. Catherine wondered how he could afford to be so generous and Mr. Long told her the story of how the world Below took care of him when he first moved to this country and how grateful he was that they were there to help him when he needed it.

Catherine nodded, then pushed the cart of vegetables for what seemed forever. Every time she came to a bend she was certain the group would be there to meet her. Finally, she heard their voices as they approached.

Zack distributed the food out to everyone, leaving nothing for Vincent to carry. He looked knowingly at Vincent and told him they could handle it alone, and he could catch up later. Vincent looked up coyly to see what Catherine’s reaction was and was pleased to see that she was smiling.

Catherine reached for Vincent’s free hand while he pulled the cart along behind him as they walked back to Mr. Long’s together.

“I can’t stay long, Vincent. I have to file paperwork at the bank for one of my Dad’s accounts.”

“And then go to work. You have a busy day. Thank you for taking the time to bring the cart to meet us.”

She smiled as she nodded. “Anytime. You only have to ask.”

Vincent looked away shyly while Catherine walked up and placed a kiss on his cheek and then started to walk away. “Bye, Vincent.”

“Goodbye, Catherine,” he said.

When she was out of sight, he reached up and touched his cheek reverently, then sighed and headed to catch up with the kids.

*********************************

Catherine ran home to change clothes, then to the bank to sign the papers. She was only an hour late when she sat at her desk and quickly got to work.

She was closing up a file when Joe walked up to her desk and handed her another.

“Here’s another good one, Radciffe.”

Catherine frowned as she opened up the file and glanced through it. “Couple walking in a parking garage late at night and what a surprise ... they were attacked and killed,” she said sarcastically. “When will people learn to go home earlier?”

Joe shook his head. “The bodies were discovered at 2:30 ... coroner figures they were dead a few hours before that. Ring fingers were chopped off ... their wedding rings missing. Woman’s ear lobes were ripped as well, probably wanted her earrings.”

“No witnesses ... why am I getting this, Joe?”

Joe handed her three more files. “Because it matches all these murders ... ”

Catherine sighed as she took the files from him. “I’ll get right on it ... ”

Joe smiled sarcastically as he walked away. “That’s why I love you, Radcliffe!”

Catherine rolled her eyes and immersed herself in the files.

**********************************

Meanwhile, Vincent was walking when he heard Pascal tap out a message.  He frowned as he continued through the tunnels. As he came upon a sentry post, one of the men stepped out.

“Vincent.”

“Gil?”

“I wanted to warn you about intruders in the tunnels.”

“I just heard Pascal’s warning. Is it true?”

“Yeah, a young kid just attacked Geoffrey.”

“Just now?!”

“Yeah, I guess a box he was carrying was a little too heavy and he lagged behind the others. He said this kid came out of nowhere and grabbed his food. When the kid’s parents came, he was so afraid of them he ran.”

“I’ll go speak to Father right away. Thank you, Gil. Be careful.”

Vincent took off and headed to the library. He walked in to find Mary treating Geoffery’s hands. Vincent frowned when he saw the cuts the boy had sustained but remained silent while Geoffrey related the story of what happened. Vincent was bothered by the violence that Geoffrey was describing. But he tried to support Father’s decision to gather supplies to donate to the new family.

Within two hours, they had made a nice care package and Randolph led them to the camp of the intruders. Warily, Vincent listened from the tunnel way as Father, Mary, and Randolph took their gifts and presented them to the family. Vincent could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand on edge as he listened to the group cruelly make light of their offering and demand more supplies. From around the wall, he could only assume the man questioning them was the ring leader and he wondered what prompted Father to wisely lie and tell them that there was no one else living Below but the three of them and Geoffrey.

Suddenly the meeting took a turn for the worse and the gang started getting rough. One of them hit Randolph in the stomach with a pipe while the other ones grabbed Mary from behind. Vincent was about to reveal himself when he stopped short at Father’s shouted demand. Oddly, the group leader listened to Father and let them leave their camp.

 Mary helped Randolph out while Father followed behind them. Vincent allowed his friends to walk safely past him, then went to confront the intruders. Father grabbed him and pleaded with him not to do anything. Vincent struggled with the decision and then followed angrily behind the small group. He remained silent as his attention was on the noises behind him. Randolph knew they were in danger and gathered the strength to fall behind Father and Mary and stay close to Vincent. They would not allow the group to surprise them as they made their way back to the home tunnels.

The shock of the angry confrontation was finally starting to get to Mary and her steps faltered.

Father came up beside her and put his arm around her and drew her close. “Come now, Mary. It’s only a little further.”

Mary smiled weakly but then seemed to draw strength from his comfort. “I’m all right, Father.”

Father allowed his arm to slip down her back but he reached for her hand and held it comfortingly as they returned home. The group walked into the library and Father helped Mary to a chair. She was trembling when he turned and poured her a cup of tea. He bent over, then held the cup to her lips and helped her take a sip.

Mary held the cup between her hands as she tried to find comfort from the warmth. Father stood behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders and addressed Vincent and Randolph. “Have an emergency meeting of the sentries. No child under the age of twenty-one will be allowed to serve sentry duty. We’ll also need to double up our patrols, and I want no less than six on duty at any given time. If need be, we can have some of the women serve patrol duty and the older children can take over the duties in the nursery and laundry chambers.”

Randolph left to follow orders while Vincent stepped forward. “Mouse and I will get to work on some false walls closer to the entrances of the home tunnels.”

Father nodded as Vincent left, then he turned his attention to Mary. “Are you all right now?”

Mary was wringing her hands nervously and stopped. “Yes, I don’t want to be a bother ... I’ll just get up ... ”

Father gently pushed her back into her seat and came around to stand in front of her. “You are not a bother, Mary. You had quite a fright back there.”

Mary sniffled as she held back her tears. “I was scared when they started grabbing me but when that knife came out ... Father, I’ve never been so frightened in my life!”

She cried out as he sat down on the arm of her chair. He laid his hand against the side of her head and pulled it gently against his chest then ran his hand lightly up and down her back. “You’re safe now, Mary. Hopefully, the nightmare is over.”

Mary took a few minutes to compose herself, then Father watched as she drew from some pool of inner strength. “I should go check on the children now.”

He watched her leave the room, then turned and frowned as he got out the maps of the tunnels.

Vincent walked angrily into the room. “Randolph and I doubled back; we don’t seem to have been followed.”

“Good.”

Vincent reached for Father’s elbow to turn him towards him. “What happened back there, Father?”

“Nothing.”

“We both know that’s not true.”

“Well …”

Father started to dispute it but Vincent interrupted him. “I’m sure Randolph will agree with me, he has the bruised ribs for proof, and Mary will certainly agree. She was terrified by them. I heard her scream out.”

Father took a deep breath as he sighed. “They did seem to be of a violent nature but I could see that they’re in quite bad shape. One of them has a horrible cough and most of them appear malnourished.”

“Starvation is no excuse for their behavior.”

“Maybe not, but it can explain why they were so angry. Desperation can lead men to do things they don’t normally do,” Father said as he walked around the chamber and tried to convince himself. “I believe if we continue to show them kindness they will come around.”

Vincent shook his head. “And if you’re wrong … perhaps Mouse and I should make sure we’ve erected barricades in the key entrances to the home tunnels.”

The two men turned their attention to the maps in front of them and decided where the walls should be situated for the best defensive advantage.

**************************

Vincent and Mouse worked quickly and efficiently, putting up the false walls in several of the tunnel passages.

They were just finishing when Mouse turned to Vincent. “Catherine find new way?”

Vincent sighed and nodded. “Yes, I’m afraid that she can.”

Mouse frowned with confusion, “Don’t understand. Catherine find new way ... not get lost any more ... good thing.”

Vincent realized he had caused Mouse anxiety. “You’re right, Mouse. It is a good thing that Catherine has learned her way around the tunnels. What I meant to say is that she shouldn’t come Below until the danger has passed. I need to let her know of the changes.”

“Mouse finish here ... you go ... tell Catherine.”

Vincent knew it would only take Mouse a few minutes more to finish so he nodded. “Thank you, Mouse. She should be home from work soon; I’ll go talk to her. Could you tell Father where I’ve gone?”

“Send message on pipe?”

Vincent chuckled. He knew Mouse was afraid to tell Father and incur his wrath when he told him where he was going. “Right now the pipes are only to be used for an emergency, Mouse.”

Mouse pretended to be confused. “Forgot ... I’ll tell him.”
Vincent grabbed Mouse’s shoulder affectionately. “Thank you, Mouse.”

Mouse watched as Vincent left. “Afraid to tell, Father, too!” he grumbled as he finished the last bit of work.

 

************************************

Vincent headed Above and landed softly on Catherine’s balcony. Catherine heard the familiar sound and smiled as she headed outside.

“Vincent!” she said as she walked into his arms. “I thought you were working tonight …”

“Catherine,” he whispered as he gathered her close and held her tight. “You had a long day ... ”

She sighed and stepped away. “I spent the whole day trying to tie together three separate murder cases. I didn’t do very well. The only information I’ve been able to get is that it they were committed by a group of middle-aged white people, probably living on the streets. To top that off, the only witness died about an hour ago from stab wounds from the attack. I could do with a lot less surprises in my life.”

“I certainly didn’t mean to surprise you.”

Catherine smiled as she leaned back to look into his eyes. “Yes, but you’re a nice surprise!”

Vincent sighed as he walked over to the wall to look out over the city. “The reason I’m here is not very nice.” At the curious look she gave him he continued. “I need you to stay away from the tunnels until you hear from me again.”

“Why?”

“Intruders have been spotted in the outer tunnels.”

“Intruders?!”

“Yes, Geoffrey had the misfortune of meeting them first. He encountered them on the way back from Mr. Long’s. Perhaps his load was too much too bear, but somehow he had fallen behind Zack and the others when a young boy came up and knocked the food from his hands. Geoffrey tried to confront the boy but he said two adults approached them and their appearance frightened him so much that he ran.

“My God, Vincent! Is he okay?”

“Yes, the boy had pushed him against the walls; he had scratches on his hands but is otherwise unharmed.”

Catherine frowned and looked out into the city. Neither of them spoke as they each felt themselves riddled with guilt that Vincent had been walking her back to the store instead of walking with the children.

After a few minutes, she looked back at him curiously. “What happened with the intruders? Do you know where they are now?”

“Yes, Randolph tracked down where they’re staying in the tunnels.”

She wondered at Vincent’s strange mood and tried to draw him out. “Has someone tried to meet with them?”

He looked at her pointedly. “It was decided that since the boy had stolen food from Geoffrey that the group was probably hungry. Everyone generously donated items and ... ” Vincent shook his head disgustedly as he sarcastically spoke. “In true tunnel fashion, we tried to extend our usual hospitality but it ... wasn’t well received.”

“They refused your kindness?”

“No, they happily took our gifts…then demanded we give even more.”

Catherine frowned, wondering why anyone who appeared down on their luck would be so abrasive. “Who are they?”

“We don’t know. Perhaps a family ... they’re violent.”

“Maybe I could do something?”

Vincent shook his head and turned to face her. “You must stay away from the tunnels until the danger has passed!”

Catherine knew he was being protective of her and wondered if he was reading more into the situation. “What does Father say?”

“He struggles to remain optimistic ... I think he still believes these people can be moved by goodwill and reason.”

Catherine felt Vincent’s emotions through the bond. “But you don’t think so?”

“No.”

The finality of his words and the tone in his voice had her aching inside for him. “You think you know how it will end?”

Vincent sighed as his head fell in defeat. “We are so vulnerable.”

“Well, then let me try to help.”

His head shot up as he looked at her. “No! You must stay away from it!”

“That world…those tunnels are part of my life too, and so are you!”

Vincent interrupted her. “And if the worst should happen, you must not be anywhere near.”

Catherine grew angry that once again he was trying to shut her out of his life. “If the worst happens, I want to be by your side ... with you!”

“No!” Vincent grew just as angry as she did. “Not like that! Not ever again!”

He turned to leave and Catherine looked at him in shock. He was disappearing over the side when she called out to him.

“Vincent, wait!”

Catherine thought he had left and stared out over the city trying to control her anger. Vincent hesitated briefly as he too got his emotions back under control then came back onto the balcony.

“Please don’t leave like this!”

“Catherine, I won’t be persuaded to change my mind ... ”

Catherine’s eyebrows rose in surprise at his stubbornness. “You’re acting on instincts ... you’re not even sure yet if these people are a danger to anyone ... ”

“They knocked Randolph down then grabbed Mary and drew a knife on her!”  He spat out angrily as she gasped in horror. He quietly continued. “I’m not even sure how, but Father managed to get the three of them away with no injuries. Now, in order to protect my home and my family, I have to organize the patrols and the sentries ... I can’t do that if I have to worry about you and your safety as well!”

Catherine was ashamed that she had thought Vincent was pushing her away. By insisting on coming Below, she was actually increasing his burden. Her voice softened immediately as she put her hand on his forearm and stopped his frantic pacing. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I hadn’t thought of it from your point of view.”

Vincent’s shoulders dropped as he felt the anger drain from his body. “Catherine, I ... just need to know that you’re safe ... ”

Catherine’s arms tightened around his waist as he allowed his arms to come up and draw her close.

“That’s exactly what I want to know about you as well, Vincent. But I…won’t come Below until I hear from you.”

Vincent pulled back and in his eyes she saw a measure of relief. He nodded silently and turned to leave.

Catherine called out again to his retreating back. “Be well, Vincent.”

**********************************

Vincent was troubled as he made his way back Below. His senses were attuned to the noises around him even though his mind was reliving the conversation he just had with Catherine.

He was grateful that she had finally accepted his explanation and was able to see his concerns. Part of him basked with pride at the knowledge that she wanted to stand by him through this terrible time but the bigger part of him knew he didn’t want her anywhere near when he was called on to protect the tunnels.

His thoughts took him back to the few times when Catherine had seen his true nature.

They had just met again after all those long months apart. He had felt her desperation and come to her rescue. Her attackers were only moments away from killing her when he came upon them and easily disposed of the three men under her watchful eyes. He still remembered the look of horror on her face when it was over. He shook his head in disbelief when he remembered how quickly she had recovered and took his bloodied hands into her own, insisting they leave the scene and get to safety.

The other memorable time was when he was under the influence of Paracelsus’ drugs. She risked her life to come to him as he hid himself away in one of the catacombs.  She fearlessly walked towards him as he snarled and growled at her. It was only when she threw her arms around his waist and hugged him closely that he was able to bring the other part of himself under control.

Now, he loved her too much to ever want her to see him acting like that again. He tried to shield everyone he loved from seeing him in that altered state and Catherine was no exception. He would insist on keeping her away from him when he knew he was going to be called upon to defend his home.

A scratching noise in the tunnel immediately drove any thoughts from his head as all of his senses were instantly in tune to his environment. He made his way carefully through the tunnels until Mouse stepped forward. He led Vincent to the scene of devastation caused by the intruders. Mouse showed Vincent piece after piece of items that had been generously given by the community Below and vengefully destroyed by the intruders.

“Mouse, please don’t tell the others about what we found here. Each person that donated something they treasured should be commended, I see no reason why they should know that their gifts where tossed aside carelessly.”

“Hurt feelings?”

“Yes, it would hurt their feelings.”

“Won’t tell.”

“Thank you, Mouse. Be careful out here. I’m going to go speak with Father.”

“Vincent careful too.”

Vincent nodded and made his way to the library to talk to Father.

 

**************************************  

Father looked up as Vincent walked into the room.

“You’re back.”

“I wanted to warn Catherine of the dangers. I asked her to stay away from the tunnels until she’s heard from me again.”

Knowing Catherine as he did, Father smiled weakly. “I can imagine that went over rather well.”

Vincent smiled at the sarcastic comment. “She wasn’t pleased ... ” He sighed loudly and continued. “But she agreed to abide by my wishes.”

Father knew that Catherine would have insisted she come Below to help.  He also knew that Vincent would have insisted she remain safely Above. Judging by his son’s somber mood, he realized the couple probably argued. He put his hand on Vincent’s shoulder and squeezed lightly. “Let’s just hope that it won’t be for long.”

Vincent shrugged and turned around. “I’ll be out patrolling the tunnels ... ”

Within a half an hour, Mary ran frantically into the library and told Father the intruders could be heard in the levels above her chamber. Father gasped in disbelief that they had penetrated the levels that close to them. For the time being, he insisted Mary move to a closer chamber. He went with her to help her pack up her personal things. Vincent heard the news and came to help as well, then called for Zack to help start carrying items.

Vincent kept an equal distance between Zack and Father and Mary, who were lagging behind. Zack walked further ahead of Vincent. Zack rounded the corner ahead of him and let out a bloodcurdling scream.

Vincent raced around the corner and found the body of Randolph strangled and chained to the walls of the tunnels. Vincent grabbed for Zack and turned his head to bury his face in his shirt, trying too late to shield him from the horror as he held him tightly, offering him comfort. Father and Mary walked up to witness the horror as well. Mary began to shake and Father grabbed her and pulled her to his chest and held her tightly.

He looked at Vincent for help. “Give me the bag you were carrying.”

Vincent picked up the bag and placed it over Father’s shoulders. Father frowned at the box Zack had been carrying. “I’ll try to carry that as well.”

Zack shook his head as he pulled away from Vincent. “I can carry it, Father.”

Vincent lifted the young man’s chin up so he could look into his eyes. “Are you sure, Zack?”

Zack swallowed hard and nodded. “You need my strength right now.”

Father grabbed the boy’s shoulder as he saw him struggle to come to terms with what he saw. “Zack, that’s very mature of you.”

Zack shrugged as he reached for the bag Vincent placed over Father’s shoulder. “I’ll carry this too, you can help Mary.”

Before Father could disagree with the idea, he bent over and grabbed for the box he was carrying and headed down an adjacent tunnel way.

Mary was still crying when Father looked at Vincent and nodded towards Randolph’s body. “Can you take care…” 

“Yes, Father, of course. Get Mary back to the library.”

Mary, Zack, and Father headed to the library while Vincent took down Randolph’s body. He carried it to the hospital chamber and wrapped him tightly in a blanket. He would need another person to help him carry him to the catacombs for burial.

Vincent left Randolph and began to walk the tunnels again. His mind was filled with the images of his friend’s brutalized body. The intruders had begun to attack the tunnel community members.

His body and mind were starting to prepare itself for the oncoming battle. He felt his anger simmering just below the surface but he clamped down on his emotions as the images of the people he had killed in the past began to play over and over in his mind. He began to run through the tunnels, hoping to escape those images but he knew with certainty that very soon he was going to be adding more to the mix.

Meanwhile, everyone else started to gather in the library. The community needed to come up with an immediate plan. The adults voiced their concerns and a plan to evacuate the children was soon established. The members slowly filtered out of the room, leaving only Vincent and Father. Father listened as Vincent tried to convince him to let him go out to take care of the problem. Father made Vincent promise to wait until all other avenues had been exhausted.

Father sat alone at his desk and reflected on how hard it had been on Vincent emotionally last time the community was attacked. He had been called on to kill several men who were planning on attacking their world unless Henry Pei surrendered himself to them. Henry and his fiancé, Lin, had taken shelter in the tunnels and Vincent had allowed them in, so he felt personally responsible for the attack on the community. It had taken him days to get over the killings and weeks longer to get back to being himself again. Now Father, once again, had to watch his son take responsibility for their protection. He made the decision to send a message Above to Catherine.

*****************************

Catherine was sitting at work when she received Father’s message. She frowned as she read the words.

Need to see you right away, under no circumstances are you to come Below. Will meet you at your threshold.
Father

She quickly grabbed her purse and headed towards the door, stopping briefly in Joe’s office.

“I’ve got to go meet someone ... it just came up.”

Joe nodded distractedly. “You find someone that knows something about those murders?”

“Maybe ... ” she answered evasively. “See you tomorrow!”

“Later, Radcliffe.” Joe called out dismissively.

 

***************************

Father was reading the tunnel maps when Simon walked into the library. “Father, Kipper said you wanted to see me?”

“Yes, Simon, I did. I need an escort. Could you see if Matthew is available and then the two of you can walk with me?”

“Sure, where we going?”

“Um ... I ... uh ... need to speak with Catherine.”

“Catherine?” Simon’s brows rose in surprise. “It’s a long walk, sir.”

“Yes, yes, I know. So if it’s possible, I’d like to leave soon.”

Simon nodded. “I’ll get Matthew; he just went to grab a sandwich. Ten minutes tops, Father.”

“I’ll be ready.’ Father said as he dug out a bottle of pain medication, removed a few tablets and swallowed them as he drank a glass of water.

It took almost a full half an hour, but Father made the long walk to Catherine’s threshold.

“Father.” Catherine greeted him.

“Catherine, this is Simon and Matthew.”

Catherine knew almost everyone Below but these men she had only seen a few times. Vincent had spoken of them often and she knew that they spent most of their time on security. “Hello,” she said as they nodded their greeting. She turned her attention to Father. “I got your message; I’ve been trying to reach you for hours.”

“It was too dangerous for Pascal to remain in the pipe chamber.”

“What’s going on?”

Catherine listened as Father caught her up on what had been happening Below. He asked her if she could meet Pascal at the Central Park threshold and escort a group of children to a helper’s house. Catherine agreed and Father discreetly led her out of earshot of Simon and Matthew.

“I want you to do one more thing for me ... ” Catherine looked at him curiously. “When you see Pascal I’d like you to give him something ... ”

“Yes,” Catherine asked as she wondered why Father seemed so uncomfortable with the request.

“We need a way to discourage these people from further violence. We cannot allow them to control our lives with fear ... I ... um ... I’m talking of ... a weapon ... a gun!”

Catherine gasped. “A gun! In the tunnels!”

“Yes ... that’s why I asked you to see me. Vincent knows nothing of my decision.”

Catherine guessed correctly at his reasoning. “You want to protect him.”

“Yes. I pray that it will never be used for anything more than a threat but perhaps that threat will keep him and us ... safe.”

“Well, then, I’ll get one for you.”

“Good ... an hour then ... if all goes well.”

Catherine went to leave and Father followed her a few more steps.

“Catherine, I need you to know that I’m making this decision entirely on my own. Any ramifications from it will be mine to deal with.”

Catherine knew he was asking her to keep his gun request a secret, and she realized exactly what it was costing him to try to protect Vincent. “Sometimes we have to make the wrong decision to protect the ones we love.” Father looked uncertain and she continued. “Remember, most times it ends up being the right decision.”

Father nodded. “I hope this is one of those times.”

Catherine reached out and squeezed his hand. “Don’t worry. Maybe the threat won’t even have to be made.”

Father smiled weakly and Catherine turned and climbed up the ladder.

 

*******************************************

Catherine raced from her meeting with Father and ran into her apartment. She grabbed some cash she had hidden in a safe in her closet then grabbed her keys and headed out. She drove to Lena’s old neighborhood and walked into an empty apartment building. It was dark but nowhere near as dark as it was the last time she was here.

“Maurice?” she called out as she walked up the steps.

Maurice came out from behind a door and stood with four men directly behind him. His surprise registered on his face as he sneered at her. “You ain’t back again are you? You still owe me from last time!”

Catherine dug into her front pocket and flashed a wad of money before she tossed it to him. “I said I would owe you and I pay my debts.”

Maurice caught the money and handed it to the guy behind him. “Yeah?! It took you long enough!”

Catherine shrugged indifferently. “I added interest to it for your patience ... ” She nodded to the man behind him. “Can your buddy count that high?”

Maurice nodded to the four men who silently slipped into the back room then he turned back to face her as he hid his smile. “You’re all right lady.”

“I need something else, Maurice.”

He looked at her curiously. “I ain’t seen Lena around here since that night ... ”

“That’s not what I came here for ... ” Catherine sighed and looked at him pointedly. “I need to buy a gun.”

“I’m an information broker not a retail shop!”

“Does that mean you don’t know where I can get one?”

Maurice laughed aloud. “You be coming in here looking like all that ... telling me you be owing me for my past information. Now you come back, pay the old debt and then ask me where to buy a gun ... you’re crazy lady, you know that?”

Catherine snapped angrily. “I’m in a hurry! Can you help or not?”

Maurice looked her over as he sized her up. Finally he chuckled as he called out to one of his men. “Shark, bring me a piece!”

Shark came out within a minute and handed Maurice a weapon. Maurice pointed it at Catherine who stared unflinchingly at him.

“How much?”

Maurice cocked his head to the side. “You gonna owe me for this, too?”

“What do you care ... you know I’ll pay ... now how much?!”

“Five hundred!”

Catherine rolled her eyes and dug into her other pocket. “Here’s $250. I can get it somewhere else for half that price.”

Maurice knew she was telling the truth. “So, why don’t you just go to them?”

Catherine stepped forward and put the money in Maurice’s front pocket. “Because I trust you!”

She held out her hand and waited for the gun. Maurice seemed to consider her statement then handed her the gun.

“Shark, ammo ... ” he said loudly.

Shark came out and handed a box to Maurice. He waited for the man to leave before he handed it to Catherine. “Be careful, Lady.”

Catherine saw his genuine concern and nodded with a half smile. “Thanks!”

Maurice looked on with respect as Catherine left the building. 

*******************************************

Catherine sat patiently and waited at the Central Park threshold, while Below, Pascal and his group of children ran frantically towards Vincent. They had been attacked, and as Vincent herded the children together and combined them with his own group, they listened in the tunnels to the screams of Simon and Matthew. Vincent ordered Pascal to get everyone moved to the Great Hall while he headed to see what happened.

He came upon the scene and saw that Simon and Matthew had both been killed. Two of the intruders attacked Vincent but they were no match for him and he quickly ended their lives. He sat looking at the carnage for only a few minutes, then ran to see that Pascal had gotten the children to safety. 

The entire community was now safely hidden in the Great Hall. There was several days’ worth of food and drink for everyone and only two ways in and out of the hall; sentries were currently posted at both doors.

Vincent gave Father the news about Simon and Matthew and then reiterated that when the time came, he was going to take care of the problem.

Father had looked across the Great Hall and saw Vincent’s head shoot up the instant before he ran from the room. The familiar gesture was noticed by several others.

Father called over to Pascal. “Pascal, was it Catherine who was to meet you at the park entrance?”

Pascal knew Father had so much on his mind he probably didn’t remember who he was supposed to meet. “Yes.”

Father cried out. “Dear God, she must have come Below!”

John overheard and was immediately alarmed. “Vincent asked her to stay away!”

Father smiled weakly as he shook his head. “Catherine would never be able to stay away if she thought any of us were in danger ... no ... I’m guessing from Vincent’s reaction she must be in trouble Below.”

Mouse stepped forward. “Help find.”

Father glanced at Mary, then at William who each nodded before he looked at Mouse. “Okay! But be careful, these people are dangerous. John, Cullen, Ike, Keith, William, and Mike will accompany you. You must all stay together.”

The men left and stopped at a nearby storage chamber to try to arm themselves with some type of weapons.

*********************************

Catherine had sat for over an hour. Her mind was flooded with scenarios of what could have possibly happened down there. Her mind raced to people she could call on for help and she instantly thought of Peter and then remembered he was out of town. She thought of Isaac and knew he would come with her and had probably even seen Vincent already but she dismissed him for the simple reason that she didn’t want anyone to get hurt. Short of calling Joe and getting the whole police force behind her, she didn’t know what else to do. She finally went against Vincent’s wishes and headed Below, alone.

She was surprised by the silence as she made her way cautiously down. Close to the home tunnels, she heard footsteps and hid herself away in a crevice in the wall. One of the intruders walked past her hiding spot and kept going. Suddenly, he turned around and came back. Catherine threw sand in his eyes, then ran from him as he chased after her. She was stopped abruptly when she ran into a false wall and turned around to face him. She pulled the gun and warned him time and again to stop. He continued to advance and she shot him in the leg. He continued to advance and she shot him again, then ran past him once more.

Vincent felt Catherine’s overwhelming fear flood to him through the bond as he raced through the tunnels to find her. He came upon her as the men in the gang recklessly tossed her about, intent on brutalizing her. He roared his warning before chaos broke out.

In his mind, he couldn’t separate the killings. He only remembered reacting to each person that came towards him. In his anger, he couldn’t focus on any one face; all he could do was move from person to person to try to get to the one that held Catherine. Suddenly, the way was cleared, and the man that held Catherine threw her away from his side and wielded his knife at Vincent. Vincent’s anger boiled over and he swiftly killed the man. His anger had blinded him to reality and he continued tossing the man from side to side, banging him against the walls. The man’s body finally fell and Vincent delivered another blow to his chest.

Catherine’s voice finally broke through the haze surrounding him and he gasped, then shook his head as he backed away from the dead man. As his rage slowly ebbed, the reality of what just happened crashed down on him and he hung his head in shame as he backed against a nearby wall.

Catherine was relieved she had gotten through to him and ran to his side.

“Are you all right?” At his imperceptible nod, she buried her face in his chest. As she tried to comfort him, she could feel him slowly regaining control of himself.
As a sound reached them from the tunnel way, the two looked up. The young boy came forward with the gun Catherine’s attackers had knocked out of her hands earlier. The couple stood and Vincent instantly put his arm out and tucked Catherine safely behind him. He talked soothingly to the boy as he drew closer to him. Catherine walked to the side as she kept her eyes on the boy and made her way around to his side to try to get the weapon back from him.

The boy was overcome with fear, and Catherine’s heart stopped when she heard the gun go off. She screamed and hit it out of the boy’s hand then saw the gun clatter to the ground. The boy took off running as Catherine raced to Vincent’s side, frantically searching for the hole where the bullet had hit him.

She was relieved that she didn’t find anything. She reached up and cradled his face in the palm of her hand. Without a second thought, she kissed him and then buried her face in his neck and kissed him again as she rubbed her cheek against his and then fell against his chest.

Vincent was relieved that she was unharmed and if he had allowed it, he would have gloried in the feel of another kiss from her, but he tried to hide the pain in his upper arm instead as he gathered her close. Grateful that the bullet hadn’t hit him any lower, he gasped, trying to come to terms with all that had just happened in the last few minutes.

Catherine backed away slightly and looked up at him. “Are you all right?” Vincent merely nodded his answer so she continued. “We need to leave here.”

Vincent started to turn to take a look around and Catherine grabbed his chin in her hand. “No! Just look at me!” When he didn’t answer her, she got more demanding. “Only me, Vincent! Okay?”

“Yes,” he said quietly.

Catherine bent over and grabbed her gun. She quickly put the safety on, then shoved it into the back of her pants. She turned and grabbed Vincent’s hand and led him towards the home tunnels.

Once again, he tried to look at the carnage but Catherine turned his face to get his attention. “No!”

They repeated the sequence twice more as she led him further from the bodies. Soon they were beyond the area. The group of men from the tunnels suddenly walked around the corner and both Catherine and Vincent visibly relaxed.

John was immediately concerned. “Are you two all right?”

Catherine deferred to Vincent, who didn’t answer. “Yes,” she smiled weakly.

Mouse looked at Vincent. “Intruders ... where?”

Vincent remained silent and Catherine nodded to the chamber behind her. “Back there.” She turned to Vincent when he swayed uncertainly on his feet. “Vincent?”

Vincent shook his head and Catherine whirled to face the men. “Where’s Father?”

Henry picked up on her concern for him. “Mouse! Go get Father.”

Mouse took off running and Henry patted Vincent’s back. “Take him to the library, Catherine. We’ll handle everything else.”

“I should…help,” Vincent suddenly said.

Cullen shook his head. “We’ve got it covered, Vincent. Go with Catherine.”

“Cullen ... ” Vincent began. “Randolph is still in the hospital chamber ... ”

Ike touched Henry on the back. “Me and Henry will take care of him first. The others can wait ... ”

Vincent turned and followed silently next to Catherine as she led him through the tunnels. Catherine brought him into the library and poured them cups of tea.

Vincent sat in silence while Catherine sat next to him. He looked down at his hands and gasped in horror at the blood he found there. Catherine followed his gaze and took his hands in her own and squeezed them lightly. She let them drop onto his lap as she stood and brought over a basin of water.

She picked up his left hand and placed it in the water then gently rubbed the dried blood from the hair on his hands. She repeated the same procedure on his right hand then moved the basin with the bloody water off to the side. She was gently drying his hands in a towel when Father hurriedly came into the room.

Catherine stood and ran to give him a hug. “You’re okay?!”

Father chuckled with relief. “Yes, so are you! I was so worried.”

Catherine smiled and hugged him again. “We’re both fine.”

Father looked over at Vincent and his face fell. He knew something horrible had happened. Catherine followed his gaze and noticed for the first time that Vincent appeared pale.

Father stepped closer. “Vincent, what’s happened?”

Vincent quietly replied. “I’ve ... been shot. My arm.”

“What?!” Catherine gasped. “I looked myself, I never saw a wound! Vincent, you never said anything?”

Father came over and removed Vincent’s cloak. Sure enough, a bullet hole could be seen in the upper arm and a big spot of red blood seeping through his shirt. He grimaced. “We need to get it out right away.”

Vincent nodded. “I know.”

Father looked up at him. “I don’t know what to do ... Mary is with all of the children, I have no one to assist me.”

“It can wait,” Vincent gasped.

“We both know that’s not true. The longer it stays the more chance of infection…”

Catherine jumped at the chance to help. “I’ll do it!” Father shook his head ready to object when Catherine gave him a warning look. “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it!”

Father looked at Vincent, who remained motionless. Catherine frantically grabbed Father’s arm and shook it. “He needs your help and you need mine! We’ve got to get that bullet out of him and it’s only my guess but I bet that it can’t wait until you get word to Mary to come help you! Now, can we please get him to the hospital chamber?”

Father knew she spoke the truth and relented. He came over and touched Vincent’s arm. “Son, I’m sorry. I wish ... ”

Vincent whispered as he interrupted him. “I know, Father. Let’s just get it over with.”

Vincent left the room and headed to the hospital chamber. Father followed as Catherine lagged behind. She was confused about what their last comments meant and she decided she would ask Father about it when she got the chance.

Father moved around the room and quickly put together a tray with all the items he would need. Vincent disappeared around the curtain and Catherine stood in front of Father waiting to be given instructions.

Father handed her a surgical gown. “Please put this on.”

Catherine took it from him then put it on. She watched as he followed suit. He held up a mask and tied it around her face then pulled it down to rest under her chin. “You can pull it up when it’s time for the surgery. Now please follow me so that we can scrub our hands.”

Catherine followed and watched, then copied Father’s movements. She looked around for Vincent then turned quizzical eyes to Father. He read the question and answered her in a matter of fact tone. “He’s getting himself undressed.”

Catherine blushed and looked down. “Oh.” She scrubbed her hands vigorously when a thought popped into her head. “Father, why did you apologize to Vincent earlier? I know I’m not your first choice for an assistant but I won’t let you down, I promise.”

Father sighed as he shook his head. “That’s not it, I’m sure you’ll prove to be quite useful. I apologized because Mary couldn’t be here to assist me and Vincent’s not comfortable with ... well ... his physical attributes.”

Catherine’s mouth dropped open in disbelief. “He has a bullet in his shoulder and he’s worried that I’ll see him without a shirt on?”

Father chuckled then nodded. “It seems trivial when you say it that way.”

Catherine instantly became remorseful. “It’s not trivial, Father! Not at all! But right now he needs our help and he’s just going to have to deal with the rest later.”

Father held his hands up as he dried them. He nodded towards the towels and Catherine reached for one and dried off as well. “Let’s go.”

Catherine followed him into the operating room. Vincent was lying on a table with a hospital gown on. The sheet covered his one arm but his shoulder and arm on the other side were exposed. His eyes were closed and his breathing was labored.

Father didn’t have the heart to reprimand him for dressing in a hospital gown so he merely looked at him. “Are you ready, Vincent?”

Vincent wouldn’t open his eyes but he responded. “Yes.”

Catherine stood in the back of the room. Upon seeing Vincent’s muscular arm, her mouth had gone dry and she held her breath. He’s so beautiful, she thought. Vincent’s arm was covered with thick hair but his shoulder was smooth and what she could see of his chest had a thick covering of soft hair that she longed to rub her cheek against.

Father looked over and frowned under his mask as he got her attention. “Catherine, are you ready?”

Catherine blinked and quickly came forward. “Yes. What should I do?”

Father motioned with his head. “Stand over here and as I ask for instruments, hand them to me. I’ll try to describe them if you don’t know what I mean.”

Catherine did as she was told. Father quickly shaved around the area of the bullet hole then reached out with a sponge filled with antiseptic and cleaned and sterilized the area. Vincent hissed in pain but never moved.

Catherine’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully at the pain Vincent was experiencing. “Father ... he’s still awake!”

Father nodded and grimaced under his mask. “Yes, I know he is.”

Catherine shook her head, clearly confused. “Why isn’t he anesthetized?”

“I can’t anesthetize him. His body chemistry is too different from ours. He’s been given a localized anesthetic.”

Vincent flushed with embarrassment that Catherine was once again reminded of yet another of his differences.

Catherine gasped, assuming Vincent was anticipating the surgery. “He’ll feel all of this?”

This was hard enough for Father to do but over the years he had hardened himself to Vincent’s pain, knowing that he had to do it if he wanted to help his son. Father cast a warning glance her way. “Catherine, do you need to leave?”

Catherine realized she was only making this harder and cast him an apologetic look. “No, I’m ready.”

Father reached out his hand. “Scalpel.”

Catherine handed him the tool as Mary, dressed and ready for surgery, rushed into the room. “I’m here, Father.”

With relief, Father looked over at Catherine. “Your assistance won’t be needed after all ... ”

Catherine’s eyes filled with tears as Mary diplomatically tried to include her. “But how nice of you offer to help, Catherine, please stay, you could offer Vincent some moral support.”

Catherine nodded gratefully. “Thank you, Mary.”

Not realizing how abrupt his comment must have sounded, Father nodded. “Of course, you may stand on the other side please,” he said softly.

Catherine quickly shifted around while Mary took her place. She reached for Vincent’s hand and had to pull the sheet off his arm. She nonchalantly placed her other hand on his upper arm. Vincent flinched at her touch but didn’t move.

Father and Mary worked silently together. After several minutes, Father paused and called out a warning. “Now, Vincent.”

Vincent released Catherine’s hand and grabbed onto the side of the bedrail. Father dug into the wound to fish for the bullet. Catherine saw Vincent’s hand shake with the power that he was squeezing the rail with. He moaned and tried to remain still but he still inadvertently shifted.

Father gruffly addressed him. “Vincent, no! You must remain still!”

Catherine gasped and scooted around to Vincent’s head. She pushed her hand against the shoulder of the arm Father operated on and kept it immobilized. She placed her other hand against his cheek then lowered her head against his and whispered into his ear. They were cocooned beneath her hair and Mary and Father couldn’t hear her comments.

Vincent relaxed enough for Father to proceed. Vincent moaned but he didn’t move again and this time Father was able to remove the bullet. Catherine looked up when she heard the metal ping in the bowl near her head.

Father nodded, then began to stitch up the wound. Catherine caressed Vincent’s face and arm absent-mindedly while she looked at him, willing him to open his eyes and look at her. Vincent’s breathing was returning to normal, though Catherine wondered how, as Father was still stitching him.

Father worked quickly and efficiently then cleared his throat. “Catherine, if you could be so good as to wait in the library. We’ll get Vincent to his chamber and then you may see him again.”

Catherine nodded. “Of course, Father.”

She left as Mary and Father helped Vincent get dressed again. Father immobilized the arm, then walked next to Vincent as he made his way to his chamber.

Throughout the whole process, Vincent remained silent. Behind Vincent, Father motioned to Mary. She knew he meant for her to go get Catherine.

Mary walked into the library with a smile. “He’s just getting settled, dear.”

Catherine stood immediately. “Thank you, Mary. How is he?”

Mary shrugged. “As well as can be expected, you can see him in a few minutes.”

Tears came to Catherine’s eyes. “He wouldn’t even look at me; I doubt he even knows I’m here.”

Mary gasped. “My dear, do you have any idea what he just went through?” Catherine winced, thinking she was being reprimanded until Mary continued. “You were a great comfort to him in there. I don’t know if Father would’ve had as easy of a time as he did if you weren’t there.”

Catherine was relieved at her kind words. “I ... guess ... I just wish I knew how to help him through this ... ”

Mary guessed what the problem was. “Catherine, I don’t mean to pry but it’s my guess that you and Vincent are probably not ... well ... what I mean to say is that you and he have never ... Oh dear!”

Catherine smiled weakly, knowing what Mary was having difficulty asking. “No, we’ve never ... ”

Mary looked relieved that she wouldn’t have to say it. “Well, then I think that Vincent is probably unsure of what your reaction was to seeing him in his state of undress.”

“I only saw his upper arm!” Catherine sighed aloud. “But ... I thought he was beautiful.”

Mary reached out and touched Catherine’s arm, grateful that she could overlook what Vincent considered flaws. “He is, isn’t he?”

Catherine began to pace. “He doesn’t believe it.”

Mary turned her around. “Then it’s up to you to convince him otherwise. Why don’t you go see him?”

Catherine hugged her then watched her go. She instinctively knew Mary was wrong. Although Vincent was embarrassed about her seeing him as he was, it was nothing compared to the fact that she had seen him murder all those people. With a sigh, she made her way to his chamber.

Father had gotten Vincent settled into a chair, then checked his vitals and tried to get Vincent to talk ... to no avail. Catherine walked in and Father looked up at her then nodded and left.

Vincent wouldn’t acknowledge her and Catherine felt the rejection as she looked at him. “Talk to me, Vincent.”

“There’s nothing to say.”

“What you did was necessary ... ” When he didn’t respond she continued. “Let me share your pain.”

Vincent looked up in disgust. “How can you even look at me?”

“Because I know you.”

“You don’t know me.”

“Vincent, there are dark places in all of us.”

“But a part of me feeds in that darkness and I am lost in it ... Leave me.” She hovered uncertainly until he looked up and pleaded with her. “Please.”

Catherine stared at him, trying to decide what to do, then spoke from her heart. “I love you.”

Vincent looked at her in disbelief then closed his eyes and dropped his head.

Catherine followed his wishes and headed back home. She took a shower. then sat on the sofa, alone in her apartment as the hours passed slowly by. With surprise, she looked up to see that it was already dark. She glanced at the clock and realized she had been sitting for the entire day with no thoughts of anyone else but Vincent.

She frowned and once again tried to open herself up to Vincent’s thoughts and feelings. She kept thinking if she sat quietly and concentrated on him she may get a sense of him, like he always had of her. She blew out the breath she had been holding as she gave up and went to bed.

******************************

The next morning, she got ready for work but knew she would accomplish nothing until she knew Vincent was feeling better. She headed Below and walked to his chamber. It was completely dark when she stepped in the doorway. “Vincent?” she called out softly.

Father had gotten the message Catherine was Below and he had been waiting for her to arrive. He walked up behind her and sighed. “He’s gone.”

Catherine whirled around in confusion. “Gone?!”

“Yes.”

“Where, Father?”

He took her hand and led her to the library and motioned for her to take a seat. Catherine obliged while he poured them both some tea.

“Father?”

He nodded his head in understanding of her impatience. “I ... I’m not sure where he went.”

“He’s Below?”

“Yes, yes ... of that I’m quite certain. Mouse is trying to discreetly follow him.”

Catherine rubbed her forehead anxiously with her hand. “Mouse isn’t exactly known for his discretionary techniques ... ”

“No ... I’m quite sure if Vincent wants to be alone, Mouse won’t be able to keep an eye on him.”

“Father ... is he always ... I mean ... when something like this happens ... does he ... ”

Father knew why she struggled to find the words and he nodded with understanding. “Often times he leaves for awhile ... I assume to come to terms with ... ”

He hesitated and Catherine weakly smiled at him in understanding. “ ... what’s happened?” she supplied.

Father frowned as he looked away and nodded.

Catherine bowed her head and she stared at her hands. She knew her next words would send Father into a tirade. “It’s my fault, you know.”

Father misunderstood her and rushed to dispel her thoughts. “Catherine, you mustn’t blame yourself. I asked you to bring the weapon. I asked for the gun that he eventually was shot with.”

Catherine shook her head and looked at him with tear filled eyes. “That’s not what I meant. If had only listened to him and stayed Above. I waited and waited and then ... I guess my mind took off and all I could think about was checking up on all of you. If I had stayed where I was none of this would have happened!”

Father reached over and patted her hand lightly. “That’s not true, Cathy.”

“He sent me away earlier, Father. I asked him to share his pain with me. I wanted to take my part of the responsibility in all of this and he sent me away!”

“I know he did.”

“He told you?” she asked in surprise.

“No, I ... know my son. He ... well ... one life is hard enough for him to deal with but several? John told me there were eight bodies they ... um ... disposed of.”

Catherine nodded then looked down. “Yes, it’s hard to believe ... it ... all happened so quickly ... ”

Father cleared his throat. “Do you think you could talk about it? It might help me to understand what Vincent’s going through ... ”

Catherine nodded. Her voice was husky as she told him what happened. “I was chased by one of them through the tunnels. When I ran into a false wall, I was trapped. The man kept coming closer and I had to shoot him…twice…I ran though the tunnels and suddenly they were just there…surrounding me ... threatening me with knives ... ” Father groaned as he realized how horrified and scared she must have been, having been through this once before. Catherine ignored him and continued. “Vincent suddenly came crashing through one of the false walls ... I was passed off to the leader of the group while they all turned on Vincent. I’m not sure how he did it ... it seemed like only seconds ... he reacted instinctively…until ... ”

“Until ... ”

“Until ... the last one stood ... the leader. When Vincent came towards us, the guy threw me off to the side. I think ... his ... death was quick but Vincent wouldn’t stop ... ” Catherine looked up for understanding. “He had killed him but was continuing to toss him from side to side against the walls. I called out to him and he stopped immediately and dropped the guy to the floor. Not long after, the boy came with the gun ... ”

Father expelled a long breath. “You’re a trained professional, Catherine. Do you think they would they have hurt you?”

“Hurt me?” Catherine scoffed. “No, they would have killed me, Father. I don’t doubt that for a second. Although I do think they would have kept me around as a ... plaything for awhile first.” She blushed and looked down.

Father knew she was hinting that they would have physically abused her and he shook his head in disgust. “And these types of people rarely change! They tortured and killed Randolph without a degree of remorse.”

“I think they may also be responsible for several murder cases we’ve had brought to our office over the past few days.”

Silence fell on the two of them as they turned their thoughts back to Vincent.

Mouse suddenly came running into the room. “Lost him!”

Father nodded. “Where?”

“Way past steel bridge, beyond the hot springs even ... ”

Catherine gently asked. “Did he say anything to you, Mouse?”

“No ... set down pack ... drink water ... leave again.”

Catherine frowned. “A pack? Did you say a pack, Mouse?”

Mouse nodded. “William said he took lots of food.”

Father stood up. “What can he be thinking?! He has a bullet wound in his arm!”

Catherine shook her head as she tried to call him. “He can’t be gone for long! Father, you have to send someone after him!”

“He’d only hide deeper in the tunnels. We just have to wait until he returns.”

Catherine sighed as tears came to her eyes. “When he gets back, could someone let me know?”

“Of course, dear.”

Catherine stood and went to walk from the room then turned back uncertainly. “Father ... would you ... ”

She stopped and Father could tell that whatever she meant to ask, she struggled with. “Catherine, you can ask anything of me and if it’s within my power, I will do it.”

Catherine smiled through her tears. “I only wanted you to remind him that I’m here for him if he needs me. That I love him ... ”

She looked down again and Father came forward and kissed the top of her head. “He already knows, but I’ll remind him.”

“Thank you, Father.”

“Take care, Catherine.”

**************************************

For four weeks, Catherine buried herself in work each day and each night slept with the light on and her balcony doors wide open. The strain of not seeing Vincent and the sleepless nights spent in worry were starting to take a toll on her.

Joe brought over fresh files to her desk and she blew up in anger. “Damn it, Joe!”

Joe smiled callously. “I’m bleeding for you, Radcliffe.”

“That’s great!  I have six cases going to court in the next couple of weeks and these three files ... ” she waved folders in her hand under his nose. “ ... are consuming all my time. The only witness is dead and what small amount of testimony she gave isn’t enough to do anything with ...  Now you’re handing more ... I can’t do it, Joe. I can’t!”

Joe frowned and took the files back as he looked over at the interns staring at them. “Can I see you in my office?”

Catherine slammed her hands on the desk and rolled her eyes as she stood and flew into his office. Joe followed behind her and shut the door then quickly drew the blinds as well.

“Spill it, Cath.”

Catherine whirled around angrily and at the look of concern on his face broke down in tears and buried her face in her hands.

“Damn!” Joe said as he stepped forward and drew her into his arms. “You want to tell me what’s up?”

Catherine sniffled and shook her head. “No. I guess I just haven’t been getting much sleep lately.”

“Yeah, Rita told me you’ve been working at your dad’s. You should have gotten some help with that stuff; memories can be hard to sift through.”

Catherine thought of Vincent and how many times she had broken down in tears at her father’s place and he had been there, holding her. She started to cry again.

Joe handed her a box of Kleenex off his desk. “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off, Cath. Shop or do whatever it is ... girls do ... clear your head. Then go home, get a good night’s rest and see how you feel in the morning.”

Catherine felt guilty for using the grief over her father’s death as an excuse, but she jumped at the chance to leave work and headed out. After a day of aimlessly walking through the city, she returned home to her apartment and was so exhausted, she climbed onto her bed fully clothed and promptly fell into a fitful sleep.  

 

The End