Scent:  The Exaltation of Love
By Joanne Grier


Chapter 1

Once again Catherine looked at her watch, willing time forward, and settled to absently flipping magazine pages.  Her week in San Francisco had been interminable and she was unable to shake the feeling of disaster which had haunted her waking and sleeping hours. Catherine's frantic phone calls to Peter failed to resolve or ease her feelings, as his answering service had told her he was out of state.

Being unable to see Vincent before leaving the city had heightened her distress.  Moreno had summoned her to his office and told her she was leaving on an early afternoon flight.  She had refused many cases involving travel, citing personal reasons, but with Joe out ill, there was no buffer zone and Catherine was forced to accept the assignment.

All she had time to do was send a brief note via one of the Helpers to Vincent.  She felt badly because it had been four days since she had seen him.  Once again, Vincent had told her that she deserved a full-rich life with someone who could give her all she should have, someone like Elliot Burch.  She had tears in her eyes when she told him he was everything she wanted. He stepped away from her, repeating that he could not be what she wanted, that Elliot was a man of her world who could give her children.  Bluntly, he reiterated that she should go to Elliot. Her cry echoed in the night and he had bolted from the terrace without speaking.

The seat belt sign came on just as the pilot announced they were experiencing rough weather.  Catherine felt a moment of fear as she looked out the window and saw blinding snow. The flight attendants moved through the cabin collecting glasses and cups and rechecking the overhead compartments.

The pilot's voice trumpeted through the cabin announcing, amidst loud groans, the storm was causing rapid fuel consumption and they were making an emergency landing in order to refuel.  Once on the ground, Catherine was able to see the full unbridled fury of the storm and she muttered in exasperation when the announcement was made that the airport was closing. Passengers would be transferred to a nearby hotel for the night.

As the blizzard raged, the one night delay stretched into three, imprisoning Catherine in a pristine world of whirling white crystals.  On the fourth morning, the announcement came that the airport would reopen by mid-afternoon and their flight would depart at six.  By then, Catherine had cheerfully written ten different letters of resignation, telling Moreno what he could do with his job, if he ever forced her to travel again!

By the time the plane touched down in New York, Catherine was feeling frantic but struggled to fight down those feelings so Vincent wouldn't feel her distress. An accident tied up traffic into the city and she seethed, as she waited in the endlessly snaking line of red-glowing tail lights.  It was midnight when she reached her apartment, pausing only to leave her luggage with the doorman before directing the cab on toward the park.  Even the cabbie hassled her, reluctant to let her out in the desolate park at such a late hour.

She tripped the secret lever and waited as the large door slid forward allowing her to slip inside.  Walking rapidly, she headed directly for Vincent's chamber, her fears increasing.  Stepping inside, she halted abruptly, terror rising in her throat as she gasped in horror.

Father turned, his face stricken, tears streaming down his lined face. Dark shadows around his eyes made him appear old beyond his years.  "Catherine, thank God!"

Ignoring his outstretched arms, Catherine ran toward the bed, kneeling beside the prone figure.  She grasped the tightly bandaged, curled fingers, attempting to bring Vincent's hand to her lips.  She found his wrists strapped. "Oh, God, Vincent, what happened?"  Abruptly, she turned toward Father, her voice filled with rage, "What have you done to him?"

Vincent tossed his head frantically, baring the tips of his deadly fangs in a snarl, and a deep growl rumbled in his chest.  His body bucked against the restraints that bound him to the bed.

Firm hands grasped her shoulders, forcing her away.  Blazing eyes met limpid brown as Winslow's large hands forced her toward the entrance where Father stood.  The snarling increased, filling the chamber with its fury and then suddenly ceased. "Go!  I'll stay while you talk to Catherine," Winslow offered, turning back to his life-long friend.

Father forcefully guided Catherine along the passageway and into the library.  He sank into a chair, his tapered fingers slid through his hair and finally he looked up, his eyes a sea of pain.  "Catherine, please sit down," he requested. "I'm much too tired to keep looking up at you."

"Father, please tell me what happened!  What’s wrong? Why is he strapped down?"  Her voice was anguished, filled with terror which gripped and ripped at her soul.

"It began shortly after you left the city, only we weren’t aware you had gone.  Vincent went Above and found your apartment closed with no trace of you.  He thought you had gone to Elliot Burch and had simply left him.  He told me he had told you leave and go to Mr. Burch, who could give you all he couldn’t.  Nothing I said could dissuade him and he began to prowl the city at night, slipping into the tunnel well after first light.  Then, one night, he did not return.  We frantically scoured the city, nearly everyone going Above in pairs to search, along with all our Helpers.

"It was then, and only then, we discovered your whereabouts.  Some of the others had gone to Tobias and found him quite ill.  He was relieved to see them because he had not been able to deliver your note, so suddenly had he been stricken.  The children brought the note to me and when I read it, I realized everything which happened had been a senseless mistake."

"Oh, dear God," Catherine said.

"After six days of searching, we had nearly given up all hope. However, the children continued to search and it was Kipper and Eric who found him. They heard sounds coming from an old abandoned building.  Thinking it might be a child, they ventured in to investigate and it was there they discovered Vincent."

Catherine allowed a grateful smile.

“We brought him home, and even now, I don't know how we managed.  He raged against us, threatening everyone near him, then suddenly fell into a coma.  Winslow and some of the others managed to get him Below before he revived and the rages began again.  The strange pattern has continued; one moment he's raging uncontrollably, then he slips into unconsciousness. It must be the effect of the drugs."

"Drugs?"

"We learned the place where he was found is a den for drug-crazed addicts.  There has been torturing, burnings and several bodies found in that building.  These sadistic creatures shot...shot ..." his voice began to falter, "shot my son full of every drug imaginable, torturing him in ways I can't begin to comprehend."

"I must go to him!"  Catherine rose, racing for the stairs.

"No!  Catherine, wait, please!"  The sharp pleading in his voice stopped her flight and she turned toward him.

"He's restrained for good reason.  Two days ago, during one of his rages, he attacked Pascal, as Pascal was trying to help.  Before Winslow and William could subdue him, or I could even try to sedate him, he pushed Pascal with such force that the ensuing fall broke Pascal's arm in two places."

An anguished roar shattered the quiet; the sound galvanized Catherine up the stairs, running toward the heartbreaking sound.  Winslow, alerted by Father's shout, blocked the passage with his bulk, legs spread wide.  Hitting the ground crawling, Catherine came up beneath his legs, scrambled to her feet and rushed toward Vincent.

Father rushed in, frightened of what he would find.  Vincent thrashed, pulling at the leather bindings, his face contorted with rage, his powerful thigh muscles bucking, as he dug his heels into the mattress.  The cords in his neck were distended as he strained upward against the restraints.  Fear-filled screams echoed against the walls, building to a deafening cacophony.

Ignoring the danger, sensing only his terrible pain and terror, Catherine threw herself across his wildly heaving chest.  Her face was mere inches from the menacing razor-sharp fangs, her fingers threading through the matted, filth-encrusted hair as his hot, fetid breath assaulted her senses.

"I'm here, I'm here, Vincent," she pleaded.  Ignoring the sour odors which permeated the filthy clothes that still covered him, Catherine brought her lips closer as she murmured, "You're safe, safe, I'm here and no one will harm you. Sleep, sleep.  Rest and remember always, I love you."  As she continued to touch his face, murmuring against his ear, the screams and his struggle ceased and his body relaxed.

She eased away from his chest, perching against the edge of the massive bed, stroking his face as his breathing deepened. Her face was wet when she turned and rose, walking into Father's out-stretched arms.  She sobbed softly against his chest and she drew him closer, embracing his own shaking shoulders.

"What can we do?"

"Catherine, there is little we can do, only wait.  I don't know what they may have injected him with or forced down his throat.  His chemical make-up is delicate and he reacts violently to the simplest of medications.

"Because of his erratic behavior--the periods of raving, then blacking out--beyond getting one vial of blood the first hour he was here, I haven’t been able to do much.  Even when he appears to be sleeping, if he is touched, he instantly awakes, violently lashing out; no one has been safe.  He frightened Mary when he snarled at her when she attempted to bath his face.  He's dehydrated, but has ripped out every IV bag I have hung.  His violence increases at the sight or prick of a needle." 

His disgust caused his words to soar, echoing in the stillness. "It has even been impossible to bathe him and you know how...how meticulous he is."  Jacob’s words faded as the lump in his throat robbed him of speech and he became a worried, frightened father, fearful and anguished for the life of his beloved son.

Catherine moved to embrace him, and then guided him to sit in the chair she pulled toward him.  Catherine was alarmed at how drawn he appeared. "How long as it been since you slept?" she asked tenderly.

Father withdrew his handkerchief, wiped his face, and replaced his glasses.  "Several days," he admitted.

"Then, Dr. Wells, I insist you go along to your chamber and get some sleep.  I'll stay with Vincent and, yes," she said smiling warmly, "I'll call if there is the slightest change.  You won't be able to help if you collapse.  Your strength may be needed later." She turned to Winslow. "Would you help Father to his chamber, please?"

The previously silent gentle soul moved from the entry shadows to stand beside Father.  Winslow's sad, soulful eyes momentarily flickered brightly as he conveyed his appreciation of Catherine's firm, but gentle insistence that Father sleep.  A hint of a smile appeared briefly as Winslow helped Father to his feet.

"I'll return, Catherine, as soon as Father is settled," Winslow said firmly.

    *****

Catherine was sitting on the edge of the bed, busily unfastening the straps when Winslow returned.  "Catherine, I don't know if that’s a wise move.  None of us thought he would harm us, but those drugs have changed him."  A deep sadness resonated through his simple words and Catherine felt the deeper love--and heartbreak--behind them.

"Winslow, it's late, I know, and you are beyond exhausted, but I need your strength for one more task.  Would you get Kanin, Cullen and John, and a stretcher and return here as quickly as possible?  And, would you ask Mary to come with clean bedding and linen?"

She placed her hand on his massive arm. "Winslow, I know how much you and the others love Vincent and I will do anything to restore him.  If I seem demanding, please forgive me, but the thought of him waking up surrounded with this," she spit out the word violently, "filth, and the reeking stench is more than I can bear."  She paused, taking a shaking breath, and then rushed on, "I want to take him to the bathing pools and I need your help."  Her eyes pleaded with him and a slow tear winded unbidden down her face.

"I won't be long," he responded softly, "and, Catherine, I don't think you sound demanding, you sound like a woman who wants her man comfortable."

Catherine was removing the last strap from his ankle as the chamber suddenly filled with people bearing candles.  "Thank you all for coming so quickly," she said warmly.

Winslow moved across the chamber, pausing to lift the desk, placing it out of the way, and then motioned the others forward.  He had thoughtfully retrieved the folding stretcher, which had blocks attached, making it possible to lower Vincent's supine form to the stretcher without placing him completely on the cold floor.  As gently as if he picked up a baby, Winslow lifted Vincent's body from the bed and, suddenly, Kanin was there, adding his strength, and together they lowered him to the stretcher.

Catherine snatched the sheet and quilt, tucking them gently around him as his life-long friends carefully bore their burden toward the entry.  "Mary, would you please get rid of all this," her arm swept toward the offending linens, "and change the bed?"

Mary wiped the tears from her eyes, smiling sweetly. "Of course, we will do anything to help. Are you sure you don't wish me to come along to assist you?"

"Thank you, but no, I can manage.  I just need you to have everything ready when we return."  Grabbing a couple of sheets and blankets, Catherine raced to catch up with the group rapidly moving toward the bathing pool.

    *****

Gently, tenderly, they lowered the stretcher close to the edge of the pool.  "Thank you.  Please, would all of you mind leaving, everyone but Winslow, and then would you kindly return in an hour?"  Catherine was aware of the silent protests as they reluctantly turned and began walking away.

His eyes full of questions, Winslow watched as his friends made their way up the shallow grade and disappeared.  "I couldn't allow them, he would be embarrassed...ashamed..." her voice faded as she looked at Winslow, tears streaming steadily down her face.

"I know," he said softly, "I know."  Kneeling beside the stretcher, Winslow removed the quilt, leaving the sheet to cover Vincent.  With quick movements, he slipped his hands beneath the sheet and began the process of undressing Vincent.  When he had completed the process without ever exposing Vincent's body, Winslow sat down and began pulling off his own boots and socks.  He rolled up his pant legs, exposing firm well-muscled calves and rose to his feet in one graceful motion.

"How do you want to handle this?" he queried.

Catherine began pulling off her own boots and socks and drew the belt from her slim waist.  Thankful for the layers she had chosen to wear on the plane, she pulled off the bulky sweater, tossed it to the ground, then pulled the blouse from the confines of the waistband, giving herself freedom of motion.  "Getting wet is how I figure to do it," she managed a smile, easing the tension and fears she saw mirrored in Winslow's eyes.

"Okay."  Winslow pulled off his flowing wool tunic and then drew the long shirt over his head.  He moved toward the nearby storage cabinets, removing an armful of towels and two cakes of soap. Placing the towels near the edge, he stuffed one bar of soap in each pocket and handed Catherine two wash cloths.

"Go ahead and get in.  It's very shallow--this is where the children bathe--I can get him in here and then we can move to the deeper end."

Catherine stuffed the cloths into her pockets.  When the water reached her thighs, she turned to face Winslow.  Gathering Vincent into his arms, Winslow lifted him effortlessly and strode toward the pool.  The sheet covered Vincent completely as Winslow waded toward Catherine.  Carefully lowering his burden, Winslow felt a deep shudder pass through Vincent’s body as the water covered him.  He paused, waiting, fearful that Vincent would awaken and become violent.  He was surprised when nothing further happened.  Winslow hooked his massive hand firmly around Vincent's jaw and began gently towing him toward the deeper water.

Satisfied with the location, Winslow stopped, looking at Catherine for direction.  Intuitively, he moved to stand beside Vincent's head, turning his back to the white-draped body which floated peacefully.  Supporting Vincent's head with one hand, Winslow reached into his pocket, withdrawing a cake of soap and passing it to Catherine.  Changing hands, he retrieved the other cake and began gently freeing the long flowing tresses of their filth.

"Here," he said quietly, as he stretched his hand behind to grasp the sheet which he heard Catherine removing. Catherine pushed it into his outstretched hand and he tucked it firmly into the waistband of his jeans.  It floated, drifting on eddies, like a ghost floating in an ethereal delight of motion.

Allowing only the briefest of a glance, Catherine began lathering the cloth and tenderly washing Vincent's face.  She washed and rinsed, moving down the length of his body. Tears streamed uncontrolled as she freed him from the dirt and filth that encrusted his skin.   Her face registered her horror as she unbound the bandages to view the damage to his hands - the mangled flesh, grime still visible deeply embedded on his raw flesh. Father had, she knew, done his best from what he had said, to cleanse Vincent but she silently sobbed when Vincent moaned as she moved the cloth over his ribs and down his narrow hips, discovering massive, angry blackened bruises.

Winslow’s own features contorted in sorrow as he heard Catherine’s weeping.

Upon reaching his feet, she moved back to his face to begin soaping him again, making certain he was completely clean.  Vincent moaned again, a loud hiss escaping his tightly clenched jaw as Catherine passed the wash cloth over the deep cuts on his thighs.

Struggling momentarily, Winslow turned Vincent over, and then brought his own powerful shoulders up and under Vincent's neck and shoulders, to keep his face from the water, as he allowed Vincent to float freely on his stomach.

Winslow continued to keep his back to Catherine, giving his unconscious friend the same respect and privacy he had accorded him during all their years together.  Lovingly, Catherine washed his neck, back and then moved to cleanse his buttocks and legs.

After turning him over, Catherine covered him with the sheet and Winslow again towed Vincent toward the shallow end.  When they reached the point of entry, he said, "Go ahead, Catherine, get out and get as dry as possible."  Gently maneuvering around Vincent, Winslow stood with his broad back toward the shore.

Catherine waded from the pool, leaving a watery trial.  Stripping off her sodden blouse and bra, she quickly dried herself, pulling on her bulky sweater.  After wringing as much water as possible from her slacks, she drew them back on.  Drying her feet, she slipped back on her sock and boots.

"Okay, Winslow, I'm ready."  With smooth, rapid motions, she lined the stretcher with towels and waited as Winslow waded from the water.  He lowered Vincent to the stretcher and quickly wrapped Vincent's wet hair in the towel Catherine had placed at one end, for that purpose.  "Go on and get dry, I can handle this," she said confidently.

Grabbing two of the remaining towels and his clothing, Winslow moved up the embankment, while still keeping his back to Catherine. With quick movements he pulled off his sodden trousers, wrung them as dry as possible and did the same with his underwear, then began to vigorously rub himself dry.  He re-dressed and pulled on his undershirt and flowing tunic.  Once he had his socks and boots back on, he moved to help Catherine.

Catherine stripped the sodden sheet from Vincent's body and began covering him with towels.  When he was covered, she drew the dry sheet over him and worked quickly, blotting and rubbing him dry, replacing the dampened towels with dry ones.

His growl, as she gently dried between his powerful thighs, caused her to jump slightly. "Vincent," she entreated softly, "I'm here, you're safe."  The sound of her voice, close to his ear, seemed to soothe him and he again slipped into a coma-like sleep.  She hurriedly completed the drying and rolled the blanket over him.

"Catherine, the others are coming.  If you aren't finished, I'd better go up to stop them."  The warmth and caring in his voice touched Catherine deeply.  "No, its okay, I'm done."

Cullen's voice cut through the silence, "Have you finished?"

"Come on, we need to get moving fast before all three of us have pneumonia!"  Winslow's voice was slightly gruff, but his smile, as he raised his arm in welcome to Cullen, was warm.

 Chapter 2

"Thank you for all your help.  Please go back to your beds and try to get some sleep."  Catherine grasped Winslow's large hand, squeezing it firmly as she smiled her special thanks to him.

Turning at the sound of Mary's voice, Catherine waited as Mary hurried from the passageway.  "I thought you might need these." Mary looked pointedly at Catherine's still-wet slacks. "I borrowed these from Jamie."  She held out a pair of well worn jeans which Catherine gratefully accepted.

"I'd be happy to stay with you, Catherine."  Mary's eyes darted from Catherine to Vincent, her shy demeanor belying the deep abiding love she had for Vincent and her growing love and respect for Catherine.

"Oh, Mary, that's sweet of you.  Could you stay while I get out of these?  I know you and Father have gone without sleep for many nights, but I'll only be five minutes."

Gathering up her clothing, Catherine walked rapidly to the bathroom Vincent shared with Father.  Once free of the wet slacks, she wrapped a towel around her hips and began pulling off the damp boots.  Rubbing her skin until it tingled, restoring her circulation, she felt herself warm from her efforts.  Looking at her thoroughly wet panties, she shrugged and grabbed the jeans, pulling them on.

    ****
"Mary, would you please ask Father to come see me?”

"Is there anything wrong?"  Mary asked, her voice rising in alarm.

"No," she replied. "But I do I need him here.  Would you mind getting him?"

"Of course not, dear, I'll get him and then come back."  Mary's worry and concern showed clearly, adding lines to her normally serene face.

"I’ll assist him, Mary.  You need your rest.  I'd prefer to help him with Vincent, if you don't mind."  Although her tone was soft, there was a quiet firm resolve beneath it.

"Of course, I understand.  I'll get him."  Mary hurried from the chamber, moving quietly down the corridor.

Catherine lifted Vincent's head, removed the pillow and slipped forward to gently cradle his head in her lap.  Tenderly replacing the damp towel, she began to calmly towel dry his hair.  She finger combed the long tresses, patiently working to remove the tangles. She was peacefully brushing his now gleaming hair when Father arrived.

"What on earth!" he managed as he met Catherine's eyes.  Vincent lay beneath clean bedding, the chamber no longer reeked of offensive odors, and Catherine was almost serenely brushing his hair.

"I couldn't stand to have him like that!"  Her voice rose defensively.

"Catherine, my dear, I'm not such an ogre that I would rebuke you for caring for my son far better than I have obviously been able to do!  Please tell me what has happened while I slept."

"I'm sorry," she said apologetically, "I didn't mean to shout. Forgive me."

"Of course, it was a shock for you to find all of this." He reached to grasp Catherine's hand.

"Winslow and the others helped me take him to the bathing pools and Winslow and I bathed him." In spite of himself, Father's eyebrows arched at this news, but he pushed the thought of Vincent's reaction to Catherine's bathing him away, forcing his face to remain impassive.

"He's in a deep, deep sleep, Father, or maybe a coma. There is a terrible bruising along his ribs and hips.  He has a series of deep cuts along his thigh muscles on both legs which I think may require stitches.  They were crusted with dirt but I managed to wash most it away. He has a deep gash on his back which runs almost to the middle of his buttocks, a series of scrapes or maybe burns on his arms, and his nails, his beau...beautiful hands..."  Her voice broke suddenly as her control began to shatter and Father clearly saw the early  stages of hysteria.

“The fact that you were able to bathe him and noted his various injuries is very helpful.  Because of his violence to all of us, regretfully, I admit, I haven’t been able to do much to attend  his physical injuries.  I’ve wondered if he associates my touch – a man’s touch – with those who tortured him.

"Catherine, let me help you."  Gently Father lifted Vincent's head and Catherine slipped from the bed.  "I need to examine Vincent, but I don't wish to bother Mary.  Would you mind helping?" he asked.

"I'll do anything, you know that,” she said as she swayed on her feet, determined to fight the sudden feeling of light-headedness.

"Keeping Vincent quiet and comfortable while I try to examine him is what I need you to do.  If you will help me turn him on his side so you can talk, keeping him calm."

Catherine laid her head on the pillow close to Vincent, murmuring softly.  With practiced movements, Father's fingers gently probed the outer edges of the largest bruise, working slowly toward the center.  The size of the bruise covering half of Vincent's right side and stretching beyond his hip bone into the groin greatly concerned him. "Catherine, I wish to treat his back first and then I will bind his ribs as a precautionary measure.  I'll need to get Winslow."  Father limped toward the entry silently cursing his hip which caused him to move slowly.

Catherine noticed that Winslow carefully kept his eyes averted as they bandaged his ribs, never looking at Vincent's naked body, but holding him as lightly as if he were a baby.  When they finished, Winslow lowered Vincent tenderly.

Jacob adjusted the sheet to cover Vincent and began checking the deep cuts on his thighs.  “Winslow, would you stand ready to hold Vincent down if necessary?  I’ll have to use firm pressure to cleanse these deep cuts and then I fear I will need to suture them as they are quite deep.  Thank God they didn’t sever his thigh muscles with their knives.”  His voice shook with rage, but his hands remained steady as he worked. “The fact that you took him to the bathing pool, Catherine, was a blessing.  These wounds are deep and cleansing them of all the filth and debris has prevented a more serious infection than what I am currently finding.”

Catherine wept with each stitch Father took, hating the sight of the needle piercing Vincent’s flesh.  Vincent’s growls as Father stitched caused him to stop until Catherine’s soft voice reached the deep place within Vincent and he ceased his struggle.  Silently, she sobbed and her body shook.  When the stitching was finally complete, her body continued to shake.

Winslow eased away from Vincent’s shoulder, as glad as Catherine that the procedure was finally over.  "If you need me, I'll be close, Catherine," he said softly.  Turning, he then bade them good night.

"Catherine, try to get some sleep.  I'll watch over him while you rest."  She thought of protesting Father's words, but suddenly her exhaustion took control.

    ******

Upon awakening, Catherine felt better.  Father slumbered in the desk chair.  Feeling Vincent's forehead, which seemed cool, she eased herself from the bed. Father stirred, rose and, coming immediately awake, walked to the bed and, after assuring himself Vincent was comfortable, excused himself.

The sight of Catherine's lingerie greeted him as he entered the bathroom causing him to blush scarlet.  He recovered himself, chuckling at his embarrassment as he folded her clothes neatly, and then stripped for his shower.

Returning later, he found Catherine seated on the side of the bed, holding Vincent's bandaged hand, lightly stroking it.  "Catherine, would you like some breakfast?  You must keep up your strength."

"Tea would be nice, but really, Father, I'm not the least hungry.  "Isn't there anything we can do?"  Her eyes mirrored the pain she saw in Father's warm grey eyes as she beseeched him.

"I wish there was, but I have done all I can.  I sent the blood sample to Peter and hopefully he will tell us something--at least what kind of drugs they used--when he arrives.  He returned to the city less than 24-hours ago, but until you arrived, there was no hope of getting another sample."  Running his hands through his hair, he sighed in exasperation. "I feel utterly helpless!"

Looking past Father toward the entry Catherine suddenly broke into a smile. "Peter!"

"Hello, Cathy, Jacob, How is Vincent?"  Struggling out of his heavy top coat Peter didn't wait, but immediately opened his bag and began his own examination.  "Go on, both of you, get some breakfast. I'm sure you haven't eaten.  I can tell you more after I finish here."  Peter turned to stare at them pointedly and reluctantly, they left the chamber.

    ******

Catherine identified the words M-A-R-Y/V-I-N-C-E-N-T among all the many messages tapped on the pipes.  Looking up, Father nodded. "Peter should be along shortly, he just asked Mary to come to Vincent's chamber."

Her sudden hunger had surprised Catherine and she had eaten both pieces of toast and all the fruit from Father's plate after he had seen how hungrily she had stared at his food.

"Is there any coffee?"  Peter walked easily down the steps, crossing quickly to the table and taking the vacant seat beside Catherine.  Automatically, Father performed his duties as host and after taking a sip, Peter spoke.

"I did the blood work myself, avoiding the questions that might prove difficult.  His blood is loaded with high levels of drugs, some of which I could identify, but many I couldn't.  There were traces of several prescription drugs--Phenobarbital, barbiturates--as well as morphine, and cocaine.  By all known medical standards, he should be dead. His unique chemical make-up has saved him as he seems to have withstood their abuse amazingly well.

"I have another blood sample and I'm going to run more routine tests as soon as I get back.  At this point, I feel about as helpless in this battle as both of you. I want you to continue the IVs, Jacob, and use this in it." Peter handed a small vial, "I want to avoid any infections from those cuts.  Could you get a couple of your strongest citizens up here, Jacob?  There is a portable," he smiled as he shook his head, "x-ray unit in my van, but it took four very strong workers at the hospital to get it there!"

Father walked to the pipes, rapped a quick message and waited. Hearing the quick response, he knew that in spite of his injury, Pascal was working the pipe chamber.  "They will be here shortly.  I asked Mouse to come, too, as we may need to 'borrow' some electricity from Above."

"I also borrowed a small generator--small is not the operative word here--so if we can steal a few seconds from Mr. Edison, all the better. I brought it in the event Mouse's genius failed, but I was hoping that we wouldn't need it.  Cumbersome does not adequately describe this item."

Peter's conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Winslow, Mouse, John and Kanin.  Wasting few words, Peter explained what was needed and the group set off immediately for his van as Peter struggled into his coat.

    ****

Vincent stirred violently as Winslow eased him back onto the bed after the x-rays.  Catherine was immediately at his side; soothing and gentling him with her words until he slipped again into a deep sleep. She was still beside him when Father and Peter returned.  "His ribs aren't broken, only badly bruised.  We will leave them lightly bandaged for protection." Peter shook his head, easing off his glasses.  "He has been through hell!  Bruises that size were made from boots or worse!"

Father drew Peter aside, seeing how visibly distressing his words were to Catherine.  As Peter talked, Father observed Catherine, noting the way she squared her shoulders to physically push away the pain and shock of Peter's words.  She centered all of her concentration on Vincent, pushing her fears aside forcing herself to ignore the horrible possibilities of Peter's words.

"Cathy, dear, I'm leaving now."  The touch of Peter's hand on her shoulder caused Catherine to turn.  The warmth and caring she saw in his deep brown eyes made her smile.  "Is there anything you need?  I could stop at your apartment."

"I could use a change of clothes," she responded simply.  Digging into her coat pocket, Catherine retrieved her keys and handed them to Peter.

"Peter, let me walk you out.  I want to ask your opinion on something."  Turning back to Catherine, Father smiled. "I won't be long."

    ******

Her fingers tenderly caressed his face. "I love you, Vincent, please come back to me.  I love you."  Picking up his hand, she curled her fingers beneath his and brought her hand to rest against her breast.  She continued to stroke his face, periodically kissing the hand she held so lovingly, as she repeated the litany she had started hours ago.

Except for an occasional moan while Catherine ministered to his basic needs, Vincent had not regained consciousness.  Father ceased begging Catherine to leave the chamber, resigning himself to her constant presence.  The only time she left was for her mid-morning shower.  Father noticed that, whenever Catherine left the chamber, she kissed Vincent, speaking softly to him and that upon her return the ritual was repeated.

Father stood in the entry, the physician in him admiring Catherine's devoted, dedicated nursing, but the conservative father in him rebelled at the sight of Catherine bathing his son.  The consummate scientist knew assuredly that her nearness, the constant touching and her soothing voice would, if anything could, bring his son back.

"Father," Catherine turned, moving the bowl of bath water away from the bed. "I'm glad you're here."

"Is anything wrong, Catherine?  Has there been some change?"

"No, there has been no change.  I need you to stay with Vincent.  Tomorrow is Monday and I must go to my apartment to gather some clothes.  I have to see Joe and I can't go like this.  Would it be all right if I asked Winslow, Mouse and Cullen to go along with me?  I'll need help in carrying things back here."  There was no question of her returning Above, it was understood she would remain Below.

"Of course, by all means, ask them."  Silently he wondered what she would be bringing that she required so much help.  He moved to stand beside her, drawing her into a warm embrace.  "Catherine, my dear child, take your time.  You need a break; you haven't been out of this chamber except for a bath in four days.  I don't want to have you as a patient, too."  His deep baritone voice was warm and genuine as his overwhelming concern surfaced.

Chapter 3

Winslow and Cullen quietly entered the chamber, set down several suitcases and then went to retrieve the remaining bundles.  Father tried not to look startled, but when they reappeared moments later carrying bulging totes and two trash bags which appeared as if they would immediately burst, his eyebrows rose.  Winslow flashed a non-committal smile at him as Cullen shrugged his shoulders and they left without speaking.

Father sat in amazed silence watching as Catherine began unpacking one of  the suitcases, quietly moving several of Vincent's shirts aside to hang two suits adjacent to his clothing.  A warm, long woolen robe followed, as did several pairs of woolen trousers.  From one of the totes she pulled two pairs of low heeled boots, low dress shoes and a pair of battered running shoes.

"Would you like to open the box and get it operating?" Catherine asked, knowing the sooner Mouse was occupied and involved, the less chance he would disturb Vincent's slumber.

Father sat in a shocked silence, his eyes darting between Catherine who continued to unpack and hang clothing and watching Mouse, fearful of what he was confidently constructing.  The object was unknown; Mouse's fascination and quick, deft movements both enthralled and frightened Father.  The object looked very expensive and how he would ever find the funds to pay for it, if Mouse were to break it, he was not certain.

"Jacob, would you help me?"  Catherine was all but hidden by the object she held, which was trapped inside the tote and seemed to have arms holding the object prisoner.  Catherine moved toward him, struggling not to walk into the desk as she tried to accurately judge the distance.

They struggled momentarily and finally Father grasped the tote, pulling it free. His arms were immediately filled with a large airy quilt.  Catherine whisked the old, heavy quilt from Vincent's bed and, taking the quilt from Father, she tossed it airward and watched in satisfaction as it settled over Vincent.  Carefully, with Father's help, she folded the old quilt and together they packed it inside the tote.  "I'll take this with me tomorrow and drop it off at the cleaner's.  I noticed there is a lingering odor from....," she stopped, struggling to control her emotions.

Patting her hand, Father conveyed his understanding and she knew it wasn't necessary to continue.  She smiled, wiping away a tear and turned to adjust the already perfectly settled quilt.

"All fixed, Catherine, just like the store."  Mouse stood, allowing her to view his work, eagerly awaiting her approval. He was instantly rewarded by her smile and the hug she readily gave.

Pushing a button, a compartment opened, she adjusted the speaker volume and minute’s later soft music soared above the chamber.  "A boom box," Mouse said proudly looking at Father.

“They are a newer format of the old phonograph records, like the old tape recorders, only these are condensed in size and the cassettes are very portable,” she offered by way of easing Father’s continued questioning stare.  “They run off batteries and don’t require electricity.”

"Thank you, Mouse, for all your help.  I know Vincent will thank you, too, when he is well.  Hopefully, the music will help him recover more quickly."

Mouse stood before her, eyes downcast and looking up quickly, he gave Catherine a quick hug and, before the blush stained his face completely red, he whirled, rushing from the chamber.

Catherine saw Father's smile and she returned it sincerely.  "I decided I couldn't continue like this.  I can't keep treating him like he is going to die.  I have to start doing things to make him want to come back, to leave that place where he has gone to protect himself from those aw...awful, cr...cruel..."  Her voice broke and she sobbed softly into the sweater she held.

Father moved quietly to stand beside her, taking the sweater from her hand as she tried to wipe away her tears.  He gathered her to his chest. "Catherine, my dear, it's all right.  You’ve been brave throughout this ordeal.  You can't continue to keep this tight control, bottling up all your emotions."  The sound of her heartbreaking sobs destroyed Father's tightly reined control over his emotions and, as he held her, he felt his own tears washing down his face.

Fumbling in his pockets, Jacob produced a large handkerchief, silently handing it to Catherine.  After wiping her own face, she tenderly applied it to Father's.

"I brought cassettes of all his favorite music, concerts we listened to in the park.  I got a book on physical therapy and with your help, I'm going to start stretching and massaging his muscles, keeping them strong.  If you will supervise, I know I can do it.  Tomorrow, when I go Above, if you will give me  a list I can take to Peter, I thought maybe we could start him on liquid vitamins, protein, and things to keep him healthy and strong.  I think I can get him to swallow them.  He will open his mouth enough for me to get a small square wrapped around one finger so I can clean his teeth."

Father was slightly shocked at this news.  His focus had been centered entirely on Vincent’s critical medical issues and he had not thought at all about his teeth. Catherine’s deep caring had found a way to bathe his son and take care of his dental hygiene.

"Catherine, your care of Vincent has been exemplary.  No one could have provided better care.  Your devotion and nurturing has done far more than Mary or I were able to accomplish during your absence."

"I love him so much," she firmly stated.

"I know.  I doubted the sincerity of your love, the depth of your devotion to Vincent far longer than I should have."  He kissed her cheek and then suddenly embarrassed, he turned to leave.

"Father," she said softly. "Thank you.  There is no life for me without him."

******

Catherine finished putting away her clothing and took the small bag of cosmetics and her brush into the bathroom.  Returning to the chamber, she unpacked the cassettes placing them close to the player and adjusted the volume lower.  As she moved about the chamber she began talking softly, telling Vincent what she was doing and when she finished, there was no visible sign she had moved in.

Picking up a book, she settled into the chair and began to read Great Expectations.  She read slowly, remembering when Vincent had read to her in this chamber and how calming and secure his voice had made her feel.  "You calmed my fears and I hope I can do the same for you.  You are safe, Vincent; please come back to me."  She stared at him for several minutes, willing him to return and then slowly picked up the threads of the story.

*****

"Catherine, may I come in?"

"Pascal, how are you?  Please, please do come in.  It's so good to see you."

"Is there any change?" he asked softly

"No, not really, he's in a deep coma, in a place where he is safe, where those people can't harm him.  He will come back, I know he will."  She looked at him expectantly, needing to hear Pascal validate her thoughts

"If love can heal, Catherine, I know Vincent will recover quickly. Your love for him has been such a blessing, giving him all that I have long wished for my dearest friend."  His voice was forceful and strong as he sought to overcome and hide his own fears. Awkwardly, he placed a tray on the table. "I brought you a sandwich and tea.  I'm going to stay right here until you have eaten all of it."

"Really, Pascal, I'm not hungry, but I do appreciate your efforts."

"You might get Father and William to buy that, but not me.  Eat!"  His eyes flashed and Catherine realized she had never seen Pascal so intent, unless, of course, he was discussing his beloved pipes.

"If you read aloud to Vincent while I eat, it's a deal."

"Okay, but you have to eat every bite."  He held out his hand and she grasped it warmly.  He picked up the book, balanced it against the cast on his right arm and then his rich, warm voice filled the chamber.  Casually, he looked up from his reading to be sure she was actually eating and not playing with her food.  He had supervised too many young children not to be completely aware of the tricks used by reluctant eaters.

"Pascal, you read beautifully."

"I had an excellent teacher in Father and I learned a lot about reading, how important diction and inflection are from listening to Vincent read when we were youngsters.  Whenever we had duty in the hospital chamber, everyone always wanted him to read.  They were hours well spent for me."

"Could you stay long enough for me to get a quick shower?  I have to see Joe tomorrow and I need to wash this," her hand flipped through the ends of her now stringy hair.  "I have just been rushing through most mornings, and I haven't taken time to shampoo my hair since I got here."

"Why don't you go down to the bathing pool?  A nice relaxing swim in warm water would help you get a good night's sleep."

Seeing her reluctance, he smiled.  "I'll stay here and if anything should go wrong, I can get Father quickly.  It's my arm that's broken, not my legs!"

"Oh, Pascal, I'm sorry, I didn't even ask how you are you doing.  Are you in any pain?”

"Other than being awkward and slow on the pipes, I'm fine.  Now, go along, take your shower or go for a swim.  I'll be here and, Catherine, don’t worry.  I’ve loved him for a long time, longer than you, and there is nothing I wouldn't do to bring him back!"

The tremor in his voice was noticeable and Catherine realized, anew, how beloved Vincent was.  She was suddenly made aware that by keeping others away, she had unwittingly contributed to their fears.  "Pascal, I think I will go for that swim."

He paused in his reading, smiling over the book, and nodded in acknowledgement.  Catherine gathered her things, walked to the bed, and leaned down, kissing Vincent softly on his lips.  "I'll be gone only a short time, rest and know that I love you." She straightened and silently left the chamber.

    *****

Catherine was assaulted with vivid memories as she slipped into the bathing pool.  Hot tears stung her eyes and, for several minutes, she gave in to the terror which assaulted her senses.  She kept shaking her head, trying to banish the sense of loss and fear which filled her mind.  "He has to come back, he has to!"  Her voice echoed and her face registered her surprise that she had spoken aloud.  Splashing her face, she forced herself to forget and, giving herself over to the inviting warmth of the water, she began to bathe.

She swam the length of the largest bathing pool, realizing that it was one of the few times in her life that she had ever swum nude and how pleasurable it was.  She floated for several minutes, the serenity and peacefulness soothing her raw nerves.

When she left the pool she felt refreshed and relaxed and made her way back to Vincent's chamber.

*******

"Of course, Catherine, I'd be happy to come again tomorrow. Just send me a message and I'll be here whenever you want."

"Thank you.  Good night, Pascal.  Sleep well."

Moving quietly, Catherine selected a cassette, adjusted the volume lower until it was soft whisper of sound floating gently on the air.

Blowing out the remaining candle, Catherine undressed, slipped into the warm woolen gown, padded over to the bed and crawled in around Vincent.  She sat staring at him for several minutes, willing some visible change, some sign that he was getting better.  She sighed; determinedly she fought to dispel the overwhelming tears which stung her eyes as she bent to place a soft lingering kiss against his lips.  "I love you. Wherever you are, know I love you and I will wait forever for you to return."  Settling high in the bed so she could share the same pillow, Catherine pulled the quilt over herself.  Curled on her side, she placed her hand lightly against his chest, needing the reassuring feeling of his heart beating beneath her fingers.

Catherine slept soundly, but awoke instantly, staring into the soft glow of the chamber's stained glass window.  She drifted for a moment then turned, completely awake.

Vincent lay curled in a tight fetal ball, his bandaged hands locked over his knees as he rocked himself, crying soundlessly. Putting her cheek against his, she attempted to draw him close.  He curled tighter then, as she continued to press her cheek against his.  He sniffed several times and, haltingly, his arms came up, his wrists against her upper arm drawing her closer.  He trembled violently, his mouth slightly open, screaming in silent terror.

She murmured gently against his ear. "I'm here, Vincent, you're safe."  Using his wrists, groping blindly, he continued to attempt to pull Catherine closer and she allowed him to guide her body.  He found what he desperately sought, the soft warmth of her neck and he buried his mouth and nose against her silken skin.  His open mouth trembled as he continued sniffing, inhaling deeply.

Instantly, Catherine knew he sought the taste, the fragrance of her skin, that it was her scent he remembered. From within his memories, the scent which surrounded her had drawn him.  Her scent was a safe haven where the pain, degradation, horror, and perversion which had been inflicted upon him could not penetrate.

Moving slightly away, she continued to coo soothing sounds in his ear. He stiffened momentarily then buried his face against her.  Rubbing his face, sniffing continually, his tears wet the gown beneath his mouth.  "I'm here, you're safe."  Her voice was a caressing whisper as she pressed gentle kisses into his hair.  His trembling became more violent, as his anguished cries rose filling and echoing in the chamber.  Catherine held him tighter, his soul- wrenching sobs breaking her heart as he pressed against her.

Chapter 4

"Joe, you are a good friend--understanding without prying--and I appreciate this more than you will ever know."  Catherine's smile was warm and sincere.  The interview with Joe and her request for extended vacation had been met with minor opposition.

"Your friend must be mighty ill if you feel you need four weeks to be with him."  Joe felt guilty the moment the words left his mouth. "Cathy, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to...well, I'm sorry.  I know you value your privacy and like to keep your personal life private.  My remark was in poor taste and completely out of line."

His obvious embarrassment touched Catherine.  "Joe, please, it's okay, honest!" she replied. "My time off is going to leave you with a big gap, so I wanted to propose something else to you.  If you want to gather up some cases, ones where I could break down testimonies, I'd be more than willing to help out. I can just send the stuff back in via a courier service."

"Radcliffe, hey, that would be great!  Are you sure?  We are going to be short-staffed, but if you are willing to do that, it would be great!"  His wide, easy grin was disarming and Catherine realized again what a good-looking man Joe was. And she wished he could find someone to love the way she loved Vincent.  He deserved and needed such a love, she thought.

"Let me talk to Moreno.  Maybe I could talk him into considering this as working part-time.  That way you could stretch your vacation time much further.  If your friend is this ill, maybe we had better buy you as much time as possible.  Better to have and not need is my motto."

"Joe, do you think he'd go for it?" she eagerly asked.

"I don't know, but I have been known to be a persuasive talker.  Could you come back in a couple of hours, Cathy?  Give me a chance to get in with Moreno and get those cases pulled for you."

"Sure.  I have a few errands to run and that should just give me enough time.  Joe thanks, for everything."   She reached out to squeeze his shoulder warmly. “I won't forget your kindness."

 *****

"Peter, thank you, I appreciate your seeing me so quickly."  Unfolding the list Father had given her, she explained what they proposed.

"Cathy, most of this I do have, though some of it is in sample form.  I'll give you what I have, then bring the rest down later."  He turned to unlock the cabinet, removing several small bottles, sitting them on his desk.  "Give this," he said as he placed a small tube beside the bottles, "to Jacob and tell him to put it on that deep cut on Vincent's back and thighs.  I have had remarkable results with it.  Here's the fact sheet on it, he can check it for any ingredients Vincent might be allergic to before he administers it.  If it works as well as I think it will, we should see a marked improvement within three days.

"Now, tell me about you."  Peter settled firmly in his chair, leaning forward.  "Have you been able to get any rest?  I don't have to tell you how worried Jacob is, not only about Vincent, but about you."

"I actually slept well last night.  Pascal talked me into going to the bathing pools, rather than taking a quick shower.  The water is warm, tinged with a slight coolness in spots making it excellent for swimming.  I felt so relaxed, it helped me to sleep.  And, Pascal tricked me into eating!"  She tried to look indignant, but she couldn't help smiling.

"Well, good for him!  I'll get him to speak to Jacob and reveal his secrets."  Picking up her hand, he added, "Seriously, Cathy, how are you doing?  From what Jacob has told me, the days before you got home were a nightmare and they haven't exactly been pleasant since your return!"

"Oh, Peter, I feel responsible for all this!  If I had insisted on taking a later flight, I could have gone to Vincent, told him I was leaving and why.  Then none of this would have happened.  He lies there like he is asleep and any minute he will wake up.  But from all you have said about the drugs they gave him, I know he is in a life and death battle.  I can't let myself accept that he might die!  I can't!!

"He has always been strong but, in seeing what those bastards did to him, I shuddered when I bathed him!!  Seeing those bruises, knowing he suffers tremendous pa...pain."  Her lips began to tremble as she fought to control the wild heaving of her chest.  "Father says it looks like they put a screw driver into the soft, fleshy part of his palm, near the little finger."  Tears streamed unbidden down her face, the sea green eyes awash with pain and she shuddered violently.

"Peter, do you think the drugs will cause permanent damage?"

"Oh, Cathy dear, I wish I could give you a positive response!" He ran his hand through his short graying hair.  "It's far too early to tell.  You want more than a vague answer, but it is the best I can give. There are variables, unknowns which defy the laws of predictability. His chemical make-up is diverse, yet the effects of Paracelsus’ dust had far longer effects on him.  The violent episodes, have they returned?"

"No, I can't say they have.  He has been restlessly crying out, thrashing, but no violence.  When he has been restless, I have been able to soothe him by talking. He won't allow Father to touch his hands even when I am sitting beside him.  Peter, do you think he associates the touch of a man's hands with those animals...with the horrid things they did?"

"I just don't know.  He very well may be associating the touch.  Does he react in the same way to your touch?"

"If I accidentally touch his hands without speaking first, he growls, trying to pull away.  But, if I speak softly or put my cheek against his face, he calms immediately."

Peter shook his head.  "Our worries are just beginning, I fear. Healing his mind, undoing the psychological damage their torture has done, will be a tremendous battle.  The drugs may have done irreparable damage and have far-reaching side effects.  The outward healing of his body will be easy compared to the other." Seeing Catherine's despair, Peter stood, moving to stand before her and lifted her, cradling her head against his chest.

Catherine sobbed against him, her tears wetting his shirt. Unable to heal the consuming pain of his friends, he felt helpless and his frustration mounted.

"I'll do some research; bring you the newest books on physical therapy, treatment of coma patients.  Perhaps" he smiled down at the beautiful women in his arms, "together we will find the solution."

Accepting the handkerchief Peter offered, Catherine wiped her eyes as she struggled to compose herself.  Several minutes passed and she finally looked up, stepping away from his warm, fatherly embrace.  "Do I look presentable?"

"You have always looked that, Cathy, and much more."

"May I use the telephone, Peter?  I need to call Joe to see if he has spoken with Moreno or if he needs more time."  Minutes later, Catherine hung up and turned back to Peter.  "Looks like Joe pulled it off.  I'm officially considered part-time with a total of 25 hours per week on the clock.  Joe says I need only report in by phone weekly and send in my cases by courier service."

Chapter 5

Leaving Bloomingdale's, Catherine hailed a cab, gave her home address and settled back as the driver plunged into the heart-stopping traffic. Seeing her struggle, Roger, the doorman, quickly appeared to help.  "Looks like you did some serious shopping, Ms. Chandler," he joked good-naturedly.

Once inside her apartment, Catherine headed for the kitchen, tearing open the packages as she walked.  She dumped the new sheets into the washer and started the machine.  Glancing at her watch, she realized she had just enough time to get the laundry done before she was due at Joe's office.

Later, she returned, wet the wash cloth she carried, wrung it almost dry and then, picking up the bottle, she sprayed the cloth with her perfume.  Opening the dryer door, she tossed the cloth inside with the pillows before returning to the living room.

Catherine removed price tags and moved the stack of new towels to the kitchen to await their turn in the washer.  Removing one pillow from the dryer, she sniffed, satisfied, as she smelled the light delicate scent of her perfume clinging to the fluffy pillow

Four hours later, the laundry was completed and Catherine repacked the now, very fragrant, bedding.  It took two trips to transport the bundles to the threshold and then she tapped a message asking that the bundles be picked up.

    ********

"Catherine, I was beginning to worry."  Father pressed her hand warmly, and then released it as she bent to kiss Vincent.

"Did things go as you expected?" Father inquired.

Catherine eased down beside Vincent, her fingers tenderly caressing his face, her eyes moving over him.  "Much better."

Father handed her a cup of tea and over it, she explained her job status.  Handing Father Peter's vitamin samples and the tube of medication, Catherine walked to the armoire, getting a change of clothing.  "I'll only be a minute," she called as she hurried to the bathroom.

She returned, face scrubbed clean of make-up, making her look even younger, the trappings of the professional, fashion-conscious attorney hung on a hanger which Catherine slipped into the armoire. She left again, returning minutes later with a basin of hot water and began giving Vincent his bath.  Father watched in silence. "May I be of any assistance, Catherine?"

"If you could get the ointment and clean bandages, I'll do his hands after I finish this.  I'd like to get all this out of the way before we change the bed linen."

He moved to the chair beside the bed, retrieving another pan of water and adding liquid antiseptic.  Under his watchful gaze, Catherine began to carefully cut the bandages from Vincent's hands.  She took a slow, deep steadying breath as she peeled away the last bandage.  Her eyes closed involuntarily and she shuddered, then forced her eyes open and began cleansing the raw flesh.

Her sorrow was borne silently as she sought to thoroughly cleanse the wounds. Father lifted the pan as Catherine tenderly placed Vincent's hand in the towel which covered her lap.  Gently, she blotted the wetness then began spraying the antiseptic over his hand. After it dried she applied a soothing ointment, then carefully applied new bandages.

Vincent whimpered several times as she worked, particularly on his right  hand which was the more severely damaged.  Catherine soothed him with words, murmuring softly to him, her own eyes filling rapidly causing her vision to blur as she felt the arcing of his pain.

"Father, would you help me roll Vincent on his side?"

Together they eased Vincent over and Catherine quickly completed his bath.  Bending, she placed her cheek against his face, speaking softly to him as Father placed his hand against his broad back.  He growled, bearing his fangs, his head thrashing against the pillow and only as Catherine drew him closer, whispering softly, did his fury cease.  Then and only then did Father know it was safe to proceed.

With quick assured movements Father began cleansing the gash with antiseptic soap, steeling himself against the pain he knew his harsh rubbing caused his son.  Pulling the chair closer to the bed, he closely inspected the wound as he began applying the ointment.  “Are you all right, Catherine?"  The warmth of his voice broke Catherine's deep concentration and she exhaled a ragged breath. 

She lifted her tear stained face and tried to answer, but could only shake her head.  Father added, "One of the most difficult parts of being a doctor--or a good nurse--is knowing that, often in order to heal, we must sometimes inflict pain for that healing to begin.  My heart aches, too, Catherine, when I must scrub his wounds, knowing my actions bring him pain.  Why don't you stay there while I clear this away?" Father picked up the antiseptic spray bottles, placed them in his medical bag and disposed of the soiled bandages. He heard Catherine softly speaking to Vincent, repeating over and over her love, as he moved quietly toward the entry. He emptied the pan into a bucket, and then carried the bucket to the bathing chamber.

Catherine's fingers lightly caressed Vincent's face, the pain which was etched deeply there adding to the heartbreak she felt.  Pressing closer, she felt the trembling beneath his skin, knowing the pain the cleansing had caused.  "I love you.  Please fight to get well so I may look again into your eyes and tell you of my love.  I need you so much; you are my life."

    *******

Winslow entered the chamber quietly and, seeing Catherine apparently asleep holding Vincent in her arms, he turned to leave.  "Winslow, it's all right, come in, please."

"Where do you want these?" he asked, as he eased the bundles from her apartment from his massive shoulders.  "I'm sorry I'm late, but there was a problem and it took longer to resolve than I expected. Has Father been here?"

"Yes, and he will be right back, he just stepped out.  Would you hand me one of the pillows in that bag?" she asked, as she gestured toward the larger of the two bundles.

Understanding her intent, Winslow eased the pillow next to Vincent's body as Catherine slowly slipped from beneath Vincent's arms and tenderly laid his arm across the pillow.  Vincent stirred and Catherine watched as he sniffed then rolled to lay cradled against the pillow's fragrant softness.  Taking Winslow's offered hand, she stepped lightly from the bed.

"I gathered you got the Wilson problem resolved," Father asked, as he stepped into the chamber.  "Goodness," he smiled warmly, "but it smells delightful in here.  Catherine, what have you done?"

"Is it too much?"  Catherine asked anxiously fearful she had overdone the perfume.

"No!" they chorused together causing both of them to chuckle.

"I discovered Vincent remembers the scent of my perfume, the scent of my skin, so I thought that if I got some new sheets, towels, things which we could use to make him comfortable, perhaps being surrounded by that smell, he would know he is safe.  Then maybe he’ll come...home," her voice trembling, "and know that this, too, is a safe place."  She dabbed at her tears as she tried to smile at both men, her eyes begging them to understand the desperation that drove her to try anything to reach him.  "I bought new pillows because I could still smell traces of those odors.  I'm going to take his pillows to the same cleaner who has his quilt."

Winslow held out his hand, startled by how huge it seemed, as Catherine's smaller hand captured his and brought it slowly to Vincent's face.  She allowed Winslow's hand to rest on stop of her own as she placed her hand on Vincent's chin. "Smell, Vincent, smell. It's Winslow and he won't hurt you."  She repeated the words over until finally she saw his nostrils flair as he inhaled.

Satisfied, Catherine lifted her hand and smiled up at Winslow.  Scrambling out of the way, Catherine watched as Father eased the IV tube and stand away.  Winslow eased Vincent onto his back, then slipped his arms beneath Vincent's powerful shoulders and carefully raised him to a sitting position.

Father worked quickly, noting that Vincent didn't appear to be in as much discomfort as when he had first bandaged his ribs.  His skin was still very warm and he debated the merit of attempting to take his temperature orally.

"Let's get him down," Father said as he finished.  Winslow eased Vincent back down.  "Catherine, do you think you can coax him into opening his mouth.  I'd like to get his temperature."

Catherine perched gingerly on the edge of the bed. "Hand me the glass and the cloth," she said.  She dipped the cloth into the glass, and then lightly rubbed it across Vincent’s lips.  His thirst caused his lips to part as he sucked greedily at the mint-flavored cloth.  Twice more, Catherine wet the cloth then carefully wrapped her finger around it.  "Vincent, open your mouth, just a little, please."  Slowly, he complied, and she quickly used the soft surface of the cloth to clean his teeth.

Father watched in amazement as Catherine slipped her other finger into his mouth, resting it directly on the surface of one sharp canine. "Cath..."  Her sharp look stopped his words.  "He won't hurt me, Father.  Vincent would never hurt me."  She held out her hand and he handed her the thermometer.  Slipping it under his tongue, she waited.  At Father's nod she removed it, handing it to him.  She leaned forward pressing her cheek against Vincent's. "Thank you."

Standing, she looked at both men. "Shall we change the bedding now?"  They nodded, and Winslow tucked the sheet around Vincent, effortlessly lifting him into his arms.  He felt the chair Catherine moved behind him gently tap the back of his knees and he slowly sank into it.  Father moved the IV stand, pausing to check the bandages that held the needle.

Father struggled momentarily fitting the king size pillow into the case as the pillow seemed to fight against him, refusing to be encased within the muted colors.

Winslow's deep chuckle caused Father to look up from his battle and realizing how silly he must have looked valiantly fighting the pillow as his own laughter split the air.  Catherine and Father stood on either side of Winslow as he slowly stood then walked to the bed and gently eased Vincent down.

Chapter 6

Catherine sat reading the book on physical therapy, making notes of procedures and questions to ask Father and Peter.  She paused in her reading realizing the cassette player had shut off as she could now clearly hear the tapping on the pipes.  Her tea had grown cold and bitter, but grimacing she gulped it down and returned to her reading.

Seeing Vincent stir, she instantly moved to the bed.  He moved restlessly and after watching for several minutes Catherine eased the pillow away.  Holding the IV tubing away from harm, Catherine struggled then was able to ease him over to lie on his stomach.  Groaning softly, he drew one leg up and settled himself against the pillow which he pulled close.

Catherine began stroking his back hoping to ease his distress.  "I'll read to you later after we do your therapy.  Father is going to help, but I don't expect to be good at this the first time.  You will have to bear with my fumbling and I'll try not to cause you pain.  Your muscles aren't used to being stretched so it might hurt."  Her fingers continued to massage his shoulders, rolling and kneading the muscles.  "Father said the skin around the gashes would be sensitive and start to draw, so we have to keep it soft and supple."

She continued to talk, knowing that within his safe place he heard her.  She had read enough about comatose patients to realize how important it was to maintain brain stimulation by continuing to carry on normal conversation. Pausing, Catherine listened then placed her ear against his shoulder as his breathing seemed to slow, becoming shallow.  "Sleep, love, sleep and heal," she whispered against his skin as she kissed his shoulder.  She heard him exhale audibly as he settled more firmly against the pillows.

*****

The days passed slowly.  Mary came often to sit with Catherine, relieving her  to work on the cases she had brought Below.  Mary sat with her, knitting, as she softly sang the songs of Vincent’s childhood. Between knitting projects, Mary read a collection of Vincent’s favorite childhood stories.

Almost every evening, Pascal came to sit with Vincent while Catherine had dinner with Father and Winslow.  Pascal and Winslow were faithful to their friend and cared for Catherine as kindly as if Vincent was merely sleeping, and it was their duty to look after her until he awakened; a duty that each man took very seriously.

The fabric door to Vincent’s chamber was drawn closed by Pascal as he left.  Father had already completed his last check of Vincent so Catherine began to undress for bed.  She slipped into a soft wool gown then found a pair of socks for her feet and climbed into bed.  She slipped beneath the down quilt, angling her body around Vincent’s bent leg, as he lay on his side.  She shifted, so that her head was slightly above his and she snuggled closer, so that he would be aware of her scent.  Gently, she placed her hand on his shoulder and settled to sleep.

Catherine came quickly awake as she felt Vincent’s weight shift dramatically, rolling to rest almost fully upon her body. “Catherine, come back,” he sobbed.  Gathering him closer, she tenderly murmured his name repeatedly, hoping to bring him from his despair.

“I’m here my love, I’m here.  You’re safe and I’m holding you.”  She brushed kisses over his face, tasting the tears that streamed from his sightless eyes.  He continued to sob her name, repeatedly, his anguish mounting.  “I’m here.  We’re in your chamber, safe and warm.  There’s no one here who will harm you or inflict pain, you must believe me.  You’re safe.”  His anguish continued and he became more agitated. “Vincent, you’re home in your own bed, here in the tunnels, surrounded by all your treasures.  Your journal is on the desk and your antique pen is near, waiting for you to use them.”

She cuddled closer to him, unbuttoning the gown and attempting to draw Vincent’s face closer to her breasts.  He pulled away, then his nostrils flared and he moved his head closer. He moved imperceptibly closer, his mouth opened and he drew in a ragged breath, inhaling deeply.  Lightly, he pushed against her silky skin as he continued to breathe in her scent.  Understanding how deep his psychological wounds were, Catherine knew he needed the physical intimacy and comfort which he had long denied himself.  He had retreated into a world far removed from the horrors of the physical abuse he had suffered, into a world where he lived with Catherine, a world encompassed only by their enduring and abiding love.

Catherine drew him closer, sensing his deep-seated need to be held intimately against her body.  Minutes passed and he began to quiet, the shivering beneath his skin slowed and his breathing became calm and deep.

Catherine finally felt herself begin to relax.  She held Vincent lightly, but firmly enough that he was always aware of her being close to him.  She stroked and soothed him as she would a small child.  Remembering how deeply Vincent slept after Mary had sung to him, she began to hum the song her mother had always sung to her.  After several attempts, she finally got all the words right and began to softly sing her childhood lullaby.

Another day passed and Vincent still remained in a deep coma.  His day was one of endless tossing, growls and, several times, he cried out. Catherine refused to leave him with anyone, knowing that she needed to be near to soothe his anguish.

Pascal appeared in the evening and she asked if he would gather Winslow, Cullen, and Kanin to help transport Vincent to the bathing pool.  “You were right about my sleeping better after a dip in the pool, so I hope your idea would help Vincent.  He has had a fretful day; he keeps moaning and trying to remove the bandages from his hands. He seems to be a lot of pain today.  If you could arrange to have him taken to the pool, Winslow and I can bathe him.”

“Of course, I’ll send a message, and then if you will tell me what you need, I’ll help gather everything.”  Pascal’s voice deepened with his love and concern as he moved into the passage.  Several minutes later, Catherine could hear the voices as Vincent’s friends gathered.

Once again, the group moved efficiently and soon they were at the bathing pool.  The group departed leaving only Catherine and Winslow alone with Vincent.  “This time I brought an extra set of clothing for the walk back to his chamber,” the gentle giant offered quietly.

“So did I,” Catherine replied.  “Did Pascal tell you why we are doing this tonight?”

“Yes, he told us that Vincent had a bad day.  If this helps, we can do this every night for as long as it takes.  There’s nothing that is too much to ask for Vincent as far as we’re concerned.”

Together they repeated the tasks they had previously performed and soon they had Vincent’s sheet-enshrouded body floating in the water. Catherine gave him a thorough bath, which took far less time than the bed baths she performed daily.  Replacing the sheet over him, Winslow gently took him by the chin and walked about the pool, allowing him to glide through the water.  Tirelessly, he walked towing his friend and, as the water soothed, he felt Vincent’s body relax more.

Once in the shallow area, he removed his hand from his jaw and allowed Vincent to float freely.  The entire time he walked and moved Vincent around in the water, Winslow kept up a steady stream of conversation.  He believed that Catherine was right; they had to continuously talk with Vincent to reassure him that he was safe and surrounded by those who deeply loved him.

Over the next several days, this ritual was repeatedly nightly.  On the fourth night, when they reached the bathing pool, they found an odd looking contraption and Mouse, waiting for them.  “Build so Winslow doesn’t have to lift Vincent so high,” he beamed brightly.  Roughly four feet off the ground stood a rectangular box with slots cut in the top so the stretcher rods locked firmly into place.

“Mouse, this is brilliant!  Let’s try it.”  Seeing it had Catherine’s full approval, the group lowered the stretcher into its new resting place.  Unlike some of his other inventions, this one did not shutter nor quake when the box took the full weight of the stretcher.

“Could you build a second one, Mouse?  And another stretcher with the blocks attached?  It would seem to me that if we had another, it would simplify the process.  After we get Vincent out of the water and dried, we could then transfer him to the other stretcher.  He wouldn’t have to make the trip back lying on damp towels.  That would surely add to his comfort.”

Cullen volunteered to help Mouse construct a second box and Kanin agreed to create another stretcher.  The group departed amidst happy chatter of Mouse’s invention.

While Winslow towed Vincent around in the calming water, Catherine was surprised to hear Winslow’s deep baritone voice singing.  He seemed totally unaware that he sang and the song became an anthem of love and friendship, as he endlessly moved his friend in the soothing water.

After lifting Vincent from the water, Winslow carefully lowered him to the stretcher.  His hand accidentally brushed against Vincent’s hip and Vincent began to growl deep in his throat.  Quickly, Catherine touched his face bringing her hand close to his nostrils and speaking in soothing tones.  “It’s all right.  That was only Winslow’s hand that accidentally touched you.  You’re safe.  Winslow just helped you out of the bathing pool.  He’s your friend and he wouldn’t harm you.”  She reached for and finding Winslow’s large hand, she placed it on top of her own as she gently moved her hand near Vincent’s nostrils. “Take a deep breath.  Can you smell the scent of Winslow?  Breathe deeply now.”  His nostrils flared and then, suddenly, he relaxed again.

“Some place deep within he knows he is surrounded by his family.  His wounds are beginning to heal but his mind is still controlled by the horror he experienced.  We have to keep assuring him so he can come back.  We have to…” Catherine’s voice broke and she firmly clamped down on her jaw, knowing that Vincent would hear and feel her distress.

Chapter 7

The pattern of their days became routine.  Mary, Jacob, and Pascal came daily to read to Vincent while Catherine worked on the cases Joe provided.  Catherine was surprised to discover that her month of working part-time was nearly up.  She reached a decision and asked Mary if she would stay with Vincent for two hours while she went Above.  Reaching the surface, she made a quick call to Joe asking him to meet her at a nearby restaurant away from the office.

She was already seated when Joe arrived.  “What’s up, Radcliffe?”

“I’ve reached a decision and felt I had to inform you immediately.  I must take six months leave of absence and if that can’t be arranged, then I’m submitting my resignation immediately.  My situation hasn’t changed and I know I can’t return to work full-time for at least six months or longer.  It isn’t fair to you or the Department to keep holding a full-time job open when you desperately need a full-time staff person.”

“Whoa!  Let’s at least talk about this.”  Joe sat in shocked silence.

"In fact, in just saying this, I think it would be best for both of us if you simply accepted my resignation, effective today.  I don’t want to make promises that I can’t fulfill and six months leave may simply not be enough.”  She withdrew a notepad from her purse and without any hesitation wrote out a brief statement of her resignation.  She slid it across the table to Joe.  “I can finish up the cases I have within a couple of days and courier them back to you.  I don’t think I left anything personal at my desk except for a pair of shoes and my old black umbrella which you should keep.  Just toss the shoes.”

“Won’t you even discuss this with me?”

“Joe, it won’t change anything.  I’m doing this because I respect you. You deserve a full-time staff and I can’t be that person anymore.  My life is heading in another direction and no job is going to keep me from my destiny.

“You have been more than a boss.  You are a dear friend and I trust that you will accept my decision and know that my reasons are valid and significantly important to me.  You are the brother I have always wished I had.  Please Joe,” she reached across the table to clasp his hand firmly, “don’t fight this.  Just accept that it is the best for me.”

“Will you promise to keep in touch?  I don’t mean to pry, but I guess this means that your friend is still seriously ill.  I hope he gets better. I hope he realizes what a treasure he has in you.”  Joe’s face turned slightly pink as he tried to smile.

“He does, believe me.  Joe, thank you.  I know you want to argue with me about the decision, but I know you won’t.  I will be in touch as often as I can.”  Rising from her chair, Catherine brushed a brief kiss across Joe’s startled lips and walked away.

Hailing a cab, she headed to her apartment and asked the driver to wait.  Inside she found Roger, the doorman.  She quickly explained to him that she would be away for weeks on end, but she would arrange to have her mail picked up and that if anyone inquired about her, they were to say she was on an extended holiday.  She gave Peter’s name as a contact in an emergency and then climbed back into the cab and headed toward the Park.

****

“He’s been very peaceful while you were gone.”  Mary sat beside Vincent’s bed with an open book in her hand.  “I think the scent on the pillows helps.  It was very cleaver of you to think of it.  Is there anything else I can do before I leave?”

“No thank you, Mary.  I appreciate your staying while I went Above.”

After Mary left, Catherine kissed Vincent and sat for a few minutes gently touching his face.  Then she went over to the wardrobe and changed into her tunnel clothes.  She smiled happily as she hung her suit and closed the door.  Taking a tablet and pen she took the chair beside Vincent’s bed and began writing.

“Catherine, how are you?  Mary said you had gone Above.  I trust there are no problems.”

“Why don’t you sit down, Father, I need to talk.”  He settled into the desk chair and looked expectantly at Catherine.

“I went to see Mr. Maxwell, my boss, and I tendered my resignation effective immediately.  My part-time status expires tomorrow and there is no way I can return to working full-time.  Would you be willing to act for me in proposing to the Council that I be allowed to remain Below permanently?  Also, I’ve written a letter to Peter telling him what I’ve done, notifying him that he is the contact person for my building management and asking him to get a few things for me from my apartment when he has time.  Do you think you could arrange to have my letter delivered to Peter?”

“I originally came to see if you wanted to do Vincent’s therapy, but I think that can wait while we discuss all your news.  Are you sure about resigning from your job?  It’s a big step.  You seemed to enjoy working with Mr. Maxwell.”

“Originally it was the job I loved but, over time, I realized I was there more because of Joe and his sense of dedication and justice.  And it is because of my respect and admiration for Joe that I tendered my resignation.  No matter how long it takes until he is well, I’m never leaving Vincent again.  My job was the reason he was hurt; do you think I can ever forget that?”

Realizing there was nothing he could say and refusing to offer vague platitudes, Father wisely said nothing.  He offered his hand and squeezed hers in affection.  “I can certainly speak on your behalf to the Council and honestly feel there will be no objections.  If you have finished your letter to Peter, I can take it along with me when I leave. Would you like to begin doing Vincent’s therapy?”

Together they worked at bending and stretching Vincent’s arms and legs.  The heavy bruising and cuts were fading but his hands were slow to heal.  “I think we might want to try flexing his fingers, if at all possible.  They will become inflexible if we don’t stretch them but the bruising is still deep so it may be  very painful.”

Catherine began to unwrap the bandages and, even though she had cleansed and bandaged them daily, the sight of his damaged hand continued to cause her anguish.  She brushed her mouth across Vincent’s and then began telling him that she was going to touch his hands.  Slowly, she brushed two fingers over his palm, keeping her strokes light and even, when she began to gingerly touch his index finger.  Patiently, she worked until the finger slowly unfurled slightly. “That’s good.  Just a little more, try to straighten your finger a little more.”  Her voice was a soothing balm, calm and serene.

Her patience was not lost on Father.  He realized anew that Catherine truly had no fears concerning Vincent and his amazing strength.  In her opinion, Jacob realized, he was just an ordinary man and she found nothing to fear in this extraordinary human.

Patiently, she worked on each finger, slowly getting each one to unfurl.  “Could you hand me a wet cloth?  His hand has been clinched for so long, it’s slightly...”  She stopped speaking and wrinkled her nose. Immediately understanding what Catherine left unspoken, Jacob handed her a wet cloth and the antiseptic soap.

“Do you think it would be all right if I put a little lotion on his palm and along his fingers, just to keep the skin soft?  I’d be careful not to get it close to any of the infected areas.  What about his nails on the fingers that weren’t hurt?  They’re quite long and have made ridges against his palm.”

“His nails are quite thick and I don’t know if you would have the strength to cut them.  I’d be willing to do it, if you think we can get him to allow me to touch his fingers.  So far, Catherine, you are the only one whom he has allowed to touch his hands.”

“Why don’t we see if he would allow you to put lotion on his palm?”  Together they repeated what had become a litany when others needed to help or touch Vincent.  After several minutes of talking, Father put two fingers on Vincent’s palm and began to slowly rub in the lotion.  He was delighted to see Vincent’s fingers flex, even a little, in response to the steady even pressure he applied.  The stretching and flexing consumed three hours, but both Jacob and Catherine, though physically and mentally exhausted, were well pleased with their efforts.

Chapter 8

It was late and the tunnels had settled into sleep.  Catherine had ceased reading to Vincent but continued to sit beside his bed.  Her meeting with Joe was still on her mind, reviewing what she had said and realizing anew that her decision was right.  Nothing would ever again separate her from Vincent.

“Water.”

Startled, Catherine looked up to see Vincent staring at her.  She quickly moved from the chair to perch on the bedside.  “Hello, my love.  Just a moment and I’ll give you some water.”  She poured a few inches of water into the nearby glasses, then moved the IV stand away so that she could slip behind it.  She slid her arm under Vincent’s head raising it slightly and pressed the glass against his lips.  “Just a few sips.”  Greedily, he drank, draining the glass completely. “I know you are still thirsty, but we need to wait a few minutes to be certain it settles well on your stomach.  You haven’t had water, in your stomach for weeks.”

Gently, she lowered his head back to the pillow.  He stared for several minutes and then his eyes slowly closed.  His ragged breathing began to slow, then deepened, and she could tell he was once again in a deep sleep.  She continued to sit beside him, silent tears running down her cheeks.  He had looked at her and he had spoken.  “Please, dear God, let this mean that he’s healing and he’ll come back to me, please,” she murmured into the stillness.

She blew out the candle and climbed in bed, curling her body around and close to Vincent.  She was still asleep when Father came to make his morning check of Vincent.

Admitting to himself that he was still startled at the sight of Catherine sleeping next to his son, he had begun to accept that it was her right to be there.  “Catherine?”  He spoke her name softly and was gratified when she opened her eyes and smiled broadly.

“He spoke last night, just one word but he spoke.  He wanted water.  I gave him a little but explained he had no fluids for a long time.  He opened his eyes and he looked at me.”

Father’s shoulders shook as his emotions slammed to the surface, temporarily leaving the physician adrift on a rocky shore.  He smiled, unable to utter a single coherent word.

The community rejoiced to know that Vincent had spoken and the pipes rang with the happy chatter.  In Vincent’s chamber, life continued in its same routine.  Vincent continued in his deep sleep and his family cared for his slower than normal to heal body.

The “pool gang”, as they had started calling themselves, had returned from their nightly trek.  Winslow had just eased Vincent back into bed, pulled the quilt over him and turned to find deep blue eyes staring at him.  Unable at first to utter a word, he finally managed to call Catherine.  He continued to stare at his life-long friend as his warm brown eyes brimmed with unshed tears.  “Vincent, it’s good to see ya.”

Vincent blinked, and then swallowed several times.  “Home is good.” Wishing to express his relief and happiness, Winslow gingerly touched Vincent’s shoulder and allowed his hand to linger for a few brief seconds.

“I’ll see you again tomorrow.  Just rest and get well.”  He bid Catherine good night and quietly walked into the passage.  He walked only a few steps, then he staggered, blinded by his tears of thanksgiving.  He slumped to the floor, his large shoulder shaking and he cried like a baby.

Smiling joyfully, Catherine sat beside Vincent, her hands touching his face before she pressed a light kiss on his lips.  “I dreamed you were here.  You aren’t a dream, are you?” Vincent whispered.

“No, I’m not a dream.  I’m sitting beside you in your chamber and I just kissed you.  How are you feeling?”  Before he could answer Vincent’s eyes drifted close.

Catherine continued to stroke his face, hoping he would open his eyes again, if only for a moment.  Those startling blue eyes were so precious to her and she longed for the sight of them.

Two more days passed before Vincent awoke again.  When he awakened, he was fretful because Catherine was not within the chamber.  Father tried to calm him, but Vincent wanted only his beloved Catherine.  Father made the mistake of touching Vincent’s arm which immediately produced deep-throated growls and the appearance of sharp teeth that threatened harm.  Catherine came running, bursting into the chamber.  Her body language echoed the look on her face; she was ready to battle anyone who was harming Vincent, causing him to growl so viciously.

Father’s face registered his horror at upsetting Vincent and, seeing the clear look of a warrior princess on Catherine’s face, sent him stepping away from his son.  “What did you do to him?” she demanded, her voice shaking with rage.  Never allowing him to answer, she pushed past him and immediately began to soothe Vincent, her voice gentle as her fingers stroked his face.  Stroking and murmuring, she dispelled the fear and rage which had gripped Vincent.  For the next hour she spoke softly, frequently kissing his face and lips, as she sought to ease his fears.  The trembling finally ceased and he lapsed into a deep sleep.

By unspoken agreement, Father and Catherine stepped into the passage.  “I apologize for speaking so rudely to you.  I know you wouldn’t do anything to harm him.”

His hand brushed through his hair and he sighed deeply.  “He became fretful when he awakened and didn’t see you.  I simply forgot for a moment that, while he looks like my son, he is not yet himself.  I didn’t think, I just reacted by thinking my touch would calm him.  It had, as you plainly saw, the opposite effect.”

Chapter 9

“It’s good to see you Peter.  Vincent has been having longer periods of being awake.  By longer, I mean in four or five minute increments but nothing prolonged.  If he finds someone else here when he awakens –if I have gone to shower or eat – he is fretful, rolling and tossing.  He even growled at Father.  Several people have come to see him and while I don’t want to keep him from his friends, often their visits cause him trauma.  I don’t know what to do.  He even pushed Mouse away and you know how fond of Mouse he is.”

“He is beginning to slowly come out of the prolonged coma,” Peter voice was compassionate and filled with concern.  “He has been to hell and back.  His transition won’t be easy.  The trauma done to his mind by the savage beatings he withstood and the drugs they shot into him have created a vortex of conflicting emotions.  The touch of anyone triggers instant recall of that hell.  It’s only your touch that negates the horror and you manage to reach deep into his psyche to where he has retreated, a place of safety and sanity.  It is you he needs, not Jacob or Mary - just you.

“The next days and weeks are critical to his discovery.  He needs to be surrounded by a sense of safety and calm.  That safety and calm is simply being exclusively with you.  Let me talk with Jacob.  I have an idea, but it will mean a lot of work.”

Leaving Catherine, Peter made his way toward the library.  “Jacob, have you got some hot tea?  I’ve just been with Cathy and we need to seriously talk.”  Peter reiterated his conversation with Cathy.  “I think it might be wise, to ensure the best possible recovery for Vincent, to move him and Cathy to a smaller chamber away from the populated areas.  The interaction with others continues to cause Vincent tremendous distress and, with each episode, he retreats back into the safe world his mind has created, in order for him to survive.” 

Peter paused taking another sip of his tea before continuing. “He will still require a great deal of care in the weeks and months to come.  Some of that care will be impossible for Cathy to perform alone.  I understand about the “pool gang” and their dedication to taking Vincent to the bathing pool.  Do you think Winslow might be willing to take up residence in another small chamber in order to help Cathy?  I think it’s imperative that we move Vincent to a more secluded area for this stage of his recovery.”

“Surely if we were to restrict his visitors that would suffice,” Father replied frostily.  “I don’t like the idea of moving him to an isolated area.  It would be more difficult for me, as his physician, to see him daily.”

“Jacob, his body is healing but his psyche is far from healed.  You need to step back and take a more clinical look at Vincent, not as your son, but as your patient.  His complete recovery, if that is possible, depends entirely upon  Cathy and the glorious love they share.

“As men, we have both known the joy of loving a special woman, but what we have known pales when compared to those two.  The odds of them ever meeting, connecting on the level they have, is astronomical.  It is as if all the planets were perfectly aligned to create the love they share.  Never in all my years have I ever seen two love as profoundly.  What they share is that which centuries of poets and writers have tried to describe, but have failed.  What Vincent and Cathy share defies description.”

“But Vincent needs...”  Father’s voice faded as Peter ignored his protest.

“Find a chamber and let Cathy turn it into a cozy nest for the two of them.  Yes, it would create problems for the community but Vincent has done more for the community, as a whole, than any other citizen. When you were invaded, it was Vincent who defended this community, who killed to protect all of you.  Have you and everyone else living here forgotten his sacrifice?  Are you aware of the psychological damage that killing did to Vincent?  I saw Vincent regularly during that period; we spent many hours in deep conversation and I saw, first hand, his struggle to come to terms with what was forced on him.

“Arrange to have food delivered daily to them and Winslow.  Have their laundry picked up, clean clothing and linens delivered to them. But, otherwise, leave them strictly alone.  Allow Cathy’s deep love to reach into his soul and provide the path by which he may leave his mental world of safety and return to the world Cathy’s love has created. 

Peter paused running his hand through his hair, knowing that what he was asking would create anxiety in his oldest friend. “If you want me to talk with Winslow, I will.  I have seen the man care for Vincent and it is always with great love and tenderness. They have always been close as brothers.  I only suggest Winslow over Pascal because of Winslow’s strength.  I remember seeing all three boys together as they grew up and I always envied their deep friendship that never faltered. Call a Council meeting and I will speak to them.  I can’t stress how strongly I feel about this course of action and that it must be accomplished quickly.”

“Drink your tea, Peter, and be still.  I need to think before I call the Council to meeting.  Just drink and be silent, please.” They sat in silence as Peter consumed his tea.  The logistics of such a move were staggering, but if it meant Vincent’s return to them, the Council would approve.  Without a word to Peter, Father walked to the pipe and tapped a message asking for the Council to immediately convene in the library.

The Council meeting was brief and there were no objections following Peter’s impassioned speech.  He did not sugarcoat the facts nor did he spare them the reminder of all they owed Vincent.  His private opinion of how much they used Vincent’s strength was now very publicly known.  Peter left the meeting as they began to work out the logistics of how to develop the most feasible plan to solve the problem.

Reaching Vincent’s chamber, Peter called out before he entered. “Cathy, honey, I have good news for you.”  Once he was settled in the chair, he explained all he had shared with Jacob and the Council.  “Think about what you will need to set up a chamber and give your list to Jacob.  There are several storage chambers, so almost anything you wish should be available.  A bed will be the biggest problem, I think.  If all else fails, let me know and I’ll check my storage locker.  I may still have an old bed frame that was my grandfather’s.  It’s one of those tall Victorian type things where the frame is so tall the ladies had stair steps to use in order to climb in.”

“Oh, Peter, your idea is perfect.  Being secluded without worrying about Father’s constant pressure of wanting to see Vincent will be so much easier for Winslow and for me, too.  I know he means well, but Father puts such pressure on us to be near Vincent, it puts me in a difficult position.

“Thank you for speaking up on Vincent’s behalf, especially calling to their attention how much they owe him from all he did during the invasion.  He has served as their savior but at what cost to himself?”

Chapter 10

Over the next several days, a chamber that had been used for storage was found to be the right size and, also, a small nearby chamber for Winslow.  The chambers were two levels Below the Great Hall, well within reach of the pipes, and the terrain not too rough for Father to reach Vincent in an emergency.  Winslow readily agreed to move and arrangements were made about pick-up and delivery of items from the kitchen.  Catherine provided the funds for the purchase of a small grill, wood for the grill, a five gallon water stand and a large-size camping cooler.  One of the Helpers agreed to provide ice as often as it was needed.  Pascal volunteered to provide coverage for Winslow should his assistance be needed in the home tunnels.

Aside from the bed frame and mattress Peter brought down, there was enough room for a small chest for their clothing, a large basket for a change of bed linens, a comfortable petite recliner chair for Catherine, a small foot stool, and books.  Peter also contributed a large oriental rug from his own personal storage.  It served to soften the hard stone floor as well as keep Cathy’s feet warmer, for which she was very grateful. Similar items were placed in Winslow’s new chamber.  Several lanterns and a supply of candles were also provided by Rebecca.

The next evening when the pool gang retrieved Vincent from the bathing pool, they took him directly to his new home.  “You call out if you need anything, Catherine.  Sleep well.”  With his parting good-night, Winslow left to settle into his new chamber.

While she prepared for bed, Catherine continually talked to Vincent, she described all that was within, to him.  He had relaxed completely in the pool and he appeared to be in a natural sleep.  He was no longer tethered to an IV bag and his back was free of the tight bandages he had worn.

A small bathroom chamber was literally carved out of the rock by Cullen and Kanin and their work gang.  It was crude, but provided the basics and they had run an extension from the nearest water line. The water was tepid but there was no way to get warm water that far Below.  Winslow rigged a curtain over the opening to allow him and Catherine privacy and, by mutual agreement, they left the curtain open when the chamber was not occupied to prevent any unexpected surprise entrances.

When Catherine walked out of their chamber the next morning, she was greeted by the sight of Winslow cooking breakfast over the grill.  Three semi-flat stones served as seats around the impromptu camp fire.  “I’m making oatmeal.  If we use that wedge pillow Peter brought down, do you think we could prop Vincent up enough that you could try to feed him some of this?  I know the vitamins you are giving him help, but I’ll bet he is pretty hungry.  I got some brown sugar we can add to make it sweeter for him.  He always adds about a spoonful of brown sugar when we have oatmeal.”

“We can certainly try.  We have to start sometime to get him to eat, so it might as well be today.  I think it should be thinner in texture than this though, so it would be easier for him to swallow.  Do we have some milk to dilute it?” she asked with a smile.

After finishing their breakfast, they prepared the oatmeal for Vincent and, together, they headed inside.  Winslow left the oatmeal on the outer rim of the grill to keep it warm while they propped Vincent up. For several minutes, Catherine tried to get Vincent to awaken, but his eyes would flutter open, then close.  “I guess we need to be more aggressive,” Catherine muttered as she kissed Vincent for several long seconds.  Winslow smiled at seeing Catherine kissing his friend. He was still smiling when Vincent’s eyes fluttered open and stared at Catherine as she slowly drew her lips away.  “Hi, sleepy head!  How about some food?  Winslow made you some oatmeal.  Let’s see if you can swallow a couple of spoonfuls.”  Winslow slipped from the chamber as Catherine continued her light, breezy conversation.  Winslow handed the bowl to Catherine, then stepped away so Vincent would focus only on Catherine’s beaming face.

Patiently, she touched the spoon to his mouth and after several seconds, he opened it.  It took roughly twenty minutes to feed Vincent five spoonfuls before his eyes fluttered and closed.  “That’s the most work he has done and I’m sure it has worn down his reserve of strength.  We’ll try again later.  Could you arrange for some soup from William?”

Slowly, they worked out the routine of their days.  Unless he was needed to lift or turn Vincent, Winslow left the couple alone.  He kept to his chamber for the most part, where he busied himself carving new toys for the children, updating tunnel maps, and reading.

Catherine continued to flex and stretch Vincent’s damaged hands.  She knew the flexing was painful because, after she finished, Vincent always slipped into a deep sleep, a sleep that allowed him to escape the pain and the memories.  “I know my actions cause pain and inflicting pain on you breaks my heart.  If I stop, I fear you will lose your dexterity as your muscles will atrophy.” 

While tears streamed down her face, she began kneading and massaging his large thigh muscles.  The area surrounding the sutures was still pink and the skin slightly puckered.  As she worked, she continued her conversation with Vincent.  “Our chamber is quite cozy.  We moved here so that we could be alone together.  Peter felt it was the best way to help you find your way back home.  Winslow is here, in another chamber, but only to help me lift you.  Otherwise we are alone.”

She sat on his bed, continually stroking and touching him, her words filled with love and her joy at being with him.  Retrieving the bottle of lotion, she began to spread lotion over one arm.  She stopped once, to stare, as a hint of a smile was visible around Vincent’s mouth.  Once again, she began to rub his arm and, again, she saw the hint of a smile.

“You may be asleep, in your safe world, but your body likes to be touched and I plan to go on touching you.  You’re so beautiful and you should never be embarrassed by your body.  I love giving you your bath and touching you without any restrictions.  And I love sleeping with you, having your body curled against mine.  I don’t know if I can adequately tell you how wonderful it has been to hold you against my body and feel your warm breath on my skin.”

The days became weeks and Catherine continued her tireless schedule for exercising and stretching his arms and legs.  Peter came to make brief physical checks on Vincent, approving of what Catherine was doing.  The pool gang came faithfully to carry Vincent to the pool nightly.  On their way back to the chamber, Vincent opened his eyes and stared at Kanin for several minutes.  The gang was joyously happy when they arrived at the new chamber.  Individually, they bid Vincent good night and left.  The happy voices echoed as they climbed the trail upward toward the home tunnels.

Slipping into bed beside Vincent, Catherine cuddled against him.  She was always toasty warm when she lay against him, as his body seemed to radiate heat.  “Catherine, hold me closer.  I am safe in your arms.”  His voice was a throaty whisper and his need clear.  The scent of her body drew him, evoking memories of warmth and an all-encompassing love.  She gathered him closer, holding him tightly, as he buried his face against her throat.

“You’re safe, my love, and I will never stop holding you.  Never.”  She stroked his back; silently her hands spoke of love and devotion, pledging her fidelity and commitment.  Her voice became the sounds of love, soft murmurs, sighs, and whispered purrs of contentment, barely audible.  Sounds and touches that conveyed all the unspoken love which vibrated between them, the fine tuning of two hearts that beat within one soul.  When his anguished tears came, she clutched him tighter, the softness of her body pillowed his head, as his cleansing began.

From outside the curtain that enshrouded their haven, Winslow heard the anguished cries and while his head rejoiced at the purging, his heart broke for the agony of his friend.  He walked up the trail just far enough that Vincent’s torment was not as audible, but still within reach, if Catherine should need him.

Morning became afternoon and still she held him.  It was toward evening that his sobs began to abate and, still later, when his trembling ceased.  It had been silent for nearly an hour when Winslow peeked around the curtain.  Catherine saw him and beckoned him forward.  Her eyes were red but her smile was warm.  “Help me get up, please,” she whispered. 

Winslow took two of the scented pillows, rolled Vincent slightly on his back and then pushed the pillows in front of his chest and draped an arm over the pillow.  He extended his arm, gathering Catherine up and over Vincent’s sleeping form.  She hopped on one foot and then ran from the room, heading for the bathroom as fast as she could move.  Torn as to what he should do, Winslow remained standing beside his sleeping friend. Roughly twenty minutes passed before Catherine returned, took his large hand and drew him outside.  They embraced, smiling foolishly at each other.  “The road will be long, but at least we have a toe-hold on his return.  Thank you for everything you have done to assist him to reach this point.  You have been the truest friend.”

“The fight isn’t over, but he will never have a champion greater than your love, Catherine.  Your love is his salvation.

“Let me fix you something to eat.  You haven't eaten all day. It won’t take long to warm some vegetable soup that William sent down.  The water is hot if you would like a cup of tea.”

“Both are nice, lovely to have, but if you don’t mind, I’ll stay with him until the food is ready.  I don’t want him to awaken and be frightened if I’m not there.”  Catherine turned to go back inside while Winslow set to heating the soup and preparing the tea.

Vincent slept without waking for another two days.  Catherine continued her routine, touching him constantly, refreshing the scent of her perfume on his pillows and stretching his fingers.

Chapter 11

Catherine continued reading The Wind in the Willows in preparation for asking if she could assume teaching literature after Vincent was well.  When she stopped to rest her voice, her thoughts drifted to how she could best serve the community.  No matter what happened she wouldn’t be returning to a full-time job Above and knew it was imperative that she become an active, working member who contributed to the community's well-being.

When she awakened the next morning, she looked into her beloved's blue eyes.  They simply stared at each other for several long minutes. “Good morning.”  Leaning forward, she placed her mouth against his lips and softly kissed him.  She felt the briefest reaction of his lips.  “That was lovely.  May I kiss you again?”  Once more she kissed him and again she felt a hesitant response.

“Winslow?  I need..” Vincent’s voice faded.

“Oh, let me get him.”  She eased from the bed and peeked out the drape.  Winslow saw her motion and he immediately came forward.  “He’s awake and he needs to..”

“You go on, Catherine; I’ll take care of him.”

Winslow had just finished heating some oatmeal and handed the bowl to Catherine.  Vincent was propped up on the wedge pillow.  It was obvious that he was hungry this time as he greedily ate all that Catherine offered.  “Do you feel up to brushing your teeth?  If not, I can clean them as I have been. Brushing would, I think, make you feel better.  I haven’t tried to brush them myself, but I’m willing to try if you are.”  Her voice was so matter-of-fact, conveying her simple wish to do that which would make him the most comfortable.

“I’ll try to brush my own teeth.  You have, I think, been caring for me for too long.”  Trying to control excitement at his first coherent words after all the long weeks of silence, Catherine fought to remain calm.  She wanted to giggle and do a silly happy dance but forced herself to push aside the little girl within and behave as an adult when all she wanted to do was laugh and emit joyful screams of happiness.

Catherine retrieved his toothbrush, the paste, a glass of water and a small bowl which would serve as a substitute basin.  After getting him set up with the brush and paste, she busied herself moving about the chamber keeping her back to him and allowing him to assume his mantle of dignity.  The intimacy of hearing him brush his teeth warmed Catherine and, involuntarily, she hugged herself

He softly called her name and she responded by silently clearing away the glass and bowl along with the toothbrush.  “Would you like another glass of water?  I imagine you are still quite thirsty.”  At his nod, she brought another glass and he eagerly took several sips before handing it back.

She leaned down to kiss him.  His reaction was one of confusion and pleasure.  “Don’t be concerned.  I have been kissing you several times daily for the past four months and you seemed to like it.” 

“Would you tell me about these months?  I have no clear memory.”

“I’ll tell you anything you want to know, only I’d prefer to be holding you while I tell you.  May I get in bed with you?”  It seemed strange to be asking permission, but she knew that she needed to restore his dignity as part of his recovery.

He scooted over, making a place for her to rest next to him.  After settling against him, her arms holding him lightly, she began telling him of the last months.  He seemed to accept all Catherine told him without being upset to know that she had intimately cared for his body, doing all that a nurse and wife would normally do.  As she talked, his eyes closed and he drifted asleep.  The steady beating of his heart was an anthem of love to Catherine and she, too, relaxed into a deep slumber.  Winslow assumed from the prolonged silence that they were sleeping and he moved to his own chamber, suddenly aware of his own weariness, as he had not slept through the long purging.

Chapter 12

Throughout the next days, Vincent had longer periods of being awake.  Catherine asked if wished to see Father, but he just shook his head, “No, not yet.” He asked questions slowly, as he tried to process all that had happened in the months of his coma.  Whenever he tried to talk about what had happened to him, he became upset and would retreat for days into sleep.  Catherine knew it was imperative that he purge the events that had caused his injuries, but was reluctant to force the conversation, hoping that it would come naturally.

Peter appeared one early afternoon when Vincent was awake.  He asked if he might check him over, especially his hands, which were still bandaged.  “Would you like to sit up and dangle your legs while I look at your hands?  I imagine you are tired of laying on your back or side.  May I help you?” Peter extended his hands and waited for Vincent to decide about being touched.  Vincent nodded and Peter griped his elbows, swinging him up, then assisting him in easing his legs over the side of the bed.  He stepped away, returning quickly with a soft throw that had been draped over Catherine’s chair, and covered Vincent’s legs and feet.

Sitting on the stool, Peter stared up at Vincent.  The taller old Victorian bed had a four-foot ground clearance which put Peter at eye level with Vincent. Peter began to cut away the bandages from Vincent’s hands.  “Are you able to flex your fingers?”  Vincent responded with small flexing, but was unable to fully extend his right pinky finger.  “This injury has had me worried from the beginning.  I have been re-reading a lot about hand surgery and, after I study a little while longer, if you are willing, I’d like you to consider allowing me to do surgery.  You might not know it, but I studied for nearly six month to be a hand surgeon before deciding it wasn’t truly my calling.  From what I saw when this first happened, I believe a nerve has been nicked but not severed and, with surgery, I should be able to restore it.”

Gently, Peter touched and probed the area, touching and stretching all his fingers.  “This nail is going to need to be removed.  Do you see the new nail trying to grow out from beneath the damaged nail?  I’d rather remove it than chance that the new nail will attach itself to the injured nail, making the removal more complicated.  It would require that I put at least two, if not, three hypodermic needles into that finger.  I’m aware that those bastards used needles on you.  I wouldn’t ask this of you if it was not necessary.  Will you think about this and let me know?

“We’d need to bring you back to hospital chamber for the surgery on the nerve and nail removal.  I’d keep you in the hospital area for at least 36 hours following the surgery, but then I’d want you brought back here, just you and Cathy.  I think you are aware that Cathy is responsible for bringing you back to us.  Once you are mobile and able to walk on your own, Winslow will return to the home tunnels. Your complete recovery will be a struggle, and I am sure that, with Cathy at your side and with solitude, together you will be able to find your way home to those who love you.”

Peter cleansed his fingers and re-bandaged only his right pinky, protecting it with a splint.  He brought the bandage up and around his palm, protecting the still-seeping wound.  “I want you to work at flexing the other fingers; use both hands if you need to, but I want you to extend them for one-two minutes at a time.  Would you like to attempt to stand?” At Vincent's nod, Peter slipped his arms beneath Vincent’s shoulders and gently helped him to stand.  He stood for only a few seconds when his legs began to wobble violently.  “Ok, that’s enough,” Peter said as he eased Vincent back to the bed.

“I’ll ask Winslow if he could help you re-learn how to stand.  Just a few seconds at a time each day, until you have worked up to standing for a minute at a time. Baby steps, I know, that will frustrate you, but they are necessary.  You have some deep cuts in the thigh muscles, so you will need to retrain them.

“Just follow where Cathy leads and trust her completely.  Her instincts are sound and the depth of her love will guide you.  She has been the force behind your recovery thus far and there is no reason to expect that she won’t lead you the rest of the way home.”  Peter leaned over to place a hand on Vincent’s shoulder, a grasp that confirmed the unspoken affection and love between the two men.  “Send me word when you decide about the surgery.  Otherwise, I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”

Vincent stayed awake after Peter’s visit, until Catherine’s return from the bathing pool.  Her hair was damp and she had it wrapped in a towel.  “Was your swim refreshing?”

“Yes, I hope I wasn’t gone too long.  Would you like to go to the pool tonight for a bath?  I can arrange for the pool gang to come carry you.”

“Pool gang?  What do you mean?”

“I’m sorry.  You were deeply asleep all the times we carried you to the pool so I could bathe you.”

“You bathed me!”  His voice shook and his eyes were huge with surprise and horror that Catherine should have seen him naked.

“OK, you can stop that right now!  Get that look of horror off your face!  Who do you think has attended to your body since I returned to find you still laying in the filth of those perverted bastards?  The first night I returned to the city, after I had sent Father off to bed, your friends carried you to the bathing pool.  After they left, Winslow carried you into the pool.  He kept his back to your nude body while he washed your hair and I washed their filth from your skin.

“The thing I cared about was removing the dirt, filth, and smell from you.  You are the man I worship and I wasn’t offended at your nudity.  When I couldn’t get you to the bathing pool, I gave you a nightly bed-bath.  And, just so we are clear, I also attended to all your bodily functions all these months while you have been in a coma!  So there is nothing about you that I don’t know, haven’t seen, or haven’t done for you.  I’m not ashamed, and I refuse to allow you to be embarrassed because of what I did for you!

“I don’t know any way to love you but completely, with my whole body and soul.  I can’t love you with half a heart; it has to be with all that is in me – wholly and completely.  I wasn’t repulsed by having intimately cared for your body, and I refuse to allow you to create a wall between us, because of this.”  Her breath came in an explosive rush, as she took a deep breath.

She walked over to the bed, took his startled face in her hands and kissed him with all the love she felt.  Her mouth was soft, pliant, molding itself to his, her tongue licking softly at his lower lip, seeking to taste him more fully.  The soft sound of pleasure came on a gentle sigh from deep in his throat; as his lips parted, he felt the joy as Catherine’s tongue feasted on his unique taste.  She continued to deepen the kiss, desperately needing this intimacy, assuring herself that her beloved was awake and his mouth was eagerly joining with hers, in this wondrous expression of love.

Tears brimmed Catherine’s lashes when she finally ended the kiss.  She kissed his face, his eyes and throat before she rested her head against his chest.  “I thought I dreamed of your mouth on mine, the silky feel of your skin against my lips, and your soft hands upon me,” he huskily murmured.  “When I slept, I dreamed of your soft body, but I didn’t know it was real.  I slept with my face against your breasts, didn’t I?”

“Yes.  Many nights, when you relived the horror of what happened, the only way I could calm you was to hold you against my breasts.  It was the scent of my skin, my perfume, that calmed you and brought you from your nightmares.  I’d put Winslow’s hand on top of mind, ask you to sniff his scent.  It was the only way you would allow him or Father to touch you.”

Winslow called through the curtain.  “Catherine, I’m going up to meet William, who has our evening meal.  I should be gone about twenty minutes and we can eat as soon as I return.  That is, if you are hungry and ready for dinner.”

“Yes, I think we will be ready to eat as soon as you return.”  Turning to face Vincent, she asked, “When he returns, would you prefer us to eat alone or would you like to ask Winslow to join us for our meal?”

“As much as I prefer your company exclusively, it would be rude not to ask Winslow to join us.  He has given up his world and responsibilities to help take care of me.  The very least I owe him is to spend time over our meal with him.”

******

Vincent’s ability to stand proved to be more of a challenge than had been expected.  His legs were weakened by the deep cut inflicted on his thigh muscles, and it took weeks before he was able to stand.  Tomorrow, the surgery on his hand and nail was scheduled.  He told Catherine he had faith in Peter’s skills, but he was fearful of his reaction when Peter had to use needles on him.  The horror was still vivid within his mind and he was literally terrified as to how he would react to Peter’s inserting needles into his skin.  “Whatever comes, whatever happens, I will be beside you.  You won’t be alone.”

The surgery had been prepared and stood ready.  Together, Winslow and Kanin carried Vincent’s stretcher to the surgery.  They grasp his shoulder in farewell, assuring Catherine they would be ready when needed to transport him back to their chamber.

Jacob and Peter decided to use Ether to sedate Vincent because of his possible reaction to hypodermic needles.  Catherine insisted on being present during the surgery so that she could calm him.  The surgery was delicate and time consuming, as Peter worked to restore the tiny nerve that had been nicked.

Three hours passed before Vincent was carried into the hospital chamber and put to bed.  Catherine moved one of the beds against Vincent’s so that she could lie beside him.  Peter decided to keep Vincent in a medically-induced coma for the first forty-eight hours because it would be necessary to use hypodermic needles to dull the pain in his hand.

Together Peter and Jacob took turns, along with Mary, in staying with Catherine, relieving her as often as she would allow, as she continued her non-stop care of Vincent.  She sat for hours stroking him, softly speaking of her love for him, and kissing his beloved face. Father tried to get Catherine to move to another bed to sleep but she refused, insisting that she had to be near Vincent at all times.

The two doctors stood in the passage outside the hospital chamber when Father spoke in a rush of exasperation.  “She acts like I’m going to harm him.  He’s my son and I should be allowed to be alone with him. Damn!  She can be so stubborn!”  His voice shook with suppressed anger.

“If you ever want your son back, Jacob, you’ll leave them alone. Vincent doesn’t need his father.  Vincent needs his woman!”  Peter chuckled at Jacob’s shocked expression.

They allowed Vincent to awaken naturally late on the third day following surgery.  Peter had him hooked to an IV unit to keep him hydrated, but also so that he could provide pain medication without having to use a separate needle. The pain medication was light, barely more than baby aspirin, because they were fearful of the reaction he might have, since his body had been ravaged by all the drugs that were pumped into him.  Peter opted to use light doses more frequently than a heavier dose that would sedate him completely.  Consequently, it was another two days before Vincent was allowed to leave hospital and return to his home with Catherine.

*******

The first two days they were home, Vincent slept most of the time.  He stirred when Catherine changed the bandages on his hand and often growled deep in his throat when she touched his finger while spreading the antiseptic ointment. She resumed stretching the muscles of his arms and legs, working to bring back muscle tone to his ravaged body.

Catherine awakened, suddenly cold and shaking with fear Vincent was not in bed with her.  “Vincent, where are you?”  She slipped out of bed, softly calling him and she lit the lantern.  She reached the drapery, ready to pull it aside to call Winslow, when she heard a low pitch growl.  Carefully, she searched the chamber, trying to follow the sound.  It seemed to be coming from near the bed.  Getting on her knees, she peered beneath the tall bed; at first she saw nothing, then she heard the growling more clearly.  “Vincent, you’re safe.”  At the sound of her voice, the growling grew louder, more pronounced.

Lifting a hand, she reached out, but the growling grew louder more visceral.  “Vincent, you’re safe here with me.  No one will hurt you.”  Calmly, she spoke repeating the litany that had calmed him.

He began to cry, begging them not to hurt him anymore, pleading for Catherine to come back to him.  With the aid of the lantern, Catherine could see he was curled in a fetal position, his hands over his head, as if protecting himself from blows.  His feral screams grew more intense, his leg shot out as he tried to kick at his unseen enemy. He screamed Catherine’s name repeatedly, over and over calling her to come back.

Winslow burst into the chamber and he immediately dropped to his knees peering beneath the bed.  “What the hell happened?”

“I don’t know.  I woke up, he wasn’t in bed, but I could hear him whimpering, and then growling.  Give me one of the pillows.”  She fumbled in the dresser drawer, grabbed her perfume and spritzed some on the pillow and shoved it under the bed.  Waiting only a brief second, she began crawling on her belly under the bed.

“No, Catherine!”  Winslow tried to grab her legs and pull her back toward safety.  “He isn’t himself, don’t!”

“Vincent, Vincent…take a deep breath.”  His cries became louder as she finally reached out to him.  He grabbed her, his screams echoing in the stillness, and he pulled her against his body, trying to fold her within the circle of his body.  He shivered violently, causing Catherine to shake, so strong was his grip; he continued to clutch her tightly.  She willed herself to relax, allowing him to bend, move, and control her body.

Even in the dim light, Catherine was aware of his terror filled eyes, the tears that streamed down his cheeks.  She worked, wiggling until she got her arm free, and began to stroke his face while whispering his name.  His arm gripped her tightly around her hips and his back bore down, trying to conceal her completely from the unseen enemy who sought to harm them.

Suddenly, she heard Winslow’s voice raised in anger.  “No, you stay out there, Father.  Leave them alone.  If anyone can help him now, it’s Catherine.  You will only make it worse if you try to go in.  Sit down over there and be quiet.”

“Thank you,” she whispered quietly.  “He doesn’t need Father now, he needs me.”  She continued to stroke his face, speaking softly and kissing away his tears.  An hour passed before he quieted and the guttural sounds ceased.  She pushed lightly against Vincent’s chest, and he eased slightly away from her  and loosened his tight grip around her hips.  Waiting silently, she finally heard the deep breathing as his body relaxed into sleep.

“Winslow? Can you slip far enough under the bed to bring the quilt and a couple more pillows?”

“I could lift off the mattress and box-spring, and then lift the bed frame away so we could get him out.”

“OK, but if he wakes up, you will have to stop immediately.”

The gentle giant quickly removed the mattress and box-spring, then lifted away one of the side frame supports so he could simply walk straight to where Vincent lay.  Carefully, he slowly moved Vincent so that Catherine could slip out from under him.  “Father's outside, get him so he can help you put the bed back together.  Vincent is dead weight like this and I don’t want to pick him up twice.  Try to move your recliner over this way, so I can sit down with him while you assemble the bed.”

Father and Catherine worked to get the bed put back together and straighten the sheets.  They both steadied Winslow as he rose to his full height with his burden.  They silently watched as he put his friend back in bed. Father stepped to the bedside and took Vincent’s pulse and listened to his breathing.  “His pulse and respiration are normal.  What happened, Catherine?  I awoke and could hear his screaming.”

“I don’t know.  We had a normal evening, went to bed and I awoke to find him gone.  I haven’t any clue as to what triggered this.”

“Come on, Jacob, I’ll walk you back up to the home tunnels.  I’ll be right back, Catherine.”  Taking Jacob’s arm, he steered him toward the drapery, oblivious to any protest that the tunnel physician tried to utter.

“No, Winslow, I should remain.  Vincent may need me.”

“Father, please.  The only person he needs is Catherine.  If you want your son back, Catherine is your only hope.  There is nothing you or I can do; it all rests on her shoulders.  Now, please, come along.”  He continued steering Father up the incline, ignoring his loud protest.

Physically exhausted, Catherine bent to retrieve the last pillow from the floor.  “Oh, my love, you are in such pain.  How can I force you to relive your nightmare?  But if I don’t, you will never be free or be whole again.”  Her voice was barely audible whisper.  Shaking, she turned off the lantern and crawled in bed beside Vincent.  He was sprawled in the center of the bed, taking up a large portion of the mattress.  She eased herself into the tiny space remaining, hoping that Vincent didn’t roll toward her as they would both end up on the floor.

Throughout the remainder of the night, Vincent moaned, crying out, tossing restlessly.  Knowing that she needed to remain close, Catherine shifted with him as he tossed.  Exhausted and desperate for just a few hours sleep, Catherine moved across Vincent’s body to lay on the side closest to the wall.  She tugged and pulled until she got Vincent on his side, with his face cushioned against her body.  She felt his nostrils flare.  Catherine’s hands  fisted in his hair; gently she stroked and held him. His body suddenly shivered, followed by a soft sigh and he settled into deep sleep.  Her own sigh was the perfect counter-point to his, as she followed him into sleep.

Disoriented and groggy, Catherine awoke to the sensation of Vincent nuzzling against her. His eyes were closed, and from his throat, came a deep rumbling sound of contentment.  She held him, knowing instinctively that he needed the intimacy that this loving act touched within the depth his soul.  The man who had struggled to protect her from his dark side was simply a man who desperately needed the physical release he had long denied himself. Holding him close she allowed him to snuggle against her softness.

Two hours later, Vincent spoke her name.  The intimacy of his face buried against her startled and shocked him; he tried to pull away, but Catherine’s hands held him tightly.  “It’s all right, stay where you are.  I have enjoyed holding you.”  Her hands spoke silently of her joy.

Chapter 13

Holding onto Winslow’s strong arm, Vincent walked slowly to the top of the trail and then turned to make their way slowly back.  The muscles in his thighs screamed in protest, but Vincent was determined to regain the use of his legs.  Winslow allowed Vincent to instigate the topics of their conversation as they walked.  Some mornings, like today, he was silent and did not speak at all.  Breaking his silence, Winslow asked, “Would you like to go to the bathing pool to soak your legs?  We’ve been working them hard today.  The pool should be empty, but if it’s not, I can arrange to close it so that no more come to use it.  You could sit in the carved- out seat in the deep end with your briefs on and dangle your legs where the current is swift.  Or, if you promise you won’t drown, I’ll leave you alone in the pool to swim for a while.”

“Could I decide after we get there?  The idea of the water is very appealing.”

“Sure.  Just let me tell Catherine where we are going and I’ll get you some clean clothing to wear on the trip back.”  Winslow made quick work of gathering towels and Vincent’s clean clothes plus telling Catherine they were headed to the bathing pool.

From the niche by the passage entrance, Winslow grabbed the sign bearing Vincent’s name and stuck it on the hook alerting anyone who followed them that Vincent was using the pool and requested privacy.  He yelled loudly but  no response came in reply, so he stepped into the large chamber.  Again he called, waited, and received no reply.  Together, the two men walked deeper into the chamber. Vincent inhaled deeply, enjoying the tang in the air and the sense of power that vibrated in the air from the falls.  “What’s it gonna to be –dangle or a swim?

“A swim sounds great but I don’t know if my legs are strong enough.  Perhaps, I’ll just dangle them in the swift current.”

“Do you need my help in getting off your boots?  That splint doesn’t allow you much, if any, dexterity with your right hand.  Come on, let me help get them off and then I’ll leave you.  Yell if you get in any trouble or when you are ready to re-boot.”  The two men sat on the ground while Winslow worked at removing Vincent’s boots and then pulled off his socks.  Standing, he helped Vincent rise, then turned and walked up the trail toward the passageway.  Once there, he seated himself on the ground with his back to the pool.

Vincent staggered on weakened legs to the rocks near the swift current, stepped out of his jeans, sat and swung his legs into the cool water.  His muscles bunched in protest but he refused to give in, keeping them in the water until the muscles finally relaxed.  After an hour, he was more than ready to get out and head back to Catherine.

*****

“Catherine, why don’t you go up to the home tunnels to visit with Mary while Vincent and I have a chat?  Mary asked me if you could pay her a visit.”  Peter continued talking as he gathered the scissors from his medical bag and began removing the splint from Vincent’s finger.  Catherine kissed Vincent and then left them alone.

“This looks good.  Try to move the finger.”  Peter watched as the finger slowly flexed.  “Good, good.  Looks like the surgery saved that nerve and if you keep working, you should have full use of your hand.

“Vincent, I understand from Jacob that you had a rather violent flashback.  I wanted you to know that if you are willing to talk, I’m willing to listen.  It’s imperative that you speak of all that happened, to cleanse your psyche and soul of what was done to you.  As long as it remains locked inside, it has power, and that power is keeping you from your destiny.

“Cathy’s love for you is beyond anything I have witnessed.  There is nothing she wouldn’t do for you; she is willing to go to any length to bring you back from the horror to which you were subjected.  Do you have the courage conquer it?”

Vincent grimaced, as he struggled to reply.  He knew it must be faced, yet it completely gripped and dominated his mind.  Awake, he remembered only snatches of it, but it haunted and dammed his sleep, holding him captive.  He was aware of all he had subjected Catherine to in the last months, as well as the devotion of Winslow.

“Perhaps you could begin by just telling me how you came to the building where we found you.”

“I’m not clear as to how I got there.  I don’t think I went there on my own, but rather I was taken there by the gang.  Catherine and I had a disagreement; we parted in anger and hurt feelings on both sides.  She was crying when I left.  Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Moreno sent her out of state the next day.  When I calmed down, I went to her balcony only to find her apartment dark and empty.  I had no sense of her; I knew only that she was gone.  My mind was fixated on her having left me for Mr. Burch.  I would die without Catherine.  I roamed the city, staying out later and later.  Once, I found myself asleep in a packing crate in an alley in broad daylight. There was a fight, but after that it gets fuzzy.”

“It’s a start, Vincent, and that’s what’s important.  Just tell me anything you remember, it doesn’t have to be in order, just what comes to your mind.”

“I slept after awakening in the daylight.  Just before I was fully conscious, I felt a hard prick in my hand.  After that, I don’t remember anything until I awoke in a building.  I was surrounded by people I had never seen.  They were dirty and smelled.  It was their foul body odor that actually awakened me.  My vision was blurry; I kept seeing double.  I asked for water and they finally gave me some, but it tasted dreadful.  I think it was spiked with hallucinogenic drugs.  I felt as I did when Paracelsus gave me those drugs.  I saw animals, people coming at me with knives, screaming.

“They drove a spike or large nail into my hand and I blacked out after that.  I seemed to exist in a world of pain that I couldn’t escape.”

“If they had driven the spike even 1 cm. to the left, you would have lost the use of your hand.”

Vincent began to pace, his eyes no longer registering what he saw or where he was.  Once again, he was within a world dominated by drugs, people who had lost their sense of humanity.  Their only purpose was to inflict pain, torture, and maim the freak, as they called him.  Vincent screamed as he fell to his knees, rolling in anguish, his hand tightly gripping his thigh muscles.  “Blood, I have to stop the blood.” His voice rose and his hands continued to clutch at his torn flesh.  His hands came up, covering his head as he tried to protect himself from the imaginary blows that rained down upon him.

He lay on the floor, lost within his nightmare.  Seizure after seizure ripped through him, causing him to jerk upward as he began screaming, his body curling into a fetal position.  From his position, Peter could see Vincent’s body bow inward and, mentally, he could see the flash of a board slamming into Vincent’s back as Vincent’s tried to escape.

“Vincent!”  Catherine's scream split the air as she ran into the chamber.  She threw herself onto his convulsing body.  Her hands fought to gain access to his face, to stroke him and whisper of his safety.

“No, Cathy, let him relive it.  He’s telling me what happened to him.  Go outside and leave us.  I’ll take care of him.”  He moved over to where Catherine lay, clutching Vincent and literally picked her up and off his body.  Winslow stood in the door as Peter propelled Catherine toward him.  “Please keep her outside; she doesn’t need to witness this.”

Screams and words intermingled in a cacophony of agony that continued for the next two hours.  Vincent wept, calling for Catherine, then, just as suddenly, he was screaming for them not to hurt his beloved.  His legs and arms lashed outward, fighting off the assailants; his hands lashed out trying to inflict pain on those attacking him.  His mouth was open, spittle flowing, as he roared and flashed his teeth.  He whimpered, tears streaming down his face, intermingled with raw fear-filled sweat.  Groans and moans followed fresh tears as Vincent crawled several feet and then collapsed, once again, into a tight fetal ball.  His body shuddered and then he lay still, unmoving.

Peter immediately listened to his heart and took his pulse.  His heart was racing, but the beats were strong.  He yanked the quilt from the bed and covered Vincent, knowing he would soon start to shake with cold.  He stayed next to Vincent on the floor; his hand gently stroked his back as he softly spoke his name.  An hour passed before Vincent’s pulse slowed to normal and his body relaxed.

“Winslow?”

The big man’s head appeared through the drapery and he stepped inside.

“Together, I think we can get him into bed.  I imagine he will sleep for a while.” Working together, the two men lifted Vincent into bed.  “Could you get me a pail of water?  He’s covered in sweat and I’ll need to get him clean before he will sleep soundly.”

“Should I let Catherine come in?  I had to hold her down out there while he was screaming.”

“Yes, send her in.”

Catherine was inside before Winslow had cleared the entry on his way out.  Her eyes were red and her face a mask of pain.

“We need to give him a quick bath.  He sweated so much his clothes are wet.  Does he have pajamas handy?”  While Catherine got clean clothing, Peter began the job of undressing Vincent.  Aside from clean pajamas, Catherine brought two clean sheets.

Winslow returned with the pail of water.  “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Yes.  Let’s try to roll him on his side so I can get the bath sheet from under him.  If we don’t, we’ll have to remake the whole bed because his sweat-stained clothes will cause the bed to smell.”  Silently, the group worked to get Vincent clean and odor-free.  “Maybe we should just have called the pool gang and taken him there.  It might have been easier.”

As he had previously done, Winslow avoided actually looking directly at Vincent while he helped.  He remembered what Vincent had looked like the last time he had swam naked with Pascal and Devin, and he was certain his body wasn’t all that different than he had been at twelve, but this was his life-long friend whom he loved and respected, so he continued to avoid looking at his nude body.

“Winslow, would you mind staying with Vincent for a few minutes while I talk with Cathy?”  Taking her arm, Peter headed toward the entrance and moved to sit on the stones which surrounded the grill.

“Cathy, I know you heard all he said.  He was so tightly within his nightmare, he actually showed me with his body movements all that happened.  I’m going to be staying Below tonight, in one of the guest chambers, and I will be back first thing in the morning.  This is just the first round and, while there is progress, Vincent has to verbalize what happened.  I promised him I would say nothing and that’s what I mean to do.

“I want you to go back in there and take care of him, just as you have previously done after he has relived his nightmare.  Do nothing different than you normally do.  Talk with him as you have been, read to him, and touch him. It is your touch that he needs to negate all the brutality that was inflicted upon his body and mind.”

Catherine’s face was a sea of anguish from all she had heard. She had tried several times to get inside, but Winslow had prevented her.  She shook with rage that Peter had prevented her from being with Vincent.

“I can tell from that look that you want to rant and yell at me, but I hope you won’t.  I’m too tried for diatribes tonight.  I have to face Jacob now, because I know, if you heard him while you were with Mary, Jacob also heard. I would assume Pascal and Kanin have had a difficult time in keeping him in the library.”  He gathered her into his arms, held her tightly for several minutes and then gave her a quick kiss.  “I’ll see you in the morning.  Good night.”

Chapter 15

Shaking and fighting to gain control of her emotions Catherine squared her shoulders, lifted the drapery and walked inside where Winslow was waiting.  “Thank you for all you have done.  I’m sorry I was so difficult out there,” she gestured toward the drapery.  “I knew you were only doing as Peter had asked.

“Catherine, you have nothing to apologize for.  You heard him in agony and instinctively you charged in to help.  What you did was natural and normal.  You owe me no apology.  I was hard pressed to stay outside when it first started, but I forced myself to sit, to wait until I was needed.

“Why don’t we gather up the dirty pillow cases, sheets, towels and his clothing and I’ll take them up to the washing area.  I can get him, some more clothing, maybe even another set of pajamas, from his chamber.  We should probably be prepared that we might need to do this again.  I’ll get more sheets and towels, too.  Will you be all right here alone?  It will probably take me almost an hour hours round trip.”

“He is blessed in your friendship, Winslow, and I feel blessed, too, in having the pleasure of calling you my friend.  Thank you for everything.”  Although she was ready to collapse from what had taken place, she managed to stand on her toes to give Winslow a kiss on his cheek.  He smiled and turned a light shade of red as he left to complete his chores.

Alone, Catherine felt her exhaustion take hold, leaving her weak and shaking.  She checked Vincent, stroking his face and kissing him several times then settled into the small recliner.  She pushed the lift lever only enough to raise her feet up but not enough to allow herself to fully recline.  Her mind raced over the events as she knew them.  A part of her was still upset with Peter but she also recognized the deep love and respect that kept him from revealing what he had seen.  Anyone who knew Peter would never question his ethics and nothing ever made him go back on his word once it was given.  Professionally, this trait had caused him the loss of several prestigious fellowships but he never turned his back on his principles.

*******

Peter arrived early in the morning, making a quick physical examination of Vincent, who slept through the entire exam.  After a few questions, he informed Catherine he was going Above to collect a couple of changes of clothing and he would return quickly.  He felt Vincent would continue to sleep but, if he awoke, he instructed her to continue as she had been.

Hours later, very casually dressed in jeans and a sweater, Peter made his second visit to Vincent.  This time, he found Vincent drifting in and out of sleep and purposely decided to push toward keeping him awake.  His friendship with Vincent caused conflicted feelings within his professional judgment.  He knew that, physically, Vincent was exhausted from the hours-long session of yesterday and that sleep would benefit his exhausted body, but he was also very aware that the breakthrough in his mental state of yesterday needed to be continued.  He mustn’t be allowed to build higher walls to protect himself from the horror that was done to his body and his mind.

“Come on, Vincent, it’s time to wake up.  You’ve slept long enough and we have work to do.”  Perched on the side of the bed, Peter took Vincent by the shoulders and raised him to sitting position.  He grabbed the wedge pillow and put it behind him to keep him upright.  “Winslow has breakfast cooking so let’s get your hygiene out of the way, and then you’ll be ready for breakfast.” Lethargic and non-communicating didn’t faze Peter, as he continued to prod Vincent to care for his bodily needs and a brief morning wash.

Stepping to the drapery, Peter walked out to retrieve a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of tea from Catherine.  He smiled brightly at her, but his voice was steel as he uttered a single word, “Stay.”  Returning to his patient, he handed Vincent the bowl of oatmeal and sat in companionable silence watching him eat.  Occasionally, he handed over the cup of tea, which Vincent greedily accepted.  Peter joined Vincent in a second cup of tea and then carried the dishes out to Catherine.

“How much of our conversation of yesterday do you remember?” Peter was eager to begin the session, not wishing to allow a great time lapse.

“Not a lot, just brief snatches of words, phrases and some mental pictures of what happened at the warehouse.”

“Were you struck in the back with a board or a heavy club?”

Vincent stared in shocked horror, mentally reliving that moment again, feeling the board with nails being slammed into his back.  His screams of agony echoed within his mind, as he felt the sharp pain as the nails penetrated his flesh, the anguish as they pulled and ripped the nails from his body.  His voice trembled. “How do you know?”

“Body language.  Yesterday, you bowed your back inward, then screamed, the way your body shuttered.  Your reaction was so vivid; ethereal.  I could literally see the board striking you, repeatedly, as your body reacted to the anguish you were enduring.  The mind holds images long after the memory is forgotten, which is why it is imperative that we cleanse your mind of those.

“I realize speaking of what was done to you is difficult beyond all imagining, but, believe me when I say, it is necessary in order for you to heal.  A man, such as you, does not experience physical abuse without needing to confront his rage that this happened to someone others see as invincible, a tower of strength, or one who is able to handle himself well in a physical confrontation.

Peter paused, taking a deep breath before he continued, judging Vincent’s mental condition.

“Men are not supposed to be weak, yet we all are weak when faced with being savagely beaten with clubs, nails driven into our flesh, our bodies shot full of mind-altering drugs, and our bodies cut with knives.  Very few, if any men, are able to come out of that kind of experience without deep psychological scars.  The wise ones seek help in order to become whole again.  The others live a half life, often venting their rage on the innocent in their own lives.

“It has been the profound love of Catherine that has brought you out of the rages and nightmares.  The distinctive scent of her body, her perfume, has been buried deep within you and those scents have protected her.  When others have been fearful, she has been absolutely fearless of you.  Do you know how she cared for your dental hygiene?  She got you to open your mouth, then put one finger on your incisor and wrapped a mint-scented, wet cloth around another finger and proceeded to wash your teeth.  Jacob was terrified when he first saw her do this, fearful your sharp teeth would pierce her finger.  She was calm, serene, as if she were cleansing a baby’s teeth.”

A variety of emotions raced across Vincent’s face in rapid succession: anger, fear, pride and, finally, calm acceptance of Catherine’s long-held belief that he was incapable of ever harming her.  Within him a spark, a tiny candle flame, grew, pushing back the deep shadows that had possessed him for three long years.

“You said my rages had been more or less harmless.  What do you mean, more or less?  Have I harmed someone here since I returned to the tunnels?  Please, Peter, tell me the truth.  I must know.”

“Vincent, you and I have a relationship that is built on absolute honesty.  In one of your rages prior to Catherine’s return, anyone who touched you was subject to personal attack.  Before your arms and legs were bound, you shoved Pascal hard enough that you broke his arm.  You also shoved Mouse when he accidentally touched your arm.”

Pain and anguish filled Vincent’s eyes as he stared at Peter.  “I broke Pascal’s arm?  He must hate me for harming him so violently.  And Mouse, he is a baby brother to me.  How can they ever forgive me?”

“Pascal doesn’t know the meaning of the word hate.  He didn’t even acknowledge his arm was broken until after he had helped calm you and then, only under protest, did he leave your chamber to be taken to the hospital.  Pascal came to read to you every day before we moved you down here, freeing Catherine to relax and rest.  As for Mouse, he is convinced that you didn’t push him but that he tripped and fell backwards, so great is his faith that you would never harm him.”

“Tell me more about them hitting you with the board?”

“They were building something in the warehouse.  Three of the people got into a fight, two big men attacking a smaller man – a young boy really – and I yelled for them to stop.  That angered them and they began to hit the boy with a board with nails.  I must have said something or tried to get free from the chains they had on me.  They started hitting me.  I don’t remember much after the second blow and the…the nail biting into my flesh…the agony of them ripping the board away and then hitting me again.”  Vincent shivered, as the intense vivid memories came to the surface.

“That’s the body’s defense mechanism taking over, protecting your mind when your body no longer can.

“The other things that were done to you, the burns and the drugs, do you remember?”

“Pieces float back but not specific details.  The torture was more profound, beyond anything I had ever experienced.  My clothing was in tatters, hanging in strips from my shoulders.  They hung me up by my wrists, while throwing lighted matches at me.”  Vincent’s body began to shake, his eyes shifting all around the small chamber seeking a refuge, a sanctuary from the mental images that bombarded his mind. His shaking became a rocking motion, as  his arms wrapped around his body, seeking comfort from his horror.  Suddenly, he began to scream “Catherine, come back, Catherine.”  The sound reverberated within the small chamber, echo following echo, as the sound grew with intensity.

“Don’t hurt me anymore.  I can bear no more.  Kill me, let me die.  I want to die. Catherine, forgive me.”  His sobs grew more intense, his face awash with tears and his eyes so large, his pupils were no longer visible.  He slid off the bed, falling and rolling on the floor, as his cleansing screams continued.

Peter moved toward him and gathered him to his chest, holding this unique soul tightly, as Vincent continued to scream, words mixing with screams, followed by language that Peter never thought Vincent knew.  Words and phrases only heard on the streets, in the gutter, poured from his mouth, as his rage continued unabated.  Peter made no effort to quiet his rage, he simply held him tightly, protecting him from himself, so that he would do no harm to his healing hands and body.  The screams stopped when he had no voice left and, slowly, he went limp in Peter’s arms.  Peter held him for a long time after he was silent, his own face wet from tears.

******

There were few words spoken during the time it took to bathe Vincent and return him back in bed.  Catherine cried as she ministered to his body, her soft sobs muffled when, no longer able to bear her tears, Winslow gathered her in his arms.  Weary and emotionally exhausted, the trio worked to make Vincent comfortable. He shook with cold as they bathed him and, moments later, he would sweat and pant, begging for water.  They struggled to dress him in soft warm pajamas and were, at last, able to pull the quilt over his body.

“Winslow, go on to bed.  I’ll stay here with Cathy for awhile.  I know you are exhausted, too.  Thank you for everything; I’m not sure I could have gotten him into bed alone.”  Winslow made no effort to hide the tears that streamed down his face as he turned to look, one final time, at Vincent, before slipping away.

Taking Catherine’s hand, Peter walked over to the recliner, sat down and then pulled Catherine into his lap.  Tenderly, he held her, as she softly sobbed against his chest.  After awhile, her sobs ceased and she lay against Peter, exhausted and drained.  “Cathy, dear, get your night things and get ready for bed.  I’ll stay here and, if you don’t object, I’ll sleep right here.”

Chapter 16

Peter jerked awake when his leg muscles cramped, pain shooting through his calf muscle and shakily got to his feet.  He staggered, more than walked, out of the entrance and began stretching his cramped aching muscles.  Winslow sat on one of the stones beside the impromptu camp fire.  “Is that coffee I smell?  I’d kill for a cup!”

Silently, a cup was poured and the large arm extended.  “Ahhh, that tastes good.”  They drank in companionable silence as each man worked through the process of waking after their physically exhausting day.

“Why don’t you go ahead to the Bathing Pool, try to relax for awhile and I’ll stay here.  A couple of hours away will do you a world of good.  Don’t hurry, just take your time.  I’ll go after you return.”

“Thank you, Peter.  I’ll be back in a couple of hours.  A swim will help to unkink my muscles.  We have already missed breakfast but it won’t be long until lunch is ready.”  Winslow stood and went to his chamber to gather his belongings.

Peter drank another cup of coffee before he went in to check on his friends.  They slept locked in each other’s arms.  He smiled as he looked down on them and then quietly left to return to the campfire.

Afternoon became evening and still the couple slept.  Winslow helped Peter carry the recliner out to the fire and then, together, they retrieved Winslow’s soft chair.  Quietly, they talked as they waited.  Shortly before midnight, Catherine parted the drapery looking weary, with deep mauve circles beneath her eyes.  She acknowledged both men then, unsteadily, walked toward the bathroom.  She paused upon her returned, “Peter, I think Vincent may need to relieve his bladder.”

“I know.  I have already taken care of him.  Go back to bed, you’re exhausted and he will only sleep peacefully if you are beside him.”  His simple statement touched Catherine’s heart and a tiny smile rewarded Peter’s loving words.

It was much later that night when Peter and Winslow brought the recliner back inside the chamber.  Before slipping into the recliner, which was beginning to look very appealing to Peter, he took Vincent’s pulse and listened to his heart.  Satisfied his patient was doing well, Peter was instantly asleep.

Well into the afternoon of the second day, Catherine came out to find Winslow and Peter roasting marshmallows over the camp fire.  “Could I have one?”  She looked sleep bedraggled, her normally tidy hair was messy and wild, but the deep shadows were gone from beneath her eyes.  After consuming two sweet treats, she went to the bathroom, gathered some towels, and headed to the Bathing Pool.  While she was gone, Peter took care of Vincent’s hygiene, giving him a quick bed-bath as well as attending to his bodily needs.

*****

“Catherine.”  She jerked from the recliner at the sound of his voice, as she immediately rushed toward the bed.

Searching his eyes, she knew he was well and truly awake.  She covered his dear face with kisses before her mouth settled upon his. Vincent’s mouth was warm as she deepened the kiss.  He desired her and wanted to feel her soft body beneath his.  The thought of ever sleeping without her beside him was impossible, now that he had known some of the joys that awaited them.  Catherine laid her head upon Vincent’s chest, rejoicing in the steady beating of his heart.  They were still holding each other when Peter’s voice interrupted them.

“I heard your voice, may I come in?”  His shoes were all that were visible behind the still-closed drapery.

“Of course, do come in, Peter.”  It was only after Peter approached the bed that Catherine reluctantly lifted her body away from Vincent’s warm chest.  She stepped away allowing Peter access to his patient.

Professional and competent, Peter quickly examined Vincent and then proceeded to remove the bandage and splint from his injured finger.  “Flex your fingers for me – all of them, please.” He watched as slowly the fingers bent and curled toward his palm.  “Good, good.  The nail bed looks fine and I can just see a hint of the new growth of nail. Can you slip your pants down far enough for me to check the area of your thigh muscles where you were wounded?”

Aware of Vincent’s discomfort Catherine, gave him a quick kiss before she slipped out the entrance.  Alone, Vincent eased down his pajama pants.  “My fingers might be cool,” Peter warned, before touching the tender pink skin.  “You know, Vincent, that as a doctor, I see thousands of bodies in my practice and, to me, they are just the bodies of my patients; it is nothing personal.  But when it’s my turn to be the patient, I am as reluctant to undress and be handled as you are.  You aren’t alone in being shy about being naked.  It does, I assure you, become easier over time.

“Cathy understands far more than you realize.  She has bathed you, cared for you intimately, and performed every act necessary to make you clean and comfortable.  Yet, just now, she paid you the greatest compliment in leaving, allowing your dignity to remain in tact.  Give some thought to all she has done, has seen, and learned from this experience.  She’s not afraid of you and from her actions; she isn’t repulsed by your body.”

Vincent stared at Peter as he mentally processed all that Peter had said.  Catherine had cared for him, intimately, according to what Peter had said, and he felt no sense of repulsion about his body within their Bond.  The thought surprised him; could he have been wrong all along?

“The suture line is almost completely healed and the texture of your thigh muscles is still a trifle weak but with continued work, they will return.  Just don’t overdo your exercising.  Try walking a little farther each day.  Go ahead and pull your pants up.”

In spite of Peter’s words, Vincent felt immediately more comfortable once his pants were up and the quilt covered him completely.  Silently, he wondered if he would ever be comfortable when he wasn’t fully clothed.

“I think you made great strides in purging your mind of your attack.  There will still be some rages, but I think my job here is complete.  Talk with Catherine and allow her spirit and love to heal the rest of your horror.  Don’t be afraid to confide in her.  She heard all of your screams, so there isn’t much about what happened that she doesn’t know.  Cathy is a strong woman and she won’t break, so don’t be afraid to talk.  Her love is the key to your return to good mental health, just as her love is what destiny has in store for you.  Of that I am absolutely positive!  It may take a while, but I fully expect to be the person who gives Cathy to you at your wedding.”  Peter patted Vincent’s arm, then bent to give him a gentle hug before departing.

From outside Vincent could hear Peter’s voice, “Winslow, I think you and I should head up to the kitchen.  I don’t know about you, but I could eat one of William’s hardy meals.  When we come back, I’ll help you move your belongings back to your home chamber. It’s about time we left these two love-birds alone.”  His chuckle echoed and then faded as the men walked up the incline.

*******

“I would hold you.”  His voice had not returned to normal and, although it was a trifle thready, Catherine was still thrilled.  Gingerly, she slipped into the bed and curled into his arms. The twin beatings of their hearts made words unnecessary.  Each of them knew that a new chapter of their lives was beginning and the door was closing on the horror of the past months.  From where her head rested against his shoulder, Catherine kissed all the parts of his body that were accessible.  Vincent’s lips were pressed against her hair and he breathed deeply the scent that still called to him.

Soft murmured words, half-formed thoughts, and tender touches became their unspoken language of love.  The language wove a magical veil over the two lovers that encircled and encompassed them with a warm world of sensory touches.  The familiar background tapping of the pipes became a song of tender love.  The light enhanced the shadows, softened the sharp edges and made them surreal.

They heard Peter and Winslow return, but still they did not speak.  Cocooned within their embrace, they were enshrined in a world of their making.  They drifted within the world created by the love they shared, a love that knew no boundaries and that was slowly becoming free of all barriers.  A world they  had longed to enter.  A world that destiny knew was their joined fate.

They softly laughed when Vincent’s stomach rumbled, and they realized it was late and they had not eaten.  Catherine helped Vincent into his robe and together they went out to the camp fire.  “Oh, how sweet,” Catherine sighed.  Before them was Winslow’s soft chair with a beautiful knit throw draped over the arm.  Arranged on the outer edges of the grill, were several pots which emitted delicious smells.  On one of the rocks was a note, simply saying that Winslow had moved home but he would return with food and, if he was needed, to please tap.

After their meal, they walked up the incline and returned again to the camp fire.  Vincent insisted he was not tired so they moved past their new home to an area that Catherine had not known existed.  Looking up, they could see a small patch of sky visible through all the rocks.  One lone star encompassed their view and Catherine insisted that it was their personal star, that destiny hung in the heavens.

“You go ahead, I can wait until you are finished.”  Catherine kissed Vincent lightly as she moved toward the bathroom and, upon her return several minutes later, she again kissed him.

“I think I remember you kissing me,” he grinned shyly at her, “every time you left me and when you returned.  Did I dream that?”

“No.  You were so fretful if you awoke to find me not beside you, so I decided if I kissed you when I left and when I returned, that you would, hopefully, realize that between kisses, I would only be gone a short time.  I must have done that for nearly a month before you responded with a slight movement of your lips.  I was so thrilled I couldn’t stop kissing you for a full five minutes.  Father was highly embarrassed when he came in and I continued to kiss you.” 

He stared at her, in awe, aware of all he owed her because of her dedication to his care.  She was everything to him; he realized anew that he was equally everything to her.  His place in her life was as all consuming as hers was within his.  The deep knowledge of Catherine’s love renewed him, creating not an obstacle to their life together but, rather, a passage by which they could create their happy life.

“You have been with me every day for months, how is that possible?  What of your job?”

“I quit.  Nothing was going to keep me from you, so I submitted my resignation.  It was my fault you were injured. I should have insisted on a later flight, then I wouldn’t have had to trust that a note would reach you.  Can you ever forgive me?”

“Catherine, there is nothing to forgive.  Circumstances worked against us and my own fears, that you would someday leave me, combined to create the dynamics that conspired against us.  I should have had more faith in our devotion and not allowed my fears of being alone again to have over-ruled our love.

“I have been afraid to admit the depth of my love, my need to have you always within my world.  I tried to live on what I thought was a higher plain, by denying what we felt, but I can no longer live – nor do I want to -- except as a man who worships, adores, and loves his woman.”

When Vincent returned from preparing for bed, he found Catherine already asleep.  He eased in beside her, gathering her carefully into his arms.  How right it felt to hold her so intimately, to feel her softness through the gown that covered her body.  He nuzzled against her throat, inhaling the scent that was uniquely Catherine.  That scent, within his mind, was the essence of love, a scent that he carried within him and only needed to breathe deeply to know that was the exaltation of love.


The End